The Faithful Old 15-30

Burnett farm

Content Tools

Greensburg, Kansas

International Harvester couldn't collect debts that most farmers owed on tractors and machinery, and Ralph Burnett was no exception. The company offered to cancel the balance of the debt if Ralph could pay half of it, so he borrowed the money and paid IHC $200.00. His tractor ended up costing only $800.00.

Two 'double-headers' operating on the Burnett farm, 1967.

Ralph couldn't afford to trade tractors, so he started making improvements on his. He found out he could boost the horsepower by installing an overhead exhaust, straight-gasoline manifold and Zenith K5 carburetor, so this was done in 1934. The manifold and carburetor were designed for the P-300 power unit. He also put in a variable-speed P-300 governor, to get better load-handling from the engine.

In 1935, he hired a local blacksmith to cut the spokes on the steel wheels and install rubber-tire rims; he was one of thousands of farmers to do this. On November 1, 1936, International Harvester company changed the paint scheme on their tractors from the traditional gray with red wheels to all red, for safety reasons, because of the poor road visibility of the gray paint. Ralph Burnett and his neighbors followed suit, and painted their tractors IH red. This is why so many of these early tractors are painted red today.

September, 1961-the original Burnett '22-36' drilling wheat south of Mullinville, Kansas.

The old 15-30 continued to be used on the Burnett farm, for everything from plowing to grinding feed, and might have been traded off but for one problem: World War II. Ralph's sons went to the military, and the tractor manufacturers were busy building war materials, so the 'Faithful Old 15-30' continued to work the family farm. Ralph once calculated that in the period from 1940-1950, his tractor among all its other chores, bound ten thousand acres of feed for him and his neighbors.

July, 1970-Kevin Stephenson standing next to 18,000 bushels of wheat on the ground, Syracuse, Kansas, left.

In 1953, Ralph rented some ground in Hamilton County, Kansas, from a Greensburg landowner, and started trucking his tractor back and forth to do the farm work. This got to be a lot of trouble, so he began looking for another tractor to buy. One of his neighbors traded in a late 15-30 on a W-9, so Ralph bought it. Some time thereafter he got the idea to couple two of these tractors together, into what he called a 'double-header'. With the engine modifications made and the two tractors coupled together, the combined unit developed 130 horsepower. A double-header was capable of pulling three fifteen-foot oneway plows at a depth of 6-8 inches at 4 MPH. This performance was quite comparable to a neighbor's 4020 John Deere.

1972-Ralph Burnett drilling wheat at Syracuse, Kansas, on 1930 '22-36'. Note the name 'Arnie' on the tank. This tractor was originally owned by Arnie Schmidt of Greensburg, Kansas.

As Ralph's grandchildren became old enough to help on the farm, Ralph continued to buy used '22-36's' as they were traded in, and eventually he owned FIFTEEN of these tractors, twelve of which were in operating condition. In order to distinguish one tractor from another, Ralph named each one after its previous owner, and painted the name on the gas tank. Three generations of Ralph Burnett's family farmed with these machines. The use of these old tractors and the old equipment didn't hurt his production any, as evidenced by the harvest pictures. The 1970 crop averaged 53 bushels per acre dryland.

Ralph Burnett farming at Syracuse, Kansas, 1976

Ralph's wife Ethel died in 1972, and Kevin Stephenson, the last grandson, got married in 1973, but he continued to help with the farm work part-time in the summer. The farm continued to prosper, and the old tractors continued to run. Just before Ralph died in 1979, he gave Kevin Stephenson three of the old '22-36's' in exchange for his labor from that summer, as Ralph had been in the hospital and couldn't do the work.

The tractor on the cover of this issue is a 1932 McCormick-Deering 15-30 of the increased horsepower, or '22-36' design. It was restored by Kevin Stephenson over a sixteen month period in 1982 and 83. Serial number of this unit is TG-155156-ME. This tractor was purchased from a neighbor by Ralph Burnett in 1968 for $35.00. Kevin farmed with this tractor from 1968 to 1979. This particular tractor had a ball-bearing transmission, as well as the ball bearing mains in the engine for which McCormick-Deering tractors were famous. This tractor has appeared at the threshing show at Haviland, Kansas several times, and the Mullinville Kansas Centennial Celebration on Labor Day weekend, 1984.