Venn-Severin Diesel Recovered
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Contact engine enthusiast Royce Lambert at: 703 Mustang
Circle, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, (805) 481-9405, or e-mail:
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