739 Church St., Grass Lake, Michigan 49240
It had been sitting there for over twenty years, put out of
commission by change and technology. It had belonged to Walter
James, who used it as a farm tractor until his death. After his
death, his wife didn’t have enough time and money to keep it
going, so it just sat there and had been there ever since.
It was a 1929, 20-30, model W Rumely Oil Pull and from the
first, my dad wanted it. We made an offer, but were turned town,
until she decided that it would be better to see it go than to see
it turn to waste sitting there.
We were going to bring it the fifteen miles to our home on
Saturday, December 20, 1986. For a sense of adventure and lack of a
trailer, we decided to drive it home by its own power.
The morning was crisp and cold with a forecast of sun that never
showed up until the next day.
We got to the little house on the hill around eight A.M. and
similar to how a pit crew would get a car ready for a race, we got
our tractor ready for its race. We checked the oil, filled the gas
tank and greased the wheels.
We got everything ready and started it around nine. At first, it
didn’t look like to was going to start, but it showed us by
belching a little smoke and chugging on its way.
We started out by nine-thirty, and as we passed the G. T. Ranch,
all the cows stopped eating and stared at us as if they knew how
old it was. Eventually they turned back unconcerned to their
As we passed, we saw a game sanctuary that was covered with wild
Canadian geese. (It being a late, mild winter, they never really
left.) They all took off in one wave-like motion, then settled back
down, yelling curses at us all the while.
A little less than halfway home, one of the sparkplugs fouled
out. We had to keep checking it until we got it changed, and even
then, we had to watch it.
Now, if you have ever seen a Rumely or any other kerosene
burning engine, you know that it spits grease. Our tractor
hadn’t been driven in over twenty years, so it had a lot of
grease to spit. All the people who came within five feet got
splattered with black ‘freckles’ of grease. And for those
of us who were around it all day, we were almost all black.
Around noon, my mother came with lunch. We stopped to eat just
beyond the Norvell Bridge, and attracted all kinds of attention
from people who wanted to know, ‘Is that a steam
When we got home, around four-thirty, the workers were working
on the pole barn: future home of the Rumely. They didn’t think
it fair that we got to play on the tractor while they had to work
on the barn.
In the end, we had used over seven gallons of gas and one gallon
of oil, for a five hour, fifteen mile trip. As for the race, a
turtle could have beaten us.
This chronicle of a family trip was written by Larry
Middlebrook’s 14 year old daughter, Jennifer.