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Texas boy collects variety of antique electric items

by Associated Press | March 25, 2019 at 3:15 a.m. | Updated March 25, 2019 at 3:17 a.m.

LUFKIN, Texas-Israel Jones is not your average 10-year-old.

The Lufkin Daily News reports when walking into the Jones family home, evidence of Israel's vast collection of antique items is immediately visible. From traffic lamps to parking meters, Israel has it all.

"It's mostly vintage electrical stuff-old model trains, old computer stuff," Israel said. "All the new stuff is plastic and junky."

Israel's dad, Dayton Jones, said he's always loved taking things apart.

"When he was 2, he became interested in a power strip," Gina Jones, Israel's mom, said. "He was infatuated with the power strip and how he could reroute it. We would come in the living room, and he would have all the lamps unplugged from where we had them. They ran to the power strip, and this power strip connected to that one. It was all over the place."

Israel called it plug playin', and Dayton said he couldn't wait to get home to plug play every day.

"I started collecting old electric meters when I was like 8," Israel said.

One of his favorite collections is an 1890s-era electric meter that was in the fifth generation of electric meters ever invented. It is Israel's dream to one day have an 1888 Shallenberger meter.

"It's one that I really, really want, but I'm not sure I'm gonna find one," Israel said.

"A guy that worked for George Westinghouse, his name was Oliver Shallenberger, he literally invented the watt hour meter. He was a brilliant guy," Dayton said. "He made his original one called the Shallenberger meter, and then they had a version two of that, but they were just too big and bulky and massive to be practical. Then they made one called the round face meter."

Some of these meters are only 5 amp meters vs. modern day 200 amp meters because older homes did not have nearly as many appliances as modern homes do.

"A long time ago they would bill you on how many lights you had in your house because they only had lights," Israel said. "So if you had four lights, the bill might be $20 or something."

Dayton said this was all Israel's idea in the early days, and he has enjoyed learning along with his son. Isaiah would pour over his many manuals from the earliest days of electrical innovation, and he would watch video upon video of YouTubers like the 8-bit Guy.

"A lot of the history was explained in those manuals," Dayton said.

"Some of those electrical meters come from the first decade of electricity. People didn't know, so they had all these publications to train people."

In addition, Israel and Dayton have learned a lot from fixing the items that he collects.

"That's the challenge-every time we get something, he has to get it to work," Dayton said.

"If he gets something that doesn't work, he's going to make it work," Gina said.

So Israel usually comes out of the insulator shows with about double the amount he pays for, Dayton said.

"He's never really had toys, and if he does, it's for when his friends come over," Gina said.

But Israel does occasionally show his friends his collection.

"Some of them seem interested, and a lot of them don't," Israel said, laughing. "All they care about is Apple watches and new stuff."

Israel now has several pay phones from different eras, 29 electric meters, 250-something insulators and "a lot" of fire alarms.

Every wall in Israel's room is covered in fire alarms of a broad range of years, which Gina said he set off all at once on New Year's Eve this year.

On every road trip or vacation, the Jones family can be found scouring the land for new collectors' items.

"He's looking for all the traffic lights, he's looking for anything along the railroad tracks, he's watching all the electrical lines, just constantly looking for the glass insulators and vintage railroad lighting," Dayton said.

"A lot of that stuff has really disappeared. The state and everybody has replaced all the old vintage traffic light systems, and the railroads have taken down all the old pole lines. Everything's been modernized, even in the last 10 years."

Israel and his dad will travel to shows like the Lone Star Insulator Club's insulator shows, and the older collectors will fawn over Israel.

"They say that he will be the future of their club," Dayton said.

Dayton and Israel are also a part of a local amateur radio operator club, and Israel is working on obtaining his HAM radio license. He said one day he might like to be an electrical engineer, but he's just not sure yet.

"That's my collection," he said, beaming.

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