Buffalo-Springfield Road Roller

A 1928 Buffalo-Springfield road roller is at the heart of a Washington man's life-long love affair with steam.

| May 2016

  • Francis Orr with his 1928 10-ton Buffalo-Springfield tandem steam road roller. When he’s not running a steam engine or his roller at the Rollag show, Francis is often found playing the fiddle someplace on the grounds.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The Buffalo-Springfield’s cast iron smokestack had been cracked before Francis bought the roller, but it had been sealed and riveted and was in very good shape.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • This view from the driver’s seat shows that the original throttle was a lever-operated gate valve. It has been replaced with a ball valve and “some nice blacksmithing,” Francis says.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • Francis’ Buffalo-Springfield is no. 14550.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • “2nd Asst. Engineer Glen Nowell,” Francis says by way of introduction. “One 180-pound human being, one 10-ton 1928 steam roller.”
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • When Francis purchased the 1928 Buffalo-Springfield 10-ton roller, the front roller was removed for transport 280 miles to West Fargo, North Dakota, where restoration began.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • This photo shows the blower valve, left injector water/steam lines (the first “T” is the main steam line, the second “T” is the auxiliary steam tap) and right injector water/steam lines. The injectors are 1/2-inch Penberthys. At lower right: the twin feet lubricator for main engine and power steering.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • The steam hobby is not for the faint of heart. Here, Glen and Francis drag a heavy load of wood and coal to the Buffalo-Springfield.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • From left to right in the steering station: the manual steering wheel, power steering lever with knob, reverse lever (with latch), throttle (just left of the high globe valve), governor, 2-cylinder main engine, main steam line, exhaust line, pressure gauge, water gauge and steam line to water. The coal bunker is under the driver, nestled into the frame.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • Joe (“Daredevil Joe”) Tracy emigrated to the U.S. at age 18. Soon after, he became a professional chauffeur and race driver. He participated in five races associated with the Vanderbilt Cup Races (1904-’06).
    Farm Collector archives
  • This 1917 photo shows a lineup of four Buffalo-Springfield tandem steam rollers. From left: 10 ton, 7 ton, 5 ton and 2-1/2 ton.
    Image courtesy Francis Orr
  • Illustration of 10-ton Buffalo-Springfield roller predating 1920.
    Image courtesy Francis Orr
  • Illustration of 10-ton Buffalo-Springfield roller predating 1920.
    Image courtesy Francis Orr

Some boys are raised around cars. For others, it’s tractors. Francis Orr is one of the rare few who can say he grew up around steam engines. “My father’s father was a locomotive engineer who farmed with steam and ran a steam roller for the county,” he says. “My dad fired a boiler in a generating plant, creating electricity for the town.” And when Francis and his parents crossed Long Island Sound to visit his mother’s parents on Long Island, New York, they took the steam-powered Park City ferry.

“My dad flashed his Masonic ring to get us down to see the compound steam engine,” Francis recalls. “At 7 years old, seeing everything going up and down, round and round,” he says, “I was hooked.”

Launched by Daredevil Joe

A few years later, when he was in junior high, Francis discovered an abandoned steam traction engine while on a visit to his grandfather near Dundee, New York. “It was a Buffalo-Springfield three-wheel steam roller, shoved into the back lot and out of service,” he says. “My cousin and I used to go down and crawl around on it, making engine sounds and all that sort of stuff. That was the first engine I ever got my hands on.”

But not the last. At 14, during the old car race at the Bridgehampton Road Races on Long Island, he spotted a car pulled off the road. The driver, 87-year-old “Daredevil Joe” Tracy, had burst a tube on his Stanley Steamer and was fixing it. Francis was so enamored of steam that he spent the rest of the day with Tracy, “much to the dismay of my rear end,” he recalls, “when I returned to my folks!”

In the 1950s and ’60s, the first page of several mechanics magazines featured renowned race-driver Tracy at the wheel of the steam-powered Locomobile, wearing his trademark leather helmet and red scarf. “Joe Tracy got me active in steam,” Francis says. “He introduced me to collectors and the machinery.”

Starting a collection

Eventually, Francis would own his own steamroller. But it didn’t happen overnight. While serving in the U.S. Navy, he bought a Russell steam traction engine. In 1966, he picked up a 14-ton Keystone Steam Skimmer steam shovel.


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