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Archive for Monday, March 10, 2008

From fossils to lighters, collector has it all

March 10, 2008

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— On any given afternoon, Gene Wingo can be found in his regular seat at Dairy Queen in Newton looking at sale bills for the weekend's auctions or researching one of his latest finds from a trip to antiques malls and flea markets.

His collection, which is the focal point of the living room in his home, has smatterings of different objects - from the modern to the prehistoric.

The largest piece, of which Wingo is proud, is a section of a mastodon tusk he helped unearth while digging trenches in Newton during 1966.

"At first we thought it was petrified wood," Wingo said. "How we found it is it killed the machine. It was an 8-foot-long piece."

Wingo said it was the next day when his father told him the 8-foot "log" the crew had dug up and cut into pieces as souvenirs was ivory.

"But that ivory isn't worth 2 cents," Wingo said. "The tusk was immersed in water for thousands of years. The minute it came up, it dehydrated. ... I'd bet there's more out there. The smaller tusk we dug up was 5 feet deep. The big one was 20 feet down."

His family has a love of geology - three different generations have used the same machine to make polished rock globes.

Included in his collection are three prehistoric samples - a petrified tree that is green, a dinosaur bone, and Corporlite, which is fossilized dinosaur excrement.

"When I was a kid, my dad took those to a retirement home for a speech on geology," Wingo said. "He said the first was a tree, which the dinosaur ate. The second is part of the dinosaur skeleton, and the last was poop - what was left of the tree. They all laughed at that."

Wingo has several globes he has made. He also has the first one his son made.

But not all of Wingo's collection is of the ancient variety. There are modern marvels to take a look at, as well.

Wingo's living room houses lighters - nearly all Zippo brand lighters.

"I was into pocket watch fobs real deep," Wingo said. "One day, I discovered that a lot of Zippos have the same logos as the fob. I decided to start trying to get a fob and lighter to match."

He has watch fobs, which are used more or less as an anchor at the end of a chain for a pocket watch, with Newton High School logos. Other logos represent railroads, energy companies and Howard Hughes in the collection.

The same is true for his lighter collection.

He has a lighter from every major war fought by the United States since World War I. Not all are Zippos.

"This one is what is called trench art," Wingo said, picking up what looked like a bullet. "They used a cartridge to make this lighter."

His collection also includes lighters from World War II, Vietnam and Korea.

His World War II-era lighter commemorates the U.S.S. Missouri, and it's one he is rather fond of. He's also proud of the lighter that started him collecting.

"I had a brother who went to Vietnam," Wingo said. "He gave me a Zippo that he picked up at Midway. Now I have lighters from all of the major wars. I have the lighter and the history to go with it."

He also has an extensive collection of Navy lighters.

"My son was in the Navy," Wingo said. "When he was assigned to a new submarine, he would send me a lighter with the logo."

Aside from the trench art lighter, perhaps the most interesting lighter in his collection that bears the Howard Hughes logo. The lighter also contains a music box.

Wingo cruises through flea markets and attends auctions on a regular basis - sometimes adding to his collection, sometimes not.

Sometimes he just finds something interesting, like an interesting bolt that was used to secure a bell to a steam engine years ago.

Sometimes he makes a find that requires a little work - a lighter that needs a tune-up.

"I like to sit and watch TV and clean them up," Wingo said. "Get them a good wick and get them in working order. I don't fill them with fluid or use them, but I do get them working."

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