25 HP Russell rolls on

40 years later, it's still got it

HP Russell

Lyman K. Urban with hand on drive wheel. Lyman is the granson of Lyman Knapp. Lyman K. is one of our very fine young engineers in OK. Engine is 25 HP Russell # 17105. 

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The morning of July 3, 1989 the phone rang. My long time steam buddy, Lyman Knapp, was on the line. He said, "Chady, you Case boys should beware that the Mighty Russell was out of the barn and on the prowl."

On July 25, 1949 Lyman put on a plowing demonstration with his 25 HP Russell #17105. There was a write up about the plowing in the spring 1950 Farm Album. This was before the Farm Album became the Iron-Men Album. It was also before the first show in this part of the United States. A large crowd at-tended as local radio and a farm radio show in Wichita, Kansas reported the upcoming plowing demonstration.

Now back to 1989. Lyman wanted to get the Russell out and reenact the 1949 plowing forty years later. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this engine. Lyman got #17105 in 1947, just a week after I got my 65 Case. I paid $200 for the 65 and Lyman paid $125 for the Russell in western Kansas. Lyman recalls it cost him more to get the engine home than he paid for it. The Russell was used only two short seasons for threshing, so needless to say she was like new. #17105 still has the original flues. How many of you fellows own engines with all original flues that are still good?

Before I report on this year's plowing in July 1989 with #17105, I'll give you a little history on this engine in the last 40 years.

In the summer of 1950, Lyman purchased the 10 HP Canton Aultman in Nebraska. We went after the engine with a 1936 Chevrolet truck. On our return trip we stopped to visit Kenny Reynolds in Wichita, Kansas. Kenny old us that he had sold his 65 Case to Herb and Harold Ottaway. Kenny called the Ottaways and they came out to Kenny's machine shop. After visiting and meeting Herb and Harold we went out to their Joyland amusement park to see the 65. It wasn't but a few days and Ottaways came to Lyman's farm. They were interested in starting a show. We held our first show in August 1951 at Joyland amusement park in Wichita, Kansas.

We didn't know much about putting on a show. We had only a few engines at the first show, but it didn't take long for things to get interesting. Ottaways built a Prony brake, the one now used at Pawnee. The first thing we knew, the Joyland 65 and Lyman's 25 Russell were in a battle which lasted several years. The Russell pulled first and made a nice pull. Then Big Mac pulled the 65 hooked up one notch. With Mac's experience he outpulled the Russell. We Case guys were feeling pretty good.

About this time all hell broke loose. Two brothers, Glen and Bernard Garrabrant, walked up to Lyman and said they were Russell men and asked to pull the Russell. I remember well the first time Glen belted the Russell. I guess it had been twenty-five years since he had handled an engine. I can never remember a more professional job. We Case guys still weren't worried. In fact, Roy Kite and I went down to watch a 50 Case on the saw mill. When we got back and heard how much the Russell had pulled we couldn't believe it. From that day on Lyman's 25 Russell was known as the Mighty Russell. The Garrabrants really went at it.

By 1952 the show had made a big growth; about 20 engines arrived. In 1953 more engines arrived. The battle went on. A 75 Case joined the battle. Now it was the Mighty Russell, 65 and 75 Case in the Prony brake battle. I got the job of running the 75 along with a lot of coaching from Big Mac. By this time there were engines of most of the major companies that built steam engines. Yet year after year it was always the Russell and Case making the competition. The rest tried but did not make it interesting.

Glen Garrabrant and I were never close friends, yet I greatly respected Glen and the Mighty Russell. Big Mac was my coach, however, and I also learned things watching Glen. One day Glen and I both had pulled on the brake. Most people including Big Mac would say neither engine could have pulled more. Glen said, 'Chady, I've got a little left in the Russell.' Later that day he pulled again and did have more. Glen even told me how he did it. Nothing crooked, he just knew how to get everything out of the Russell.

Glen and I even battled in the belting contest at Bird City. I beat him by one second. The time keeper started the stop watch when the separator tongue hit the ground and stopped when the feeder started to run. I set in 43 seconds with a 50 Case and Glen in 44 seconds with a 16 Russell. I expect if we had set several times, each would have won about equal number of times.

We had a belting contest at Pawnee last year. Several of our student engineers entered and I was really proud of all of them. Dale Wolff set the 110 Case in, I believe it was, 1 minute, 47 seconds. Paul Martens was the overall winner with the 30-98 Nichols and Shepard. Again we timed from when the engine pulled away from the separator until it was in the belt and the feeder starting to run. Steve Dunn, Floyd Kelley, Jr., Ed Larson, and Steve Vorderlandwehr were all in the battle. "Stever" Vorderlandwehr was the youngest at 16 years of age. He did an outstanding job. With a little practice these young men could be pretty good. I sure would not want to take them on any more.

