Riverbed Rumelys

30 HP Rumelys return from a watery grave


Above: The engines as found in the James River. The cast-base stationary engine is in front and the engine removed from a tractor is in back.

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In Virginia, the historic James River flows east to the Chesapeake Bay from the valley. Daily tidal flow extends up to Richmond going past historic plantations, which date from colonial America. Much of this area is still used for farming and logging.

Just east of Richmond was Meadowville Farm. A large part of this farm, an area roughly half a mile wide by a mile and a half long, created a huge bend in the river. In the early 1900s, the owners decided that this lowland was needed for farming, even though it was caught in the daily tidal water rise.

Their solution was to install two huge pumps to drain the land, powered by 30 HP M. Rumely engines. These engines were mounted on cement piers so they were high enough to miss the tidal rise.

One engine was apparently bought new from the M. Rumely Co., LaPorte, Ind., and stands on its own huge cast base, which has the Rumely name on it. It is currently thought to be the only Rumely engine that has this base. The engine has a 56-by-4-inch flywheel, a 30-by-9-1/2-inch clutch pulley and 10-by-12-inch bore and stroke.

The other engine is the same except that it has no base. It was taken from a Rumely tractor and still has the original radiator, which is in need of much repair.

Engine enthusiast Leo Korb saw the engines some 18 years ago, but did not seriously consider doing anything with them because erosion had placed their cement pillars out in the water, making rescue quite difficult. Late in 2004, he reconsidered their rescue, and this became a real adventure.

An agreement was made with the property owners for the purchase and removal of the engines. Some water trips were made to loosen the nuts holding the engines in place and also to remove a few parts. A barge carrying a large tractor with a hydraulic lift was taken to the site and the first engine was lifted off rather easily. But when the engine was lowered onto the barge, the weight sank the barge into the mud. This required bringing another barge to the site to carry the engine several miles up-river to Leo's workshop.

Leo is the area expert when it comes to freeing up frozen engines. He has yet to see one which he cannot get loose and he immediately went to work on this 30 HP challenge.

Over the years, the engines had been covered with water during several floods. On the first engine (with the cast base), a rather thin metal plate, which covers the crankshaft and gears, had rusted through. A full wheelbarrow of dirt and debris was cleaned out of the interior. Amazingly, the engine was freed up with less trouble than expected. The piston, valves, gears and clutch pulley all came loose. After cleaning, some repairs and a lot of oil, the Rumely appeared ready to run.

It was May 17, 2005, when the engine arrived at Leo's shop. On July 30, 2005, a start-up party was held. Twenty-four engine enthusiasts came to the shop to enjoy a massive picnic lunch and watch the old 30 HP start, with the initial pull, for the first time since 1938-1939. It was first viewed by the public at the Somerset, Va., Pasture Party show in late August and soon after at the Field Days of the Past show in Rockville, Va.

The second engine, the one removed from a tractor, is owned by collector Davey Frazier. It finally arrived at Leo's shop on Oct. 3, 2005. The cover plate was also rusted out and the interior required considerably more work to clean and free up than the first one. A wheelbarrow of dirt was removed, as before. Leo's expertise prevailed, the engine was freed up, and another picnic and start-up party was held on May 6, 2006. While a large group watched and moaned, the engine held out and refused to start. A small fire started while feeding it fuel, but persistence prevailed and it finally started and ran, to much cheering from the crowd.

There are no plans to paint these engines at present. Original patina is thought to be the proper engine color by many collectors in this area, and these two 30 HP Rumelys are now once again on dry land and will remain in their weathered color.

Contact Thomas Cox at: 3511 Clydewood Ave., Richmond, VA 23234-2425.