1921 Best Tractor

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

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

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.

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