It’s Fun Learning How An Old OIL PULL Runs

By Staff
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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.
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Gene Boyes at the controls pulling in the Heavy Open Weight Class (1950 and older) at a local Pull.

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

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

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.

To be removed, the tractor had to pass over neighbors’
lawns, which they would allow providing no damage was done. I hired
a good implement truck with winch and tilt bed and we accomplished
the moving with no problems.

As soon as it was delivered to my home we started working on it
trying to make the Oil Pull run again. My brother-in-law, Dan
Potter, a tractor collector of anything but John Deere, was a big
help with that. After mount-was a big help with that. After
mounting a mag, cleaning the fuel system, anisms, and figuring out
how things were supposed to work, we made it run the same day we
had brought it home! The big engine ran terribly. The oil manzel,
carburetor, and injector pumps needed to be overhauled, the
governor was broken, tanks leaking, bad misfiring of the two
cylinders and much more.

My two boys, David and Tom, and my nephew Ken Boyes, tore apart
the Oil Pull and started cleaning and rebuilding. The head was
cracked between the valves on both sides and I sent it to a
specialty shop. The grease and dirt covering the chassis was so
hard it had to be chiseled off, then soaked and power washed. The
hard grease had made a good preservative for some parts of the
tractor, though.

Come spring, I had rebuilt the component parts and we
reassembled it. After some small problems we had the old Oil Pull
running again. I removed the traction bars from the wheels to run
it on the streets and entered it in some local parades that

That following winter a group of us collectors formed the
Hawkeye Vintage Farm Machinery Association, an antique club that
covers the Dubuque area. The following June we had our first
antique farm machinery display and tractor pull. A heavy rain came
that day and turned the grounds into deep mud. However, the club
members were so enthused about the first antique meet and tractor
pull that they borrowed a D6 Dozer nearby and bladed the deep mud
off so they could still have a tractor pull. After the pull was
nearly over and only the last of the heavier big tractors were left
to pull, they said, ‘Boyes, you’ve got to try pulling the

Well, I was hesitant to because I had no traction bars on the
wheels and I’d never put the engine to test with a heavy load.
It would be very embarrassing in front of all these people and God
if the old Oil Pull wouldn’t pull anything. I decided to try
it. With no traction bars on the rear wheels the Oil Pull got stuck
in the mud and had to be pulled on to the hard clay track. I hooked
to the skid wondering what was going to happen. I opened the
throttle, adjusted fuel mixture, engaged differential lock and
clutch. The big engine pulled down slightly from its 480 RPM but
hung on, barking loudly from the exhaust as the load came on
heavier. The big wide flat steel wheels with no lugs took hold on
the hard packed clay track better than rubber tires did. We crawled
to the end of the track with power and traction to spare. I’ve
pulled the Oil Pull in the heavy open class many times since with
smooth rear wheels and on a hard dirt pulling track and it does
very well.

In July of 1981, I took the Oil Pull to the Stephenson County
Antique Show at Freeport, Illinois. Mr. Howard Millerschone came to
that show and recognized my tractor as the one he once owned from
the serial number and broken axle housing. He said the axle housing
broke wrapping a pull chain around it and hooking on trees,
grubbing them, and when the Oil Pull could pull the tree no further
out of the ground, the front end would rear up and he’d set the
brake with the front end reared and all that pull on the chain go
back and cut the tree roots ’til the Oil Pull front end settled
to the ground, then pull the tree some more. Mr. Millerschone also
knew the complete history of my tractor.

The 25-45 Oil Pull No. 529 was purchased new by Mr. Fred
Gillogly of Savanna, Illinois in 1925. It was shipped to Savanna on
a flatcar by rail. It developed a case of troubles. The factory
sent men out two different times but they never did find the
problems. It was bought to grade roads, thresh, and run a sawmill,
but more than anything, sat in a barnyard because it didn’t
perform right.

In 1940, Mr. Millerschone who then lived between Stockton and
Woodbine, Illinois, bought it from Fred Gillogly. Howard
Millerschone had to re-assemble the Oil Pull again and then drove
it home. He used it to power a thresher and silo filler. Howard
sold it to Mr. Russell Roberts of Elizabeth, Illinois in 1948. Mr.
Roberts used it to power a sawmill and to grub trees. It’s said
he over injected water into the engine, stalled it, and we
understand he never got the engine running again. In about 1951,
Russell Roberts sold the Oil Pull to a Mr. McWorthy who ran a
junkyard south of Savanna, Illinois.

Now the Oil Pull is used occasionally on the farm for work,
enters a few parades, display shows and tractor pulls but mostly
just sits in the shed being admired!

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