SPARK PLUS OF THE MONTH

Locomobile steam auto

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana

Joe Fahnestock

Content Tools

Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'

SPARK PLUG Fred Wise of Gates Mills, Ohio - Last year he got tired of hand-cranking the generator to furnish spark to run his toy town trolley so this year he decided to relegate his fine model of an Aultman-Taylor steam traction engine to generate electricity. The toy is a 1906 version of an old ting train listed for $3.50 in Carlisle-Fintch catalog which Fred still has. The generator is one that Fred built using close tolerance of armature and correctly wound copper wire to generate the required 5 to 6 volts at three-quarter amp.

Our eminent Spark Plug of the Month, devoted as he is to the generation of electric current the better to run his engines, is oftentimes by necessity a many faceted genus of the human species.

Disciple of old-time generators and dynamos from which he resurrects the 'spark of life' to run his gadgets and contraptions - the Rube Goldbergian brain-children he hatches in his backyard workshop incubator - ye Spark Plug is capable of emerging with multifarious and diverse forms of twentieth century anachronisms the likes of which may be both entertaining and confusing.

Though usually ensconced with the more narrow confines of spark-coils, electrode gaps, hit-and-miss governors and/or carburetor fuel mixtures, the ever-searching soul of the 'Plug of the Month' oft times wanders over into foreign fields to give vent to his particular wrath of invention and idea.

Take steam, for example - horrid thought for the gas-bug Spark Plug ever to venture far a field into once he has sworn the loyalty oath to internal combustion as the supreme power. But when we attend a steam threshermen's reunion, we have to take note of what s set before us.

Take Fred Wise for instance, of Gates Mills (east of Cleveland), Ohio - one of the very few 'boys' of his day who didn't immediately bang up his Christmas toys and today keeps right on playing with them just as they looked beneath the yuletide tree on Christmas morn.

Last year, at the big 1967 National Threshermen's Reunion at Wauseon, Ohio, Spark Plug Fred Wise had fetched along his old boyhood version of a four-wheel town trolley, vintage 1906 Electric Railway No. 42 - advertised at only $3.35 in the original Carlisle-Fintch toy catalog which he has preserved over the years.

Fred had also fetched along a hand-cranked generator of his own making, the like of which, by means of hand-power, he entertained the crowds by running his old-time town trolley around the track. Sometimes, in a spirit of unusual generosity, he even allowed the kids to crank the little 'tin toonerville' 'round the oval track. Sometimes too, the kids got out of hand, cranking a bit too hard, or reaching out to mar The original paint (and I do mean original in every detail) of the old-time toy cars. Then is was that Spark Plug Fred Wise would have to rise up straight out of his comfortable chair and chase the little 'critters' away.

'You know, running the trains is mere routine - it's chasing and bawling out the kids that makes it interesting,' is the way Spark Plug Fred Wise puts it at the reunion shows.

And to lend import to his unusual display, Fred had trailered along his rare two-cylinder steam Locomobile, vintage of 1899 - the only one of his 'family cars' he says which is allowed to be sheltered in his workshop garage - the seat of which often furnished him comfortable balcony privileges to observe the passing midway parade whenever business became a little slack.

But last year Spark Plug Fred Wise got a little fatigued cranking his toy town trolley in endless circuits around the oval track. So this year our Spark Plug had to once again venture into the aura of steam power to run the generator that sent another boyhood toy spinning 'round the circular tracks at N. T. A.

'I had built this beautiful one-eighth size model of an 1896 Aultman-Taylor traction engine back in 1942, and decided this year to belt it up to run one of my generators to furnish power to run my train - an old electric mining train also listed in the 1906 Carlisle and Fintch toy catalog,' explains Fred. 'I was twelve years old back in 1908 when I got this little train outfit which sold then for $3.50. It operates on 5 to 6 volts at three-quarters of an amp.'

'The original paint finish is all preserved just like I bought it, even the tracks,' says Wise.

SPARK PLUG Fred Wise of Gates Mills, Ohio, brought along two-cylinder Locomobile steam auto, vintage of 1899 - to give him the luxury of balcony seat at watching the passing show when business was slack. It's the only car that's allowed to shelter in the family workshop garage, while the sleek modern jitney weather the storms outside.

'The generators I run these trains with, I build the field magnetos in my garage shop, copying old 1880 vintage Edison Dynamos,' points out Spark Plug Fred Wise!

So interested did Spark Plug Wise become in old-time power generator (design that he wrote up a set of instructions with price list, amounting to a dozen pages, which he advertised and sold a lot of in order to acquaint other model builders to make their own model electric generators.

'Many wrote in and ordered these instructions,' continues Fred. 'They thought it was cheaper to buy only the instructions without some of my own parts, but became discouraged with how complicated it became to make one. Sometimes, too, they had difficulty in getting copper wire - just the right kind -from dealers.'

'There is very close tolerance required on the armature to get any kind of output,' is the way Wise explains much of the difficulty in going it all alone.

Just as I was hastily jotting down notes on Spark Plug Wise, a quite lively argument ensued betwixt our generator-fabricating genius and one gentleman who began taunting him about paint finishes on model dynamos.

It seems that earlier that day, Harry De Armand, retired inventor of the world-famous DeArmand contact musical microphones and devotee to the model-making profession, had invaded the grounds with his buggy boot loaded with old toy generators he had re-finished with a shiny and polished coat of new black enamel.

'Have you seen Harry's beautifully finished generators?' jibed the stranger.

'Yes, of course I've seen Harry's generators - I've even bought one myself,' said Spark Plug Wise. 'But you know what? - The first thing when I get home that I'll do is to remove Harry's shiny black enamel, and re-do mine in the original dull black it came in. I keep all my generators and even toys in as original a finish as it is possible to duplicate. My toy trains have the same coat of paint that they had when purchased years ago,' (How's that for a stickler to the original?)

Getting back to the main source of our Spark Plug's power - the one-eighth size Aultman-Taylor steam traction engine, vintage of '96- a sin we must all forgive our Spark Plug for admiring (at least this one time).

'This traction engine model fulfilled a boyhood ambition of one day being able to build an operating steam boiler,' sums up Spark Plug Wise. 'It has all the blobs and gadgets built to one-and-a-half inch to the foot. The greatest mystery of a steam engine is its boiler construction and operation. I'm proud of it because it was written up in a national model maker's magazine years ago as being one of the most beautiful models ever constructed.'

Now we know why such dignitaries and giants of the model-making midway at National Threshermen's Association - as Spark Plug Sam Schnur, James Ma- loney (Ol' Needle-Eye, himself, and that that strange admixture of both gas and steam, the unmatchable Carlton Weisel all have been casting envying glances at Spark Plug Fred Wise as they saunter by his unusual exhibit - should their eyes momentarily focus on the little Aultman Taylor steam model.

'At first I thought I had to fire this engine on only charcoal soaked in kerosene,' muses Fred, interspersing his usual exhibitor's patter. 'But I've discovered it runs well on any kind of coal from pea to walnut-size.'

To Spark Plug Fred Wise our eternal thanks for preserving the old boyhood toys and fabricating the old Aultman-Taylor steam engine model - a rare stroke of genius that has knit the bond of friendship 'twixt Spark Plug and Iron Man - that the boys of this generation America may see what they've missed.

Keep the steam up, and the sparks flying so the tiny trains keep rolling - that boys both old and young may delight in the strange admixture of the twain.