Well, it’s not a diesel, but it runs on fuel oil. Kerosene to be exact. Kerosene became a popular fuel for early tractors because it was so inexpensive. Later, a similar, slightly more refined fuel called “distillate” or “tractor fuel,” replaced it. Because kerosene, distillate and diesel fuel are so similar, and the early kerosene engines are on the diesel-engine historical family tree, we thought you might be interested in reading about one of the pioneers in that realm, Advance-Rumely.


Family Business

The Advance-Rumely company dates back to 1848, when Meinrad Rumely emigrated to the U.S. and joined his brother, John, in LaPorte, Ind., to run a blacksmith shop and foundry. Meinrad soon bought his brother out and called the firm M. Rumely Company. At first, the company mainly served the railroad, but due to local demand, it began designing and manufacturing agricultural equipment.

The company’s corn shellers and horse-drawn threshers were successful enough that it expanded its agricultural product lines and sales regions. Eventually, it expanded to include the U.S., Canada and the world. The M. Rumely Company became very successful and grew by buying up other companies with complementary equipment lines or markets. Meinrad died in 1904, but his sons, William and Joseph, continued and grew the company further.

We found this 1923 Rumely H 16-30 chugging away merrily at the ’16 National Threshers Reunion with nobody around to talk with. As is common with steel-wheel tractors, the wheels are covered with rubber to make the tractor drivable on the street. The big box with the stack is the radiator, which circulates the cooling oil. Cool air is drawn in from the bottom, and convection carries the heated air up, aided by the upward flow of the exhaust, which is plumbed in near the top of the stack.

Kerosene Annie

In 1895, Rumely started in the tractor biz by building steam-traction engines. In 1908, responding to the new trends, Rumely hired engineers John Secor and William Higgins to design and build a line of internal-combustion tractors. These guys had studied with the great European engineers, including Dr. Rudolph Diesel, and had ideas on how to bring kerosene-fueled engines to America.

Their first prototype tractor was built in 1909 and nicknamed, “ Kerosene Annie.” Annie led Rumely to become the first American tractor manufacturer to use kerosene as a fuel. It put them at the head of the sales pack, as it was an easily and cheaply obtained petroleum-based fuel.

“[Rumely’s] first prototype tractor was built in 1909 and nicknamed ‘Kerosene Annie.’”

Annie had worked so well that nearly identical Model E 30-60 tractors went into production starting in 1910. The Model B 25-45 went into production at the same time, and models of various sizes followed in the coming years. The letter designation indicated the model, the first number indicated the drawbar horsepower, and the second the PTO power.


The company’s original Model E made 30hp on the drawbar and 60 on the PTO. A number of tractor companies used these designations, but as with the American horsepower races in the ’50s and ’60s, some of the numbers became inflated, which is why the Nebraska Tractor Tests began. It was an official “put up or shut up” moment for the tractor biz.

Oil Pull

Called the “Oil Pull,” the Rumely tractors had many unique features beyond the kerosene fuel. For one, they were cooled by oil instead of water. That’s right, the engine used oil as a cooling medium. There were four generations of Oil Pull tractors built from 1910 to 1930.

It’s a waste of time to talk about comfort features with these units. In those days, if you had a roof over the operator’s station and a seat, even an iron seat, you were pretty happy. The drawbar arrangements varied, and this one has a relatively simple setup.

A lot is going on here and, really, we don’t know even half of it. This is the cylinder-head end of the engine that protrudes into the driving compartment. The upright device in the center of the head is the carburetor, into which gasoline, kerosene and water are plumbed. The carburetor is the very special part of the Rumely kerosene engine. From the operator’s manual, we can see the tank to the left is the one-gallon gasoline tank used for starting and warmup. The water tank is just out of the lower edge of the shot. The big lever to the left is the transmission shift lever. The big lever to the right is the hand clutch. The steering wheel is obvious, but we’d be willing to bet steering this beast is a test of upper-body strength.

Lots to see here—the first being the oil-cooling system. It worked largely the same as a water-based system, pumping the oil from the engine through a radiator. The round thing behind the PTO drum (yes the engine was running while we shot it!) is the circulating pump, and the pipe leading to the right is the return for the cool oil from the bottom of the radiator. The reason oil was chosen is that kerosene engines tended to run hotter than gasoline engines under load. Water boils at 212F and starts bubbling long before that. Remember these were the days before pressurized cooling systems. The oil used in the Rumely had a minimum boiling point of 400F. Oil doesn’t freeze in winter, either, but it thickens with low temperatures, so one would have to add kerosene to keep it flowing in cold weather. In the 1920 Nebraska tractor test of a Rumely H 16-30, Test No. 009 (one of the first they did), a maximum cooling oil temperature of 186 degrees was recorded at maximum power during the drawbar tests. The tank forward of the engine and behind the radiator housing is the 23-gallon fuel tank.

The 1923 Model H 16-30 you see here was in the second generation (1917 to ’24), and built near the end of that generation. The upgrades in the second generation included a general downsizing and lightening, a two-speed gearbox replacing the previous single-speed, smaller displacement engines, and automotive-style steering rather than fifth-wheel steering. Though the engines tended to be a little smaller in later years, they turned more rpms and made more power.

