When a friend told George Benson that he had the perfect tractor for him, George couldn’t think what he was about to see, and he certainly didn’t expect it to be a case of love at first sight. But on a visit to “Rumely Bill” Krumweide in Drake, North Dakota, he saw a one-of-a-kind piece. “It runs good, with a 6hp 1928 McCormick-Deering gas engine in it,” Bill told him, “but all the rest of it is homemade.'”
“As soon as I saw it,” George says, “I loved it.”
The tractor was built by an elderly collector from Drake who specialized in making large-size scale models of old tractors, but whose name is lost to posterity. He sold the tractor as his health deteriorated.
George, who lives in Fletcher, Minnesota, says Bill told him that the builder didn’t use any plans. “He just used information from his brain,” he says. Built to look like a model of a 1930 14-28 Rumely OilPull, it was created in 1954. “It even sounds like a Rumely,” George says. “It intrigued me, so I bought it and hauled it home. But I didn’t like the way it was. I didn’t think it ran good enough, and it needed a good paint job and restoration.”
Rumely on rubber
The restoration was unusually complicated, considering that the homemade tractor had been built with parts from many different machines: The transmission and rear end were from a Dodge 3-speed pickup, with a friction clutch, and a chain drive connecting to big gear wheels off a baler. Front and rear wheels were from an International tractor, probably a 15-30, George thinks. The flywheels and pulleys were from the 1928 McCormick-Deering gas engine that propelled the tractor.
The tractor came with steel wheels, which George removed, cleaned and painted. Belting had been added to the wheels for traction, but it was worn and George replaced it with rubber. “City officials don’t like it if you drive something like this in a parade with lugs or steel wheels because it’s so hard on the macadam,” he says. “So I bought tractor tires from a friend and cut them with a knife, and then used a big razor blade to cut them down to size. That’s hard work.”
He drilled holes in the rubber, fitted it onto the wheels and bolted it down. “It took me a month to do it,” he recalls. “I put it on all four wheels, so I could run it that way.” Though the rubber on the front tires has worn off, that on the back tires remains good enough for parade use.
Model is a gas miser
The frame is channel iron bolted together, like all the rest of the tractor. “No welding was used, except for the top part of the smokestack, which was originally welded on,” he says. “But when I restored it, I added bolts.”
George also overhauled the engine, grinding the valves, and discovered that the fuel pump was not working well. He had an identical fuel pump cast and installed it. “It’s still there and still works,” he says. “It’s just exactly like the original one, but it was built by somebody.”
He overhauled the carburetor and added a check valve. “When it pumped the fuel up, it would keep the line full all the time,” he says, “so just the excess would go back into the gas tank.” He says the engine won’t idle properly or work well if the gas line is pumping a good flow of gas. “The engine doesn’t use much gas,” he says, “but it must have gas in the carburetor.”
Tweaking the formula to produce the right smoke
The smokestack, which closely resembles one on a Rumely OilPull, is hollow, with a pipe running from the engine exhaust into the stack. The exhaust comes out the top, just like on a Rumely. George wanted it to smoke a little, more like a Rumely, so he tried a couple of methods: one was to use kerosene.
That could be accomplished right on the operator’s platform, which was made of sheet metal bolted together. The basic parts of the engine are there, right in front of the driver, where dials would be on a regular tractor. The engine is lengthwise with the spark plug in the center, and the carburetor is farther up on top of a chamber that could be filled with water.
Because the engine will run on kerosene or diesel, George added water to that chamber, which injected it into the kerosene bit by bit. He hoped it would produce a darker smoke, like that often seen in Rumelys. The modification may have helped a little, but not very much. “The water in the kerosene did make the engine run better and with more power,” George says, “but it didn’t really increase the smoke.”
So he tried adding oil to the gasoline — which he generally uses to run the tractor — but that didn’t change the color of the smoke much either. The tank holds about 22 gallons.
George says the canopy was made of corrugated barn siding that the builder bent and bolted to the top.
A lifetime collector
George has owned old cars, like a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr and a 1930 Model A Ford sedan, and once set his sights on a Stutz Bearcat, but was not in position to buy when one became available. He’s also owned racing engines for his hydroplane racing hobby, dozens of gasoline engines, a couple dozen tractors (including a rare Samson) and at least five major steam engines. And then there’s his homemade half-scale tractor.
George’s penchant for collecting probably came from his father, but not in the way you’d expect. “My dad didn’t like what he called ‘junk,'” George says. “If something was broken, somebody else got it, and he got something else, new or used.”
Conversely, George took to what his father would have called junk, like a 1914 International Harvester 15-30 tractor he bought when he was 20. “It had been sitting in the weeds and didn’t run, so I bought it, fixed it up and sold it,” he says. He used the proceeds to buy a 1917 Samson tractor.
At about the same time, his first daughter was born. George was in the midst of buying gasoline engines. “I bought all of them that I could get my hands on for a few years,” he says. “As my number of children grew, so did my number of gas engines, until I had 30 of them.”
Then he became interested in steam engines. His first was a 1913 22-65 Advance-Rumely steam traction engine. He completely restored the engine and sold it nine years later. Over the years, he bought and restored seven steam engines. Today the final one in his collection is a 1909 25-75 Case.
Remembering the one that got away
George’s interest in steam is no surprise: He worked for 28-1/2 years as a steam engineer, retiring in 1991. After that, he sold his gas engines, bought 13 John Deere tractors and restored that 1913 22-65 Advance-Rumely.
His one regret as a steam engine collector is the one he didn’t buy, a 1911 110 Case steam traction engine. “I had the money, $62,000, but it would have had to come out of my retirement,” he says, “and my wife felt that would be taking too much of a chance.”
Hindsight, of course, is 20-20, and that gamble might have paid off. That 1911 110 Case has changed hands twice since then. The last time it sold, it was for more than $200,000. Instead, George bought a different engine for $8,000, hoping to resell it, but has since discovered the engine needs work that could cost a couple thousand dollars. Luck goes both ways.
George learned his first lessons in working on machinery on the farm. “When I got to be 16, I wanted to leave,” he says. “But my father sat me down and said, ‘You have to stay here on the farm just like I did, doing all the work and milking cows. When you graduate from high school, you can do anything you want.’ So that’s what I did.” George learned how to repair machinery, which transferred into his ability to restore gas engines and other engines and machines later in life, like the homemade Rumely.
Four days after he graduated from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy. “I became a boiler tender on a naval destroyer and traveled around the world,” he says. “I served in Korea during that war, and after that they changed orders and we went to Australia, to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and out into the Mediterranean and across to the U.S. The Navy paid for a complete ’round-the-world tour for me, and I was tending steam all that time, so that’s how I got interested in it.”
Even at 87, George says he still enjoys collecting old iron. “First of all, it’s fun,” he says. “Second, I get enjoyment out of it. And third, it’s a challenge.” FC
For more information: George Benson,
11120 Valley Dr., Rogers, MN 55374.
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; email: email@example.com.