Not being a superstitious man, Ron Miller thinks “13” is a lucky number indeed. The Geneseo, Ill., farmer considers himself fortunate to own 13 Rumely OilPull tractors. The tractors are behemoths, usually weighing several thousand pounds.
Ron, 66, bought his first Rumely OilPull, a 1923 model, in 1958. He started restoring it right away, spending a couple of years on the project.
Ron’s Rumelys were made in LaPorte, Ind., and were designed to use oil instead of water in the radiators, and to run on a mixture of kerosene and water. The Rumely business originated when German immigrant Meinrad Rumely established a blacksmith business in the 1850s. The shop later grew into a farm equipment manufacturing business that specialized in threshing machines. The company’s first tractor was produced in 1910. Due to financial problems, the Rumely family lost control of the company five years later, and it was reorganized as the Advance-Rumely Thresher Co. In 1931, Advance-Rumely merged with the Allis-Chalmers Co.
The idea of owning an old tractor appealed to Ron because of the tractors his father had used when he threshed grain for neighbors. Ron was looking for any kind of antique tractor when a friend told him about a Rumely OilPull. Since then, Ron has focused on that brand. That decision, he said, has made it easier to keep the size of his tractor collection under control.
Two or three years after he bought his first tractor, he located another one. And he has picked up others through the years.
“Sometimes I won’t get one for four or five years,” he said, “and then I’ll get a couple. Rumely tractors are not readily available.” He made his most recent purchase eight years ago.
All but four of his tractors have been restored, and Ron plans to work on those four as time allows. Naturally, he has more time for restoration work in the winter.
He tries to buy tractors in as good a condition as possible.
“It’s hard to find what I need to finish one if it’s not all there,” he said. “If a lot of minor, small stuff is missing, then it’s almost impossible to find it. Then I have to manufacture my own pieces. Sometimes I can make parts or trade parts.”
He belongs to a couple of antique tractor clubs, and takes some of his tractors to a couple of shows each year. He would attend more, he said, “but it’s quite a job to haul the stuff.”
When he starts a restoration project, he checks the general condition of the tractor, and then disassembles everything that appears worn. If machine shop work is needed, he hires someone to do that. Rusty fuel tanks are a common problem, he said, but they can be fabricated.
After re-assembling a tractor, he makes sure it will run.
“A lot of time, I find something needs extra fine-tuning,” he said. Painting is the final job.
Ron said his most challenging project was the 30-60 OilPull he spent two years restoring. But undoubtedly his most-viewed project is the 1923 20-40 OilPull that he restored for the Smithsonian Institution. A friend donated the tractor to the museum, and Ron restored it, taking photographs of each step to document his work.
The Rumely is one of the museum’s larger exhibits.
“They had to take out the windows in front of the building to get the tractor in,” Ron said.
The tractor is now on display in the Agriculture Hall of the National Museum of American History, a division of the Smithsonian. Ron has not yet been to see the exhibit, but may work that trip in this summer.
Ron lives on the farm where he grew up, and stores his tractors in sheds there.
“It’s too much work and expense to get them in shape, and paint them, and then leave them outside,” he said.
His hobby has become his family’s hobby. His wife, Lora Lea, describes herself as the secretary, and decision-maker when it comes to paint colors.
“It’s been a neat family hobby,” she said. “Our boys always enjoyed it when they were little. And the people we’ve met have been fantastic.” The family has welcomed visitors to their farm from almost every state.
Ron also collects Rumely OilPull literature, such as parts books and instruction manuals, and other memorabilia. Those items often help him make an accurate restoration, and may help him with a future project.
He may have 13 Rumelys now, but there’s always room for at least one more treasure. FCDianne L. Beetler is a lifelong rural resident who enjoys writing about people with unusual collections.