Abandoned Treasure: McCormick-Deering TracTracTor

Rare McCormick-Deering Model 10-20 TracTracTor discovered in Mojave Desert

McCormick-Deering TracTracTor

View of the McCormick-Deering's left side. Trees in this area were burned in a 2005 wildfire, but the crawler was unaffected. 

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High in the Providence Mountains of southeastern California’s Mojave Desert, near an abandoned gold and silver mine, rests a derelict McCormick-Deering crawler tractor. Tucked into a small side canyon and mostly hidden by trees and bushes, this early crawler was found late last year by inquisitive hikers.

Physical evidence surrounding the crawler indicates the piece was abandoned decades ago, but being in a relatively dry desert climate, it has survived remarkably well. Hiker friends of mine reported their find to me some time later, as I did not accompany them on the initial outing.

The crawler appeared to be a Model 10-20 TracTracTor. In early March 2012, I plodded up the old mine road to see it myself. My route took me past mine ruins and down into the next canyon. This would normally be a scenic forest area, but an unchecked wildfire in 2005 destroyed most of the pinyon and juniper trees on 71,000 acres. Up a side canyon I saw a bit of yellow metal, and there was the crawler. No road or trail leads to it, but the hiking is not difficult.

No serious rust was seen anywhere on the crawler. The right track and some critical engine parts are missing and were not seen nearby. Very likely the crawler had not been operated for many years. Without spark plugs to keep out the occasional rain and snow, the engine is probably rusted stuck. I tried the foot pedals and hand controls: some moved, some did not.

The 10-20’s 284-cubic inch, 27 hp engine ran on either gasoline or kerosene. Unusual hand controls may have been designed for a standing operator. Unique to this crawler is the hydraulic bulldozer attachment. It appears to have been an after-market kit; the manufacturer is unknown. Ordinary water pipe was used in the crawler’s hydraulic system.

Found in a mountainous mining region, the crawler was presumably used for road construction and site clearing. Or it may have been used as a farm tractor; surrounding valleys contained many farms before the drought of the 1930s. A farmer giving up on his dried-out cropland could have sold the crawler to miners who then installed the dozer blade.

As I didn’t know exactly where to look for the serial number, it took me a few minutes to find it, stamped on an engine block boss. Using my pocketknife to scrape away the surface rust, I uncovered “TT 573,” likely a preproduction number or an early TracTracTor serial number. McCormick-Deering 10-20 Track Layers (later named the TracTracTor Model 20) were built beginning in 1928. Production estimates based on monthly serial number data suggest that no more than 486 10-20 TracTracTors were built between Oct. 1, 1928 and May 1, 1930. Using the same measure, no more than 954 Model 20 TracTracTors were built between Aug. 15, 1930 and June 1, 1931.

Where is this rare crawler? We’re keeping that a secret. By agreement with my friends, I will not disclose its exact location. They want the crawler to remain where it is, unmolested. Besides, the crawler is inside the Mojave National Preserve, a National Park Service management area since 1994, and as such the crawler is a federally protected historical artifact. Further, it is situated in a remote and rough mountain canyon, so a recovery attempt would be difficult, expensive and unlikely to win the National Park Service’s approval. FC 

Francis G. Blake is a retired geologist living in California. He is interested in antique vehicles of any kind, and exploration of the Mojave Desert. He has written for Army Motors, Old Cars, Armor and Road Rider. Email him at jblake33@roadrunner.com.