hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

Last week when we had the two power outages, we had another interesting event as well.  The second outage occurred in the late afternoon of Thanksgiving, so that meant we had no light and up here it's dark in the winter without electric lights.  Ed lit the two propane lamps, which burn with great brightness, and I lit a couple of small, decorator oil lamps for the bedroom and bathroom.  That's the usual routine.

Last time I used the oil lamps, I had trouble with the wicks in both of them.  We've had these lamps for over two decades.  They came from Pottery Barn and were very trendy for a brief while because they are very pretty.  Small, clear glass cylinders with a little oil-holding sphere within.  You send a match down and light the wick and it glows like a glass candle.  Very nice.  Not a lot of light, but enough for  our purposes or for a glamor touch if you are in to those touches.  Which is to say, if you burn candles when you don't need them for the light.

The wick was continuing to be problematic, providing way more flame than was needed, so I trimmed them down and just accepted that there was more flame than necessary.  Two hours plus and the power went back on, I blew out the oil lamps, turned off the propane lamps, and we returned to cooking dinner.

But later in the evening, we both noticed a kind of miasma in the room, which dissipated, and even later, I noticed that my hands were kind of grey-ish and that Ed's moustache seemed to be grayish whereas it is usually whitish.  And then I walked into the bathroom and noticed that the grate on the wall heater had turned solid black.  At first I thought it had overheated and was burning up.  But not.  It turned out it was covered with an oily, sooty substance.  I washed it off with some considerable effort.

And then I slowly noticed that everything in the house, every flat and hospitable surface had a thin coating of this stuff.  Ed's moustache included.  We were the recipients of sooty oil from the oil lamps bad burning habits.  Just imagine what the 19th Century must have been like!  I wonder if whale oil burned cleanly and that's why it was in such demand?

So, in the ensuing week, I have washed down every window, every cabinet door, every everything that it had covered.  By yesterday, I was coming to the end of this tedious set of tasks, and I washed the living room curtains which are made of bleached muslin.  A commercial laundromat with big tubs, lots of soap, very hot water, and all.  And then into the dryer, and spray starched.  And, as I began to iron them, I saw there remained large patches (like camouflage fabric) of grey here and there across all the yards of fabric.

So they'll have to be replaced.  And I'm thinking of putting a notice on Point Interface:

"Two lovely, almost vintage decorator glass oil lamps; Pottery Barn, circa 1986.  Free.  Need wickwork."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Judy, I'm sorry to hear about the soot. Yes it did happen in a time when most people used oil lamps. The advances in such devices over the years helped to correct this problem, but there are still two things which must be done, no matter how "modern' an oil lamp you use. #1. Only have as much wick showing above the metal wick holder as necessary to light it. What burns is the oil, not the wick, although some wick does slowly burn. Therefore, #2. Trim the wick. This means using a sharp scissor to carefully cut away the excess carbonized wick, leaving a very neat, clean burning surface. With a clean wick, the flame should be white/yellow and and bright, an oxidizing flame, with very little unburned oil, or soot. A deeper yellow flame, with obvious smoke coming from the top, is a reducing flame, and emits lots of unburned hydrocarbons. Read, pollution. This pollution is what you just scrubbed off the walls and Ed's mustache. Don't throw the lamps out yet. Hope this helped. George