Remembering LESTER L. ROOS

Small gas engine

Content Tools

Lester L. Roos passed away February 23, 1983 after a long illness. Surviving are his wife; two stepdaughters, Mrs. Stanley (Phyllis) Maxfield of Morrison, Illinois and Mrs. Richard (Ardith) Nelson of Moline, Illinois; a stepson, Don Hillmer of Delafield, Wisconsin; 17 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. Mr. Roos married Grace Harper at Geneseo, Illinois on November 16, 1921. She died in 1960. Their daughter, Constance Tippey, is also deceased. On June 16, 1961 Lester married Belva Wild-man Hillmer in Geneseo; she survives him.

Born on a farm in Lorraine township, Henry County, Illinois on May 10, 1900, Lester remained fairly close to his home town during his entire life. His parents moved to Geneseo in 1905, where his father opened an implement business in 1907. In 1912 they bought a sample copy of the IHC Mogul tractor and began putting on plowing demonstrations and selling tractors. For a few months during 1915 the Roos family left the business only to resume again late that year. At this point, Lester and his father started looking for a new tractor line to sell, finally settling on the Heider tractor from Rock Island Plow Company. Along with the Heider, they also sold Plowman and Happy Farmer tractors. Eventually, the Roos family resumed selling the IHC line. Their implement store also carried Stover gas engines. This seemed meaningless at the time but had a profound effect on Lester many years later.

During 1917 and 1918 they sold a great many 10-20 Titan tractors, with the elder Roos deciding that a motor cultivator would be a good addition. A 'Jim Dandy' was ordered from somewhere in Texasit arrived, and after brief testing, they shipped it back.

Lester's father, Charles Roos passed away in August, 1919. His wife, and son Lester continued the business until 1923. Lester then went with International Harvester out of the Davenport, Iowa branch. His job was hauling tractors around for demonstration purposes. Lester remained with Harvester for several years. Lester often recalled his early days in the implement business, noting that as a youngster he often took the early morning train to Rock Island, then a street car to the Rock Island Plow plant, where he would get a Heider and drive it overland to Geneseo, a trip requiring two days.

Beginning about 1940, Lester took over as plant foreman in the municipal light plant at Bushnell, Illinois. Eventually he returned to Geneseo, and was employed there by the water and sewer department for 28 years. Lester also served as mayor of Geneseo from 1970 to 1972, and was an alderman for the Third Ward.

Lester was a member of the Grace United Methodist church. His many other activities included active service in local organizations. These included: Henry County Historical Society, Geneseo Historical Association, an organization which he helped to organize; first Governor of the Geneseo Moose Lodge; co-developer with his mother of the Roos Hill development northeast of Geneseo; to name just a few of his activities.

Lester was active in the steam engine, gas engine and tractor hobbies for many years, and has been a familiar face at many of the shows. For years he had been active in the Antique Engine & Tractor Association of Geneseo, along with serving as National President of Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Association for several terms. Other membership included: Antique Engine & Tractor Association of America, and Midwest Antique Gas Engine & Tractor Association.

Lester's inventive bent began in 1914 when as a teenager he built an auto-buggy, using a Stover engine for power. This was followed by a small kerosene tractor in 1918, and a gas tractor in 1919. For 1920 Lester built a prototype garden tractor and cultivator. Things became more sophisticated when he built a gasoline-electric car in 1929. During the next twenty years Lester developed several other items, but his model of an Avery undermounted steam engine went into construction in 1949this was probably one of his best works, and it was truly a work of art. During 1957 a small tractor using a Cushman engine was built, followed by a small steam traction in 1958, and another small gas tractor in 1961. His last steam traction engine model was built in 1966it used more brass than any steamer around, but Lester liked to see lots of brass. After this time, Lester built a small gas engine, mostly from brass, along with a scale model windmill, again out of brass, along with many other items.

During the late 1960's Lester acquired all remaining parts, blueprints, and records from the long-defunct Stover Engine factory at Freeport. At the time, tongues wagged that the poor man had taken leave of his faculties, as Lester later recalled. This purchase proved, however to be of great financial benefit to Lester, even though he sold the parts at bargain basement prices. When word got around that Stover parts were available, Lester received a deluge of letters. Patiently he answered each and every one, thus his retirement centered around Stover for many years. In addition to the parts, Lester also obtained all remaining blueprints, production records, and shipping records. Several years ago, the production records went to Mr. C. R. Johnson, 2538 Stephenson Circle, Freeport, Illinois 61032. All remaining Stover engine and windmill blueprints, Stover production records and other Stover data is under the custody of C. H. Wendel, RR 1, Box 28-A, Atkins, Iowa 52206.

The void left by Lester's passing will probably never be filled. His thousands of friends and acquaintances across the United States and Canada never lost, but always gained from their association with Lester Roos. Lester rarely had a bad word to say against anyonehe was everyone's friend. Few people leave their mark on this world, but within our hobby in particular, Lester L. Roos will be long remembered.

Submitted in memory of Lester L. Roos by C. H. Wendel, RR 1, Box 28-A, Atkins, Iowa 52206.