A Road Roller Duo

Short-run road roller salvaged from industrial building.

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Above: The black upholstered seat is original, as is the unit’s exterior gray paint. The roller was apparently never used. “When I bought the little roller in 1999, the oil on the dipstick was as clean as new,” says Chuck Shalks. “In fact, I believe it was new.”

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Chuck Shalks has acquired duplicates of a very unusual piece of equipment: matching rollers equipped with International U2 engines. The units are believed to have been designed to roll foundations tight and flat before cinder blocks were laid for streets and driveways.

Chuck, who lives in Lowell, Ind., discovered the pair by accident. He was digging through an old building on the south side of Chicago, looking for another piece of equipment, when he came upon the road roller. Each was covered with debris accumulated over many years in storage. The previous owner of the site told Chuck that the rollers were manufactured in the 1940s at the Chicago building where Chuck found them more than half a century later.

At the same site, he also found new crank handles, carburetors, fans, manifolds, electrical parts and more, all related to the rollers. He even found original manuals for the U2 engine. The real prize, though, got away: "One thing that slipped away from me was a new engine, in the crate, like the ones used in these rollers," he says. "A friend of mine purchased the engine before I could get it."

Gordon Rice of Rice Equipment Inc., Clarion, Pa., says Chuck's rollers could represent the end of a short line. "That building in Chicago possibly was a small manufacturing facility, and this was the last of the inventory of a small manufacturing enterprise," he says. "The International engines might have been purchased from International Harvester and used in these custom-built rollers. IH engines were used in hundreds of different projects, such as road rollers, highway equipment of all kinds and special equipment limited only by the inventor's ability to adapt to the situation."

Gordon grew up surrounded by International Harvester. His father was in business with IH for years, beginning in 1935; Gordon has managed the dealership since 1954. He's seen a lot over the years, but Chuck's rollers are new to him.

The roller Chuck shows is powered by a 4-cylinder, water-cooled engine. The engine serial number is UAAM12279G; the IH serial number is UAA-12590. The piece has a chain-drive transmission with one forward and one reverse gear. It weighs about 3,000 pounds (with rollers filled with water for added weight) and is 10 feet long. The front roller consists of two pieces, each 16 inches wide, with a 24-inch diameter; the rear roller is 32 inches wide (29-inch diameter).

The front roller was constructed of two pieces to avoid scarfing the ground while in operation. The outer section turns faster, thus helping eliminate damage to the compressed surface. "Since they were in such nice, original condition, I don't know if I should restore them or not," Chuck says. "When I found the first unit, it was terribly dusty and dirty, but it was in great mechanical shape. Over the years, as I've taken it to shows, it's put some visible wear on the finish."

The International engines might have been purchased from International Harvester for use in these custom-built rollers. IH engines were used in hundreds of different projects, such as road rollers, highway equipment of all kinds and special equipment limited only by the inventor's ability to adapt to the situation.

Chuck has exhibited the roller at several antique farm equipment shows, hoping to learn more about the unusual piece. So far, he's struck out. If you know anything about this roller, get in touch with him!

- For more information: Chuck Shalks, Lowell, Ind.; (708) 250-5386.

Bob Crowell, and his wife, Linda, represent Farm Collector, Gas Engine Magazine and Steam Traction, and visit several antique farm equipment shows each summer. The Crowells may be reached at P.O. Box 103, Batesville, IN 47006; (812) 934-4364; e-mail: vintageequipmags@yahoo.com