Bone-rattling rides never felt so good

WETASKIWIN, Alta. — The 1912 Rumley Oilpull clunked, rattled and shook across the mowed field, but Jovan Kvill said the 100-year-old tractor was not the roughest tractor he’s driven.

That honour goes to a small Moline Universal, where the driver’s seat hangs out the back end, tossing and jerking the driver the entire ride.

The steel-wheeled, teeth-rattling tractors have little connection to today’s air conditioned, GPS-controlled tractors, but they played an important part in the development of prairie agriculture, said Randy Kvill, curator of agriculture, industry and document collection at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin.

The museum is hosting a special exhibit until October to celebrate the giant tractors’ work breaking land, clearing trees and giving farmers hope for a future.

“Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only places in the world where these machines had this kind of impact,” Kvill said.

“They were a huge part of developing our agricultural industry.”

Kvill thinks these tractors, including the Rumley Oilpull, are mechanical marvels.

“It’s 100 years old and has had no major work and it’s sitting here thumping away nice and steady, not missing a beat,” said Kvill, standing beside the tractor.

The single cylinder engine has a 10 inch bore and 12-inch stroke engine that produces 15 drawbar horsepower and 30 brake horsepower.

The M. Rumley Co. was a major manufacturer of farm equipment in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until the first Oilpull was developed in 1910 that sales took off. It was one of the first engines that could burn kerosene, which was cheaper and more plentiful than gasoline. It was also oil cooled instead of water cooled, which eliminated worries of the engine freezing and cracking.

A good way to understand the impact of the Rumley Oilpull’s impact on prairie agriculture is to look through the late Stan Reynolds’ collection of tractors, said Kvill.

“He had more Rumleys of the early periods than any other tractor of that period,” said Kvill.

The tractors were built from about 1911 to 1931. The museum has seven Rumley Oilpull tractors in its collection.

“They had a fairly long life, but they didn’t change with technology.”

The era of the big tractors ran from about 1906 to the 1920s. By the end of the 1920s, Ford and other machinery manufacturers were offering smaller, more affordable tractors.

The Bull tractor, also at the museum, cost $400; 4,000 were sold in its first year of production.

As smaller, more nimble tractors came into production, the Rumleys were parked and used as power for threshing machines or sold to farmers just starting to clear their land.

Despite the leap in technology from horse to motor, Kvill said the big machines still required muscle to operate and start. During one demonstration, a visitor told Kvill while they struggled to start a tractor: “Farmers must have hated horses if they were willing to put up with the challenges of the machine over the challenges of horses.”

As part of the special event, each Friday is designated Farmer Friday with special focus on agriculture in Alberta.

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