Strong Survivors: Trio of Rare Tractors Endure

After an unfortunate fire, a lucky trio of tractors survive.

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courtesy by Steve Linker
Joyce and Jerry Linker regularly drove their rare 1928 Rumely OilPull 40-60 Z in parades.

Steve Linker is an exceptionally lucky man. When a fire started in the shed where he typically stored three rare antique tractors, Lady Luck smiled on him not once, but twice. Two of the three tractors had been moved to another shed; aware of the presence of the third tractor, firemen took extra care to protect it.

The fire occurred at his mother’s (Joyce Linker) Malden, Illinois, farm in 2017. Normally, a high-profile trio – a Russell, a Case and a Rumely OilPull – would have been stored in the shed where an electrical fire started.

“I was fortunate that I had brought the Russell and the Case over to my house to store them for the winter,” Steve says, “instead of in that shed, where we usually had them.”

The third rare tractor – a Rumely OilPull – was still in the shed with three lesser tractors and many antique collectibles. A couple weeks before the fire, Steve and a friend had searched for parts in the old shed. “When my fire department friends (Darren Carlson, Travis Rossler and Jerry Jackson) arrived on the scene with the rest of the department,” Steve says, “they remembered where the Rumely was stored.”

The firemen tried to open the shed door, but Steve had it locked tight. Using an axe, they knocked a hole in the door, gained access to the Rumely and continuously poured water on the tractor. “They saved it,” Steve says, “though it got burned pretty good.”

The Rumely’s canopy was burned off, the magneto cover disintegrated, and the sheet metal had to be repainted. “Another friend acidized it and polished it so you could hardly tell that it was in the fire,” Steve says. “But now oxidation has taken over, and it looks pretty ugly. It will need a lot more work.”

Underperforming tractor gets the boot – and a second lease on life

Each of the three rare tractors has a unique story. Take the Russell. In 1919, an Illinois farmer bought a brand-new 12-24 Russell Model B tractor and drove it home on approval, travelling 20 miles to test it. Back at his farm, he hooked the tractor to a separator and discovered it was not strong enough to run the machine, Steve says.

That was a year before the Nebraska tractor tests were instituted to verify tractor manufacturers’ equipment performance claims. Beyond anger and frustration, the man with the new Russell had no recourse. “He parked the Russell under a tree and it sat there until 1968, when it came up for sale,” Steve says. “My grandpa (Verner Hensel) knew it was rare, and bought it.”

In fact, the tractor is thought to be the only surviving Russell Model B, though some Russell Model A’s are still around.

Abandoned to the elements

Though it had never been used, the Russell showed significant deterioration from decades of exposure to the elements. “It was completely junk from sitting that many years,” Steve says. “Only one piece of tin was original, so grandpa had to make all the tin, and a new roof. Everything had to be gone through, except the transmission. Otherwise everything else was taken apart.” Five years ago, Steve worked on the transmission, too.

The Russell has chain steering. “You have to turn the steering wheel a bunch of times, like with the old steam traction engines, to get it to turn,” Steve says. “The Russell company was mainly about steam, and that Russell 12-24 had chain steering identical to what they used in steam traction engines 60 years earlier.”

Verner would occasionally hit the road, buying tractors, for up to six weeks at a time. “When he found the Russell tractor for sale in Canton, Illinois, he discovered his neighbor was also bidding on the tractor,” Joyce Linker says. “So he quit bidding, and afterward bought it from his neighbor, and brought it home.”

Verner ran an implement dealership. “He was knowledgeable and could do anything,” Steve says. “He poured his own bearings, for instance. My dad (Jerry) was a mechanic all his life, and that helped me along the way. I learned it all from the ground up from them. We all worked together for years and years on tractors and cars and trucks, different kinds of farm equipment and other things. It’s been a lot of fun.”

1935 Case finds its way back home

Another of the three tractors – a 1935 Case CC – has strong family ties. “My other grandpa, Bill Linker, bought it new in 1935, and used it until he retired in 1955,” Steve says. “Joyce says he paid $835 for it new, and parted with it at the sale for $69.”

After the auction, the buyer took the tractor to Wisconsin. Bill’s son Jerry Linker (Steve’s dad) never knew where it ended up until a cousin, Harold Steele of nearby Dover, shared a story. “According to Joyce, Harold stopped in one day and asked, ‘Jerry, did your dad have a CC Case?’ and Jerry said, ‘Yeah, he did. Why? Did you find it?'”

He had. Harold’s sister, Marion Lines, and her husband had bought it, and 47 years later came across the 1935 bill of sale, recording Bill Linker as the original owner. Harold asked Steve if he wanted the tractor back, and Steve didn’t have to think twice. The next morning, the 1935 Case was back home. “It was in the family again,” Joyce says.

