Readers!
 

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


 

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:
 


 

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


 

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Beals Science – Resurrecting a carbide lamp

An evening pause: Long time cavers are very familiar with the carbide lamp, as it was used routinely until around 1998, when LED lights arrived and finally superseded it.

Until then, the advantage of a carbide light was the quality of the light it produced, a soft bright glow rather than the harsh reflective rings produced by older electric lights.

The disadvantage however was the endless fiddling required to keep them working. For example, near the end of this video when he finally gets the light to work, he turns up the water flow to brighten the light. I guarantee that very soon the light would go out, as he was flooding the carbide. The water drip had to be precisely right. Too slow and not enough gas. Too fast and too much water.

I personally hated carbide lights because of that fiddling, especially because lamps made after 1970 were junk and didn’t work well. Most cavers who used carbide would scour yard sales to find old lights like this one, as older carbide lamps were made well and would work reliably.

Hat tip Jeff Poplin.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

11 comments

  • Did not know that carbide lamps were common until the late 90’s. Assume you use LED’s, and find them satisfactory?

  • Blair K Ivey: Yup, been using LEDs since 1998. Since I was never a carbide fan, the switch from incandescent to LEDs was easy and immediate. The real change was the decision by those who loved carbide to go to LEDs. What made them switch was its soft light, similar to that of carbide.

  • janyuary

    “Most cavers who used carbide would scour yard sales to find old lights like this one, as older carbide lamps were made well and would work reliably.”

    Smart homemakers scour yard sales/”antique” (junk) stores for USA-made pre-1980 gas stoves/ovens, refrigerators, and USA-made stainless steel flatware and cooking implements because the “new” stuff is designed to fail after about four years of use.

  • Lee Stevenson

    My Father was a pretty hard core caver back in the 60s and 70s, and I remember his electric light with the massive battery pack! He always carried a carbide light in one of the ammo tins they dragged thru the darkness, and always said he preferred the light, just not the hassle. He also still prefers the light from “flash bulbs”, and magnesium strips he used as the caving clubs photographer. ( Both of which gave me and my friends entertainment when I snaffled some, and lit them in the back yard!). Bob, you obviously remember that tech, and having experienced both, what do you think my father would think of LEDs? ( He also thinks that using wire ladders was a good thing as it proved how tough you are, but he is 82, and very unlikely to go down a cave again, so I humour him ;-)

  • Lee: Your father would have loved LEDs. And he is also right about cable ladders. They didn’t prove how tough you were, they make climbing some short drops quick and easy, much faster than vertical gear and ropes.

    You do have to know the technique however. If you climb a cable ladder wrong you will struggle badly. Do it right, and it is a breeze.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @janyuary, because Europe, we can’t buy uncertified electrical goods over here, but my ex-inlaws have an amazing freezer in their summer house, from the 50’s, If I recall correctly they have had the coolant refilled once, and it’s the coolest ( pun intended!) Appliance I’ve ever seen! 70 years and still cool! And my kitchen is full of ironware sourced in charity shops…. It’s well worth paying the same for something 20 years old that’s still perfect, rather than an “all new, Teflon coated, all singing and dancing” frying pan for the same price. Give me a “vintage” cast iron frying pan over a lightweight superpan any day!

  • Lee Stevenson

    @Bob, I will relay your comments to my Dad, Thank you! And I have to say, he has imparted many skills and much wisdom into my life, but amongst the least useful is that ” one foot behind, one foot in front ” method of climbing the things…. Although it came in useful when tree climbing when I was a young lad :-)

  • Col Beausabre

    I have two carbide . One from of my great uncles who came to this country in the first decade of the 20th century and mined anthracite up around Shamokin PA. It just shows how bad Europe was when being a coal miner in the US in 1910 was a step up in your life. He and his brother, also a miner, saved up and brought their little sister over. To enter the US you needed to have a document saying you had a guaranteed job here. Grandma had a letter promising work as a maid in the mine manager’s house. She said they treated her like a daughter while she worked there, My other lamp, is a railroad switchman’s lamp. It wasn’t until after WW2 that the line my father’s dad worked for replaced carbide with electrical lamps. By the way, the last stop before electricity for railroad passenger cars and locomotive headlights was carbide. They also used small carbide plants to generate acetylene for flood lights and cutting torches on the wreck train stationed at the shops he worked at

  • janyuary

    Col Beau … what a fascinating read! Thumbs up

  • Alex Andrite

    Mr. Z. ;
    The only carbide I have now is for my “Big-Bang Cannon”, and I have ‘caved’ only once. My cousin and I dug a deep hole fort in the local black adobe mud of Contra Costa County one summer long ago.

    My question is regarding the L.E.D. spectrum(s). The LED lights I have seen / used do not render a “natural light”; the warmer spectrum sunlight as found if I turn my back to the noon sun and observe my specimens in my shadow, but LED’s instead present a harsh washout of colors type of lighting.
    What type of LED lighting do Cavers use, and does it render a true spectrum for mineral, or other sample, color observations while in the dark ?

  • Alex Andrite: The color temperature of LEDs is actually more natural than carbide. LEDs generally have a similar color temperature to sunlight, blue to green. This is why when you turn an LED light on in daylight you can hardly see the light. It matches perfectly the light of the Sun.

    Carbide has lower color temperature, more yellow, like incandescent bulbs. It might look nice, but the only reason we think it natural is because we are used to it.

    For observations in a cave LEDs are far better, but not so much because of their color temperature but because they provide so much more light. Having lots of light makes everything easier, and nowadays cavers have tons.

Readers: the rules for commenting!

 

No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.

 

However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.

 

Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *