The Little Cletrac


| October/November 1990



This article appeared in EDGE&TA Branch 3 News, July/Aug. 1990, and is reprinted with permission. It was submitted by Ken Robison, 20531 Black Road, Los Gatos,California95030.

It took a circuitous route from the Cleveland Tractor Company factory by rail around the Great Lakes to Winnipeg, then south across the plains to Topeka. At each railhead a few more of its identical siblings were unloaded. The train went west next through the Rockies, northwest to Portland and finally arrived in San Jose, California in the spring of 1927. The Chairman of Bean Spray Company had been at odds with Benjamin Holt and this year was selling Cletrac rather than Caterpillar crawlers. Bean Company made a full line of sprayers and their own one cylinder engines, but had a display room of tractors as well.

John Ellsworth was in his eighties. The fruit trees on his sixty acres were mature and demanded more work now. He wished to turn the whole business over to his son Fred, but first a new tractor was needed. The old Titan of pre-World War I vintage was cumbersome, clumsy and a 'man-killer' to start. It had been used originally when the land was wheat, not orchard.

John and his son cranked up the Star and drove to San Jose and for several hours haggled with the salesman. Finally, the sale was completed. A Cletrac 20 with optional belt pulley was to be delivered free for $865.00 cash. The bulldog Mack with its chain drive and hard rubber tires took the good part of a day to carry the tractor to its new owners in Saratoga. The first job demanded of it was to pull the old Titan out of the shed to its final resting place under a one hundred year old oak.

The prune and apricot trees were on the slopes, the cherry and walnut trees on the twenty acres of level land close to the house. The orchards were disced twice a year and dragged smooth just before each harvest. The drag was simply a redwood plank weighted with rocks from the creek. Dragging made picking easier off the ground for prunes and walnuts and for a level surface for the ladder pickers on the cherries and apricots.

It was the walnuts which required the most work from the Cletrac. The walnut trees had to be irrigated. This was accomplished by pulling a heavy v-shaped plow down the center of a row making a two foot by one foot dike. Like contour lines on a map the dikes had to connect to hold the water. At each meeting point the driver had to dismount and winch up the plow, drive to the next starting point and lower the plow. When they were complete, the temporary holding ponds were ready for water. The tractor was backed up to the creek bank and a flat belt connected from the drive pulley behind the seat to the big centrifugal pump on the water's edge. A six inch pipe carried water from the deep hole in the creek, which doubled as a swimming hole, to the trees. Often trout would be sucked right through the plumbing into the small lakes around the trees and a little girl could be seen picking up fish to take home to her mother, Fred's sister, for a special dinner treat. For a full week the '20' ran at full throttle pumping water. A model T gas tank tied on the crawler track served as an auxiliary fuel tank to allow the engine to run at night without refueling.