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
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.
A Pioneer sales advertisement claimed ‘our one hobby has
been to rank in the Tractor World as does the Packard or Marion in
the Auto World.’ The Pioneer 30 also claimed to ‘absolutely
have lowered the world’s record for fuel economy and maximum
efficiency’ at the 1912 Montreal trials.
To proclaim how vibration free the engine was, company ads had a
photographer’s certified statement showing a sixty second time
exposure photo of a tractor running at 550-rpm with a dollar coin
balanced on the crankshaft bearing.
Production continued to increase over the next couple years,
peaking around 1913. The factory was running seven days a week and
24 hours per day with over 120 employees.
Numerous Pioneer tractors found their way into Canada as
Winonans set up land companies buying blocks of the Canadian plains
of Saskatchewan, taking tractors with them. These tractors were
primarily suited for breaking land and hauling several wagons on
the prairies of the great plains of the U.S. and Canada but were
too cumbersome for most of the hills around Winona.
Although Pioneer had a branch office in Regina, Saskatchewan, a
manufacturing plant (Pioneer Tractor Company, Limited) was set up
in Calgary, Alberta, to provide tractors for the Canadian market.
Canadian custom duties were stiff and this move would considerably
reduce the price to Canadians. Information on this Canadian branch
As the prairies came under the plow, the need for the large
prairie tractor started to decline. The trend was toward the
smaller, more maneuverable tractors aimed at replacing the horse.
Although a 1912 Pioneer produced a low quantity of gigantic 45-90
tractors having a six cylinder engine with nine feet tall drive
wheels, most of the subsequent development efforts were toward the
In late 1912 the Pioneer Junior (a 20-40 tractor) came out. This
tractor looked similar to a huge race car of the time and came
fully spring mounted. In . 1913, Pioneer patented and sold many
dump wagons for use with the tractors making road construction
‘trains.’ A few years later in 1916 the Pioneer Pony came
out. The Pony had only one drive wheel in the back and carried a
low price tag of $765. The Pony was rated at 15-30 horsepower.
In 1917, the Pioneer Special was introduced. This tractor soon
became the main tractor sold through the company as the large
prairie tractor demand continued to decline. The Special was also
rated at 15-30 horsepower.
The Great War was having an impact on the Winona Company as it
was for most industrial manufacturing companies. To aid the war
effort the Pioneer Tractor Company led by E. M. Whee-lock, designed
a prototype ‘Spider’ tank for use on the European
battlefields. This tank consisted of a three-man armor clad box
surrounded by a six inch pipe structure on which the track would
run. The concept allowed the pipes to be replaced if hit by enemy
artillery. The tank prototype was not produced; however, an attempt
was made to claim a prize put up by the English government for the
first successful tank design.
After the war ended industry flourished as the factories
retooled from wartime to peacetime. By 1919 there were over 180
tractor manufacturers. Pioneer introduced the streamlined 18-36 in
about 1919. This tractor had the same four cylinder horizontally
opposed crossmounted engine design of earlier models.
Unfortunately for Pioneer, the country was going through a
post-war depression in 1921. This plus the competition from Henry
Ford’s cheaply priced, assembly line built Fordson tractor made
tractor sales very difficult. Fordson had over 50% of the tractor
market in the early 1920s.
The Pioneer Tractor Manufacturing Company continued to produce
the smaller 18-36 and the big Pioneer 30 models through 1927 when
the Winona plant closed. In 1925, the company was reorganized as
Pioneer Tractors, Inc.
There is little doubt the Pioneer 30 was the best tractor of its
time; this tractor was produced with very few design changes from
1909 through 1927. Although designed primarily as a farm tractor it
found a niche being used for hauling loads and road construction.
While most of the early tractors had forward speeds around two or
three miles per hour, the Pioneer 30 featured a speed of over six
miles per hour. This, plus the enclosed cab proved very beneficial
for roadwork. A Pioneer 30 was used for road construction in East
Burns Valley, and then sold to farmers in the Witoka area who used
it until it was scrapped in 1950.
Only about a dozen Pioneer tractors remain today. Many are in
Canada and most are not running. One of the featured events of the
Winona County Historical Society’s Victorian Fair is a running
1910 Pioneer 30 owned by Irvin King of Artesian, South Dakota.
Mr. King has been available to answer questions about his
tractor and provide talks and starting demonstrations throughout
the fair. A list of 150+ Winona employees of the Pioneer Tractor
Manufacturing Company has been compiled and was displayed at the
Fair. Anyone with additional information is requested to contact
the Winona County Historical Society.