Sole Survivor: A Root & Vandervoort Engine

It's been a life of leisure for this Root & Vandervoort engine, the only R&V marine known.

Pose with the Root & Vandervoort

Kenny and Joyce Lage pose with the Root & Vandervoort.

Content Tools

Most gas engines spend their entire work lives ... working. They were purchased as labor saving devices to replace the hard work of pumping water, shelling corn, grinding grain or sawing wood around a farmstead. If they're lucky enough to survive to the present time they may end up looking better, but they still work at pumping water, shelling corn, grinding grain or sawing wood at a gas engine show.

Not so with Kenny and Joyce Lage's 1912 3HP vertical Root & Vandervort marine engine, serial number CM2084. Eighty years ago, this engine was set up powering a 20-foot, wooden Chris-Craft of boat that motored along the Mississippi River. Today, it still supplies power, but now for a kid's merry-go-round that a loving grandpa built. This is an engine that gets to play.

Finding the R&V

Kenny has a wonderful collection of prairie tractors, a 1919 Avery 14-28, a 1930 Hart-Parr 28-50 and a very rare 1930 Baker 42-67. The Baker tractor was missing its small, Alemite grease fittings, and Kenny thought there might be some in an old two-story building in Wilton, Iowa, a few miles from where he lives. One of those places you could barely walk through, the old building had been a dealership since 1934 and a general store before that, and nothing had been thrown out for years.

Kenny knew the owner of the building, and the owner thought there might some fittings about and invited Kenny to come poke around. Kenny hit pay dirt and found a box of fittings - but he also spied the old R&V boat motor; rusty and lying on its side, missing its fuel tank and brass Schebler carburetor. As if that wasn't enough, in another part of the building Kenny found a circa 1899 4 HP hit-and-miss Lambert sideshaft engine.

Now, Kenny is a tractor guy, but he likes one-of-a-kind things, so he decided he needed the engines, too. He made a fair offer for the engines and fittings, which was accepted, but then he learned he'd have to have everything off the property by 10 a.m. the next day, or else it would be included in a pending auction sale bill. As it happened it was the hectic Mt. Pleasant show weekend, but Kenny cleared his busy schedule, secured his skidster from his home six miles away, loaded his treasures and made the deadline. During the pick-up he noticed the old open cockpit, 20-foot wooden boat that once housed the R&V, missing its engine and filled with firewood. The boat was, unfortunately, quite rotten, and it was later destroyed. That boat was the only proof of where the R&V began its life.

R&V Vertical Marine

Kenny's engine is a marvel. When the R&V was originally set up, its exhaust pipe would have gone through the boat's wooden hull, and if not cooled could easily have caused a fire. To counter this, the R&V has a water pump that provides cooling for both the engine and the exhaust, with cooling water routed through the exhaust just after the exhaust exits the cylinder. The engine's igniter design and its starting handle in the flywheel are classic R&V features.

The R&V's water pump runs off an eccentric on the crank. One line provides cooling water for the engine while a second (disconnected here) is piped to the exhaust's cast iron elbow.

The restoration fell together nicely, as Kenny has been restoring tractors since 1958 when he acquired the family farm (he's the fifth generation of the Lage family to run the farm) and he has the facilities and tools for the job. It was obvious that the engine had not seen many hours of service. The cylinder bore was true, and there was very little carbon build-up in the engine. In fact, Kenny's biggest problem is keeping the engine free during prolonged idle periods.

When Kenny picked up the R&V it was missing its carburetor and clutching assembly, but as luck would have it both pieces were found a couple of days later on the second floor of the old dealership building. Kenny had to design a fuel tank and fabricate an exhaust system, not to mention doing a lot of tuning, adjusting, painting and pin striping to get the engine back into form. Because of the engine's unusual footprint a cart for it posed a special challenge. Kenny settled on a Rock Island cart with an extended rear axle to accommodate the R&V's broad shape. Yellow pine was the wood of choice for the rails.

The R&V's feature of forward, neutral and reverse power modes really excited Kenny, and he decided to build a merry-go-round for his grandchildren using an old Sandwich horse sweep. The engineering application worked out great, but Kenny found it would take most of a river to cool the R&V - a 55 gallon drum cut in half didn't work, and he is still working on a solution.

Many people have challenged Kenny about this engine, saying R&V never made a marine engine - that is until he shows them the R&V's factory data plate. For most of its life this R&V engine has enjoyed a relative life of leisure, a playing rather than working engine. But it's sure to get a work out of sorts at the 100 year R&V factory reunion set to be held in East Moline, Ill., on Sept. 12-14, 2003. As the only known Root & Vandervoort marine engine, it's certain to get more than its share of attention at the reunion, and Kenny is looking forward to seeing R&V engine number CM2084 take its rightful place in the Root & Vandervoort history.

Contact engine enthusiast Dick Wells at: 1954 12th Ave., Moline, IL 61265, (309) 797-2642, e-mail:

Contact engine enthusiasts Kenny and Joyce Lage at: RR #2, 2014 310 St., Wilton, IA 52778

Extended rear axle to accomodate the R&V's broad shape obvious in this shot. Aside from the gas tank and the exhaust, the engine itself is believed to be as built by Root & Vandervoort in 1912. To date, this is the only known R&V marine engine. A rare find, indeed.

R&V Reunion Slated For September 12-14, 2003

Root & Vandervoort engine owners are gearing up for the R&V 100th Anniversary Reunion in East Moline, Ill. R&V owners from around the country are making plans to attend - Patrick Livingstone and Peter Lowe plan on making the trek all the way from Australia.

Nebraska R&V engine owners are challenging any state (excepting host state Iowa) to bring more R&V engines to the reunion than Nebraska owners. Over 100 R&V engines are already signed up for the 9reunion.

Registration packets are set to be mailed in February, and R&V registrar Peter Lowe's web site ( has more information, or you can contact Dick Wells at the address listed