Rumely Pulls Again

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Jamie StevensonRumely five-bottom plow

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I took 150 years, but it was worth the wait. That's what folks who collect M. Rumely Co. farm equipment say about the biggest gathering of Rumely-built machinery and memorabilia since the company quit business in 1938.

The reunion was held in conjunction with the 59th National Threshers Association Reunion June 26-29, 2003, in Wauseon, Ohio. The gathering drew Rumely collectors from across the globe to share memories and machines made by the Indiana-based company.

'There was one of everything here,' Dennis Rupert, president of the Rumely Products Collectors, says about the reunion.

The club, which boasts nearly 200 members, paired its Rumely reunion with the National Threshers' annual farm show because it's one of the oldest shows in America and is closely located to LaPorte, Ind., where Meinrad Rumely built his farm equipment empire, Dennis says.

The event coincided with the company's founding 150 years before in 1853. Coincidentally, exactly 150 Rumely exhibitors brought everything from steam traction engines to clover hullers, OilPull tractors to stationary gasoline engines - all bearing the famous Rumely name.

'It makes us darn proud to have such a big turnout,' Dennis adds about the history-making reunion.

Rumely on parade

The four-day show was a chance to see more Rumely-associated products in one place since the company's goods were in full production decades before. Show-goers and collectors came from far and wide to see the equipment -much of it one of a kind.

Displays included the oldest known Rumely-made machine - an 1885 8-hp horse-drawn steam engine owned by Graham Sellers, Coldwater, Mich. - and equipment produced before the company folded, like a 1931 Advance-Rumely Co. Model 6A tractor owned by Zac Broughman, Pittsford, Mich.

Another unusual offering was a 1921 Rumely Line Drive tractor, serial no. 506, owned by Jim Ertl, Canandaigua, N.Y. The unique, hand-cranked machine looked more like a riding plow than a traditional farm tractor, with leather reins that extended well behind the gray- and red-painted steel wheels.

Other exhibitors showed difficult-to-find Rumely machinery and implements, such as a 1904 Rumely clover huller owned by Dennis and Sally Anspaugh, Osseo, Mich., and a 1919 Rumely Model H 16-30 tractor paired with a five-bottom Rumely-built plow owned by Jamie Stevenson of Whitewater, Wis.

Besides Rumely equipment, visitors could meet actual Rumely family members who turned out for the historic occasion. At least 10 people who directly trace their lineage from Meinrad were present, including Paul and John Rumely and Fran (Rumely) Jones, three of Meinrad's great-grandchildren.

'This is really an American story,' Paul Rumely, an avid Rumely memorabilia collector who lives in New York City, explains about the importance of his great-grandfather's company. Meinrad Rumely, a German immigrant, lived a classic rags-to-riches life and left a memorable mark on his community and farming.

'Rumely's innovations were like the Pentium chip for the agricultural industry,' Paul says.

The company was once the fourth-largest farm equipment maker in the world, which is one reason for its continued popularity among collectors, Paul adds.

Paul, John and Fran were raised in LaPorte and are the grandchildren of A.J. Rumely Sr., the company's last president and Meinrad's youngest son -who also witnessed the venerable firm's ultimate demise.

John Rumely, a marketing director for a New York law firm, fondly recalls attending early steam shows with his grandfather, who was hesitant to discuss the company's downfall.

'It took him 40 years to get over that,' John says.

Both Fran and John are Rumely collectors as well, but the sheer number of collectors at the show and the fact that most were relatively young was 'mind boggling' to Fran, who still lives in LaPorte where the company was founded.

'It's nice to see the legacy continue,' Paul says of the unprecedented event.

The big plow pull

The reunion made history with the number of Rumely products on display, but it also re-enacted history for thousands to witness.

Rumely was one of the first companies to promote kerosene-powered tractors. In 1911, the company devised a publicity stunt to prove the 'new' machines could perform in the field, using three Model E OilPull tractors to successfully pull a 50-bottom plow at Indiana's Purdue University.

To prove the company's products could still perform, Dennis and other volunteers hitched a 50-bottom John Deere plow to three Rumely-built steam engines.

The engines included a 1912 Rumely 36-hp steam engine owned by the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Association; a 1912 Rumely 30-hp steam engine owned by Norm Stevens, Bellevue, Mich.; and Dennis Rupert's 1912 Rumely 25-hp steam engine.

After some effort getting the steam engines lined up, chains affixed (and re-affixed after they broke during the first try) and plows in place, the engines puffed and pulled then left a wide swath of freshly broken ground in their wake.

'This is history in the making,' Vic Lucio, a spectator who traveled from Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada, declared at the sight of the big steamers blowing black smoke while dozens of men rode the plow to lower the blades. 'There's more Rumelys here than I've ever seen.'

The original publicity stunt was performed using Rumely OilPull tractors, but Dennis explains that three machines with identical gearing were not available to recreate the historic event.

A similar effort was made two months later at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minn., where the pull was completed with three 1912 Rumely Model E 30-60 kerosene-burning tractors.

Regardless, William Dove, a steam traction engineer from Louisa, Va., who drove Dennis's steamer during the 50-bottom pull, was thrilled by the chance to relive the famous publicity stunt.

'The power of steam is intense,' William explains with a smile about the excitement of steering the engine. 'I just aimed straight ahead.'

Rumely remembered

Even though rain fell on the big Rumely parade, it didn't dampen the spirits of show-goers and collectors. That's no surprise, Marvin Brodbeck, who served as National Threshers Association president for the last 27 years, says. It took five years to coordinate the event, and collectors brought equipment from as far away as Argentina to share at the reunion, Brodbeck adds.

The show's success wasn't a surprise to Dennis Rupert, who has been around Rumely tractors since his uncle showed the 'antique' machines in the 1950s. Dennis owns three OilPulls, including a 1924 Model S 30-60, a 1917 Model H 14-28 and a 1917 Model K 10-20 tractor.

'They were outstanding in quality,' Dennis says about Rumely products. 'They were still used by farmers well into the 1950s.'

Even with such great interest in Rumely farm equipment, Dennis says the reunion is likely the last time so many Rumely-made items will be in one place. That's one reason the reunion was so important - to help carry the Rumely torch into the 21st century.

'It keeps the heritage alive and helps introduce children to the hobby to keep the tradition going,' Dennis explains. 'Hopefully, Rumely will still be well known 50 years from now.'

- For information about Rumely Products Collectors, write Jamie Stevenson, 9596 Howard Road, Whitewater, WI 53190. Copies of the 150th Rumely Reunion panoramic photo may be purchased for $45, domestic shipping included, from Crabtree Photo, P.O. Box 1452, Morgantown, WV 26507; (304) 296-6050; e-mail: crabtree@mac.com