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Self-starting automatic light plant?

Discussion in 'Stationary Gas and Diesel Engines' started by DMahalko, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. DMahalko

    DMahalko Intermediate Poster

    Does WMSTR have any working examples of self-starting stationary engine light plants?


    From the 1880s up until about 1936, electric utility power was available in the USA only in high density city areas. Rural areas were thought to be too expensive and unprofitable to wire for grid power.

    It took the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 for transmission line power to finally start to arrive for farmers, through member owned cooperatives that did not exist to make a profit, but would try wire everyone they could possibly reach.

    During these dark days, it was common for farms and rural homes that wanted electricity to have a small private onsite stationary engine, generator, and lead-acid battery bank, collectively known as a light plant.

    A simple light plant needed the engine to be manually started to recharge the batteries, but the more sophisticated systems could self-start and stop the engine, often fully automatically without the homeowner needing do to anything more than turn on a light switch. This was before transistors or vacuum tubes were widely available, and so was instead accomplished with relay networks, and voltage / current sensing meters.


    Depending on the design, the lights could run on batteries for a while before the generator started, or the batteries were mainly for engine starting only and the engine would start immediately when the first light was turned on.

    This light plant runs devices on batteries, and doesn't start the engine until discharged or more power output is needed than the batteries alone can provide:

    This light plant starts the engine immediately when the first load is turned on:
    M Kerkvliet and craig mattson like this.
  2. Jerry Christiansen

    Jerry Christiansen Mega Poster WMSTR Lifetime Member


    This is a good question for Klinger. I doubt he does anything with a computer.

    I am quite certain that Klinger has one of the Kohlers like the one in the second video.
    I will ask him the next time I see him and report back.

    Jerry Christiansen
  3. craig mattson

    craig mattson Mega Poster WMSTR Lifetime Member

    I know the 30's area farmstead talked about doing a 32 volt system with generator outside in a shed. I haven't seen any of the self starting types around though. Darrell Dey might be another good one to check with
  4. Todd Hintz

    Todd Hintz Mega Poster WMSTR Lifetime Member

    The second video was interesting. Did it shut down when the power need was turned off (turn the light off) or did they need to go outside to shut it down?
  5. M Kerkvliet

    M Kerkvliet WMSTR Past President Administrator WMSTR Lifetime Member

    There were a couple of those Kohler light plants in the water pump building. At one time many years ago we had one hooked up so that we could take that building off of commercial power and switch it over to the light plant for demonstration purposes. Flip on a light switch, the generator would start.

    I was involved in hooking that all up, but that was so many years ago (Oday era) that I cannot remember all of the details. I am sure nobody undid the wiring, but I'm not sure if the generators are still there or not.

    It really worked well.
    craig mattson likes this.
  6. craig mattson

    craig mattson Mega Poster WMSTR Lifetime Member

    That must have been before I started coming around. That would be really cool to see back. I wonder how the starting circuit works.
  7. jswithers

    jswithers WMSTR Lifetime Members WMSTR Lifetime Member

    A fairly common setup was the Delco light plant. They came in several sizes. Most were single cylinder vertical cylinder engines. Very smooth running. Most were set up in the basement of the house and used a bank of batteries. Some were self starting when the battery voltage got low and shut off when charged. I recently had someone offer me one but I haven't seen it yet so I don't know what all is there besides the engine. It's still in it's original installation but I believe the batteries are gone.
  8. Jerry Christiansen

    Jerry Christiansen Mega Poster WMSTR Lifetime Member

    Hi all,

    I talked with Klinger over the weekend. The generator Mark mentioned above is still in the pump building. It is still wired up to work. In order to demonstrate, the power to the building needs to be shut off, then flipping on the switch will cause the generator to start. It sounds like another similar generator is in the building, but not hooked up.

    Jerry Christiansen
    M Kerkvliet likes this.
  9. M Kerkvliet

    M Kerkvliet WMSTR Past President Administrator WMSTR Lifetime Member

    The lights in the building are hooked up to a double throw switch (just a 3 way light switch) near the service. One direction is commercial power and the other direction is the generator. When switched to generator, turning on the lights "used" to make the generator start and the lights would come on.

    If reminded, I will check it all out next season and see if the generator will run... or I'll ask Klinger to do it!
  10. Todd Hintz

    Todd Hintz Mega Poster WMSTR Lifetime Member

    Remind me next summer when you do that, Mark. I’d like to see it.
    M Kerkvliet likes this.

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