It was during the last stint of Air Force duty before retirement some eight years ago that in my travels I happened to spot an old Russell traction engine alongside the road up in Washington State. I saw that engine every time I happened by that way. And each time brought more nostalgia in pleasant memories. I then became acquainted with the owner, and then following many hobbiests; with the result that, since I had experienced about everything else of interest, maybe it was time to re-live some of the most pleasant moments and find one of these old friends for my own enjoyment.
So I began looking, but, you know they were very scarce! World War II and following had claimed most of them for the scrap drives. But adventure was in the search. I was to find that time yet stood still down in the southeastern section of the United States; for when I had opportunity to search there, people would tell me 'Oh. yes, Mr. So-and-so has one of those old engines over in back of his field.' Whereupon a venture over to that neighbor yielded the information that it had been possibly twenty years ago since he had disposed of the fine old relic to some scrap iron dealer!
But I was not to meet with dire distress! Back at the old hunting ground in Washington State, together with a couple fellow hunters who had managed to find a few such specimens, one of these fine buddies ventured, 'Well, I know where the remains of an old roller is hooked up to a greenhouse for steam heating.' So away we detoured to the community of Bothell, Washington, to Shorty's Greenhouse.
What I found there was the boiler and mounted engine of a 1925 Monarch double, road roller. Shorty was an expert welder, and apparently liked nothing else besides flowers, than cutting up and welding things. He had even made a cradle wherein could be driven an automobile with an ice-cracked block, and the whole vehicle be revolved into such position that its engine block could be electric-welded with no other fanfare whatsoever!
But the once-beautiful Monarch! She had served the city of Seattle some twenty years in rolling asphalt, and after her tour of usefulness put on the auction block for scrap. Shorty had saved her from that ugly fate. But he had removed the wheels (all the principle weight) and gearing and disposed them for scrap for more than he had paid for the entire engine. He then installed an automatic home-style automatic oil burner, together with an automatic water level control for the boiler, and piped her up for heating his greenhouse.
However, it seems that the oil burner was not capable of sustaining the 35 psi desired; so Shorty, believing that more air was necessary in the firebox (with all the grates removed) proceeded to cut a cigar box section in one side of the firebox for more air. And to augment things, he had installed four siphon tubes between the throat-sheet and the crown-sheet. But, thank goodness, the fine little double engine was all intact, and even a nice little four-tone whistle although rollers were very seldom equipped, with whistles.
As my brother-in-law shown alongside, found this dear little relic at Shorty's Greenhouse and welding shop. Even then she had not been used for many years, but had remained under cover. Now she was to undergo three year's spare time in buildup, a most rewarding venture!
Look at the picture of what we found and the way she looked when my good brother-in-law, shown in the photo, and I landed the almost sad remains in my back yard down in California. Just a forlorn piece of rust! But still begging for a respectful home.
Well, for the last three years of my stint with the Air Force and a relief from the very trying task of the most advanced engineering work in electronics, found me putting all my spare time searching for parts and busily restoring this little monster to the likeness of an 1850 railroad locomotive, only adapted to running on street roadways, of course.
The firebox section was restored, and all new flues installed, after which she took a boiler inspection to pass her original operating pressure, 125 psi! One half of a Ford 'Cooke' truck axle with chain drive and dual wheels took care of the rear end. An International tractor differential was altered to steam engine requirements for the drive via chain and new jaw clutch for transmission; while a Ford truck front end found good adaptation. A cow-catcher was fitted; a bell off a Minnesota switch engine was fitted under the smokebox after SP Daylight fashion; a monitor supports four variated whistles; a headlight with 'Mars' oscillating element was constructed; and after much experimenting a 'buttonhead' oil burner was installed.
She still carries her possum-belly water tank, together with 40 gallon diesel fuel oil bunkers.
So now we steam up 'Luellabelle' (NOT Lulubelle as some read it) upon occassion, with her two coaches. This three-piece train usually wins first award honors in the parade, against all comers.
But at this juncture, let us introduce another member of this road locomotive train family. The old master mechanic was not always available to steam up Luellabelle, so it became necessary to construct a steam locomotive likeness in the form of 'Ellie Mae.'
Ellie Mae consists of a Datsun. engine with automatic transmission, mounted into an ancient Dodge chassis, upon which a superstructure was built to resemble a little steam locomotive complete to cow-catcher (of course), tinkle bell, and a very sweetly tuned three chime chromatic whistle, the air blast for which is provided by a smog pump and large reservoir. Oh yes, we have included a headlight, too. And the engine exhaust out through the stack renders quite a sparkling performance when hauling some 31 youngsters down the Christmas parade line.
It must be stated that the running colors of the train, other than the black locomotive barrels, are bright Chinese red and dragon green lively colors especially for the holiday season, but likewise for any parade event. Oh yes the large central coach is conveniently fitted with side entry; the 'caboose' with a rear entry, much like the old white steamers back in 1908.
In closing I entertain much pride in the fact that this entire undertaking was nearly all my one-man venture, with only a 12-ton hydraulic jack, gin-pole, welding outfit, and hand held electric drill to handle all the 8' channels, etc. Luellabelle is very compact not spread all over the country, and can still handle belt-work through an access door on her right-hand side. Otherwise one would never suspect the belt wheel was included! She runs clean and odorless, while being so quiet that she can sneak up onto the heels of a preceding parades man without ever alerting him.
This article is about the engine shown on our cover, known as 'Luellabelle' by her owner, Frank J. Burris, 1102 Box Canyon Road, Fallbrook, California 92028. Burris has had an adventuresome career and at 78 can look back on a South Dakota farm boyhood and work of many kinds. He has worked in railway shops, as well as for J. I. Case Company in Racine, as a top motorcycle mechanic, in development of sound-on-film for the movies, in governmental service in communications, and for the U. S. Air Force in missile systems, all the way into computers. As he says, he has gone from 'hay to space.' The article is part of his autobiography.