Steam Engine

Courtesy of Roe Cooke, Belle Center, Ohio 43310.

Content Tools

R. D. I, Box 135, Blairsville, Pennsylvania 15717.

It is said that some men are born with a mechanical ability, while others gain their knowledge through learning. And so it must be that Roy Keith was born with this possession of a mechanical mind.

Roy Keith was born in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, in the year 1900. While still a young lad, his family moved to a farm near Black Lick, which is in the southern part of Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Here, Roy, attended grade school in the local township, learning the customary reading, writing and arithmetic, but his mind was really on the new fangled thing of gas engines. Following a classroom discussion, in which his teacher drew on the blackboard a diagram and the principles of an engine, Roy went home and from an assortment of tin cans and paraphernalia from around the farm, he built a model of a gas engine. From then on, his love for engines found no bounds.

Roy is sharpening mower knives, of which he does several hundred a year for local farmers.

A Part of his shop. Note the pot bellied stove and John Deere engine under bench.

He bought his first gas engine when he was 13 years old and with a minimum of tools, used it to build a tractor to run the machine which made corn fodder. The wheels of his tractor were from a mowing machine. These wheels had to be bored out to a larger shaft diameter. For his boring tool, he used a piece of hickory slotted with a piece of file inserted for a cutter. This was turned with a brace. The boring job took three weeks of his spare time to accomplish.

When he was sixteen years old, he bought his first car, a 1916 Argo, which the dealer couldn't get to run. Different mechanics had worked on the car and had given up in disgust. He hauled it home behind a farm wagon, pulled by a team of work horses. In the evenings, he worked on the Argo and by market time, the following week, he and his mother drove the car into the village of Black Lick, from where he had hauled it home the week before. He explained that he found the trouble in the rotor. Not having one at hand, he whittled one out of a wooden pick handle, until he could obtain a new one.

This started Roy on his career as an auto mechanic. He was first employed as a mechanic at the Graff Motor Company, Black Lick, Pa. In 1921, he married Margaret Ferguson, and they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1971. They have one son, Charles, who is shop foreman for Dick Motor Company, Homer City, Pennsylvania.

He worked for Graff Motors until they went out of business in 1931, and then he ran the garage as his own repair shop until 1936. In that same year, he moved his repair shop to buildings at his home, near Black Lick. Here, he repairs everything from clocks, gas engines, lawn mowers, sawmill engines, farm machinery and coincidentally, automobiles. He still starts his working day in the shop at 7:00 A.M.

Roy with a Fairbanks-Morse engine that he is getting ready to rebuild.

Mr. Keith working on one of the several hundred lawn mowers he repairs each year.

A Homemade tractor he had just completed.

In this shop, he has a John Deere 3 H.P. gas engine which he bought new in 1947. This engine has never had the head off since it was first set under the workbench, from where it powers his lathe, drill press, grinder and air compressor by a line shaft drive. Roy has built several garden tractors for resale. These have been built by using scrap iron and parts hand forged by the use of an old pot bellied stove as his only means of a forge.

Throughout his life, he has owned about 140 gas engines. If you should drop in, and tell him you know where there is a gas engine for sale, you can bet you will hear his old familiar saying, 'Just wait till I get my fighting clothes on.' Then with his coveralls and the old shop cap on, you have a whole book of answers in live form for a companion to accompany you to look at whatever prize is waiting for you. You can bet unless it is in real bad shape, and I mean real, real bad shape, you'll hear, 'Well she ran once, so she'll run again.'

I first met Roy when I became interested in these old Hit and Missers. After buying half a dozen of these myself, I needed a carburetor for an old Sattley air-cooled engine. I heard that if anybody in the countryside would have one, it would be Roy. He sure did, and the Sattley ran again. Well, a few engines later, I needed a carburetor for a 2? h.p. Fuller and Johnson. Sure enough, Roy came up with this also. This carburetor had set on his shelf for over 53 years, when it was taken off a engine that was being scrapped due to a badly scored cylinder wall. After restoration, this is one of the best running engines I have. Of course, that was with Roy's help.

Roy likes nothing better than to go to Burg's Used Farm Equipment Garage in Zelienople, Pennsylvania to look over all the old equipment and engines. The real high light of his summers in attending the various shows in the area. You will always see him at Harold's Fair near Greensburg, Pa. which is sponsored by the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association, of which he is a member. Other shows he attends is the Annual Farmer's and Threshman's Jubilee, New Centerville, Pa., Morrison's Cove Pioneer Power Reunion at Roaring Springs, Pa., the Northwest Pennsylvania Steam Engine and Old Equipment Association at Harmony, Pa., and the Tri-State Steam Engine Association at Burgettstown, Pa. He eagerly awaits each month the arrival of either, Iron-Men Album or The Gas Engine Magazine which he and his son subscribe to jointly.

Matt Engels of East Palmyra, New York, shown demonstrating one of his apple peelers for some interested spectators at PGEA Reunion, Fairville, New York.

Part of my engine collection at the 'Swedish Hyllings Fest' in Lindsborg, Kansas in October of 1967.

Getting ready to roll after the 'Swedish Hyllings Fest' in Lindsborg, Kansas.

1? HP. I. H. C. Gas Engine and log splitter at Saskatoon in 1970.

Dad is standing by the threshing rig at the home farm about 1931. A 22-40 Huber Separator owned by a company of farmers and my 1927 McCormick Deering 10-20 tractor. I ran this outfit several years and many days I threshed more bushels than my buddy did with a steam rig.

So, anytime you are in Black Lick, Pennsylvania area, stop and ask where Roy Keith lives. Anyone will point across the main highway and railroad tracks to a neat yellow frame house with a workshop out back. It's in that workshop, where Roy is now building a miniature steam engine out of just anything he can find. Truly, this man is among the original 'do-it-yourselfer's'.

1910 25 HP. Single Cylinder Titan Gas Tractor at Saskatoon in 1970.

Above are two photos of a 1923 Fordson. I got it in January of 1969. It had been outside for sometime. It was equipped with an Athena side plow, as shown.

Mr. Bob Powell, a steam enthusiast from Mocksville, came over and started it up for me. It has been running good ever since. I only use it for plowing the garden and also run it for the fun of it.

1920, VA h.p., 2 cycle Maytag. Used on washing machines. Belongs to Reginald Lewis, E. Bethany, New York.