2406 E. 136 Carthage, Illinois 62321
This story has been about 10 years in the making and follows
this general outline: A couple of years after I got out of college,
my father, brother and I started going to a few thresher reunions,
just out of curiosity. We started with a few small shows and worked
up to ones like Colchester, Illinois, and Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Hearing the old engines, smelling the gas, and watching the steady
spin of the wheel made me think ‘I want one.’ (Are you
On the way home from one of these family outings I got to
talking to Dad about how fun it would be to have ‘just one of
those engines.’ He agreed. We talked about how to get one and I
suggested, ‘Maybe Uncle Robert would have one.’ Dad was
skeptical of the idea–he didn’t think Uncle Robert would–but
I could ask.
For your information, my uncle was born in 1910 on a farm near
Astoria, Illinois, and has lived there on that spot almost his
entire life. His father died in a farm accident on the field in
front of the house when Robert was only three, and much of the
equipment from that era is still there, intermingled with the
machinery Robert used through his stewardship of the farm. Robert
does not throw much away, so you see I get my ‘packratting’
tendency naturally. So picture if you would, a country farm with
lots of outbuildings with lots of ‘stuff’ stuffing
A couple of weeks later, I posed my question to Robert, who
thought about it and said there might be an engine out in the shed
that the WD45 was in. ‘Maybe if you look in back, under the
scrap pile, you’ll find something.’ I went out, found the
scrap pile, and dug, and dug, and dug. A WHEEL, I see a WHEEL! I
pull and tug, getting it out from under the pumps, around the
cement mixer, and over, well, whatever that thing is. Now please
understand dear reader, I’m an accountant. I have very little
knowledge about what I am pulling out, but I am very happy. The
engine turns out to be a 1 HP Root & Vandervoort. Looking it
over, it looks good. I’m not sure what all the parts do and
I’m not sure I should be able to see the piston, but surely it
is no big deal. I mean on the tag it said, ‘For John Deere
Company.’ I know where they have a dealership and I can
probably call them, and they might still have parts. This is in
1991 and I’m in for an awakening. Uncle Robert got the loader
and put the R&V in my truck and home I went.
Ya know the J.D. dealers don’t have parts for those engines
anymore. As time goes on I came to understand that I’m missing
the head, mixer, tripping rod, etc., basically everything up front.
I start going to shows, taking pictures and asking questions. On
the way I met a lot of nice people who gave me advice, the names of
people to contact, and ideas on how to find the parts the R&V
needed. One such person is Pete Adomis from Pennsylvania, who, in
about 1995, introduced himself to me at an auction, and after a
short conversation, started looking out east for the parts I
needed. He did not find the parts, but this kind gesture and his
letters were an encouragement.
A little after that I was given the name of Marvin Beard of
Iowa. After a phone call, he said he would keep his eyes open and
would keep in touch. A year later, he found a head, it wasn’t
in the best of shape, but it is a head. We met at an auction and
agreed on a price for the head. But just as important, Mr. Beard
was willing to use the parts off his R&V to make castings for
my missing parts. I’m excited again. I bought a sandblaster
(those things are fun), I took the R&V apart and blasted and
primed all my pieces, and waited for a call saying the parts were
Mr. Beard was very patient in answering my faxes, and somewhere
between his work, his engines, his daughter’s wedding and the
other things in life, he got the parts cast and he and a friend,
Dennis Puck, ground new valves and seats for the head. This
February I went to Mr. Beard’s house and got the casting, and
took a lot of measurements and pictures of the original part. His
R&V still has the original paint on it and I will be using it
as a guide for my paint job.
Home I go with all the parts I need. I sucker a friend at work
to help me carry it down to my basement (my garage is an icebox)
and commence to drill, grind, sand, cut, bandage and gas myself
into a lather. I’m still an accountant, but I’m learning.
After a week of working every evening, all the parts are on and
I’m ready to try.
It was not a big success. I was successful in getting my wife
sick from the gas fumes in the basement, but that was about all. So
I moved the engine out to the bottom landing of the outside
staircase and tried for about a week to get it running. Rubbing all
the paint off the starting handle was all I did. Oh, there was the
occasional puff of smoke, and once or twice a nice jet of flame,
but no put put put. I tried changing the settings on the ignitor,
the intake, the exhaust valve, the springs (I was really guessing
here), the mixer and so on. Too much gas had to be the problem.
