By Adam Smith - Executive Vice President of Strategic Development- Members that attended the WWII Expo event in New Orleans may recall seeing a small tracked vehicle on display. The full and official name is “Cleveland Tractor Co. Medium M2 High-Speed Tractor”, but it’s more popularly known as a “Cletrac”. The National World War II Museum’s immaculate example is in full working order, and it created a great photo opportunity when it was hooked up to our B-24 Diamond Lil –highly likely this was the first time it had towed a real bomber since the end of World War II. The Cletrac was one of the most ubiquitous airfield vehicles of the war. Over 8,500 of them were built, primarily for use as a tug for heavy bombers, bomb carts and the like. With a center-mount drawbar for maximum traction it was particularly effective for moving vehicles or aircraft that had become bogged down in mud. Sometimes referred to as the "bomber nurse," the Cletrac also contained a high-pressure air compressor, a 24-volt generator, a nitrogen bottle and a winch.
For several months prior to the New Orleans event, I’d been chatting with the CAF Curator Keegan Chetwynd about the role of ground vehicles at the CAF National Airbase. We think they will be important to the whole ambience of the attraction, particularly as we plan to embrace “living history” techniques, using costumed interpreters. Keegan drew up a very thoughtful list of ground vehicles that might enhance the National Airbase. It included things commonly found at World War II airfields like jeeps, fuel trucks, fire engines and bomb carts. And at the very top of the list was the “Cletrac M2 Heavy Bomber Tug.” So when I saw the Cletrac in action at New Orleans I was immediately sold and said: “Yes, we simply have to get one of these!”
Keegan put the call out to his extensive network of World War II reenactors and military vehicle enthusiasts. There’s a very natural connection between these groups and the CAF, and much potential for us to work together on projects and special events. And so it has transpired with the Cletrac. In early March, word reached us that a listing had appeared on the auction site eBay that described no fewer than six Cletracs sitting in a yard in Burleson, TX.Before long they were being inspected by some knowledgeable eyes, who that felt there were several good candidates for restoration. Sympathetic to the mission of CAF, the seller kindly removed them from eBay, and sold us the collection on extremely favorable terms.
We appear to have acquired the “mother lode” of Cletracs here. Our goal is to get one of them restored to impeccable standard and have ample spare parts for ongoing operations. We can help the National World War II Museum with spare parts too, and it would be good to give something back to an organization has been a very good friend to the CAF. Keegan is rallying a volunteer group of military vehicle enthusiasts to do the restoration. If any Squadron members are interested in getting involved, please contact him via email email@example.com I’m sure you will all join me in looking forward to the day when we can hook our very own Cletrac up to FIFI and Diamond Lil at the CAF National Airbase!