Rough and Tumble Engineers Museum Built on Lobbyists’ Legacy

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Flywheels spin nonstop during the summer show at the Rough and Tumble museum, where more than 50 large gas engines are displayed in two buildings. Many of the engines are in operation during shows.
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This display was surrounded by a sea of green: John Deere was the featured exhibit at the August show.
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"The Fertility Fly: Cropdusting, charters, air shows, sightseeing: experimental' - powered by a McCormick Deering 1 1/2 hp engine. Piloted by Bob Neuhauser, Fertility, Penn.
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This 1895 Frick 8-10, owned by Dave Adams and Will Adams, was the oldest steamer at the Rough and Tumble show this summer. Restoration of the 50 hp engine was completed just before the show, where it saw plenty of action. "Just because I painted it doesn't mean we won't play with it," Dave said.
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A John Deere potato cutter from the 1930s; owned by Robert Shirk.
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An air-cooled Associated engine model, built by George Luhrs.
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A line-drive Advance Rumely, serial number 506; made in 1921.

Not every club can trace its roots to an early political action committee. But the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association in Kinzers, Penn., is not every club.

The Pennsylvania Threshermen and Farmers Protective Association, formed early in the last century, served as the incubator for what is now a collectors club with more than 2,200 members. Eighty years ago, the group’s concern was legislative attempts to ban steam traction engines from newly built roads. But as equipment evolved, that threat passed. By mid-century, the group was about to disband, when one last gathering – a picnic – was held. Many in the large crowd brought their steam engines for a sort of “last hurrah.” Little did they know what they’d started.

More than 50 years later, Rough and Tumble is a thriving organization. The club’s annual schedule includes a tractor pull, spring and fall gatherings, and regular workdays at their 35-acre showgrounds. But the big event is the summer show. The 53rd annual Threshermen’s Reunion, held in August, regularly attracts thousands of visitors, many of whom are amazed by what they find.

“People say they’ve never seen so many gas engines, or so many steam engines, in one place,” says Gerald Myer, club president.

Good reason for that: The Rough and Tumble museum is one of a kind. More than seven large buildings house a permanent collection of steam engines, large gas engines, gas tractors, antique cars, and stationary steam engines. There are at least 20 antique cars, 75 gas tractors, 50 gas engines and some 20 steam traction engines.

Some of the equipment belongs to the club. But many pieces belong to members, who agree to operate the equipment at shows in exchange for a place to keep it the rest of the year.

“The larger pieces cost so much to haul, and maybe there’s not enough room at home, so they keep them here,” Gerald says.

The museum will swell further with the addition of an Advance Rumely collection. Plans are underway to create a building just for Rumelys, perhaps as soon as next summer.

“I’m guessing there’ll be 25 or 30 in there right off the bat,” Gerald says. “They’re thinking it would be a pretty extraordinary collection.”

In addition to other events through the year, Rough and Tumble sponsors an annual “steam school.” Interest in that program is strong.

“We’re getting more than we can handle,” Gerald says. “We try to limit it to 20, but it’s always bigger than that. We already have people who’ve signed up for the class next May, and now we’re getting requests from other clubs that want us to put on a steam school for their members.”

The show’s roots are in steam (related, perhaps, to all that political hot air?), but over time, the offering has diversified. That’s what it takes, Gerald says, to keep a show strong.

“You’ve got to have something for everyone,” he says. “We advertise that we’re the largest show east of the Mississippi, and I’ve never had anyone dispute that.” FC

For more information: The Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association, PO Box 9, Kinzers, PA 17535; (717) 442-4249; online at

The Rough and Tumble Museum is generally open Fridays and Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day; call to confirm before travelling.

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