THE OLD OILPULL

Oilpull Tractor

Courtesy of Mr. Lyle Knerr, Chappell, Nebraska

Mr. Lyle Knerr

Content Tools

Maxwell Iowa 50161

This is the story of a few years - six to be exact - I spent in western Canada with my family. The 'how come' and some of my experiences during that time. It will not be a masterpiece alongside the work of Robert Burns, but I can assure the readers that it will not contain any fiction either. But I feel it may be of interest to them to follow an Iowa chap north for awhile and learn how he 'made out'. A couple of weeks ago, I experienced my seventy fifth birthday.

Even as a small boy, I was showing unusual interest in the steam farm engine, and would ask mother to write post cards for various catalogues. When I was fifteen, I hauled water for a Gaar-Scott outfit. It was a sixteen H.P. direct flue pulling a 33-52' Sep. The third year my father bought a one half interest in the outfit for me, and I tended the sep. for a couple of years. This all occurred in southern Iowa where I was raised. We had some coal that was good, but some that was very poor. On some jobs we burned wood. I have cut my share of the old fence rails that figured in the early days as fence material in that part of our state in early days. If asked to burn wood however, it was always agreed that we were not liable in event of fire since sparks from it were dangerous. A couple of years later, I purchased a new 18 H.P. double. This too, was a G. S. and a fine engine. A new sep. too, with a blower. The old rig was fitted with a Sattley stacker, but required a great deal of upkeep.

During my university work of three years, I was married in the first year. My wife is still with me and has been the most wonderful companion. That was 1912. We were raised near each other, and our parents too, had known one another for many years. I spent about three years with the Rumely Co. here in Des Moines. There, we had the Gaar Scott, the Advance and the Rumely lines, all on the floor at the same time. Their steam lines were supplemented with the Oil Pull, from Rumely, the Gas Pull, from Advance, and the Tiger Pull from the Gaar-Scott division. The last, was a Hugh tractor as I remember it, rated at 40-80 H.P. with a T. head motor set lengthwise. Friction drive, if I am not mistaken. We had but one of them at the Des Moines Branch and none were sold out of here to my knowledge. Through THE ALBUM I believe Mr. Norman Pross of Luverne, North Dakota, has one of these tractors. I wish Mr. Pross would give us a little 'run down' on it via THE ALBUM. I believe it was a straight gasoline job. I have never seen but the new one at the branch.

This is an Aultman-Taylor, 30-60, 1916, 4 cylinder horizontal engine.

This is my 20-30 Wallis tractor and 4 roll McCormick Deering corn shredder. Driving the tractor is Gary Schacht from Eau Claire. We had some fun that day.

Here we are sawing slab-wood with my 1931 Irish Fordson. Int. 8-16 hauled wood to woodshed. Left to right are: Dick Johnson, Evert Johnson, Gil Johnson and throwing wood is George Christian. In the foreground is our dog, Tobi. This was taken at the Johnson Place in 1962.

About this time I started out doing road building. The automobile was here by that time in earnest, and people were becoming aware of the need for better highways. The era of the King drag had done much to convince people that the roadways could be improved a lot by treating them properly. Road allowances in Iowa, were 60 or 65 feet wide, but in building a grade of 28' this meant there was a lot of sod on each side to encounter and dispose of. I obtained a contract from the county north of my home county. At that time, the county supplied the grader - in this instance an Adams leaning wheel - and I furnished the power and operator. I bought a new 25-50 Nichols and Shephard tractor, believe it was number 52. Had a cousin (now deceased) driving it, and put myself on the blade. The county engineer had made his surveys and set the stakes. They put us to work on the original grade of what became the Old Jefferson hwy. Now, number 69. and it ran from Winnipeg to New Orleans. The next year my home county gave me a contract, and for power on that outfit I bought a Rumely E. Oil Pull. It was nearly new and of course, a brute for power. Both these tractors were fitted with but one speed, so I put a twelve and a ten' blade as a trailer behind the Oil Pull. This, of course cut down on the trips necessary when a grade was being completed. We had good going at this work, and much comment was made in our favor. One man in a nearby town, made the statement that 'If Ralph Thompson never gets back, he has built himself a monument'. This was said because Uncle Sam, had said 'come and help us out in the artillery' now, for we were in a great war. W. W. 1 was upon us, and the road work could wait. Pardon me please, for recommending myself about the road building above. Many blade men felt, the first thing to do was to go out make a heavy cut the first round. Doing this, their sod and black or finishing dirt, was all mixed together and with a blade set too squarely, it would finally let loose and in piles the size of young haystacks almost, there it was out in the middle of what was to be their grade, and it was about impossible to handle. But to take a very light cut, getting the line established, and pulling the sod upon the shoulder and dropping it there, most of your troubles were buried. The wheels of a heavy tractor every round, were packing it down and firming the sod. Then we could cut our black soil and finish up the grade in a good manner.

