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.
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.
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 summer.
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 Rumely.'
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!