Make no mistake: The Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Assn.’s annual gas tractor show is the biggest perpetual motion machine you’ll ever see. “Our visitors know they can go to a museum and see tractors parked,” reads a line in the official show magazine. “They come to Oakley to hear them run!”
The 2011 show was marked by the ever-present rumble of Rumely tractors on the job and on the prowl. With the Rumely Products Collectors holding their 2011 Expo at Oakley, the grounds were filled with countless fine examples of that line.
Bud Rosema, Allendale, Mich., fell in love with Rumely as a teenager pitching bundles. “I said then, ‘one day I’m going to have one of those,’” he recalls. Years later, he learned of a 1913 OilPull Model F 15-30 nearby, the only single-cylinder in the OilPull line. The owner was not inclined to sell, but as time passed, he and Bud became good friends. In a chance conversation in 1970, Bud asked the man – as he often did, almost in jest – “Are you going to sell me that OilPull today?” This time, without warning, the older gentleman replied in the affirmative. “I about dropped my drawers,” Bud says. “I broke every speed limit in the county trying to get cash from the bank and get back to him before he changed his mind.”
The son of the tractor’s original owner, the seller had a few surprises up his sleeve. Included in the deal were the Rumely’s original bill of sale, all the Rumely tools that came with the tractor, two sets of extensions, ice spuds and the original manuals. Thirty years since it’d last run, the totally original 17,000-pound behemoth was ready to roll. “We towed it out of the shed and it started on the second turn,” Bud says.
The Model F reminds Bud of the first Rumely he ever saw. “They just run so slow,” he says. “Years ago, me and another young fellow were waiting for the engine to open up, to go faster. Finally the old man motioned to us to start pitching bundles. The old belt was stretched so far it was almost on the ground.”
If you’ve never heard of a Rumely line-drive tractor, that’s understandable. Dating to about 1920, the model – steered by leather reins – is so rare that collectors speculate whether it was ever formally marketed. A handsomely restored line-drive owned by collector George Schaaf, Frankfort, Ill., was displayed (and demonstrated) at the Oakley show. “We just finished reassembly,” says restorer K.R. Hough, Hobart, Ind. “This tractor hasn’t been this complete in 50 years.”
With a 4-cylinder Wisconsin engine and Nuttall transmission, the tractor has a 4-1/4-by-5-inch bore and stroke. “I don’t think it was ever used,” K.R. says. “There was no wear on it at all.”
“I always said there was one Rumely I’d never buy,” says Dave Snyder, Hudsonville, Mich., “and that’s a Rumely G.” The phrase “never say never” came to mind as Dave leaned against the Rumely OilPull Model G 20-40 he and his wife, Lisa, own. “G’s are loud, and they’re rough and they knock the skin off your hands when you drive them,” he says. “But this one is absolutely quiet.”
Oh and one more thing: It’s outfitted with its original after-market cab, now restored. The tractor was one of several relics exhumed from a junkyard where it had been abandoned for decades. “When we got to the tractor,” says Larry Barson, Jackson, Mich., a member of the salvage crew, “you could walk right onto the platform. That’s how deep it was. There was a tree 8 inches in diameter growing through the engine.” A backhoe was used to drag out the Rumely and several other pieces of old iron, leaving the seller nearly speechless. “The only reason I sold that stuff to you at that price,” he told Steve Ott, Howell, Mich., another member of the salvage crew, “was because I didn’t think you’d ever be able to get it out of there.”
Dave’s opted to leave the tractor in its working clothes. “My wife spent two days with a paint brush, covering it with linseed oil,” he says. Restoration was limited to rebushing the front end and installing new manifolds. “It runs like brand new now,” Dave says. “I don’t think it was ever used hard.”
At the wheel of his 1913 International Harvester Motor Wagon, Chris Hudson, Grass Lake, Mich., breezed by tractors of every stripe in classic style. His Motor Wagon boasts original wood, lights and taillights. The 2-cylinder opposed engine (rated at 20 hp) delivers a surprisingly spry ride. “It runs like it was brand new,” he says.
The location of the engine is one common misconception. “Everybody thinks it’s under the hood,” he says with a smile, “but in fact it’s located over the fuel tank.” Thanks to the addition of a gear reduction, even women could start it. Chris takes the Motor Wagon to four or five shows each season. “Really, I’d rather take this than a tractor,” he says. “It’s easier to haul, and you can drive it anywhere on the show grounds.”
A collection of 16 stationary steam engines forms the heart of the MMOGTA’s steam display. Nearly all have Michigan roots. A 100 hp Bates & Corliss with a 10-foot flywheel was once used in a paper mill in the state’s upper peninsula. A Peerless dating to the late 1800s was used in a Frankenmuth, Mich., sawmill. An unidentified engine dating to the 1830s was used to pump water in Port Huron for 100 years. An Atlas was found in a scrap yard; today it is used to run the building’s line shaft.
The club’s latest steam acquisition is a 1927 Nordberg. Long relegated to storage in a Saginaw historical society warehouse, the Nordberg was once used at a Saginaw lumber company. The engine is capable of generating 365 hp at 120 pounds of steam; restoration is expected to take two more years.
Members of the Oakley club are as industrious as the residents of an ant farm, operating a shingle mill, veneer mill, handle mill, sawmill and rock crusher, and giving demonstrations of threshing, baling, plowing and discing, broom making, blacksmithing and more. The handle mill is a classic example of the ways in which farmers once created alternative revenue streams.
A long-time fixture at the Albert Latz Sr. farm nearby, the handle mill produces porch posts and handles for shovels, brooms and tools. “Most good-size towns would have had one of these,” says Ed Hart, Chapin, Mich., “to make every handle needed on the farm, in a mine or in industry.” Ed and Don Shuster, Pleasant Lake, Mich., are co-chairmen of the mill.
Now relocated to the show grounds, the recreated mill is home to a doweling machine dating to about 1912, an indexing pattern lathe (1917); a two-knife planer, steam box and a 1931 Buda 6-cylinder gas engine, the mill’s original power plant.
The doweling machine is used to turn dowels and handles for everything from brooms to post-hole diggers to wheelbarrows. There’s not a lot of waiting around. “It can cover 10 feet in 90 seconds,” Ed says. Parts are still available for the unit, which was manufactured by W.S. Hawker Co., Dayton, Ohio.
The club has used the pattern lathe to produce cant hook handles and a local hardware store placed an order for shovel handles. Recently, the mill crew took on a new project: vintage baseball bats for fantasy leagues. “The old bats were smaller and had a different taper on the tails,” Ed says.
Master tinsmith Craig Holovach, Flint, Mich., recreates a nearly lost art during the MMOGTA show. “I’m one of maybe 100 people in the U.S. who do this kind of work,” he says. Working with tools that are themselves quite rare, he demonstrates production of pieces similar to those that once filled every kitchen. “Tin was the poor man’s silver,” he says.
From 1800 to about 1860, he says, tinsmiths were canny entrepreneurs, dispatching waves of peddlers into the country to sell their wares. Working in a barter system, the peddlers swapped tin pieces for varied household goods, which they brought back to the smith, who used them as inventory in variety stores in the cities.
Craig’s demonstration area includes a swage, varied stakes (similar to a blacksmith’s anvil), wire, rotary machines and circle cutters. He wears an apron while he works, but it seems unnecessary. “I’m a whitesmith,” he says, using the traditional name for a tin worker. “I don’t get dirty.” FC
See more from the Mid-Michigan Show at Photos from the 2011 Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Assn. Show. Read about fun for all ages in Plenty of Family & Fun at the MMOGTA Annual Tractor Show.
For more information: Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Assn., 17180 W. Ferden Rd., Oakley, MI 48649; (989) 661-2319. 2012 show dates: Aug. 17-19. Feature: Oliver Hart-Parr.