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Road Rollers I Have Known

| January/February 1981

  • Road Rollers

  • Road Rollers

Chesterton, Indiana 46304

In March of 1904 when I was one year old, my family moved from Chicago to a farm about six miles east of Crown Point in Lake County, Indiana. This farm bordered on a plain dirt road. Rumors were that this road would be graveled within several years. This event happened when I was four years old.

I was very interested in what was going on, and would linger at the end of our driveway and watch the wagons which hauled the gravel. These were regular farm wagon gear with 4x4s placed across the bolsters with plank sides and ends to form a box which would probably hold a little over a cubic yard. To dump the load the driver would remove the end boards and one by one would pry up the 4x4s which were trimmed at the ends for hand holes.

Finally when the gravel had been spread on the stretch fronting our farm, I was amazed to see a strange contraption pulled by two teams of horses, coming over the new spread gravel. I gazed with wonder as it came closer. It was a horse-drawn road roller, consisting of a large roller wheel about 5' wide and 6' in diameter. There was a circular horizontal track around the roller at axle level; a half circle frame extended over the top from axel end to axel end. Another quarter circle frame pivoted on top center and extended to the horizontal track, secured with small rollers so that it could be revolved around the roller for reversing direction, locking in position. A seat and foot rest for the driver was located near the top of quarter circle frame while a tongue for hitching a team of horses was attached to the lower end which was also supported by a set of caster wheels. So to reverse direction it was only necessary to unlatch the frame and let the horses swing it 180 degrees to the other side of the roller. Young as I was I memorized all of these details.

My next encounter with a roller was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. The dirt road one mile north of our road was being graveled. On a beautiful Sunday morning in June I walked over to a Sunday School which was located on this road. It was there that I saw my first steam roller, which was packing down the loose gravel. I recognized the operator as the young man who had run the steam engine for our threshing run. He stopped and let me examine the roller and told me that it was a Kelley Springfield 10-ton roller. It had a single cylinder center crank engine. The flywheel was a cast solid disc instead of a band wheel. The entire machine was built very narrow so that the front roll would overlap the rear wheels by about six inches.

The years rolled by. When I was 17 I was water boy for a threshing rig. Needless to say, I spent my spare time on the engine platform, learning all I could about its operation and care. I also sent to Montgomery Ward for a book called 'Steam Traction Engineering.' Evenings at home I simply devoured that book. It not only explained the workings of all the parts and different valve gears, but also explained how to make any necessary repairs, not only to the engine but also the boiler.


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