SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

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The Advance steam engine as it looked when James Russell purchased it in September 1997

Steam traction engines have survived long enough now that most
have very interesting histories. Now that this 20 HP Advance steam
traction engine has reached its 100-year anniversary milestone, I
feel compelled to write what I know about its storied life.

TRAVELING OLD MUDDY

Built in 1904, the engine, serial no. 8138, was shipped to
Nauvoo, Ill., although I don’t know the original owner’s
name.

In 1918 Ollie Hays of New Hartford, Mo., bought the engine from
its original owner, and had it transported by barge up the muddy
Mississippi from Nauvoo to Louisiana, Mo., where the engine was
unloaded and driven 25 miles to its new home near New Hartford,
Mo.

At its new northern-Missouri home, Ollie used the 20 HP Advance
to pull a 30-inch Keck-Gonnerman separator in threshing season and
power a sawmill with the engine in the off-season until 1940.

This area of Missouri is rough country with steep, craggy hills
and rocks close to the surface. The brutal terrain, combined with a
working life, may explain the considerable wear found on the
engine’s lugs and skid rings.

After Ollie abandoned it, the engine sat idle and unattended in
a sawmill site until 1980. Partially hidden by a large barn that
still stands today, the sawmill is located off the main road
approximately 100 yards away in a low-lying spot between two hills.
I believe this contributed to the engine surviving the scrap drives
of World War II.

Merril Brown, 98 years old, on James Russell’s 1904 Advance
engine. Starting at the age of 17 and for another 10 years after,
Brown was engineer on a Keck-Gonnerman engine, running saws and
threshers.

OWNERS CHANGE

In 1980, Bob Hart purchased the Advance from the Hays family and
pulled the sleeping giant from its long-time rest in the sawmill.
Bob uncovered the stack, and regrettably, found rust had ruined the
smokebox where the front pedestal attaches. This problem had to be
repaired before Bob could even haul the engine home. Despite the
initial stack problem, the boiler proved to be very sound. After
considerable mechanical work, Bob threshed with it for the first
time at the Montgomery County (Mo.) Old Threshers Show that same
year.

After a time, Bob sold the engine to the Wornble brothers, and
then in turn they sold it to Jess Griffin of Payson, Ill., a little
community near Quincy, Ill.

MY SIDE OF THE STORY

I bought the engine at Jess’ estate sale in September 1997.
With the help of some near and dear friends, we’ve done a great
deal of work on the Advance engine. Some of the major work included
repairing the front axle, refacing the valves and seat, honing the
cylinder and replacing the rings (slightly oversized). I also gave
the Advance new piping, new canopy, new coal box, new pop valve,
rebuilt injectors and gauges. To pull the whole thing together, we
repainted and striped the newly furbished engine as we believe it
looked when brand new. Oh, did I forget to mention we also gave it
new differential bearing studs; repoured the main bearing, valve
guide and connecting rod bearing; remachined steering parts and a
new valve rod?

Of course there’s still more to do on the Advance steam
engine to make it perfect. But as anyone who runs an old steam
engine will tell you, you never really get done with repairs or
maintenance.

I believe engines were built to work, and this engine gets a
good workout at two to four local shows each year, sawing lumber
and threshing grain.

Thanks to everyone who helped me with this project. Without you
all it wouldn’t have been possible. I hesitate to name names
because I know I’d leave someone out. You all know who you are,
and I truly appreciate each and every one of you.

Contact steam enthusiast James Russell at: 125 E. 600
Ave., Oblong, IL 62449.

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