A true orange Case, through and through

The tractor was a basket case. “Everything on the Case was shot,” Steve says. “The engine was locked up, the brakes were locked up and shot, and it needed a new transmission, new radiator and new paint. Everything had to be new, including the clutch. Every bit of that tractor was taken apart.”

Jerry and Steve began working on the Case together. “By that time, my dad’s health was failing,” Steve says. “He was in a wheelchair and using a walker, and his hands weren’t working. He asked if there was any chance that he could get one more ride on that machine. I said, ‘Now Dad, all I can do is try.’ So 90% of the work was mine, and 10% was Dad.”

Steve replaced the fenders and hoods, and made a few parts. “The steering was messed up too,” he says. “Luckily, I had another tractor for parts.”

The Linker Case is a rare tractor. “It is a true orange Case, and only a few of them existed,” Steve says. “Not many Cases at the time were known to be orange, but this one was. My dad and uncle saw it was orange, and they talked to the dealer who said it came out of Texas. It’s hard to know how many more are out there.”

When they pulled the tractor apart, everything underneath was true orange, not gray. “That rarity is why John Harvey had it on his Classic Tractors calendar in 2015,” Steve says. Case expert Herb Wessel told Steve that Case had been looking forward to using the Flambeau Red (which actually looks orange) color, to see how farmers reacted to it. “This was during the Great Depression,” Steve notes, “so if some other true orange ones were out there, they must have gone to the scrap yard, because this is the only one left.”

Remembering an orange-letter day

In 2014, the Case restoration was finished and the tractor was ready to drive. “That was one of the happiest days of my life,” Steve says. “Getting it ready for my dad meant everything to me. He busted his butt for me his whole life, and now I could give back just a small portion of what I owed my dad.”

Jerry Linker got up on the Case and drove it again, as he had years ago. “I’ll never forget his smile,” Steve says. “I was just overwhelmed with happiness for him. I never felt better in my life.”

Marion Lines also got a chance to see the restored tractor. “In her 90s, she was in a wheelchair, and when she saw the tractor at a show, she stood up and walked to it,” Joyce says. “It was the first time her family had seen her walk in a long time. She took her hand and rubbed the tractor, and said, ‘It’s beautiful. Oh, it’s just beautiful.'”

Steve’s favorite photograph shows the Case. “It’s sitting right here on my desk,” he says. “It’s got my uncle behind me, and my cousin Will Linker. The smile on my grandfather’s face is precious. The Linker side of the family, my uncle and cousin, Billy Linker and Will Linker, supported me, and were instrumental in backing me on that. It took a lot of time and money, but we knew we wanted to get it running so Grandpa could have one more turn on it. And he got it.”

Bringing a 1928 Rumely back to life

Verner Hensel found the third tractor in the trio – a 1928 Rumely OilPull 40-60 Z – near Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1969. Referring to it as “a glorified 30-60 OilPull S,” Steve says it was one of the last ones made. “They put different parts on it to get it out of the factory,” he says. “It is considered a lightweight type.”

Verner told Steve that only four 40-60 Model Z’s with short stacks were known to exist. “I never actually verified that, but to my knowledge, the number is under a half-dozen,” Steve says. “The true ones have tall stacks. Some of them are around, but the short stacks are rare. Whenever somebody sees this one, they say, ‘That ain’t no 40-60,’ because it is so different.”

Verner worked with the Rumely until 1985. “He plowed with it at first. When he began taking it to shows, he removed the lugs so he could run it in local parades,” Steve says. “Other than that, it’s never been worked on until about five years ago.”

Everything on the Rumely was out of adjustment: Steve redid the entire fuel system from the camshaft to the fuel pump and carburetor, which he tore apart and rebuilt. “It had deteriorated from age and use,” he says. “The fuel pump works on a rod that’s about 1/8 inch and is fine-threaded. To get it to run, the camshaft and plunger in the carburetor, just everything, had to be lined up properly.”

Steve had to climb inside the engine, lay on his back, and, using a light, look above and count those fine threads. “There was dirty, filthy oil in there that had been there since 1928,” he says. “If it wasn’t right, I had to climb back in and try again until I got it right.”

Old iron helps keep mind sharp

For Steve, all three of the family treasures are his favorites in one way or another. “The Russell is the gem of the collection,” he admits. “Then, with the OilPull, my mom and grandpa spent hours and hours driving it in parades, so some of the fondest memories I had with my grandpa were with the Rumely. When I see that tractor, I think of grandpa Verner, and I miss him. But doing the Case for my dad was very special to me.”

Steve is grateful for the old iron education he received from his grandfather and father. It allows him to share that heritage with a new generation and explain the history of mechanized agriculture. “I love the older stuff,” he says. “To keep it running really challenges your knowledge and memory.” FC

For more information: Steve Linker, 27793 2030 N. Ave., Malden, IL 61337; linker1959@gmail.com; (315) 303-2273.


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: bvossler@juno.com.

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