The Odd-Ball Light Plant

By Staff

1408 N. Van Buren, Ottumwa, Iowa 52501.

Some time ago my wife and I wanted to find a place to spend some
time away from the hustle and bustle of city life. In visiting with
Charles Wendel, he stated he had a cabin on a river in northeast
Iowa that he would sell. With his book store in Amana and the
writing for some ‘gas engine magazine’ he did not have any
time to enjoy that solitude.

I drove up to look at it and found a small one room cabin with a
path in the back. At the end of the path was the customary two
holer. Off to one side of the path was another small building that
contained an odd-ball generator. The engine was a John Deere with a
side shaft and an ignitor. Everything looked to be in good order,
but I could not get the engine started. I took the engine off the
base and brought it home to my shop where I could work on it.

After much cranking I decided to make some changes. The first
thing I did was remove the spark plug. I screwed a four inch piece
of inch pipe with a cap on one end into the spark plug hole. Then
with a piece of pipe and some elbows, I routed the exhaust to blow
on the capped pipe making a hot tube ignition. After more cranking
with no results I installed a priming cup. I used gasoline, alcohol
and kerosene, but it would not start.

On a trip back up to the cabin I found a bottle of Jack Daniels
with a small amount of that amber liquid. I decided to try a little
of Jack Daniels in the priming cup. The engine fired on the first
try. The black smoke came out, then it spit and sputtered and ran
backwards. I tried this two more times with the same results.

One hot afternoon my wife came out to the shop with a cold can
of Coke. After a cool drink, I wondered what would happen if I put
some Coke in the priming cup. The first time, the engine turned
over it took off and ran fine. In order to feed the Coke I screwed
a drip oiler into the priming cup which made the engine run. This
was the first Hot Tube Cold Coke John Deere!

I took the engine back to the cabin expecting to have my
generator working. Upon a closer look I found the generator was
115V 3 PH, 25 Cycle DC. This posed a problem because the cabin had
fluorescent lights and I knew they would not work on the 25 cycle
current. My electrical knowledge came into play and I connected the
three legs of the three phase together getting 75 cycles to make
these lights work fine.

The generator was supposed to run 1383 r.p.m., requiring
different pulleys for the engine and the generator. I figured a
three to one ratio would be about right, so I bought a four inch
pulley and a twelve inch pulley putting four inch pulley on the
engine and the twelve pulley on the generator. This took a lot of
figuring and planning, but I had the Odd-Ball plant running.

Wanting to retire and do some traveling, I decided to sell the
cabin. I finally sold it to a fellow and his wife by the name of
Richie and Mary Faye Thompson who lived over in Illinois. I am sure
they enjoyed the cabin as much as I enjoyed writing this article.
Happy April first!

P.S. In this article, ‘The Odd-Ball Light Plant,’ I wish
to apologize for the use of ‘gas engine magazine,’ also to
Charles Wendel, along with Richie and Mary Faye Thompson, for using
their names in this fun article.

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines