1914 Russell Steam Engine

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Randy Sawyers with his 20 HP Russell engine, #14897. It will never look this clean again!
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Randy cutting out old flues.
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Dennis Sawyers at start of restoration.
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July 22, 1992 first firing! I couldn't wait until the engine was finished.
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Tim Sawyers working on striping.
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Underside of canopy loaded on trailer.

602 Valley View Drive Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503

Here are pictures of our 1914 Russell steam engine, 20 HP,
Serial #14897, owned by our family located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
I purchased it from Roy Cole of Plattsmouth, Nebraska in 1968 for
$1000.00. My dad, H. W. Sawyers, had a 20 HP Russell just like this
one with the serial number only seven numbers later. He passed away
when I was only four years old. The last time my engine operated
was in 1941 on a sorghum mill. This engine was purchased new from
the Clark Implement Company of Council Bluffs so when I purchased
the engine it came back to Council Bluffs.

My sons, Tim and Dennis Sawyers, and I started restoring the
Russell in September of 1991. We completed the project on August
30, 1992. The first thing we did was cut out all the old flues.
This Russell is a Universal boiler with 36 two and a half inch
flues. On a Russell Universal boiler there is a five inch flue with
a damper on it on the back of the boiler to let air into the upper
combustion chamber. This flue had a hole in it, so Tim made a five
inch flue roller at work. It took eight hours to make the flue
roller and ten minutes to roll the new flue. Tim and Dennis are
tool and die makers, so they were good help on this project. We
replaced all the plumbing with Schedule 80 pipe and fittings. A two
inch elbow cost $45.00, so the plumbing was not cheap to do.

This engine had two side water tanks, a back water tank and a
coal bunker. The only parts of the tanks that weren’t rusted
out were the tops. I had new sides made up at a sheet metal company
in Omaha. The sides of the tanks, the sheet metal for the smoke
stack, and the red and white valance around the canopy were the
only work we did not do ourselves.

After the flues and plumbing were completed, we gave the boiler
a 200 PSI cold water test (double our 100 PSI operating pressure).
We wanted to feel comfortable working around this engine.

We made up new bottoms for the tanks, and then we started
riveting them together. There are over 1100 inch rivets in the
tanks and coal bunker. Making the tanks took the most time of
anything we did. It took a three man crew to rivet the tanks: one
person heating with the torch, one man bucking, and one man with
the rivet gun. By working fast we could put in a little over 100
rivets an hour.

Dennis made up a stainless steel valve rod and stainless steel
crosshead pump rod where he works. This winter we’re going to
replace the piston rod with a stainless steel one.

We had to wire brush the boiler, wheels, gears and engine
because the engine sat outside for 50 years. There was no paint at
all on it. We did not do any sand blasting because of the babbitt
bearings. We used eight 4 inch wire cup wheels to clean all the
rust off.

All parts of the engine got two coats of paint. Each one of the
rear wheels took a gallon of yellow paint. Tim, Dennis, Leo
Liekhus, Larry Freeburg and I did the painting.

Jim Freeburg made up the ‘R C Company’ stencil for the
side of the steam cylinder. I made the stencils for the water
tanks, and Tim painted all the striping. He also made the new wood
for the clutches and the foot brake. Dennis polished up the brass
valves, oilers, grease cups and pop off valve. This pop off valve
is set at 100 PSI; that is what Iowa will allow a lap seam

The last big job was making the canopy. Leo Liekhus, Dennis and
I made this at Dennis’s shop. The canopy is made out of oak
lumber with galvanized steel over the top of the oak paneling. We
tried to keep everything as original as possible down to counting
the ribs in the canopy. We used a magnifying glass to check for
authenticity in old Russell catalogs. I checked a 1971 back issue
of Iron Men Album for an ad I remembered seeing for the Russell
Bull decals on the water tanks. I placed a call to the person whose
name was listed in the ad and he was still in business in Ohio. We
got the decals for only $3.00 higher than the price that was quoted
in 1971.

We took the engine to the Carsten’s Farm Days Show in
Shelby, Iowa, on September 12 and 13, 1992. At Carsten’s farm
we threshed oats, ran the fan and the sawmill.

At the parade at Carsten’s farm, my wife Monica and
daughters-in-law Marilyn and Angie Sawyers christened OUR steam
engine ‘The Other Woman.’ I can’t imagine why, unless
it was because I and my two sons were tied up almost every night
and every weekend for almost a year. That part was bad enough but
they really didn’t have to sport new T-shirts that said,
‘The difference between the men and the boys is the size of
their toys.’

I want to thank Doc Murphy from Council Bluffs for the use of
his Russell catalogs for reference. We estimated there were 2000
man-hours put in on the restoration. I might add all the work was
done outside because we didn’t have a building big enough.

Does anyone know where there is a good wooden Russell threshing
machine for sale??

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