Going back and reading what I have written, I notice that I still haven't made that trip to Canada yet - grant me one more deviation please. I want to tell you of an experience with the N & S tractor. It was the first season, hence nearly new, but I had been plowing bluegrass sod, when I found that when pulling hard, and turning to the right, it would cut out and fail to fire on one of the cylinders. Took some time but it was trying to 'tell' me something. It was a twin cylinder, layed horizontally between the channel beams of the frame. The rivets holding the motor to the frame were beginning to loosen, and this permitted a twist. The Wico cam operated magneto (high tension) was mounted on a very heavy bracket about 18' high, and this in turn to the channel frame -not to the motor. Thus, a twist in the frame was not permitting the cam driving the magneto, to hook up properly, and I wasn't getting a spark for that cylinder So, I drove the tractor up to one of the common blacksmith shops of that day. No gas or arc welding at that time of course. The smith was a man by the name of McKee I recall. He was a bit reluctant, about the job, but consented finally. Taking an old narrow wagon wheel tire which was so common those days, we shaped a bracket to the back of the magazine. Four very heavy studs held each cylinder and the bracket was bolted under these nuts, thus forming a single unit, affording no chance for any misalignment. Our troubles were over, and the next year the company adopted a similar mounting. It was a far better looking bracket than Ours. This was the first heavy tractor in my home county, and many people were highly skeptical yet, of the internal comb., motor replacing steam. But I had two years of splendid service from this tractor. Did much grading threshing and hedge pulling with it, as well as silo filling.

Since boyhood, I had a yearning to go to Canada. Now, with my army experience completed, had sold my road equipment, was the time to 'go'. I wanted to go where the grain fields were larger, much larger. Harvesting was a much larger operation there. Too, there were millions of furrows a mile long to be plowed. About this time an add appeared in a Des Moines newspaper. It had been placed by the Iowa agent for the Canadian Pacific (land div). He owned several sections of raw land in Alberta, and wanted an operator to go up there and do breaking for him. I met him in a hotel room in Atlantic, Iowa and we made a deal. I did not feel he had exercised the best judgement in buying a tractor, because it was a B. Oil Pull. They were rated as a 25-45, whereas the E. would have given him a 30-60, and added a couple more bottoms in plowing. It was a used tractor of course as that model preceeded the E. and F. Don't believe there was ever a more dependable or loyal tractor built however up until that time. He was shipping it from northern Iowa here, and I was to wait until we received word that it had arrived at Bassano in Alberta. The day came and I 'lit out' for Minneapolis. Left my family here.

Here is a picture of the first gasoline engine made by J. I. Case in 1892.

Here is a picture of the old Lynn Tractor reactivated for a fill hauling job for Ed Clark's White Mountain Central R. R. at Clark's Trading Post, North Woodstock, New Hampshire. The Lynn runs well considering it was layed up about 10 years ago. The Lynn could haul gravel through the river where the regular dump trucks could not.

This is a brand new Light 4-1917 Huber tractor with a 3 bottom Oliver plow. My father, the late Jurgen Johannsen of near Wolsey, S. D., paid $1700.00 for it and sold it for $300.00 to Walter Fanger, Virgil, S. D. My brother Ben Johannsen (Riverside, Cal.) is standing behind plow, brothers Herman and Otto Johannsen are seated on tractor, the two standing are friends.

This is a 7 H.P. Economy gas engine and 2-hole Keystone corn sheller. Brother Otto Johannsen and I did custom shelling as most people preferred a spring sheller so that the cobs could be used in cook-stoves for fuel. Brother Ben Johannsen (Riverside, Cal.) is standing by cob pile, brother Otto Johannsen of near Wolsey, S. D. is oiling sheller. The owner, Jack Kief, is shoveling corn. The engine was bought from Sears Roebuck in 1917.