Last spring, Steve Dunn, Ed Larson, Dale Wolff and I attended a seminar for boiler inspectors at Tom Terning's shop at Valley Center, Kansas. I mentioned at the meeting what a fine engineer the late Glen Garrabrant was. One young fellow really gave me the Hee Haw. This was just one week before the Pawnee Show. I invited this young man to come down to Pawnee and I would give him the throttle and see if he could equal Glen's records. He never showed up. I am afraid that had he gone up against Garrabrant in his prime he would have gotten a good education!

Like I said before, Garrabrant and I were never close. He was on the other side of the fence. However, if you were going to compete against Glen you had better have your engine in shape and know how to run it. Glen and the Mighty Russell #17105 were a great team. All the others tried but it was only the Case engines that made the competition for Glen and the Mighty Russell.

It has been a real pleasure to have been around #17105 for over forty years. This summer Lyman Knapp's grandson, Lyman Urban, and I fired the Russell up for a test run. When I pulled the throttle on this engine it was a great thrill, the same thrill we got over forty years ago when Dad, Lyman, Paul Woodruff and I fired the Russell for the first time. There is no better handling engine than a Russell. Like my friend Ivan Burns says, they are the closest thing to a double he has ever seen. I agree 100 percent. They will make an average engineer look good.

Steam fans from Oklahoma and Kansas arrived at the Knapp Farms on July 23, 1989. Harold Ottaway, Joe Harper and Frank Heyman came in from Kansas, Ivan Burns and Herb Little from down south. Lyman Urban fired the Mighty Russell up. That morning there was a lot of visiting and great fellowship.

Mrs. Knapp and her daughter, Evelyn, fixed a wonderful noon meal. After dinner, the Mighty Russell went out to plow with its old friend Lyman Knapp at the throttle. Then I took her around. Ed Larson, David Bennett, Steve Dunn, and Dale Wolff all took their turns as engineer. The engine handled, steamed, pulled and sounded great. Lyman and I were the only ones who were at the plowing in 1949 and also attended the plowing in 1989. A hamburger fry was held in Knapp's yard that evening to finish a perfect day.

Some of you may wonder just why the Mighty Russell was such a good puller:

No. 1: #17105 is like new and all original, except for the plumbing and soft plug which were changed for safety.

No. 2: The many years #17105 competed on the Prony brake, Glen Garrabrant was the engineer. He knew how to run, fire and pull a Russell.

No. 3: There is no question but what Russell got a lot of mileage out of their double ported balanced valve.

No. 4: Most of you steam men know the 25 HP Russell was 9x13.I have always wondered if the long stroke was not a great help.

At the old Wichita, Kansas show the late George Amett and I ran the Prony brake. When you look back almost forty years you only remember the outstanding pulls. Besides the Mighty Russell, 65 and 75 Cases, the outstanding pulls were made by only two other engines, Ottaway's 110 Case and Jake Yoder's 18 HP under-mounted Avery.

I have always said that if I was picking a 110 Case to compete in a contest with, it would be Ottaway's 110. The number one reason is it's original, Judson governors and D valve. This engine made the greatest pull I have ever seen a 110 make. The late Lloyd Cox was the engineer. Lloyd spent most of his life on a 110. He had the ole gal about right.

A lot of you guys are always going to change something and improve it. You want to change governors, valves, this and that. Seeing the pull Ottaway's 110 made at Wichita and my 65 Case made at the first J.I. Case Expo should pretty well tell you to leave your engine like Case built it.

The Model T Ford Club of America has said, many a time, it is not the Ford that breaks down on a tour but some of the junk people put on it.

Dad told me about seeing an 18 HP undermounted Avery threshing when he would come into Wichita on the train during the Teens and early Twenties. When the Wichita show started, Jake Yoder came with his 18 HP undermount, the engine Dad told me about. Now you talk about an engine that was right and the engineer knew how to run it. That engine and Jake Yoder were both tops. I can never remember a more beautiful pull. Paul Woodruff watched Jake fire the undermount. Paul said that Jake had her right on the pop during the entire pull.

Guess I never told you how the mighty Russell, 65 and 75 Case compared in HP. It would be about like George Wallace said about Nixon and Humphrey in 1968. There was not a nickel's worth of difference in them.

I understand Lyle Hoffmaster's little 16 HP Reeves "Sweetie Pie" is cleaning house on a lot of engines at Mt. Pleasant. I have known this engine for years. It's a dandy. She will take most 20 HP engines and you guys with 25 HP had better look out or she will take you, too!!!