Visitor with Engine

The picture was taken about five years ago at the Pontiac, Illinois Thresherman's Reunion. The man on the left is my father, Verne Harms of Colfax, Illinois. The man on the right is unknown to me, but I believe he was a visitor who wanted his picture take

David Harms

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57 Pinewood Pk., Chillicothe, Illinois 61523

I. INTRODUCTION The following is a collection of history and memories concerning the ownership, use and restoration of Russell engine, serial number 16533. The engine is rated at 20 drawbar horsepower and 60 belt horsepower. The boiler is of the Universal type with double butt-strap seam and 36, 2 inch diameter flues. The boiler is unusual in that a steel arch splits the firebox. This arch allows a combustion space above the fire for more efficient use of fuel. One of the features about the engine which makes it outstanding is the double ported valve which allows more horsepower on less steam pressure than any engine I have observed. The excellent steaming ability due to the boiler design and the lack of any tendency to prime, due to insufficient steam space in the dome, add to efficient operation. Enough of the sales pitch; on to the history.

II. OWNERSHIP Some time during 1916, as near as can be determined, the engine was shipped to Bloomington, Illinois to be-come the power for a threshing rig owned by a company engaged in that business. Unfortunately, the name of the company has passed from memory.

In the early twenties, the engine was purchased from the company by a farmer named Bob Burns and moved to his farm near Wapella. Mr. Burns also purchased a 32' Huber steel separator and used the engine to power the separator and a corn sheller. (The separator is now owned by Verne Harms of Colfax, Illinois.)

Mr. Burns sold the engine to Walter Armstrong of Lane, Illinois in the mid-thirties. Here the engine saw its hardest use, pulling hedge and providing the power for a saw mill. When the condition of the boiler was no longer serviceable, Mr. Armstrong parked the engine in his front yard where it rested until found in the summer of 1956.

III. RESTORATION For my father and me, Russell engine number 16533 was the culmination of a two-year search for a restorable traction engine. I remember many trips to look at engines everywhere in the state of Illinois. We looked at engines that were missing too many parts to be restored, engines whose owners wouldn't sell even though they would never be fired again, and engines that were priced too high for their condition. (And ours) We located this engine the same way we had found so many others. Someone who knew we were looking for an engine had seen 'an old steam engine sitting in a barnyard' and thought we might be interested. One weekend we traveled to Lane, Illinois to check on this particular lead.  

As advertised, the engine was sitting in the front yard. Seeing it from the road it looked like the many other engines we had been looking at. The engine was rusted all over, the tanks had rotted through, the wooden cab was rotted and sagging, and the wheels had sunk into the ground after many years of idleness. Closer inspection revealed the full toll that time had exacted.

We found that the back head of the boiler was rusted through near one bottom hand-hole, the right side water tank was missing, the left side had rusted through three-quarters of the way around the bottom, and the old cab had become a rotted out chicken roost. Our first look had shown us an engine which had a good start down the road to total decay.

However, we decided to contact Charles Ledbetter, a welder in our town who still held his certification to do boiler repair, to give his opinion on the possibility of repairing the boiler. Much to our surprise, he felt that the boiler could be repaired by cutting out and replacing a 9-inch high section in the bottom of the back boiler head.

With new found hope, we arrived at a purchase price of $250.00, a little less than a cent per pound. I will never forget Mr. Armstrong's reaction when my father handed him the check. He looked at the check for a moment, folded it in half, and without looking up he said, 'Ya know boys, that's just what I paid for that thing 30 years ago and besides it kept about six of us off the W. P. A.' Now all we had to do was get our engine home and get to work.

After a ride on a low boy that left lumber and tin from the engine cab in its wake, we arrived in our home town. We have nearly a half acre of land behind our home, so storage was no problem. The curious neighbors who came to inspect our 'diamond in the rough' expressed two points of view:

1. You'll never see steam in that old kettle.

2. You're crazy to buy that rusty piece of junk.

That very afternoon we began the process, which after more than a year of work would prove them wrong on both counts.

The first order of business was to get our optimistic boiler maker to work re-pairing the bottom of the back boiler head. He started by cutting out the old section of boiler and removing the rivets that had held it in place. Then using the old piece as a pattern, he and my father hand formed the patch from 3/8' thick plate. Welding the patch into place required almost two days because of the high strength and soundness required in the joint. After welding, a chipping hammer was run over all seams to caulk the surface. The hydrostatic test of the joint proved the patch to be sound, but three boiler flues developed holes ' in diameter almost as soon as pressure was applied. Being eager to use our new toy, we made hickory plugs from the end of single trees and drove them into both ends of the offending flues. After successfully completing the hydrostatic test with the plugs in the flues, it was decided by the over-anxious engineers to attempt firing the boiler. Our first steaming of the boiler was short lived. The pressure no sooner reached 40 PSI than a plug came out of a flue, spectacularly ending our play.

It was apparent that the boiler would need all of its 36 flues replaced. Inquiries about the cost of new flues quickly indicated some price shopping was in order. Many trips and phone calls later, flues of the proper size from a locomotive were located at a salvage yard called the A-1 Pipe Company in Chicago. The old flues were then cut out and the new ones annealled and rolled into place. Since Illinois boiler codes require all flues in the firebox and at least half the flue ends in the smoke box to be beaded, we set about this operation with a borrowed air hammer. We soon found out how the expression 'noisy as a boiler factory' got started as the air hammer demonstrated its ability to turn a boiler into a bell.

Now that we had a boiler that would hold water, a set of tanks that could perform the same feat seemed desirable. The engine originally carried three water tanks, two side tanks and one combination coal bunker and water tank on the right rear. The side tanks were patterned after the remaining left tank. The original head, step, and hand rail were used on the new left side tank, but the right side tank was all new construction.

The rear tank is also all new construction with the band around the top being the only part remaining of the original.

Before firing the boiler, it was necessary to replumb the lines for the inject-ors. The new system uses one U.S. and one Penberthy injector. The Penberthy injector is set up to pull water from the side tanks through pipes or from other sources using a hose. The U. S. injector is a back-up and can pull water through a hose only. A steam jet pump is mounted on top of the boiler to be used in filling the tanks. A duplex pump has been added recently to the left side of the engine. Originally, the engine also had a crosshead pump. However, the pump was not on the engine when we obtained it and we have not been able to locate a replacement.

The engine itself has been operable from the start, but continued running has shown a few repairs necessary. All the bearings on the engine have been repoured with babbitt. It was found necessary to repack the valve rod and piston rod stuffing boxes due to drying out of the old packing. As stated in the introduction, the engine carries a load with less steam pressure than any engine I have seen run.

IV. REFLECTIONS Some people after reading of what it requires in labor, money, and time for restoration of an engine, might reasonably ask if the whole thing was worth while. Stop and listen to the exhaust note of this engine belted to the big fan with the reverse in the corner, watch the engine work, stand on the platform and feel the steady rocking, then form your own answer.