16 HP Advance-Rumely Universal Steam Traction Engine: The Steamer That Could

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Ted Knack on the Advance-Rumely at Bill Vouk’s threshing show in St. Stephen, Minn., in September 1991. The engine is pulling a wing feed separator.
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 Ted Knack on the 16 HP Advance-Rumely Universal.
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Gary Schacth (left) and Ted Knack with the 16 HP Advance-Rumely Universal.
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Gary Schacth running the Advance-Rumely on the belt.

This story is about a 1919 Advance-Rumely Universal 16 HP steam traction engine that I became involved with in the mid-1970s. It all started when Lehart Fredrich took his 50 HP Case steam engine to the Rice Lake, Wis., antique show. I ran it on the sawmill for him. Since we worked the show, we were invited to the annual banquet, where a conversation about an Advance steam engine being for sale came up.

I found out a school teacher was selling the engine for another fellow who owned it. At this time my boss, Jim Koenig, was interested in buying a steam engine, so I got the teacher’s name and where he could be reached.

We made arrangements to look at the Advance, and after looking it over closely, Jim decided to buy the Advance with encouragement from me. (It’s fun to spend someone else’s money!)

Home Again, Home Again

Now we had the task of getting the Advance home to Cottage Grove, Minn. We lined up a trucker with a lowboy trailer to haul the engine the day after Thanksgiving. It snowed Thanksgiving Day. We left at 5:30 in the morning with 180 miles to go.

We arrived where the Advance engine was located and after looking over how we could get it loaded, we decided it was going to be a long day. The engine sat parallel to the road. The trailer didn’t have ramps, so we had to move the engine back and turn right to line up to the trailer. Then we backed the trailer into the ditch far enough to get it level with the back of the ditch.

I took the guy’s Lindemann crawler and dug the back of the ditch out to get the trailer in far enough to get the engine onto the trailer – boy, it was a cold job. Now we had to get the engine up on the trailer, but I couldn’t get the steering wheel to turn because it was filled with ice.

We chipped the ice out and tried to pull the Advance, but we had no traction for the crawler. We wrapped a rope around the pulley and with two tractors on the rope we could move the engine, but at a snail’s pace. So, I called a wrecker to winch us around. They came with a big wrecker. We put a block and tackle on the trailer and winched the engine onto it.

Now we had to load a wooden water wagon. We took all four wheels off the water wagon and tied it down. After making sure we got the trailer out of the ditch, we released the tow truck. It was just dusk when we finished tying everything down and started down the road.

We stopped at a truck stop for dinner and I told the trucker we would be lucky to get home by midnight. He said, “I’ll have you home by the 10 o’clock news.”

We got to the freeway and he opened the Kenworth up. I was afraid to look at the speedometer, but I know it was over 70 MPH. Did you ever ride in a semi that every time you came to an overpass you would duck because you thought the smokestack was going to hit?

In the spring, Jim cleaned the engine and painted it. The flues had been replaced and the boiler passed inspection in Minnesota. Two years later, Jim sold the engine to Cliff Woycik of Whitehall, Wis. I ran it for Cliff at the Strum, Wis., show. After having the engine for three years Cliff passed away.

I told Bill Vouk about the Advance being for sale at an auction and he bought it. Lehart moved the engine from Whitehall to St. Stephen, Minn. At the following St. Stephen show, Bill told me to run the engine. This time we had ramps and a winch to get it on the lowboy.

Yes it Can, Yes it Can

For three years I helped with Bill’s 65 HP Case at the St. Stephen show. For years the 65 HP was on the Huber 36-inch separator and Bill’s 80 HP Case was on the sawmill. I was relegated to running the Advance single-cylinder on the clover huller and the hand-feed separator. Gary Schacth and I wanted to get on the sawmill at Vouk’s, but it took two years to finally talk Tommy Vouk into just letting us on the mill for an hour. We had heard that the Advance couldn’t pull the mill because it didn’t have enough horsepower. After sawing two logs, the sawmill man had a smile on his face. He came up to us and said, “The Advance did a good job and the engine could saw all the logs in St. Stephen without any trouble.”

Two years later, the 65 HP Case was having some bearing trouble and Ed Claussen, another engineer, wanted to shut it down and fix the problem. On Saturday they didn’t get two stacks of grain done with the bad bearing. Sunday morning, Jim Vouk, who sees that everything is kept moving, didn’t know how he was going to finish the two stacks. I asked Jim to let us run the Advance on the separator and we would have the two stacks finished by noon. He laughed and said that the little Advance couldn’t pull the separator. I said, “Just let us try.” Jim said, “OK, but you will run out of steam.”

I knew if we did run out of steam we would go down giving it all we could. Both Gary and I have run engines on wing-feed separators before, but I think the Huber would be the biggest we were ever running on. I had run Vouk’s 65 HP Case on that separator for two years.

We belted up the Advance to try it and Gary and I traded off running the engine. While Gary ran the engine, I set up the water truck and wood wagon right by the engine. I asked Jim Mullenhaur if he would keep wood on the deck. I went to get the video camera because I didn’t want to miss out on the engine pulling the load.
Lawrence, the separator man, had four pitchers just waiting to get us stuck. The pop valve was set at 150 psi. Gary said, “If she pops, we will never get it back.”

We finished the two stacks and never ran out of steam. I think we made the Vouks know the Advance was a good engine. After the parade we went on the mill for an hour and Jim asked us to go on the separator and finish the other two stacks. It was my turn on the Advance and we did the job again without running out of steam.

I still get a lump in my throat at how hard we fired that Advance with wood. A good day’s work done.

Bill passed away and there is no longer a show in St. Stephen. Good times are passed. The Advance-Rumely was sold at an auction to a man in Minneapolis. That Advance was sure a little engine that could.

Contact steam enthusiast Ted Knack at 1545 10th Ave., St. Paul Park, MN 55071.

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