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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cletrac's M 2 High Speed Tractor

Folks, this is the way to do it! More than just another interesting exhibit, Scott and Lisa Mattison’s  Cletrac M2 Military Tractor provided a history lesson for any visitor at the 2016 Richland Creek Antique Fall Festival who took the time to check it out. If you look behind the tractor’s  radiator guard in this photo you can see the easel supporting one of the best information displays I’ve seen at any show.

During World War Two the Cleveland Tractor Company and John Deere manufactured 8510 units for military service. Although it was tested for use as a tow vehicle for artillery, it was primarily used by the Army Air Corps as an aircraft tug and maintenance vehicle. Weighing around 14,000 pounds and supported by 14” wide rubber tracks it proved ideal for operating at forward air bases because it didn’t dig up the primitive runways found at those locations. It transported a maintenance crew of three men and was equipped with a 5 KW 110 VDC  generator that powered spotlights and was used for starting aircraft engines, a PTO driven air compressor capable of supplying 9cfm @ 2000 psi and a PTO driven 10,000 pound capacity winch enhanced its versatility.  A drawbar pull of 7000 pounds enabled it to tow ordinance and utility trailers anywhere the crawler could go.

Cletrac powered the M 2 with a Hercules WXLC 3 in line six cylinder engine displacing 404 cubic inches that produced 150 brake horsepower. Top speed was 22 mph burning fuel at a rate of 3 miles to the gallon from the 33 gal. tank, the maximum range was around 100 miles.

Steering was accomplished by means of a controlled differential with planetary gear sets that downshifted one track while power was still being applied to both tracks. This proved to be an advantage over locking one track to pivot around it since less damage was done to runway surfaces. The innovative rubber tracks also contributed in this regard.

The M 2 served in both the European and Pacific Theaters and soldered on in Korea and afterward. Most were eventually sold as surplus to buyers in the oil and logging industry.

Additional resources:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

4th of July Steam Engine Parade

Tired of the same old every 4th of July? Can't bare the thought of choking down another ghastly hot dog or lighting another firecracker? Looking for a change of pace? Well how about a parade of vintage steam traction engines? That's about as different as it gets.

Way back in 1957 Glen "A.G." Thomas decided a steam engine parade would be a good way to celebrate the 4th and every year since then the Forsyth County Steam Association has carried on the tradition with a parade through the town square of Cumming, Georgia.

The parade begins at 10:00am at the intersection of Tribble Gap and Woodland Dr. , winds it's way through the town to Courthouse Square and ends at the fairgrounds around 12:00 noon.

You can find more information about this event by visiting or . Meanwhile, here's a video clip of a 1902 Case engine at the Steam Expo last November.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Super W-30

Ok all you hawk-eyed experts out there, It’s pop quiz time at the Mule School. This will be a timed exam and you only have until the end of this post to answer the question but since there’s only one, that shouldn’t be a problem. This is not open book so no fair skipping ahead. Ready? You may begin now.
  1. What is it that’s not exactly original equipment on this tractor?  
Hint: It’s not the tires.

International Harvester developed the W-30 in 1931 as an intended replacement for the 10-20, a more powerful 2 to 3 plow tractor but still smaller than the 15-30. Things didn’t work out exactly as planned however since the 10-20 remained quite popular among small farmers and both tractors were produced for a number of years. The W-30 was in production until 1939 with a total of 32,541 sold.

The W-30 was sent to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where it was tested from July 26 to August 10, 1932 in Tractor Test No. 210 where it posted results of 19.69 hp on the drawbar and 31.31 hp on the belt. During the 43 hours of evaluation it was noted in the report that no repairs or adjustments were required. You can download the complete test results by visiting .

Powered by an International Harvester vertical four cylinder engine with a bore of 4.25” and a stroke of 5” displacing 284 cu inches of Kerosene vapors, the tractor’s 4820 pounds rolled along at 2.5 mph in low gear, 3.25 mph in medium and 3.75 mph in high. Reverse was 2.75mph.

International Harvester’s general catalog for 1935 listed as optional equipment: pneumatic tires, power takeoff, lighting equipment, specialty belt pulleys, a sliding drawbar and a spark arrester ( no doubt a good thing to have if you ran a threshing outfit ). The catalog also highlighted the “roomy driver’s compartment with protection from dust and dirt.”

The 1935 model shown here is owned by Pat Carpenter from Anderson, SC who brought it to the 2016 Dacusville Farm Show and  provides the following about his tractor. It was manufactured at the International Harvester factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in January 1935 and shipped to the company sales office in Bismark, North Dakota where it was sold in the Summer of that year. It was used as a tillage tractor in the wheat fields until someone buggered up an engine rebuild after which it was parked for forty years. Pat bought it in 2010 and had it shipped to South Carolina. When he tore the engine down for his restoration he decided that what he had was beyond repair which brings us to the nut of this story.

Pat found himself looking at a pile of useless but expensive junk. What to do now? Rebuilt crate engines for 1935 W-30’s aren’t something you can pick up at your local parts house. Time for some creative mechanicing. “I repowered it with an engine from a Farmall M. The conversion works well, much to the surprise of many skeptics.”

Nebraska Test No. 327 rated the Farmall M at 30.62 HP drawbar and 34.82 HP belt power. With the transplanted M motor purring happily away in it’s new home, Pat decided he now had a new type of tractor hence the Super W-30 designation.

