The Boss: 18 hp Russell Steam Engine

Russell steam engine was the farmer's workhorse in steam era

| August 1999

The Macoupin County Historical and Agricultural Association's annual Strawberry Festival in Carlinville, Ill., draws a crowd from across the midwest. People travel hundreds of miles to take in what is billed as a craft, antique and historical tour event. But a tractor show held in conjunction with the festival also draws a big crowd. And Randy Ramseier's Russell steam engine was among the crowd-pleasers there. 

Although Massey-Harris was the featured tractor, Randy's Russell stood out with the grandeur that only a steam engine can muster. Randy, who lives at Benld, Ill., said he's been enamored with steam engines ever since the first time his grandfather took him to a steam show as a child.

Two years ago, Randy "bit the bullet" and bought his first steam engine: a 1904 18 hp Russell.

"I thought I'd buy it before the price goes up," he said.

The Russell falls into the orphan tractor category: In Randy Leffingwell's book, The American Farm Tractor, the author describes orphans as "tractors without parents or offspring."

Randy's Russell seems to fit that profile. Brothers Charles, Nahum and Clement started the C.M. Russell Company. Originally carpenters, the Russell brothers made steam traction engines in a full range (6 hp to 150 hp) of sizes. Although successful in the steam engine and threshing industry, the C.M. Russell Company did not do as well when the tractor evolution shifted to gas-powered tractors. Although they did produce some gas and kerosene tractors, in March 1927 the Russell Company of Massillion, Ohio, was sold at auction.