Author Topic: Lamps Underground  (Read 1100 times)

Offline AL_as_needed

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Lamps Underground
« on: October 04, 2017, 08:56:07 PM »
No, not a name for some one off punk band, literal lamps used underground. In this case carbide lamps!

So the lantern bug has evolved yet again. After some reading up on mining equipment and the like for the early 1900s, I slowly became fascinated with the subject as a whole. It was not much of a mental jump to then think "oh wow, carbide headlamps are neat...." and sure enough they can be easily found online at what I think are decent prices....so off we go...

Without getting too heavy on the science etc, a crash course on carbide lamps:

In the late 1800s, most mining was done by the light of little oil lamps. These were are a far cry from a lantern, usually being a small tin pot (look like a mini watering can) with a wick poking out. Pined to hats, these open oily flames lit the way, but as you can imagine, were far from ideal.

In 1892, a means was found to commercially produce calcium carbide (CaC2) from lime, and by 1896, in home and portable calcium carbide lighting was becoming available in France. By 1900, the first carbide mining lamp was patented in the US. Most largely use the same design principle; two sealed chambers, top one filled with water and the lower with calcium carbide. A small valve allows water to drip down onto the carbide. The reaction created produces heat and acetylene gas. This gas is piped to a small jet where it can be lit, much like a small blow torch.....on your head.....



« Last Edit: October 04, 2017, 10:18:02 PM by AL_as_needed »
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Offline AL_as_needed

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2017, 09:09:09 PM »
Now this particular example of carbide lamp is quite common. AutoLite, made by Universal Lamp Co, were in some form of production from 1901 to 1960 when batteries and a corporate buy-out ended production. This particular lamp is from about 1930s or so, no exact date markings have been found (yet).

Being shipped to me from Pittsburgh PA, coal mine central, it shows the time spent underground in the form of many many dents and bends.  Does it work? Likely a "no" in that dept, but it is complete! Here are the as received pictures. Little lampy will not be in this state for long however. I aim to restore this to a point where it is fully functional, I already have a nice pick....might get the urge to mine.... ;D

The clip on the back is intended to slide into a clip on a miner's cap, and that is a sparker wheel in the reflector for lighting the lamp up. Accounts vary, but most claim these can run for 2-1/2 to 4 hours on a single "loading" depending on use. For scale the reflector is about 4 inches across.
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Offline twocvbloke

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2017, 09:18:13 PM »
Just watched a video on youtube of a science teacher restoring a carbide lamp that belonged to his great grandfather and lighting it for the first time since around 1938, has some good scientific stuff in there (both in how it works and how to clean the insides out):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyFTijbsZzo

Offline HarrySmith

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2017, 03:01:37 PM »
YEAH, sounds like fun to have a blowtorch on your head!
Harry Smith
ATCA 4434
TCI

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there is only
do or do not"

Offline twocvbloke

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2017, 07:15:19 PM »
Even more fun if they're used down coal mines where there's gas leaking into the mines...  :o

Offline AL_as_needed

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2017, 08:21:01 PM »
Its amazing that it took the era of the LEDs to get away from these little things.

So far so good, got the whole thing apart and started cleaning it. Really not a lot to these in terms of parts. All brass with only a simple felt filter and a rubber gasket. It is in need of some help though, a learning curve to be sure, but being all brass and soldered together, this falls right into the plumbing dept....

The reflector is dented/cracked, gasket is well dried out, and it looks like the lower chamber hasn't been cleaned in about 70 years....

So far I was able to get the sparker working again thanks to a gutted bic lighter. The water control valve was a bit on the leaky side, so I heated and re-soldered the nub that forms the seal, and so far it seems to work. Gave the reflector a quick solder repair on the crack to hold it for now, haven't tried to straighten it yet.

A work in progress, but there is progress!
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Offline RotarDad

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2017, 10:35:10 PM »
This is great stuff - I'm learning a lot!  Thanks twocv for posting the video link.  So great when these can restored to working condition.
Paul

Offline TelePlay

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2017, 10:47:06 AM »
Stopped at a gold mine yesterday (a very large, dumpy and smelly antique mall) that keeps stocking more and more items because the stuff they have is 4x over priced and never sell. Lots of stuff to look and in a glass cabinet, spotted this interesting carbide lamp, first I've ever seen in the wild (at an antique mall) attached to the helmet/cap. Had no price on it so the owner took it up front and called the seller while I looked for other stuff. Before she took it out of the cabinet, I grabbed this photo through the glass window. The helmet was made of fiberglass, very light in weight.

On leaving, I asked and the owner said "two twenty five" and my shocked question was "two dollars and twenty five cents?" thinking that was a deal, way below the $50 I was expecting. Owner gave me a funny look and said, no, $225. Way above my choke point so let the seller buyer it back from me. They sell on eBay as shown for ~$50 give or take $10.

Posting this here as an FYI of how they were used.
            John . . .

              

Offline twocvbloke

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2017, 07:27:23 PM »
There's a similar shop in Durham that is like that, full of junk but with some interesting pieces, but totally overpriced, I found a few GPO 746 phones in there in pretty ratty condition, they wanted up to 40 a piece for them, they even had (probably still do!) a BTMC "Kettle" telephone in there for a price so high I just ignored it, it's sad that people try selling these things for extortionate prices, only to end up looking like a hoarder with their pile on public display...  :-\

Offline AL_as_needed

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2017, 09:19:08 PM »
Finding a new gasket (that goes between the two chambers to keep the gas in) turned out to be quite easy. A quick tour of Lowes plumbing aisle gave me a few options to try.

