Toolbox Trade for a Rockol Tractor

Minnesota man adds rare Rockol tractor to his collection.

By Bill Vossler


October 2016

rockol

The restored and repainted front of the Rockol tractor renews the sleek of a machine that is some 66 years old.

Photo by Bill Vossler

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Paul Husmann knows a good deal when he sees one, so when he got the opportunity to trade a toolbox for a tractor, he jumped at the chance. Even better, the tractor is a rare 1949 Rockol Model B 77, sold by Rock Oil Co. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

But there was nothing underhanded about the deal. “I’d been bugging my brother-in-law about that tractor for a few years until he decided to sell it or trade it,” Paul says. “He said he needed a toolbox for his shop, and I had an empty one available, so we made the trade. He knew it was a rare tractor, and he decided he was never going to do anything about restoring it, so we traded.”

Abandoned to a weed patch

The Rockol was not Paul’s first old iron project, as evidenced by several antique tractors on his property near Cold Spring, Minnesota: a Ford 9N, an Oliver 70 Standard, a Farmall 450 and a Minneapolis-Moline 445. “On our dairy farm, the Moline is what I grew up on,” he says.

From Edmonton, his Rockol was shipped to Divide County, North Dakota, where a local farmer owned it for several years. Later, Paul’s brother-in-law and cousin bought it at an estate sale to use it as an auger tractor.

Farms in that area are large and fields are not always adjacent. The Rockol, with road speeds of up to 40 mph, worked well for moving augers from one place to another. “A lot of those big farms have various bin locations, and the farmers want something that will go fast, pulling the auger down the road, going from place to place,” Paul says. “The Rockol did that.”

When the engine on the Rockol went bad, the tractor was abandoned to a weed patch behind Paul’s brother-in-law’s shop for about five years, until Paul convinced his brother-in-law to give it up.

Rockol tractor gets second looks

Paul quickly found out just how unusual the Rockol was when he took it to the LeSueur (Minnesota) Pioneer Power Show in 2002, where the Custom Club International was holding its national meet that year. “That was the first time any of those guys had seen a Rockol,” he says. “They were pretty amazed, because nobody knew there was such a thing.”

The Rockol is a sister tractor to four other tractors produced by various manufacturers and sold in the U.S.: the Custom (including models 96R, 96W, 98R and 98W), the Regal Custom, the Lehr Big Boy and the Wards. People who had come to the LeSueur grounds to see those four types of tractors were in for a big surprise when they saw the Rockol.

Replacing internal components

Paul had owned the Rockol for five years before he started restoration work in 2001. The sheet metal was in “pretty good condition,” he says, except for a dent in the nose that he straightened. “The paint was horribly faded,” he says. “I checked the underside of the hood and buffed it out to get as close to the right color as I could.”

Body work was the most difficult part of the project. “I’m not experienced at that,” Paul says. “The mechanical stuff was easy, because I’ve done it all my life. But the body work was tougher.”

The tractor had a few mechanical issues, including a bad knock in the engine. “I completely rebuilt the engine, put a clutch in and put on new tires,” Paul says. “I’ve been a mechanic all my life. Maybe I was born with that ability.”

The crankshaft had to be ground, and Paul added new piston rings, bearings and oil pump. He also had the radiator cleaned. “Nearly all of the internal components were replaced, because they were just worn out,” he says. “I completely disassembled that tractor, sandblasted everything, primed and painted it, and put it back together.”

The most difficult part of the project was finding the correct oil pump. “A local parts store had gotten the wrong oil pump a couple of times, so I talked to an engine builder friend,” he says. “He didn’t have one, but he told me to call a number in Duluth, Minnesota. They had that variety there right on the shelf. I had them pull one off the shelf and describe it to me. It’s different than most oil pumps, and by their description, I knew it was the right one.”

Cousin to a Dodge truck

Besides its rarity, one of the Rockol’s unusual features is that its engine, transmission and rear end are all Dodge truck components. “It’s a Dodge 217-cubic-inch 6-cylinder with a 5-speed New Process transmission,” Paul says, “and a 2-1/2 ton truck rear end. It’s a flathead 6, and it runs great.”

The tractor handles really well, too. “It goes pretty fast, definitely faster than most tractors,” he says, “especially those built in that era.” That makes it a good candidate for tractor rides. “If we’re going far, I load it and transport it,” he says, “but sometimes I just cruise around the neighborhood on a nice evening in the summer.” His neighbors like it, he says, smiling and waving as he goes by.

He’s also taken the Rockol to several shows in central Minnesota, including one in Crosby, North Dakota, in Divide County where the Rockol was originally shipped from Canada. He’s demonstrated it at shows, plowing and discing, but doesn’t otherwise work the tractor.

Onlookers ask interesting questions, he says. “The weirdest is, ‘Is that a real tractor? Did you build that yourself?’ Most of the time people say, ‘I’ve never seen one of those before,’ or ‘Is that actually a factory-built tractor?’ They don’t know anything about them. Everybody’s got a John Deere or International Harvester, but nobody has one like this.”

A different approach to model names

Perhaps 2,000 tractors were built by Rock Oil Co. under the five names, Paul says, and most of them are wide-fronts. “Rockols were made in wide-fronts, like mine, as well as narrow-fronts,” he says, “but I don’t recall seeing a narrow-front in this vintage. Most of those sold out of Edmonton would be wide-fronts because they were used in the plains as Wheatland tractors. The narrow-front Rockols are even more rare.”

One of the unexplainable curiosities about the Rockols is the way they were named. The wide-front Rockols are dubbed “B” models and the narrow-fronts are “C” models. But Custom, Regal Custom, the Lehr Big Boy and Wards are the exactly the opposite. Wide-front tractors from those builders wear the Model C designation and narrow-fronts are badged as Model B’s.

“That’s what I’ve found,” he says. “I don’t know why they changed the model for the Canadian tractors. They did make some other changes, like with the different style transmissions and, with some, a different rear end. And the later Rockols also had stamped steel frames instead of the channel iron on mine, so maybe that had something to do with it. I’ve tried to do as much of the research as I could and find out as much as I could about these tractors.”

Restoration of the unusual tractor was fun, he says. “But hearing it run after all the work was done was the best part.” FC

For more information: Paul Husmann, Paul Husmann, 22914 Foxfire Ct., Cold Spring, MN 56320; (320) 290-2934; Paulhusmann1@gmail.com.


Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: bvossler@juno.com.