Where Old Cummins Diesels Go to Live Again

The Cummins Historical Restoration Center

Those who appreciate diesel history are always happy to see the cornerstones of diesel manufacturing maintaining corporate investments in it. Cummins is one of those foundational companies that got diesel power where it is today, and it might interest you to know they maintain a Historical Restoration Center (HRC) near their headquarters in Columbus, Indiana, where they store, restore and operate old Cummins engines. It’s not open to the public, but if you see a vintage Cummins engine at a Cummins facility or event, it probably came from there. Cummins gave us an inside look at the HRC and we got to see some restorations in progress.

An overview of nearly 100 years of Cummins history in one room. And this isn’t the entirety of the collection! Numerous artifacts are rotated around the various Cummins facilities worldwide. You will be seeing individual stories on some of these vehicles and engines in upcoming installments of Vintage Smoke.

You may already know that Cummins does maintain a museum at their headquarters and it’s open to the public. Normally. When we visited in the spring of 2018 it was undergoing a major renovation that won’t be complete until 2019. That turned out to be a good thing, because many exhibits from the museum were being stored at the HRC, giving us “one-stop-shopping” experience. And what an experience it was!

The guy in charge of the HRC is David Goggin. He’s the Cummins marketing communications director, and since 2015 he’s enthusiastically overseen both the HRC and the Cummins Archive. Part of his job is educating new hires on the history of Cummins and we got to see him do his stuff running a large group of new employees through a “Cummins History 101” course. Most of the restoration work at the HRC is done by volunteers that include current and retired Cummins employees from various levels in the company. Their efforts are supported with a modest budget from Cummins.

The collection recently acquired this 1952 NVHIS-1486, a monster-sized, 1,486 cubic inch V12. The NVH-Series V12s were introduced in 1949, replacing the even more monstrous VL-12 (4,618 cubic inches!), and were discontinued in ’74. Here, retired service engineer Art Clark and engineers Ben Schulte (black shirt) and Mike Quarles check out the internal condition using a borescope. The engine powered a backup generator in a large Rhode Island building that was torn down. It had been left outside for a number of years, so the inspection is the first step in getting this old dinosaur running again. The base model of this 5,500-pound behemoth was rated for 400 maximum horsepower at 2,100 rpm. This supercharged version makes over 600 horsepower at the same rpm using two Cummins Twin Disc injection pumps.


Clessie Cummins began his corporate journey with one-cylinder engines like these starting in 1919. With banker William Irwin backing him up, Cummins acquired a license to build the Hvid engine, a 4-stroke oil engine invented in 1902 by Jan Brons of the Netherlands. The U.S. patent was owned by Robert Hvid (pronounced “Veed”), a transplanted Dutchman, so his name was on the U.S. patent. It partially meets the criteria to be called a “diesel” due to a 16:1 compression ratio, but it doesn’t have a high-pressure injection system. Rather, a metered amount of fuel essentially dribbles into a pre-combustion chamber on the intake stroke, is vaporized by heat and finally ignited on the compression stroke. This is a 1920 Cummins/Hvid with a 5-inch bore and a 6-inch stroke, making 6 horsepower at 550-600 rpm. Approximately 100 to 125 like it were made. The Cummins Hvid engines were also built in smaller 1.5- and 3-horsepower versions. Many were sold by Sears under the Thermoil name.

The founding father of the HRC is a guy named Jeff Jones, who was a sales and marketing VP. He had a sense of the history languishing in various storage areas at Cummins, largely unseen by most in the company. He recognized the danger that short-sightedness and a casual “let’s clean this place up” order often leads to a company forever losing its history. He found like-minded people in the company to carry out a master plan to see it preserved, documented, restored and displayed. It began in earnest in 2012, when Jones tapped engineer Bruce Watson to help carry out the plan. With Goggin and Steve Sanders, Watson located a building in which to store it and got it moved in 2012. The collection moved again to a larger 10,000 square foot building in 2015. Watson retired that year but still works at the HRC and is currently leading the restoration of the legendary 1934 Cummins racecars.

