My 1913 Touring has carbide headlights and I am not comfortable with setting these up with carbide. Therfore I have not tried.
The forum has suggested that acetylene is the safest and easiest way to get heardlights.
Has anybody developed a design for inserting a modern acetylene bottle into the running board carbide tank? Is there a bracket holder that is available for this conversion inside the tank or do the vendors offer any modifications. After I insert the acetylene bottle into the tank, what other parts would I require for the conversion.
Thanks for the input
Whenever anyone has recommended using acetylene in carbide lamps, they are not referring to an acetylene gas tank, used by welders, they are referring to the Calcium Carbide rocks that are used in carbide lamps to generate the flammable acetylene gas. If you have ever seen the inside of an acetylene tank, it is filled with baffles and the acetylene gas is generated by the calcium carbide rocks in the acetylene tank. I believe Calcium Carbide can be obtained through a welder's supply that has acetylene tanks. As purchasing manager for a Railcar Repair Company, I once obtained a paint gallon can full of chunks of calcium carbide from the Welding gas salesman. It was harmless until water was added. See: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbide_lamp. Jim
I have a 1913 touring and have studied the options. From what I have found if you are planning to use bottled gas to power the lights you could probably buy a Prestolite tank from a local bottled gas supplier that is very much like the originls used when your car was new.
I actually did this and have one of the OEM type Prestolite bottles but have decided that reports of injuries or damage caused by using the original system as it was designed are nil. So why not just use calcium carbide in the original Ford installed carbide generator?
Perhaps I am using the wrong name for the gas.
I heard that some people put a new gas tank under the back seat. I assumed this was a diposable tank such as propane that you could buy already filled at the hardware. Am I mistaken or what is the name of this gas and can I buy a disposale botle with a regulator
I saw an interseting diagram in one of the About Town news letters that shows a consensate trap of sorts cut into the gas line leading from the acetylene source to the lights. Looks real simple and easy to fab from ordinary plumbing parts. Looks like the drip leg found on any houshold gas powered utility. Never noticed one on an automobile before, but then again, I never really thought to look for it. The diagram shows this device mounted under the running board, but is not specific as to the means of mounting.
The gas that gas headlights burn is acetylene gas, exactly the same as you would use in your Oxy-Acetylene torch.
The cars of the gaslight era used either an acetylene generator which had Calcium Carbide upon which water dripped thus releasing the acetylene gas or what was called “PrestoLite” which was a tank exactly the same size as a small welding tank. The welding supply places used to pass out these little tanks as late as the 1990’s until us collector types quit returning them. Some had a printed graphic on a nickel plated tank, some an embossed logo. The tank was mounted to the running board in a harness that allowed quick exchange of the tank.
Acetylene gas becomes unstable above 15 PSI and is dissolved in Acetone impregnated material inside the tank.
It may be possible to get one of the really small acetylene welding tanks to fit into a gutted out carbide generator although the look of the PrestoLite tank on the runningboard would probably be correct for the period as well.
I used to hide the tank and use PVC tubing to connect to the front of the car but I doubt this is the most safe way.
Another problem is the pressure of the gas in a modern tank is up around 250 PSI and it’s difficult to regulate it down to some low inches-of-water pressure for the headlights. I have had several cars with their original PrestoLite setup and never figured out how the pressure was controlled. Most had a tiny orifice and a needle valve which was still tricky.
I played with carbide generators and they are very erratic and messy. The residue from the decomposing carbide is corrosive so the thing has to be practically steam cleaned after every use. They do work and I never had one blow up. After you turn off the water drip the generator continues to make gas for hours, or it runs out about half way home on a night drive. Calcium Carbide can be purchased on the web.
Garry, I saw those headlights demonstrated once. They lit OK and got very bright for about 10 seconds. Then there was an explosion and flash of light and the whole top of the generator did summersalts off the tank and into the grass. I still have the video. When working right, they are much brighter than the electric lights.
Thanks to everyone for their enlightening information. The more that I research the topic the more likely I am to consider the halogen conversion kit for the headlights, except the price is very high for the replacement bulb.
I will probably use kerosene for the sidelights and tailights, unless you recommend differently.
