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Rubber-Track Dozer
Caterpillar has gotten a lot of publicity about its Challenger 65 and 75 rubber tracked tractor, but they weren't the first to build one, say Ronnie Ratledge and Steve Norton, Maryville, Tenn., who possibly owns the only complete working Cletrac tractor equipped with rubber tracks.
Ratledge and Norton, who do tractor restoring, bought the tractor two years ago from a collector and restored it to like-new condition. One of the tracks was broken, but a friend of theirs was able to repair it.
"The Cletrac HGR was produced in limited quantities at the end of Wald War II for use on ships and carriers to move planes, artillery, etc., but the war ended so they tried to market them as a farm machine," says Ratledge. "The company also produced a steel-tracked version called the HG. As far as we can tell there were about 200 rubbertrack Cletracs made. Most of them were later converted back to steel tracks because of problems with the rubber tracks. The inside surface of the tracks is like a giant triple V-belt. Dirt and stones would get between the belts and drive wheels and tear up the belts from the inside out. Tensioning was a problem, too. The company that made the undercarriage for the Cletac tractor went out of business long ago and we haven't been able to find anyone who can make new tracks for it.
"We're pretty careful with the tracks because they're dried out and brittle. The tractor really goes fast. It would probably do 30 mph in third gear if we really opened it up, but that's too fast for the old tracks. It even goes fast in low gear. We never pull heavy loads or drive the tractor on gravel, and we put a rubber mat on the ramps whenever we load the tractor onto trucks."
According to Ratledge, Oliver purchased the Cletrac company in 1944 and continued building the rubber tracked HGR version. However, they also could never get the tracks to work right. "The three major rubber companies at the time tried to make a new rubber track for the tractor without any success. They didn't have the technology for making synthetic rubber that's available today. Oliver fmally gave up and paid the owners to have all units in the field converted to steel tracks. That was the end of the HGR."
Ratledge and Norton researched the history of their Cletrac and discovered that the original owner traded it in fora steel-tracked crawler. The dealer used it to move machinery around the dealership until the late 1950's when he sold it to a packing plant which used it to haul beef carcasses around the plant. The tracks broke while they owned the tractor, but they were able to find re-placements for it. They kept it until 1985 when they traded it in for a skid steer loader. The rubber tracked tractor sat outside on the dealer's lot until the collector bought it.
"We'd like to hear from anyone who has more information about the Cletrac HGR tractor," notes Ratledge.
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Ronnie Ratledge, 2915 Cansler Drive, Maryville, Tenn. 37801 (ph 615 977-0830).

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1992 - Volume #16, Issue #5