Robson, 2 Bleasdale Avenue, Hill Top Knottingley, West Yorks, WF11 8EZ, England
Early in 1995, I went to see the 1795 New comen type atmospheric beam engine at Elsecar Heritage in South Yorkshire, thought to be the only New comen type engine in the world that is still where it was originally erected for the Lords Fitzwilliam coal mining enterprises to pump out the water flooding the family's Wentworth estates coal mines. After I had a look at this early and very simple rocking beam steam engine, a member of the staff at Else car said to me, 'Have you seen our American traction engine?' Replying that I had not, I was escorted to a large warehouse in another part of the extensive site. Here standing in the gloom of this big shed was a large traction engine but not of the type that I was used to seeing at rallies or road runs in Britain. For a start, there was a low slung step up man stand platform across the rear of the firebox. British engine practice is to have a coal bunker and under slung water tank at the rear of the engine, forming a strong attachment point for a towing bracket. Access to footplates normally is a cutaway in the thick metal side plate leading to the coal bunker with perhaps one or two steps set into this side sheet for the crew to climb up to the controls from ground level to the footplate or working platform. This American engine did not have this arrangement. Instead there was what looked like a fifty gallon oil drum standing on end at one side of the wooden floored shelf man stand; the other side had a cube like toolbox with a tractor like seat above it. The floor projected out on arms on the rear of the engine's firebox sides. Further differences were obvious as my eyes became used to the gloom no boiler cladding, just a rolled barrel with an exposed lapped riveted joint running from the rear of the smoke box to the front of the firebox. This lateral joint with its row of large domed exposed rivets was a major visual difference to what I was used to. The engine's cylinder layout was another two pistons set in tandem with the smaller high-pressure cylinder immediately in front of the larger low pressure cylinder placed behind, with both cylinders riveted to the upper left side of the boiler barrel. I would later learn that this engine was advertised as suitable for ploughing, but I find it difficult to believe that the company which built it designed this engine for heavy direct traction (towing). It looks more suited for driving a belt off its flywheel, perhaps only using its road wheels to move its own weight from one working location to another when required.
1914 Advance 21 HP tandem compound engine, built to a pure Advance design at the Battle Creek Works in Michigan, but part of the Rumely Company. Engine now on display at Elsecar Heritage Museum in England.
Smoke box door of Advance with the puzzling Advance trademark beneath the words 'M. Rumely Co.' It was this smoke box door which set Andy Robson digging up the history of this transatlantic engine.
Steam dome of the Advance engine at Elsecar Heritage Museum. The 'pop off' safety valve is stamped 150 pounds and is locked, as legally required in the U.S.A.
Flywheel with maple wood friction clutch. Engine has only one set of gears and was suitable only for moving itself with a water cart, not for heavy towing.
Someone at this point put some of the warehouse lights on. This showed up other things. Cast into the outer rim of the smoke box door was the name of a firm the Rumely Manufacturing Company, Battle Creek, Michigan. Rumely was incorporated in 1853 in La Porte, Indiana. But the centre of the smoke box door displayed a cloaked figure of a man in medieval costume striding up a hill and bearing aloft a cross staff, from which billowed a banner. This is not the Rumely trademark. It is the logo of the Advance Thresher Company! On visits to the U.S.A. and Canada, I had seen several makes of North American engines at rallies and as working exhibits in museums. I can recognize a Case engine with its emblem of a proud eagle standing on a globe, and I had some experience of a friend in Canada's 1911 Waterloo engine with its bold lion face trademark cast projecting from the centre of the smoke box door. I had seen one or two Rumely engines in the middle west during a visit to Canada a few years ago. So the engine at Elsecar Heritage looked all wrong for a Rumely in its set up. The front wheels and steering axle looked too far forward under the smoke box. The rear wheels were not made as I had seen on other Rumely engines. This engine had wheels that were inset with thin round rod like spokes set into cups on the wheel rims akin to bicycle wheels.
I asked the staff where it had come from. 'Well, it was here when I started to work here,' one chap told me. He went on to say, 'I think it is one of two that were purchased by the Wentworth estate [the Lords Fitzwilliam lands] just before the First World War for timber hauling.' Now I knew that this could not be true but kept a straight face and my own counsel. It was most unlikely that an Edwardian titled landowner would ship traction engines from the United States when there were any number of traction engine manufacturers in England who could supply specialist engines to order. So I asked the man a little later in our conversation how long he had worked at Elsecar. 'About four years' was the reply. After looking around the engine once more and noting that much heavy welding had been done around the underbelly of the boiler barrel and on the lower side of the firebox, I set off for home.