I do not want a safety issue with acetylene, especially with grandchildren in the car. I also store my Model T's in the attached garage at home.
My next project will be to design a system to put the forward facing child booster seat in the back seat of the Model T, because this is mandatory in Canada.
If you want to use a tank as opposed to a generator you have to be careful about where and how you mount it. The MC tanks are small but not small enought to put in a carbide generator so it has to go some place else. Under the seat is not a good idea as gas could build up from a leak. The tank should also be set up on an angle so the valve is higher than the bottom of the tank in order to keep the acetone from leaching into the acetylene. The early prestolite tanks had the valve off set for that reason but the new tanks have the valve in the center so it has to be placed on an angle if you want to put the tank on it's side. I have a carbide generator on all of my T's and have used them for years without any problems but it is messy and a lot of work. My Chalmers Detroit came with a prestolite bottle originally and it was mounted on the running board. No one will fill it today because it has a gauge on the bottom so I mounted a modern MC bottle under the car on an angle as I described above and it works well except for the inconvenience of having to get under the car to turn on the gas. I have never seen an original gas bottle with a regulator which is why people have trouble using them. You have to just crack open the valve or there will be too much gas and you can easily blow up a lamp that way. You should also be sure to open the doors to both lamps before turning on the gas and lighting them.
Thanks for the description re the product you use. Where do I purchase a MC tank and what accessories are required with this purchase. Does it come with the valve regulator. Can I buy a clamp bracket with the tank for attaching under the car. Do you have a brand name, model number and retailer's name. Do I get the tank refilled with acetylene from a welding supply when empty.
I assume you use the same rubber tubing and burners as supplied by Langs or Macs.
Are there maintenance and safety isuues with this MC product.
Lots of questions and I appreciate the time you took to enlighten me
If you do a search you will find a few threads on gas lights.
I answered one but here is a quick rundown from my experience.
I have had gas lights on my Town Car working for over 40 years. They are safe easy and simple to use.
First the corrosion problem is a myth. Have you ever seen a generator or light which has corrosion holes or pit marks in it? Lots of dents etc but usually its just a job for a good buff and polish to restore the brass to shiny bright.
If the bits were steel then you have rust but steel rusts without any help. I can see a steel part getting eaten with the sludge from the calcium carbide if it was left in contact with it but mud would do the same.
I keep a tin of calcium carbide under the back seat. Its in a normal tin plated paint tin. When I use the lights I top up the generator with a couple of pieces. A bit about the size of a golf ball lasts about an hour.
I have accessory flint lighters in the E&J lamps, when I think its time to light up the lamps I reach down and turn the needle valve and let the water drop onto the carbide. It takes about a minute for enough gas to be produced and for it to get to the lamps. If we are on the road I pull over or wait for the next red light and Sally jumps out opens the door of the lamps blows into the light to remove any accumulated gas and flicks the lighters. If the gas is there they light up. After doing both we continue on our way. If I increase the water flow the lights get brighter and vica versa.
When its time to turn off the lights I shut off the water and let them burn out. Always seemed a better idea than blowing them out and then having the gas hovering around for someone to ignite.
Is it messy? NO the carbide is reduced to a sludge in the bottom of the container. Obviously as its water and powder its like mud. but you don't have a problem. You can leave it in there until the next time you use the lights. (there might be some gas still to come from the dregs) or you can scrape it out and dispose of it or let it dry out and then scrape it out. My generator always has about a third to a half full pile of residue in the bottom , no signs of corrosion yet in 40 years so I'm pretty sure I will be gone first before there is any. Your car is going to get a lot messier if you drive it from dirt and oil under the car which I'm sure you know all about.
My generator always has some reside left in it as its likely to get used but if you only used the lights ocasionally then put a liner in (plastic bag or container) and then take it out and throw it away. There is no residue left anywhere else pipes,lamps etc.
Danger: I have not seen any thing written that convinces me that the generators producing acetylene are dangerous. In a bottle under high pressure yes but allowed to operate as intended by giving off gas and piping at the low pressure to lights obviously they are not.
