Spark Plug of the Month

By Staff
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390
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Courtesy of Chas. W. Harvey, 10241 Hole Ave., Riverside, California 92503
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Harry Truman once said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat,
get out of the kitchen.’ But our Spark Plug can both stay in
the kitchen and stand the heat — and still ‘keep his cool’
sufficient to get in a six-hour lick at working on his old gas
engines as part of the daily grind.

For Lotus Alexander of 1448 Franklin St., Columbus, Ind., rising
at the crack o’ dawn and working at restoring his antiques gas
poppers from 5 a.m. to eight o’clock is just the kind of
appetizer a fellow needs to make those breakfast eggs ‘n bacon
all the tastier. Following which Lotus and wife, Lucille, manage
their ‘Kitchen Store’ — designing and selling kitchen
cabinetry to make things easier for modern living. And, after that,
from seven ’til ten Lotus again returns to his two-car
‘engine shop’ garage to spend three more hours at
assembling, restoring, painting and/or fondling his long and
impressive line of once-lonely, but now bright and perking
internal-combustion antiquers.

‘I have always been an early riser,’ says Lotus.
‘Many people miss the beauty of the early morning.’

Though some natural ecologists might disagree that rising early
and wiping rags over greasy old gas engines and breathing the fumes
thereof for three hours prior to breakfasting on bacon might be
other than beautiful, our Spark Plug seems convinced it’s
‘just the way to start the day’. Besides, who’s to
argue with one Lotus Alexander that even he may perchance hear the
call of the morning meadow lark across the field between the
banging and barkings of his ‘one-lung brigade?’ And/or the
soft night warblings of the lonely screech owl on yonder limb while
quietly applying paint on an old fly-wheel into the wee hours,
prior to retiring?

L. to r.: Engine buddy, ‘Edison’ Dale Robertson helps
Spark Plug Lotus Alexander start his pet pride the 2-1/2 HP Reeves
hit-and-miss gas engine. Lotus once worked at the Reeves plant that
made this engine and he searched far and wide before locating one
near his home. Note the square conduit enclosure which protects the
public from whirring flywheels, etc. Shown here at The Pioneer
Engineers Club, Rushville, Indiana 1973.

L. to r. That’s old engine buddy, ‘Edison’ Dale
Robertson helping Spark Plug Lotus Alexander prime the thirsty gas
tank on the Model 800 Delco Light Plant at the Rushville, Indiana
Pioneer Engineers Club Show, 1973. Dale rewired the old Delco
generator while Lotus reworked the gas engine side. Together the
two ‘boys’ get ‘lit up’ with enough 32-volt bulbs
to make like ‘Moonshine’. Lotus says he’s got to look
out or his engine business will overtake his Kitchen Business.

There’s surely something therapeutic about it sufficient to
keep him ‘bright as a ten o’clock scholar’ throughout
the rest of his work-a-day world. And, come summertime, he’s
always up ‘n at ’em — like the early bird that catches the
worm — along any Gasoline Alley Midway, we’d say.

‘You bet your bottom dollar, I was raised on a farm,’
says Lotus Alexander. ‘And I’m very proud of my farm
background.’

‘My father had one team of mules, a Fordson Tractor and a
little workshop powered by a gasoline engine belted to a
lineshaft,’ is the way Lotus remembers his earliest boyhood
impressions that launched his career toward mechanical
inclinations. ‘I can remember the pump jack which was belted to
a pulley on the line shaft, sticking out the end of the
shed.’

Then there are the other memories he has of childhood. Such as
pumping the bellows while his blacksmith grandfather sharpened
plow-points by heating and hammering them out on the big anvil. And
the ‘thrashing’ of wheat with the old steam rig during
which he ran the water wagon to give drink to the thirsty, always
thirsty engine which seemed never to get enough.

It was during the Depression years of ’29 to ’33 that
the Alexanders lost the family farm. Moving from thence to a small
town, ‘My father took up school teaching,’ says Lotus,
‘And I worked on the farms around the town for $3.50 a week
while finishing high school.’

‘I was always pretty handy with my hands and could make
about anything out of wood with hand tools,’ says Alexander.
‘I have always had a great love of wood, such as walnut and
cherry, and have made many what-not shelves, as well as shelving
and furniture.’

It was in 1941 that Lotus Alexander moved to Columbus, Indiana
— about twenty miles west of the old farm home — and went to work
in the factory.

