Venn-Severin Diesel Recovered

After 60 Years of Pumping Water, this Rare Giant was put to Pasture: Twenty Years Later it's set to Run again
Royce Lambert
May/June 2003
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Jim Murdock, Arroyo Grande, Calif., has taken a liking to large engines. If you live on the West Coast, you may have seen his 1919 25 HP Fairbanks-Morse YH at a local engine show, gently chuffing away as an interested crowd gathers around to watch it in operation. Then there's his 60 HP Western, but it doesn't get seen too much sitting on a pad at his place, which is why Jim is building a trailer to get it mobile and out on the show circuit. His goal is to get it to the Tulare, Calif., show some day, one of the highlights of the show season in this part of the country.

It was, in fact, at the 2002 Tulare show that Jim found out about the engine shown here. A gentleman at the show introduced himself to Jim, asking if Jim if he might be interested in yet another large engine. Talk about throwing fat on the fire. One thing led to another, and one day Jim called Rick Bianchini and me to go with him and have a look at his new find - a two-stroke, 60 HP Venn-Severin diesel made by Venn-Severin Machine Co., Chicago, Ill.

Jim Murdoch cutting the Venn-Severin loose from its mooring after the flywheel was removed. The screen just above his head is the engine's air intake.

60 HP Venn-Severin

Standing about 8 feet tall, the Venn-Severin is a large engine. The photo below shows the engine as we found it, and we're assuming the crankshaft extension running through the bearing housing was set up to support the engine's massive flywheel. The dark rectangular screen is the air intake, and the engine's 8-inch exhaust pipe is clearly visible coming out of the cylinder.

We don't know when the engine was built, but with luck some more research will clarify the matter. We do know that it was bought used and placed into operation pumping irrigation water at the Haddock Ranch north of Tulare, Calif. From 1925 until 1985 the engine served in this capacity faithfully. Unfortunately, the well started giving out at the same time fuel prices were going up, so the old friend was retired in 1985 when a new well with an electrical pump was set up. There she sat for the next 15-plus years, gathering dust and pigeon deposits.

Getting the engine required multiple trips (a three-hour drive each way), and on our first trip we cleared dust and assorted deposits off the engine to take stock in the project. With the engine somewhat clean we turned our attention to removing some of the engine's accessories, including its air compressor (for starting air), water pump (for circulating coolant) and various pipes and valves. We severed the 8-inch exhaust pipe from the engine and removed its home-built muffler (the remnants of a large steam boiler), and then turned our attention to removing the fly wheel.

The 60 HP Venn-Severin, serial number 4590, as found. It's unclear when this engine was made, but this style of Venn-Severin is thought to have been introduced in the early 1920s. Venn-Severin Machine Co., Chicago, III., started engine production around 1908.

The Venn-Severin has two, 1-inch-square brass keys in the flywheel, and they hadn't been moved for quite a spell, if ever. Even so, after a bit of lubrication and sw ... - I mean grunting - they started coming out of their groove. Our home made flywheel puller consisted of a 20-ton hydraulic jack and a section of log chain, and there was a small earthquake when the flywheel finally dropped off the crankshaft. At the time, we estimated the flywheel weight at around 2,000 pounds.

On our second trip we took a jackhammer and removed the concrete mortar from the 1 -inch 'J' bolts holding the engine to its pad. Following that we cut the bolts with an acetylene torch. Next we made brackets for lifting the engine, and we placed these on four of the eight head bolts. Rick took on the task of loosening the head bolts and he pinched his finger pretty well during this part of the operation, but fortunately that was the extent of injuries in the removal process. We were finally getting close to removing the engine, but first we had to remove part of the pump house wall and roof before we could go any farther.

By our third trip all our trailer and crane arrangements were in place. In our first attempt at lifting the engine the crane tipped lightly as it loaded up, but repositioning the crane closer to the engine took care of that problem. The engine was pretty comfortable on its pad, and it took a bit of persuasion with the 20-ton jack to get the engine moving in an upward direction. A third repositioning of the crane and the engine finally lifted up and out of the pump house, and onto a waiting trailer. We loaded the fly wheel onto a separate trailer. At that point we estimated the main engine block to weigh around 4,500 to 5,000 pounds. It didn't take long to get the pump house reassembled, and soon the engine was on its way to its new home in Arroyo Grande.

A few days later a second crane arrived to unload the Venn-Severin in Arroyo Grande. This crane had a scale, and we discovered we had all underestimated how much this old iron really weighs. The flywheel weighs 3,000 pounds and the main engine block tips the scales at 7,500 pounds -and that doesn't include the exhaust system, the air pressure system and the fuel containment system.

Jim has started the restoration, and he's found some amazing mechanical features in the fuel cleaning system, the injector pumps and the oiler system, and he's color-coding these systems so visitors can see the different components and how they work. He's removed the cylinder head to check the cylinder, which is relatively clean and showing minimal cylinder wear. Jim is altering the exhaust system so the exhaust gases and attendant noise will push upward, but you'll probably still need earplugs once this old girl gets to firing. The revised exhaust stack will extend about 5 feet above the engine, and Jim is making it out of aluminum to make it light so it will be easy to install and remove for transport to show sites. At this stage, it is the only lightweight part.

Contact engine enthusiast Royce Lambert at: 703 Mustang Circle, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, (805) 481-9405, or e-mail: glambert@bbhighway.com


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