Remembering Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith was 86 when this photo was taken in 1974.

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11215 Oakland Drive, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49002

Back in 1973 I found a Rumely '6A' No. 603. This tractor was the 101st of the total of 802 that were built prior to Allis Chalmers buying out Advance Rumely in 1931.

This tractor had been torn down 20 years prior to my finding it on a parcel of land our daughter and son-in-law bought to build a new home.

I had it hauled to Kalamazoo the following year and proceeded to restore it. I finished it in December of that year. My wife called the local newspaper and asked if they would like to write a story on the restoration of this antique tractor. So they came out to where the restoration had taken place and took some pictures. Then I and a friend, Mr. Ray Noel, drove this tractor 12 miles home. This was just before Christmas and it was a typical Michigan winter, so we needed our mittens on.

In the article in the paper I asked for any information that anyone could give me on this tractor. A few weeks later I received a letter from C.B. Smith, a man from Kalamazoo, Michigan who was wintering in Florida. He told me of being a field engineer with the Rumely Company for 15 years in the early 1900's, working for them in South America with the Pancorvo Brothers, a Rumely dealer in Peru. He later returned to Kalamazoo, Michigan and was a Rumely dealer here until Allis Chalmers took over Rumely and then was with them for a total of 40 years in business. He later sold his business to his sons, Smith Brothers of Fulton, Michigan. They had sent their dad the picture and the newspaper article.

Mr. Smith told me in his letter he sold my tractor to a Maynard Fellows of Schoolcraft, Michigan. He said he sold many of them that year in and out of Kalamazoo County and had records of most of the transactions. He said he was a man of 86 years and would very much like to meet me on his return to Kalamazoo in the spring.

Well, I think it was April or May 1974 that my wife and I went to see Charlie and his wife at their home in Kalamazoo. What an enjoyable day! 

This man told my wife and I of his many years with the Rumely Company, both here and in South America, and showed us many pictures taken in South America. Also he showed us pictures of his hunting expeditions to Alaska and elsewhere with other Kalamazoo businessmen. He seemed to remember his sales, etc., as though they had taken place yesterday. He told of the sensitivity of the Rumely six-governor and also the hand clutch. He said in sales demonstrations he would remove his watch, put it between the drawbar and a wall and hold it without breaking the crystal.

Charlie asked if we would like to come pick him up someday and we would ride around the country to see some of his friends to whom he had sold tractors. We took this jaunt. We stopped at my home where he could see my tractor and we took his picture with this tractor that he had sold new so many years before, we also stopped at a Lloyd Strews of Schoolcraft where Charlie sold a Rumely Six. About two years later this Lloyd Strews passed away. His widow held an auction and now this Rumely Six belongs to Ron Miller of Geneseo, Illinois.

Well, dear old Charlie passed away December 8, 1978 at the age of 90 years. One of the finest gentlemen I've ever met. It was 1988 that I went to Fulton, Michigan to visit one of Charlie's sons. He gave me some copies of some of Charlie's records from Peru, South America and correspondence between him and the Rumely Company. Charlie told of the testing of 12-20's down there against other tractors and plowing at 45 per acre, far surpassing the competition in power and economy. It is no wonder Rumely was so successful at that time.

In 1920 other records tell of an experiment at one of the largest sugar and cotton growers in Peru and using a low grade of alcohol made from sugar cane; it worked well with good results. At the time Pancorvo Brothers sold some 15-30 F's. They recommended them to burn crude oil and many owners had trouble resulting from the use of it.

In one particular instance the people have two 15-30 F's and they use crude oil with a mixture of five gallon kerosene to a tank of crude with good success. The two 15-30's are 64 years old (1916's) and due to having a good mechanic are in first class condition. In fact, the owner is a big booster of the Oil Pull tractor.

Now, as a footnote to this story, it might be of interest to the newcomers out there in Engineland that the prototype to the world famous Oil Pull built in 1909 and affectionately called 'Kerosene Annie' is alive and running in a museum called Oscar's Dreamland in Billings, Montana.