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


| May/June 2003



Rick Bianchini

Rick Bianchini puts his back into removing one of the Venn-Severin's head bolts.

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.