Jack Bailey’s Delco Light Plant

By Staff
1 / 4
32 volt Delco electric radios. Radio on left is the original Davis radio.
2 / 4
Flywheel side of Delco light plant. 2 gallon tank could run up to 6-8 hours.
3 / 4
Jack Bailey's Delco Light. Model 850 Delco light plant of 1925 vintage.
4 / 4
Battery shipping crate and glass jar batteries of 2 volts each.

It was October 1999, I was running my old engine at the Tennessee Valley Flywheelers Show at the Farmers Market in Knoxville, Tennessee. With the beautiful weather on our side, this was the largest show in the history of the Flywheelers, thanks in part to the tireless work of our president, Lamar Hinds, vice president, Benny Slagle, and the board of directors. I stayed on the grounds for all three days and it gave me time to reflect and think: what if all these tractors and engines could talk? Some would surely tell some interesting stories but, alas, most of these stories are forever hidden from our ears. Then I found a display that had its history still intact. This is the story as told to me.

Around 1925 there was quite a stir in the Buckeye section of Garrard County, Kentucky. Mr. Thompson “Thomps” Davis, who lived and operated a store in that area, had just installed a system to light his store and home with electricity. Also, he had purchased a Delco electric radio to pick up the news and his favorite programs of the era. This system and the radio brought many people to his store, hoping, by chance, they would get to hear the radio, and maybe stare at an electric light bulb. Technology had come to rural Garrard County.

Now during this time there was a small boy of four to five years old living in the same county named Jack Bailey, who was someday to cross paths with this electric system. Mr. Davis enjoyed his lights and radio until his death in 1941. In December of that same year our nation was at war. Jack Bailey, now a young man, was soon off to war.

Jack was chosen for a highly technical and very secret job. He started training for this job and the first day of class RADAR was written on the board. Neither Jack or his classmates had ever heard of this, much less knew about “Radio Detecting and Ranging” systems. Jack finished his schooling and served through the war as a radar technician in the South Pacific. After the war Jack returned to Garrard County and became a rural mail carrier and also operated “Bailey Auto Electric” in Lancaster, Kentucky.

The Davis estate was sold at auction in 1967. Jack, now 46, was there. He knew of the Delco light plant and was interested. No one else seemed to know what it was or care. Jack bought the light plant, the radio and several odds and ends that day for $5.00.

Jack fixed up the light plant and made a display on a trailer. The display consisted of the “Delco” light plant operating a “Delco” radio, a “Delco Light” utility motor pulling a “Myers” pump actually pumping water, a “Safety Car” fan from a railway passenger car, a “Sunbeam” electric iron, and three light bulbs with three types of ceiling fixtures of the period. The latter was wired with the ‘knob and tube’ system of the heyday of the light plant. He also has some of the old glass jar batteries and a battery shipping box on display. The only thing new on his display were modern auto batteries used in lieu of the sixteen glass jar batteries of the original system. Jack took this to many shows in the region and enjoyed showing it until his untimely death in November 1996. Jack wasn’t always alone at these shows. Bruce, youngest of his four sons, usually went with him. When his father passed away, Bruce picked up the ball and is now showing his father’s display. Bruce has added another Delco radio identical to the Davis radio. Bruce isn’t alone in this endeavor as his son Mike, now 13, helps with his grandfather’s exhibit, showing in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Charles Kettering invented and developed the “Delco Light Set” for farm and rural use. Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or “Delco,” brings to mind well-known names that are, or once were, tied to Delco and its founders, Charles Kettering nd Col. Edward Deeds. These names are General Motors, Frigidaire and the De-Havilland DH-4 bomber of World War One. Kettering is credited with putting the first electric starter on the auto, thus making the auto a vehicle anyone could start and drive.

The tag on the Davis unit reads ‘The Delco Light 2044xx Delco Light Co., Dayton, Ohio.’ It is a model 850. The generator and engine are on the same shaft. The engine is air cooled, starts on gasoline and runs on kerosene and shuts off automatically when batteries are fully charged. It must be restarted manually, either by hand crank or by switching current from the batteries back through the generator where it will serve as a starter motor. The unit is fitted with a Weston ammeter. The output is listed at 22 amps at 38 volts. The fuel tank has a two gallon capacity and the unit will run 3? to 4? hours on just one gallon of fuel. The horse power is listed at -1/2 and operates at 1150 to 1250 rpm. This unit has a 2-1/2 inch bore with a five inch stroke. The working system is 32 volts and originally used 16 glass jar batteries at two volts each.

I have written this article to pay tribute and honor (in my small way) to Jack Bailey, the veteran. He, as with all veterans, stood in the gap for us, to turn back the tide of aggression. For all the veterans’ sacrifice and monumental efforts, I join many other readers with a salute and a heartfelt thank you for a job well done.

For more information on the above exhibit, contact Bruce A. Bailey, 3945 Goshen Road, Stanford, KY 40484. For information on the Tennessee Valley Flywheelers Show or Club, contact Benny Slagle at 865-523-7477.

Contact Glenn A. Chattin at 7828 Old Dixie Highway Spring City, Tennessee 37381-4664.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines