1909 Root & Vandervoort A Lucky Engine

1909 8 HP Sideshaft, Serial Number E8763

Root & Vandervoort Engine

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Jerry Balvin's 1909 Root & Vandervoort. Rated at 8 HP, this sideshaft, volume-governed engine was one of R & V's finest engines. Engines in this class were available either with or without a mounting base, and as either hopper-cooled or tank-cooled. Jerry's engine was originally equipped as you see it here, complete with clutch pulley. These volume-governed engines featured a volatilizer attached to the exhaust box and a heater tray under the air intake pipe to ensure starting in cold climates.

Some people are lucky. Some engines are lucky. This is a story about both; Jerry Balvin and a 1909 Root & Vandervoort 8 HP sideshaft engine.

Jerry is a farm equipment service technician in Toledo, Iowa. During his farm calls, he'll often ask about old engines that may need discovering. Most leads are dead ends. However, he heard about an abandoned farmstead and a rumor that an old engine had been seen in the corncrib.

Jerry knew the place, it had been a premier grain and livestock operation in the early 1900s, but had long since fallen into disuse - 80 years of neglect had resulted in sheds falling down around horse-drawn equipment with overgrown brush everywhere. After securing permission to enter the property, he went to the corn crib, opened the crib doors and found ... nothing. That didn't stop Jerry. He thought back 80 years to what might have happened to a stationary engine replaced by a tractor or electricity. Noticing that the south end of the crib sloped away to a tree/brush undercover, Jerry thought an engine might have been pushed out the crib, left to roll down the hill into the valley and forgotten. His intuition paid off, as 10 yards into the brush was the old engine he been told about. But not just any old engine, this was a 1909 Root & Vandervoort sideshaft (lucky Jerry).

Closer inspection showed the farm wagon truck the engine sat on had rotted away, leaving the unit partially buried. Jerry later learned that the Root & Vandervoort powered a lineshaft in the crib for a sheller and large gristmill for livestock feed. It was also used to power an elevator in the fall.

Bill's skills as a painter are clearly evident in the finished product. Also clearly visible in the photo above is the rotary-drive Wizard magneto that sparks the R & V.

There was only one living heir to the property, a lady in her 90s living in a nursing home. Jerry made contact with the power of attorney, who was not very interested in selling anything. For the next two years Jerry politely and persistently stuck to his goal of acquiring the engine. He occasionally visited the Root & Vandervoort, covering critical parts with a bucket and cans to keep water out of the engine. Jerry finally persuaded the estate to sell the R & V, expressing his intention that the engine was going to stay in the community and not be resold or traded. A fair deal was made, and the engine was his.

The sale made, Jerry anxiously arrived with a tractor and trailer to claim his engine. One week earlier a severe windstorm had blown down a huge walnut tree, missing the Root & Vandervoort by less than 10 inches (lucky engine). Now add a chain saw to the recovery. Arriving home with the engine, Jerry found many parts missing; muffler, cam lever, coil and other small stuff. Armed with a shovel, Jerry took another tour of the woods, and digging down 18 inches around where the engine had sat he found the muffler, cam lever, coil and other missing parts (lucky Jerry).

The restoration was fairly typical. Jerry has a wonderful facility where he can perform mechanical restorations, but more importantly, he has acquired a special skill set through his experiences restoring 10 HP to 25 HP oil field engines from the Texas oil fields. The hardest part of the process was removing the head, as all eight head bolts had rusted solid. Applying the same patient persistence he had in buying the engine, Jerry soaked the bolts in penetrating oil and finally removed them. He carefully removed the igniter (in the head), fabricating his own puller for the chore. Once that was complete, the rest really fell into place.

Using C. H. Wendell's book, American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, as a guide, he confirmed that his 1909 had no sub base, was hopper not tankcooled, had a factory clutch pulley and was of the rare valve chest design. The volatilizer, which screws into the exhaust box cap, had a small crack that he welded. The heater tray was intact. Jerry was lucky with having all the parts except the magneto bracket. He designed and welded one that looked like it would work and then had the piece cast to be exactly accurate. All the detail and logo paintwork was done by Bill Bazyn, Chelsea, Iowa. Bill was locally known for his beautiful, hand-painted scenes on cream cans and saw blades, and he spent special time with the Root & Vandervoort (lucky engine). Sadly, Bill passed away before this story was printed.

A close look reveals an old wash bucket covering the R & V's water hopper, placed there by Jerry on one of his many visits to the engine while trying to secure ownership.

Jerry's collection of engines runs to 20, with engines ranging in size from 1 HP to 25 HP. But even with all those engines, this Root & Vandervoort, which spends its show life at the power end of a hay press, will remain the feature engine in Jerry's collection. Jerry is looking forward to his 1909 Root & Vandervoort's return to the old Root & Vandervoort factory site in East Moline, Ill, Sept. 12-14, 2003 for the 100-year factory reunion. Jerry's engine will take its rightful place in the Root & Vandervoort history, and I must say that both Jerry and the engine are lucky.

Contact engine enthusiast Jerry Balvin at: 3344 Highway V18, Chelsea, IA 52215, or e-mail: jcbalvin@hotmail.com

Root & Vandervoort Reunion in 2003

A Root & Vandervoort reunion is planned for Sept. 12-14, 2003. The reunion, which celebrates, albeit a few years late, R & V's 100th anniversary, is tied in with the 100th anniversary of East Moline, home of R & V manufacturing. The reunion is being held in conjunction with the 42nd Annual Atkinson Antique Engine & Tractor Association Show in nearby Atkinson, Ill., and it promises to be the largest gathering of R & V engines since 1919, when the factory quit production of farm engines. In addition to bringing R & V enthusiasts together, the reunion will include a visit to the R & V factory and grounds, much of which still exists.

William H. Vandervoort and Orlando Root started manufacturing stationary engines in 1899, formally incorporating the Root & Vandervoort Engineering Co. in 1900. In 1907 the company moved to the grounds that exist to this day, building engines there until 1919. Company fortunes turned in major part on engine contracts with Deere & Company, and so closely was R & V production tied to orders from Deere that starting in 1912 all its output went to Deere dealers. That changed when Deere bought the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. in 1918, but by that time R & V had already turned much of its attention to automobile production.

Dick Wells is the man behind pulling the reunion together, and he says he was prompted into action after contacting R & V registrar Peter Lowe in Australia while trying to date one of three R & V engines he owns. Peter, upon discovering Dick's ties to East Moline, encouraged him to help launch a reunion.

Anyone owning an R & V engine, regardless of size or condition, is encouraged to attend. Dick says he'd love to hear from people early so he can decide if there will be enough people attending to hold a banquet at the Radisson Hotel, located on the John Deere Commons in Moline.

Contact Dick Wells at: 1954 12th Ave., Moline, IL 61265, (309) 797-2642, or e-mail: WellsRichardC@JohnDeere.com

Contact R & V registrar Peter Lowe at: 9 Jamefield Dr., Maclean 2463, Australia, or e-mail: plowe@turboweb.net.au