‘I worked at The Reeves Pulley Company, manufacturers of
Variable Speed Transmissions, in the test lab and had access to
many old blue prints, etc.,’ explains Lotus. ‘At one time
they manufactured steam engines, wood-split pulleys, gasoline
engines and motor carriages. But I was not interested in collecting
at that time, only enough to live on.’ (None of us thought of
antiques in those days. True, Lotus?)

It was in 1952 that Lotus Alexander went to work in a small
cabinet shop, where he learned to build many special pieces of
furniture and cabinets along functional designs which helped the
housewife’s burdens in the kitchen. To him this loomed as a
sort of mission in life — helping people to live an easier life by
modernizing their kitchens with new cabinets, refrigerators, ranges
dishwashers and the like. And from this inspiration to help the
housewives with their kitchen chores and drudgery stemmed the store
and business that Lotus and his wife, Lucille, have been operating
ever since.

When Lotus Alexander sent me his beautiful Christmas Card,
showing three of his beautifully-restored antique gas engines, he
signed his name, L. W. Alexander, C. K. D. In thanking him for the
card I sort of joshed him ‘tongue-in-cheek’ about the
mysterious three-letter C. K. D. tag on his name, thinking it might
be some kind of college or university degree that I had never heard
of before. And he replied, ‘After over twenty years in the
business I have earned the title of Certified Kitchen Deisgner by
the American Institute of Kitchen Dealers.’ (And no one, but no
one should ever be guilty of denying that our Sparkie of the Month
has deserved it.)

But now, down to the real nitty-gritty of our story.

This is the beautiful color Christmas card Lotus Alexander sent
me -1. to 4.: Delco Light Plant 32 Volt D.C. about 1916; Mogul
1-1/2 HP found ‘Coon Hunting’ – treed coon in basement of
old house. Found engine-left coon; Associated Hired Man 2-1/2 HP.
found in fence row, had been there for 12 years.

I acquired my first gas engine from two cousins who treed a
racoon in the basement of a vacant farm house,’ explains Lotus.
‘As they shined the flashlight into the basement window, the
beam fell on an old dirty black gas engine which was belted to a
unique water system — one pump on a well, the other hooked to the
cistern.

This was the ‘spark that fired the plug that set the wheels
into motion’ in one Lotus Alexander’s brain from there on
out. For it seems the coon was soon forgotten and escaped to be
chased another day.

The engine turned out to be a 1-1/2 HP Mogul which I took apart,
piece by piece, and thoroughly cleaned down to the original green
paint,’ laughs Lotus, recalling that humorous incident which
spared a racoon’s life and launched him on a brand new hobby
which would be getting him up early of mornings and keeping him
late of nights.

The second engine I found was in a fence row behind an old
house,’ says Lotus. ‘I knocked on the door and, after
chatting with the owner, discovered it was used by his father on a
cement mixer. He said it had not been used for twelve years.

I was able to purchase it and took it home for a clean-up,’
continues our Spark Plug. ‘It was surprising to find out how
easy the nuts came off the bolts, but the piston was really stuck.
I soaked it for three months in fuel oil before I could break it
loose. This engine turned out to be a Hired Man 2-1/2 HP, made by
Associates of Waterloo, Iowa, and has a hit-and-miss battery
ignition.

Next I picked up a couple of Maytag Engines and overhauled them.
By this time several people knew I was collecting engines,’
recalls Alexander, a bit proud of the reputation his new-found
hobby was creating. ‘A young fellow came in one day asking me
to identify something he had picked up. I guessed it to be a farm
Delco Light Plant. He worked on it a couple of months and then came
back wanting to sell it.

Lotus Alexander is restoring this old grist mill made by Frank
Ward of Rockford, Illinois, Patent date, Feb. 13, 1888. Photo by
Lotus.

This is a view of Lotus Alexander’s immaculate work shop.
[How I wish I could turn Lotus loose in my ‘junk heap’ for
a few hours. I wouldn’t know the place]. Photo by Lotus.

This plant had been used in a farm home a few miles from where I
was raised,’ says Lotus. I reluctantly bought it because I did
not know much about electricity. I took pictures of it and sent
them to the Delco Plant but they could not help me. It is a 1916
Model 800 Delco Plant with a one-gallon tank.

It was here that Lotus Alexander called in a fellow engine
buddy, Dale Robertson, who is Chief Engineer in the total energy
plant of one of the local schools and runs the engine room that
makes their own electricity for heat, lights and water supply,
using natural gas as fuel.

Dale eyed it eagerly and said, ‘Sure it can be
fixed’,’ says Lotus.

Taking the plant apart, Dale took the 32-volt generator home
with him while Lotus cleaned and repaired and painted the
engine.

