Family Heirloom: The Kelly-Springfield Road Roller
1905 Kelly-Springfield Road Roller bonds generations
This 1905 Kelly-Springfield road roller, one of only three known in existence, started its life working on roads in northern Colorado.
The future is now, at least for a 1905 Kelly-Springfield road roller owned by David Gross, Centennial, Colo. That’s because Dave isn’t the only caretaker of the 12-ton roller; his 13-year-old grandson, Russell Heerdt, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, has taken an interest in the rare and beautifully restored behemoth.
On any given morning of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant (or any of his school-free summer days, for that matter), Russell can be found tending to the single-cylinder Kelly-Springfield: polishing, filling the firebox, cleaning the grate, more polishing. He even starts the fire because, as he says with a smile, “I obviously have younger knees.”
Dave bought the Kelly-Springfield road roller (designated a 12-ton because it was built before standardized horsepower ratings) in 1958 when he was just 18. It had been used to maintain roads in Greeley and Boulder, Colo. He paid $500 for the Kelly-Springfield. “It was a lot then,” he says, “but less than others.”
The road roller, believed to be one of only three of its type remaining in the U.S., sat idle until three years ago. Then Dave took it to Huffy’s Iron Works in Mt. Pleasant, where it underwent a complete restoration.
At Huffy’s, the Kelly-Springfield was completely dismantled. All of its parts were cleaned and painted. A rusted-out water tank was patched. The standard locomotive-type boiler got a jacket fitted, a new front flue sheet, new crown sheet and was reflued. “With any steam engine, the condition of the boiler is very important,” Dave says. “It sat outside for so many years – but it is dry in Colorado so there was not a lot of corrosion.” A few additional castings were made, and then the Kelly-Springfield was put back together. It took more than two years to restore. But the care and detail of the restoration show in the roller’s detailed pinstriping and shining brass, as well as its flawless operation.
If the Kelly-Springfield road roller looks different than other American-made steam engines, it’s because it was heavily influenced by English designs. According to Dr. Robert T. Rhode and Raymond L. Drake in Classic American Steamrollers, in the early 1890s the company, then known as O.S. Kelly Co., Springfield, Ohio, hired British engineer Edward Wright, who convinced Kelly to improve its products using British ideas. (For more on Edward Wright, see The Patents of Edward T. Wright.) The Kelly-Springfield Road Roller Co. was founded in 1902 as an offshoot of the O.S. Kelly Co.
“What Wright did was bring the horizontal steam dome from England,” Dave explains. His designs also moved the valve above the cylinder, instead of on the side as is standard with American-designed steam engines. Another distinct British characteristic is the narrow flywheel. “Most other steam engines have wide flywheels you can put belts on,” Dave explains.