In the foreground is a Cummins vertical Hvid engine developed for marine use, this one built in 1921. It has a 5-inch bore and a 6-inch stroke for 147 cubic inches. Weighing nearly 1,000 pounds, it cranks out a whopping 8 horsepower at 600 rpm. A two-cylinder version was also built. Only two vertical Hvid engines are known to survive and Cummins has both. In the background is an experimental two-stroke engine Cummins founder Clessie Cummins worked on in 1924. Behind that is a horizontal Hvid engine.
This 1942 HBIS-600 is a supercharged version of the legendary Model H four-stroke engine. It makes 672 cubic inches from a 4.875 x 6-inch bore and stroke. It cranked out 200 horsepower at 1,800 rpm and 625 lb-ft at 1,400 rpm via a Cummins Single Disk pump. The “I” in the letter designation indicates an industrial engine, but there were automotive and marine versions as well. In the background is the front half of a 1955 International Harvester R190 truck mounting a 1939 HB-6 engine. This is one of the earliest H-Series engines known to exist and the earliest production H-Series engine Cummins has in the collection. Recovery of this engine and truck from a South Dakota farm is a story unto itself. It’s currently being evaluated to see if it can be brought back to life after 40 years sitting in a field.

The historical artifacts are used by Cummins marketing in displays at shows, dealer events or new-product introductions. The HRC is also used as a training venue for new hires and for catered events for Cummins personnel and dealers. The HRC volunteers often find themselves doubling as teachers, and education both inside and outside the company is another key focus. In addition, the HRC supports car and truck clubs, charities and local history organizations.

The Cummins Historical Restoration Center is proof that the history of a company, especially one as rich and industry-pivotal as Cummins, is a useful corporate tool that not only benefits the company but the public as well.

This massive 672 cubic inch H-6 engine was built September 15, 1932. How it ended up being chosen to repower the #5 racecar in 1934-35 is unknown, but it was modified by Cummins to produce about 300 horsepower at 2,100 rpm and 750 lb-ft at 1,300-1,400 rpm, with an estimated 6-8 psi boost. The engine has not been torn down recently to see exactly what was done internally but it does have non-stock aluminum heads. It used a crankshaft-driven Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger and you can see the hand-made exhaust manifold. The engine is in running condition.
The H-6, with the Deusenberg transmission attached, being installed into the #5 1934 racecar chassis by Ben Schulte (left) and Bruce Watson. The #5 car was the original 1934 two-stroke Indy car. With that engine the car finished 12th, which remains the best placing for a diesel at Indy. Oddly, while the engine finished the race, it pretty much melted down in the process and Clessie Cummins never again gave two-strokes much attention. Sometime after May of 1934 the car went into the shop to get a Model H six-cylinder installed, which entailed stretching the chassis. After conversion, the car went to Daytona Beach for land speed runs and reached 137.195 mph on March 2, 1935, beating the Waukesha-Lanova diesel in the Waukesha Silver Comet by about 4 miles per hour. This was the last year for speed trials at Daytona. The 1934 #5 and #6 Indy cars, the 1950 #61 Indy car and the 1931 #8 Indy cars were all donated to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
With the 1,200-pound engine in the chassis, Ben Schulte begins the installation of the Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger. A roots-type blower, it’s driven directly off the crankshaft snout. Schwitzer-Cummins had no known connections to Cummins Engine Company. Later it became Schwitzer Corp and also produced turbochargers. It became a part of BorgWarner in 1999.
This 1937 Stutz firetruck was the first diesel-powered firetruck in America and was built with a 125-hp, 500 lb-ft, 672 cubic inch Cummins HB-6. Built by New Stutz Fire Apparatus in 1937, it was used as a demonstrator before being sold to the Columbus, Indiana, fire department. It was used into the 1970s and CFD still owns it, though Cummins restored and maintains it. Heavy duty engine project engineer Tim Monahan (gray hoodie) is ramrodding a brake system overhaul with David Elkins helping out. Tim Diehn is working on the #6 racecar, as is Greg Haines in the near foreground.
On the day we visited the HRC, there were 11 volunteers working at various projects around the shop. Standing around the #5 racecar are (bottom row left to right) Dan Walters, Art Clark, David Goggin; (top left to right) Bruce Watson, Tim Diehn, Greg Haines, Randy Watts, Tim Monahan, David Elkins, Randy Quarles and Ben Schulte. Other volunteers not pictured are Steve Wilson, Dale Andrew, Keith Baylor and Donna Virnig.

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The 1952 Cummins Special #28 car was the most sophisticated Indy 500 diesel racer Cummins built—and the last. The chassis was built by Curtis-Kraft and features four-wheel disc brakes with dual calipers up front, independent front suspension (rare on Indy Cars at the time) and two shocks per wheel, one controllable by the driver. It’s reputed to be the first Indy Car to be wind-tunnel tested. The 401 cubic inch race diesel was an evolution of the standard J-Series engine of the day. It was mounted on its side and offset in the chassis to offer the best balance for a left-hand oval track like Indy. It produced 430 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and had the honor of being the first turbocharged car to race at Indy. When qualifying, it set a qualifying speed record of 138 mph, beating the next closest car by 4 mph and winning the pole position. It also set a one lap record just over 139 mph. The car was hanging with the leaders for about 100 miles of the race but mysteriously began losing power and eventually retired. It was discovered the low-mounted air intake had sucked in tire debris, which had damaged the turbocharger. Indy 500 officials changed the rules so that #28 could never race at Indy again. Cummins still owns this history-making racecar.