We had three small sons by that time. The Soo line soon had me at my destination, and there sat the Oil Pull, still on the car. The radiator had been let freeze and among other things, I installed 13 new sections in it. But after about two weeks, we were ready to go. One of my boss's brothers was on hand. They had hired a plowman, built a dandy combination cook and bunk car, with two rooms in it. We got all in tow, and started out some 16 miles north. A sister of my boss was to appear very soon to do the cooking. We opened up a half section with the outfit, and we were in business. These were my first mile long furrows. Very great numbers of these Rumely tractors were shipped into Canada. The older readers will remember that their exhaust was not sharp, but more of a boom and heavy sound. Many outfits were operating around the clock and the heavy exhaust could be heard from many directions. The war had created a high price for their wheat. It was $3.40 when I went up there. Alberta wheat, about every year, takes first at our Chicago International. It is a superior hard wheat, and I am told the millers want it to blend with the softer varieties. The biggest handicap to the growers there as I see it, they are so far from world markets. From the great western provinces, it is shipped largely to the Port Arthur port, and that is a long haul. Too, many sections suffer from lack of rainfall, but given ample rainfall, there is hardly a limit to the potentials of production there. Wonderful people live there, but so much remains to be done toward the development of the country.

At the close of the war great numbers of tractors were shipped into Canada from the U. S. The Best track layer, the 30-60 Aultman and Taylor, and the Rumely Oil Pull were the leading ones, and the prices too, were in that order. Have been told that every Rumely E. going in there, meant a $500. duty for the Canadian govt. at that time. They were a very heavy tractor and possessed the greatest of lugging power. Their motors all operated running under. Hence, threshing and all belt work, was driven with an open belt. In some localities, a condition would be found in the soil called hummock patches. They might be from five or six feet to 20 feet. It was series of knolls. The old Oil Pull would never hesitate with their eight bottoms, but keep going up and down over them and thru. Even the tract types would get 'hung up' by one tract catching and then the other. But each of the three tractors I mentioned were tops. Good machines, and could be depended upon.

Earlier I mentioned the Boss's sister coming to do the cooking. They were a Danish family, of good stature and strong. She was a wonderful girl and wanted a vacation. The car was a two room one. We boys had the one room for bunks, and she shared the other with the stove the table and her cot near. One Sunday morning we boys were sitting on the edge of her cot visiting and joking. She was going about her work, but it was apparent that something was bothering her no end. It developed that a nail in one of her shoes was the culprit. I always at the time carried a pair of pliers in a side pocket. So, I asked her to let me have that shoe. She did and went on about her work. Soon, she looked around and saw that I was holding that shoe between my knees as I sat there, and holding my nose with one hand and using the pliers with the other. Did she fly spunky! Had never seen her out of sorts before. But she was a good sport and the spell was soon over. I removed the nail too.

As I stated, some seasons were short on rainfall, and it was a good plan to get at the breaking as early as possible after the spring seeding was completed, for the breaking became so dry that it was about impossible to keep a plow in the ground. This, also added to the cost of course. We got to where we keep a blacksmith on the job all the time, some days changing shares as often as three times in a day. I want to say a w o r d too for a Canadian plow. It was the Cockshutt and was far superior to most plows. Others would spring their beams in the tough plowing. The plowing season was over eventually. Our crew disbanded. I brought my family out from town where they had been living in a nice little cottage we were renting. In a bad season up there, about everything comes to a halt. But here comes 'lady luck' when a doctor drove by within only a day or two. He had bought the old Millet Ranch about fifteen miles farther north, and was seeking an engine man. He owned a near new Goodison outfit, and was ready to start threshing a large flax crop. This was my first experience with flax. We threshed flax on some cold days. But that was when it threshed best.

This is a 25 HP International Harvester Tractor threshing in 1912.

