A New Chapter in the Life of an Iron Man

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Roy Herr and his 1923 Buffalo-Springfield steamroller, serial
number 11,280, caught on film by Jack Norbeck at the Rough and
Tumble Museum in August 2000. Roy bought the roller in 1956, owning
it for almost 50 years before selling it last October when he
cleared out his collection.

If you’re in the Rough and Tumble Engineers Association
circle, you probably associate steam with Roy Herr, who has been
active in the association since its inception way back in 1950. Roy
turned 92 years young this past June, and he decided the time had
come to hold an auction and find new homes for his steam engine,
road roller and accumulated engines and machinery, equipment that
has been an integral part of Roy’s life. But before this goes
any farther, let me tell you a little about Roy and his life with
steam.

Steaming Beginnings

Like many steam men, Roy’s love of steam grew from childhood
experiences. As a boy, Roy listened with rapt fascination to the
stories his father’s cousin, Jacob H. Brubaker, told about the
early days of threshing. Jacob, a well-respected thresherman, was
featured in a 1930 American Thresherman article, which
noted that, ‘Mr. Brubaker had the reputation of being one of
the best machine men in the Keystone State, for he is able to get
more wear out of his equipment than most men do.’

A thresherman and saw miller for 52 years, Jacob was also a firm
believer in thresherman organizations, and he was one of the
ringleaders of the Pennsylvania Threshermen and Farmers Protective
Association that formed in the early part of the 20th century. This
group collected $3 from each of its 3,500 members, using that money
in its fight in 1915 to reverse a law that kept steamers off
Pennsylvania roads.

Jacob used his steam engines in everything he did, and he was
always quick to point out that any job was worth doing right.
Jacob’s focus on a sense of pride and honesty in one’s work
became a way of life for Roy, and with Jacob’s strong influence
it’s no wonder Roy got hooked on steam-powered equipment at an
early age. He was fascinated by the workings of these giant
engines, amazed by their smoothness and quiet.

Even so, when Roy first started doing custom farm work for a
living he used gasoline-powered equipment, not steam. His custom
farm work involved soil tillage, baling, seed conditioning and
cleaning and treating of seed grain to control seed-born diseases.
This was seasonal work, so to fill the off time he went to work for
the Arthur S. Young Co. of Kinzers, Pa. Art, as he was known, was a
dealer in steam engines and threshing machinery, and it was at
Art’s shop that Roy learned the basics of welding, machining
and steam boiler maintenance. Working for Art was another pivotal
point in Roy’s life.

There were a lot of steam engines at Art’s, most of them
traded in for the more popular gas and diesel tractors that were
fast replacing steam on the farm. Like Jacob, Art had a long
association with steam and threshing, and he was a member of a
committee of Lancaster and Lebanon county threshermen’s
associations. In 1948 they held the first reunion of steam
engineers, threshermen, sawmill operators, farm machinery
operators, old timers, salesmen, manufacturers and others
interested in farm machinery on Young’s property. Roy got
involved with these events, helping with demonstrations and however
else he could.

In 1950 the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association
was organized, and Art nominated Roy to be the secretary treasurer
of the new association. This marked the start of a special
relationship between Roy and Rough and Tumble, a relationship that
that lasts to this day. Although some charter members of the
association are still around, Roy is the only survivor from the
original roster of Rough and Tumble officers.

Roy’s Toys

In 1951 Roy bought a 1914 50 HP Emerson-Brantingham Peerless
steam traction engine from Art, restoring it and putting it on
rubber. Roy kept the Peerless for 18 years, running it at reunions
and also sterilizing soil for local farmers.

In 1956 Roy acquired a 1923 Buffalo-Springfield steamroller.
This 10-ton steamroller was used building and maintaining township
roads in Union Township, Mufflin County, Pa., until 1950, and it
was stored in the township building in Belleville until Roy
purchased it.

Election time, 1960. Roy backing up his 1914 50 HP Peerless,
serial number 17,855, in front of the East Petersburg, Pa., borough
fire hall, making lots of noise to get voters out to the polls in
the 1960 presidential elections (check out the Nixon sticker on the
rear of the engine). The cab is a Roy Herr original. Roy’s
wife, Marion, is facing the camera. Photo by O. Hen Hertzler
Jr.