On a negative note, now that the lower chamber has been getting cleaned up, there are several stress cracks on the sidewall.  It honestly looks like the lower chamber was stressed from within (think water freezing in a copper pipe). I doubt this was caused by gas being produced too fast as I doubt it would hold back the level of pressure needed. I think instead the lack of cleaning allowed all the carbide residue to build up, hold moisture and swell up.

So far it seems like these aren't fatal, but I will try a few coats of POR-15 to be safe. Other option would be to carefully Vee out the cracks a bit and melt in silver-solder as a repair, or both!

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Offline TelePlay

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2017, 10:05:18 AM »
You could get to clean brass in the inside using a dremel wire brush or scour pad and then last down a wide area of solder on the inside as thick as you please and then cover it with POR. My brass fuel tank lantern had the same stress "cracks" or marks but I could not get inside the tank, just used POR. But a lantern fuel tank does not come under pressure so the POR worked fine.

Those round brass chambers and tanks get the marks just from age, expansion and contraction due to temperature changes. The lantern people told me the went so far as to taking a lantern apart so a flat, round piece of brass could be soldered into the inside of the outer chimney to give needed support to that vital area of lantern physical operation. They also said that repair was almost too much for them to handle.

So, for your chamber, I'd think "painting" the inside with solder and POT, two coats, would be more than enough. And e stress cracks that show on the outside would just be added character. My Dietz has vehicle stress cracks in both the tank and chimney and the POR worked well in the tank.

You can see the vehicle age cracks in the chimney and various stress cracks in the tank in the picture.

            John . . .

              

Offline 19and41

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #11 on: October 07, 2017, 07:28:11 PM »
Carbide lamps were sold at our local hardware store when I was a youngster, and I had to have one.  they were remarkable in the amount of light they gave off,  I kept it and as I got older it was put to another use in applying a flat black finish to rifle sights for match shooting.  And there is always that satisfying POP when the gas lights.   :D
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Offline AL_as_needed

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #12 on: October 07, 2017, 08:04:08 PM »
You could get to clean brass in the inside using a dremel wire brush or scour pad and then last down a wide area of solder on the inside as thick as you please and then cover it with POR. My brass fuel tank lantern had the same stress "cracks" or marks but I could not get inside the tank, just used POR. But a lantern fuel tank does not come under pressure so the POR worked fine.

Those round brass chambers and tanks get the marks just from age, expansion and contraction due to temperature changes. The lantern people told me the went so far as to taking a lantern apart so a flat, round piece of brass could be soldered into the inside of the outer chimney to give needed support to that vital area of lantern physical operation. They also said that repair was almost too much for them to handle.

So, for your chamber, I'd think "painting" the inside with solder and POT, two coats, would be more than enough. And e stress cracks that show on the outside would just be added character. My Dietz has vehicle stress cracks in both the tank and chimney and the POR worked well in the tank.

You can see the vehicle age cracks in the chimney and various stress cracks in the tank in the picture.

After soaking the tank (filled with vinegar) for two days, the deposits were finally soft enough to break out with a thumb nail. Once clean, it was revealed that someone long before me had went and soldered some spots on the inside as well. The brass itself is actually a lot thicker than I first figured and only a few small hairline cracks are visible inside. The tank did pass both a water test and a low pressure air test. For now I will stick to several coats of POR-15 as a safety margin.

This head-lamp of course will be tested very thoroughly, more so than my lanterns given the nature of its light source.

The top half is largely complete in terms of repairs (didn't need much). Cosmetically I want to keep it in its beat-up as found state as much as possible. I could easily polish it up and take out some dents, but then it would loose its character. I already feel bad for taking a lot of the patina down on the lower half to check the integrity.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2017, 12:07:08 PM by AL_as_needed »
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Offline TelePlay

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2017, 08:29:11 PM »
As an FYI: acetone is the best leak checker. It is very thin and it will flow through the smallest of holes or cracks wetting the outside and after dumping it out, it dries quickly and may even take some oils that may have been on the surface with it. Only needs one or two tablespoons, or one ounce for a test of a large tank. Just don't get it on anything plastic.

I did learn the hard way that pressure testing a tank can actually create leakes by blowing out weak spots. POR fixed it but it was a lesson well learned. It was a water pressure test.
            John . . .

              

Offline AL_as_needed

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Re: Lamps Underground
« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2017, 12:14:47 PM »
I have seen "plumbers" blow apart older expansion tanks and valves pressure testing at needlessly high pressures, fun to watch.

The POR coating is going much easier than I expected. Being such a small tank, a spoonful is more than a enough for a good coat. As the flat sections of the tank are the weak spots that show stress, I simply coat the whole inside, drain the majority of the excess, and simply lay the tank on its side with the area in question facing down. The POR that is left pools and cures over that section.

I dont want to count my chickens before they hatch, but it may be time to order some carbide crystals.  8)

Here is a good "to the point" article (PDF) that goes over the basic operation of one of these styles of lights and how they can be used as personal heat sources if needed. Not a history lesson, but outlines the day to day use these things used to perform.

http://guysdropper.com/pdf/how_to_use_a_carbide_lamp.pdf
« Last Edit: October 08, 2017, 01:06:55 PM by AL_as_needed »
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