Gas Engine Magazine

Root & VanDervoort Reunion

That statement pretty well summed up reaction to the selection
of Root & VanDervoort engines on display at the 2003 Root &
VanDervoort Reunion. Held in conjunction with the Antique Engine
& Tractor Association’s 42nd Annual Show Sept. 12-14, 2003,
at the club’s show grounds in Atkinson, Ill., the reunion drew
150 R&V engines of amazing variety from around the country.

Background

The people responsible for pulling this all together were Dick
and Carol Ann Wells, Moline, Ill. Relative newcomers to engine
collecting, Dick and Carol Ann bought their first engine, a John
Deere-badged R&V, in July 2001. That first engine was quickly
followed in September of that year by yet another R&V. A few
months later in the course of communications with R&V registrar
Peter Lowe in Australia, Dick and Peter discussed the idea of an
R&V reunion. With Dick’s growing interest in R&V, and
his proximity to R&V’s former digs in neighboring East
Moline, the idea took ‘root.’

The fact that R&V’s centennial anniversary (R&V
formally incorporated in 1900 in Champaign, Ill., before moving to
East Moline, Ill., in 1901) had already passed didn’t stop Dick
from forging ahead with reunion plans. Never one to miss an
opportunity, Dick tied the reunion in with East Moline’s
centennial anniversary, and in the process mustered support for the
show not only from the mayor of East Moline but also Deere &
Co., arguably R&V’s biggest customer during the
company’s heyday in the 1910s.

Three Days

Less than two years later the reunion became a reality, and
looking back, it’s hard to believe the Wellses have never put
on a show before. Well-organized from start to finish, the reunion
lived up to its billing as the largest gathering of R&V engines
since the factory stopped production of stationary engines in
1919.

In addition to gathering R&V engines and owners, the Wellses
organized a banquet for Friday night attended by three descendants
of R&V co-founder William H. VanDervoort. Dick and Carol Ann
also organized Saturday’s Guinness world record attempt for the
most running, pre-1925 gas engines manufactured by a single
company, and for the most assembled, pre-1925 engines (including
car and tractor) manufactured by a single company. The former
attempt recorded 96 engines, while the tally for the latter was
161. Dick is still waiting for confirmation on the attempts.

Sunday saw a tour of the old R&V facilities in East Moline,
a sprawling complex of buildings employed to this day as a
manufacturing facility. Wandering through the factory is like
stepping back in time, old timbers and piping from the R&V days
still holding the buildings together. Remnants of the old oval
track where R&V Knight cars were tested are still visible on
the grounds.

The only sour point in an otherwise perfect weekend was the
weather, with rain on Friday and Saturday. But even the weather
couldn’t dampen the spirits of R&V exhibitors and show
attendees, with engines gently chuffing away throughout the three
days of the event, and attendees appreciatively taking in the
remarkable diversity of R&V engines spread around the
grounds.

Engines

The oldest R&V on hand was the 1 HP 1900 R&V vertical
belonging to the ‘Fuller family of Three Way, Tenn. Originally
powering the printing press at a Rock Island, Ill., newspaper, the
engine eventually ended up on a farm powering a washing
machine.

Glenn Karch, Haubstadt, Ind., best known for his interest in
Hercules engines, brought a very original 6 HP 1915 hopper-cooled
R&V, an engine he rescued from a granary in Indiana in 1974.
Still in its work clothes, Glenn’s R&V is a strong runner
and a nice example of R&V’s ‘Triumph’ engine
line.

Brothers Norman and Dewayne Long, Rockford, Ill., had an
impressive 20 HP sideshaft, circa 1905 tank-cooled R&V, a
relatively recent purchase for the brothers and a strong runner. An
interesting feature of their engine is its buzz-coil ignition. A
swipe built into the end of the sideshaft trips the buzz coil, and
a graduated lever incorporated into the swipe allows timing
adjustment on the fly.

The majority of engines on hand were igniter-tripped,
hit-and-miss. Volume-governed engines were also an R&V staple,
and a few, such as the stunning 3 HP 1903 tank-cooled horizontal
sideshaft belonging to Mark Ingram, Sycamore, Ill., still had their
original fuel heater trays for heating the priming charge during
cold operation. Unique among R&Vs, Mark’s engine has
mechanical intake actuation and four-bolt, adjustable main
bearings.

Another surprise was the 2 HP R&V ‘El Triunfo’ John
Nikodym, Red Cloud, Neb., picked up in Argentina, an engine he
found while looking for John Deere Hi-Crop tractors. Deere &
Co. established a foothold in Argentina early on, and the
R&V-built El Triunfo was part of its line. John also owns the
1924 R&V Knight touring car displayed at the show, a rare
survivor from R&V’s days manufacturing automobiles.

In addition to hopper-, tank- and screen-cooled horizontal and
vertical engines, R&V manufactured a line of vertical engines,
including an air-cooled 4 HP that incorporated the ported-exhaust
system common to R&V horizontals over 4 HP from 1907 to about
1910. The 4 HP 1910 Model K shown by Bill McLaughlin, Matherville,
Ill., was an excellent example of R&V’s only air-cooled
model.

Three descendants of William H. VanDervoort made a special trip
for the reunion, and they were amazed to learn of the continued
interest in Root & VanDervoort engines and history. From left
are: great-grandson David Kiene; granddaughter Marilyn Newton;
R&V registrar Peter Lowe; Chuck Maurer; and granddaughter
Athelia Clingan. Chuck made the winning bid for the 2 HP 1916
R&V shown here auctioned at the Friday evening banquet.

El Juenke, Farmington, Minn., brought a trailer load of vertical
R&V engines, both air-and water-cooled, all running and belted
to various mills. His 4 HP 1907 screen-cooled vertical, belted to a
very original M.H. Martin No. 6 feed mill, was a standout, as was
his 2 HP 1904 screen-cooled vertical.

Dave Miller, Waverly, Neb., had the largest collection on hand,
with 10 R&V engines ranging from perfect restorations to
well-preserved originals lined up for display, all of them running,
rain or shine.

Engine diversity on hand suggests an evolution of design at
R&V, a mixture of experimentation and pragmatism in the search
for the ideal farm engine. Looking over the range of engines, the
search for the ideal engine seems to have diminished after Deere
& Co.’s 1912 assumption of all R&V engine output. A
steady customer and guaranteed sales gave R&V the freedom to
explore other manufacturing avenues such as automobile and
munitions production. As a result, R&V engine innovation
essentially came to a halt.

Even so, R&V’s legacy of quality engines lives on, as
the 2003 R&V Reunion so amply illustrated. The show was an
absolute hit, and those lucky enough to attend left with a
different appreciation and perspective of R&V engines and the
company’s contributions to the industry.

Bill Dowsett (left), co-owner of the old R&V factory in East
Moline, and R&V reunion organizer Dick Wells at the Sunday tour
of the old factory grounds. Above: The main floor of the R&V
factory as it looks today. A connection between this building and
Deere & Co. continues to this day: The current tenant
fabricates items for Deere & Co., which became R&V’s
biggest customer not long after this factory opened in 1907.

Root & VanDervoort owners are encouraged to register their
engines with R&V registrar Peter Lowe. Contact him at: 9
Jamefield Drive, Maclean 2463, Australia or e-mail:
plowe@turboweb.net.au On the Web:
www.oldengine.org/members/maytag92/ register.htm

‘I never knew Root & VanDervoort made so many different
engines.’

  • Published on Jan 1, 2004
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