Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2001

An American Classic

June 14, 2001

Gifford Knapp celebrated his 79th Birthday June 11 by playing with his 79-year-old kerosene-and-water-burning toy, a 1922 Rumely Oilpull tractor.

Knapp, who lives on 14 acres three miles east of De Soto, said the antique tractor has been in his family since 1945 when his father bought it from farmer John Saville in Iowa.

According to Knapp, there are only 161 tractors of the same model still around.

"The old farmers say there used to be eight of those (models) in this valley," Knapp said.

While he hasn't started up the tractor in three years, Knapp occasionally brings it to antique tractor shows in Fort Scott, McLouth and Lathrop, Mo. Knapp is planning on bringing the tractor to this weekend's Lathrop Show. However, Knapp said he was concerned with the future of such exhibitions.

"The old (tractor) shows are dying because they can't find people to run them," Knapp said. "The younger generation is just not interested."

Although he thinks the tractor could sell for $10,000, Knapp has no intention of selling it as he wants to keep it in the family. He said that the tractor will be passed on to his son and partial owner Kenneth in the future.

Knapp and his wife of 59 years, Evelyn, moved to the Kansas City area from southern Iowa in 1965. After working as a flight engineer and in development and research during World War II, Knapp returned to the United States where he owned a construction company, built roads and lakes, operated a motel and eventually became an engineer. While he is currently working on a pond near his home, the semi-retired Knapp also works as a licensed septic tank designer and installer in Johnson County. Knapp and his wife built an earth covered, energy-efficient solar home, which was featured in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

An avid fan of antique tractors, Knapp received a model of the first gasoline tractor ever built from 1892 for his birthday this year. Knapp found the old model during a vacation in Illinois.

"We're into old tractors and we grew up using them so some of it is memories," Knapp said. "My grandkids ask me how they could make something that lasted this long?"

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