The Life of a Man and His Rumely OilPull

Kansas man and his Rumely OilPull played a role in taming the Great Plains.

Sod Breaker

Opposite page: George Hudson (second from right) and Fred McCoy (second from left), his engineer, with a trio of local bankers, out for an up-close look at Hudson’s Rumely.

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This story will tell about one year of my life: 1915, when I was breaking sod at Satanta, Kan., and on west. It was the year I bought my first Rumely OilPull, and the year that I broke the most sod. The OilPull traveled a little over a half-mile per hour faster than the steamers, and turned around a little quicker.

Editor's note: This article relates the experiences of 37-year-old George Charles Hudson breaking sod in extreme southwestern Kansas nearly 90 years ago. It was written by his grandson, Don Hudson, who grew up hearing the tales of his grandfather's adventures.

October 1915: Heading West

That fall, I ordered two flatcars to be in Macksville by Oct. 5. I had a brand new Model F OilPull: It was a 10-by-12 engine with a rated horsepower of 15-30, and a brand new Rumely 5-by-14 plow with a mechanical lift. We had packed the wheel bearings on the cook shack and the water wagon, which I now use to haul kerosene. My engineer was Fred McCoy, as good an engineer as you will find anywhere. His wife, Joy, was the cook.

J.H. Wolf, the Rumely dealer in Macksville, Kan., had serviced the OilPull and the plow, so I just left them in Macksville (roughly 100 miles west of Wichita) until our departure. I tied the cook shack and the water wagon together and took them to town; that way I only had to make one trip with the team. When I got ready to load, I just tied them on behind the engine and plow, made a ramp out of railroad ties, put my 3-by-12 from one car to the other, loaded up and chained everything down. The freight train picked up my cars a day later. Fred, Joy and I caught the No. 7 the next day, and we still beat the engine to Satanta (about 120 miles southwest of Macksville) by a day. We stayed at a boarding house for two nights. I made arrangements for kerosene and a team, and Joy finished stocking the cook shack.

A.G. English, my local banker, had made a deal with a banker at Satanta and the livery man there to find me 20 or so quarters to break by the first of the year. I was told that the quarters would be laid out with the plow, but when I got there, only four quarters had been plowed. So I had to rent a sulky plow and a big team of horses.

As I was plowing one day, here came Fred and the man who owned the ground. He wanted me to pull a single disc behind the plow. He had heard that the ground didn't dry out as bad if you did that. I told him it would cost 25 cents per acre, and where was I going to find a disc? He said he had a nearly new one, and he would sell it for $100. I don't like this kind of business, but what can you do? So I told him to get the disc out to the field and for Fred to get a chain, and I would take the price of the disc off of the bill. Well, he wanted me to pay for the disc when he unhooked. I told Fred just to move on: I guess he didn't think I would do that. I think the man wanted some poker money. He finally gave in, and said to go ahead and plow.

The ground was moist and the temperatures were bearable. The OilPull traveled faster than a steamer, and with the Dread Weight Guide, Fred was in high cotton. We could break a quarter in about 95 hours. We just kept moving further away from Satanta, so I had to put up my tent, and get hay and grain for a saddle horse and chain for a picket. We were as busy as could be. Fred could get by on very little sleep, but that was the way he wanted it. Fred had figured out how to get water almost to a boil, so we could have almost-boiled coffee: It wasn't too bad.

One thing about plowing sod with a big, heavy Rumely plow: You could just about wear the shares clean out, I mean, have nothing left. And if the ground was frozen very deep, then you had to have good, sharp shares. 

We got a good amount of rain four days before Christmas. Fred asked me if we could go home for Christmas, and I said I guessed we could, since we needed plowshares and hard oil. (One thing about plowing sod with a big, heavy Rumely plow: You could just wear the shares clean out, I mean, have nothing left. And if the ground was frozen very deep, then you had to have good sharp shares.) Just as soon as I said we were going, Joy began to razz me. Did I think we could get the OilPull started on our return? She didn't know it, but J.H. had told me he would have some alcohol and a squirt can for me the next time I was in.

