2406 E. 136 Carthage, Illinois 62321
This story has been about 10 years in the making and follows this general outline: A couple of years after I got out of college, my father, brother and I started going to a few thresher reunions, just out of curiosity. We started with a few small shows and worked up to ones like Colchester, Illinois, and Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Hearing the old engines, smelling the gas, and watching the steady spin of the wheel made me think 'I want one.' (Are you shocked?)
On the way home from one of these family outings I got to talking to Dad about how fun it would be to have 'just one of those engines.' He agreed. We talked about how to get one and I suggested, 'Maybe Uncle Robert would have one.' Dad was skeptical of the idea--he didn't think Uncle Robert would--but I could ask.
For your information, my uncle was born in 1910 on a farm near Astoria, Illinois, and has lived there on that spot almost his entire life. His father died in a farm accident on the field in front of the house when Robert was only three, and much of the equipment from that era is still there, intermingled with the machinery Robert used through his stewardship of the farm. Robert does not throw much away, so you see I get my 'packratting' tendency naturally. So picture if you would, a country farm with lots of outbuildings with lots of 'stuff' stuffing them.
A couple of weeks later, I posed my question to Robert, who thought about it and said there might be an engine out in the shed that the WD45 was in. 'Maybe if you look in back, under the scrap pile, you'll find something.' I went out, found the scrap pile, and dug, and dug, and dug. A WHEEL, I see a WHEEL! I pull and tug, getting it out from under the pumps, around the cement mixer, and over, well, whatever that thing is. Now please understand dear reader, I'm an accountant. I have very little knowledge about what I am pulling out, but I am very happy. The engine turns out to be a 1 HP Root & Vandervoort. Looking it over, it looks good. I'm not sure what all the parts do and I'm not sure I should be able to see the piston, but surely it is no big deal. I mean on the tag it said, 'For John Deere Company.' I know where they have a dealership and I can probably call them, and they might still have parts. This is in 1991 and I'm in for an awakening. Uncle Robert got the loader and put the R&V in my truck and home I went.
Ya know the J.D. dealers don't have parts for those engines anymore. As time goes on I came to understand that I'm missing the head, mixer, tripping rod, etc., basically everything up front. I start going to shows, taking pictures and asking questions. On the way I met a lot of nice people who gave me advice, the names of people to contact, and ideas on how to find the parts the R&V needed. One such person is Pete Adomis from Pennsylvania, who, in about 1995, introduced himself to me at an auction, and after a short conversation, started looking out east for the parts I needed. He did not find the parts, but this kind gesture and his letters were an encouragement.
A little after that I was given the name of Marvin Beard of Iowa. After a phone call, he said he would keep his eyes open and would keep in touch. A year later, he found a head, it wasn't in the best of shape, but it is a head. We met at an auction and agreed on a price for the head. But just as important, Mr. Beard was willing to use the parts off his R&V to make castings for my missing parts. I'm excited again. I bought a sandblaster (those things are fun), I took the R&V apart and blasted and primed all my pieces, and waited for a call saying the parts were done.
Mr. Beard was very patient in answering my faxes, and somewhere between his work, his engines, his daughter's wedding and the other things in life, he got the parts cast and he and a friend, Dennis Puck, ground new valves and seats for the head. This February I went to Mr. Beard's house and got the casting, and took a lot of measurements and pictures of the original part. His R&V still has the original paint on it and I will be using it as a guide for my paint job.
Home I go with all the parts I need. I sucker a friend at work to help me carry it down to my basement (my garage is an icebox) and commence to drill, grind, sand, cut, bandage and gas myself into a lather. I'm still an accountant, but I'm learning. After a week of working every evening, all the parts are on and I'm ready to try.
It was not a big success. I was successful in getting my wife sick from the gas fumes in the basement, but that was about all. So I moved the engine out to the bottom landing of the outside staircase and tried for about a week to get it running. Rubbing all the paint off the starting handle was all I did. Oh, there was the occasional puff of smoke, and once or twice a nice jet of flame, but no put put put. I tried changing the settings on the ignitor, the intake, the exhaust valve, the springs (I was really guessing here), the mixer and so on. Too much gas had to be the problem. Hole too big on the mixer had to be why. JB Weld, had to be the answer (is it me, or is JB Weld the 20th century equivalent of manna from heaven?).
