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The Gas Traction School


It might be somewhat surprising to learn that the first engine-powered farm tractor was introduced as early as 1868. It was a steam-powered machine, designed as a small “road locomotive” operated by one person. It was used for general hauling, and was especially popular in the timber trade. The first gasoline tractor was introduced in 1887 by the Charter Gasoline Engine Company. Charter adapted the gasoline engine to the steam-powered chassis. This machine was dubbed the “gasoline traction engine,” and that was soon shortened to “tractor,” the name we still use today. In 1889, Charter sold only six machines.

The Rumley Company was another early producer of gas-powered farm machinery. The company was founded by John and Meinrad Rumley, who had immigrated from Germany. The company began by producing horse-drawn farm equipment before branching out into steam, and then gasoline-powered tractors and threshing machines.

On this date in 1912, the Devils Lake Inter-Ocean announced that a Rumley School was scheduled to be in Devils Lake. According to District Manager H.O. Hagenston, the school was designed to accommodate at least 300 students. As of February 9, 200 applications had already been received.

Hagenston was a recent arrival in Devils Lake. He and his family were pleased to be in the area, and he looked forward to helping North Dakota farmers move into the gasoline-powered age. He expected that the Rumley Company would undertake an expansion, and it was more than likely that the company would build a new warehouse in Devils Lake.

The newspaper noted that Rumley machines would have a preeminent place at the school. It was, after all, a brilliant piece of advertising. But Hagenston assured the public that instruction would be given on all makes of equipment. The portion of the school on driving would be held at the Skating Rink. The State Auto Garage would host sessions on mechanics and repairs.

In 1931, the Rumley Company was bought out by Allis-Chalmers. 54 years later, Allis-Chalmers declared bankruptcy.

The Rumley Company is now but a memory, but Rumley machines still turn up at antique farm equipment shows.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “The Rumley School Here This Month.” 9 February, 1912.

About Money. “History of Tractors.” "http://inventors.about.com/od/tstartinventions/a/tractors.htm" http://inventors.about.com/od/tstartinventions/a/tractors.htm Accessed 8 February, 2017.

The Rumley Oil-Pull Tractor. “History.”
Accessed February, 2017.