Oldest oldies

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Bob Nixon's 1928 Rumely is "a regular" at Pioneer Park Days in Zolfo Springs, Fla. "I always take it to Zolfo"

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Two of the oldest tractors on display this year at Pioneer Park Days in Zolfo Springs, Fla., belonged to men named Bob. Bob Nixon of West Palm Beach, Fla., brought his 1928 Rumely OilPull, and most of his family, and Bob Engle of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., brought his 1921 8-16 International, still attached to the poplar that had grown up through the drawbar during a 40-year stint in the woods.

Engle says the 8-16 was rescued from the woods in 1990 by Carroll Whisnant of Hickory, N.C. Whisnant was trying to buy a John Deere engine from the 8-16's owner and ended up having to take the tractor in order to get the engine. To remove the tractor from the woods, Whitsant had to saw through the tree.

A year and a half later, Engle met Whisnant at a Kissimmee, Fla., tractor show and saw a photograph of the 8-16 and its tree. Engle recalls asking him, 'What would I have to give you for that tractor?'

Because Whisnant was a John Deere man at heart, he not only was ready to deal - he had a proposal. He told Engle he'd trade the tractor for another JD engine, a particular 3 hp hit-and-miss that Whisnant had sold to a friend of Engle's, Dick Edwards.

Whisnant apparently missed the 3 hp engine; following the Kissimmee show, he sent Engle a video of the International, and Engle went to see Edwards.

'Dick and his wife sold me that engine for $650,' Engle said, 'and I traded it for that tractor, sight unseen.'

Engle wanted the 8-16 because of its rarity. 'I didn't think in my wildest dreams I would ever own a tractor that old,' he said, recalling the attention he drew hauling it down to Florida from North Carolina. 'Even the cook at the Waffle House had to go out and take a look at it.'

The International 8-16 reportedly served as a developmental mule for everything from the power take-off to four-wheel drive to experiments with rubber tires, according to Lee Klancher in International Harvester Photographic History. It also was the first International built on a moving-belt production line, perhaps to perfect the process for the later McCormick-Deering machines, and, it was generally considered International Harvester's 'answer' to the Fordson.

Because Engle's 8-16 had been in the woods so long, and nothing had been done to it after Whisnant retrieved it, a restoration of sorts was in order. Noting he'd done about 20 tractor restorations, Engle said he wanted to get this tractor cleaned up and running again but leave its rusty patina undisturbed. That meant completely rebuilding it 'from the ground up.'

He took the engine apart and cleaned it, and made new pistons, rings and pushrods. The tractor starts on gasoline and then runs on kerosene. He soaked the chains on the chain drive for four months before starting to slowly beat them loose with a sledgehammer, and he made a new hood for the motor, spraying salt water on the sheet metal continuously for two years until it looked just like the rest of the tractor - 'I call it my 'rustoration.''

Amish mechanics in Lancaster, Pa., built a new radiator, gas tank and breather for the tractor, and a Branson, Mo., man rebuilt the magneto and carburetor.

Today, the tree has deteriorated to the point that Engle has it wired in place, attempting to buy a few more years of 'togetherness.'

Also in Engle's display at Zolfo was his 1918 O-12 McCormick-Deering, which he drove in the tractor parade because the iron-wheeled 8-16 can't be driven on the pavement. Like Whisnant, he had a picture, too - of his 1918 10-18 Case cross-engine tractor, only 48 of which are thought to still exist.

'I love this show,' Engle said of Pioneer Park Days, 'because of the trees, and because tractor enthusiasts from all over come here.'

Bob Nixon wouldn't miss the Zolfo show either. He's come every year since 1975, and he bought his first engine, a 3-5 International, there. Today, he calls the show 'my baby,' and he calls his 1928 Rumely his 'pride and joy - along with my grandkids.'

Nixon had heard about this Rumely, a 20-30W, for a good 10 years before he ever set eyes on it, chatting with its previous owner every year at a show at the South Florida Fairgrounds, in West Palm Beach. The man always talked about the tractor, Nixon said, but he was from New York - and that's where the tractor was.

Finally, eight or 10 years ago, the owner was ready to sell. Nixon and his brother, Phil, took Bob's motor home and a trailer to New York in February to get it. 'It was cold-d-d-d, let me tell you,' Nixon recalls. 'The guy lived just outside of Buffalo.' Happily for the Florida men, the Rumely was running; they bought it and headed home.

The crankshaft and main bearings needed work, and after having a rod bearing go out, damaging the crank shaft, the brothers were forced to do a restoration. Nixon says he and Phil, who died last year, and a friend made all the repairs themselves.

And even though Phil is no longer with him, other family members regularly turn up at the Nixon booth at Zolfo. This year, they included Phil's daughters, who inherited his tractors; Bob's own daughters and his son-in-law Alan Proudfoot, who is a Maytag expert, and four or five grandchildren.

Their apportioned space was filled with two RVs and three tents in addition to the vintage equipment. Besides his Rumely, Nixon had several other engines and a tractor on display, selected from his collection of 50 gas engines and 28 tractors. Among the engines was a Lawson 'Junior,' reportedly used to pump mud out of the basement of the Belle Glade, Fla., Chevrolet dealership after the 1923 hurricane, and a 900-pound Des Jardine, sitting atop a rare Sears and Roebuck cart and moved around by a 1943 John Deere model H tractor, bought in Michigan on another road trip up north.

Nixon and his son-in-law both displayed Maytags: the elder's, a 1923 bought 15 years ago at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and the younger's, an all-original 1932 Maytag missing only the lint trap. Proudfoot expertly operates his machine for passersby - sometimes washing the family's actual laundry - as he explains what such a machine meant to folks 70 years ago. 'Maytag,' he says, 'was the 'dependability' company,' and versatility was apparently important, too. The Maytag agitator could be replaced with a butter or ice cream churn and the wringers could be replaced with a meat grinder.

In 1932, Proudfoot says, when a Maytag cost $130, the company sealed a deal with Sears that put 18,000 of the washers in operation, 'and that's still a record.' The deal was: $10 down and $5 a month 'til the $130 was paid off.