Additional Resources:
Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendell

Monday, May 1, 2017

611 Fired Up

Steam locomotives come to life in a special way at night. They seem to be totally in their element surrounded by darkness. Rolling out of bed at 3:00 am will never make my short list of favorite things but I was glad we arrived at the North Carolina Transportation Museum at Spencer before sunrise. Six o’clock boarding of the Virginian was already underway but I had time to take a few photos before the 7:00 am departure for Lynchburg, Va.

This excursion had its beginning in 2013 when the Virginia Museum of Transportation formed the Fire Up 611 Committee to promote and oversee the restoration and return to the rails of their Norfolk and Western Class J locomotive also known as the Spirit of Roanoke. The 611’s participation in Norfolk and Southern Railroad’s 21st Century Steam project is just the latest chapter in the career of this historic engine.

The 611 is the only surviving example of the 14 Class J 4-8-4 locomotives that Norfolk and Western built at their Roanoke Va. East End Shops between 1941 and 1950. By the time it hit the rails in May of 1950, the switch to diesel engines by most American railroads was well underway. N & W continued steam operation into the late 50’s and the 611, because of a restoration after a derailment in 1956 was chosen to pull the final steam excursions in October of 1959.

The J class represented the pinnacle of steam locomotive development. Operating at 300 psi they produced 5,100 hp and developed 80,000 # of tractive effort. Norfolk and Western used them to power their crack passenger trains like the Cavalier, Powhatan Arrow and the Birmingham Special. They were capable of pulling fifteen passenger cars at 110 mph and averaged 15,000 miles of service per month.

After Norfolk and Western’s “Farewell to Steam” excursions ended, the 611 was eventually donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum for use as a static display. 1981 saw another restoration for the 611 and it returned to the rails again to power Norfolk and Southern’s steam excursions for twelve years until the program ended in 1994. In 2014 the engine was sent to the NC Transportation Museum at Spencer for a year long overhaul in preparation for it’s current participation in the 21st Century Steam program.

Shortly after sunrise the engineer eased our train forward and we began rolling out of the Spencer Yards headed North.

We arrived in Lynchburg before noon for a three hour layover while the train was turned around and prepared for the return trip. Passengers were invited to take advantage of the free bus shuttle service running through downtown Lynchburg for some sightseeing before the 3:00pm departure.

This was a long train and Norfolk Southern provided a diesel assist just in case. I imagine that this was more for the peace of mind of corporate management than anything else since the crew informed us that the 611 had never needed any help.

Our stay in Lynchburg was a short one. Time to grab some lunch but not much else before we needed to be back on board for the return trip to Spencer. Along the way the rail system’s automatic fault detection system thought it saw something it didn’t like which triggered a mandatory stop while the crew inspected the entire length of the train. This put us behind schedule and it was well after dark when we arrived back at the NC. Transportation Museum. It had been a long day, but one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.  

2017 marks the third season for 611 excursions and May 29 is the last scheduled trip for the 21st Century Steam program. The 611 will return home to the Virginia Museum of Transportation where fundraising efforts continue to build a permanent shelter to house the 611 and two additional steam locomotives. When will it return to the rails at the head of an excursion train? Only time will tell. Let’s hope the latest retirement will be a short one.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Fairbanks-Morse Stationary Engines

In the dog eat dog world of corporate mergers and acquisitions, Fairbanks-Morse has to be counted a survivor. The company traces it’s origin back to 1832 when Thaddeus Fairbanks patented a design for a platform scale and formed a company to manufacture and market them. By the time this engine was produced in 1925, the firm was already ninety-three years old and the company is still going strong today.

Fairbanks commercial scales were a success and were marketed around the world. During the 1870’s Charles Morse was an employee who became a partner in the firm as a result of his role in acquiring the Eclipse brand windmills and pumps. Under the banner of Fairbanks-Morse Co. the product line continued to diversify. The 1890’s saw expansion into internal combustion engine production with a naphtha burning engine in 1893, kerosene in 1900, coal gas 1905, semi-diesel 1913 and finally to the subject of this post , the true high compression full diesel stationary engine in 1924.

The model Y semi-diesel engine was offered with one to six cylinders producing 30 to 200 horsepower in 1914. By 1924 the Y-VA, their first full diesel model was in production. It was upgraded and rebranded as the Model 32 in 1925.
This engine is powering a sawmill at the Richland Creek Antique Fall Festival at Saluda, South Carolina in November 2016. The sign mounted beside it describes it as a 50 horsepower diesel that prior to 1940 ran a cotton gin in Chesterfield, SC. That was about all the information that was available since I didn’t see any data plates on the engine but if it was manufactured in 1925 it’s reasonable to assume it is a Model 32.

The Model 32 was available in two sizes: a 1696 cubic inch displacement engine with a 12” bore and 15” stroke producing 40 to 50 horsepower that was offered with one to three cylinders and a 2617 cubic inch version with a 14” x 17” bore / stroke yielding 60 to 75 horsepower in one to six cylinder configurations.
The following weekend I photographed this Fairbanks-Morse engine while attending the Cumming Steam, Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Expo. This example illustrates how the cylinders could be ganged together to meet the horsepower requirements of the application.

These engines were remarkably simple in design which in turn made them very reliable. Economical operation and a long service life made them a popular choice for powering a variety of industrial applications in the days before widespread electrification.

They also saw service powering refrigeration equipment and generating electricity. There is a photograph of a Type Y engine powering an electrical generation plant in Southwest Florida posted at that looks very similar to this engine that is owned by the City of Cumming, Ga.

Finally, here’s a brief video clip of the Richland Creek engine powering a sawmill demonstration.