The California Oliver Cletrac Club was formed in 1994. Taken from our By-Laws: “The purpose of our club is to serve as the medium of exchange of ideas, information and parts for admirers of Oliver, Cletrac and related equipment, material and tractors, and to aid in efforts to restore and preserve the tractors to their original likeness. This Club will exercise general supervision, direction, control and assistance to its members in their restoration processes.”
We focus mainly on Cletrac Crawler tractors, although several of our members also own Oliver wheel tractors. The main guiding forces behind our club have been William J Bechthold and his son William E Bechthold, owners of Bechthold Tractor Service of Lodi California.
Bill J. Bechthold was a long-time Cletrac man, and was affectionately called “Mr. Cletrac West” by people all over the United States. The family’s first tractor was a Cletrac Model R, and he drove his first tractor at age 8, a Cletrac Model 20K on the family farm. After graduating from high school, Bill’s first job was at F.M. Grissel of Stockton, California, a Cletrac dealer. In 1949 Bill left the dealership after it was sold and tried his hand at farming. Local farmers were quick to recognize Bill’s mechanical skills and soon he was kept busy repairing their tractors, working in the family garage. Bill grew the business and signed his first Oliver contract in 1952. Bill sold many Oliver-Cletrac crawlers such as OC-3, OC-4, OC-6, OC-12 and the model AD. They also sold Oliver Super 55, 550, and Fiat-Oliver wheel tractors. Bechthold Tractor terminated the Oliver-White contract in 1972 since they had quit building tractors to fit the needs of their local market. Bechthold Tractor continued the business with a large emphasis on service, repair, and support. Sadly, Bill J. Bechthold passed away in December 2009, but his son Bill E. Bechthold still runs the business and serves as our Technical Advisor. Bill usually hosts at least one meeting each year at the shop where we delve into mechanical repairs of some aspect of a Cletrac Tractor. Bill is an excellent teacher of knowledge and we are lucky to have him.
Our club membership fluctuates up and down but typically has about 50 to 60 at any one time. Most members live in California, but we have members in several other states including Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, and New York. Our members come from a vast range of professions including medical doctors, business administrators, farmers, computer specialists, construction, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, plumbing, bee husbandry, machinists, sand and gravel operations, teachers, vinyardists, geology, and professional mechanics including some in the tractor business. Many of us are retired; the rest of us aim to be some day so we can play more with our tractors!
We have several club events each year. We have a club section at the California Antique Farm Equipment Show held each year in Tulare California, where members bring their tractors and show them and participate in the parade. We usually have one Cletrac Play Day in the summer or fall where we convene at one of our member’s properties with our tractors and just have fun pushing some dirt. We also have established a relationship with the Micke Grove Museum in Lodi California and have had some events there. We also participate both as a club and individually in other EDGE&TA sponsored events. In past years our club has hosted two National Winter Meetings of the Hart-Parr Oliver Cletrac Collectors Association.
Our newsletter is published 4 times a year, alternating in format between simple text in one issue, usually about 12 pages long, and a more expanded version in the next with color photographs. We try to include some technical content in each issue, with color photos to back it up in the expanded version. We also usually profile a member with a story about that person in each issue. Our newsletter has been widely acclaimed by many across the country as being one of the best around for an organization our size, and we have had several articles re-printed in the national Hart-Parr Oliver Cletrac Association magazine.
This web site is a new venture for us, started in the spring of 2010. We hope to use it as a tool to spread the word about Oliver and Cletrac tractors and our club in general. One of the problems with a club like ours is that many of our members are getting up there in age, and the web site was considered a good way of bridging the generation gap between the old-timers and a new generation of younger enthusiasts. We have a lot of members who have decades of tractor knowledge and experience to share with you. If you are interested in Cletrac tractors especially, please contact us – we’d love to hear from you!
The elder Bill Bechthold on his restored Cletrac 25