Calcium Carbide Lamps

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Merlyn
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Calcium Carbide Lamps

Postby Merlyn » Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:59 am

Well you would never believe it but looking in the stores to dispatch Atlantics prize I discover that what I thought was the last container was not the last one and that I have yet another matured sixties Belzona product! So for all you pre common rail golden oldies out there I thought that I might offer it as prize no 2! I was going to save it for pipe or slippers repairs but have decided to put that off a while as I can't get into all the soaps. So, who has got the best memories of Carbide Lamps? I have got fond memories of that smell, except for oxy/acet, (not the same at all) I haven't smelt it in a very very long time. Dead ships at anchor, tankers laid up swinging around a chain for two years, no shore power, no gen sets until overhaul,out with the carbide lamps, everyone had one.No portable gen sets, only calcium carbide. I also have some pretty horrific memories which is not to be read by any HSE types out there or those of a nervous disposition which will be made known to all if replies dictate that in order to beef things up I may have to enter the competition of wind the clock back without disclosing ones age?
Remembering The Good Old days, when Chiefs stood watches and all Torque settings were F.T.

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Big Pete
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Re: Calcium Carbide Lamps

Postby Big Pete » Sun Feb 15, 2015 12:47 am

I have never used one, but I know they were commonly used from Victorian days until Electric batteries and torches/ lanterns became cheaper and more convenient. Used for car and bicycle headlights amongst other things.
Basic idea was that that there was a controlled drip of water onto a container of Acetylene Carbide, that generated Acetylene Gas which was burnt to give a bright white light.
I remember stories of old coasters with "Bulkhead generators" (oil lamps) for use in Blackouts and when the ship was in Port at night and all the engines were shut down, never heard of Acetylene lamps being used like that though.
I also heard stories of people mixing the Acetylene Carbide with dry Bread and feeding it to sea gulls, when their Stomach Acid reached the Acetylene carbide, the generation of large volumes of Acetylene Gas caused them to explode.
Back in the late 70's I was sailing on the Stephenson Clarke ship the Birling, we regularly loaded Limestone at Llandullas in North Wales and took it to Odda in Norway, where they used cheap Hydro Electric power to turn it into Calcium Carbide, which was then shipped back to Middlesborough, in Drums, where water was added and the Gas bottled for distribution round the UK.
It is always better to ask a stupid question than to do a stupid thing.

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JK
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Re: Calcium Carbide Lamps

Postby JK » Sun Feb 15, 2015 4:43 pm

My lord, carbide lamps! While I am sure they were on the old up and down steamer I work on, I think it long predates me! So I can safely say you probably have the maturity award!

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Merlyn
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Re: Calcium Carbide Lamps