Electric lights killed gas lights for obvious reasons but my main supply of calcium carbide comes from outdoor shops who supply it to people going down into caves. With all the advances in lamps and torches it speaks well that the choise of these people is an acetylene lamp. I don't think I would like to be way underground crawling on my stomach with a lamp that was likely to blow up in my face and they would be getting tossed around even upside down compared to what we would be doing on a car.
Any wiff of danger and things get controlled or banned real quick, all those old acetylene lights must have been millions over the last 100 plus years and it still not a problem.
You won't get me putting any sort of high pressure gas bottle on my car when the original works so well.
Just as a side bar. When I took my car to have it road tested for registration it was knocked back because of the gas lights. The inspectors couldn't tell me why except that they thought the lights were not acceptable.
I wrote and complained to the govenment transport minister who sent three people out to my house at night to check out the lights. They found them bright enough to pick an object at 50 yards, they were 100 reliable as they didn't rely on a battery so could be put into action whenever needed. The Model T became the first car in the state to be registered with gas lights (once again) and since several other people have also had there cars passed. As they don't have globes to blow the inspector doesn't require me to light them up to prove they work each year when its renewal time.
If you need to ask any more about them let me know, hope to see you in Indiana.
Thank you for the wonderful dissertation on the qualities of the original gas lights.
Now I have some real decisions to ponder re my approach to lighting. I like the fun and novelty of original gas lights but always err on the side of safety.
I have not seen you in several years. We still talk about our T Tour in Australia and the great hospitality. When are you coming to Canada for a visit.
Garry, you can buy MC tanks at almost any welding supply place like Praxaire which has places around the country where they sell industrial gases and welding supplies. You buy the tank filled and then exchange it for another filled one as needed. I have never seen a regulator for any size acetylene tank that supplies pressure low enough for headlights but there might be one out there that could be used. As far a bracket is concerned, I made one up as I could not find one that would work with the small gas bottles. It wasn't hard to do. I just formed straps out 1" wide mild steel using an empty gas bottle as a form. I used two straps and made one with a longer mounting arm so the bottle is on an angle with the valve at the highest point. I ran a steel line from the gas bottle to the piping attached to the radiator and have rubber hoses at each end to absorb vibration. Use hose that is made for acetylene and clamp it to avoid leaks. There should already be piping attached to and running along the back of the radiator to the lamps and you use the same rubber hose to run from that piping to the headlamps. I have the brackets for the gas bottle bolted to the bottom of the floor boards under the rear seat so it is not visible unless you are under the car. I guess the set up is a safe as it was in 1910 when they mounted much larger gas bottles on the running board. Just make sure it's secure and not next to the muffler. It's protected from side impact by the frame and should get enough air circulation around it to keep gas from building up in the event of a leak. Beyond that, you have to exercise the same caution that would apply to any gas welding set up. Hope this helps you make a decision but, as I said in my earlier post, I have and use both systems with equally good results. I use the carbide generator on the cars that came with one and I use the MC tank on the cars that originally came with the PrestoLite system just to keep things as correct as possible.
Garry - I've used the acetylene lights on our '14 Touring and they work quite nicely. Yes, they are a little more work than electric or with a MC tank, but the historical accuracy and novelty of them is worth it, I think.
Before using ours, I installed a new rubber hose kit from one of the vendors, as our old hoses were hard and cracked. Then I hooked up the acetylene from our torch to each headlight, one at a time, to check that they burned properly and safely. You only need about one pound of pressure on the acetylene gauge to check them out. We found that one of the burners was defective and replaced it with a new one from one of the vendors.
There are so many people, even T people, that have never seen gas lights work, that I plan on demonstrating how to use them at the evening cruise-ins we sometimes go to.
We used them at the Old Car Festival in Dearborn last year and it was great.
Best wishes, Keith
Val & Keith
Thanks for your helpful information
How about using a pressure reducer from a propane barbie? Its output is probably about the same as the natural gas regulators in our houses, or about half an inch of water.
Maybe this guy's pressure tank for his acetylene lamps went bad?
Did the guy survive that?? Looks like the motor is blowing apart.
The problem with propane in the headlights is that burning propane is not be bright enough to be of any use for lighting.
