Postcard collectors who live in the Midwest may have a leg up on the hobby. For whatever reason, farm-related postcards are in abundant supply in the country’s midsection. But tractor postcards move fast. At shows, tractor cards seem to disappear more quickly than those featuring machinery or horse-drawn equipment.
My 40-year collection of Rumely postcards used to number 12. Then I showed them to another collector; now I have eight. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The fact that one card was a duplicate lessened the pain somewhat.
An auction surprise
Last summer on a beautiful day when I had nothing to do, I drove to Hayfield, Minn., a small town 40 miles away. Postcards were listed on an auction there that day and they were right: There in a box with other cards were two super Rumely cards. I won’t tell you what I paid for them, only that I went way over my budget using the excuse that they were nice cards.
Later, I consulted American Advertising Postcards, Sets and Series 1890-1920, a Catalog and Price Guide by Frederic and Mary Megson. According to that source, Rumely produced two sets of cards. Series AD-499 consisted of eight colored cards numbered 380A to 380H. The second set consisted of just one card, an unnumbered Michigan Litho card with a heading on the front that read “Type F and six-bottom engine gang.” My cards were the Rumely-produced AD series with divided back (printed after 1907).
Born in Germany in 1823, Meinrad Rumely came to the U.S. in 1848. A millwright by trade, he soon found work and eventually ended up with a blacksmith shop in La Porte, Ind. He sent for his brother, Jacob; in 1853 the M. & J. Rumely Co. was founded. The brothers began producing portable steam engines; within a decade they were building steam traction engines. In 1882, Meinrad bought out his brother’s interest and renamed the company M. Rumely Co.
After his death in 1904, Meinrad’s sons, Joseph and William, took over management of the company. Edward Rumely (William Rumely’s son) was the third generation of Rumelys to work in the family business. He met Rudolph Diesel in Germany and became interested in internal combustion engines. In 1906, with design engineer John Secor, they developed a farm tractor, the Rumely OilPull, that burned kerosene on light loads and a mixture of kerosene and water when heavy loads were required. Kerosene was less expensive than gas at that time, and easier to obtain. The OilPull ran hotter than most engines, so oil — with a higher boiling point than water — was used as a coolant in the radiator, preventing rust and corrosion in the process.
Mass production of the OilPull began in 1910. Subsequent crop failures, drought and an agricultural recession stretched Rumely to the limits; the family filed for bankruptcy and lost control of the business in 1915. Reorganized as Advance-Rumely Thresher Co., the company continued to improve its tractor line, added a farm truck to the line and, realizing the threshing machine was outdated, introduced the Rumely combine harvester in 1925.
Financial problems arose again during the Great Depression. In 1931 Rumely was purchased by Allis-Chalmers Co. and was renamed Advance-Rumely Corp. That company was dissolved in 1935.
Tractor postcards as an early marketing tool
In the 1920s and ’30s, every tractor manufacturer knew the value of the postcard. It only cost a penny to mail a card. Cards were provided to dealers, who sent them to potential customers. In the era before TV and radio existed, postcards were an effective inducement. When a card arrived in the mailbox, it was like a special invitation to come to town and see Rumely’s new product line.
Rumely postcards are not the easiest to find. Allis cards, on the other hand, are widely available. Cards range in price from $5 to $100, depending on subject matter, condition and rarity. Don’t be afraid to ask for a better price, as most dealers like to haggle. Good luck and good hunting! FC
John Cole is a postcard collector/dealer from Minnesota with some 80,000 cards in his collection.
Read more about Postcards From the Farm, the beautiful pictures or drawings on cards in A Brief History of the American Postcard and real photograph postcards in Picturing the Past: Collecting Real Photo Postcards.