Gas Engine Magazine

Pioneer 30-60 Pioneer Gets a New Lease on Life

By Staff

In February 2000 my good friend and fellow tractor collector
Dennis Powers of Boone, Iowa, called to tell me about a Pioneer
tractor that was for sale. Dennis knew I had tried to buy a Pioneer
twice before, both times getting outbid in the buying process. I
had finally come to peace with the idea that I would never own a
Pioneer tractor, but here was Dennis calling me with a lead on
another Pioneer.

The truth is I’m getting older, and I wasn’t sure if I
wanted another big project – I actually almost dreaded going to
look at the tractor. Undoubtedly it would be a big expense, and I
didn’t know if I wanted to suffer through the process of not
only coming up with the money, but also exerting the work necessary
to restore another big tractor. Dennis gave me a phone number for
Fred Nolan in Jerseyville, Ill., and looking at a map I decided to
at least go look at the tractor, as it was only 500 miles from my
home in Goessel, Kan.

I called Fred, and he told me that if I wanted the tractor
I’d better get up there right away, because an ad was coming
out in GEM the next week. Come 5 a.m. the next day I left home, and
by mid-afternoon I was at Fred’s place looking the old Pioneer
over.

As Found

The last time the tractor had been run was in the mid-1930s, and
it had spent all but the last 15 years outdoors. I was impressed at
how complete the tractor was, with all the little parts that are
usually missing still intact. But I was also very conscious of the
forlorn look the years out in the elements had taken on the old
tractor. I left Fred’s and headed home, thinking to myself I
really didn’t want that large of a project anymore. I got home
about midnight and my wife, Leann, was up. ‘Well, did you buy
it?’ she asked. ‘No,’ I told her, ‘I
didn’t.’ She was surprised and asked me why not?
‘I’m not sure that I want to buy all that work,’ I
said. ‘You don’t have to restore it,’ she replied,
‘you can always have it in our collection without restoring
it.’ The next day I got on the phone with Fred and consummated
the deal.

Our good friend Steve Sabo, who owns Target Transport in
Middlebury, Ind., hauled the tractor from Illinois to Kansas in
July 2000. In the process I had also acquired a circa 1917
Minneapolis 35/70 located in Minnesota, so Steve hauled that along
with the Pioneer.

We were deep into the summer months and going to shows, so we
finished up the projects we were working on before starting to
tackle the Pioneer. I started taking the Pioneer apart Oct. 1,
2000, and I tried to work on it every day until it was completed –
Aug. 5, 2001, just in time for our local show, Country Threshing
Days, held in Goessel, Kan.

Setting to Work

As I launched into taking the Pioneer’s engine apart, I
found that just about everything was stuck and in need of
rebuilding. The main bearings were fine, but the rod throws on the
crank were flat and needed to be turned, and that meant the rods
had to be re-poured along with having the crankshaft turned. This
is not an easy engine to handle – the crankshaft is almost eight
feet long. Even so, Dick’s Engine Service in Ellinwood, Kan.,
was able to grind the crank, and they also turned the pistons and
bored the block to take a new sleeve, which was then turned to fit
the pistons.

The valves needed replacing and the guides were worn, so I made
new valves with 1/16-inch oversize stems, boring the valve guides
to accommodate the larger valve stems. This took care of the wear
in the guides, and I found new valve springs for a large
Fairbanks-Morse that I adapted to the Pioneer.

The pistons were also stuck, and to remove them I built a ram to
place on top of the pistons that was recessed above the piston head
so it would only contact the outer edge of the piston. With the aid
of a 70-pound piece of four-inch shafting, I used the battering ram
approach to get the pistons out of the bores. The first piston came
out with just a few blows, and I said to myself, ‘this is going
to be a piece of cake.’ The first one might have been easy, but
it took a full day to get the next two removed, and the last one
proved to be extremely stubborn. By heating up the bore and
continuing to ram the piston it finally gave up – but not without
leaving me very exhausted and with sore muscles.

Past History – One of Two

Through a streak of good luck I was able to track down George
Carney, the son of the second owner of the Pioneer, and he provided
the complete history of this particular tractor, along with an
original photo showing the tractor pulling a road grader.

Jerry installing spark plug wires. Lee Pederson
supplied the bulk wire necessary for the nine foot run from magneto
to spark plugs.

The Pioneer 30 as it arrived, July 2000. Sharing
space with the Pioneer on the trailer is the circa 1917 Minneapolis
35/70 Jerry found in Minnesota.

It turns out that some time around 1915 Phelps County, Mo.,
bought two Pioneer 30 gas tractors to pull road graders for
building Highway 63, a major east-west highway passing through
Rolla, Mo., the county seat. The Pioneers were delivered by rail
car in 1915, and were put on a siding track to be unloaded.
‘Our’ tractor was unloaded first, and as the second Pioneer
was being unloaded it got away and rolled onto the main line track,
just as a steam train was coming down the line. It got hit, and was
damaged rather badly. The county kept it, however, and used it for
parts to keep the other Pioneer running while building the
highway.

Some time around 1930 the county quit using the old tractor, and
local entrepreneur ‘Doc’ Carney bought it from the county.
Doc, with the help of family, used the old Pioneer to build a
couple of roads in the area, but the tractor was last used sometime
around 1934. It sat on the old Carney farm until about 1970, when
it was moved to an old car museum and restoration facility in
Rolla, Mo., owned by Doc’s son, George.

Sitting by the old highway it helped build decades earlier, the
old Pioneer was a landmark for years. Fred Nolan saw it in Rolla,
and he would stop by about once a year to see if he could buy the
tractor from George. Around 1985 George finally decided to sell the
tractor, priced at $20,000, and Fred bought it. It sat in
Fred’s storage building until July 2000 when I hauled it home
to Goessel.

Why a Pioneer

Even though I had tried to buy one before, I had decided that I
didn’t want a Pioneer tractor in my collection, mostly because
they’re overpriced and completely enclosed. Why would anyone
want one? You can’t see anything moving except the flywheel.
Looking back, I’m not sure if I talked that way because I
didn’t have one, or because I was jealous of the fellows who
did have one. Mow that I do have one, however, I can tell you it is
one of my favorite tractors.

It is perhaps the easiest starting of all the large tractors we
have, and certainly the smoothest running. It’s an interesting
machine, and in my opinion it has features that were far ahead of
its time for 1915. For example, it has a multiple-disc clutch that
is far superior to the expanding wood shoe-clutch that was popular
at the time, and it is one of the few large tractors of its time
with automotive-type steering, making it far more maneuverable than
most of its contemporaries. It has an enclosed transmission and
engine, which provides a cleaner environment for critical moving
parts, and the cab is enclosed on three sides and has the added
comfort of a padded chair and arm rest. An unusual feature is the
intake manifold, which runs through the crankcase, the carb
attached at a point below the crankcase.

There are different opinions as to the correct color scheme that
Pioneer originally used, and I think, after having rounded up more
information, the red I used should probably be maroon. Trouble is,
I haven’t been able to find out too much original information
on Pioneer, nor, it seems, have other people.

It’s known that they built tractors in Winona, Minn., and in
Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but just how many were actually made is
anybody’s guess.

Contact engine and tractor enthusiast Jerry Toews at: Box
131, Goessel, KS 67053. For a further discussion of Pioneer
tractors, see the October 2001 issue of our sister publication,
Farm Collector.

  • Published on Mar 1, 2002
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