Eddie Laginess knew he had a keeper on his hands. He'd been to the same local flea market dozens of times but had never turned up any additions to his spark plug collection, but this day was different. A man had a table strewn with automotive junk and, there among the parts, sat a coffee can filled with plugs. Eddie asked how much they were and the man said they were $2. Eddie began digging into the can, adding $2 to the total each time he found another plug he wanted. After a minute or so, the seller, perhaps concerned that he was in the presence of a haggler, piped up, saying, 'I know those old plugs are used, but I aim's taking a penny less than $2 for the whole can.'
'When I heard that,' Eddie says, 'I quit digging and paid the man, grabbed the can and headed for the car.'
Dumping out the can in the trunk, Eddie was delighted. In his $2 can of plugs were some plugs that the collector had never seen before, including a Taco plug with round ball center and ground electrodes. 'I think my eyes jumped out of my head,' Eddie recalls.
The can of spark plugs was not the true keeper, however. 'What was real neat about the flea market,' Eddie says, 'was the fact that my girlfriend seemed as excited as I was to find the plugs. I though, 'Hey, this girl is all right.' So, a couple of years later, I married her and now we have four kids and thousands of old spark plugs.'
The Laginesses also have a museum that has sprung from their collection, filled with automobilia and other items at their home in Carleton, Mich.
'I started spark plug collecting when I was very young,' Eddie explains. 'My father was a very avid collector of antique cars, hit-and-miss engines and any other old relic that caught his eye. My brother Tim and myself were dragged along to many old car swap meets. While Dad was buying cars and parts, Tim and I were always exposed to neat old junk.'
Eddie says they met an old man at a swap meet once who gave them a spark plug, which started his search for plugs. His brother has 'found other hobbies' but Eddie's been hooked ever since, searching every swap meet he can attend, looking for rare and unusual spark plugs.
Eddie now has over 2,000 spark plugs in his collection, and prefers those made before 1940 and ones that have gadgetry or gimmicks such as the quick detachable, visibles, series plugs, double enders, intensified and breather plugs. He's also a sucker for catchy names -like Dave's Hole In The Wall, Gun Fire, Sure Pop and Push Kleen - and plugs with names of car companies or small engines, like Bessemer, Fairmont, New Way, Gardner, Michcell, Stoddard Dayton, Stutz and Packard.
He loves the variety of plugs available to collect. 'I have plugs that are less than three quarters of an inch tall to others that are 12 inches tall.' Many of the smaller plugs are from model engines and his largest ones come from large oil field or industrial engines. The most common sizes are the half-inch pipe thread plugs which are used in the Model T Ford and gas engines. The seven-eighths thread size was used in popular cars such as the Model A Fords, Chevys and Dodges.
Along the way, Eddie has learned much about the history of the plugs he collects. 'Spark plugs have been around since the turn of the 20th Century,' he says. 'The ignition was very dangerous, especially for those running them indoors. Later, mechanical points or igniters were used to create spark like the points on a car made in the 1950s. Only these points actually opened and operated directly in the cylinder of the engine. As time went on these points and mechanisms that operated them would wear out or foul out.'
It was due to those problems that the spark plug was developed, Eddie says. 'With no moving parts they were made more foul proof than mechanical igniters. I have bought many gas engines over the years that have a spark plug in place of the original igniter.' Once the more reliable plugs appeared on the market, thousands of plug manufacturers appeared as well, trying to outdo each other in reliability and panache. It was this competition that led to plugs with odd names, contraptions and beautiful designs.
The scarcest plugs are 'gadget' plugs, Eddie says. Gadget plugs have odd features, like the 'quick detachable' plugs with handles used to unlock or detach the center of the plug from the base for quick cleaning. These are probably the most highly sought after of all spark plugs. Some of these rarer ones are named the Mayo, Winestock, P.D.Q., J.D., Bobra and W.B. Handee.
'Primer' plugs are another family of rare gadget plugs. They have primer taps on the side or in the center of the porcelain. The idea was to get directly into the area of the spark plug in the combustion chamber, therefore making the engine easier to start in the winter months -especially on hand-cranked cars like the early Model T Fords. Champion, Red Head, All in One, Mosler, Fisher, Czar, Heco and Griffin are some of the names of primer plugs that were manufactured.
'Double ender' plugs had working ends on both ends of the plug, top and bottom. When one end wore you simply took the plug out and reversed it. Some names are TWIN, Double Head, Hire Fire and Bi-Plug.
Another neat plug, Eddie says, is the 'series' plug. These plugs were intended to be used with another plug in the same cylinder in an engine. The coil wire would run thought the series plug and then to the regular plug. These plugs had two wire terminals on the top or side of the porcelain. Some names are Su-Dig, Lodge, J-D Superior, Edison, Ensign and Peco.
'There are loads of other gimmick plugs,' Eddie says. 'I'd need a book to mention all of them.'
But, as all collectors know, there's always a favorite in the collection. For Eddie, it's the Monroe Spark Plug. 'It was made approximately five miles from my home in Monroe, Mich., manufactured by the Monroe Electric Co.,' Eddie says. 'It's a rare plug and only two of them are known to exist.'
Eddie says one nice thing about plug collecting is the people you meet. 'Overall most of these people are incredibly nice. People I met 30 years ago when I started collecting are still very good friends of mine.' He also suggests that anyone interested in collecting should join the Spark Plug Collectors of America, which publishes a quarterly newsletter.
Eddie also offers his assistance to anyone with questions and says that all should feel free to visit his museum. Write him at Ed Laginess, 2211 W. Sigler Rd., Carleton, MI 48117; or call (734) 654-9269. It should be mentioned that his museum contains many other items of interest to automobile, stationary engine and memorabilia collectors.
For information on the Spark Plug Collectors of America, call Jeff Bartheld at (763) 441-7059 or write 14018 NE 85th St., Ostego, MN 55330-6818.