The consensus was clear: the most recent “What’s This?” clue was a major player in early rural America. While homes in town had such luxuries as electric lights, rural homes were left in the dark, literally, until the Rural Electrification Administration strung wire across the countryside.
Enter the Delco battery system, as shown in the photos sent to us by Stanley Shavlik of rural Linwood, Neb. The Delco electrified Midwest farms and ranches, lit the homes and powered appliances, radios and other things that required a bit of ingenuity and know-how.
I heard from Mel Sporrer from Portsmouth, Iowa. The boys at the Bunkhouse in Logan, Iowa, gathered over coffee to contemplate the photos.
“Don’t know if it’s called a battery pack, but some people used it to have light in the house before AC came about,” Sporrer wrote. “Ken Leonard told me that John Burbridge said it was also used to power a milking machine.”
Here are more responses:
The batteries and glass container are part of a Delco-Light Electric Plant. I have one of the glass containers from the farm where I grew up near Gibbon, Neb. According to research, it was developed by Charles Kettering in 1916. Janice Martin, Gibbon, Neb.
The Delco light plant was the first source of electricity for my grandparents’ farm house and it was a really big deal! Although the batteries are no longer any good, I heard you can still use the battery jars to make pickles in. Lori Hunzeker, Minden, Neb.
My father was a Delco light dealer in the 1920s, and he sold Delco. I’m not saying this is a Delco unit, but the jar is identical to what I was familiar with. When the battery went bad, the pioneer people were quite inventive – we would use it for a fish bowl. Evera Kreitman, Bassett, Neb.
The three on the left are storage batteries for an old wind generator on a farm or ranch. … Ranchers and farmers would charge them all day so they could listen to favorite radio programs and news for five or six hours a night, and then they’d charge them again.
The glass container is a form of storage batteries that were used in old American telephone offices. … My aunt ran a Nebraska telephone office, and there were eight of them behind the counter, and when the electricity went out, they ran the power off of that. … The glass ones sat on a wooden rack, some of the bigger offices had 20 or 30 stacked in there. Alfred N. Cochran Jr., Raymond, Neb.
If you did not have one, you could also take your dead battery to town and exchange it for a charged one. You could then listen to the Grand Ole Opry on WSM late at night. Steve Sayer, Dunbar, Neb.
My wife, Peggy, had one on their farm in South Dakota, around 1930s and ’40s. She said that her family were the only ones to have lights at that time. Don Miller, Chapman, Neb.
We had two what we called Delco houses on the ranch which housed the equipment. I remember my folks sending me out to the Delco house to shut the Delco off at night. I was only 5 or 6 years old I think when I remember the light plants. Believe we got electricity out here in 1953. Am 72 years old now. Larry C. Shavlik, Bartlett, Neb.
I recall as I was a young boy around 1940 Dad had one which was a generator with a gas engine which started automatically to keep the batteries charged to supply power to the farm. This worked well until electricity was brought in. Wavern Beckner, Belle Plaine, Kan.
We had the glass jar batteries. They were in a small, hand dug cave with a cellar door under the house. The battery jars were lined up on shelves dug from the earth. I don’t remember them powering any lights but I do remember sitting around the radio listening to “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “The Shadow.” Willard Horak, Schuyler, Neb.
The wind charger was a 6 volt generator with a wooden prop which we put up on a windmill tower. I remember when we got ours in 1936 and it was so wonderful to turn on lights in a room with a switch. We were right up there with town folks. Wiley McFarland, Cimarron, Kan.
Before rural electricity became available, my grandfather had a wind charger providing 24 volt electricity to the house. These jars stored the electricity and needed to be recharged frequently when the wind wasn’t blowing. Living in the same house where my grandparents raised 10 children between Hillsboro and Goessel, Kan., in Marion County. Rod Peters
Other responses that focused on Delco or bringing electricity to farms:
Bonnie Bayliss, Indianola, Neb.; Bill Johnson, Avoca Iowa; Frances Stevens, Paxton, Neb.; Darlene Schuster, Shelby, Iowa; Paul David Liebig, Platte Center, Neb.; Francis Leathers, Battle Creek, Neb.; Rod Hollman, Martell, Neb.; Corey Schaaf, Ord, Neb.; Dennis Dryden, Stockton, Kan.; Jesse N. Bandy, Oshkosh, Neb.; Thomas Johnson, Juniata, Neb.; Paul Sherman, Dixon, Neb.; Clyde Lowe, Chanute, Kan.; Joe Betz, Chapman, Kan.