2301 West Lynn, #204 Seattle, Washington 98199
'Yes, I do know where there is one.' he said in answer to my question. 'It's back over in that direction'. He pointed toward the rear of his place, toward the east, and toward the lone butte that rises above the Palouse Country northeast of Colton, Washington. Those who have sought steam tractors in Eastern Washington are drawn to Colton; it is the home of the vast, if not restored, Busch collection. I was, of course, one who has made at least a yearly pilgrimage there, beginning during my first year at Washington State University. I discovered the Busch collection that year and, I must admit, I spent hours looking at those engines and dreaming hours I should have spent studying.
In my wanderings I had located several other engines that were not part of the Busch collection. One was a 22 HP Minneapolis belonging to the Druffle family. I tried many times to buy it, but the limited finances of a college student were inadequate. Eventually, I accepted the fact that I would not own that engine, at least until after college. I did return for another purchase attempt the year following my graduation from college. To my dismay, the engine had been moved from the cow pasture to the farmer's barn lot. I was told it had been sold.
As a consolation I did purchase a 2 HP Galloway gas engine, but somehow the thrill was not equivalent to buying a steamer. My companion, Lance Starkey, and I inquired if he, Mr. Druffle, knew of any other old machinery or engines that might be bought. We were directed to a second farm that he worked, where we found a quaint water tank wagon with a Case water pump. Although we did not buy the tank wagon and pump that day, I returned the following summer to get it. In the conversation concluding that purchase I again asked about other machinery or steam engines. Bingo! I had the lead.
The directions took me over the hills to the east, over roads that led back to the farmstead where I'd just loaded the water tank wagon, and then on around the butte. At the end of the road stood another farmhouse. Up on a slight hill to the east of the road was this farm's junk yard. In its center I saw the unmistakable form of a Russell steamer. Naturally, I beat a path to ask permission to look at it. Permission received, I headed for the engine, accompanied by the owner's teenage son.
Closeup I could see it was a good sized engine. Standing in the open on a knoll, it looked big; I guessed 20 HP. It looked complete for an unrestored engine, nothing serious missing. I did notice, however, that this engine's gearing had been used pretty hard. The clutch pinion teeth were, somewhat mushroomed over, indicating hard use and, quite likely, inadequate lubrication. I looked further and discovered that seven of the eight torque bosses that transmit the engine's power from the bull gears to the rear wheel rims were broken not an easy condition to repair.
But hope springs eternal in the mind of a steam enthusiast. No repair is impossible. The remainder of the engine looked pretty good. My step-father's family had owned a 20 HP Russell, so I thought I should own this engine if possible. My inquiry that day was turned down, as were several made later. For seven years I held that engine in the back of my mind, hoping that some day I could buy it and again have a 20 HP Russell in the family.
Last November I decided to try once more. And lo! My mail offer was accepted. Now I wondered, why? Was the engine in worse condition than I remembered and was that the reason it was now for sale? I dug out all the pictures I had of the engine and pored over them. No, it was as I remembered it. If it just hadn't been damaged since. I took consolation in one condition of the sale: that I must move the engine by the end of the following summer.
My first recent visit to the engine was in April. Upon arrival, I introduced myself at the house and explained that I was there to prepare the engine to be moved. The young son who had shown me the engine on my first trip was quite surprised that his father had sold the engine; his mother confirmed that he had indeed. The spring had been wetter than usual, so the area around the engine was too soft to permit access with a low-bed truck. Because I had only a short vacation available, I had to forego hauling at that time. I merely lubricated everything as best I could, determined to let her rusted and stuck parts soak until my next vacation in August.
August finally arrived, and after some difficulty, I arranged a truck to haul the Russell. I visited the engine again and this time relubricated her. Having seen what can happen when an engine with frozen traction gear is moved, I was careful to check that all gears, wheels, and shafts of the gearing were free and lubricated. I certainly didn't need more damage to the gearing than had already occurred. When I finally finished that day, the only frozen part on her was the reverse shifter, and that would have no effect on moving her. I carefully cut a wood block to proper length to place between the cross-head and the cylinder, and then adjusted the clutch so it could be used as a brake when the crosshead was blocked.
Finally the big day arrived. I was at the trucker's yard at 6:30 and we immediately began gathering chain, blocks and other equipment we'd need for the haul. By 7:00 we were on the road.
Because I was paying by the mile, the route I chose was the shortest rather than the easiest, and before we arrived, I almost regretted my routing. Rain was threatening and the bare clay road was slippery from a light rain the night before. With relief we turned sharply onto a better graveled road, dragging the trailer through the roadside ditch as we made the turn. This gravel road was solid, at least, but had turns so sharp and hills so steep I wondered several times if we could get back out again with the engine aboard.
We arrived at the farm and were greeted by the owner; I had never met him, only his family, so I introduced myself. I was pleased that he had been able to take off this time from work because I was not too sure how we would pull the Russell down from the hill to a place where we could load it. I knew his assistance would help.
As it turned out, he had an old, but quite usable, TD-40 International crawler, so after we decided there was really no way to pull the engine down with the truck-tractor, he got some prime gas, shoved the crawler off the slope where she'd sat for the last three months, and away she went. Shortly I was chasing him off toward the Russell. I got him hooked up and away we went down the hill; I was glad I'd lubricated the engine well because on that crawler he didn't seem to realize how slow a man on a steam tractor expects to move. Let me say, that is undoubtedly the fastest I have ever moved on a steamer!
