This is a photograph of an American Rumely "OilPull" tractor made in La Porte, Indiana, between 1910 and 1918. It is part of a small collection of 17 photographs of early cars donated to the Museum in 1969.
Rumely was one of the pioneering manufacturers of large and heavy tractors which were similar to steam traction engines but needed less labour, fuel and expertise to operate. Rumely tractors burned kerosene with water injection to improve fuel consumption and increase power when running under load. To keep the operating temperature high enough, oil cooling was employed instead of water in the large rectangular cooling tank on the front, hence the name. "OilPull" tractors were generally unsuitable for pulling farm implements as they bogged easily and needed most of their power just to pull their own weight. However, in the US they were used with success for a brief period to break new ground across the prairies and Great Plains. Farmers usually bought these huge tractors on credit and, following crop failures, sometimes defaulted on their payments forcing them out of business. This lasted for a few years from about 1907, after which the big wheat bonanza had slowed and the great ranches were subdivided into smaller holdings. "OilPulls" were also used to power threshing machines and other farm equipment.
By 1912 Rumely was the third largest tractor manufacturer in America with 2,000 workers building 2,500 tractors each year. However, the market quickly became oversupplied with massive tractors, and virtually collapsed overnight, forcing Rumely to move over to producing smaller, lightweight models which were less expensive and more suitable for hauling implements. Nevertheless, they continued to build their smaller model "OilPull" tractors until the late 1920s.
The M. Rumely Co. had been established in about 1852 by Meinrad Rumely (1823-1904) and his brother, John, as a foundry and machine shop in La Porte, Indiana, to build agricultural implements. By 1855 they were making maize shellers and in 1857 manufactured their first threshing machine. The firm initially traded as M. & J. Rumely Co. and became M. Rumely Co. in 1882. They acquired the Advance Thresher Co. and Gaar Scott & Co. of Richmond, Indiana, in 1911, as well as the Northwest Thresher Co. of Stillwater, Minnesota, and the Seager Engine Works in 1912 and became the Advance-Rumely Co. in 1915.
"The Tractor Book: the Definitive Visual History", Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2015.
Margaret Simpson, Curator