A Problem with Light Plants

Childhood fascination turns into an adult collection

| August 2008


Self-proclaimed light plant fanatic Alan New’s 4-cylinder DELCO and a 20-volt Robbins & Myers.

I think most of my friends in the antique machinery world currently know me as a steam engine and tractor collector. Some know that I collect hit-and-miss engines, and I have a thing for diesels. However, what most people don't know about me, other than my family and a few close friends, is that I have a serious addiction - light plants! I love them! I'm hooked on them! I can't get enough of them! This is the story of how a childhood fascination got really out of hand.

Discovering DELCO

I was raised on a farm outside of Pendleton, Ind., where I still live. When I was growing up, antique machinery was everywhere. Two of the country's best known steam engine collections were within 18 miles of home, and ancient tractors were in every barnyard. Dad bought a 20-30 Wallis off the farm it had worked since it was new, just six miles from our house. I have it now. He bought a 20-40 Rumely OilPull so close by that he and my uncles drove it home. Dad and my uncles found many rare gas engines in chicken coops and sheds throughout the area. There was even an 80 HP Avery Farm Motor (a stationary version of a 40-80 Avery tractor engine) in a weed patch only two miles from my house, where it had run a sawmill years before.

My mom's parents lived in town. Across the gravel alley from their garage was an old barn. The gray wooden barn leaned slightly, and tall weeds and trees surrounded it. The front doors were barred shut, but the windows gaped open, void of glass, while the back walk door always stood ajar.

Dad took me over there once when I was very young to show me what was inside. The barn was full, literally full, of DELCO light plants.

I was the oldest of 12 cousins. Over the next few years whenever I got bored playing with my younger cousins I sometimes wandered over to the barn and hoisted myself up to look into the dark hole of an open window. Of course I always got caught and hauled back across the alley to face a "warm" reception. My younger cousin Kevin Humbles, an engine collector too, told me that he later did the same thing, and suffered the same consequences.

In the shadowy gloom of the barn I could see DELCO plants covering the floor like huge black and red mushrooms. Many were about the same size, with a bigger one popping up here and there. Toward the center of the barn, a cluster of larger plants towered over the rest. In the far left corner by the walk door, sat a pair of some kind of larger red engines that were obscured by debris. They looked like car or tractor engines to me. At the front of the barn was a jumbled mass of junk appliances.