Some weeks later in passing conversation with a friend, I mentioned this American Rumely tandem compound engine. 'Oh, I remember that it was at a building contractor's yard in Womb well near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, but the chap who owned it needed a new inner firebox as the old one was finished. I know someone who made a new firebox for it in Castle ford,' my friend said. So somehow I got to thinking that perhaps my friend in Canada, the owner of the 1911 Waterloo, could help me. So I went back to Elsecar armed with my camera. After taking several photos and sending these to Canada with a letter asking for his opinion on this tandem-compound traction engine, I received his reply. He enclosed a copy of the North American traction engine enthusiasts' bible The Iron Men Album Magazine. He suggested that I write to the Album for help as, after showing my photos around in his circle of engine friends, he had not had any luck finding anything out about the engine. I then wrote to the editor of the Album, enclosing some photos that I had taken at Elsecar and asking for help from the readers of this magazine in identifying this engine properly. Some time later, I had several letters from the U.S.A., but the most helpful one was from Dr. Robert T. Rhode. His first letter proved to be one of many in a long series of letters that have, in the past months, winged their way back and forth care of the Royal Mail from my end in the West Riding of Yorkshire in England and the United States Postal Service from Dr. Rhode in Cincinnati, Ohio.
After finding the Works Number 14291 with Dr. Rhode's help, the first fact that Dr. Rhode shared is that the engine at Elsecar Heritage is not a pure Rumely engine. I had deduced as much but wanted this confirmed. Dr. Rhode explained that the engine is in fact an Advance built about 1914 at the works of the Advance Thresher Company in Battle Creek, Michigan. The M. Rumely Company (named after founder Meinrad Rumely) bought out Advance in 1911. The late Marcus Leonard, an Advance employee and expert on the company, Dr. Rhode informed me, once wrote that Rumely and Advance never officially merged. For some time, the Advance Thresher Company continued to build engines to Advance specifications with only the incorporation of the Rumely name on the finished product. A similar state of affairs went on within the British motor manufacturing industry in the late 1970s when Leyland Motors sold up rated 5cwt Morris 1000 vans with the Austin badge on the bonnet hood as 7cwt capacity vehicles 'badge engineering,' as it was called. At any rate, some Americans, including steam engine authorities, make the mistake, I am told, of calling Advance engines built after 1911 'Advance-Rumely' engines. But, as Dr. Rhode indicated, the first Advance-Rumely engine is Works Number 14438 (147 engines after the Advance engine at Elsecar Heritage) and is owned by A. E. Mast of Millersburg, Ohio. This engine was built in 1915. It was in that year the M. Rumely Company and its massive sales branch known as the Rumely Products Company both went bankrupt. A new company with a totally redesigned line of engines was formed later in that year. It was the Advance-Rumely Company, based in La Porte, and represented a true merger of the two firms.
So now I know that the engine at Elsecar Heritage is an Advance, not a Rumely, and almost certainly not an Advance Rumely. It is an unusual Advance in more ways than one, not the least of which is the fact that it was built one year before the creation of the Advance Rumely Company and has the name Rumely on its smoke box. But how had it come to England?
It was purchased over a decade ago by Mr. John Harrison, an English traction engine enthusiast on holiday in the U.S.A., from Mr. Ron Pieper, a farmer in the city of Freeport, located on the prairie land of extreme northwestern Illinois. Mr. Harrison then imported the Advance into England. Mr. Pieper, a founding member of the Stephenson County (Illinois) Antique Engine Club, had found this Advance engine in a lean-to shed next to an old building that had formerly been Neiman's Machine Shop (an engineering works) that was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment. Further inquiries by letter and long distance telephone calls by Dr. Rhode brought to light that the engine had been used to drive a line shaft system within the engineering works, which had been owned by Mr. Oscar Neiman. The tandem compound Advance engine had been purchased new. Shipped by rail from the Battle Creek Advance Thresher Company works in Michigan around the southern edge of Lake Michigan to Chicago, Illinois, and northwest to Freeport, Advance No. 14291 was installed for the purpose of running a belt drive to a system of overhead line shafting inside the machine shop. As a lean-to shed had been erected around the engine, this accounted for the un pitted upper surface of the boiler barrel. Some engines that I have seen in the U.S.A. and Canada have quite extensive weathering marks upon them, as nearly all of the engines' life has been spent out exposed to the elements. Mr. Neiman's son, Theodore Neiman, now in his nineties, was located, and he confirmed to Dr. Rhode that the engine had been used to power the lathes and cutting machines in the workshop at the engineering works right into the 1940s, several times escaping scrap drives that were going on for the war effort in World War Two. Then Dr. Rhode contacted a recognized Advance authority, Mr. Keith Mauzy of Anderson, Indiana. Yes, he remembered the Advance Tandem compound engine No. 14291 from Freeport. He recalled the sale of this engine to some fellow in England. Further bits of information came out in this long distance telephone conversation. The engine had been rated at 21 horsepower. Mr. Mauzy knew of two other similar 'experimental' engines built by the Advance works at Battle Creek still in existence both built the same as 14291. One is in Missouri, the other in Arcanum, Ohio. Mr. Mauzy went on to confirm to Dr. Rhode that the Elsecar engine had been built in 1914.
