Ahead of its Time: The Rumely All-Purpose Tractor

Rumely's All-Purpose tractor targeted the small farmer in 1916.

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An all-purpose tractor? That was quite a claim for a manufacturer to make about a new offering. But the Advance-Rumely Thresher Co., La Porte, Ind., made exactly that claim when it brought out its first small tractor in 1915-16.

Rumely had been successfully building large tractors since 1910, including the 15-30, 20-40, 25-45 and 30-60 OilPull tractors, and the 20-40 GasPull tractor. But the line overlooked small farmers. Most farmers with 40- to 80-acre farms still relied on horse power.

By 1915, many tractor manufacturers were turning toward a smaller, lightweight, easy-to-handle machine targeted to the small farmer. Henry Ford and his famous (or infamous) Fordson started the trend. Ford's goal was to make life a little easier for farmers by building a smaller, affordable tractor powerful enough to replace a team of horses. His little 10-20 Fordson Model F was his entry into the tractor market, and he made a big splash with it.

Other manufacturers followed his example. Rumely brought out its all new 8-16 tractor and named it the All-Purpose. In advertising, the company proclaimed the tractor was designed especially for the small farm. It was sold as a combined machine: tractor and plow. The cost in 1916 was $750 cash f.o.b., La Porte, Ind.

The All-Purpose 8-16, which weighed 5,600 pounds, had a 4-cylinder, 4-by-5-1/2-inch engine running at 600 (some accounts say 850) rpm. It was a 3-wheel tractor with one large drive wheel on the right front, one large support on the left front and a rear steering wheel. It used a Kingston dual carburetor to start on gasoline then run on kerosene and Kingston high-tension magneto with a manually controlled impulse starter. The All-Purpose had a sister 12-24 tractor built on the same principle as the 8-16 (it sold for $975). That one had a 4-1/2-by-6-3/4-inch bore and stroke. Both featured encased steel gears running in oil, roller bearings and rigid frame construction.

The driver had control of the entire machine from the operator's seat. Even the plow was hitched in front of the driver. Because he had a clear view of everything in front of him, he could raise and lower the plow, and adjust the depth of each moldboard. He did not have to turn around in his seat to watch the plow. Some 30 years later, International Harvester developed a similar idea with its Farmall Model A "Cultivision" tractor.

Rumely claimed that this tractor was an all-purpose machine, as good for belt work as drawbar use. "The Rumely will plow your truck patch as well as your hundred-acre field," promotional materials boasted. "It prepares your ground, pulls your binder, does your hauling and belt work."

The Rumely's plow was easily detached and any variety of horse-drawn machinery could be attached to the hitch. But farmers soon learned there were a few disadvantages to a tractor with a drawbar placed in the middle. This arrangement was suitable for a mounted plow and other attachments that did not require a long tongue, but it was rather inconvenient for pulling equipment behind the tractor, such as binders, wagons, disk harrows and other implements. The problem: The driver could not make a left turn. The steering wheel would turn against the tongue, causing extensive damage. And there was no drawbar at the rear end of the tractor for such equipment.

As for belt work, the Rumely had another quirk. The gear-driven belt pulley was mounted low on the driver's left side. One could not belt to a thresher or any other belt-driven machine at the front of the tractor. Instead, you had to back the tractor into position, put on the belt and drive forward until the belt was taut. Then the operator had to turn around in the seat to observe the belt-powered machine.

Like the Moline Universal, Indiana and other front-wheel drive tractors, the Rumely All-Purpose was a shortlived concept. Production of the 8-16 and 12-24 ended in 1917. Few exist today. Even fewer exist in the combination tractor/plow configuration.

James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. E-mail him at Jboblenz@aol.com