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#2 Best Refines the Self-Laying Tractor


Can you imagine inventing something that greatly influenced American history? A California man named C.L. Best helped to change American agricultural history through the invention and refinement of something called a “self-laying track” that was used on tractors.  Track-type tractors, or tractors that run on a continuous track instead of a wheel, became very popular among California farmers during the early 20th-century because they helped to give the tractors better traction.  Traction is an important feature of tractor mechanics since it helps the vehicle to better adhere to the soil, which in turn helps the farmer to better work the land.  C.L. Best saw the potential for these tractors in the Western United States, and helped on popularize the use of track-type tractors.  In 1912 Best and his company, the C.L. Best Gas Traction Company began using tracklaying technology on mainstream American tractors. C.L. Best continued to improve the self-laying track design by inventing the “Oscillating Roller Frame” and the “Rocker Joint,” which he patented.  Can you see the influence of Best’s inventions on the tractors on display in the museum?


C.L. Best was a California man who saw potential in the track-type tractor design.  After Best was granted he patent for tracklaying technology, Best and the C.L. Best Gas Traction Company worked to make the refine many of the design features on the track-type tractors used in California.  The tractors on display here demonstrate the development of Best’s tractor designs.


Best 75

C.L. Best Gas Traction Co., Elmhurst, California

In late 1912, C.L. Best announced the arrival of his first track-type tractor, the 70 H.P. TrackLayer. These TrackLayer tractors were meant to compete with Benjamin Holt’s new Caterpillar tractors, which also used the continuous track design.

In 1913, Best improved the horsepower in the engine speed and released the Best 75 H.P. Tracklayer. In addition to the slight increase in horsepower, this tractor embodied many important mechanical innovations. Its construction employed steel castings, oscillating track roller frames and differential steering. Later models of the Best 75 also had power steering. The Best 75 H.P. ceased production in 1919.


Best Thirty High Drive “Humpback” Tracklayer

C.L. Best Gas Traction Co., Elmhurst, California

This thirty horsepower tractor was built by the C.L. Bes Gas Traction Co. at its Elmhurst plant in 1914 and it was the first of three models to bear the thirty designation. This design featured a front tiller wheel for steering and unusual elevated sprockets, which gave the tractor the appearance of having a “humpback.” The rear elevated sprockets meant that the sprockets turning the tracks were not on the ground but actually elevated. The unique design was intended for use on smaller farms, orchards, and vineyards. Production of the Best 30 Humpback was limited, and lasted only one year.

Although the Best Humpback 30 was not very popular, the elevated sprocket design was perhaps ahead of its time. Sixty years after the Best Humpback 30, the Caterpillar Tractor Co. would use the humpback design on its D6 through D11 model tractors.


Best Model D Thirty Tracklayer
C.L. Best Gas Traction Co., Elmhurst, California

Best premiered the Best Model D Thirty to replace the Best 30 Humpback in 1915. While this Thirty used the same engine as the previously built “Humpback Thirty”, it did not have a front tiller wheel for steering or the elevated rear sprockets. The Best Thirty was advertised as the tractor for farmers, loggers, orchardists, and others who did not need to power of the Best 75 tractor but wanted the quality of a Best Tractor. The 30 H.P. was discontinued by 1919.


Best Model A 60
C.L. Best Tractor Co., San Leandro, California

When the first Best Sixty tractor came off the production line at the Best San Leandro factory in 1919, it was one of the few tractors of that time to use improved technologies. Best used the science of metallurgy (the study of metals and the procedures required for refining, alloying and making things from them) and the process of heat treatment to build strong tractors. Compared to other tractors, the Best Sixty was a compact and well balanced machine that proved adept at many different applications. From farming to logging to road building to stationary work, this shiny black, red and gold 60 tractor set the pace for all competitors.

The Best Sixty saw three major design and improvement stages during first six years it was produced. Renamed the Caterpillar Sixty in 1925, the Model Sixty ceased production in 1931 with a total of 18,948 Best and Caterpillar tractors built.

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