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Contributed Article

Unidentified Crawling Object - Identified?
by Steve Terpstra

[Editor] Some of you may remember reading the original article about Steve's "Unidentified Crawling Object". Thanks to some helpful readers, there are now some positive leads on this crawler which we would like to share with you. The following information was sent to us by Steve:

The origin of my crawler, for the most part has been located. It seems that it was built by the "US Forest Service" at their equipment laboratory in Portland, Oregon between 1937 and 1945. The head of the laboratory at that time was Theodore P. Flynn along with his two assistants Tom Caldwell and Arthur Kelly and it is believed that the crawler was just simply known as the "Trail Tractor".

crawler with no engine or dash
It was designed to build trails and fire breaks in the mountains to help battle fires. It's small size made it easy to transport to fires and was to help eliminate the hard job of fighting fires with a shovel. In 1942 the US Army was looking for a small crawler to be air lifted and dropped behind enemy lines to build landing strips. Its small size was perfectly suited for this job, and was adopted by the Army Engineers Corps and called the "Clarke Air".

Enough things were changed on the Clarke Air to make it noticeably different than the Trail Tractor. I have not been able to locate any really decent photos of the Clarke Air to see just what the differences are. This would explain why so many people thought that my crawler was a Clarke Air, in fact one person was very adament about it but couldn't produce any evidence proving otherwise.

In 1945, the Trail Tractor design was dropped in favor of a new crawler that was almost half the size and was to be a better tractor in all, and it was called the "Beetle". The Forest Service lab built two pilot models of the Beetle and bid proposals were issued for the construction of 25 more. The "Pacific Western Gear Works" of Seattle, Washington won the bids and built an unknown quantiy of the Beetle.

As it turns out, my crawler is the predecessor of the "Clarke Airborne Dozer" and also of the "Beetle". I am still researching this little machine to see how many were built, when, by whom, and finally, what it was called. It is possible that it didn't even have a name, only referenced to as simply the "Trail Tractor".

[Editor} If anyone has any additional helpful information for Steve, he can be reached via e-mail at bugsie@wtp.net. He can also be reached via phone at (406) 252-7174, or through postal mail at 5224 Hillcrest Road, Billings MT 59101.

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