Reliable & Red: Massey-Harris Model 30 still going strong
A neighbor’s garden made ready for planting by the Model 30.
Upon returning home from Europe in 1945, my grandfather made a decision concerning his future as a farmer: He was going to buy a tractor. While stationed in Scotland waiting for D-Day, he’d been impressed by the mid-size tractors then in common use on farms as well as military bases. Although he was a horseman until the end of his life, Grandfather saw that the future for him was on a tractor.
When Massey-Harris released its Model 20 in 1947 to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary, Grandfather immediately bought one. A year earlier he’d purchased a team of big work horses, hedging his bet in case the tractor didn’t work out. However, the Model 20 did prove itself. It plowed, planted and harvested its way through five seasons on the farm, delivering good performance and helping increase crop production quickly.
By then, Grandfather had more land under cultivation, mainly potatoes, oats and buckwheat. He also had beef cattle and hogs. It became clear that a bigger tractor was necessary. At the dealership, the Model 30 captured his interest.
At the time, most farmers bought wide front models, but Grandfather chose the 30 in a narrow front (in the U.S. it would be referred to as a row crop model). His reasons were simple: A major part of the new tractor’s work would be in the lumber woods, and the turning/pivoting abilities of the Model 20’s narrow front end had impressed him. A wide front would require a bigger headland to turn (at that time fields generally were divided by lines of trees and rock piles, and many were bordered by forest). The slick turning, narrow front end could maneuver more easily.
Power for the 1952 Model 30 gas tractor was supplied by a 162-cubic inch Continental 4-cylinder L-head. The engine had a bore and stroke of 3-7/16 by 4-3/8 inches and a compression ratio of 6.23 to 1. Continental had built engines for many years and by the 1950s produced what were arguably some of its finest engines. Enthusiasts can attest to the thousands of Continentals still running strong today. The engine was rated at 30 hp @ 1,800 rpm on the pulley as per test #409. While that seems unimpressive today, at the time it was sufficient for most farm work. The transmission was five forward gears with one reverse.
The tractor came with hydraulics installed and a 6-volt electrical system that is still maintained: no conversion to 12-volt for our Massey. The 30 came with a pulley for jobs such as threshing, wood cutting and running cement mixers. The 4-cylinder was well engineered for this work and the 30 often replaced other tractors at the pulley.
One feature that both my grandfather and father liked was the Depth-O-Matic lift. As many farms nearby lacked a tractor, both of them hired out to plow for other farmers each fall and spring. The Depth-O-Matic made that work easier on both tractor and plow. Plowing in second gear at half-throttle, the 30 could really eat up the acres. An unexpected rock or root could cause damage but with the plow coming unhitched at the first sign of an obstruction, that problem was reduced. Many fields after World War II had been fallow and were in rough condition. The demand for increased crop production in the post-war era saw many old fields brought into production.
At the time the Model 30 was purchased, a number of implements came home as well. A 2-bottom plow, crop cultivator and 3-section harrow came with the 30 at a total price of $2,600 cash (about $22,000 today), along with Massey’s rock solid warranty. The only chains available were large-linked; Grandfather didn’t think much of that. Those large, old-style links fell into the tire treads and didn’t “bite” properly. While many farmers bought chains with the large diamond pattern often associated with International Harvester or John Deere, the Model 30 was shod with army truck chains linked together. But since this tractor was to be used in the lumber woods, the smaller truck chain pattern proved satisfactory. The 1947 Model 20 was traded in on the new tractor. My father drove the Model 30 home on the day it was purchased and has been its main operator for the last half century.
The Model 20 had another interesting use: Grandfather took it hunting and fishing. In the age before ATV’s and 4-wheel drive trucks, tractors were commonly used this way. Able to negotiate streams or mud, the tractor was a natural choice for sportsmen. Cars of the era had gotten heavier and lower, making them useless on logging roads. Grandfather had driven Model T and Model A cars back into the hills and used the Massey the same way. It must have looked funny to see a couple of deer tied to an old-time tractor chugging along some rutted logging road.
Grandfather built a large wooden box that bolted to the drawbar and this was a parcel carrier. Extra fuel and oil were taken, along with a tire pump and a tool box. He’d load his camping equipment and, depending on the season, a fishing rod or rifle as well.
The Model 30 took up the workload and was used year-round. It was never put up for the winter as many tractors were in the 1940s and ’50s. With hardly a day off, it pulled farm implements, countless loads of loose hay and, later, baled hay. Manure spreaders, potato planters and endless cords of stove wood were hauled as well. As a power source, it cut wood on a circular saw and threshed tons of oats and grain. It later hauled the neighbor’s combine in the days before self-propelled models existed. In the winter it pushed snow with a home-built plow made of yellow birch and a cutting edge from a horse-drawn grader. In fact, this old snow plow was in use for almost 35 years before it was retired. In the spring, the Model 30 pulled stuck cars out of the mud holes.
When my father took over the farm, he switched from potatoes to mostly beef and grain. He also spent more time in the lumber woods and the 30 easily switched to that job. The short wheel base (125 inches) and width (65 inches) made the 30 a real workhorse in the lumber woods. It could turn, back up and switch power from wheel to wheel by braking the spinning tire.
It is surprising the number of Massey-Harris models that appear in various trade publications, both running and unrestored. We have always worked our 30 and while it shows age, it is honest wear and nothing to be ashamed of. With the availability of parts/technical information on the Internet along with online enthusiasts groups, the bright red 30s will be around a long time.
We ceased major farm operations in the early 1980s, sold the remaining livestock and much of the machinery. At one time we had Cockshutt, Oliver, Belarus and International tractors but Father always worked the 30. In more than 50 years of steady service, it has had two engine jobs and one transmission. Regular filter replacement with a full lubrication schedule has proven again that long service life is possible in the real world. While some folks are surprised at such long service, those who know the 20, 30, 33 or 44 models will tell you the darn things just keep running.
In the summer of 2010 we conducted a log harvest using the Model 30. The 1952 Model 30 was the main tractor employed for skidding out the logs; we used a second 30 with a loader to pile the logs. We brought out hundreds of logs and the 30 snaked them down narrow, hilly trails. By using such light machinery we are able to harvest and cause minimal damage to the ecosystem, ensuring a future harvest. This past autumn the Model 30 was used to plow several gardens; in the winter it easily moved our big North Woods snowfall.
The Massey-Harris 30 came along at the right time for the farming community and continues to provide good service. So here’s to our Massey-Harris 30, a classic working farm tractor. FC
Cary Rideout lives in rural New Brunswick, Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.