A Pioneer 30-60 tractor receives loving restoration work after being left for 55 years
Irvin King's fully restored Pioneer 30-60. All of the tractor's parts were numbered in Morse Code. That way, when a part was needed, the customer simply sent a telegram with the appropriate code for that part, and his address. "You could save money on the telegram that way," Irvin said.
When Edgar Knox and Harry Knox bought a new 30-60 Pioneer tractor in 1910, they put it to work on their farm in South Dakota. Capable of breaking large tracts of native sod, the tractor was also used to pull a 36-inch threshing machine, pull tandem disks and multiple drills, move buildings and chop fodder for the silo. Seven years later, when the engine failed, a new one was installed, and the Pioneer was back in business. But when it got hung up in a patch of gumbo land in the early 1920s, that was the end of the road. The Knox brothers left the Pioneer tractor where it was.
Fifty-five years passed as the Pioneer sat abandoned to the elements. It made a useful stockpile, the brothers found: spokes were taken for welding iron; wheels were taken for stock tanks. When Irvin King got his first look at a 30-60 Pioneer, it was little more than a pile of rust. But the prospect of owning it left him as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve.
"After they asked if I was interested in it, and I said 'Sure', I went on home," he said. "But I couldn't hardly sleep that night."
Irvin, an Artesian, S.D., farmer, bought the Pioneer in the spring of 1981. Restoration work began almost immediately. The biggest challenge in the job, he said, was getting a radiator: The original one had been sold.
Before he bought the Pioneer, Irvin was at Edgar Knox's stepson's place, looking for another part.
"We were over by a shed, and I saw a big engine block. 'What's that?' I asked. 'It's an engine block for a 30-60 Pioneer,' he told me. 'Do you want to see the radiator?' 'Sure,' I said. Well, there it was, against the wall of an old granary. I said, 'Boy, I wish you had the rest of that tractor.' 'Oh, it's just a pile of tin out on the ranch,' he said. So I dropped it – until a year later, when I found out that under that tin was most of the 30-60, except the cab, which had rotted off, and the wheels, which were gone." In the interval, though, the original radiator was sold.
Once he got his hands on the Pioneer, Irvin didn't waste any time. He tracked down a Holt Caterpillar radiator he'd seen still in the crate, and found that it would fit his engine.
"It's very, very close to the original," he said. "But I didn't know if it'd work until I got it home and measured it."
The Pioneer's radiator contains 560 feet of half-inch copper tubing. A 6" flat belt runs the radiator's cooling fan.
Other than the radiator, the Pioneer didn't need a lot of parts, with the exception of the cab and wheels. The cab was hand-built from photos and measurements from the cab of another 30-60. Half of the spokes in both front and rear wheels were hand-made, as were all the round spokes in the extension wheels. There are 32 spokes in each extension, and each one was threaded by hand.
The throttle and spark levers – all brass – turned up in a shed at Edgar's stepson's. Much of the tin was intact, a steering wheel from an old roadgrader stood in for the original wheel, which was long gone; and a buddy turned up with perfectly-matched tin for the canopy.
The wheels came off a tractor from Montana that had been swapped.
"The front wheels still had the axle and spindles intact, and I also needed the spindles," Irvin said. "Although half the spokes were gone, the wheels were just what I needed."
Later, while visiting Edgar's stepson, Irvin was looking through a box of old tractor manuals. In the box was a manual showing a high bar KW magneto.
"Here's a picture of the magneto that fits the Pioneer," Irvin said. "Oh, that's in the shed," Edgar's stepson said. "And sure enough, there it was, as good as gold: the original magneto!"
Irvin was pleased with the result. "It turned out fairly well," he said, "for having parts built from scratch." Irvin said just 19 Pioneers – all models – are known to exist today.
"There's just a very limited number of Pioneers," he said, "and very limited information on them."
The company operated at Winona, Minn., from 1910 to sometime in the late 1920s. Irvin's Pioneer is serial number 132.
"It had two engine failures before 1917," he said. "The second time, it broke the block. So a factory block man came out to work on it, and he said it was the seventh one built. I don't have any way of proving that, but we do think it's the oldest surviving Pioneer; there's none we know of with a lower serial number."
The 30-60 is not Irvin's favorite in his large collection (including "a small Rumely, quite a few John Deeres, International, Hart Parr ... more than I need –"). That honor goes to a 20-40 Case with a two-cylinder opposed engine. "It just whispers," he says. "It's a dandy." But he is impressed by the Pioneer's design.
"The Pioneer is comparable to the Edsel: It was quite advanced for its time," he said. "Pioneer was the first to have a totally enclosed cab; and the first to have force-fed lubrication and force-fed oiler to oil mains and cylinders, and a three-speed forward transmission."
"It runs very smooth, as the opposed cylinder engine eliminates most vibrations. On a still day, when you're idling the tractor, you can set a nickel on the edge of that frame, and it'll stay there. You can idle it way down, and every time it fires, you can count it," he said. "But it steers awful hard, and as the birthdays go past, it steers harder and harder."
Irvin enjoys the addition to his collection, which, he admits, has gotten out of hand.
"You know how it is: You always want one old tractor. Well, then you get the fever, and before you know it, your yard's full. Well, I always wanted one BIG tractor." FC
For more information: Irvin King, 24086 415th Ave., Artesian, SD 57314; phone (605) 527-2665.