Every group that organizes a show feature display is the same: They all want their display to be exceptional. In planning the 25th annual Rumely Products Collectors Expo held at Heritage Park of North Iowa, in September 2017, Show Director Jerred Ruble knew he wanted to focus on Rumely’s steam side, but beyond that, he was spinning his wheels.
“I kept asking, ‘What can we do to set the bar high?’” he recalled later. When Roger Madden, a member of the Heritage Park Rumely Expo Committee, suggested a display of Rumely’s 36-120 hp steam plowing engines, Jerred scoffed. “I thought that was setting it way too high.”
There are, after all, just nine of the giants known to exist. At least three of those are in Canada, and one is in North Carolina. Ready to transport, a Rumely 36 weighs roughly 20 tons; transportation logistics alone boggle the mind.
But the stars fell into perfect alignment for an unprecedented event. “At Heritage Park, we had six of the nine 36’s known to exist,” Jerred says. “As far as I know, this was the first time the majority of the remaining 36’s were in one place. I’d venture to say it will never happen again.”
Although Rumely was late to the party, releasing its 36 hp steam engine in 1908, it made a huge statement when it arrived. “The 36 Rumely was the big powerhouse of the day,” Jerred says. “It was used mainly for plowing in the western states and Saskatchewan. After that, it was a popular sawmill engine, especially in Canada (indeed, four of the five Rumely 36’s known to exist in American collections were brought into the U.S. from Canada). The mills really liked that double-cylinder steam.”
Describing the 36 Rumely as “an easy steaming engine,” Jerred says the Rumely was so successful that many remained in active use into the 1940s. “To me, the 36 kind of set the bar on plowing,” he says. “I know the Case 110 guys will say different, but the 110 was a single-cylinder engine. To me, the double-cylinder engines performed the best.”
Those attending the show on Friday got a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of that performance, when five of the 36 hp Rumelys on display (the sixth was not in operating condition) muscled their way to onto a nearby field for a simultaneous plowing demonstration. “To see all five coming down the field at once, that was quite the sight,” Jerred says.
The sight of six 36 hp Rumelys displayed side by side was a crowd pleaser, no doubt about it. But the Rumely display didn’t stop there. The Heritage Park expo included examples of every size of Rumely OilPull tractor built (heavyweights and lightweights), a major accomplishment on its own. Representatives of every Aultman & Taylor tractor were also on display (Advance-Rumely purchased Aultman & Taylor Machinery Co. in 1923).
“We had three Rumely OilPull Model F tractors and a Model B,” Jerred says, “and those are all very rare. We also had a 20-30 OilPull orchard, very rare, and a good collection of Olds gas engines and a Falk gas engine, a silo filler, separators and two Rumely trucks.”
It would be unfair to compare George Hoffman’s 2,600-mile journey to Heritage Park from British Columbia to Hannibal’s epic march across the Alps. Hannibal, for instance, did not have to contend with permits, inspections or certifications.
Acting very much as the general of his operation, George directed a remarkable trek in which his 1912 36 hp Rumely was hauled from his home in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, to Heritage Park of North Iowa for a once-in-a-lifetime event. George’s army consisted of two daughters and five grandchildren, most of whom were clad in engineer’s overalls for the duration.
During a roundtrip of more than 5,000 miles, George pulled a trailer bearing a 20-ton behemoth. Covering 500 miles a day with periodic stops for boiler inspections and local permits, the procession wound its way to Rollag, Minnesota and Andover, South Dakota, before pulling into Heritage Park.
There, the Hoffman 36 settled in with its neighbors. Originally sold out of Rumely’s Calgary branch in Alberta, Canada, serial no. 6036 ended up in an Alberta sawmill – literally. “In the late 1940s, the boiler was removed and the rest was dumped at the mill by a creek,” George says. Decades later, George won the mill owner’s permission to exhume what remained. “The first thing we dug up was the back wheels,” he says. “They were buried in mud.”
At its plant in Battle Creek, Michigan, Rumely produced 16, 20, 25, 30 and 36 hp double-cylinder open-bottom boiler engines conforming to Province of Alberta import specifications. With Erie-built dry-bottom boilers rated at 175 psi, these export models were dubbed “Alberta Specials.”
Featuring castings and parts unique to the export units, the Canadian 36 hp Rumelys varied from those built for U.S. customers. The pedestal on George’s Canadian, for instance, is shorter than that of comparable units built for use in the U.S. “Canadian boilers are lower to the ground,” George notes. After the prairie was broken, most of the 36 hp Rumelys in Canada became sawmill engines. “Those double-cylinder engines would saw to beat the band,” he says.
A handsomely restored 1919 Advance-Rumely Universal held its own in the steam display. Owned by the Bellinger family of Waterloo, Iowa, the Universal fairly sparkled as it rolled through the grounds.
The Universal was in running condition when the Bellingers bought it several years ago, “We put a jacket on it in 2016,” says Warren Bellinger, Denver, Iowa, “and we cleaned it, did some boiler work and a cosmetic restoration.”
