the truth about carbide lamps

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from a letter to the editor of the E & MJ, April 30, 1927


More and Better Carbide Lamps


Sir: My plea, to quote the dying words of Goethe (who, as you may remember, was something of a geologist himself), is Mehr licht; or, as the Kiwanis would doubtless translate it, More and better light.

Since the carbide lamp has (Dieu merci) replaced the candle, it has incidentally entered into a neck-and-neck competition with the broken ladder-rung for first place as a cause of profanity among miners. The offending instrument finds itself tickled with a wire, shaken, opened, spat into, and perhaps, in a fit of exasperation, thrown down the nearest winze, amid an obscene and blasphemous flow of English, American, Spanish, or Cousin-Jack, according to locality and linguistic preferences.

Though occasionally some rare paragon among lamps may be cherished by its jealous owner, above much fine gold (and this, for a miner, is no mean valuation), the common product of the factory is not thus, but far otherwise. It flickers and sputters, it bubbles over with fiendish glee, and when raised to heaven, or at least as high as the backs of the stope, it exudes a mighty outpouring of hot water into the sleeve of its long-suffering collaborator. The perpetrators of the instrument have endowed it with automatic lighters, automatic water-feeds, and automatic cleaners (few of which work), but entirely forget (and it troubles me much) that one of the objects of a lamp is to give light, and not (for example) to economize in carbide.

I once worked in a camp in which, immediately upon requisitioning a lamp, sent it to the machine shop to have its reflector and jet summarily amputated. A burner was made from a Leyner water tube, and inserted so that the flame would be from three to four inches long. A reflector was fashioned from solid brass to replace the miniature tin dish, a ritual which leads one to wonder what laws of nature prevent all this from being done at the factory. And ah, that the genius of man might devise a non-leakable stopper for the carbide lamp!

I, for one, shall be content to light my flame with a match, and adjust the drip with my thumb, but my prayer to the lamp makers is that they hasten the millennium when we may have a reflector that shines as a good deed in a naughty world, behind a flame that not only permits us to see but to place handwriting on the wall, that the sampler who runs may read, for the miner as well as the aviator is wont to indulge in smoke writing. If some benefactor will give us this, what a generation of mining men will rise up to call him blessed!


Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico.

no matter what sort of mechanical need something may fulfill, someone will cuss it out and pitch it into a hole. either it works, or it doesn't; can be fixed or altered in a positive way- or it can't; or is some sort of money maker built to false pretences that make loads of cash for the vendor, and headaches for the user that was hoping it'd worked out better.

posterity eats it up because no matter what sort of POS it was when roiginally purchased and used, it now become a rare masterpiece of antique engineering that is worth far more gold than the original factory could ever make off of it

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