McClean Garden Tractors

During the early 1920's, Clyde F. McLean operated a tire vulcanizing company in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the late 1H*920's, he and William C. McLean were part owners of the Air More Equipment Company in Indianapolis, which made fans. This company closed in 1930. There is some confusion over the relationship of Clyde and William. Some sources mention Cleo McLean as being the second partner--possibly a reference to William's middle name--and sources also claim that Clyde and William weren't brothers but were related.

Clyde and William established the Universal Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis, in 1934. Clyde's father had been a successful businessman and an excellent mechanic, so Clyde brought a good upbringing to this venture.

The McLeans had a good machine shop, but they lacked a foundry or any casting facilities. A semi-employed pastor named Paul Smith had a small foundry and an agreement was worked out with him to produce castings for wheels and other parts.

McClean Walk-BehindThe McLean's began to build two-wheeled walk-behind garden tractors in 1934. These machines were chain-driven, with cast-iron wheels approximately 16 inches in diameter. These wheels were too small, as they allowed too much dirt to get into the drive chains. The wheels were soon changed to ones that were 21 inches in diameter. These worked well and were retained throughout the production life of the machine.

Most of the two-wheeled walk-behinds were powered by Model 92 Maytag washing-machine engines. Two men were hired to locate used Maytag engines and to purchase them for approximately $5.00 each. These engines were cleaned and restored to like-new condition, with new rings, rebuilt carburetor or mixing valve parts, and new gaskets. Te flywheel magnetos were re-charged and adjusted, and the engines were repainted before they were mounted on tractors. Tractors with Maytag engines sold for $38.00 when first introduced. About 1936, the tractors could be outfitted with Briggs & Stratton engines for an additional $12.00. Rubber tires became an option after 1937 or 1938.The original design of the two-wheeled walk-behind tractor was retained until 1941 or 1942, at which time three to six horsepower Briggs & Stratton, Kohler and Clinton engines and rubber-tired wheels became standard equipment. A variety of tillers and cultivators were available, as well as a front-mounted sickle-bar mower. The McClean garden tractor sold well even during the Great Depression, because it was reasonably priced.

In 1936, Clyde's son Clyde F. McLean, Jr., began to work for the company. He was only 16 years old, so he could only work after school. After completing his education, he became a full-time employee and eventually assumed the responsibility of engineering the yard and garden equipment tools produced by the company. This allowed his father, Clyde, Sr.,  to concentrate on corporate management. 

During the 1950's and 1960's, the Universal Manufacturing Company produced a variety of lawn and garden products, including four-wheeled garden tractors, three-wheeled garden tractors,sulky gang mowers, snow blades, snow blowers, rear cultivators, breaking plows, sickle mowers, utility carts, shredders, and small rototillers which could be converted to cultivators. All of the company's products carried the name McClean Husky..

Husky Four-Wheeled 1The McLean Four-Wheel Tractor was a unique and innovative design produced by Clyde, Jr. The tractor was powered by a single-cylinder engine in the five to ten horsepower range--a Briggs & Stratton, Kohler, or Clinton. The frame consisted of stamped 1/8 inch sheet metal channels. 

Husky Four-Wheeled 8The steering mechanism included a steering wheel attached to a shaft which ended in a lever which moved tie rods back and forth. Husky Four-Wheeled 5

Power was transmitted to the transmission by a simple and conventional V-belt system on the left side of the tractor; the clutch consisted of a spring-tensioned idler pulley which tightened or loosened the drive belt to start or stop the tractor.

Unusual aspects of the tractor began at the transmission. The transmission case consisted of a sheet-metal box located between the frame rails. There were four shafts in the box--an input shaft, an idler shaft, a shaft for reverse gear, and an output shaft with the shifting mechanism. To move the tractor forward, sprockets and chains directly connected the input shaft and the idler shaft; different-sized sprockets produced slow and fast speeds. For reverse, the input shaft had a gear which meshed with a gear on the reverse shaft to reverse the motion; this gear was tied to a sprocket and chain leading to the idler shaft.