The same problem with the halogen conversion kits for gas lamps. The halogen bulbs are quite bright but the light is not focused so it does not light up the road.
The reproduction aluminum reflectors also are not terribly satisfactory because they don't reflect light as well as the original silvered glass reflectors. So you get very little light on the road from the reproduction reflectors even when using carbide.
My basket on my Jno Brown has many holes in it, which I assume is from corrosion. Can I use the basket as is or should I buy a new basket from the parts suppliers.
Do I assume that when it is time to empty the basket that the contents are in the bottom and I simply turn the basket upside down. Or do I need to wash the burnt contents out.
I am in need of a clamp for holding the top tank to the bottom tank and I have placed a parts wanted ad in the forum. Or is there a vendor that sells this part, which I have not found in the catalogs
After all your advice I hope to fully understand the carbide generator and its working system on my 1913 Touring
Whatever you use inside the generator to place the carbide in should be water and gas tight. If you can buy a new basket from a dealer that would be the way to go but as I suggested before you could use a plastic bag or similar inside the container to hold the carbide and then you can just take it out when you have finished using the lights.
Whatever is inside the generators casing needs to seal around the top tank so the gas produced inside can only exit out through the tube and then on to the lights. So the basket is part of a sealed unit to contain the gas. Usually there is a rubber seal around the top of the split section of the generator and clamping the water tank down onto the seal produces a gas tight container which the gas is produced inside. You can easily test this before setting it up by submerging the unit into water with a tube attached to the exit pipe if you can blow into the tube and no bubbles come out of anywhere from the generator you should have a gas tight container inside to produce the gas in.
The sludge will dry out after you turn off the water and the gas stops and then requires scraping out If you want it clean inside between use. If you remove the container soon after use you should be able to scoop most of it out as it will be soft and then wash the remainder out.
For those thinking about propane, we had one member who tried this out and as Royce pointed out they arn't real bright but he also melted the brass chimmneys on the lamps wrecking a good apir of Jones lamps.
Kieth in WI. If you read this, I also have a 14 with acetalene tank and lights. With the help of the guys on this site, I learned how to repair, check it out and get it lit safely. They work great. If you click on my profile, you can see the car. Would love to see your car. If you can, please email a pic. Please email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, Fred McDonald, Murfreesboro, Tn
Thanks for the input. If I must clean out the basket, does the screen remove in order to get to the bottom of the basket. My screen seems to be permanently in place. Is this because it is rusted and stuck.
I assume that I get a removable screen with the basket when I reorder from a parts vendor
Gary, the basket should be removable. I've always been under the impression that they were a little loose so that road vibration would shake the carbide around a bit. I'll have to check my generator ('14) and see. I believe mine's a wire basket with about 1/8" openings in the screen.
When I bought my Prestolite brand MC tank from my weldgas supplier I also bought a regulator that works perfectly for acetylene lights and is made to fit an MC tank. They're available, talk to your weldgas supplier.
Here's a regulator from our friends at Tbay.
I looked more carefully at my removable basket. The screen seems to be permanently in place inside the basket.
I looked at the bottom of the basket and there is a tab on the bottom, but the bottom is corroded. Do I assume that pulling this tab on the bottom will remove the floor of the basket for dumping the ash.
Also, how do you dispose of the ash. Is it environmentally friendly for disposal
Garry be careful with that orange rubber hose, l have had a new hose on my 13 runabout for 12 months, now , cracking like crazy around the bend under the h/light forks, may be rubber aint rubber anymore.
Here is how to really do it. Put a "B" tank on the running board horizontally with any safe fastening system. Purchase your regulator and red rubber hose from a bottled gas dealer. They sell a regulator with a gauge that reads the regulated pressure between zero and five pounds, although well meaning other folks on this site tell that they do not. The regulator and gauge costs less than $75 but looks too modern for some folks. The correct red rubber tubing about a dollar a foot.
