Jack Bailey's Delco Light Plant

A look at several different Delco products


| May/June 2000



Delco electric radios

32 volt Delco electric radios. Radio on left is the original Davis radio.

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.