Hole too big on the mixer had to be why. JB Weld, had to be the
answer (is it me, or is JB Weld the 20th century equivalent of
manna from heaven?).
I put the mixer needle all the way in, packed the JBW in the
hole from the gas side, then every hour or so I would turn the
needle out, then back in and tamp the back of the JBW to get a nice
cone shape around the mixer needle. Two days later I used a little
hobby finger drill to get a new, much smaller hole, and tried to
start it again.
It ran. Watching it as it ran, I realized that the plastic
container full of gas that the mixer was pulling from was under the
exhaust (the place where the aforementioned ‘jets of flame’
had been coming from). Probably something in the OSHA regulations
about that. So the next day 1 ran the gas line back into the
built-in gas tank, hooked it up, and it ran again. Beautiful. Then
it started to move. Confusing. For over nine years the engine sat
on an old heavy-duty typewriter stand. The stand ‘decided’
it was done. As the leg collapsed, I panicked. The R&V went
toward the cement floor like they were long lost lovers who
couldn’t wait to get together again.
Stamp collecting, that was all I could think about as I grabbed
the R&V. Stamp collecting is a nice, clean, easy hobby that an
accountant like me would really enjoy. I grabbed the engine, the
stand crashed to the floor, (and on my foot) and the R&V kept
running. I grabbed the engine somewhere that didn’t physically
hurt me the back doesn’t count for engine collectors, right?)
(and then pushed it against the basement wall, which wasn’t
easy since the pulley was digging into the mortar. Somehow part of
my body freed up long enough to push in the fuel intake valve, and
I got it stopped. I wasn’t sure where to go with it from there.
The floor still seemed a long way off, and the R&V wasn’t
getting any lighter.
I started yelling for my wife, first by name, then just the
general, HELP! Selena, my wife, was upstairs playing the piano, and
I swear the increased volume of my yelling was in direct proportion
to her increased volume of playing. After several minutes of
yelling HELP, I hear the piano stop and the running of little feet.
When the basement door opens, I see her standing there in her
pajamas with look #735: ‘What are you trying to do now and why
are you trying to get me involved in whatever it is you’re
trying to do?’.
Of course now that I had her attention, I wasn’t sure what
my 105-pound wife was going to do, but it was nice having her for
moral support. I had her pick up the traitorous stand, and with the
three remaining legs still there, I set the R &V back on the
stand so she was able to balance the engine against the wall, while
I ran to the garage for a replacement.
The old stand went to the curb for the garbage man to find the
next morning (may it rust quickly). After that close call, I wanted
to get the engine back to Uncle Robert’s as soon as possible so
he could see it (he remembered it from his childhood). So the next
Saturday I got my brother to help get it out of the basement and
off we went to Uncle Robert’s.
It was cold that day, so we backed my truck into the garage so
Uncle Robert could come out to hear the R&V run, and when he
came out, he acted a little confused. That didn’t deter me in
the least. I started talking and pointing and filling and starting.
The R&V started on the second crank and ran wonderfully. After
talking with Uncle Robert about the engine for a while, he said it
was nice to hear it running again, but he thought I took the other
engine (remember this started in 1991).
‘Other engine, what other engine?’
‘Oh, the one out in the shed the IH 400 is in, you know, the
one with only one big wheel that we used on the water
‘A Fuller & Johnson?’
‘Ya, the Fuller & Johnson, I thought you took that
As you can imagine, my brother and I went to that shed, in a
section neither of us nor our dad had been in, and there it was, a
Fuller & Johnson Farm Pump.
AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! The Headless Horseman of Moose Hollow had struck
again. The F&J has no head, no piston, no cylinder. Everything
above the base is gone. I’m a little wiser now, and I know I
can’t go to the Fuller & Johnson Store for parts, but at
this rate, Uncle Robert will be 100 before he hears this motor run.
Oh well, it’s in the blood now, I have to try. I will start by
going through the sheds again, looking for the parts the F&J
Well, I just want to thank those who helped me on the way to
getting the R&V running. Your words of wisdom and your patient
answering of dumb questions was greatly appreciated.
I guess I should also warn others who own a Fuller & Johnson
farm pump: if you are at a show, and some guy with a pocket
protector and a camera comes up to you wanting to take measurements
and asks you some questions, my name is Chris.