The off-set "B" bottle will have the script letter name Prestolite about 8 inches long pressed into the tank. Gas suppliers will not re-fill old original bottles without pressure testing. Below is a picture of our 13 Touring as it came from the dealer with the bottle installed on the left running board. I added the pressure reducing system about eight years ago. If you look closely, you can see the regulator mounted on the front end of the bottle. They are cheap and necessary for safe driving. Read all of the posts here before you react by jumping off of the cliff with your eyes closed. Our T was built in 1912 and is red with all brass, not black and brass lamps. T's are funny sometimes but the good stuff is out there. Always read and digest all of the facts before you act.
Dealers sell the B tank with the outlet in the center of the end. Do not buy one of those as they must be used standing on end. Get one that is off-set. They also sell an "M" tank. M stands for motorcycle. They are the size of a one quart thurmos bottle and could be mounted under the back seat but it would be safer to install it in a running board tool box.
In closing, do not twist the burner by the y on the burner. Always rotate it by twising the vertical pipe. The burner is glued into the pipe with a ceramic substance that will crack it pressure is applied to it.
Have you found a source of calcium carbide around Ontario, Toronto or Barrie?
Thanks for the advice. I can not put such a large tank on my running board. It a Canadian touring with 4 doors.
I am still doing research on the topic and have not searched for a dealer who sells calcium carbide. If you learn of a dealer lets share the information
Having read this excellant string, I'm leaning toward using calcium carbide in lieu of a high pressure gas bottle. I would only use it for demo or the odd parade. If I find some I'll let you know.
I now own 12 pounds of Calcium Carbide purchased here last month:
Thanks for the information. I read their catalog. How long will a 6 pound container last running my lights
I am told a golf ball size clump will burn for about an hour. Have not tried it yet. I am almost ready to go except for its winter here and I don't want to light them in my garage. 6 pounds ought to last a lifetime.
Here's a picture of the burner installed 90 degrees off from the correct orientation.
Just don't dump in a ton of water all at once or you'll generate a lot of pressure real fast. Actually, the carbide generators are somewhat self regulating as to pressure. When an overpressure occurs, the acetylene should bubble back up through the water tank and harmlessly vent to the atmosphere, (as long as the water valve is still opened). There's a limit however, hence the opening sentence.
Royce & Jerry
Thanks for the advice. There is certainly a lot of good information available on the forum.
Perhaps someone should write a brochure regarding carbide lights as it pertains to Model T cars. We have booklets available re speedometers, axles, carbs, etc
So. Garry. Based on the information you have gleaned from this thread, have you decided to use you original carbide lights or go with an alternative you were originally considering? If I had a Model T with carbide lights and was uncertain or fearful of them, my uncertainty and fears would be non-existent, by now, with all the positive reinforcement original carbide lights have received from those in the know. I now wish I had them, but that would not be authentic on my '26's. Jim
Does anyone know what the modification is to make the new brass carbide generators functional? I know it involves drilling a hole for the water to drip, but I don't remember the exact diameter of the hole.
On the ones I've seen, the hole is already spotted in. All you have to do is remove the nut, washer, and spring on the valve core and drill the hole the rest of the way through on the valve. Also check the rubber gasket on the bottom of the tank as it may have a small gap that allows gas to vent.
Hi Tom. Do you remember the diameter of the hole? Bill Formby (he makes the generators) told me early last year, I just don't remember.
Where is the spring located that you referenced. Is it at the outside top of the water tank, or is it hidden inside the tank.
When I removed the adjusting valve there was no spring. Am I missing something
I would appreciate Bill Formby contact information so I can try and buy the clamps from him that hold the water tank to the base. These are not available from the catalog vendors, and I have advertised my need on the forum without any responses.
Here's what I have. There is a brass nut, then a brass washer, then a light weight bronze spring. Remove these three items and the valve slips out. I don't know who sells parts for these things.
Garry; Contact me off the forum r.e. Bill Formby.
This makes me think. I need a valve for an E&J brass carbide generator. Are they available?
l know Bill quite well, l'll give Bill a call and tell him of this discussion page.
l am still in the process of working up to trying the carbide generator on my 13 , but a little caution is still wise.
Thank you Dave! It's hard to match telephone schedules with the time difference and work hours. Please tell him all of my parts arrived in good nick!!!
OK gary l'll call him in the morning.