Vintage Smoke

Whiskey Cummins

This story is as much about a pair of Cummins engines that protected thousands of gallons of Seagrams whiskey from 1970 to 1991 as it is about a man that bought and repurposed them for farm use.

The big Fairbanks-Morse Model 6927 vertical fire pump is a four-stage centrifugal pump with a 14-inch discharge pipe driven by Johnson Gear HF-20 angle drive unit. It pushes 1500 gallons per minute at 125 psi. The pump extends into a well that is directly connected to the pond via a channel. There are four centrifugal pumps stacked one atop the other down in the well. Like the engine, these pumps met NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards of the day.

On December 28th and 30th,1969, two sequentially numbered and identical Cummins NH-220-IF diesels were hot tested and inspected. On December 30, 1969, and January 5, 1970 respectively, those engines were shipped to the Cummins Dealer in Cincinnati, Ohio, attached to Fairbanks-Morse 6927 fire pumps and sold to the Seagrams Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Seagrams bought them for a new whiskey storage/aging facility in nearby Shandon, Ohio. They were to be used for fire protection of the eight, three-story barrel storage buildings, each to contain about $20 millions (in 1970 money!) worth of whiskey.

John Ittel in 2018 giving us a demonstration of the newer (by only a few days) of the two Whiskey Cummins NH-220-IF engines set up on his farm. When he bought them in 1992, they had a bit under 500 hours… virtually all of them from test runs over about 20 years in emergency standby service. At the time it was shot, this one was showing 2903 hours… still barely broken in after another almost 30 years of service.

In March of 1970, the engines and pumps were installed next to a newly-dug 5 acre pond and connected to fire sensors in each building that would start the engines automatically, feeding underground fire mains, hydrants and a network of sprinklers inside each building. We don’t have to tell you how intense a fire from millions of gallons of whiskey could become. A Versailles, Kentucky, Jim Beam warehouse recently burned, destroying $330 millions worth of whisky. The fire was so hot it melted parts of the fire trucks sent to fight it.


The NH Series Cummins debuted in 1945 and the first major upgrade of the original H-Series that had debuted in 1931. It was naturally aspirated, displaced 743 cubic inches, had four valves per cylinder and was commonly rated for a maximum of 220 horsepower at 2100. Specifically, this is a NH-220-IF, the “NH” describing the engine series, the “220” being the maximum power output, the “I” for an industrial engine and  “F” for a fire rated engine. According to the dyno sheet from when these engines were hot tested, this engine produced 207 hp at 2100 rpm. At that speed and load, the engine was producing 517 lbs-ft and using 11.7 gallons per hour. At the speed needed for the fire pump, 1760 rpm, it was making 560 lbs-ft and 188 horsepower. Heck, at 750 rpm it was making 524 lbs-ft. Talk about a flat torque curve! The Fairbanks-Morse fire pumps needed 155 horsepower at 1750 rpm, so the Cummins had it covered. This engines is cooled via a heat exchanger, much like a marine engine. The water being pumped provides the primary cooling media. The NH-220 series hasted into about 1972, though the basic engine lasted longer in oilfield service fuel by natural gas.

The Seagrams facility in Shandon opened in 1971 and whiskey was stored and aged there into the early 1990s. At that point, the Shandon facility was declared redundant and was closed. The Doug Loos family bought the property, and repurposed much of it for farming and cattle. In a funny twist, Seagrams spent almost as much to tear the buildings down as they got for the property so as to prevent Loos from leasing them to a competition. The engines and pumps were left intact. They were useless to the Loos operation, so in about 1992, Loos sold them to a turf farmer, John Ittel, who intended to use them for irrigating vast fields of turf grass at his Green Prairie Turf farm near College Corner, Ohio.

The NH four valve arrangement showing the bridge between the valve pairs and the camshaft-operated injector in the center between the two sets of paired valves.
In this era, the all-mechanical Cummins PT injection (PT for Pressure-Time) was the Cummins mainstay. It would remain so into the 1990s when electronics started taking over but versions of it are still in production today. It was a mechanical common rail system that dated back to 1941, though it didn’t debut until 1954, and consisted of the high pressure pump shown here and camshaft operated injectors. The injector inlet pressure is controlled at the pump by the governor and the throttle linkage. Timing was controlled by the injectors and the lobe design on the cam. The injectors created the final high pressure atomization. In the original hot test, the rail pressure was 144 psi and the injectors bumped that up to about 12,000 psi out the nozzles.


If you are into historic Jeeps, you may know John Ittel, or at least his name. He collected old trucks and Jeeps, specializing in Jeeps with industrial or agricultural attachments. For many years, he hosted a demonstration of equipment on his turf farm during the annual Willys Jeep Rally at Heuston Wood, Ohio. Covering that event, we ran across the diesels and thought them an interesting story. John Ittel passed away in November of 2020 at age 80, leaving behind a large family and an army of friends. This story is dedicated to his legacy of being one of the good ones. He is missed by a lot of people.


Green Prairie Turf

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