PIONEERS OF STEEL:

A Brief History of the Pioneer Tractor Mfg. Company


| March/April 1997



Ben and Myrtle Huntley

Ben and Myrtle Huntley, a well-known photographer and model, were hired by the Pioneer Tractor Company to make a motion picture in Canada of their Pioneer tractor, probably to be used for sales.

Reprinted with permission from Winona Post and Shopper, Winona, Minnesota. The article first appeared there in September 1995, and was sent to us by Ron Olson ,4179 Thornhill Lane, Vadnais Heights, Minnesota 55127. Photos courtesy of the Winona County (Minnesota) Historical Society's Huntley Collection.

At the turn of the century, as the great forests of West Central Wisconsin were cut down, came the decline of the great lumber mills along the upper Mississippi. Winona, having four large sawmill operations, was especially hit by not having logs coming into the city. With a 1910 population of 20,000 and more banking done than in any other city of the same size, the desire for new industry was great.

Pioneer Tractor Company had just incorporated in Minneapolis in April, 1909. The company's prototype tractors were an instant success but they needed larger manufacturing facilities. Winona's wealthy financiers provided the opportunity the startup tractor company required and in March of 1910, the Pioneer Tractor Manufacturing Company was incorporated in Winona.

The new Winona tractor company initially leased the Sash and Door Factory building from the Empire Lumber Company located at the S.E. corner of Front and Carimona. This building (presently occupied by Winona Dray Line) is all that remains of the tractor company that expanded with buildings extending two blocks east and one block north toward the river.

Production of the Pioneer tractor began in the summer of 1910 as partially assembled tractors were brought to Winona. As new equipment, supplies and some skilled machinists were relocated in Winona the company was producing about two tractors per week at the end of 1910.

The 'Pioneer 30,' a 30 drawbar and 60 belt (30-60) horsepower was the first tractor model Pioneer produced. This tractor was unusual in that it boasted a fully enclosed cab. The Pioneer 30 was 21 feet long, 10 feet wide, 11 feet high and weighed 23,000 pounds. The big tractor also carried a big price tag, $3,000. The Pioneer 30 featured a four cylinder horizontally opposed engine with a fully enclosed drive train with a three-speed transmission. Lighter weight structural steel was used where possible instead of cast iron.