Diesel Influence

In many ways, early kerosene-fueled engines were a parallel development in the march towards practical diesel power. The Rumely family, as well as their engineers, Secor and Higgins, all had known Dr. Diesel, and were familiar with compression-ignition engines, as well as hot-bulb semi-diesels. Building a diesel engine in those days was an expensive, complex proposition, and the maintenance and operational needs were equally complex. The Rumley engineers took a side track by combining elements of compression-ignition and spark-ignition engines.

At about 5.5:1, the Rumely engine had a higher compression ratio (CR) than most gas or kerosene engines of the day, but not so high as a diesel or even the low compression diesels of the day (over 10:1, but well under 15:1). As a comparison, a close period competitor was the Waterloo Boy Model N kerosene tractor, which had a 3.91:1 CR.

Rumely’s take was to heat the kerosene with a higher CR low-volatility kerosene (so it was well heated by compression), but then, fire it off with a spark-ignition system. It was inexpensive to build, but had a power edge. The Rumely kerosene engine had few needs beyond the realm of what was required by a gasoline engine, but the main benefit was that it ran on the cheapest fuel available at the time. The key was the complex three-way carburetor, patented by Secor and Higgins, which combined gasoline—and water. This was Rumley’s “key to the kingdom.”

The combustion chamber of a kerosene engine needed to be good and hot. For that reason, they would not start cold, but had to be started and warmed up on gasoline. As soon as it was warm, it was switched over to kerosene. Some of the early diesels did the same thing. The kerosene itself was preheated for better combustion by running the fuel line through the exhaust pipe.

“The kerosene itself was preheated for better combustion by running the fuel line through the exhaust pipe.”

Water Injection

How was water involved? On light loads, the engine ran only on kerosene. With heavy loads, the higher compression ratio and, likely, the combustion characteristics of the kerosene, combined to create a very hot combustion process. As the load increased, an increasing amount of water was injected into the airflow. It then vaporized, cooled the combustion chamber—preventing detonation—and prevented carbon buildup. The water tank held 15 gallons, which had to be soft water; the kerosene tank carried 23 gallons.

That giant flywheel can spin at a maximum-rated 530 rpm. The lever you see to the left is the starting lever. Starting this rig was no walk in the park. After one manually prelubed the engine with a hand crank on the Madison-Kipp Engine Lubricator, they would have to prime both the gas and kerosene fuel systems, as well as the water, choke it and set the spark advance. Then, one would slowly spin the engine until it neared the compression point, within about 30 degrees of the ignition point. The starting lever was then raised up, engaged to a coupling and then pulled energetically down to spin the engine. It automatically disengaged at the bottom of the stroke. In theory, the engine started on the first pull. If it didn’t, repeat! Once the engine warmed up, you’d switched it over from gas to kerosene. We didn’t see it demonstrated. Just think: how many of us diesel heads have whined because we had to wait 30 seconds for the glow plug light to go out….

Hard Times

The turn of the 20th Century had brought Rumely to new heights with its many corporate acquisitions. Those acquisitions, and a 1913 downturn in the agriculture market, likely pushed the company to the edge of a financial cliff. It scrambled, and even hired an International Harvester executive to run the company for a while—all to no avail. By 1915, Rumely had declared bankruptcy and was reorganized as Advance-Rumely. Ironically, the Rumely family was pushed out of their leadership positions, but the company continued to charge ahead.

Advance-Rumely was hit hard by the ’29 Great Depression, a bit more than a decade after the bankruptcy. A downturn in sales predated that, which has been generally attributed to its “old-style” two-cylinder tractor lines. By the late ’20s, the company was in the process of introducing more modern and conventional tractors, but it was too late. In 1930, management started looking for a buyer, and in May of 1931, Allis-Chalmers stepped in to buy the company.

Since A-C had its own brand of tractors, it discontinued the Rumely units immediately, but used the LaPorte factory to produce some of the A-C model line. Allis-Chalmers was most interested in Rumely’s thresher line, which it took over intact and rebranded, as well as Rumely’s extensive dealer network. The Rumley name was seen a bit longer on the thresher lines, into the late ’30s, and mostly in Canada. By the end of the ’30s, Rumely was simply a memory.

Some 13,000 Model H 16-30 Oil Pull tractors were built. The Third-Gen. Model L 15-25 replaced it in the lineup from ’24 through ’27, and the Fourth Generation Model W 20-30 came in from ’28 through 30. As odd as this rig looks now, it was a very capable tractor in its day.

Rumely is a well-known and highly regarded tractor in the tractor-collecting world. Along with its gasoline Gas Pull tractors, many were built and they are fairly numerous yet today DW.

Typical Specifications: 1923 Advance-Rumely Model H 16-30 Oil Pull

Engine:                                                2-cylinder, Rumely
Displacement:                                     654 ci
Bore & Stroke:                                    7.0 x 8.5 inches
Mfr. Rated PTO Power:                     30 hp @ 530 rpm
Rated PTO Power:                              33.52 hp @ 537 rpm*
Mfr. Rated Drawbar Power:               16 hp @ 530 rpm
Rated Drawbar Power:                       22.9 hp @ 535 rpm*
Transmission:                                      2-speed
Wheels:                                               Front- 40×7 ribbed steel/Rear- 56×18 cleated steel
Fuel Consumption:                              3.1 gph @ max power*
Drawbar Pull:                                      4,674 lbs. @ 19.3% slip*
Weight:                                               9,506 lbs.
Fuel Capacity:                                     23 gallon
Top Speed:                                          3 mph*

*As Rated by Nebraska Tractor Test 9  

National Threshers Reunion