Root & VanDervoort Reunion

Diversity was the order of the day at the 2003 Root & VanDervoort Reunion.

R&V engines

Just part of the lineup of R&V engines, displayed by Dave Miller.

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That statement pretty well summed up reaction to the selection of Root & VanDervoort engines on display at the 2003 Root & VanDervoort Reunion. Held in conjunction with the Antique Engine & Tractor Association's 42nd Annual Show Sept. 12-14, 2003, at the club's show grounds in Atkinson, Ill., the reunion drew 150 R&V engines of amazing variety from around the country.


The people responsible for pulling this all together were Dick and Carol Ann Wells, Moline, Ill. Relative newcomers to engine collecting, Dick and Carol Ann bought their first engine, a John Deere-badged R&V, in July 2001. That first engine was quickly followed in September of that year by yet another R&V. A few months later in the course of communications with R&V registrar Peter Lowe in Australia, Dick and Peter discussed the idea of an R&V reunion. With Dick's growing interest in R&V, and his proximity to R&V's former digs in neighboring East Moline, the idea took 'root.'

The fact that R&V's centennial anniversary (R&V formally incorporated in 1900 in Champaign, Ill., before moving to East Moline, Ill., in 1901) had already passed didn't stop Dick from forging ahead with reunion plans. Never one to miss an opportunity, Dick tied the reunion in with East Moline's centennial anniversary, and in the process mustered support for the show not only from the mayor of East Moline but also Deere & Co., arguably R&V's biggest customer during the company's heyday in the 1910s.

Three Days

Less than two years later the reunion became a reality, and looking back, it's hard to believe the Wellses have never put on a show before. Well-organized from start to finish, the reunion lived up to its billing as the largest gathering of R&V engines since the factory stopped production of stationary engines in 1919.

In addition to gathering R&V engines and owners, the Wellses organized a banquet for Friday night attended by three descendants of R&V co-founder William H. VanDervoort. Dick and Carol Ann also organized Saturday's Guinness world record attempt for the most running, pre-1925 gas engines manufactured by a single company, and for the most assembled, pre-1925 engines (including car and tractor) manufactured by a single company. The former attempt recorded 96 engines, while the tally for the latter was 161. Dick is still waiting for confirmation on the attempts.

Sunday saw a tour of the old R&V facilities in East Moline, a sprawling complex of buildings employed to this day as a manufacturing facility. Wandering through the factory is like stepping back in time, old timbers and piping from the R&V days still holding the buildings together. Remnants of the old oval track where R&V Knight cars were tested are still visible on the grounds.

The only sour point in an otherwise perfect weekend was the weather, with rain on Friday and Saturday. But even the weather couldn't dampen the spirits of R&V exhibitors and show attendees, with engines gently chuffing away throughout the three days of the event, and attendees appreciatively taking in the remarkable diversity of R&V engines spread around the grounds.


The oldest R&V on hand was the 1 HP 1900 R&V vertical belonging to the 'Fuller family of Three Way, Tenn. Originally powering the printing press at a Rock Island, Ill., newspaper, the engine eventually ended up on a farm powering a washing machine.

Glenn Karch, Haubstadt, Ind., best known for his interest in Hercules engines, brought a very original 6 HP 1915 hopper-cooled R&V, an engine he rescued from a granary in Indiana in 1974. Still in its work clothes, Glenn's R&V is a strong runner and a nice example of R&V's 'Triumph' engine line.

Brothers Norman and Dewayne Long, Rockford, Ill., had an impressive 20 HP sideshaft, circa 1905 tank-cooled R&V, a relatively recent purchase for the brothers and a strong runner. An interesting feature of their engine is its buzz-coil ignition. A swipe built into the end of the sideshaft trips the buzz coil, and a graduated lever incorporated into the swipe allows timing adjustment on the fly.

The majority of engines on hand were igniter-tripped, hit-and-miss. Volume-governed engines were also an R&V staple, and a few, such as the stunning 3 HP 1903 tank-cooled horizontal sideshaft belonging to Mark Ingram, Sycamore, Ill., still had their original fuel heater trays for heating the priming charge during cold operation. Unique among R&Vs, Mark's engine has mechanical intake actuation and four-bolt, adjustable main bearings.

Another surprise was the 2 HP R&V 'El Triunfo' John Nikodym, Red Cloud, Neb., picked up in Argentina, an engine he found while looking for John Deere Hi-Crop tractors. Deere & Co. established a foothold in Argentina early on, and the R&V-built El Triunfo was part of its line. John also owns the 1924 R&V Knight touring car displayed at the show, a rare survivor from R&V's days manufacturing automobiles.

In addition to hopper-, tank- and screen-cooled horizontal and vertical engines, R&V manufactured a line of vertical engines, including an air-cooled 4 HP that incorporated the ported-exhaust system common to R&V horizontals over 4 HP from 1907 to about 1910. The 4 HP 1910 Model K shown by Bill McLaughlin, Matherville, Ill., was an excellent example of R&V's only air-cooled model.

Three descendants of William H. VanDervoort made a special trip for the reunion, and they were amazed to learn of the continued interest in Root & VanDervoort engines and history. From left are: great-grandson David Kiene; granddaughter Marilyn Newton; R&V registrar Peter Lowe; Chuck Maurer; and granddaughter Athelia Clingan. Chuck made the winning bid for the 2 HP 1916 R&V shown here auctioned at the Friday evening banquet.

El Juenke, Farmington, Minn., brought a trailer load of vertical R&V engines, both air-and water-cooled, all running and belted to various mills. His 4 HP 1907 screen-cooled vertical, belted to a very original M.H. Martin No. 6 feed mill, was a standout, as was his 2 HP 1904 screen-cooled vertical.

Dave Miller, Waverly, Neb., had the largest collection on hand, with 10 R&V engines ranging from perfect restorations to well-preserved originals lined up for display, all of them running, rain or shine.

Engine diversity on hand suggests an evolution of design at R&V, a mixture of experimentation and pragmatism in the search for the ideal farm engine. Looking over the range of engines, the search for the ideal engine seems to have diminished after Deere & Co.'s 1912 assumption of all R&V engine output. A steady customer and guaranteed sales gave R&V the freedom to explore other manufacturing avenues such as automobile and munitions production. As a result, R&V engine innovation essentially came to a halt.

Even so, R&V's legacy of quality engines lives on, as the 2003 R&V Reunion so amply illustrated. The show was an absolute hit, and those lucky enough to attend left with a different appreciation and perspective of R&V engines and the company's contributions to the industry.

Bill Dowsett (left), co-owner of the old R&V factory in East Moline, and R&V reunion organizer Dick Wells at the Sunday tour of the old factory grounds. Above: The main floor of the R&V factory as it looks today. A connection between this building and Deere & Co. continues to this day: The current tenant fabricates items for Deere & Co., which became R&V's biggest customer not long after this factory opened in 1907.

Root & VanDervoort owners are encouraged to register their engines with R&V registrar Peter Lowe. Contact him at: 9 Jamefield Drive, Maclean 2463, Australia or e-mail: On the Web: register.htm

'I never knew Root & VanDervoort made so many different engines.'