Shoveling muck to free the tractor

Shoveling muck to free the tractor. Morris by left driver and myself by the platform.

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Route 1, Box 309, Frederic, Wissconsin.

For some time Morris Blomgren (Siren, Wis.) had known about this 1911 tractor sunk in a bog, not far from Milaca, Minn. It was driven out there during the depression and the dry years of the 1930s. It seems the owner Ray Oskey, had a fantasy some forty years ago, that by mounting a winch on the frame of this tractor, it could be used as a dragline to excavate gravel from those hills on the back forty, up the road a half mile. The thought of selling gravel for roads, to the township, or even the county in those depression years was not to be underestimated, and if it could be done without the usual hand shoveling, all the better. Oskey was a thresherman, as well as a farmer and owned several tractors, but this Minneapolis Universal farm tractor was 'just the checker' for this gravel project. He removed the original opposed motor (keeping all parts) and placed a Dodge motor under the horizontal channel iron frame. Somewhere, he obtained a power winch complete with brake and ?' cable. This unit built on a cast iron base 3x5 feet was fitted on top the tractor frame, and so arranged that the motor could propell the tractor as well as operate the winch. One would have to admit the work of a genious and the hopes for a fortune.

The time had come when Oskey and his two sons were to make the trip to the prospective gravel pit and go into business. What a picture that would have made as they came down the road with that most modern monstrosity. In those years wild hay was salvaged from every meadow, since all farmers had cattle and roughage was at a premium. To avoid hilly ground to the pit site, they would chance a shortcut across this meadow where they had harvested hay. In so doing for some reason the machine came to a grinding halt. In efforts to get it going, somehow a fire started and burning the hay stubble, set the peet bog on fire and thus ended a project, after all that preparation and anticipation.

The following years this meadow was again under water and in that time, muskrats had seen fit to use it for their home and it was now evident, even beavers had anticipated its possibilities. About fifteen years ago Morris met Oskey for the first time, and did buy a Hart-Parr tractor and several gas engines. At that time he was told about this ill-fated tractor. Very few people knew of this stalemate in the swamp and couldn't care less. From a certain point on a town road it was possible to see the cab of the tractor protruding above the catails. (See Although Morriss- hopes to ever retrieve this illusive item were very remote, he still could not perish the thought; what a 'conversation piece,' if, getting it out was possible. He often stopped at Oskeys to visit and salvage original parts. Sifting thru the, heaps of junk on the hillsides, was hampered by brush, bees, and hornets. Although many parts are to be found, he has the gas tank, radiator, and numerous motor parts.

In the spring of 1976, he could no longer resist the temptation to wade out to the tractor and size up the possibilities, knowing too well, if word got out some collector would take up pursuit. Thus in the month of June, Morris, using a 6 foot pole to probe ahead of him for underlying snags or depressions, clambered thru cattails and mud; at one point in water to his waist. To his surprise the cab was in good condition, and the winch above water, but to retrieve it seemed beyond the bounds of common sense, at this time. The serious drought in this northwest area, prompted another checkup in Sept. To his surprise the water had now disappeared, and he could now walk out to the tractor, though it was spongy and damp underfoot. This was indeed a breakthrough for renewed anxiety, and his conclusion was, 'now or never,' lest a rainy spell might occur.

Morris then contacted Richard Knutson, a collector near Braham, Minn, who has an implement truck with tilt bed and winch. Thus the countdown was on for Sept. 28.1 was to ride with Morris for the 75 mile trip in his '67 Rambler, which was loaded with cables, chains, jacks, and blocking. About 5 miles northwest of Milaca, we met Knutson at the Oskey place. Oskey drives a hard bargain, but finally agreed to sell the outfit, as is, minus the winch. Oskey now in his 80s had recently purchased a D7 Cat. Speculation was that it could be rented for $10.00 per hour, but Oskey added, as how he had been down to that swamp and sunk a 15 foot pole and no bottom, and to mire that 7 ton beast would be something. Knutson to the challenge dared think he could pull the mired tractor with his truck winch, and willing to give it a try.

