Rumely 20-30W

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After a complete renovation, Ted Shultz's 20-30W Rumely is ready for the show circuit.
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"Guaranteed oil burning, oil cooled, oilpull tractor"
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The Rumely before restoration and an illustration from an early promotional piece.

Ted Shultz has been involved in enough restoration projects to know at least one absolute: “Almost everything you restore will fight you, to a certain extent,” he said. The 1929 Rumely 20-30W Oil Pull he’s completing is no exception.

“We’ve done an awful lot of work on it,” he said. “When we got it, the valve keepers were the only thing missing. At one time, it’d had a buzz saw on the front of it (the last owner used it mainly to cut wood with), so we had to take that off. The draw bar, and one steering end, were busted.

“It had set out for most of its life,” he said. “It wasn’t pitted up, but it was rusty. I don’t think we had to fill anything in. It did have a little bit of the original paint – olive drab – so it might be an early one.”

Ted, a fiberglass fabricator specialist at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Waverly, Neb., is the third owner of the nearly 70-year-old classic 20-30W. It was one of his first collectible tractors.

“When I bought it in 1975 (for $1,750), I didn’t know what it was worth,” he said.

Ted didn’t touch the Rumely for nearly 15 years. In the last three years, though, he’s rebuilt nearly everything on it.

“There had been mice in the top,” he said. “They’d built a nest and ate away a whole section of the radiator. It took me a month to rebuild just the radiator.” As time passed, Ted made progress on the project. He began to know the tractor; began to almost understand it. “My son had it running in his shop once,” he said. “We tried again this weekend to get it running, and we’ve got some pretty good blisters on our hands. It fought us. Every tractor, every engine, has its own personality.”

And the Rumely? Ted responded without a moment’s hesitation.

“It’s a female.”

Ted’s son helped with mechanical work; Ted handles the bodywork, sandblasting and painting. It didn’t take long to decide on a color scheme.

“Most 1929 Rumely Oil Pulls were battleship gray,” Ted said. “Very ugly. But this one’s been painted in the original green – olive drab – and black.”

At a time when good quality materials could mean an outlay of $700 just to paint the tractor, Ted felt like he had no choice but to try a less costly alternative.

“So I got a Sherwin Williams automotive paint. I generally spray on the base, sand out any problems, and put on the clear coat,” he said. “But I didn’t read the directions, which said ‘don’t sand’. Well, it all came back out. I sanded that base coat three times, and every time I sanded, it just raised up again. So I had to totally sandblast it again. And I lost all the body filler in the process.”

“It comes out a beautiful job – if you do it by the directions.”

That was over a year ago

“I had thought, last summer, that we’d take it to the state fair in September,” he said. “But she was kind of fighting me a little bit. I just left it in the paint shop all winter.”

The Rumely had waited before. Ted first got wind of the classic from a friend working hay nearby.

“He saw the Rumely from the barn,” Ted said. “There was all kinds of machinery buried out there. It was a jungle. It’d been 40 years since it’d run, at least. It was out between two trees, and covered with vines. It was just a half-block off a pretty well travelled blacktop road, but no one could see it.”

The real prize on Ted’s Rumely also remains, uh, hidden. “On Rumelys, the hardest thing to find is the pressed-tin back valve cover with the Rumely tag, size and serial number,” he said. “Most farmers just took it off and tossed it so they could hand-oil the rocker arm. But this one had it!”

Knowing that the tractor would be reduced to a pile of parts during the total restoration he had in mind, Ted put the valve cover in a safe place. Too safe, apparently.

“Now I can’t find it,” he said. “I’ve looked all over… we’ve moved since then, and I’m afraid I left it at the old place. You can get replacements, but they’re just not quite right.”

Ted followed his standard procedure in restoration. First, the tractor was taken completely apart, and everything on it was steam cleaned. Next, every piece – “wheels, everything” – was sandblasted and primed. And at every turn, he took pictures.

“We took a lot of pictures before we took it apart, so we’d know how to put it back together,” he said. “It’s taken two years to get this far, and it’s a good thing we have pictures, because my memory doesn’t work that well.”

Nor does he regret trying a different paint. He just wishes he’d read the directions first.

“You’ve always got to try different and cheaper paints,” he said. “$700 is a lot of money… that takes up buying a lot of other junk. If you’re going to use some kind of new paint to save money, try to check with other people who’ve used it, so you can learn from their experiences.”

Ted and his son have a collection that includes 15 Caterpillars and another 15 tractors. “It’s nothing really fancy,” he said. “We do have a Case cross-mount, and a big Huber.”

Their real numbers are in engines. “I don’t know how many engines I have,” he said. “There’s more than 200, and less than 400. Some are real jewels. There’s eight or nine that there’s only one or two – maybe three – known to exist. A lot are torn apart.”

A ’44 coupe got Ted started on antique tractors. “We were looking at this car. Behind the building there was what I thought was a JD GP. I asked the guy if he wanted to sell the tractor,” he recalled. “Well, I got it for $75. And I never did buy the car.

“I took the Deere home, and later I got a Fordson, and put it on some rental property next door. But my wife was not crazy about it,” he said. “So, I told her I bought it for parts, and then it was okay. Later on, somebody was over looking at the tractors and said ‘I don’t understand how the parts on these are interchangeable’, and she overheard. That sure blew my cover!” FC

For more information: Ted Shultz, Waverly, Neb., (402) 786-7477.

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