These tandem compound type engines are quite unusual for Advance practise in that they were built with a full rear axle to support and drive the back wheels of the engine, with a rear gear train drive down from the engine's motion work. This drives onto a gear ring mounted on the inside of the rear wheel. Other Advance engines were built with stub axles mounted on the reinforced sides of the firebox, with a side gear drive down to a gear ring inside the rim of the rear wheels. Dr. Rhode and I knew 14291 might be a very rare engine in England, but, at the end of our research, finding out that it was an even more unusual and experimental joint production prototype engine is a real bonus. Indeed, this has been confirmed recently by Mr. Pieper, who called it 'a bridge between the Advance engines built at Battle Creek, Michigan, and the later Advance Rumely engines' termed 'Universal,' which means an engine that was capable of burning several sorts of fuel: coal, wood, straw. 'Universal' can also imply that the engine has a more robustly constructed boiler built for the Canadian market. At that time, Canada had boiler construction and use regulations that were closer to Britain's than those in force in the United States. Advance 14291, however, does not feature this strengthened boiler. The cylinder block mounting is clearly riveted to the boiler barrel, as is the flywheel and motion support bracket. A study of the drawings prepared for the replacement firebox told me that this engine did not have the Canadian specification boiler. In fact, from other sources in the U.S.A., I found out that these experimental Advance tandem compound engines were reckoned to be notoriously poor performers. The working pressure in such a lap seam boiler was far too low for the engine to benefit properly from compounding. Some owners are reported to have repiped the live steam supply to the larger lower pressure cylinder, thereby blanking off the small high pressure cylinder completely. This made the engines into a single cylinder simple engine so that the relatively low pressure steam of about eighty to one hundred pounds drove the engine more effectively, if not economically. The Advance No. 14291 at Elsecar Heritage is known for its poor steaming qualities and its thirst for water. It does not seem to like good steam coal and prefers old rotten wood.
Now owned by Mr. Terry Watford of Womb well, the engine is on loan to Elsecar Heritage. It is painted in the traditional Advance Threshing Company livery and lacking only the Banner Boy Transfer on the water tank drum on the rear man stand. Someway into our transatlantic correspondence, Dr. Rhode and I discovered that, in 1987, No. 14291 had featured in a request for information through the pages of Iron Men Album Magazine. It seems that, when it passed into Mr. Watford's hands sometime after Mr. Harrison imported it into Britain, the replacement inner firebox fabricated in Castle ford was found to be of the wrong specification. Mr. Stuart M. Woodbine of Chesterfield in Derbyshire, a traction engine repair specialist, had appealed for help on how the firebox crown was shaped. He asked if there might be drawings that he could purchase as he was making a replacement firebox for No. 14291. This is the firebox now in the Advance tandem compound. The first firebox made in the United Kingdom was not suitable. The crown was not strong enough un braced for the steam pressure the boiler was going to need for there to be any benefit from compounding. From British compound engines, I know that compounding below a pressure of one hundred pounds is not much good in the piston sizes used on the average traction engine. It is very watery saturated expanded steam that comes out of the exhaust after passing through from the high pressure to the low-pressure cylinder if steam is admitted from the boiler to the engine at that pressure. The same problem seems to affect No. 14291 when it is running. There is very little pull on the fire when the engine is turning over. This makes for poor combustion in the firebox. A friend and I put a pressure gauge on the valve chest of a Super Sentinel Waggon. (That is the correct spelling.) From 240 pounds on the boiler pressure gauge, the valve chest gauge at best registered only 135 pounds of steam entering the cylinders with a wide open throttle. I think it likely that, when new, the Advance No. 14291 may have been a very weak under powered engine.
The Advance at Elsecar has clear line of pitting and weathering where nose of boiler projected outside of machine shop building in Freeport.
The Advance engine at Elsecar Heritage may have been an experimental bridge between the Advance and Rumely companies' designs. But page 27 of the August 1910 issue of The Thresher men's Review, an American agricultural magazine, shows a full page advertisement of a full back axle rear-geared Advance engine one year before the Rumely takeover. So perhaps the Advance Thresher Company was experimenting with rear gearing on its own without being influenced by the M. Rumely Company. We may never know. We can however be sure that Advance No. 14291 tandem compound engine is a most unusual American traction engine and well worth a visit to Elsecar Heritage at Barnsley to see. Elsecar Heritage is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Recently the Elsecar Railway became operational on the site. This is a standard-gauge line that will eventually take visitors to Corton Wood alongside the former Dearne and Dove Canal arm that linked Elsecar to the main canal network. Elsecar Heritage at Barnsley is sign posted from Junction 36 on the M1 Motorway in South Yorkshire just off the B 6096 Hoyland Common to Womb well Road. Regional Railway North East has a Station at Elsecar on the Leeds to Sheffield via Barnsley route. The station is a brisk walk from the site.