1921 Best Tractor

| September/October 1997

  • 1921 Best Thirty Tractor
    Bill Santos of 8315 Amber Lane, Newcastle, California 95658 tells the restoration tale of this 1921 Best Thirty in this issue.
  • 1921 Best Thirty Tractor

  • 1921 Best Thirty Tractor

  • 1921 Best Thirty Tractor
  • 1921 Best Thirty Tractor
  • 1921 Best Thirty Tractor

8315 Amber Lane, Newcastle, California 95658

I am a retired Cat salesman, having spent 37 years with a Caterpillar dealer, Tenco, in the Sacramento area.

I spent the first 13 years as a mechanic and worked on all the early gas Caterpillars.

As a salesman for Tenco we took customers to Peoria, Illinois, in the winter to visit the factory.

In 1981 on a trip to the factory I got into a conversation with a neighboring customer from Redding. We talked about old tractors and gas engines. He said he had a Thirty tractor that he wanted to restore some day. We exchanged business cards and that was the last I heard from him.

In May of 1995 I got a call from him asking if I would be going to the Anderson Gas Engine Show. He wanted to get rid of the Thirty as he wasn't doing anything with it. I met him at the show and he took me out to his place to look at the Thirty and other items.

When we drove into the yard there sat a sad looking Best Thirty, with: wrong tracks, one final drive coming apart, one track partially off, bent and twisted track frames, broken seat, engine stuck; but it had all the right parts, mag, carburetor, and valve cover for an early model Best. A few phone calls and negotiation and he took a running Cat 15 as a trade for his jewel.

I parked it in front of my shop as a future project. Bad idea! Every time I walked by it, I stopped and analyzed it. By September of 1995, I couldn't stand it any longer and pushed it into the shop. I removed the track and track frames (less space taken up in the shop). Next I disassembled the engine, cylinder head, individual cylinders and pushed the pistons out of the cylinders. I removed the timing gears, oil pump, cam shaft and lifters, as they were rusted to the block. Using the torch and penetrating oil I was able to free up the lifters and cam. (Note: Regarding engines that have been sitting a long time, in California, the condensation will rise to the camshaft and cause them to rust.)

I found little wear in the cylinders, and could also save the rings and pistons. The main bearings and rod bearings looked very good. I used the old rings as they didn't show any wear. I found that if you reinstall the old rings in their original grooves and cylinders, they will find their way back to their original position and regain cylinder compression. I ground the valves and reassembled the engine. I cleaned and made some miscellaneous parts for the ensign (snail carburetor), Pomona air cleaner, cleaned and repaired the Berline magneto.

I disassembled the radiator and repacked the 84 tubes. Each tube has a packing nut at each end I robbed my wife's sewing cabinet contents for packing material; cotton string will do it.

Next, I disassembled the final drive it had fifteen broken bolts to drill out. The early Best Thirty could only use eleven inch track shoes. Some-one had put later model thirteen inch shoes on it, which wiped out all the bolts that held the finial in place. My son had bought a Cat parts Thirty with early eleven inch Best tracks, so we made a trade.

I spent a considerable amount of time straightening the track roller frames as they were bent and twisted. I borrowed a rail-bending tool from a gold miner friend of mine to straighten the six inch channel frames. Early Best tractors have no recoil springs on the idler, causing damage to the track frames by foreign material (rocks, snow and ice) in the tracks.

I took the tracks to Modesto in October of 1995 to have the pins and bushings repaired. This company has the only old track press for flush type bushings. I talked with the owner and explained how I would like to save some of the bushings and pins as the old Cat would be for show only.

He said he could do that, but would have to run the press himself. I told him I was in no great hurry. In November I had a four-way bypass, and in December, he was run over by a car! His son finally repaired the tracks. I now have new bushings and excellent tracks (dollar shock!) But my heart handled it fine. He also recovered in time to give me the bill.

I had the metal and angle iron for the canopy frame. I had new sheet metal rolled for the top by a culvert manufacturing company.

By June of 1996 I had it painted and ready for our annual Branch 13 Grass Valley Show. We had gas and steam engines, tractors, my Best Thirty, my son's Holt 45, my friend Don Dougherty had his Holt 75, Holt 10 ton, Cat 60, two Auto car trucks, and a model T tractor conversion. We also had a Cat 2-ton, Cat Ten, Cat Ten wide, Cat Thirty, Cletrac, and wheel tractors. It was a good show in the tall pines.

The previous owner of the Holt 75 came to the show to run his old tractor. He is 84 years old and very sharp. I started the Best Thirty for him and he said it couldn't run any better. Then he pointed to a bolt on the flywheel housing that had a square nut on it for a spacer, as the bolt was too long, and said that is not right! It takes an old timer to look beyond the paint!

I have one hundred eighty five hours of repair time and painting. At today's shop prices of $60.00 per hour, my bill would have come to $23,000, plus parts!

It's been a fun project! It goes well with my other 30s.


Gas Engine Magazine A_M 16Gas Engine Magazine is your best source for tractor and stationary gas engine information.  Subscribe and connect with more than 23,000 other gas engine collectors and build your knowledge, share your passion and search for parts, in the publication written by and for gas engine enthusiasts! Gas Engine Magazine brings you: restoration stories, company histories, and technical advice. Plus our Flywheel Forum column helps answer your engine inquiries!

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