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Reminiscing: The Old Farmer’s Old Tractor

Author Photo
By Staff

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Maplewood Farm, Pendleton, Indiana. Alan New, age eleven, with his 1% HP Stover type Kopen crank, horizontal, hopper-cooled gas engine.
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"Uncle"Willis Ditmer inspecting the old Rumely oil-pull tractor.
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Maplewood Farm, Pendleton, Indiana. Jimmy New, age six, with his 2 hp. Fairbanks-Morsetype Z open crank horizontal, hopper-cooled gas engine.

“Well, whadda ya know, I owned that old tractor once upon a time. I
thought it looked mighty familiar,” quoth the old farmer “Uncle”
Willis Ditmer as he pecked his trusty walkin’ stick against
the iron crank-case of an ancient Rumely Oil-Pull tractor at the
Darke County Steam Threshers some years ago.

For Ditmer it was like running into a long lost friend, fetching back
the fond memories of old-time threshin’ days back on the farm
when the big ‘oil-burning twin’ made the heavy leather belt
flop, spilling forth the clean, golden grain from the pulsating,
gyrating grain separator. There were the memories of the big straw
stack blowing higher and higher into the bright blue summer sky,
the visions of men pitching bundles two at a time till the ringing
of the old dinner bell sent the laborers driving their horses up to
the big barnyard and ‘time out’ for dinner. The vision of hard-working, horny-handed farm folk gathering ’round the
festive board, sagging with the horn of plenty bowls of chicken
‘n noodles, mashed ‘taters, gravy ‘n hot biscuits,
apple pie an inch thick and strong black farm coffee all the vitamins ‘n ‘vittles’ a feller needed to keep
strong, hard-working bodies ‘n God-fearin’ souls together
in the best tradition of the American farm.

Uncle Willis Ditmer recognized an old Oil-Pull he once threshed
with. Uncle Willis tests it for vibration, with his
cane.

When a fellow runs into a friend these days, it’s indeed an
occasion for rejoicing. But when an old thresher-men just happens
to recognize an old threshin’ tractor such as “Uncle”
Willis Ditmer did that day as he stood pecking his cane against an
old Rumely Oil-Pull, fetching back the memories at that Darke
County Threshermen’s Reunion in western Ohio, well it’s the
kind of reunion among old friends that always fetches a tear.

Youth today, in my opinion, stands in judgment, not by the way
it rallies to the support of modern innovation nearly so much as
the way it is capable of revering the grand old men of a before
them who have labored that today’s world is a decent place to
live in. And to me, one of the most revered characters who ever
stalked the grounds of an old-time threshermen’s reunion was
“Uncle” Willis Ditmer. He walked among the line-up of the
grand old iron engines like a spectre from out of the past,
conjuring memories of a glorious and colorful era in America just
past.

For besides being a farmer in the grand Darke County tradition
of our great mid west, “Uncle” Willis Ditmer was also a
salesman of some of the great old lines of farm traction engines
the famous Baker and Case lines. Old-timers still tell stories of
“Uncle” Willis coming out to the farm in his horse and
buggy for to sell a brand new steam traction engine, the virtues of
which he could well report on, firsthand, because of the work it
could perform on his own home place. And it was a day when nothing
more than a friendly handshake and possibly a snort from a bottle
of red eye was plenty sufficient to seal a bargain in way
of a gentleman’s agreement nothing more.

And, once king steam had had its day, came the big oil and gas
tractors and, keeping astride of the times, “Uncle” Willis
of course invested in one of the lumbering Rumely Oil-Pulls to
harvest the golden grain and get the manifold chores done back on
the farm.

It was the last time I ever saw “Uncle” Willis Ditmer–reminiscing beside the proud
and defiant old Rumely Oil-Pull which was standing silently in the
big line-up of other gas and steam engines at the Darke County
reunion. It was left for the agile pen of the late Winston
Churchill to write so eloquently that, “The engine was made for
man, not man for the engine.” But had the great Churchill
observed the nostalgic reunion of one “Uncle” Willis Ditmer
and a certain old Rumely Oil-Pull, as I had that memorable day, he
might well have re-penned his famous statement thusly, “oth
man and the engine were made for each other.”

And now that “Uncle” Willis has long since gone to that
glorious Valhalla of noble steam engines and oil-pull tractors to
bask in an eternity of grand mem’ries of the great days of threshing on the
American farm, it remains for us, the living, to perpetuate their
memory who left this a better world to live in for having been.

We doff our hat in perpetual honor to you, “Uncle”
Willis for your long and devoted efforts in selling the farmers of
one of our Nations’ most fertile counties, Darke County in
western Ohio, that grand old line of steam traction and internal
combustion farm tractors that made our nation the breadbasket that
is today feeding a starving world.

To you, “Uncle” Willis Ditmer we hope you find the grand
old Cases, Bakers,and Rumely Oil-Pulls “up there” as fine
and noble as they were down here. And, to this, along with
preacher-editor Elmer, we chorus a very pronounced and long-drawn
out “Amen.”

Published on Jan 1, 1966

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines