When John Langenbach started collecting old iron in 1969, he had no idea that his hobby would morph into a tractor show he’d host with his wife, Nancy, on the family farm near McGrath, Minn. “My dad, William, and I started collecting old stationary engines together in about 1969, when I was a sophomore in high school,” he recalls. “I started attending shows and enjoyed it, and continued on from there.”
Three decades later, that engine hobby has grown into an annual show on the home place with more than 20 buildings surrounded by 250 exhibitor tractors, a busy demonstration schedule and an on-site newspaper printed on vintage equipment. Held over Labor Day weekend (Saturday through Monday), the event features displays, demonstrations and food concessions. It’s a huge undertaking but no one’s complaining. “It wouldn’t be much fun if you just had a bunch of tractors and kept them in a shed all the time,” John says.
John and his father had already been hauling antiques to area tractor shows when they decided to participate in a major event. In 1976 the two loaded tractors, gas engines, a shingle mill and a model sawmill to take to Finlayson, Minn., for a U.S. Bicentennial display. “After that, we decided it was too difficult to move stuff all the time,” John says. “We decided to have a little show on our farm.”
Thus was born the White Pine Logging and Threshing Show near McGrath in 1979. Though it started with mostly Langenbach tractors, in 2010 (the 32nd annual presentation) the display numbered more than 250 tractors shown by exhibitors from all over.
“One of the unique things at our show is that we run all tractors of one make at one time, all the Rumely, all the Case, all the John Deere,” John says. “My favorite to drive in the parade is any Rumely OilPull and I always drive my 1915 20-40 Case cross-motor tractor too.”
Because the White Pine tractor parade is organized by tractor makes, John can drive up to four different tractors during the parade. One of the most unusual tractors in the 2010 parade belongs to his friend, Ken Dawson. The 1925 Gray tractor has a cast iron rear drum wheel. “There are a lot of Gray tractors around, but this one is the only one we know of with a cast iron drum,” he says. “There are no high lugs or anything else unusual on it, but that cast iron drum doubles the weight, from 5 to 10 tons.”
One of the 20 buildings on the show grounds is a Swedish Lutheran church built in 1896. “We moved it 22 miles and, in the process, had to tear out the ceiling in the basement,” John says. “We found burn marks on the boards and figured there must have been a fire down there once.”
After finding scorch marks in multiple places, John and his crew began to suspect that the boards had been sawed from trees scorched during the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. On Sept. 1 of that year, a forest fire killed an estimated 418 people in and around Hinckley, Minn., (about 50 miles north of Minneapolis) and destroyed everything in its path, stretching across 200,000 acres. The fire burned so hot that it effectively cleared land still used as farmland today.
Another unique feature of the show: a daily newspaper. Mike and Betty DeCoursey staff a newspaper office, complete with a linotype that they use to print the White Pine Times. “Mike had the linotype from the days when his dad owned the Isle, Minn., newspaper,” John says, “and wanted to donate it to us.” A spot was agreed on and in exchange Mike and Betty publish a newspaper during the show.
For a homegrown effort, the show’s scope is impressive and surprising. “Besides making 8-10,000 board feet of sawmill lumber each year, we make barrels, saw shingles, cut lathes and make firewood, as we are in a logging area,” John says. “We run five big Fairbanks diesel stationary engines constantly: a 1-cylinder 40 hp, a 2-cylinder 150 hp, two 4-cylinder 240 hp engines and a 6-cylinder 450 hp.” Other engines on-site include a 150 hp Bessemer gas engine and a 250 hp stationary Norberg steam engine weighing 85 tons.
John doesn’t have to host a tractor show to get a good look at old iron. His personal collection features Rumely, Case and Oliver tractors. His first Rumely is a 1919 16-30. “The roof had rotted off and the machine hadn’t been run in 40 years, but the engine was free,” he says. “It did turn over. So we brought it home and started it that afternoon. Then we took it apart and restored it.”
John enjoys the restoration process so he almost never buys a restored tractor. “Plus the price is usually a little better,” he admits. He has 45 tractors now. Twenty-five are in good shape and the rest are parts tractors.
His next Rumely acquisition was a 1929 30-50 Model Y, unrestored but running. “We cleaned it up and put a new clutch in it,” he says, “but we’ve never had the engine apart on that one.“ Other Rumelys in his collection include a 1924 30-60 Model S, 1918 14-28 Model H, a 1929 20-30 Model W and a 1930 Rumely 6-cylinder in-line model.
Rumely Co. letter designations are interesting. Models B, E and F (produced in that order) denote the oldest and earliest; G, H and K models finished out the heavyweight line. In 1924 the L, M, R and S lightweights (though still big, heavy tractors) were introduced. During the last three years of the company’s existence, Rumely made its “super power” tractors, the W, X, Y and Z models.
