Road Rollers I Have Known

Road Rollers

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Chesterton, Indiana 46304

In March of 1904 when I was one year old, my family moved from Chicago to a farm about six miles east of Crown Point in Lake County, Indiana. This farm bordered on a plain dirt road. Rumors were that this road would be graveled within several years. This event happened when I was four years old.

I was very interested in what was going on, and would linger at the end of our driveway and watch the wagons which hauled the gravel. These were regular farm wagon gear with 4x4s placed across the bolsters with plank sides and ends to form a box which would probably hold a little over a cubic yard. To dump the load the driver would remove the end boards and one by one would pry up the 4x4s which were trimmed at the ends for hand holes.

Finally when the gravel had been spread on the stretch fronting our farm, I was amazed to see a strange contraption pulled by two teams of horses, coming over the new spread gravel. I gazed with wonder as it came closer. It was a horse-drawn road roller, consisting of a large roller wheel about 5' wide and 6' in diameter. There was a circular horizontal track around the roller at axle level; a half circle frame extended over the top from axel end to axel end. Another quarter circle frame pivoted on top center and extended to the horizontal track, secured with small rollers so that it could be revolved around the roller for reversing direction, locking in position. A seat and foot rest for the driver was located near the top of quarter circle frame while a tongue for hitching a team of horses was attached to the lower end which was also supported by a set of caster wheels. So to reverse direction it was only necessary to unlatch the frame and let the horses swing it 180 degrees to the other side of the roller. Young as I was I memorized all of these details.

My next encounter with a roller was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. The dirt road one mile north of our road was being graveled. On a beautiful Sunday morning in June I walked over to a Sunday School which was located on this road. It was there that I saw my first steam roller, which was packing down the loose gravel. I recognized the operator as the young man who had run the steam engine for our threshing run. He stopped and let me examine the roller and told me that it was a Kelley Springfield 10-ton roller. It had a single cylinder center crank engine. The flywheel was a cast solid disc instead of a band wheel. The entire machine was built very narrow so that the front roll would overlap the rear wheels by about six inches.

The years rolled by. When I was 17 I was water boy for a threshing rig. Needless to say, I spent my spare time on the engine platform, learning all I could about its operation and care. I also sent to Montgomery Ward for a book called 'Steam Traction Engineering.' Evenings at home I simply devoured that book. It not only explained the workings of all the parts and different valve gears, but also explained how to make any necessary repairs, not only to the engine but also the boiler.

The next year when I was 18, the thresherman put me in charge of the engine. It was a 20 HP Huber return flue, single cylinder with power steering. I enjoyed this job immensely for several seasons.

In 1923 I started working for a road building firm, firing engine boilers to heat asphalt. Also operated a 10-ton Holt to pull a 12-foot Adams leaning wheel grader. It was then that I got acquainted with some more road rollers. They had a Kelley Springfield 10-ton single, a Kelley Springfield 12-ton double and a 9-ton Buffalo Springfield tandem. The 10-ton was identical to the one I had seen many years before near my farm home. The 12-ton double also had center cranks and disc flywheel. It also had a sliding gear which opeated with a lock pin and hand wheel which gave it two speeds. The main point when changing gears was to be sure that the roller was on level ground, since it had no brakes and if it started moving while the gear was in between low and high, there was no way to stop it. A machine like that rolling down a hill, uncontrollable except for the steering, which was very slow, usually would end in serious trouble.

I operated all three of these rollers at different times. The 9-ton was almost new when I first ran it. It was double cylinder and had no flywheel; therefore, could reverse very quickly for asphalt paving work. It had a small 2 cylinder engine encased in a drum like casing for driving the steering gear. This made it very easy to operate. The boiler was upright and jacketed. The fuel bunker was under the operator's platform with an extra pan-like rack above the drive roll. The water tank was hung in front of the drive roll.

In about 19251 worked for another gravel road contractor operating a Beyers crane, unloading crushed stone from gondola railroad cars. He purchased the 10-ton Kelly from the other contractor. It had been stored in a shed over winter. When they got ready to fire it up for the season, it was discovered that it had not been properly drained before winter and the inside plates of the water legs had been forced from their rivets by freezing water and mud. Since the machine was very old and a boiler repair such as this would be very costly, the contractor decided to replace it. In communications with Buffalo Springfield Company of Springfield, Ohio, they offered to take the old roller in trade (for its rolls), for a used Huber 12-ton return flue machine. This sounded like a good deal, so I was sent to Springfield with a check to inspect the roller and buy it if it was worth the price. I left Gary about 8:00 P.M. on the Pennsylvania Railroad and arrived in Lima, Ohio about midnight. I checked in a hotel and the next morning I took an interurban to Springfield. I found the roller to be in excellent condition so I closed the deal. It was shipped by flatcar to Crown Point, Indiana. We steamed it up and unloaded it. We then used it to pull the old Kelley on to the same flatcar for shipment to Springfield.

This Huber was a beautiful handling roller, with its powerful 2 cylinder engine and power steering. Power steering was used on a lot of steam operated rigs 40 years before it was adopted by the automobile industry. My roller operating years were all before 1930, so I did not operate gasoline-driven rigs. These were first made with a large gasoline engine with two large flywheels and one single cylinder. Eventually they were made with a 4 cylinder engine and designed similar to a tractor, except for the wheels.

In writing this I have traveled a long way down memory lane.