Riverbed Rumelys

By Staff
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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.

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

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

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

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