Remembering Ralph Hull, Steam Engine Enthusiast

Uncle Ralph

Old blacksmith shop

The old blacksmith shop at Clear Springs first operated by the late George Hull, Ralph's father, as it looked in about 1912.

Content Tools

This letter is written in memory of, my uncle, Ralph Hull, who passed away February 5, 2000. Ralph was well liked, a kind person, and many of you knew him as the first president of Williams Grove Steam Engine Association. The rest of this letter I wrote about five years ago but never sent it in to Iron-Men Album but I feel I need to let you know that I thought a lot of my uncle Ralph.

I was born and raised on a farm in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Our neighbor had a sawmill and he ran it with a Frick steam engine. I was always fascinated when he would come over toward our farm to get water out of the creek that flowed between our farms. It was also very exciting when the thresher would come to our farm to thresh the grain, although at that time when I was about five years old, they used gasoline tractors to run the thresher, about 1940.

My father worked on the Pennsylvania Railroad over at Enola, close to Harrisburg. He worked in the building which they called the 'round house'; it got that name because it was shaped in a circle and they had what was called a turntable. They would pull those large steam locomotives on the large turntable, turn it to an empty bay and drive the locomotive into the round house for repairs. That was what my father did. He was a railroad mechanic and pipe fitter. Later on, when steam engines were replaced by the diesel engines, he worked on them until he retired.

My uncle Ralph Hull was an engineer on the railroad. I can remember when I was about 12 years old Uncle Ralph would take me along on a Sunday afternoon up above Dillsburg to the little village of Brantsville. There were about four main railroad tracks through that little village. Also, there was a water tower where those big steamers would sometimes stop to fill up with water. There, Uncle Ralph and I would sit all afternoon taking pictures. I have boxes of snap shots of those monsters. So I guess you can see why I had steam engines on my brain ever since I was little.

As time went on and after I got married and had a steady job, I thought someday I would like to own an engine of my own. I don't know how many of you ever knew the late Samuel Osborn, who lived back of New Oxford, Pennsylvania, and who had a lot of engines, threshers and antiques. If there was an engine for sale, Sam knew about it. I will never forget one Friday evening I visited with Sam and he told me of a Frick 8V2 x 10 that was for sale. The engine was down at Kinzers, Pennsylvania, at Arthur Young's where they just finished putting another boiler on it. The man that owned the engine lived way up above Harrisburg, his name was Dunkenburger. So, about 10:00 p.m., Sam and I started up toward Harrisburg. When we arrived, Mr. Dunkenburger was in bed, and we got him up and about 2:00 a.m. I bought the Frick, serial number 21397.

After we got it home, the work began, wire brushing, scraping, and finally painting. After about a year of restoring we were ready to fire it up. The late George Hull, my grandfather, and my two uncles, Uncle John and Uncle Ralph, all assisted me because I didn't know much about firing and running an engine. It really ran good, so we decided to take it to Williams Grove Steam Engine Association. The second or third year after I took it to the show a man from New York wanted to buy it. The price was good so I sold it.

As time went on, my wife and I bought a 100-acre farm. My first tractor was a John Deere Model D tractor, about a 1928 or '29, on steel wheels, and then bought an old John Deere B that was about shot. Raising a family, farming more ground, in 1971 we went into raising turkeys using four buildings 300 feet long, and enough floor space for 60,000 birds. A few years later we bought another 100-acre farm and added a steer barn, and a new silo. While all this went on, I still had a full time job at York, Pennsylvania, at Edgcomb Metals. I started there December 14, 1953. Everything went along fairly well for the next 20 years until our daughters started getting married, four of them. All were good workers, we are very appreciative of them all, also of our sons-in law who all had good jobs and didn't want to take the farms over. So Mom and I found ourselves back where we were 25 years ago, which was by ourselves.

Hard to find good labor when we needed it, working too many hours a day, so we thought what should I do, quit my job with Edgcomb with good benefits and 30 years service, or sell the farm? We decided to sell. So in 1991 we sold the farm and large machinery, but the thought of selling out made me think of buying another steam engine. I read all the for sale ads in Engineers.& Engines. Magazine and in Iron Men Album. 

One fall day in 1990 I saw an ad and when I read it, I knew this is the engine I have been looking fora 1916 20 HP Russell for sale in Wellsville, Missouri. Within ten minutes I was on the phone. The man on the other end answered as Larry Poindexter. We talked about the engine. Larry described the engine and sent me some pictures of it. I bought the engine without going to see it.

March of 1991 we made provisions to have it trucked home about 1,100 miles. I have never met Larry in person but he was very honest in the way he described the engine. So after all the frustration of selling the farm, selling machinery and moving, it was back to restoring my second engine.

Well, we finished in 1993, all new flues, all new piping, frame for the platform, new water tank; injectors, all new valves, did work on front flue sheet, new frame where the smoke box bolts on, new smokestack, the engine really came out looking good with a new paint job. 1 was really glad to have Paul Stoltzfoos help put the new flues in and do the work of putting new piping on it. Paul also took a hydrostatic boiler test.

Then came time to try this big fellow out. Uncle John and Uncle Ralph were here when I first fired it up. A few adjustments and we had it running like a clock. We all started talking about how good it would sound running a thresher. So, I bought a Frick 28 x 44 thresher that has a Hart self-feeder and weigher. It is also fixed to open up the back and use a short straw drag instead of blowing the straw. I put my pickup baler back of it and bale the straw at the same time. So we set a date to have our own steam engine show, 3:00 p.m. Saturday was the time and day. I told friends and neighbors. The big day finally came. We started the fire about 1:00 p.m., 2:30 cars started coming, people walking, whistle blowing, and the smell of smoke, it was time to thresh. I pulled the load of wheat sheaves along the machine. Now the fun. My first time to line up to the machine. When I tightened up the belt, a few flops, and the pop of valves going off a few times seemed like the Russell was saying, 'I am ready!' We all took our positions. My two uncles, John and Ralph, fired the engine, I fed the thresher, my neighbor and my two brothers checked on the grain and the baler. We all enjoyed the day.

I want to say, before I close, I enjoy Iron Men Album. I have been getting it for about 30 years, and have read a lot of letters that were sent in. I want to thank everyone I have mentioned in this letter because without their help, there would not have been an engine show. So, for now, everything is in the shed, and if the Lord is willing, maybe we will do it all over again.