A New Chapter in the Life of an Iron Man

Roy Herr and Rough and Tumble A Life of Steam

Buffalo-Springfield steamroller

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Roy Herr and his 1923 Buffalo-Springfield steamroller, serial number 11,280, caught on film by Jack Norbeck at the Rough and Tumble Museum in August 2000. Roy bought the roller in 1956, owning it for almost 50 years before selling it last October when he cleared out his collection.

If you're in the Rough and Tumble Engineers Association circle, you probably associate steam with Roy Herr, who has been active in the association since its inception way back in 1950. Roy turned 92 years young this past June, and he decided the time had come to hold an auction and find new homes for his steam engine, road roller and accumulated engines and machinery, equipment that has been an integral part of Roy's life. But before this goes any farther, let me tell you a little about Roy and his life with steam.

Steaming Beginnings

Like many steam men, Roy's love of steam grew from childhood experiences. As a boy, Roy listened with rapt fascination to the stories his father's cousin, Jacob H. Brubaker, told about the early days of threshing. Jacob, a well-respected thresherman, was featured in a 1930 American Thresherman article, which noted that, 'Mr. Brubaker had the reputation of being one of the best machine men in the Keystone State, for he is able to get more wear out of his equipment than most men do.'

A thresherman and saw miller for 52 years, Jacob was also a firm believer in thresherman organizations, and he was one of the ringleaders of the Pennsylvania Threshermen and Farmers Protective Association that formed in the early part of the 20th century. This group collected $3 from each of its 3,500 members, using that money in its fight in 1915 to reverse a law that kept steamers off Pennsylvania roads.

Jacob used his steam engines in everything he did, and he was always quick to point out that any job was worth doing right. Jacob's focus on a sense of pride and honesty in one's work became a way of life for Roy, and with Jacob's strong influence it's no wonder Roy got hooked on steam-powered equipment at an early age. He was fascinated by the workings of these giant engines, amazed by their smoothness and quiet.

Even so, when Roy first started doing custom farm work for a living he used gasoline-powered equipment, not steam. His custom farm work involved soil tillage, baling, seed conditioning and cleaning and treating of seed grain to control seed-born diseases. This was seasonal work, so to fill the off time he went to work for the Arthur S. Young Co. of Kinzers, Pa. Art, as he was known, was a dealer in steam engines and threshing machinery, and it was at Art's shop that Roy learned the basics of welding, machining and steam boiler maintenance. Working for Art was another pivotal point in Roy's life.

There were a lot of steam engines at Art's, most of them traded in for the more popular gas and diesel tractors that were fast replacing steam on the farm. Like Jacob, Art had a long association with steam and threshing, and he was a member of a committee of Lancaster and Lebanon county threshermen's associations. In 1948 they held the first reunion of steam engineers, threshermen, sawmill operators, farm machinery operators, old timers, salesmen, manufacturers and others interested in farm machinery on Young's property. Roy got involved with these events, helping with demonstrations and however else he could.

In 1950 the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association was organized, and Art nominated Roy to be the secretary treasurer of the new association. This marked the start of a special relationship between Roy and Rough and Tumble, a relationship that that lasts to this day. Although some charter members of the association are still around, Roy is the only survivor from the original roster of Rough and Tumble officers.

Roy's Toys

In 1951 Roy bought a 1914 50 HP Emerson-Brantingham Peerless steam traction engine from Art, restoring it and putting it on rubber. Roy kept the Peerless for 18 years, running it at reunions and also sterilizing soil for local farmers.

In 1956 Roy acquired a 1923 Buffalo-Springfield steamroller. This 10-ton steamroller was used building and maintaining township roads in Union Township, Mufflin County, Pa., until 1950, and it was stored in the township building in Belleville until Roy purchased it.

Election time, 1960. Roy backing up his 1914 50 HP Peerless, serial number 17,855, in front of the East Petersburg, Pa., borough fire hall, making lots of noise to get voters out to the polls in the 1960 presidential elections (check out the Nixon sticker on the rear of the engine). The cab is a Roy Herr original. Roy's wife, Marion, is facing the camera. Photo by O. Hen Hertzler Jr.