At the Bellingers’ home show (Antique Acres in Cedar Falls, Iowa), the Universal is used on the sawmill and in threshing and plowing. “We pull an eight-bottom P&O plow with it,” Warren says. “It runs really well.”
Four generations of Bellingers have been steam enthusiasts. “My granddad bought a steam engine as a collector in the 1950s,” Warren says. “Then my dad had an engine… I just didn’t know any better.” The family has settled on Advance engines. “They’re good running engines, built to work,” he says, “and we like that.”
Not all the standouts at the Rumely display were giants. Glen Braun, Le Sueur, Minnesota, showed a half-scale 20-40 Model G he built from scratch.
“I had a full-size Model G,” he says, “so I had a pattern, and it was easy to do everything in halves.” He tackled the project with assistance from his two brothers. “When I needed machining, they helped,” he says. “I was the welder.”
Glen’s goal was to make the scale model look as true as possible. The model has a 2-cylinder upright Continental engine. “It’s laid down, and we married the carburetor and magneto systems with an oil reservoir underneath,” Glen says. The camshaft has been redone and two lobes moved.”
The transmission is from a Massey-Harris combine, the drive gear is from an International Harvester Model 52 baler and the flywheel is from an Economy gas engine. The wheels were fabricated in New Prague, Minnesota; Glen put in spokes and made hubs.
The project took five years. During that time, Glen was farming full-time with his dad and brothers – and taking night classes. Sensing a gap in his skill set, Glen took coursework in exhaust systems, drafting and tinwork at the Mankato (Minnesota) Vo-Tech.
He learned resourcefulness like that early. “When I was 12, my brother and I built a homemade tractor with steel wheels,” he recalls. “There was no actual engine in it. We just took turns pushing each other.”
The Rumely name is an enormous umbrella, spreading over a variety of products – including trucks for farm and commercial use. Mike Travis, Corning, Iowa, displayed a fully restored 1920 Model A Rumely truck.
“My dad bought it at an auction in central Iowa sometime after 2000,” he says. ”It was missing the rear end and hood; it was in bad shape.” Mike’s dad, Marland Travis, died before the restoration was complete, but Mike moved the project forward. The truck made its post-restoration debut at the Rumely show in Albert City in 2009.
Based on research he’s done, Mike believes Rumely trucks were built in Battle Creek, Michigan. Cabs were optional, and it was up to the buyer to get a box built for the back end. Equipped with a Buda engine, a Sheldon rear end and carbide gas lights, the 1-1/2- to 2-ton truck was said to be capable of hauling a 6,000-pound Rumely Model K tractor.
Rumely trucks are scarce. Mike has seen photos of three other trucks; he’s seen a fourth one in person. The trucks are believed to have been built from 1920 to 1927.
John Allen, Ozawkie, Kansas, has had steam on the brain for as long as he can remember. “I was no good at school, but I was crazy for steam engines,” he says. “I’ve been around engines since I was 6. I even met my wife at a steam engine show.”
Today he’s romping through his second childhood with a half-scale 65 hp Case steam engine at the opposite end of the spectrum of 36 hp Rumelys. He’s a regular at steam shows as far away as Ohio (“I answer to Dorothy,” he says with a grin) where he enjoys the camaraderie of the steam community.
The shows offer pure pleasure. “They provide coal, water and good fellowship,” he says. He’s enjoyed parading the engine, and putting it through its paces on sawmills and shingle mills, plowing with two-bottom plows and belting it to half-scale threshing machines.
John bought the engine about five years ago. It is the final half-scale of that model produced by renowned builder Tom Turning. Today, he senses a growing interest in scale-model steam engines. “There’s kind of an uptick right now,” he says. “People have asked me how to find one of these. They’re just more approachable. Sometimes little kids are scared of the big engines.”
Firing the scale model engine can be a bit of a trick. “It may be harder to fire, but once you get onto it, it’s no big deal,” John says. “The fun part is trying to master it. You’ve got to keep the fire and steam and water at the right levels. If you can run a small steam engine, you can run any engine.”
Travis Wibben, New Hartford, Iowa, bought his machinist-built portable steam engine in May 2017. It has a vertical boiler, two-cylinder compound engine and three-speed power transmission. The rear axle is from a Dodge Dart; the rear brake is from a Model T Ford.
The engine was stuck when he got it. “It took a bit of effort to revive it,” he admits. Now that it’s up and running, he’s considering modifications. “I’ve got ideas for bunkers and a canopy and a smoke stack,” he says.
In the meantime, he keeps the engine busy. At Heritage Park, he used it to run the merry-go-round, the sheller, the buzz saw and the small baler. “My wife thought I was crazy when I bought it,” he says with a smile. “Now she thinks it’s a great thing.” FC
Rumely Products Collectors 2018 Expo, Old Trusty Antique & Collectors Show, Sept. 7-9, 2018, Clay Center, Nebraska. Leslie C. McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.