Exploring the lineage of an old Russell steam engine

Exploring the lineage of an old Russell steam engine

Benjamin Westerman, left, is the current owner of the Russell engine No. 17025 that once belonged to Bishop Jacob Mast of Mt. Hope. Westerman inherited the engine from his uncle Dennis Meister, right, in 2012.


Steam engines have always been near and dear to the hearts of many area farmers, especially the old-timers who can remember the days of their youth when steam engines were the queens providing power for area farmers.

As a youngster growing up back in the early 1900s, Jacob Mast, who would later become a bishop in Mt. Hope, was a farm boy through and through. Mast, who has passed away, was a thresher for many years, working a huge expanse of land that took him and his fellow workers more than 100 days to thresh.

The crew worked for pennies, literally, threshing wheat for three cents and oats for two cents per bushel. On average they were paid $1 per day for their labor, a fair wage at the time.

The family recently uncovered an old printed story from the hobbyist magazine, Iron Men Album from decades ago. In the article Mast described his days out in the field. A typical day saw them rise at 4 a.m. when they would clean the engine flues, build a fire, eat breakfast and head out to the fields to thresh by 7 a.m.

They would work hard until the noon meal, which he said usually consisted of eggs, chicken, potatoes, ham, noodles, pie, homemade bread and cookies before heading back to the field where they would toil until sundown.

Mast worked the fields for many years for others before finally marrying in 1910 when he and his new bride moved to Mt. Hope to tend a 135-acre farm of their own. His threshing days were now behind him, so he thought.

The family farmed until 1948 when they sold the farm with the highest price paid for one of the Holstein cows at just $357.50, a pittance in today’s world. The farm also included a peach orchard with 1,300 trees.

However, as the family let their son-in-law take over the farm duties, Mast never did shake his joy for the old steam engines, and it would be in 1954 when he would finally get the itch to purchase his own engine when he was 70 years old.

That engine would be a Russell No. 17025. The engine was in fine shape, keenly painted and with all new flues. It was more than powerful enough to operate the 28-by-48-foot threshing machine on the farm. Armed with two whistles and plenty of steam power, it was a beautiful piece of work, and Mast built a shed for the beast and had the machine until selling it not long after.

He sold the steam engine to Roy Calame of Burton City, Ohio in 1955, but thanks to the engine’s well-kept registry, it has been tracked through the years, having also been owned by its first owner, Alvin Tasnacht of Massillon.

It eventually found its way to Mast while also making stops with a man by the last name of Stutzman in Middlefield, Ohio. Morgan Hill of Linesville, Pennsylvania; Jacob Beilec of Atlantic, Pennsylvania; William Humphrey of Mt. Pleasant, Ohio; and Dennis Meister from Indiana all owned the engine at one time or another.

The engine, which was built in 1921 in Massillon, was rated at 16 horsepower on the draw bar and 48 horsepower on the belt, so it could do plenty of work. To this day the engine continues to produce and has been run at shows in Indiana by its current owner Benjamin Westerman, who inherited the engine in 2012 from Meister, his uncle.

Abe Mast, one of the board members of Doughty Valley Stream Days, can remember seeing the old 16-horsepower Russell steam engine owned by his dad’s uncle, Bishop Jacob Mast.

“Jacob lived in Mt. Hope right next to Memory Park,” Abe Mast said. “He was an old-time thresher who did a whole lot of it in his lifetime.”

With Jacob Mast’s family currently working on a book of family history, Abe Mast decided he would follow the path of the old Russell engine and do some background work on its history to add to the book.

“People around here continue to have a big interest in steam and the history of some of these old engines,” Abe Mast said. “It is really neat and very interesting to see the history of this old Russell engine.”

Fortunately Abe Mast was able to connect the dots and follow the paper trail to its current owner in Milroy, Indiana. He said his goal is to attend an upcoming steam show this summer in Indiana, where he hopes to connect with Westerman to personally check out the giant antique steam engine firsthand.

“We talked on the phone for quite a while, and he was really fun to talk to,” Abe Mast said. “He invited us out and said any time we want to see it he will be more than happy to show us around. I can remember it when Jacob owned it, but I don’t ever remember sitting in it. I am looking forward to when I get that chance, hopefully this summer.”

With steam being such a time-honored pastime for many people throughout the region to follow and read up on, the life and journey of this giant of a steam engine is one that many share as they have stood the test of time, first as the workhorses of the field and today as shining examples of what at one time was America’s first choice in power.

As has been the case for decades, the annual Doughty Valley Steam Days will take place just north of Charm in late July, where dozens of tractors and steam engines will come in from all over the area, Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania for a three-day event packed with activities, threshing, saw milling, tractor and steam engine pulling games, the always-popular tug-of-war between man and machine, the evening sparks show and more with most of the action powered by steam.

As Abe Mast and his fellow board members continue to say, there is merit in remembering the past and keeping rural farm heritage alive. Doughty Valley Steam Days preserves what future generations might take for granted and keeps alive these parts of American history.

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