Two shots of Roy on his creation, aptly named 'Roy's Toy.' The photo at left shows Roy and his newly made toy at the 1991 Rough and Tumble Spring Steam-Up, before Roy had added all his 'extras' to it.

Of all of Roy's equipment, perhaps his best-known engine was called 'Roy's Toy,' a creation Roy decided to build when he was 77 years young. Power came from a 1908 10 HP Stanley Steamer automobile engine coupled to a small 1922 Orr & Sembower steam boiler that had once been used in a dry cleaning shop to furnish steam for clothing presses.

The photo shows 'Roy's Toy' in 1998 behind his shop in East Petersburg, Pa., as he finally finished it. Roy started building his 'toy' some 15 years ago when he finally decided to retire at the age of 77.

When Roy first acquired the Stanley engine he took it to Art's shop and tested it using compressed air. The engine, Roy discovered, wasn't in the best of shape, so he decided to postpone its restoration until after his retirement.

What became the chassis for 'Roy's Toy' was another story. Years ago Roy was looking for a two-cylinder Wisconsin air-cooled engine, which he wanted to power a grain-cleaning rig he designed, when he was offered the chassis of a pre-production, prototype New Holland SP166 self-propelled baler. The baler was equipped with the type of engine Roy wanted, so he removed the engine and some other parts he wanted and the skeleton of the chassis was parked on his property - it stayed there for 30 years.

When Roy retired, he decided it was finally time to start rebuilding and restoring the 1908 Stanley engine and the New Holland chassis. A lot of components had to be rebuilt, and he had to fashion and craft numerous other components to get his creation running. He plumbed the boiler, had it inspected and then joined it to the engine and chassis. His resulting 2-1/2-ton creation was nicknamed 'Roy's Toy Steam Slowpoke-o-motive.'

In 1991 when 'Roy's Toy' became a steam-powered tractor everything on it was pretty basic, but Roy's creative mind was already busy crafting additions to it. Roy added a Briggs & Stratton engine for backup power, and by the time he was done the completed tractor had a hood, fairing, cab, fenders and an electrical system including a headlight, flashers and an electric starting system for the auxiliary engine. Anyone who's had the good fortune to ride in Roy's rolling work of art can't help but notice the talent that went into creating this masterpiece.

The Auction

On Oct. 11, 2001, at Roy's home in East Petersburg, Pa., Roy's prized engines were auctioned off. When the week of the auction arrived, Roy's garage was organized and ready for the sale. He had every part marked and the steamroller and his 'Toy' were in place, looking perfect in every way. The assembled crowd included friends, Rough and Tumble members, steam enthusiasts and your average lookers. The 'Toy' and the Buffalo Springfield steamroller found good homes, and members of Rough and Tumble are more than a little happy these engines are staying in the area. They will still be seen at the reunions, which is just as it should be.

During Roy's days in custom farm work he designed and built the mobile seed cleaning unit shown here. Grain was fed into the auxiliary auger from a gravity flow bin, and after being sifted, weighed and treated it was automatically bagged. This photo dates from 1953.

Roy Herr has given much to others over the years, and his intelligence and incredible energy have been an inspiration to all of us at Rough and Tumble. I'm glad I have had the opportunity to get to know Roy, and my visits with him have become very special to me. He has a love for life and, especially, a love for steam.

Arthur Young standing in front of Roy's newly restored 1914 50 HP Peerless (which Roy bought from Arthur) in November 1951. Arthur played an important role in Roy's life, imparting his love of steam and the steam community to Roy when Roy first started working at Arthur's shop in the 1940s.

Steam Enthusiast Roy Herr can be reached at: 6260 Main St., East Petersburg, PA 17520. Contact Judy Whiteside at: 853 Willow Road., Lancaster, PA 17601.