Meanwhile, the trucker had uncoupled his truck tractor from the lowbed. This was a custom built Ray trailer with a folding gooseneck. When uncoupled from the truck, the front of the trailer lowers to the ground and then the gooseneck folds to the ground to form a loading ramp. Almost no blocking is needed and the chance (Oh, horrors!) of dropping an engine is almost completely eliminated. Shortly, we had the engine up on the trailer, the gooseneck back up in normal position, and the truck connected. Following a bit of tying down, we stopped for a few pictures, and just as the rain burst loose, we headed out of the farmyard.
The trip to Spokane was uneventful; we turned the usual number of heads on the highway and answered a few questions when we stopped for a quick lunch. We even managed to find a shorter route home with better roads. In Spokane we unloaded the engine at Clarence Harsch's museum on East Trent Avenue where it will remain for the next year.
But the title of the article promises two engines. So here is the story of the second, a story a bit intermingled with the first. About the same time that I found that 22 HP Minnie that got away, I met Mac Hatley of Pullman, Washington. He was the owner of a 22 HP Advance Straw Burner that he'd rescued from a sawmill on Moscow Mountain. When I hinted that I'd like to buy it, he always firmly let me know that it wasn't for sale. But he never seemed to mind talking about the old days in the Palouse Wheat Country and he never seemed to mind having me look at the engine. So, during my college years, I made numerous trips to his farm. I enjoyed his stories and seeing the pictures he has of his family's threshing rigs at work.
His brother Ray of Moscow, Idaho had two steam tractors, and several times he'd hinted that he might consider selling one. That one was, of course, the worst of the two and was the one which made me conscious of what damage can be done by pulling a frozen engine with a big Cat. The countershaft on this engine, being stuck in the cannon bearing, had broken the cannon bearing loose from its mountsa messy situation.
But as I said before, hope springs eternal; no repair is impossible, just expensive and time consuming. So last winter, I sent Ray a note in care of his brother Mac, offering to buy the damaged 15 HP Case. Mac replied to me that the engine now belonged to another brother since Ray's death and that it was not for sale. Mac hinted, though, that his 22 HP Advance might be for sale. We finally settled on a price, still all by mail.
In April I visited Mac, paid for the engine, and then spent until dark lubricating her. Time ran out before the job was really complete, and the constant drizzle made the work miserable. I returned to Spokane having spent a full day, first on the Russell and then on the Advance. Likewise, in August after my preparation visit to the Russell, I went to continue my preparation of the Advance. Now a problem reared its head. The clutch pinion and the clutch spider sleeve were stuck tight to the crankshaft. The engine, although not stuck tight, acted as if there were a mouse nest in the crank-end of the cylinder and so it was almost impossible to turn the engine over a full turn. With the clutch frozen as it was, this meant the tractor would be almost impossible to move. I tapped and I oiled and I tapped some more, but nothing happened. The metal rang with a solid sound that hinted it might never come loose. I then tapped and oiled some more. Then I tried blocking the crosshead and turning the flywheel with a chain and come-along. Nothing seemed to help. At dark I left for home, defeated, hoping that when we got there with the truck, somehow we'd rassle the engine onto the trailer.
The morning after our successful return to Spokane hauling the 20 HP Russell, we headed for the Palouse once more, but this time the distance was to be some thirty miles less. When we arrived at Mr. Hatley's, the trucker moved his trailer as close as possible to the Advance. I'd explained the frozen clutch problem to him during the trip. Because there was no large Cat available at this farm, we planned to pull the steamer slightly downhill onto the trailer, using the truck tractor as prime mover.
All set, we hooked the truck to the engine, and gave a pull. The truck spun on the dew-soaked grass, but the engine didn't offer to move. I'd moved the engine a bit before by wrapping a long cable around the flywheel and driving away with the end, so the engine no longer sat in the holes she'd sunk into over the years. But she wouldn't move from there. We rigged double and pulled again; nothing. My heart began to sink as I thought of paying for another trip down later with the truck. The truck just spun again on the wet grass each time. He tried one last time, and because the line was not taut, gave a bit of a jerk. Somehow that jerk did what all my patient tapping, oiling, and prying couldn't. The clutch pinion came free of the shaft. The engine rolled free and after several re-riggings, rolled right up onto the trailer.
Shortly the time had come for goodbyes. We stopped in front of Mr. Hatley's house for a few pictures, and after checking our tie-down chains, we headed the white Kenworth up the road again. We ate lunch in the same restaurant and I think turned some of the same heads as the day before. In Spokane we unloaded in the same spot at the Harsch Museum. The following day both engines were pulled to the place . where they will sit in Mr. Harsch's front yard for the next year.
I feel fortunate to have had the help of such an understanding trucker, a friend who will let me store two engines in his front yard, to have met Mr. Hatley, and to have had that old TD-40 to load the Russell. Not all my iron-hunting expeditions work out so well, but I hope yours do.
Chuck Lyons has a degree in mechanical engineering and fell in love with a 15 HP Case at a county fair when he was ten. He now owns seven traction engines, several stationary steam engines, a small donkey engine and a collection of steam and hand pumps.