UP FROM THE ASHES – DUST, RUST, ETC.

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David Harms
The picture was taken about five years ago at the Pontiac, Illinois Thresherman's Reunion. The man on the left is my father, Verne Harms of Colfax, Illinois. The man on the right is unknown to me, but I believe he was a visitor who wanted his picture take

57 Pinewood Pk., Chillicothe, Illinois 61523

I. INTRODUCTION The following is a collection
of history and memories concerning the ownership, use and
restoration of Russell engine, serial number 16533. The engine is
rated at 20 drawbar horsepower and 60 belt horsepower. The boiler
is of the Universal type with double butt-strap seam and 36, 2 inch
diameter flues. The boiler is unusual in that a steel arch splits
the firebox. This arch allows a combustion space above the fire for
more efficient use of fuel. One of the features about the engine
which makes it outstanding is the double ported valve which allows
more horsepower on less steam pressure than any engine I have
observed. The excellent steaming ability due to the boiler design
and the lack of any tendency to prime, due to insufficient steam
space in the dome, add to efficient operation. Enough of the sales
pitch; on to the history.

II. OWNERSHIP Some time during 1916, as near as
can be determined, the engine was shipped to Bloomington, Illinois
to be-come the power for a threshing rig owned by a company engaged
in that business. Unfortunately, the name of the company has passed
from memory.

In the early twenties, the engine was purchased from the company
by a farmer named Bob Burns and moved to his farm near Wapella. Mr.
Burns also purchased a 32′ Huber steel separator and used the
engine to power the separator and a corn sheller. (The separator is
now owned by Verne Harms of Colfax, Illinois.)

Mr. Burns sold the engine to Walter Armstrong of Lane, Illinois
in the mid-thirties. Here the engine saw its hardest use, pulling
hedge and providing the power for a saw mill. When the condition of
the boiler was no longer serviceable, Mr. Armstrong parked the
engine in his front yard where it rested until found in the summer
of 1956.

III. RESTORATION For my father and me, Russell
engine number 16533 was the culmination of a two-year search for a
restorable traction engine. I remember many trips to look at
engines everywhere in the state of Illinois. We looked at engines
that were missing too many parts to be restored, engines whose
owners wouldn’t sell even though they would never be fired
again, and engines that were priced too high for their condition.
(And ours) We located this engine the same way we had found so many
others. Someone who knew we were looking for an engine had seen
‘an old steam engine sitting in a barnyard’ and thought we
might be interested. One weekend we traveled to Lane, Illinois to
check on this particular lead.  

As advertised, the engine was sitting in the front yard. Seeing
it from the road it looked like the many other engines we had been
looking at. The engine was rusted all over, the tanks had rotted
through, the wooden cab was rotted and sagging, and the wheels had
sunk into the ground after many years of idleness. Closer
inspection revealed the full toll that time had exacted.

We found that the back head of the boiler was rusted through
near one bottom hand-hole, the right side water tank was missing,
the left side had rusted through three-quarters of the way around
the bottom, and the old cab had become a rotted out chicken roost.
Our first look had shown us an engine which had a good start down
the road to total decay.

However, we decided to contact Charles Ledbetter, a welder in
our town who still held his certification to do boiler repair, to
give his opinion on the possibility of repairing the boiler. Much
to our surprise, he felt that the boiler could be repaired by
cutting out and replacing a 9-inch high section in the bottom of
the back boiler head.

With new found hope, we arrived at a purchase price of $250.00,
a little less than a cent per pound. I will never forget Mr.
Armstrong’s reaction when my father handed him the check. He
looked at the check for a moment, folded it in half, and without
looking up he said, ‘Ya know boys, that’s just what I paid
for that thing 30 years ago and besides it kept about six of us off
the W. P. A.’ Now all we had to do was get our engine home and
get to work.

After a ride on a low boy that left lumber and tin from the
engine cab in its wake, we arrived in our home town. We have nearly
a half acre of land behind our home, so storage was no problem. The
curious neighbors who came to inspect our ‘diamond in the
rough’ expressed two points of view:

1. You’ll never see steam in that old kettle.

2. You’re crazy to buy that rusty piece of junk.

That very afternoon we began the process, which after more than
a year of work would prove them wrong on both counts.

The first order of business was to get our optimistic boiler
maker to work re-pairing the bottom of the back boiler head. He
started by cutting out the old section of boiler and removing the
rivets that had held it in place. Then using the old piece as a
pattern, he and my father hand formed the patch from 3/8′ thick
plate. Welding the patch into place required almost two days
because of the high strength and soundness required in the joint.
After welding, a chipping hammer was run over all seams to caulk
the surface. The hydrostatic test of the joint proved the patch to
be sound, but three boiler flues developed holes ‘ in diameter
almost as soon as pressure was applied. Being eager to use our new
toy, we made hickory plugs from the end of single trees and drove
them into both ends of the offending flues. After successfully
completing the hydrostatic test with the plugs in the flues, it was
decided by the over-anxious engineers to attempt firing the boiler.
Our first steaming of the boiler was short lived. The pressure no
sooner reached 40 PSI than a plug came out of a flue, spectacularly
ending our play.

It was apparent that the boiler would need all of its 36 flues
replaced. Inquiries about the cost of new flues quickly indicated
some price shopping was in order. Many trips and phone calls later,
flues of the proper size from a locomotive were located at a
salvage yard called the A-1 Pipe Company in Chicago. The old flues
were then cut out and the new ones annealled and rolled into place.
Since Illinois boiler codes require all flues in the firebox and at
least half the flue ends in the smoke box to be beaded, we set
about this operation with a borrowed air hammer. We soon found out
how the expression ‘noisy as a boiler factory’ got started
as the air hammer demonstrated its ability to turn a boiler into a
bell.

Now that we had a boiler that would hold water, a set of tanks
that could perform the same feat seemed desirable. The engine
originally carried three water tanks, two side tanks and one
combination coal bunker and water tank on the right rear. The side
tanks were patterned after the remaining left tank. The original
head, step, and hand rail were used on the new left side tank, but
the right side tank was all new construction.

The rear tank is also all new construction with the band around
the top being the only part remaining of the original.

Before firing the boiler, it was necessary to replumb the lines
for the inject-ors. The new system uses one U.S. and one Penberthy
injector. The Penberthy injector is set up to pull water from the
side tanks through pipes or from other sources using a hose. The U.
S. injector is a back-up and can pull water through a hose only. A
steam jet pump is mounted on top of the boiler to be used in
filling the tanks. A duplex pump has been added recently to the
left side of the engine. Originally, the engine also had a
crosshead pump. However, the pump was not on the engine when we
obtained it and we have not been able to locate a replacement.

The engine itself has been operable from the start, but
continued running has shown a few repairs necessary. All the
bearings on the engine have been repoured with babbitt. It was
found necessary to repack the valve rod and piston rod stuffing
boxes due to drying out of the old packing. As stated in the
introduction, the engine carries a load with less steam pressure
than any engine I have seen run.

IV. REFLECTIONS Some people after reading of
what it requires in labor, money, and time for restoration of an
engine, might reasonably ask if the whole thing was worth while.
Stop and listen to the exhaust note of this engine belted to the
big fan with the reverse in the corner, watch the engine work,
stand on the platform and feel the steady rocking, then form your
own answer.

Farm Collector Magazine
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