Two shots of Roy on his creation, aptly named ‘Roy’s
Toy.’ The photo at left shows Roy and his newly made toy at the
1991 Rough and Tumble Spring Steam-Up, before Roy had added all his
‘extras’ to it.

Of all of Roy’s equipment, perhaps his best-known engine was
called ‘Roy’s Toy,’ a creation Roy decided to build
when he was 77 years young. Power came from a 1908 10 HP Stanley
Steamer automobile engine coupled to a small 1922 Orr &
Sembower steam boiler that had once been used in a dry cleaning
shop to furnish steam for clothing presses.

The photo shows ‘Roy’s Toy’ in 1998 behind his shop
in East Petersburg, Pa., as he finally finished it. Roy started
building his ‘toy’ some 15 years ago when he finally
decided to retire at the age of 77.

When Roy first acquired the Stanley engine he took it to
Art’s shop and tested it using compressed air. The engine, Roy
discovered, wasn’t in the best of shape, so he decided to
postpone its restoration until after his retirement.

What became the chassis for ‘Roy’s Toy’ was another
story. Years ago Roy was looking for a two-cylinder Wisconsin
air-cooled engine, which he wanted to power a grain-cleaning rig he
designed, when he was offered the chassis of a pre-production,
prototype New Holland SP166 self-propelled baler. The baler was
equipped with the type of engine Roy wanted, so he removed the
engine and some other parts he wanted and the skeleton of the
chassis was parked on his property – it stayed there for 30
years.

When Roy retired, he decided it was finally time to start
rebuilding and restoring the 1908 Stanley engine and the New
Holland chassis. A lot of components had to be rebuilt, and he had
to fashion and craft numerous other components to get his creation
running. He plumbed the boiler, had it inspected and then joined it
to the engine and chassis. His resulting 2-1/2-ton creation was
nicknamed ‘Roy’s Toy Steam Slowpoke-o-motive.’

In 1991 when ‘Roy’s Toy’ became a steam-powered
tractor everything on it was pretty basic, but Roy’s creative
mind was already busy crafting additions to it. Roy added a Briggs
& Stratton engine for backup power, and by the time he was done
the completed tractor had a hood, fairing, cab, fenders and an
electrical system including a headlight, flashers and an electric
starting system for the auxiliary engine. Anyone who’s had the
good fortune to ride in Roy’s rolling work of art can’t
help but notice the talent that went into creating this
masterpiece.

The Auction

On Oct. 11, 2001, at Roy’s home in East Petersburg, Pa.,
Roy’s prized engines were auctioned off. When the week of the
auction arrived, Roy’s garage was organized and ready for the
sale. He had every part marked and the steamroller and his
‘Toy’ were in place, looking perfect in every way. The
assembled crowd included friends, Rough and Tumble members, steam
enthusiasts and your average lookers. The ‘Toy’ and the
Buffalo Springfield steamroller found good homes, and members of
Rough and Tumble are more than a little happy these engines are
staying in the area. They will still be seen at the reunions, which
is just as it should be.

During Roy’s days in custom farm work he designed and built
the mobile seed cleaning unit shown here. Grain was fed into the
auxiliary auger from a gravity flow bin, and after being sifted,
weighed and treated it was automatically bagged. This photo dates
from 1953.

Roy Herr has given much to others over the years, and his
intelligence and incredible energy have been an inspiration to all
of us at Rough and Tumble. I’m glad I have had the opportunity
to get to know Roy, and my visits with him have become very special
to me. He has a love for life and, especially, a love for
steam.

Arthur Young standing in front of Roy’s newly restored 1914
50 HP Peerless (which Roy bought from Arthur) in November 1951.
Arthur played an important role in Roy’s life, imparting his
love of steam and the steam community to Roy when Roy first started
working at Arthur’s shop in the 1940s.

Steam Enthusiast Roy Herr can be reached at: 6260 Main
St., East Petersburg, PA 17520. Contact Judy Whiteside at: 853
Willow Road., Lancaster, PA 17601.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment