Thanks to a Barn, a 20 HP 1904 Advance Eludes the Scrap Drives of WW II

James Russell's

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Steam traction engines have survived long enough now that most have very interesting histories. Now that this 20 HP Advance steam traction engine has reached its 100-year anniversary milestone, I feel compelled to write what I know about its storied life.


Built in 1904, the engine, serial no. 8138, was shipped to Nauvoo, Ill., although I don't know the original owner's name.

In 1918 Ollie Hays of New Hartford, Mo., bought the engine from its original owner, and had it transported by barge up the muddy Mississippi from Nauvoo to Louisiana, Mo., where the engine was unloaded and driven 25 miles to its new home near New Hartford, Mo.

At its new northern-Missouri home, Ollie used the 20 HP Advance to pull a 30-inch Keck-Gonnerman separator in threshing season and power a sawmill with the engine in the off-season until 1940.

This area of Missouri is rough country with steep, craggy hills and rocks close to the surface. The brutal terrain, combined with a working life, may explain the considerable wear found on the engine's lugs and skid rings.

After Ollie abandoned it, the engine sat idle and unattended in a sawmill site until 1980. Partially hidden by a large barn that still stands today, the sawmill is located off the main road approximately 100 yards away in a low-lying spot between two hills. I believe this contributed to the engine surviving the scrap drives of World War II.

Merril Brown, 98 years old, on James Russell's 1904 Advance engine. Starting at the age of 17 and for another 10 years after, Brown was engineer on a Keck-Gonnerman engine, running saws and threshers.


In 1980, Bob Hart purchased the Advance from the Hays family and pulled the sleeping giant from its long-time rest in the sawmill. Bob uncovered the stack, and regrettably, found rust had ruined the smokebox where the front pedestal attaches. This problem had to be repaired before Bob could even haul the engine home. Despite the initial stack problem, the boiler proved to be very sound. After considerable mechanical work, Bob threshed with it for the first time at the Montgomery County (Mo.) Old Threshers Show that same year.

After a time, Bob sold the engine to the Wornble brothers, and then in turn they sold it to Jess Griffin of Payson, Ill., a little community near Quincy, Ill.


I bought the engine at Jess' estate sale in September 1997. With the help of some near and dear friends, we've done a great deal of work on the Advance engine. Some of the major work included repairing the front axle, refacing the valves and seat, honing the cylinder and replacing the rings (slightly oversized). I also gave the Advance new piping, new canopy, new coal box, new pop valve, rebuilt injectors and gauges. To pull the whole thing together, we repainted and striped the newly furbished engine as we believe it looked when brand new. Oh, did I forget to mention we also gave it new differential bearing studs; repoured the main bearing, valve guide and connecting rod bearing; remachined steering parts and a new valve rod?

Of course there's still more to do on the Advance steam engine to make it perfect. But as anyone who runs an old steam engine will tell you, you never really get done with repairs or maintenance.

I believe engines were built to work, and this engine gets a good workout at two to four local shows each year, sawing lumber and threshing grain.

Thanks to everyone who helped me with this project. Without you all it wouldn't have been possible. I hesitate to name names because I know I'd leave someone out. You all know who you are, and I truly appreciate each and every one of you.

Contact steam enthusiast James Russell at: 125 E. 600 Ave., Oblong, IL 62449.