For many years I’ve planned to spend some time at the Massillon Museum and the Massillon Public Library to try to do a story on The Russell & Company.
Well, I’ve procrastinated long enough that I don’t have to do that now, as Tom Downing has recently published A History of The Russell & Company of Massillon, Ohio.
Most readers know Tom from his regular columns from Farm and Dairy’s column Letting Off Some Steam, in which he explores the history and intricacies of steam traction engines in particular, and steam power in general.
Tom and a partner or two have owned a Russell engine for 20 some years and they have repaired it and display it at some of the shows in western Pennsylvania.
Tom says he began research for the Russell book in 1993, which I can believe — it takes a huge amount of time to research a company that has been out of business for 75 or 80 years.
One of Tom’s invaluable finds was a memoir written between 1902 and 1905 by Joseph K. Russell, the last survivor of the seven brothers who were involved in the firm over the years. The memoir gives a lot of insight into the inner workings of the Russell family and the firm.
The book explores the family and its background, and the probable reasons for why it located in Massillon. In addition, Russell products are covered, including the well-known threshers and portable and steam traction engines, as well as lesser known products, such as gas tractors, horse powers, water wagons, saw mills, railroad cars, road rollers, stationary and marine engines and even iron bridges and steam and gas-powered shovels.
After the first printing, Tom became aware of a couple of errors or omissions in the original text and each new copy of the book now contains a two-page addendum to iron out these discrepancies.
All in all, I found the book to be a complete and accurate account of this once proud old firm that helped to put Massillon, Ohio, on the map. Copies of the book sell for $20 and can be purchased by contacting Tom Downing at 460 Wurtemburg Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117-6572, or 724-752-1845 or email@example.com.
I found a couple of references to The Russell & Company in my collection of old American Threshermen magazines. An ad in the July 1927 issue tells of the Russell Service Co., successor to The Russell & Company.
It reads: “We have incorporated a new company to take care of customers using Russell machinery of every description.” The new firm bought ” … all patterns, drawings and jigs, making it possible to furnish everything needed to maintain Russell machinery … of all kinds indefinitely. We have a limited number of Russell threshers and engines, new, second-hand and rebuilt, which we are offering at greatly reduced prices, lower than ever before.”
The ad goes on to list The Russell Service Company of Massillon, as well as companies of the same name in Peoria, Ill., St. Joseph, Mo., Wichita, Kan., Council Bluffs, Iowa and Sioux Falls, S.D., along with The Russell & Company of Minneapolis and Feenaughty Machinery Co., of Portland, Ore., as sources for repairs.
Then, in the next month’s issue a news release reads: “The Russell Service Company will be a permanent business at Massillon, Ohio, to furnish service and repair parts for the complete line of threshing machinery made by The Russell & Company. The new firm is owned by H.L. Snyder and I.A. Yost, both of whom have known and worked for the Russell line for many years.”
The Russell Service Co. seems to have soldiered on, probably until World War II. The firm is listed in a 1939 Farm Implement News Buyer’s Guide that I have, but is missing from the 1945 edition.
On a lighter note: in the October, 1929 issue of American Threshermen is the following brief item with the title “Whiskey Traded for Thresher.” The story reads: “E.C. Merwin in 1878 became connected with the old Russell & Co., Massillon, O., and has in his keeping a number of books and papers of the company that reveal customs which seem strange today.
“Recently W.R. Byers of Tarrs, Pa., who is a member of a family which operated Russell machines for three generations, told Mr. Merwin that at one time his grandfather drove from his Tarrs home to Massillon with a wagonload of whiskey and traded it for a Russell thresher.”
Tarrs is southeast of Pittsburgh between Connellsville and Greensburg and that would have been a long drive with a wagon and team.
(Send suggestions, comments or questions to Sam Moore in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460-0038; or via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.)