Husky Four-Wheeled 7 Husky Four-Wheeled 2

Moving the shifting lever caused a mechanism on the output shaft to slide from side to side to engage the sprocket for low speed, the sprocket for high speed or the sprocket for reverse. The bottom of the transmission case contained oil to lubricate the gears, sprockets, and chains.

The output shaft extended out from the transmission case on both sides of the tractor, with pulleys on both sides. These pulleys had belts which extended to large pulleys at the back of the tractor; the belts rode on spring-tensioned idler pulleys. The pulleys at the back of the tractor were each attached  to small sprockets.

Husky Four-Wheeled 6The rear axle consisted of a one-inch shaft which was fastened to the frame members; it was fixed and did not rotate. Instead, the wheel and hub were welded to a pipe which slid over and rotated on the fixed axle. The end of this pipe opposite the wheel was welded to a large sprocket. Each wheel, hub, pipe and sprocket were one solid unit. A chain connected each large sprocket to the small sprocket attached to the large pulley.

This design eliminated the need for a differential and costly bearings; however, with the two rear wheels locked to a common shaft, the tractor was difficult or impossible to turn. Some method was needed to either reduce the speed of the rear wheel on the inside of a turn or to increase the speed of the rear wheel on the outside of a turn.  The tractor employed an ingenious method to accomplish this.

Husky Four-Wheeled 3On both the left and right sides, a rod was attached to the idler pulley tensioning the belt leading from the transmission to the large pulley at the rear of the tractor. This rod ran forward and connected to a lever attached to the spindle mounted on the front axle. When the steering wheel was turned, the lever on the spindle released tension on the idler pulley at the back, power to the inside wheel was reduced and the tractor could turn easily. Naturally, when this occurred, only the outside wheel was powered, and this resulted in a considerable loss of traction. The rods connecting the spindles with the rear pulleys were connected loosely; considerable play was provided so that slight turns of the steering wheel didn't constantly reduce and increase traction. This system was reminiscent of the Farmall Regular, where cables ran from each brake to the front steering pedestal. When the steering wheel was turned, the brake on the inside of the turn was engaged and helped to pull the tractor around the turn.

Clyde, Jr., developed a three-wheeled riding tractor called the McLean Husky Big-Wheel. It had one big wheel in back and two smaller wheels in front and was powered by a five-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine. The tractor was the machine produced by the company which had a seat for the operator. The tractor had an innovative design, in that the engine and implements were mounted on an internal frame which could be raised or lowered. This frame was pivoted in the back, and the front could be raised or lowered by means of a lever which was spring-assisted for ease of operation. Two tubes protruded from the front of the machine for attaching a rotary mower deck or a blade for pushing snow. The steering wheel was connected to the front wheels by a chain drive.   Approximately 500 McClean Husky Big-Wheels were built. The Big-Wheel garden tractor was later produced by the Bertron Corporation. To see a parts list for the Big-Wheel tractor as built by Bertron, please click on Big-Wheel Parts List.

Husky Three-Wheeled 1 Husky Three-Wheeled 2

The design of the McLean tractors was a fine example of the "thinking outside of the box" that evidenced the McCleans' considerable abilities. It is not known how many of the tractors were produced or precisely when their production runs began and ended. Few records were retained by the company, so little information is available regarding the McCleans and their business concerns. The company closed its doors in 1970 and was sold about 1978.

Sources for the information in this article include:

    Frahm, Marvin. "McLean Tractor Husky Model 48," Gas Engine Magazine, 22 (15), May/June, 1987.

    Goelzhauser, Kate. "The McLean Four-Wheel Tractor," Lawn & Garden Magazine, 7:4 (38-42), July/August,     2013.

    Hofer, Al. "McLean Husky," Lawn & Garden Tractor Magazine," 7:3 (18-19), May/June, 2013.

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