Mistaken Identity by Colin Ella

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Some of the old cycles used by various Bygone Bicycle Societies and Vintage Cycle Groups sport the ancient acetylene gas lamps which for nearly 50 years were the main source of illumination for cyclists.

I remember one of these rusting away in our garden shed but their real golden age was a little before my time, although I do seem to recall seeing one in use.

These lamps were used at magic lantern shows, country fairs, churches and years earlier Captain Scott had one at his camp in Antarctica.

As a lad I do remember the calcium carbide which powered these lamps. We liked to hear it pop and hiss when we dropped water on to it. A few pieces of calcium carbide in the base of the lamp suffered a periodical drop of water from a container at the top and this produced the gas which flamed from a jet in the front of the lamp. However the pungent smell was not popular, especially with the ladies, nor was the regular messy job of removing the spent carbide.

In general these lamps did a good job but their faults were many. Jets would become blocked, there was too much water or none at all.

As regards running out of water I read of an amusing incident. Two fellows were going home from the pub one night when they came across a motor-cyclist trying to get his acetylene lamp to work. It had run out and there was no convenient water nearby. One of the fellows laughing suggested a rather crude remedy but the motor-cyclist muttered something about the cold and the difficulty with his boiler suit.

The fellow just remarked, ‘Leave it to me,’ and he obliged. A week later he was very red faced when the District Nurse called to deliver his wife’s baby. She breezed in and exclaimed laughingly, ‘ Well, I never. You’re the kind gentleman who helped me with my water problem last week!’ Yes - I have no doubt those old lamps could tell many a similar tale.

Next week in Part 192 - The Old Songs Endure