‘Oil Pull Bill’ 201 7th Street West Canby, Minnesota
It all started when I was a small boy of school age. When I went
to school I had to cross the B & O Chicago Railroad tracks
every morning and afternoon. The engines always fascinated me very
When the steam engine thresher men came to thresh for my father,
this was a great day for me. To watch that engine huff and puff,
learning to like it more and more. Thinking I would like to become
an engineer when I grew up.
I was born on a farm near Worth, Illinois, and worked with my
father on the farm, and had a great love for these steam
In 1916, I had a chance to operate an Oil Pull type E-30-60 and
in 1917, there were different times that I had a chance to operate
this Oil Pull. In 1920, I decided to go to the North Dakota wheat
fields, thinking that if I were lucky, maybe I could operate an Oil
Pull when the threshing started in the fall. I succeeded!
I worked for a farmer who had a type F 15-30 Oil Pull which he
said was worn out. I told him Oil Pulls do not wear out it needed
to be overhauled to bring it back to power. If he would let me
overhaul it I would do it for free, and if I had it back working
again, he would have to promise me I could be the engineer to
operate it for the threshing. He made me the promise but said I was
wasting my time.
I did bring it back to full power, and got the job to operate
it. We threshed for forty-seven, eleven hour days, that year of
1920. We had no engine trouble, pulling a twenty-six inch Case
The next year, 1921, was a crop failure, no threshing was done.
In 1922, I was called back again by Mr. Erickson, to operate his
15-30 Oil Pull, to pull a thirty-two inch separator for
forty-three, eleven hour days. Finishing the year’s jobs of
threshing, we decided to take a cut across country for home. We ran
into a ledge, or a very steep hill with a small creek crossing at
one end. We either had to climb this ledge, or cross an old rotten
bridge, or go back miles. I told Mr. Dagin, the separator man, that
I trusted the Oil Pull to climb that steep ledge with the
Mr. Dagin said he was an old man and he didn’t think that he
could climb that ledge. He would ride on the separator. I had him
get on the Oil Pull with me. The ledge was steep but short; we
started up. When I looked back, Mr. Dagin was not on the platform.
Where was he?
He was out hanging on the engine top brace. We did make the
hill, but this was a very dangerous pull, which I, would never do
We made the trip home, facing a very cold north wind. The next
morning, we had twelve inches of snow in much below zero weather.
We had finished the threshing.
While we were threshing, we had no bed to sleep in. We slept out
of doors in the straw stacks, on the ground, covered with the old
horse blankets. There was no room in the barns, as they were filled
with the horses. The people’s homes were small, and for their
I recall one man in our threshing crew, a hobo, named Todd
Sloon. He stayed all the way through threshing and was a good
worker. It was also my job to keep a record of the hours we
threshed and the hours the men worked. A few days later, after the
threshing, I met Todd in the small town of Tappen. He had a dollar
bill in his hand; he said that I had paid him a dollar too much. He
wanted to pay it back. I told him since he was such an honest man,
he could keep it and get a hair cut, which he badly needed. I took
him to the barber and ordered a hair cut and a Van Dyke beard. He
did accept, and when he looked at himself in the mirror he said,
‘Todd, I never knew you looked so good.’ He then walked
down the railroad tracks, headed for the south, and I never did see
In 1922, the steam engine thresherman who had threshed for my
father for many years decided to retire from threshing. In the year
1923, my brother Fred and I bought a 14-18 HP, two cylinder, 1918
Oil Pull, later called a 16-30 HP; it had been used five years. We
also bought a 28-48 new Rumely Ideal separator. We took over the
threshing run of about forty jobs, for over twenty-five years.
After threshing, the Oil Pull was belted to a silo filler and we
also did custom plowing in the fall. In the late fall and winter it
was used to pull a stationary hay press. With all this work, the
Oil Pull never refused to operate, summer or winter. Oil Pulls were
built strong and simple and it was easy to get parts if they were
needed. Oil Pulls were easy on fuel and had much more horsepower
than their ratings.
This 1918 Oil Pull has its original piston that came from the
factory. The only work done to repair it was valve grinding and new
piston rings. I had it at the thresher show at Sycamore, Illinois,
and also at the thresher show at Pontiac, Illinois, for twenty
years. At this show I was dedicated as ‘Oil Pull Bill’. If
anyone had trouble with his Oil Pull, I was called to take care of
the trouble. This Oil Pull is now seventy-three years old.
I am a charter member of the Antique Engine and Tractor
Association, at Atkinson, Illinois, for twenty-nine years now. I
hope to attend the show again in September of 1991, to drive my old
Oil Pull in the parade, and also to do some threshing at the
In all my years of threshing we had only two bad accidents. Once
a fire started in the straw stack, and another time, one of our men
who was pitching bundles got his pitch fork caught in the drive
belt. The pitch fork hit the man on the rack in the stomach, but he
turned out all right. As for the fire in the straw stack, I, Oil
Pull Bill, the engineer, ran with a fork in my hands, jumped onto
the straw stack, and with a large fork full of straw, smothered the
fire. The fire was caused by a man who was smoking a cigarette. He
had no doubt flicked a lit cigarette as we started to thresh, and
the blowing straw passing over the cigarette, ignited the straw. I
am at this writing, ninety-six and one half years of age. I am now
living in Canby, Minnesota, with my loving wife, Amanda.
I have been a silent reader of Iron Men Album for many years and
enjoy reading it very much. I want to send my greeting to all
thresher men and to my buddy, Bruce Leach of Pontiac, Illinois, and
also to Anna Mae for such a wonderful magazine.