About this time I leased an improved half section for the coming year. In the spring I seeded most of it on summer fallow, but a hail storm cut this crop to about 12 bu. an acre. I still have a picture showing the damage and it looks pretty sorry. The next yr. gave us a wonderful crop, but prices had tumbled terribly. Our wheat was standing in the stook (there are no shocks of grain in Canada) and the price was declining from five to nine cents a day. This was hurting, it is needless to say, and you can imagine the scramble to get a rig in to thresh each job. For the next year I purchased a half section from the Canada-Pacific R. R. all unimproved of course. I had bought a new but small tractor and was able to get one of the quarters broken. Built a small but comfortable house. Too, 1 new 12' foot Cockshutt drill, a tandem disc, a good wagon and a Frost and wood grain binder, all new. This binder, was originally the old Woods binder, our fathers knew here, in the states. Our locality had the reputation of getting more rainfall than much of the country, and the next year gave us a wonderful crop of about everything. Had seeded some oats for feed. Had a few head of cattle and six head of horses that must be wintered.

There never was a time it seemed when a fellow couldn't get out and augment at good wages, expenses. Two of the boys were in school by this time - country school. Spent two falls threshing on straw burners. Had firemen on these of course. One was a Port Huron and the other a Case. Two falls threshing on Oil Pulls (both these were 30-60). One season of summer fallowing pulling eighteen disc plows with a 36 H. P. Rumely double simple. Had a fireman here also.

This is a picture of a threshing outfit used for some thirty odd years including 1965 and it is still in good running order. The tractor is a Case Model K 18-32 and the separator an Advance-Rumely Ideal 28-44 all steel. It is one of the last threshers in this part of the country.

This is an Avery outfit that was new in 1924 and was owned by my father, Thomas B. Mahoney, Dorrance, Kansas. This picture, was taken in 1930 at the end of the customed threshing days in Kansas. I am shown standing at the right rear wheel of the tractor, a 45 x 65 Avery and I was running the tractor at that time. Of course, it is a 42 x 70 special built 16 bar cylinder and we are threshing bundles.

This was a fine engine and had been rebuilt by the Company at Calgary. During the period of high prices, about every type and kind of tractor, was finding it's way into the prairie provinces of Canada. Development companies were often times formed by outside interests. Camps would be formed near the project, and they would be outfitted with equipment of all kinds. Some of it well fitted for the job at hand and some of it not. I had a neighbor by the name of McCall called him Mac., who owned a new Oil Pull one of the later ones referred to as improved. He and I the last season we were up there, 'hooked up' to do some threshing. I bought a used Advance separator 28' Advance built a good thresher. It had two bad sills, and needed new teeth. I did this work at home. But it made us a good small rig. If I am not mistaken, at one time this company built two types of threshers. They built a good steamer too I believe. I have always felt that the old Avery Yellow Fellow and the Rumely Ideal, were two excellent threshers. There were many of course, and like cars today, no one knows what was best. These two machines were not the easiest pulling ones, but usually an outfit requiring power was one built for more agitation and adverse conditions. Well, the biggest part of the boom was over. Prices were down terribly. My mother back here-one of the grandest of women, was gradually failing from cancer, and we were beginning to think of returning to Iowa. So we rented our little going concern to a young couple with whom we were well acquainted. They had three children. Mother left us in the spring after we returned. Both she and my father had been up to see us in Canada. Mrs. Thompson's mother before long went in exactly the same manner, and along with her father, all had visited us. Coming home with us were two little girls.

Dad's 20-40 Sawyer-Massey Gas Tractor. This 4 cylinder model was made about 1912 at Hamilton, Ontario.

This threshing scene was photographed in 1917 at Anamoose, North Dakota.

The tractor is a 20-40 Minneapolis Universal with 6' extension rims on the drivers, 2 cylinder opposed motor, giving it the sound of a steamer. The separator is a 28 x 46 Minneapolis. The outfit was owned by my father, Charles Bednar. The man in the cab of the tractor was the engineer, my brother, George Bednar. The man on the load of bundles is unknown.

