Jim's Fish Tail
Vortex 3sp. Knob and Switch
Vintage Wagner Sales Brochure
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JIM’S FISH TAIL
By Mark Neeley
As I lifted it out of its resting spot of decades of storage, it was apparent from the beginning that this was no ordinary turn of the century General Electric table fan. I had over looked it earlier, my mind planning the logistics of moving a very large inventory load of antique ceiling fans and parts back to our Fort Worth, Texas location. This machine, which seemed to be an Iron Age salute in mechanical model of a junior T-Rex, remained silent as it was pulled from between two rafters and loaded into a box with the rest of the motors and parts. A makeshift handle had been fabricated at sometime over the last 110 years to assist its user with heaving the 35 plus lbs. of cast iron, brass, copper and steel and this day it was a welcome addition to the machine. We had seen a few of the early 16” General Electric “pancake” table fans before as G.E. was likely, as in other endeavors they pursued, the largest manufacturer of fans and motors in the nation at the time this gangly machine was manufactured. It was however different for one obvious reason, this one was one of the elusive “Fish Tail” base early fans that count among the rarest of all fans General Electric ever produced.
From that first encounter with the machine time moved forward, with business taking precedence. There were fans to move to customers through out the country and oddities like the General Electric “Fish Tail” fan became a future endeavor to pursue when time allowed. Phone calls were made to describe the machine, ask questions and talk about it’s origins with a few other fan aficionados, but none of them seemed quite so interested in the fan as my longtime friend and early fan collecting mentor the late Jim Moseley.
When Jim was called about the antique GE desk fan find he had recently found out that he had cancer, though the seriousness of Jim’s situation was not quite evident to me at that point. As the weeks moved on I knew he had cancer, but I fully expected his physicians to be able to treat him successfully until the cancer could be beaten into submission and then retreat in full remission. After all this was Texas. Many of our hospitals were among the best in the nation. We have the oil money and we have M.D. Anderson and Baylor, and these are the major leaguers in their fields. I was sure my friend was going to be with me many more years and he could not have been in a better equipped state to be sick. Now looking back, I believe Jim may have known something that I did not know as I remember him telling me “I sure wish I could have seen that Fish Tail Pancake”, which I immediately replied “you will”.
Jim had been admitted to Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth and I had called to see if it was OK to come down and visit. He sounded good on the phone and his spirits seemed high. I told him I was bringing him something. I had decided that I was taking that filthy un-restored 1900 circa General Electric table fan to his hospital room. This might not seem like something that would draw much attention, but this isn’t your 1980s Lasko. This antique fan is massive. The guard is about 18” in diameter made of solid brass that looked like it was pulled from the wreck of the Titanic. The cast iron motor is several inches thick and the base was rusted from sitting in a humid environment for generations before it was perched in its loft where yours truly rescued it from its imprisoned state. I wasn’t sure I could do it without getting stopped at the front of the hospital or questioned at one of the nurse’s stations. How would I explain that I just needed to let my very sick friend see this fantastic early electric fan, after all only a few of these things existed. To those that are ignorant of its origins, I can see the fan resembling some sort of ancient weaponry, so I decided that a black plastic garbage bag might make it look like some type of lovely flower arrangement. I hoped this would conceal it and after it was up there any nurse who came in would be OK with it, after learning about it. I knew I could sell them on it if we could only get it up there and I was determined it was going up to Jim’s room one way or the other. I was as determined as I have been on nearly anything I have ever attempted and I would have tried something else had we have been stopped. That hulk of a Neanderthal General Electric fan was going to Jim’s room.
As I carried the machine from the parking garage through the lobby and unto the elevator, I had to stop a few times and rest. This thing reminded me that I was no longer the young man that I still pictured in my mind from the mid 1980s. When we got to Jim’s floor I just walked right by nurses station like I was carrying a flower arrangement in a garbage sack, though I was ready to sit the bladed anvil down as fast as I possibly could.
When we made it to Jim’s room, I told him I had something for him and pulled the bag off of the nearly 110 year old machine. Jim sat up in bed smiling and it was evident that he was elated to see it. He immediately said put it right here in the bed. He sat there with a filthy, rusted, piece of cast iron that most people would haul off for scrap, but this day the old fan could not have shined more if we had done a 100 hour automotive paint restoration with four levels of buffing rouge on the solid brass blade and guard. It made him happy and that is all that mattered to me. I watched my friend, who had extended a helping hand to this then young and naïve fan collector back in 1991 and I thought about how he had showed kindness to me when there was little information or help readily available. Nurse after nurse came in and Jim showed them the fan and told them what it was and how rare and old it was. When it came time to leave, I asked Jim did he want to keep it up there with him, which he rapidly replied “ NO”. I would have left it there with him in a heartbeat, but he insisted that I take it home. That was the only time Jim saw the fan, but he talked about it a few more times with me about it as we both tried to avoid talking about his worsening condition.
As the weeks moved on, Jim lost his battle with cancer. As I sat at his funeral with friend and fellow fan collector Jack Johnston, I thought about how loyal a friend Jim had been to me during all the years I had known him. I thought about seeing him make the rounds at local flea markets in the pre EBay years and how fast he could walk carrying his beloved Emerson Silver Swans. I thought about him calling me to see if I had found anything at the famous “Flash Light Flea Market” the now defunct Southlake flea market where I spent every Tuesday morning before work from 4 am to 6 am hunting antique fans. But, I mostly thought about the last time I spent real time with him and that was watching him hold one last rare antique electric fan in his hospital bed. That old “Fish Tail” brought both him and me a lot of joy that day. One of the last things he said to me was that he wished he was going to be around to help us out at Vintage Fans, L.L.C. which I replied “you will be Jim” and today his memory is with us all the time.
Before Jim’s interest in the GE “Fish Tail” Fan, I had considered selling it. It needed a lot of parts and it was going to be among the many other “one day” projects that have adorned our collection for years, plus it was a 16” model and they require an ample amount of space to display. After watching him that day with it in his hospital room and upon his death I decided the fan was not going to be sold, but restored at Vintage Fan’s shop. We would restore it in his memory and it would be transformed into the beautiful piece Jim envisioned as he held it that day resting it on his bed. Watch for the restoration of Jim’s Fish Tail to take place in the coming months as time allows at Vintage Fans.com. One of our mutual longtime friends and fan collector, Jack Johnston came forward with a much needed and sought after original large GE badge emblem that was missing on the “Fish Tail” fan. Jack’s fan will serve as a much needed donor for Jim’s Fish Tail GE and it takes friends like that to make most of the impossible projects happen. Jack, thank you. We will post progress images on Facebook as we proceed with the restoration.