THE OLD OILPULL

By Staff
article image
Mr. Lyle Knerr
Courtesy of Mr. Lyle Knerr, Chappell, Nebraska

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.

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