1914 Russell Steam Engine

Russell engine

Randy Sawyers with his 20 HP Russell engine, #14897. It will never look this clean again!

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602 Valley View Drive Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503

Here are pictures of our 1914 Russell steam engine, 20 HP, Serial #14897, owned by our family located in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I purchased it from Roy Cole of Plattsmouth, Nebraska in 1968 for $1000.00. My dad, H. W. Sawyers, had a 20 HP Russell just like this one with the serial number only seven numbers later. He passed away when I was only four years old. The last time my engine operated was in 1941 on a sorghum mill. This engine was purchased new from the Clark Implement Company of Council Bluffs so when I purchased the engine it came back to Council Bluffs.

My sons, Tim and Dennis Sawyers, and I started restoring the Russell in September of 1991. We completed the project on August 30, 1992. The first thing we did was cut out all the old flues. This Russell is a Universal boiler with 36 two and a half inch flues. On a Russell Universal boiler there is a five inch flue with a damper on it on the back of the boiler to let air into the upper combustion chamber. This flue had a hole in it, so Tim made a five inch flue roller at work. It took eight hours to make the flue roller and ten minutes to roll the new flue. Tim and Dennis are tool and die makers, so they were good help on this project. We replaced all the plumbing with Schedule 80 pipe and fittings. A two inch elbow cost $45.00, so the plumbing was not cheap to do.

This engine had two side water tanks, a back water tank and a coal bunker. The only parts of the tanks that weren't rusted out were the tops. I had new sides made up at a sheet metal company in Omaha. The sides of the tanks, the sheet metal for the smoke stack, and the red and white valance around the canopy were the only work we did not do ourselves.

After the flues and plumbing were completed, we gave the boiler a 200 PSI cold water test (double our 100 PSI operating pressure). We wanted to feel comfortable working around this engine.

We made up new bottoms for the tanks, and then we started riveting them together. There are over 1100 inch rivets in the tanks and coal bunker. Making the tanks took the most time of anything we did. It took a three man crew to rivet the tanks: one person heating with the torch, one man bucking, and one man with the rivet gun. By working fast we could put in a little over 100 rivets an hour.

Dennis made up a stainless steel valve rod and stainless steel crosshead pump rod where he works. This winter we're going to replace the piston rod with a stainless steel one.

We had to wire brush the boiler, wheels, gears and engine because the engine sat outside for 50 years. There was no paint at all on it. We did not do any sand blasting because of the babbitt bearings. We used eight 4 inch wire cup wheels to clean all the rust off.

All parts of the engine got two coats of paint. Each one of the rear wheels took a gallon of yellow paint. Tim, Dennis, Leo Liekhus, Larry Freeburg and I did the painting.

Jim Freeburg made up the 'R C Company' stencil for the side of the steam cylinder. I made the stencils for the water tanks, and Tim painted all the striping. He also made the new wood for the clutches and the foot brake. Dennis polished up the brass valves, oilers, grease cups and pop off valve. This pop off valve is set at 100 PSI; that is what Iowa will allow a lap seam boiler.

The last big job was making the canopy. Leo Liekhus, Dennis and I made this at Dennis's shop. The canopy is made out of oak lumber with galvanized steel over the top of the oak paneling. We tried to keep everything as original as possible down to counting the ribs in the canopy. We used a magnifying glass to check for authenticity in old Russell catalogs. I checked a 1971 back issue of Iron Men Album for an ad I remembered seeing for the Russell Bull decals on the water tanks. I placed a call to the person whose name was listed in the ad and he was still in business in Ohio. We got the decals for only $3.00 higher than the price that was quoted in 1971.

We took the engine to the Carsten's Farm Days Show in Shelby, Iowa, on September 12 and 13, 1992. At Carsten's farm we threshed oats, ran the fan and the sawmill.

At the parade at Carsten's farm, my wife Monica and daughters-in-law Marilyn and Angie Sawyers christened OUR steam engine 'The Other Woman.' I can't imagine why, unless it was because I and my two sons were tied up almost every night and every weekend for almost a year. That part was bad enough but they really didn't have to sport new T-shirts that said, 'The difference between the men and the boys is the size of their toys.'

I want to thank Doc Murphy from Council Bluffs for the use of his Russell catalogs for reference. We estimated there were 2000 man-hours put in on the restoration. I might add all the work was done outside because we didn't have a building big enough.

Does anyone know where there is a good wooden Russell threshing machine for sale??