A Rumely fuel tank is a particular prize in John’s collection. “I’d gone to an auction for a Rumely combine in western Nebraska,” he recalls. “We discovered only half the combine was there so we decided not to buy it. But then I saw this fuel wagon.”
The piece had not been advertised and no one at the auction knew much about it. “When you wet part of it you could just make out the OilPull emblem on the side,” John says. “So I was able to pick it up kind of reasonable. I had seen them in old books and catalogs and had always wanted one.”
In the early days, there were no fuel trucks to deliver kerosene or gasoline to farms. Instead, tanks like John’s Rumely served that purpose. After adding a horse tongue and buggy seat, the tank could be taken into town, filled with 12 barrels of fuel and towed to the field for on-site fueling.
Opinions differ on how the tanks should be restored. Some people believe the tanks should be painted red but John says it was obvious that the original paint on his was green. Either way, it’s a rare piece. “I‘ve taken it to some Rumely Expos,” he says, “and I‘ve never seen a complete unit with the original Rumely wagon running gear under there, the total unit like I have.”
The tanks were often sold without running gear and could be loaded onto almost any farm wagon. The tanks could also be used to haul water for steam engines, John says. “They were different in slight ways,” he says. “On the water tank the filler pipe had no cap and flared out. If used for fuel, the cock in the back had a quick release to fill gas cans. You could put a pump on them too.”
John also has an unrestored Case fuel wagon bought at an auction north of Minot, N.D. “Like Rumely, Case made tanks for water or fuel, but they differed,” he explains. “Fuel wagons were sealed up to prevent leakage, with a front petcock to equalize air pressure in the tank and a rear valve to fill gasoline cans. The Case water tank wasn’t sealed because nobody cared if water sloshed out.”
A Rumely clover hauler dating to about 1914 is another unique piece in John’s Rumely collection. “It’s about the size of a threshing machine,” he says, “but built in a different way to get clover and alfalfa and thresh the seeds out.”
Compared to other tractors of the day, Rumelys were huge and heavy for their horsepower. And they were always under-rated, but nobody knows why. “Check any Rumely Nebraska tractor test and you’ll see they performed better than their tractors were rated,” John Langenbach says.
Another oddity: mismatched serial numbers. In the company’s final years when the “super power” Models W, X, Y and Z were produced, the four serial numbers on the tractors didn’t always match. “They have serial numbers on the end of the crankshaft, on the rear end, on the front casting under the radiator and on the name plate,” John says.
John’s 1929 Model Y is one of the last production run models with a complete set of matching serial numbers. One possible explanation: If engines had been pulled out of the line to sell for stationary power rather than as tractors, the numbering would have been thrown off.
In 1930, Rumely tractors like the Rumely 6 came out with an electric starter, electric lights, and most unusual, rubber tires. “They were way ahead of anything else in that department,” John says. But the company was already struggling financially and no amount of progressive design would save it. Allis-Chalmers took over ownership of Rumely in 1931.
Between John, Nancy and their son Robbie, they have a dozen old trucks. Seven were featured in the 2010 parade, including a 1918 Traffic truck built in St. Louis and a 1917 International truck, the first one built after the IH high-wheelers. “It kind of looks like a truck,” John says, “though it has the radiator behind the engine.”
The White Pine show also attracts the steam community, with 17 steam engines displayed one year. The 2010 show attracted an even dozen. “My brother, Doug, is the steam engine guy,” John says. “He has the second-oldest running Minneapolis return-flue engine and the oldest Avery engine still running.”
John says his area of Minnesota missed the larger tractors. “Steam engines lasted a long time up here because there was plenty of fuel, like wood,” he says. “After steam engines, farmers bought smaller tractors for their farms of 160-200 acres. So the big tractors, like our Avery 40-80, garner a lot of interest.”
The neatest part of the show, John says, is seeing grandparents bring their grandkids to watch demonstrations of the old machinery working. “One unique aspect of our show is the younger generation’s interest in continuing the tradition,” he says. “I started young, my children Jeremy (now 34), Robbie (now 30), and Samantha (now 22) started young, and they’ve gotten their friends interested. That’s really different from most shows.” FC
For more information: John Langenbach, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The 2011 White Pine Logging and Threshing Show will be held Sept. 3-5 near McGrath, Minn., at the junction of Minnesota State Highways 65 and 18, 2 miles east on Hwy. 18 to Aitkin County 61, north 1.5 miles (85 miles north of Minneapolis/St. Paul).
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; e-mail: email@example.com.