Coleman Lantern (Bill Dixon)

June 12, 2016

     I live in a home here in Richmond, Va. that was built in 1923 and has a large basement. The house in Brooklyn on east 2nd street had a large basement also, but we called it a cellar.  The only time I heard the word basement was when people lived there...like in "Finished basement".  But if it only had the furnace and it just contained "stuff" it was a cellar. When we first moved in...in the late 30's...it had a coal furnace and a coal bin.  Big coal for the heat and small coal for the hot water furnace.  You would never call a place that had a coal bin a "basement".

    
     The cellar was where I kept my boy scout stuff and more important was the meeting place for all patrol meetings of the Flying Eagle patrol of Troop 240....Dan Riviera Senior Patrol Leader. In fact Dan left some of his camping gear in that cellar. That was where I kept my Coleman Lantern.  A few weeks ago I found in my Richmond cellar my Coleman lantern....the same one I bought in a hardware store in Monticello in 1949.
    
     When I got off the train in 1944 at Tustin, New York I threw my pack in the truck as we were told and started the walk up the hill (to me it was a big mountain) to the Camp Oneida of the old Division 3.  I would assume I had a flashlight in my pack. I do not remember but that would seem reasonable. I think a two-battery flashlight was pretty cheap.  I never had an official Boy Scout flashlight since that would have cost much more. I remember Dan had a black flashlight that had three or four batteries and that seemed like a spotlight to the rest of us. My pack was not very large and I had everything for two weeks in it.  I would have been wearing my uniform with knickers, long socks, long sleeve shirt and the wonderful wide brim had. I would trade today my Coleman lantern for that wide brim hat.
    
     The pack was called either a Forester or an Alpine pack.  I had my first and freshly purchased summer uniform in it; underwear; a pair of sneakers and I guess a sweater and a poncho. It was a very cheap poncho and later years I got a much better one. I had two army type blanks in a horseshoe on my pack.  I also recall bringing my mess kit although I would not know why I would need that.  And my flashlight.  The really "in" outerwear at camp were those heavy wool shirts that were black and red checkered.  In my six seasons as staff at TMR I guess I had two of those. But a camper in 1944 did not have that kind of shirt.  We had just an old jacket.
    
     There was no electricity in Div. 3 nor was there any electricity in Div. 1 or 2. I do not know about Div. 4. There was electricity in the Talequah area...certainly in the Infirmary and there were lights in the Talequah council fire area although not very bright.   The place lit up when the council fire started.
    
     As a kid growing up Brooklyn we had been "to the country" a few times and I had seen houses without electricity and that had outhouses. Thus the Willeys and the lack of electricity was no big deal to me and I do not believe it made any real difference to my friends.   Most had flashlights. There were some kids and even staff that had another type of light source. It was a small lantern (could hold in one hand) that had a flame shooting out the front. Some may recall the name but I do not.  I think the fuel was something mixed with water maybe?  I do not recall.  I do recall that this little thing was a very dangerous light source.  Kids would use it to put their initials or whatever in the canvas tents or wood bunk walls. There was carbon residue.  There was also a GREAT chance starting a fire.  I think in the early 50's we prohibited those lanterns.
    
     But the camp-issued lighting source was the old reliable Kerosene Lantern. It was very reliable although it provided a limited amount of light.  Each eight-person tent or cabin had a lantern and there was also one for the staff tent.  Most lanterns hung in one place in the camp and of course every morning that globe had to be cleaned.  The adjustment of the wick was every important.  Not just anyone could master that art. The wick had to be far enough out to provide the maximum amount of light BUT not too far out that would cause smoke and the carbon would cover the glass globe and it would turn black.  Toilet paper was used to clean the globe.. definitely the recommended method.  The adjustment of the wick was something too important and was rarely left to a first year camper.
    
     In the years I was in Div. 1 I would often see kids from other Divisions grinding along on an overnight hike following the trail that went down by the Indian Cliffs. I have a vivid picture of kids with their packs and often have a Kerosene Lantern hanging on the back of their pack...bouncing up and down.  Why anyone would carry a Kerosene Lantern on a overnight hike was beyond me.  A cigarette lighter provided as much light!
    
     In the office on the Hill in the old Div. 3 they did not use Kerosene lantern but rather they had a Coleman lantern.  As a camper in Camp Oneida you see that great white light coming from the screened-in office. In Div. 1 there was a generator about thirty yards in front of the office by the road. This location made it easier for a truck to fill up the gasoline tank to run the generator.  So there was electricity for the office which ...the same building...contained the Infirmary and the Camp Directors quarters. There was a shower at the end of the infirmary that had hot water.  Not sure if that was electric or propane.
    
     In the Dining hall we had a few Coleman Lanterns.
    
     Coleman Lanterns were and are wonderful things. An ingenious invention! But they also required a certain level of skill to maintain. To start you had to learn how to burn the cotton (?) mantel after being tied on.  The idea that we were using an ash still boggles my mind.  Further there was a little handle ...L shaped by the stem that had to be turned just properly. You could turn it, then would seem the lantern was off and turn it again and it would light up. How did it do that?  And of course it had to be pumped up to provide air pressure.  At night the lantern would start growing dim and you had to leap up...unscrew the little lock/cap and start pumping.
    
     I bought me first and only Coleman Lantern...the one I still have...in 1949. I was the Scoutmaster of Kennebec and Marty Stein was the Asst. to SM. On my day off I went into Monticello in search of action (which was never ever found) and had the ten or eleven dollars to buy this lantern.   A terrific purchase which I do not regret to this day.  Coleman lanterns are indestructible!
    
     The camp owned a few that had double mantels for the office and dining hall. But for the individual the single mantel lantern was fine...more then fine..it was perfect.  We lived in a 9 by 9 tent. The lantern was designed to light up every inch of that tent. You could read books and so.  Marv and I had a tent on Camp Slow Blow Horn rock and we often read by that lantern. But the real magic was fourth period.  It got a bit chilly in fourth period and the Coleman Lantern was not only designed to light a 9 by 9 tent...it was to heat one as well.  You would roll the flaps down and it was really very comfortable.  The lantern was also perfect for walking around taking bed checks.  Every kid could be easily spotted in an instance and all the rotten things they were probably doing could also be spotted. It required something called  "White Gas" and of course Nick Dale was only too happy to sell you White Gas.  It cost about 20 cents a gallon and he had a large tank of it by the road going to the cabins. White gas is no longer easy to purchase.  There is a product called Coleman Fuel that sells for about $4.99 a gallon or more.  Of course it is nothing but white gas.
    
     Electricity came to the Divisions around 1950.  In Division 1 to get the wire and electrical towers they cut a large swatch from Div. 2 to Div. 3. They also nearly cut out the induction site in the process. This was real overkill.  For the amount of power that was used in two months... a heavy duty and extra long extension cord may have done the trick. I now seem to recall it had something to do with putting the dishwashing stations in the dinning hall. Did they need the light or was the water boiled by electricity?  I do not know.
     
     Whatever...there is nothing like a  Coleman lantern.

 

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