One hundred years ago on the Mountain, one of the daily chores, along with cutting wood, stoking ashes out of the kitchen stove and cleaning the ice box, was caring for the oil lamps.
Along came electricity and at the flick of a switch, lights came on, the fridge was cold and the gas furnace was timed to go! The old chores have vanished now with the advent of modern appliances and cleaning materials.
In 1912, one daily chore was the care, cleaning, filling and trimming the wicks of the household kerosene table lamps. Prior to the invention of kerosene, which was a Canadian invention, smelly old whale oil lamps and paraffin candles dimly lit the home.
Kerosene oil was not only smelly, but sucked the oxygen out of the room and opening the windows a crack relieved the effects somewhat. It was not till many decades later that a refined oil was produced specifically for interior lighting.
That clean smelling, clean burning oil today is called “lamp oil" and comes in a variety of colours, enhancing the glass bowls of table lamps. Lamp oil is easily procured at most hardware stores in clear plastic bottles.
The reason old Dusty Corners is revisiting the use of oil lanterns is because of the apparent remanufacturing of knock-off oil lamps being produced in China. People are not only buying the cute lamps as decorator items, but standby emergency lighting in the event of major power blackouts, which we already know a great deal about. Some prefer to stock up on expensive battery powered lanterns and flashlights which give off a superior light, but unfortunately with constant use begin to dim to less than candle power.
Candles are a great source of power, but often smelly and vulnerable to tipping over and starting a fire. The oil lanterns have proven over time to be far safer and if properly cared for will not allow the oil to flow out of the bowl if tipped. Nine times out of 10 the wick when turned horizontally will snuff out the flame along its edge.
When buying a Chinese oil lamp, make sure that the font, or brass housing, that holds the wick and turning wheel is tight. Pay special attention to trimming the long wick as well. With sharp scissors, cut across the wick right under the burnt portion, leaving the wick ends slightly rounded to prevent fraying.
Clean the tall glass chimney of carbon with soapy water and replace. To avoid undue blackening of the chimney, do not raise the wick out of the font more than one-quarter inch. Light the wick, which by now has absorbed oil from the bowl, with a match and replace the glass chimney.
Once the chimney is in place, you might witness a little "flame up,” so turn the wick down till you achieve an even,round, smokeless flame. While the chimney is still cool, twist it several times to seal its base on top of the font, letting in no air.
Raising the wick will undoubtably give you greater light, but also more smoke, which will carbon up your chimney. Turn the wick down to a smokeless level.
Instruct the young ones to stay clear of the hot lamp. Oil spill fires are put out quickly with baking soda.
Enjoy yesterday's light!
Mountain historian Colwyn Beynon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.