The Russell Steamer on view at the Heidrick Ag History Center today was the result of years of painstaking restoration. Fred Heidrick acquired it in the 1960s, and he and Joe Heidrick took the faded hulk and turned it into a gem. Their efforts combined careful research, fine craftsmanship, and a penchant for detail to create a fully operational, restored steam traction engine.
The steamer was mostly intact when purchased. A photo taken around the time of the 1967 state fair shows Fred at the controls. A photo of Celeste Burnham, State Fair Model, cheerfully perched atop the steamer, also gives a good sense of its condition prior to restoration.
Several important parts were missing, however, including a shade canopy and water and fuel bins on either side of the rear platform. The steamer also lacked the Russell trademark with its characteristic snorting bull. Documents in the Heidrick archives reveal the meticulous care that was lavished on restoration projects. A letter dated July 28, 1970 to Mr. Neil McClure of Colchester, Illinois, requests photos to identify “…the spacing of the rivets on the fuel storage bins and water tanks, the [tank] measurements and other pertinent details…” A hand-drawn diagram (shown below) details the replacement tanks that were to be fabricated.
Similar attention was given to replicating the original paint colors: black for the body; red for the flywheel, nose, and parts of the engine; yellow for the wheels, and silver for the smokestack. The desired location of each color was carefully drawn on a diagram of the steamer before it was painted. Gold and silver trim were added for a decorative flair. The finishing touch was the handpainted Russell trademark on the water tanks (the subject of Blog 3).
The steamer was restored to operational condition, but has not been fired up for many years. Help us bring this remarkable piece of machinery back to life by making a donation for reconditioning. Visit our website at https://www.aghistory.org/support-us/donate/ and select the Russell Steamer option in the drop-down menu.