You would never believe some of the things we found,’
chuckles Lotus. ‘The 1/4′ bolts and terminals were threaded
1/4 x 24. The crank-shaft had been handmade, the crank was bolted
to the shaft and it had a pollution control valve that was better
than the ones in modern cars today.’

Photo of a Nelson Bros. Jumbo Line Engine I recently completed
restoring. I am real proud as it is my first venture. Your magazine
is tops. Keep up the good work. [Thanks Charlie!]

‘When Dale brought the generator back, you would not know it
was the same one. He had rewound it, made new brass lugs and had
made a complete schematic wiring diagram. We assembled the motor
and generator, timed the firing sequence, started the engine with a
crank and I had ‘Edison’ Dale Robertson pull the switch. On
came the lights and the 32-volt light plant was alive. I put three
12-volt car batteries in series to allow the unit to charge as the
sixteen 2-volt batteries were broken. After the batteries had come
up to charge, the generator converted to a starter until the engine
took over and then it began automatically charging the
batteries.’

Lotus had only three of the old-time carbon filament clear glass
Mazda Bulbs with the glass points on the ends, but he didn’t
want to use them. So he bought twelve 40 watt, 32 volt railroad
bulbs which he now uses to light his unusual display.

‘I also have a 32-volt quarter-horse motor which we use with
a wire wheel to clean spark plugs, points, etc. and comes in mighty
handy around the shows,’ says Alexander. ‘I had never
before exhibited at an engine show, but now I felt I had something
worth showing. So I made up a ten-foot square framework out of
electric conduit to keep the public protected from turning wheels
and this also gave me something to hang the bulbs on.’

One of his best-loved engines is a 2-1/4 HP Reeves, made in the
Reeves plant where Lotus had worked for twelve years. ‘I had
advertised in Gas Engine Magazine for one, but got no response.
Later I found this Reeves Engine thirty two miles north of
Columbus, Ind., owned by Roy Willard. I talked him out of it for a
‘price’ and now have it restored with a fly-wheel driven
mag like it was originally made. It had been used on a water pump
in a local greenhouse.’

‘My belief is we should restore these engines to the
original shape and color as they were manufactured,’ preaches
Alexander, a true advocate to the principle of prototype
preservation. (The act of restoring can be nothing less.)

In view of this conviction Lotus Alexander has worked out
certain methods he employs in restoring old gas engines. After
filing off rough spots and burrs, he then fills in pits and
inaccessable spots with a lacquer auto sanding sealer and body
putty to get a really smooth finish. Then he has new paint matched
exactly to the original color to finish the job.

Finishing his first engine, the 1-1/2 HP Mogul that saved a
racoon’s life, really set the pattern for restoring the other
old engines that followed. And the interesting things he discovered
about the fuel system really set him off. Such as

starting it with a small carburetor on top, then switching over
to coal oil and observing how the excess fuel is pumped back into
the tank, and so forth, world without end, Amen.

Altogether Lotus Alexander has acquired a total of some
twenty-one gas engines in the one to 2-1/2 HP ratings, in addition
to one horizontal and one vertical 3/4 HP ‘ Nelsons — and, to
date, approximately ten old Maytag Engines.

‘Maytags don’t count except two-at-a-time,’ chuckles
Lotus, although he does sort of brag that his nine year old
granddaughter, Karen Kohler of Marshal, Mich., is restoring a
single Maytag. ‘Karen decided if she was going to continue to
be the apple of her ‘Poppa’s’ eye, she’d have to
get into the engine business’.’

And wife, Lucille (Mrs. Alexander) figures that to keep in
hubby’s good graces and remain the ‘apple of his eye’
she’d just continue to help hunt up other old gas engines just
to keep him happy. Like Eve tempting Adam with the apple, Lucille
lures Lotus along old fence rows in quest of more old rusty
one-lungers with stuck pistons while he gets stuck with unsticking
the stucked ‘stinkers’. (If you can figure that one
out!)

‘Lucille doesn’t help me work on the things, but she
loves to go out and help me find the oldies,’ laughs the CKD —
our Certified Kitchen Designing Spark Plug, Lotus Alexander.

With only two shows under your belts — Rushville and Tri-State
of 73 — you’re both new but ‘adding’ very rapidly,
Lotus and Lucille. And for it all we thank you enough to invite you
to take your seat in our Hall of Spark Plug Fame. May your
‘POP-ulation’ keep increasing and your ‘family of old
plugs’ continue to multiply with fecundity.

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