reprinted from Trains Copyright 1978 Katmbach Publishing Co.
Traditionally, businessmen have sought new and innovative ways to promote and sell their companies' products, often giving rise to ingenious schemes and publicity stunts. These ranged from traveling medicine shows to full-page newspaper advertisements to a free lunch with the purchase of a five-cent beer. One such promotion was staged by Russel & Company of Massillon, O., the leading name in the field of heavy farm machinery in the late 1880's. Russell products were known and used around the world, its trademark being a bull, 'The Boss.'
To better advertise its line of threshers, steam-powered engines, and separators, Russell gathered a large selection of its products for rail shipment to its West Coast markets. Seventeen flat-car loads of farm machinery were shipped together n regular freight trains to Pacific Northwest customers in 1888. Russell & Company received limited coverage in the newspapers along the route of the mass movement of farm equipment, indicating that a better promotional job could have been done.
The following spring, plans were drawn up for a solid train of farm machinery to be shipped to the West Coast from the Massillon plant: 26 flat cars carrying 32 steam traction engines, 46 separators, 24 horse powers (machines operated by horses), and numerous small parts and attachments, a total of $80,000 in merchandise. Each freight car carried a placard reading, 'From Russell & Company, Massillon, Ohio, to Russell & Company, Portland, Oregon.' The result was a billboard on wheels.
Prior to departure, the special train was assembled and displayed to the public in the Russell & Company's yard adjacent to the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago depot. The train was routed over the Wheeling & Lake Erie, Baltimore & Ohio, Wisconsin Central, and Northern Pacific, running straight 'through to Oregon' with no delays. Freight charges amounted to $8000. Accompanying the special train on its 2700-mile journey were B&O's J.S. Fairchild, Wisconsin Central's O.P. Gathlin, Northern Pacific's W. W. Scully, and Russel & Company's E. C. Merwin. A W&LE caboose and passenger car were placed at the rear of the train to provide accommodations for the extra railroad personnel and Russell employees.
The morning of April 8, 1889, found W&LE 4-6-0 No. 33 coupled to the westbound special. The locomotive was one of a trio of Camelback slack burners on the W&LE, a rare engine type west of the Allegheny Mountains. She was ready to dig in with her 17,684 pounds tractive effort. Publicity photos were made of the unusual consist.
After a small celebration, the highball was given and the special left town. The nation's first solid train of machinery bound for the Pacific Northwest, as well as the largest single shipment of steam traction engines up to that time, was on its way.
Public response to the 'Russell train' was gratifying, as advance newspaper publicity brought people to trackside to watch the history-making train. The promotion had succeeded in displaying Russell & Company products to a large amount of people, as well as promoting the good name of the company itself. So successful was the operation that another journey 'through to Oregon' was planned for the following year.
At 7 a.m. on Monday, April 21, 1890, the second annual solid train of Russell farm machinery departed Massillon for Portland. This train consisted of 25 flat cars loaded with $70,000 worth of threshers and portable steam engines. Its routing was arranged so a different part of the country would be exposed to the Russell line of products. (Incidentally, the Russell company previously had built coal cars for the Cleveland, Lorain & Wheeling Railroad, and freight and passenger cars for the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad. One of the company's earlier presidents, CM. Russell, served on the board of directors of the O&P until 1860, and he had invented and patented an iron railroad car the same year.)
A third annual West Coast shipment of Russell farm machinery left Massillon on April 2, 1891, routed via the Wheeling & Lake Erie; Toledo, St. Louis & Kansas City; St. Louis, Keokuk & northwestern; Hannibal & St. Joseph; Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs; and Union Pacific. (Whew!)
It is interesting to note that promotional materials distributed by Russell & Company for the 1891 West Coast shipment depicted a W&LE 4-6-0 Camelback snaking its solid train of farm machinery through the Rocky Mountains! Obviously the company used the 1889 publicity photo as a basis for its later promotions, as this photo shows just such a Camelback locomotive at the head of the first special Russell train on the Ohio leg of the journey. Apparently Russell personnel thought this locomotive to be exemplary of all U.S. steam power. If that were not bad enough, none of the three W&LE Camelbacks even existed at that time, all having been converted into regular cab-at-the-rear locomotives. However, such errors were (and are) pretty much standard for advertising and public relations departments of non railroad corporations.
These annual Russell shipments were carried out for several more years until their novelty had worn off, and most major routes to the Pacific had been used. In the late 1890's such solid Russell trains became scarce, with regular single-car shipments predominating. However, the Russell people were to have one more rolling billboard.
On April 22, 1899, a solid train of 30 flat cars loaded with threshers worth $65,000 left the Russell plant in Massillon. Bound for the Arbuckle, Ryan & Company, a Russell outlet in Toledo, O., the train was the largest such shipment in several years. Operating entirely over the W&LE, the final train was accompanied by James N. Merwin, W&LE's Toledo Division Superintendent; Lyndon Hoover and C.L. Merwin of Russell & Company's office force; and John Ryder and Wendall Fox from Russell's manufacturing section. Although covering only a small fraction of the distance traveled by the West coast trains, the final movement was operated with the same aplomb accorded to earlier shipments, including publicity photos and newspaper stories.
The increasing nationwide popularity of International Harvester internal combustion farm equipment was to have an effect on Russell & Company products in the early decades of the twentieth century not unlike the effect of Electro-Motive's machines on the railroads' steam locomotives a half-century later. Even though the Russell company has long been gone, today many varieties of farm machinery ride solid or near-solid trains of flat cars in the tradition initiated many years ago on those trains that ran 'through to Oregon.'