Pioneer Tractor Co.

Pioneer Tractor Co. Lives and Dies Full of Mysteries

| February 2005

People crossing the Mississippi River near Winona, Minn., in 1914 must have been surprised to glance down at the sandbars and spot a “war tank with a powerful gasoline engine and top speed of 10-15 mph,” said George E. West, performing maneuvers in the shallow waters there. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been. The machine in question was a prototype made by the Pioneer Tractor Mfg. Co. of Winona, an unusual company that was a leader in the highly-competitive tractor manufacturing world before 1920, and a company that would create a series of mysteries that remain unsolved today.

Relocate, Reincorporate

One mystery is why the Pioneer Tractor Co., which incorporated in Minneapolis in 1909, moved to Winona in early 1910, and reincorporated as Pioneer Tractor Mfg. Co. “Since the principals of the company were the same in both cases,” writes C.H. Wendel in Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors. Normally if tractor companies moved, it was to a new investor’s town.

Regardless, Winona was excited about its new business. The Feb. 19, 1910, headline in the Winona Daily Republican-Herald screamed “Gas Traction Engines! This industry is the manufacture of gas traction engines, the coming machine which is already being used to quite an extent in farm work and in time will very largely take the place of horses.”

As railroad cars packed with materials – especially rolled steel – arrived in Winona in the early part of 1910, the Pioneer factory geared up for an initial production of one Pioneer tractor per week; increasing to two per week by June 1, and by July the same year, one per day. The company did not see selling them as a problem, because, as the newspaper gushed, “The tractor manufactured by this factory is entirely different from any other in the field and claimed to be superior to any in every respect. It is made of steel instead of cast iron, and therefore, durable and light as possible. It will travel anywhere upon a farm field in different kinds and conditions of soil readily and may be used all the year around by the farmer for plowing, seeding, harvesting, threshing and hauling to market. It may be used principally for power or operated for speed.”

From the start, Pioneer developed tractors with two different engine styles and four different tractors of 8, 15, 25 and 40 HP; these horsepower ratings were altered as the tractors were actually built.

Getting Real

The first tractor built was the Pioneer 30, a 30-60 machine with four wheels, using the company’s own horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine, with pistons cast in pairs and a 7-by-8-inch bore and stroke. This 23,000-pound machine was designed to break sod in North Dakota and the heavy wax lands of Texas, and was destined to become the company’s most popular and enduring product. The 30-60, with its 8-foot-high rear drive wheels, was also the object of some of Pioneer’s most interesting and unusual advertising. A 1912 advertisement claimed a silver dollar balanced on edge on the crankcase with the motor running at 550 rpm would not fall over. As proof, the photographer swore before a notary public that nothing hidden held up the coin during the 60-second exposure. The advertisement said, “If it is hard to believe, it is only because you do not know the Pioneer.”


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