Russell steam traction engine a heavy, slow-rolling thresher
If you like 13,000 pounds of hot iron and steel chugging its way down the road under its own steam power, then the 1906 Russell threshing engine is your commuter vehicle. Few people will get in your way, but it may take you a while to get to work at a walking speed of 2 MPH. This 1906 Russell has flattened the grass a few times at the Pacific Coast Dream Machines Show in Half Moon Bay, Calif.
This show has taken place annually for 17 years at Half Moon Bay Airport, next to Princeton Harbor. The Russell steam engine appears at the show on a regular basis, and last year’s torrential rains forced organizers to cancel the show. The 2006 show would have been the centennial for the Russell. Aside from fascinating tractors and engines, such as this fully restored and running steam engine, the Dream Machines Show features vintage cars, trucks, motorcycles, aircraft and a tractor/truck pulling championship along with airplane and helicopter rides. The airport is near the water’s edge on the Pacific Ocean and was once home to the Half Moon Bay Drag Strip. The airport is still quite busy, accommodating small aircraft.
At the turn of the century, the Russell company was controlled by five members of the Russell family who filled positions from founder to vice president, secretary and two superintendents. Engine no. 12857 is one of a total of 17,156 machines built by Russell & Co. in Massillion, Ohio, between 1842 and 1927.
Specifications for this Russell steam engine are 12 drawbar horsepower and 36 brake horsepower at 275 RPM. The steam engine is a single-cylinder, double-acting with a 7-1/2-by-10-inch bore and stroke. The flywheel alone weighs 450 pounds. When the boiler is filled to operating level it holds 125 gallons, which adds another 935 pounds. Top speed is 2.33 MPH. This steam engine was originally sold through a Russell dealer in Portland, Ore.
The Russell spent its working life as a threshing engine around the Junction City, Ore., area. Willis Smith operated the engine during its working life through the 1920s and 1930s. After it was retired from threshing in the mid-1970s, the Russell began a new career at the annual Scandinavian Days in Junction City operating a flour mill.
Dr. Charles Whitcher of Stanford University (also the owner of a 1920 Buffalo Springfield steamroller) purchased the steam engine in 1988 from Robert Smith, Willis’ son, of Eugene, Ore. The Christoffersen family of Redwood City, Calif., bought the Russell in 1993.
Full restoration of the 1906 Russell steam engine has been a family affair. Owner Glen Christoffersen along with his wife, Margaret, and father, Karl, spent hundreds of hours getting the engine to look and perform as new. A new piston for the crosshead pump was fabricated and a new water tank built. An injector was found by Alan Schurman of Ridgefield, Wash. The correct paint scheme was furnished by Tom Diehl of Navarre, Ohio.
The Christoffersens operated the Russell around the Dream Machines’ show grounds, displaying to thousands of spectators scrutinizing the multitude of machinery, under the auspices of the Early Days Gas Engine and Tractor Assn., so it could be witnessed at the show.
For more information, contact Albert Mroz at 1460 Middle Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025-5850.