Dayton Daily News & Radio’s ‘Joe’s
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
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
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
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
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
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
‘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
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
‘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.