The Cletrac General 'GG' and the BF Avery 'A'|
A Bit of History
by Mike Ballash
This article is a summary of what I have gathered up from various sources on the Gletrac General GG and the B. F. Avery model A tractors. I am quite sure that most of it is accurate. The General GG was made by the Cleveland Tractor Company (Cletrac) of Cleveland, Ohio. Originally the company was called the Cleveland Motor Plow Company which began in 1912, then the Cleveland Tractor Company (1917) and finally Cletrac. The company existed between 1912 and 1944 with their first crawler tractor (model R) appearing in 1916. They were founded by Roland H. White who at the time was the head of the White Motor Company and over this time period they marketed about 40 different Cletrac crawlers ranging in size from small to very large. One of the smaller ones was their HG model which they made from '39-'44. At the same time they introduced this little crawler, they also put it on the market as a rubber-tired version of row-crop configuration with a single front wheel. This was named the Cletrac General GG and as it turned out, the GG was their first and only venture into the rubber-tired tractor market. Both of these used a 4-cylinder Hercules IXA3 flathead engine of 113 cubic inch displacement. The transmissions and final drives were manufactured for Cletrac by the Clark Company of Jackson, Michigan. These same drive train components showed up later in the Cockshutt model 20 in the 50's. It is interesting to note that the engineer in charge of the production of these tractors came from the Studebaker Corporation. The General GG was tested in the Nebraska Tractor Tests (test #323) and it tested out at 19.3 belt horsepower and 14.3 drawbar horsepower. It was classed as a one-plow (14") tractor. Eventually, the entire Cletrac crawler line was taken over by the Oliver Corporation in 1944 and for a while, Oliver crawlers were Cletrac clones and for some time many of the castings on Oliver crawlers carried Cletrac identification numbers. Ironically, Oliver was later purchased by the White Motor Corporation in 1960.
The General GG was made from '39 - '42. Apparently, it was also marketed as the Wards 'Twin-Row' and also as a 'Co-op'. Both of those versions were painted red and their serial numbers were intermingled with the General GG as they came off the production line. One source has said that the Co-op version was marketed only in Indiana. The Wards Twin Row was made for and marketed by the Montgomery Ward's department store chain in the U.S. After the United States entered the WWII in the late part of 1941, Cletrac concentrated most of their production for the war effort and the manufacturing rights for the model GG were turned over or sold to the B.F. Avery Company of Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. Some tractor historians believe that previous to this the B.F. Avery company was actually in a business partnership with Cletrac. At that time the B.F. Avery Company was essentially a company that made a lot of attatched implements for tractors like cultivators, planters, etc. Originally, the B.F. Avery Company was started up by Benjamen Franklin Avery who founded a plow factory in the Clarkesville, Virginia area in 1825 and then in 1845 moved the company to Louisville, Kentucky. Avery plows were found worldwide along with those made by John Deere and Oliver and by the late 1800's, the B.F. Avery Company was the largest plow manufacturer in the world. The B.F. Avery Company made it's first venture into the motorized tractor business in 1915 with the Louisville Motor Plow. The 5000 pound machine was only made for a short time before the company concentrated on plows and implements.
Why Avery wished to take over the General GG line of tractors was probably due to the fact that they realized many of their implement sales would be lost if Cletrac dropped the rubber-tired GG since Avery made custom implements for those tractors. The rights to manufacture the GG were transferred and the manufacturing facility was moved to Avery's manufacturing facility in Louisville, Kentucky sometime in 1943 . Cletrac supplied almost 850 Avery tractors from Cletrac's Cleveland plant for Avery even when Avery was first producing the same tractor in Louisville.
There was another Avery company who made tractors in the U.S. much earlier however they were not affiliated with the B.F. Avery company. They made tractors from the early part of the century into the early 1940's and were called the Avery Power Machinery Co. and later the Avery Farm Machinery Co. They were headquartered in Peoria, Illinois and they were also involved with limited production of some early automobiles and trucks. The last tractor model they marketed was known as the Avery Ro-Trak which was made from 1938-1941.
I have a tractor calendar photo that shows the GG as being a bright yellow color. This yellow color does not show up as yellow on the Avery website (http://horizonview.net/~kault195/) but as Cletrac Orange or General GG Cletrac Orange from NAPA. Cletrac Orange is a somewhat light-colored orange paint. I have never seen documentation of the fact that some were painted yellow except for the calendar I have, although the color printing accuracy could account for that. I would say that most of them were definitely Cletrac Orange. The rear wheel rims were painted silver and the decals were black with a white background. The GG was distributed as a General GG in Canada by Massey Harris dealers. I saw a restored one in the Milton, Ontario Agricultural Museum in '99. The only link to Massey Harris was a plate on the right frame rail that indicated that it had been built for Massey by Cletrac. That tractor was Cletrac Orange and was in the Massey Harris display shed at the museum. I have seen a few other GG's here in northern Alberta. The unrestored one's I've seen were of an indistinguishable faded color but were probably originally orange. At two different shows, I have seen restored GG's, one being orange with yellow tinwork, and the other one was totally yellow. I was not able to question the owners as to why they had the color schemes that they did.
After Avery took over the line, Avery actually used the 'GG' letter designation for a short time, then changed it to the model 'A'. The Avery A was red in color with yellow hood decals and silver rear wheel rims. They also used Hercules flathead 4-cylinder engines like the Generals and engine size grew with the model IXK3 (123 cubic inches) and later the IXB3 version of 133 cubic inches. General GG's had a very plain unstyled sheet metal grille/radiator cover, and early Avery A's did as well. Some time later in 1945, the Avery A showed up with a new hood and grille. The grille was more styled and curved than the previous ones. General GG's were hand-crank start with magneto ignition and if any Generals had factory electric start I don't know for sure. Avery A's had electric start and at first magneto ignition, later being changed to a battery/distributor ignition system sometime during production in 1946. Avery also made some other models of tractors including their model V and the model R.
Avery continued in the tractor business until the early 1950's when the manufacturing rights to the Avery lineup was purchased by Minneapolis Moline. The tractors then were painted MM Prarie Gold with new grille treatments and MM decals. The MM versions were named the BF and the BG which became the small-sized tractors in the MM lineup. Minneapolis made those tractors using Hercules engines until about 1957 when production of those tractor models ceased. There is serial number information for Generals, Averys, and Minneapolis Molines at the website given in the 5th paragraph above. After the takeover, the B.F. Avery Company closed up shop and the building (which is still standing today) in Louisville was sold to a commercial laundry company.
I have only seen two Avery A's, the one that I have (1945 model) and another one at a tractor show in 2001. My tractor was given to me by my friend's family in 1999. It was purchased new in 1945 by the Esdale family of Edmonton, Alberta and had been in that family ever since. I started a restoration on the tractor during the summer of 2001. Narrow-front rowcrop tractors of any make are fairly rare in these parts, especially single-wheeled ones.
That's about all I know so far and I think that most of it is accurate. If you know of anything more or can correct me on some of the information I already have, please contact me at my email address below.
10 Greenwood Way, Sherwood Park.
ALBERTA, Canada T8A0J5
phone: 780-467-6973 (daytime calls only, please)
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