It's Fun Learning How An Old OIL PULL Runs

| September/October 1984

  • Oil Pull Tractor
    Bob Middendorf, farm director of radio station KDTH at the steering wheel and the author in the cab. The Oil Pull had just finished powering the threshing machine at Dubuque County Fair.
  • Gene Boyes at the controls
    Gene Boyes at the controls pulling in the Heavy Open Weight Class (1950 and older) at a local Pull.

  • Oil Pull Tractor
  • Gene Boyes at the controls

2556 Washington Dubuque, Iowa 52001

In the summer of 1979, I received a call asking if I would be interested in a Rumely Oil Pull. They knew I liked restoring old tractors and this Oil Pull was for sale. I had restored a few John Deeres, but nothing this exotic. I took the name and address and said I'd go look at it, but I thought it was out of my class.

It was located on an estate by the Country Club in Dubuque, Iowa. My young sons, David and Tom, and my brother Dean, accompanied me to see it. Dean and I usually bought and restored old tractors together and this would require lots of work. The tractor was sitting under some big pine trees in their yard. I had never been around Oil Pulls before and its size, appearance, and controls fascinated me. It looked huge, even though the wheels had sunk into the ground with planks under them. The thick exposed sheet metal was in fair shape. The tanks had rotted but were repair able. Most of the tractor was covered with a thick hard mixture of grease and dirt about an inch thick.

It was the oiliest, dirtiest tractor I had ever seen. The RH axle housing had been broken off and welded back together, which must have been a big job years ago. The exhaust was covered and it looked as though little water had gotten into it. The big fly wheel would turn freely when I tried it. I stood on the control platform admiring the controls, deciphering what they all were and how they worked.

My father had run Oil Pulls and I remembered when he used to tell about how temperamental they were to start, about getting them stuck and buried in the mud and about how he even rolled one over while plowing. The serial number said Rumely Oil Pull 25-45 model R, No. 529. Dean said he had no interest in the tractor. I decided to pursue it a little further myself.

I found out that it was owned by Mr. Richard Bissell who had recently passed away. His wife and family were clearing his estate. Mr. Bissell had been an author, playwright, and artist. He had written many books such as 'Stretch of the River', 'High Water', and 'Seven and One Half Cents' on which the movie 'Pajama Game' (a story about the workings of a Dubuque, Iowa glove factory in the 1920's) was based. He also had written a number of short stories and plays. He was a collector of many fine antiques and old cars. He had seen this 25-45 Oil Pull in a junkyard south of Savanna, Illinois in approximately 1952 and couldn't stand seeing a unique tractor cut up for scrap so he bought it and shipped it to Dubuque. He never saw the Oil Pull run all the while he had it. I talked price with the family and gave them a bid. That October I got a call surprisingly, my bid was accepted.


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