Shedding Light on Carbide Lanterns

Here’s a shot of Dad helping set up a campsite. That’s Brother Mark hiding behind the tree. I’m pretty sure that’s Mother in the background looking for some poison ivy to step in. The setting is kind of odd: it’s right on a road and butts up to a fence. I don’t know who the boy on the right is. Brother David is in another shot, and that’s not him.

What caught my eye, though, was the lantern Dad is reaching for. It’s one of at least two carbide lanterns we owned. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

What’s a carbide lantern?

They were one of the most common sources of light for miners and coonhunters. There’s a good explanation of carbide lanterns on Mother Earth News.

I’m pretty sure we bought the lanterns at Beard’s Sport Shop. They were simple devices. They consisted of a super-bright reflector attached to a device that contained two chambers. You put water in the top chamber and calcium carbide in the lower chamber. When you dripped water onto the carbide, it would emit acetylene gas – the same stuff you use mixed with oxygen for welding. A wheel flint, like on a cigarette lighter, would provide a spark to ignite the gas. No matches required.

Calcium carbide was available in just about any hardware store when I was a kid. We kept ours in a big glass jug with a wide mouth. It looked like gravel. In fact, we’d freak out new campers by putting some on the ground and pouring a little water on it. Casually pitching a match in the general direction of the brew, we’d warn them that you had to be careful where you built your fire because the gravel around there would burn. POOF! They’d spend an inordinate amount of time trying to light rocks until you clued them in.

The highly efficient reflectors would throw a beam a long way. If you cut back on the water drip, they’d burn for hours. The only catch was that they emitted a lot of soot that would clog the gas passage. They were great when they worked, but I always found them a pain to keep burning.

Carbide lanterns are hard to find these days. There was only one listing for carbide lanterns on Amazon. This caver site has some good information on how to buy a used lantern.

Beard’s Sport Shop, 818 Broadway

A reader was asking me about 818 Broadway. It’s been a whole lot of things, but it’ll always be Beard’s Sport Shop to me. When I photographed it in 2009, the sign on the front of building said Grace Cafe, but I think it had already closed its doors. I used to go to Grace Cafe when it was located in the old Vandeven’s Mercantile building at Pacific and Broadway because they had a fast internet connection.

Ornate decorations

I never noticed how ornate the trim was on the building until I looked at these photos. I thought that it might have been added recently, but Fred Lynch had a Frony photo of Beard’s and Wayne’s Grill that shows it clearly in 1961.

When Friend Shari and I shot the interior of the Broadway Theater in December, we retreated across the street for some coffee to thaw out. I couldn’t remember the name of the place, but a Missourian business column on April 18, 2011, said “Calix Coffee opened at 818 Broadway, at the former Grace Cafe location in Cape Girardeau. Owner Andrew Whaley, Jackson, previously worked at Grace Cafe as a barista. The shop sells coffee and fresh baked pastries, and Whaley hopes to add sandwiches and salads in the future.”

That must be it.

You can barely make out the Beard’s sign in a photo I ran the other day of a wreck at night on Broadway.

Interested in Pinterest?

I’m always a little slow in adopting new social media, but Son Matt added a new button to the front of the blog. You’ve been able to “Like” a page on Facebook and Google+ for some time. Starting last week, you could “pin” an image on Pinterest. It’s probably easier to show you some of my stuff that’s been “pinned” than to try to explain it. It’s sort of a nice way to get a high-level feel for the kind of stuff I shoot.


A Broadway Fender-Bender

Looks like there might have been a minor fender-bender east of Pacific on Broadway on a warm night when the streets were wet. The negative is in poor shape, but there are all kinds of interesting things captured in the frame. Click on the photos to make them larger.

  • I think it’s a fender bender because the car in the foreground (with a Ford Groves license plate) is empty.
  • There’s a small crowd of gawkers gathering on the sidewalk.
  • There’s a guy standing behind the second car exhibiting body language that he’s not particularly happy. You can see that same sort of thing at another crash at Fountain and Broadway where you can also read about Cape’s singing policeman, Fred Kaempfer.

Barely worth two shots

  • It had to have been minor because it was only worth two shots. It wasn’t newsworthy enough to make the paper and it didn’t look like it would turn into an insurance job.
  • The Esquire Theater is showing Walt Disney’s Moon Spinners.
  • The Wayne’s Grill sign is still lit, probably open to catch late-night moviegoers. Wayne’s was the home of the best filet I’ve ever eaten, all for $1.25.
  • Beard’s Sport shop is on the left side of the street just beyond the Esquire and just before the phone company.
  • There’s a guy standing in front of the price sign at the Cities Service gas station, so we don’t know how much you had to pay to fill your tank, but I’m guessing it was going for about .39.9 a gallon. Thoni’s price wars that took it down to 19 cents didn’t usually make it that far into town.
  •  If you look above and to the left of the highway signs, you can see one of the cheesy plastic rose baskets that were supposed to symbolize City of Roses.
  •  Vandeven’s Merchantile is on the right. There’s a sign that looks like it says “Novelty Shop,” that might have been Bodine’s Gift Shop at 823 Broadway. Beyond it is the vertical sign for Radonics Electronics Radio and TV.

Is the Esquire deal off?

When I was home last fall, the big news was that the Esquire Theater, closed for first-run movies since 1984, was going to renovated by its new owner, John Buckner.

Well, it looks like the excitement might have been premature. One of Buckner’s enterprises, a new restaurant named Razing Cain, closed in less than a month. The Missourian is reporting that Buckner is now “rethinking” if he’s going forward with the Esquire project.