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Cletracs and Olivers head up this year’s Power Days
Wrenching Tales
Oliver was the featured brand at this year’s 23rd annual Southern Illinois Antique Power Club’s Antique Power Days in Salem, Ill.
Among the Olivers were a trio of beautiful Cletrac tractors. They were built by the Cleveland Tractor Co. Sitting side by side, these beauties were a highlight of this annual show.

Cleveland Tractor was the brainchild of the Thomas White family. Thomas, along with his sons, built sewing machines in Cleveland, Ohio. At that time, the company was called the White Sewing Machine Co.

Author Bill Vossler shared in an article in Farm Collector, “The company also manufactured roller skates and bicycles, and by 1899 produced 10,000 bicycles per year. But bigger things lay ahead.”
The Whites created a motor plow and the company Cleveland Motor Plow Works, but soon they focused on the track design that would revolutionize their company. This track design made a tractor that caused less soil compaction and worked well in the fields. In 1918 the Cleveland Tractor Co. produced its first model, with the name Cletrac.

The company became part of the Oliver Farm Equipment Co. in 1944 and the Cletrac models continued to be manufactured under the name Oliver-Cletrac. Two of the Cletracs at this year’s show were a 1945 HG-68 and a 1939 HG-31. They belong to Bryan and Jennifer Swisher, but were restored and run by Rodney Martin of Vandalia, Mo.

Rodney and his wife, Muriel, brought the two Cletracs to the show. “Bryan and I are partners. He owns a lot of stuff and I have restored them,” Rodney explained.

Olivers have been in Rodney’s blood for a long time. “I started collecting Olivers. My grandpa, Basil Gore, farmed with them. I used to do a lot of tractor-pulling with Olivers. When I was younger, I went to Louisville in the winter to pull; since then, I’ve got the collecting bug.”

Of all his Olivers, his favorite is the 1950 Oliver front-wheel-drive he said is too big to haul. At home his collection ranges from his great-uncle’s 1937 28-44 to his own 1972 2655 4-wheel drive. Rodney said he has always done his own mechanical work; then, once they are up and running, he paints them: “I want to make them look good.”

Wanting to keep the Cletracs original, he turned to Cletrac expert Landis Zimmerman for advice on the paint color, which collector Dan Tolka called Burnt Orange. “Landis said this was the closest color to the original,” Rodney added.

One of the lovely duos, the 1945 HG68, has been in the limelight before.

“This was featured in the January 2011 issue of Oliver Heritage,” Rodney said. This tractor was purchased in Elsberry, Mo. “It was running; they used it on an auger for unloading grain and the grandkids rode it on the holidays. It has 68-inch-wide tracks.”
As for the 1939 HG-31, “It was in buckets when I got it. It took three years to get the pieces gathered. I spent three years getting stuff together and took it down to the last bolt. I finished it last winter,” he said.

He found fenders for the tractor in a barn in Illinois. It has 38-inch-wide tracks and Rodney said it was made to use in orchards.
Restoration is nothing new for Rodney, who has worked on cars and pickups over the years. “They are the same type of thing,” he said, although he admits to having at least 357 hours in the HG-68 and 357 hours of work in the HG-31.

“There is always a lot of scraping and grinding. The tracks are hard because of the condition. I sandblast the tractors to clean them up; you have got to get them down to the bare metal,” he explained. On the beauty of his restoration job, he was humble: “I don’t think of myself as a restorer, I’m a farmer.”

Dan Tolka is a carpenter from Vernon Ill., and brought his 1939 Cletrac that has a six-cylinder Hercules engine. “It has a top speed of 6 miles an hour and a 6-volt battery system,” he said.
During the show Dan was a busy guy; as chair of the show, he was working hard for the Antique Power Club. “I have been in the tractor hobby for probably 30 years. I have mostly Oliver, but I like all the brands,” he explained, adding he grew up on a farm.

“I bought this Cletrac for $3,000. I fixed it up and that cost another $3,000 so I have $6,000 in it and it runs good. It wasn’t in bad shape. The hood and gas tank I straightened and took apart. I fixed the bolts and put on a new belt pulley and rubber cleats for parades.”

Wanting to be different, Dan decided to paint his tractor yellow. He and his girlfriend, Teri Sullins, had fun with the yellow Cletrac and equipment at this year’s show when they weren’t working. “This is the easiest tractor to drive,” Dan said, adding his 16-year-old niece drove it in parades. He is also a Civil War reenactor and pulls the 1841 6-pound bronze barrel cannon with his Cletrac at shows.

Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.
10/26/2012