If you wonder how seriously Cummins takes these restorations, you see here a 1924 Model F single-cylinder diesel. It’s one of four single-cylinder Model F Cummins diesels to remain out of about 74 that were built. Needless to say, parts are in the unobtainium category, so Greg Haines, a design engineer, extended his tendrils into various parts of the company to get a CAD drawing made so parts could be reproduced.


The #6 racecar is nearing completion of a long refurbishment at the HRC. This car was built in 1934 mounting a supercharged H-4 (a.k.a. HA-4). The #5 (Chassis 1) and #6 (Chassis 2) cars were built at the same time, with #5 having a two-stroke engine and #6 a four-stroke, both displacing 364 cubic inches from a 4.875 x 4.875 bore and stroke. These were special short-stroke versions of the new Model H blocks and featured a lot of aluminum parts. The chassis were built by Deusenberg. Both cars raced in the 1934 Indy 500 but this car DNF’ed after 81 laps and 270 miles due to a failed transmission. Both the two-stroke and four-stroke engines were rated at 135 hp with 6-8 psi boost.
This is the last N-14 built in the USA. The N-14 had a legacy that went back to 1931 and the first Model H engines. This “Red Top” N-14 is signed by hundreds, if not thousands, of Cummins employees at Columbus, Indiana, Plant 1. Built in November of 2002, it makes 435 horsepower and cranked out 1,450 lb-ft at 1,200 rpm. The N-14 was handed off to a plant in India and the engine is still in production today for overseas markets. Think about it… that’s a production lineage that goes back 87 years!
A fair number of experimental engines have ended up at the HRC, including this variation on the B-Series engine from 1992, the BLX5.5. It was part of a proposed four engine lineup for the mid-sized engine lines. The smallest in the group was also intended to be a light truck engine. It had the same 4.02-inch bore of the 5.9L but with a shorter 4.4-inch stroke. It was rated at 200 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 450 lb-ft at 1,600. It used four valves per cylinder and had a Cummins variation on the unit injector concept, HPI (High Pressure Injection). This development was a direct ancestor of the 24-valve ISB engines that debuted in 1998.5 Dodge trucks. This is a display mockup and not a functional engine.


The Cummins/Dodge collaboration fired up the light truck diesel revolution and this truck is where it started. When it was decided to pursue the concept of using the B-Series engines to power the Dodge truck line, Cummins purchased two trucks from a local Dodge dealer. This 1985 D350 4×2 Royal SE became Development Truck 001 and a similar 4×4 was 002. The gas V8s were removed and the trucks repowered with 5.9s. Later, more Dodge trucks were acquired and used for further development. Cummins still has three. After tests, the survivors were used as parts runners or for technician training. In 2012, 001 underwent a frame-off cosmetic restoration but the powertrain was untouched internally.


Development Truck 002 is the 4×4 contemporary to 001 and has a similar history. It’s a W350 built in May of 1985 and at the same Royal SE trim level. Like the other Development Trucks, it was used as a factory hack until retired. The HRC currently uses this truck as a parts runner. Though cosmetically challenged, it’s showing only a bit under 80,000 miles and runs great.


Development Truck 006 is also at HRC. This is an ’89 model 4×4 that was a test bed for the second-generation, P-pump, 12-valve engines that debuted in the 1994 models. It came to Cummins from Dodge as a then-current diesel truck to work over and test. It’s wearing a later front wrap, probably added to make it look like a later truck in photographs.


Clessie Cummins was known for converting every car he drove to diesel power. One of them is this 1936 Cadillac Fleetwood. It’s powered by a Cummins A-6, which was the first of a compact line of diesels. It made 377 cubic inches from a 4×5 inch bore and stroke and weighed “only” about a thousand pounds. It had a maximum rating of 100 horsepower at 2,400 rpm (85 at 2,200 continuous) and 275 lb-ft at 1,200. A companion four-cylinder A-4 was also built and made 57 horsepower at 2,200 and 180 lb-ft at 1,200. The A-Series evolved into the J-Series and was another long-lasting design used by Cummins.




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