Postby Merlyn » Mon Feb 16, 2015 1:46 am

Well I never thought that I was the only one over 35 out there, Calcium carbide lamps and my introduction to them was to be remembered for the rest of my days, a firm imprint photographed forever in the back of the brain. Here we are, it's 1960' off with the short trousers, on with starched stiff brand new overhauls, no spark/corrosion/jointing compound here and Monday no more school, it's work time. Report for work, new boy on the block. Toolbox full up with Mr Whitworth and Mr BSF spanners, lived by the sea so had a boat and already done head gaskets etc on Mr Perkins etc but nothing could prepare me for the next 5 years. Down in the enginerooms of a steam turbine ship, am put with an apprentice and taken to the top end of a scotch boiler. Pass I that knocking stick was the command and so I passed him the 14 pound sledge. Now pass I the spanner and over went the flogging spanner. The strong back securing the manhole cover was flogged off and into the boiler we went , me, him,and our two carbide lights. I was told to make sure the light was full up and not likely to run out. On top of the tubes we crawled over to the purifier plates and proceeded to strip all the stainless plates out, take them into a hold and wear out a few wire brushes. After a while I was left on my own, now a fully trusted employee! Bit scary in there on your own but determined to put on a good show I proceeded to wear out several wire brushes. Now anyone who has ever done this job will be aware of the talcum powder deposits and how it gets in your skin, despite 20 gallons drums of soap and sawdust treatment every night gazing at them Saturday night in the pub you could actually see the dust come up through the skin. This went on for days after the job was done. Anyway, back to the boiler. Now fully on my own and in top gear still I am stripping the purifier strum box nearest to the bulkhead stop valve and at the further most point from the manhole cover when I am aware of strong back centre nut being flogged back up. The noise is deafening and then the silence thereafter is worst. Now I am thinking perhaps school was'nt so bad, me alone with a hissing carbide light and the characteristic smell (never smelt anything near to it to date) securely sealed up in a scotch boiler. Time goes by, have no watch and the old panic sets in. What if another apprentice does'nt know I am in there and starts refilling the boiler ready to start flashing up? Start banging on the tubes and strum box to no avail. Time goes by, don't know to this day how long I was in there, start thinking about lack of oxygen, lamp going out and getting really wound up. Eventually hear the sledge flogging again with a :we've saved his life, he really owes us speech: heads appear through the manhole aperture with threats of beer to be donated the following Saturday night (by me) We were all on the gangplank when I said we have'nt see the boy for a while, it was only when we saw the manhole cover flogged up that we realised that someone must have thought ah, let's close it up ready for a fill and flash up next day. Now a point of interest here, mum says well, how did your first day at work go? Any apprentice who complained or whose parents were seen anywhere near works premises was in for a life of hell. In UK at that time the most feared people were without doubt the quiff and brillcreem boys, the dreaded Teddy Boys of which several of our apprentices were prominent members.Seem to remember Fortes Cafes figured greatly in this era. So although I have many other stories about carbide lamps this was the first and most horrific incident and certainly one to be carried to ones grave.
Remembering The Good Old days, when Chiefs stood watches and all Torque settings were F.T.

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Merlyn
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Re: Calcium Carbide Lamps

Postby Merlyn » Mon Feb 16, 2015 2:31 am

Not wishing to cause people nightmares ref my Carbide Light letter and as to date no one seems foward enough to own up their association with same, thereby disclosing age I follow with an more amusing story ref the light. As no one has owned up to personal knowledge I would conclude therefore that no one can say :I heard that one before: without blowing their cover and age. Approx 1963 we were doing piston liner change, from memory the engine in question was a B&W, job done myself and another apprentice boxed up the top end, but apon startup a peculiar rattle was heard. This was a Friday and the chief said he was not satisfied with the repair, the noise was not a knocking noise but a light tapping sound like a cam follower, intermittent at that. He stated that the following Monday the head would have to come off again and added that possibly one of you wretched boys had left their carbide lamp on the crown and should this be proven then there would be big trouble. Now the other apprentice had been caught out over a shaft key way he had cut out, when the charge hand had checked the feather key fit he had discovered that the only reason the key was an interference fit was because the apprentice had ballpeened hammered the key way as it had been cut too wide. As he was also my friend he was very worried that perhaps we had cocked it up, we knew the night watchman who was left on the dead ship and so I agreed to go in on the Saturday as no one else was there and whip the head off again. We got the head off in record time and a good inspection revealed thankfully no problems.Monday morning the Chief turns up and says get that head off, I want to see if one of you boys has left your carbide light in there, I am sure that's the problem. Every one says behind his back what an idiot to say we boxed it up with the light in there. Well off comes the head again in not such a quick time and to the utter amazement of everyone in the enginerooms on the piston crown sits the light. There says the chief, I told you so all the time, and bending over announces: and the bast.rds still lit!
Remembering The Good Old days, when Chiefs stood watches and all Torque settings were F.T.

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JK
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Re: Calcium Carbide Lamps

Postby JK » Mon Feb 16, 2015 3:09 am

When you are talking about the scotch marine boiler, I'm like yes, done that, done that, OMG they boxed him in! Going into the boiler must have been the newbies job as that was where I was sent first day. Only I didn't go in, no one was sent with me, so I didn't go count the anodes. Not a word said about it, so I guess it could be assumed to be some hazing there.
However, several years later I got stuck between a stay tube and the furnace. I slithered right in there, not so easy getting out. I skinned my back up getting back up out of there.

Funny story about the light in the liner. :)


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