To reach the high ground closest to the tractor, it was necessary to drive the truck ? mile over rough terrain between trees and thru undergrowth 6 to 8 feet high. I had an inner feeling this was all in vain, but then, 'nothing ventured, nothing gained.' Somehow Knutson managed to spot his truck atop this 75 foot hill, tilted the bed to anchor it against a group of birch trees. By 300 feet of cable and several lengths of chain, we could reach the loot. However, due to a narrow island in the swamp between the truck and tractor, it was impossible to see that tractor cab. Thus with Morris at the tractor and Knutson at the truck, I was to be stationed at a point offside with a long pole and red flag to be held high as long as all went well at the tractor end. Thus having the setup oriented, our next move was to free the potential prospect out of the three foot bog. Before this it was time for lunch. Blomgren and Knutson had quite a time with bread, margarine, and mustard sardines (with only a plier for a can opener), add to that, several kinds of cookies, then back to the project.

To free the tractor was no easy matter, you don't shovel cat-tail roots, you chop with an ax and pull them out; sod bound is the words. Then shoveling out the muck was a tacky job and add to that, moreso as the tractor had to make a quarter turn to face the pull of the cable. Since the winch on the tractor was not in the deal, and only added weight, perhaps a short ton, quick work was made of that. With a hacksaw and a highlift jack it was slid off the far side into the brushes. In case anyone is interested it's still there. With Knutson back at the truck, and Morris with his highlift jack set on planks and against the rear wheel lugs, inch by inch the wheels again were turning after some four decades. Without either the cable tension, or highlift jack, all efforts would have been in vain. Once the tractor got turned and out of the hold, the bog roots held its weight, and the winch was able to pull the machine, though it was necessary to take up the slack many times. It slowly crept over the island and up to the base of the hill and all went well, but it was now 7 bells and darkness setting in. Knutson had other commitments the next day, and my wife and I were flying to Seattle, so it was to continue the pursuit now, using flashlight. The pull up this hill was the real obstacle course. The tension on the cable, rendered any steering useless, and we weren't about to get into the cab; a breakage at this point would sure spell disaster. Thank goodness the winch had a safety slippage point. About a tractor length up the hill we were heading toward a red oak stump with its thicket of new shoots. Some quick work with Knutson's chainsaw solved that. Halfway up the hill a cluster of leaning birches caught the top of the left driver. By chopping the innerside we were able to pull on the birch with a loadbinder enough to clear.

By this time it was necessary to anchor the old iron to a tree and reset the truck to come over the top with Morris' loot. Then another stump, and a thornapple tree to cut, and it was over the hump.

Mission accomplished, and the time 9:30. From here on out it would have to be pulled by some tractor to level ground near the road, a rather minor task for another day. The problem now was to find all the cables, chains etc. I was very uneasy about finding our way out of the woods. Headlights in all that underbrush seemed useless. Thank the Lord we made it. 'All is well that ends well.' Before going out the gate by the road, we took time to finish up the cookies, and got home by midnight.

The next day Morris with his good naber' Donald Blanding, went back in further pursuit to get. that 20-40 out of the woods. The first nearby farmer contacted, said (in no way did he want to get involved). The second stop; this farmer was busy picking corn but very cooperative and not much concerned about pay, 'If you can run that International diesel setting in that shed, go ahead.' While towing the 'old-iron,' Morris was glad to find the foot brake was still very good. About a mile pull, and it was in the farmer's yard. At a later date Knutson loaded the tractor and was in Morris yard at 6 a.m., where it now sets amongst the next of kin. Having extension rims this load was over-width, so Knutson crossed the state line while the cops were sleeping. Morris still needs many parts, but in the meantime he has his 'conversation piece.'

Faintly readable on the fuel tank 'Minneapolis Universal Farm Motor.' He has paged through hundreds of hobby magazines in search of information on this old veteran, and is stumped how come it's called a Rumely Gas-pull? (See Iron Men Album Sept-Oct 1964 page 45) Can any one come up with the history on this old 'Iron horse?'