Saturday, November 13, 2010

Essential Preparedness Tools of the Trade Part IV - Non-Electric Lighting

When we moved into "Little Shouse on the Prairie", we had two windows, and they were both in the back of the shouse, not in the living areas.  What we were thinking, I will never know, but I do know that it was like living in a cave.

Sir Knight and I had prepared for Y2K, so we were ready to take on life with no electricity, or so we thought.  Although we didn't have electric lights, we did have Aladdin Mantle Lamps and a Petromax Multi-Fuel lantern made in Germany.  We had some plain old kerosene lamps, but they were old school - who needed them?

We brought out our highly polished, perfectly beautiful Aladdin lamps, put them in prestigious locations in our rather crude living room, and lit them.  They were something to behold indeed.  The light was even and bright.  You could easily read or work by the light they put out, and Sir Knight and I wondered why anyone would ever have a need for electric lights.  The light put out by the Aladdin was so warm and glowing - it positively lit up the room with it's wonderful radiance.  And then, it burst into flames.

We found that although the light put out by the Aladdin Lamp is superior, the lamp requires constant attention.  You don't just light an Aladdin and then go feed the animals.  If you do that, you will return to a burned out mantle (no small thing at $14.00 apiece) or your house on fire.  If you use an Aladdin, you have to be willing to babysit it.  For folks with no children, who only use the lamp for reading (and they are right next to it to adjust it as required), it may be a wonderful option, but for a busy family with no time to fiddle with a light all of the time, it can be disastrous.

After our adventures with Aladdins, we turned our attention to the stunningly beautiful Petromax Multifuel Lantern made in Germany.  Touted as the toughest lamp out there and used by German troops in the field, we thought this might be the perfect lamp for us.  After all, we are harder on things than most military units!  The Petromax is a technological marvel.  It made out of blindingly shiny stainless steel and when fitted with the shade, will fill your house with the equivalent of three 100 watt light bulbs.  Pretty good for an off-grid lighting option.

We filled our Petromax with fuel, and noticed what at first appeared to be rivulets and then became rivers of fuel seeping through the bottom seam.  After many conversations with the importer, we sent our old (brand new) fuel tank back and were sent a new one.  This time, there were no problems with leaking, so we decided to fire up the old girl and see how she ran.  The Petromax has a pre-burner that atomizes the fuel so that it will light quickly, before it has gotten sufficiently warm to atomize the fuel on its own.  I'm telling you - it is like lighting a blow torch in your kitchen!  You have a tank full of pressurized fuel (you pump the Petromax up just like a Coleman lantern) with a blow torch on it and then you put a lighter to it.  Now don't think that doesn't take a lot of prayers and a lot of faith!  The light that the Petromax puts out is unparalleled.  It is bright - really bright.  The Petromax is, however, fussy.  It leaks (both fuel and pressure), the mantles break incredibly easily, the pre-burner works sometimes and not other times and it is complicated to use.  It caught on fire more than once and the last time, it caught my kitchen table on fire (the table still bears the scars) and I vowed never to use it again.  It scared me.  I was afraid the whole darn thing was going to blow up and kill us all.  The best thing that ever happened to that Petromax was Sir Knight drilling holes in it and putting electricity to it.  Now I use it every day, hanging over the loveseat in the kitchen, emitting a the lovely glow of a compact fluorescent.

A new Petromax -our old one hangs in the kitchen

After a number of hysterical, tear-filled phone calls to my father, he took pity on me and brought up a Coleman lantern and a Dietz Lantern.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  No more fussing with suicidal Aladdin lamps and no more bargaining with homicidal Pertromax lanterns.  Just plain, simple, humble Coleman lanterns, with their soothing hiss on cold winter nights.  They worked.  I didn't have to worry about them catching their mantles on fire or the pre-burner igniting the table.  The mantles were cheap, the fuel was cheap, parts were available and inexpensive and the light was wonderful.  Sir Knight bent wire coat hangers and hung a hook in the living room and one in the kitchen (off the garage door track) and we had two Colemans, which lit the entire living area of the shouse.  Some of my childrens' earliest  memories are of waking up to the sound of me pumping and lighting the Coleman lanterns and opening up the drafts on the wood cookstove.  To this day, they love Coleman lanterns.  They are the sound of home.

