Pioneer 30-60 Gets Second Wind

A Pioneer 30-60 tractor receives loving restoration work after being left for 55 years


| July 1999



Irvin King's fully restored Pioneer 30-60

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.