I put the mixer needle all the way in, packed the JBW in the hole from the gas side, then every hour or so I would turn the needle out, then back in and tamp the back of the JBW to get a nice cone shape around the mixer needle. Two days later I used a little hobby finger drill to get a new, much smaller hole, and tried to start it again.
It ran. Watching it as it ran, I realized that the plastic container full of gas that the mixer was pulling from was under the exhaust (the place where the aforementioned 'jets of flame' had been coming from). Probably something in the OSHA regulations about that. So the next day 1 ran the gas line back into the built-in gas tank, hooked it up, and it ran again. Beautiful. Then it started to move. Confusing. For over nine years the engine sat on an old heavy-duty typewriter stand. The stand 'decided' it was done. As the leg collapsed, I panicked. The R&V went toward the cement floor like they were long lost lovers who couldn't wait to get together again.
Stamp collecting, that was all I could think about as I grabbed the R&V. Stamp collecting is a nice, clean, easy hobby that an accountant like me would really enjoy. I grabbed the engine, the stand crashed to the floor, (and on my foot) and the R&V kept running. I grabbed the engine somewhere that didn't physically hurt me the back doesn't count for engine collectors, right?) (and then pushed it against the basement wall, which wasn't easy since the pulley was digging into the mortar. Somehow part of my body freed up long enough to push in the fuel intake valve, and I got it stopped. I wasn't sure where to go with it from there. The floor still seemed a long way off, and the R&V wasn't getting any lighter.
I started yelling for my wife, first by name, then just the general, HELP! Selena, my wife, was upstairs playing the piano, and I swear the increased volume of my yelling was in direct proportion to her increased volume of playing. After several minutes of yelling HELP, I hear the piano stop and the running of little feet. When the basement door opens, I see her standing there in her pajamas with look #735: 'What are you trying to do now and why are you trying to get me involved in whatever it is you're trying to do?'.
Of course now that I had her attention, I wasn't sure what my 105-pound wife was going to do, but it was nice having her for moral support. I had her pick up the traitorous stand, and with the three remaining legs still there, I set the R &V back on the stand so she was able to balance the engine against the wall, while I ran to the garage for a replacement.
The old stand went to the curb for the garbage man to find the next morning (may it rust quickly). After that close call, I wanted to get the engine back to Uncle Robert's as soon as possible so he could see it (he remembered it from his childhood). So the next Saturday I got my brother to help get it out of the basement and off we went to Uncle Robert's.
It was cold that day, so we backed my truck into the garage so Uncle Robert could come out to hear the R&V run, and when he came out, he acted a little confused. That didn't deter me in the least. I started talking and pointing and filling and starting. The R&V started on the second crank and ran wonderfully. After talking with Uncle Robert about the engine for a while, he said it was nice to hear it running again, but he thought I took the other engine (remember this started in 1991).
'Other engine, what other engine?'
'Oh, the one out in the shed the IH 400 is in, you know, the one with only one big wheel that we used on the water pump.'
'A Fuller & Johnson?'
'Ya, the Fuller & Johnson, I thought you took that one.'
As you can imagine, my brother and I went to that shed, in a section neither of us nor our dad had been in, and there it was, a Fuller & Johnson Farm Pump.
AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! The Headless Horseman of Moose Hollow had struck again. The F&J has no head, no piston, no cylinder. Everything above the base is gone. I'm a little wiser now, and I know I can't go to the Fuller & Johnson Store for parts, but at this rate, Uncle Robert will be 100 before he hears this motor run. Oh well, it's in the blood now, I have to try. I will start by going through the sheds again, looking for the parts the F&J needs.
Well, I just want to thank those who helped me on the way to getting the R&V running. Your words of wisdom and your patient answering of dumb questions was greatly appreciated.
I guess I should also warn others who own a Fuller & Johnson farm pump: if you are at a show, and some guy with a pocket protector and a camera comes up to you wanting to take measurements and asks you some questions, my name is Chris.