One of our trusty old Colemans
And those humble, plain, old school kerosene lamps?  I love them!  Trim the wicks, fill them with kerosene, light them and adjust the wick and you are done!  They give off a pleasing glow, plenty to light those dark corners, and they never fail.  There is nothing to remember, nothing to tweak, nothing to brake (except, perhaps the chimney - I always keep extras).  I really like lamps that hang on the wall.  We have children.  It just keeps accidents from becoming emergencies.

Wonderful, plain old kerosene lamp
The Dietz Lanterns that my dad brought up were invaluable for night time feeding of stock and milking in the winter time.  We live in a windy area, and regular lamps are immediately blown out if you step outside.  The Dietz just keeps on shining.  The kids used it (and still do, sometimes) when they fed the critters when it was dark, when they brought wood in at night and even for night time sledding.  I used it for many years in my milking parlor.  There was nothing nearly as romantic as being snuggled up to a warm cow, watching the snow gently waft to the ground, listening to that rhythmic ping, ping of the steaming milk hitting the milk bucket, bathed in the glow of the Dietz lantern.

And then there are candles.  Candles, of course, are not particularly good to read by, they strain your eyes too much, but they do light the way down a dark hall, brighten a dark corner and provide a warm, soft glow.

Candle mold
Having your lighting needs provided for will offer you a wonderful sense of security when the power grid goes down.  Knowing how to use your lighting sources and having them ready and available is essential.  The last thing you want to do is run around looking for the mantles, wicks, funnels and fuel when it is pitch black and the kids are panicking.  We still have our coat hanger hooks hanging from the garage door track, just in case. We keep our Coleman's clean and serviced.  Every fall, I clean our kerosene lanterns and fill them with fuel.  And, even now, I am working on perfecting my candle recipe.

We hope that we will always have enough solar to keep our lights on, but we are prepared if we don't.


  1. I was seriously just talking to my husband about where our Colman lantern was, mentioning that you use them, when your post popped up. I'm horribly unprepared for even the littlest emergency, and am trying to get at least ready for power going out. Thanks! Love what you share.

  2. Thanks again for sharing. I'm not sure if you've posted this already, but what do you do for water?

  3. Great information shared through the use of personal stories - does it get any better than that?!!!! I absolutely love your stories because they are always so informational, inspirational, and/or humorous. The "Preparedness Tools of the Trade" series is quite helpful, please keep them coming.

    Your Coleman lanterns run on which fuel? Is ventilation a concern? And do you have the ones made in the USA? I noticed that many Coleman products are now made in China - such a sad thing, IMHO. I have been scouring the yard sales, antique stores, and other places for American made products like hammers, saws, Coleman products, etc. because I think the quality is better than many of the newer things being produced ANYWHERE these days. (Sometimes I get lucky and actually find what I'm looking for.)

    NoCal Gal

  4. I was looking into getting some Dietz lanterns soon, so this blog post was very informative.

  5. Another great post. I'm so glad that I'm able to come here and learn from someone who has already tested out products. It sure does save this family a lot of time and money since we can learn from your experiences. Since we got a much later start on prepping than your family, that savings of time is very important. Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. "The light put out by the Aladdin was so warm and glowing - it positively lit up the room with it's wonderful radiance. And then, it burst into flames."

    Ouch, Enola. Coffee snorted through the nose hurts! LOL! Thanks for the practical advice (and a good laugh).

  7. NoCal Gal;
    We usually use coleman fuel, however, we do have the duel fuel Coleman, so we could use gasoline. We do have some older Colemans that I believe were made in the US. I'm not sure about the other, but they are all relatively old. In a shouse, ventilation is not a concern. A shouse is a lot of things, but airtight isn't one of them! In a "normal" house we would crack a window in the room that we were using the Coleman in!

    Thanks for stopping by - it is always fun to visit!


  8. Lily;

    Water is really a big deal! I will dedicate an entire post to the issue of water. I'll let you know what we do, as well as many of the folks that we know.

  9. Coleman's remind me of camping. Great memories. We just bought a Dietz lantern, but haven't fired it up yet. It sounds like the best option you listed. Is there anything you don't like about them?

    Also, you may have posted about this already, but I don't remember reading it - how do you store kerosene? Does it ever "go bad"? What's the best way to purchase it?

    Thanks so much for sharing so much information and how to's. You are a tremendous resource.