One for the Ages: A Horse-Drawn Rumely

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Cover of an 1880 Rumely catalog Graham Sellers found at Auburn, Ind. The seals indicate an award bestowed on M. & J. Rumely by the Indiana State Board of Agriculture for “the best threshing machine in 1871.”
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As he scrubbed off decades of grime from this 1880s-vintage portable Rumely steam engine (serial no. 1377), Graham Sellers was in for a surprise. “When I cleaned it up, there were three different shades of yellow on it,” he says. “Now it’s kind of painted up like a circus wagon. I sure didn’t ever think it would have yellow wheels.”
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The Rumely horse-drawn portable steam engine. As shown here, the smokestack folds down for travel. The unit has 16 flues and its boiler is 24 inches in diameter.
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For Graham Sellers, restoration of his portable Rumely has capped off years of experience with steam engines and Rumely tractors. “I’m into it over my ears,” Graham admits. “Working on steam engines is a lot of work, but the fruits of your labor really show up.”
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A gauge bearing the Rumely name.
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When Rumely collectors gather, it’s the big boys – like the 30-60 OilPull or the equally massive Advance steamers – that draw crowds. But it was a comparatively modest Rumely that generated buzz at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in 2006. In that case, age was the trump card.

“This is the oldest known piece of Rumely equipment,” explained Graham Sellers as he showed off his horse-drawn portable steam engine. Manufactured by M. & J. Rumely in La Porte, Ind., the no. 2 was built before 1882, when Meinrad Rumely bought out his brother, John, and changed the company name to M. Rumely Co.

Graham, who lives near Coldwater, Mich., had been on the portable engine’s trail for at least 15 years. In 2003, during a celebration of Rumely’s 150th anniversary at the National Threshers Association show at Wauseon, Ohio, he was finally able to close the deal. The honeymoon ended fairly quickly. “The engine hadn’t been run in a long time,” he says. “It was complete, but it needed quite a lot of boiler work: new flues, new rivets, new castings, new smokestack base and a front door.”

A laundry list like that might overwhelm some. But Graham has worked with steam engines for 30 years, and has long involvement with Rumely tractors. The 8 hp portable Rumely was a perfect fit for his collection. “It’s basically the same design as you find on the later Rumely steam engines,” he says. “They didn’t change much down the road other than making them traction engines. The crosshead is different and the wear points are different, but the valves and governor are the same, although later governors did get more sophisticated.”

Today, the engine runs pretty well, he says, but he’s planning a bit of work on the governor (which he believes is the original). “Then I can hook it up to a shingle mill,” he says.

Rumely’s no. 2 portable originally sold for $1,000. Rumely also offered a separator for the unit (add $500 to the tab), but the portable could have been used to power almost any small, belt-driven equipment. The engine has a 6.5-by-11-inch bore and stroke, and weighs 4,100 pounds (without water). “It’s a small engine, but I think it weighs all of that,” Graham says with the voice of experience. FC

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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