Big Daddy – The Venn – Severin!

By Staff
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Courtesy of Don Gibson, Route 3, Box 800, Antioch, Illinois 60002.
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Courtesy of Don Gibson, Route 3, Box 800, Antioch, Illinois 60002.
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Courtesy of Don Gibson, Route 3, Box 800, Antioch, Illinois 60002.
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Courtesy of Don Gibson, Route 3, Box 800, Antioch, Illinois 60002.

Route 3, Box 800, Antioch, Illinois 60002

I first noticed the engine at Richards Stone Cutters on Illinois
176 near Lake Bluff, Illinois, in November 1969. I stopped in and
met the owner, Harry Richards, whom I had several conversations
with over the next few weeks.

This is the story of how I became the owner of a Venn-Severin
Oil Engine. The nameplate reads 80 hp., 275 R.P.M., S.N. 2799. The
bore is 12′ x 18′ stroke, 2 cylinder, 2 cycle, rotary valve
air intake, chain oiled main bearings, and a Madison-Kipp oiler for
the cylinder. The flywheel is 52 inches in diameter with a 10′
face and a 4 inch thick rim.

A large clutch came with the engine, which had been removed
several years ago. The Venn-Severin and clutch weigh 5? tons
without manifolds, air tank, or cooling system. The Venn-Severin
Engine Company was located in Chicago on Elston Avenue and this
engine was built in 1913. Venn-Severin Engines were blue-green in
color with a lot of gold and red striping. The engine originally
had had an engineer’s deck about crankshaft height with a
ladder on both sides. The earlier models were screen-cooled, the
later ones, tank or service water. All fittings are bronze and the
whole unit was quite a showpiece of the early engine builder’s
skill and care.

The net results of my visits with Harry Richards was, although
he appreciated my desire to own and restore the Venn-Severin, he
couldn’t bring himself to part with the engine after owning it
all these years.

I promised to keep in touch and to invite him to the Antique
Farm Exhibit at the Kenosha County Fair (Wisconsin) in August

About two weeks before the fair opened, I stopped in to invite
him over to see the threshing, gas engines and etc. as our

I was very surprised to learn from his son, Chuck Richards, that
Harry had passed away recently.

I only knew Harry Richards from our conversations about engines,
but I enjoyed talking with him about the old days, of old engines,
of the old ways of quality first and quantity second. He was
especially fond of telling how you could hear the big Venn-Severin
sound off a mile away when it was working hard.

The Venn-Severin as we found it. John Heisma looks on, wondering
how we will load up all that iron. (Note ‘hot bulbs’ on
each head.)

I visited with his son Chuck Richards and we came to an
agreement. I was suddenly the new owner of the big Venn-Severin
…..all 5? tons of it! It was the first engine I had located on my
own, the others were with the help of fellow collectors.

The ‘Big Twin’ just after the tilt bed came down to
level. I was too busy to take pictures during the actual

I had to wait till after the Kenosha County Fair was over, as I
was busy with the Antique Farm Exhibit. Bob Schmidt, the local John
Deere dealer, wouldn’t have his big tilt bed truck available
till then either.

Saturday, August 22, was a fine day, cool and sunny, and we left
for Lake Bluff, Illinois. All of my fellow engine collectors
pitched in to help bring the big Venn-Severin home: Bob Schmidt of
Salem, Wisconsin; John Davidson of Bristol, Wisconsin; Jim Harmon
of Pleas ant Prairie, Wisconsin; John Hiasma of Millburn, Illinois;
my son Bobby, age 11, and yours truly.

George St. John and Dan Bullis were to go also, but were upstate
on vacation at the time.

When our crew arrived and surveyed the situation, we had to move
some stone out of the way first. The next order of business was to
jack up the engine so we could get it on 3 x 12 planks and 6′
rollers. After a slight crab to one side to clear a tree, we used
the trucks winch and tilt bed. In a combination of moves it was in
line with the truck. With the trucks front wheels a foot off the
ground at times, Bob Schmidt used the winch to pull all 5? tons of
engine up the tilt bed while the rest of us shifted rollers and

Within an hour we had the Venn-Severin loaded and were on our
way home to Rock Lake, Wisconsin.

We really knew we had a load on the truck the way the gas gauge
went down!

My neighbors at Rock Lake have suspected for some time that I
was a little ‘different,’ because of my hobby –restoring
antique engines and machinery.

Home at Rock Lake or ‘Will that cable hold coming down the
ramp?’ John Haisma checks the tilt section. Trucks front wheels
came off the ground about this time.

Suspicions were confirmed when we pulled in with the huge
Venn-Severin on the truck, with the cylinder heads twelve feet
above the road.

They just stood and stared in be wildered disbelief.

Rodger Phillips, a fellow collector from Rock Lake, who
couldn’t come with us because of work, came over on his lunch
hour and with his tractor help ed us unload the engine onto

Afterwards, all of us sat down to a good Wisconsin lunch of
bratwurst, sauerkraut, and beer.

I am grateful to all of the fellows who helped out that day. The
Venn-Severin would never have gotten home without their willing

Everyone breathed easier when the engine was this far down the
ramp. A good view of the clutch assembly lying crossways on the

An oil engine is not a true diesel, as the diesel obtains heat
for ignition through high compression and an oil engine does this
by heat from the hot spot in the head.

I would appreciate hearing from any-one who has any knowledge of
operating an oil engine. The finer points concerning the amount of
cooling water required, the amount of preheating, the type of fuel
oil, what grade of oil for the cylinders, and for the bearing

We plan to run a sawmill with the V & S and will drop GEM a
line now and then to let you know how we are coming along. It will
take time but I am sure the results will be worth the effort.

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