January 1916: On to Moscow and Hugoton

After Christmas, the banker at Moscow (Kan.) telegraphed A.G. English, reporting nearly 2 inches of rain there, so we stayed home another three days before returning out west. By then, we were closer to Moscow than Satanta, so I went there to get a team and a sulky plow lined up, and make a deal for the kerosene that I would need. As it turned out, there was only eight quarters to break at Moscow, and 14 at Hugoton (Kan.) and on west towards Feterita (Kan.), so one day when I had a little time, I slipped over to Hugoton to see what I was getting into. The man was ready to sell me kerosene, and the man at the livery was a brother to the one at Moscow. They brought the sulky to Hugoton and even the big team of Belgians.

They have a dance every Saturday night at Moscow. Joy hinted that she would like to go. I asked Fred if he danced, and the answer was a great big "yes." In fact, he and Joy had met at a dance contest at Belpre (near Macksville). On Fred and Joy's third date, they went, and ended up winning a half gallon of Wild Turkey. I told them they could go the next Saturday night. When Saturday came, Joy fixed me six fried ham sandwiches and some boiled potatoes with their jackets on. She put two sandwiches and some potatoes in a Karo syrup bucket, so I could put it on the exhaust to warm it up. The rest went in another bucket. I asked her why she fixed so much: She said not to look for Fred until about sundown on Sunday!

Things were going real well: we could get a quarter turned in about 3-1/4 to 3-1/2 days. The ground at Moscow started north and west of town, and it ran southwest towards Hugoton. It was real nice ground, plowed easy and looked like it would raise 40-bushel wheat. According to the locals, moisture was the problem, or should I say "lack of moisture."

February 1916: Preparing for a new season

In late winter I got a letter from my wife, Lola, saying they'd had two snows at home, one with wind and one without. She and the boys were going to plant 120 acres of oats, starting around the 10th of March. She should get about 20 acres planted a day. We had planted about 300 acres of wheat last fall, so that left 120 acres to plant to corn this spring, 20 acres of Sudan grass, 20 acres of German millet and 60 acres of Atlas sargo.

Out west, everything went according to plan. I got down towards Feterita where they wanted 1,000 acres of broom corn planted. I bought a 2-row Lister corn planter with broom corn plates at Hugoton. I had too many acres lined up, so I went looking for someone who would break some sod. I found a guy who thought breaking sod would make him rich. I sent J.H. a telegram, and he came out and put together a deal. The man bought a 30-60 Rumely, and a 10-bottom mechanical-lift Rumely plow. This is just twice as big as my rig. I am glad it is him paying for it and not me. I asked J.H. what it sold for and he told me it was none of my business.

We got over to where they wanted broom corn planted, and I told them I was leaving in 30 days and that I needed someone to ride the planter because Fred couldn't see that far back to see if everything was working. They found a kid who was a little on the simple side, but smart enough to do what we wanted. I got lucky and got them to pay his wages; I did feed him.

April 1916: Homeward bound

We were in Hugoton ready to load on April 12. I had ordered the flatcars and the train tickets one day when I was in town after kerosene. We got home on April 14 and the machinery on the 15th. Everyone was glad to see us. The 15th was on a Friday, so I waited until Monday to start planting. The boys and Lola had disced all the corn ground so the knife openers worked pretty well. It only took three short days to plant all the corn; sure goes fast when you plant four rows at a time.

Now all I have to do is look the separator and the header over. I decided to buy a new set of canvases for the header and a new set of reel bats. J.H. was out to see if he could sell me a new separator. They had improved the grain weigher, changed several of the bearings from roller to ball bearings, and several of the pulleys from steel to Rockwood, and now the separator is all metal. They even make a 26-foot feeder extension now. I liked the longer feeder extension, and the Rockwood pulleys, but I didn't like the price. J.H. said "Don't think about the price; just think about the difference!" I told him I hadn't talked to very many about threshing wheat, but it did look like I would have a few more acres to head. The next thing I knew it was June 20; time to start heading wheat. Last year I headed 1,000 acres; this year I ended up with 1,050.

The separator I bought last year was way too big; I couldn't get but 600-700 bushels a day. It was a 36-by-60 Rumely. It just didn't have a big enough engine. But I finally got J.H. to trade me a new 32-by-52: It was all steel, had a Herald grain weigher, a wind stacker and a 26-foot extension. I ended up making some money this year because I averaged about 1,100 bushels a day, and at 20 cents a bushel, the numbers speak for themselves. I got everyone's wheat threshed by Oct. 3, almost exactly a year from the date this story began.

- Don Hudson lives in Dodge City, Kan.; (620) 225-3447.