This gave us a family of five. Death took my wife's only sister too, not long after we returned. She left three little folks and we took them into our own care, My father-in-law owned a nice acreage right near the city of Des Moines, and we moved onto that. Fall came and I was operating an 18 H.P. Leader engine pulling a new Int. sep. I did this for two falls, and that was the last real threshing I have done. We do not see a lot of mention of the Leader engine, but I found it to be a good one. They were first built in Marion Ohio. Then moved to Waterloo, Iowa. A final move was made to Des Moines here, where they set up in the old Great Western roundhouse on East 18th. Street. They never built their boilers here, but like Woods Bros., purchased their boilers. It was too near the advent of the gas and oil tractor, and they never 'got off the ground' again. I was to spend six years on Caterpillars for Polk County. Des Moines is in Polk. I became the dealer for three years, of the Allis-Chalmers line of farm machinery and we moved here to Maxwell. Have operated at a number of the shows on different engines, but about three years ago, I suffered from a real heart attack, and haven't been able to do that anymore. In the cold or real hot weather I am about worthless. Was serving as mayor at the time of our little city here followed by the office of justice of the Peace. We were surfacing the streets and installing a sewer which added to a nerve strain it seems. But am now waiting on myself and am grateful for that. My wife has the best of health for her age. We were each 75 years old in the months of October and January. Observed our 50th anniversary three years ago. Our children all on their own now, but good citizens. The three foster children are just as loyal and devoted as our own. The youngest a baby girl was but a month old when we got them. So, we have all our children. Our grandchildren and now the great grandchildren. What more! could an old man desire? God has been wonderful to us. I think the shows are great. The fellows at Mt. Plesant are sure a group of dedicated men doing a great job.

Growing and expanding their show in a wonderful manner. The Miller Show too, at Alden, la. is another growing one. Neal has besides nearly thirty steamers, a little of just about anything, at his show. Another fine show at Cedar Falls annually. These men attract crowds. Their grounds are modern. Smolik Bros. from Osage are their with their Reeves Forty. The shows permit one to meet some wonderful fellows and to form a great many fine friendships.

Mentioned by your readers from time to time, is the matter of helping prepare the younger men to 'take over', this is a fine attitude, and need not be an overnight transition. Neither should it be! We have a younger man, a farmer, and a good one, who is developing into an excellent engine-man. He was one of the drivers on a tank at the French coast on D. Day in WWII. And who did his 'bit' in that struggle. He is Forrest Lafferty. Forrest also has a great interest in his Belgian horses.

This is a picture of our old Mogul tractor, built in 1917. It is rated 10-20 h.p. It is a honey-Engineer is my wife Alice-she's a honey too. It seems to me that I bought this old tractor especially for Alice. I remember her telling me to use the money we had saved for a living room set to buy the Mogul. She said the old set would do for another year or so. As you can imagine this created quite a problem as I had wanted the new furniture for so long. Don't yet know how she talked me out of the set, but I do know that someone in our household really wanted an old Mogul Tractor. Special mention and thanks to Walter Mehmke, Great Falls, and Emil Christenson, Conrad Montana. They both gave generously of their time and equipment to help me get the engine home.

Waterloo-Boy owned by Paul Luckman of Wolworth, New York. Taken at the Pioneer Gas Engine Assn. Inc. 1965.

At the shows and as operators, let us be patient with those who ask questions. Remember your job there does not depend upon our attention of the job at hand. I have in mind a chap now who 'flunked out' largely on this very point alone, by making himself so disagreeable to those about him. He is not on the job since. Let each of us remember that not one of us have all the answers. But that need not keep us from being courteous, and amiable. I do not wish to boast, but I get a good many letters, and some, a few, touch upon this very subject and express appreciation for a bit of enlightment or explanation I might have given them in a conversation that I do not even remember. I value their writing such a word greatly however.

As a fellow grows older I believe, it is easier to criticize, so pardon me please any of you violators. One thing is the inattention to the cylinder cocks. This should be as regular as opening and closing the throttle. It should be tied in with it in fact, and it will become second nature to an operator. Many of the throttle valves on these older engines are becoming defective now, and unless they have been reconditioned, they leak. An engine under steam and idle for very long, will condense too great amount of water for the cylinder to handle easily when starting. Too, after the year long shut down of these, now old engines, when firing up the first time and steam is yet, not too high, reach for the clinker bar then just crack the safety valve to be sure it will release when needed. Let's not forget Safety should be our first thing to keep in mind when entrusted with a boiler. In fact any morning or day, it is well to check this safety measure.

Now, to THE ALBUM, May 1966 be an ever greater year, I received the first issue of GAS ENGINES about a week ago.

Here is a picture of a Hermoil Diesel. It is the only one in this part of the country and the only one I have ever seen. I mounted it on a trailer and it is belted up to an old 'Myres Bulldog' water pump.