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11-07-2007, 04:48 PM #1Senior Member
- Join Date
- Dec 1969
Interesting whatzit... Water Light res-Q-lite
my mom and dad found this at a auction recently... any idea where it was used? The top is dated 1942, it looks like all copper and filled with something... good idea to empty it? I would think so, but who knows? anyway, it's kinda neat and interesting, and would like to buy it from them, but what's it worth? this is the first thing like this I have seen. Any ideas?? Thanks!!
11-07-2007, 08:25 PM #2
I can't make the imopressed lettering clear enough to read - can you provide what it is? That might be helpful, since there appears to be quite a lot on the side.Absent comrades (sound of breaking glass)
11-07-2007, 09:38 PM #3
Why empty it ?? I would be inclined to leave the contents of the container alone.Charlie
11-08-2007, 05:01 AM #4
Alright, I can tell you EXACTLY what that is, and you probably do not want to break the seals on it.
What you have is a calcium carbide powered "waterlight" as used for many many years on merchant marine and (probably) naval vessels.
Go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_carbide for a discussion of calcium carbide.
The embossed illustration on the canister tells the story; these devices were attached to ring buoys (also called 'life rings') via a lanyard of 6-feet or so. The ring buoy lived in a bracket attached to the pipe rails of a weather deck, and the waterlight was hung from an adjacent fitting. There would be several of these assemblies scattered about the decks. Some life rings would have waterlights and some would not.
In practice - if a man went overboard, the first people to be aware of the fact were supposed to go to the rails and throw ring buoys overboard, in the hopes the man could grab one. The waterlight, hanging from its bracket would be thrown over with the ring buoy it was attached to.
The act of pulling the waterlight from its bracket would break the solder holding an axial rod that penetrated both the top and the bottom of the waterlight. When the unit hit the water, it would start flooding through the hole in the bottom. Water coming in contact with the lumps of calcium carbide inside the canister would start the production of acetylene gas. The gas would emerge through the hole left by the axial rod in the top of the waterlight, and the gas would burn - giving off light and thereby marking the location of the ring buoy and, hopefully, the man grasping it.
As you can imagine, these things could be a real pain in the butt to maintain. Sometimes they would get knocked during discharge or loading operations and the seals broken. Then the vessel would sail and some rainy night - or during washdown of the main deck - the damned thing would start doing its trick.
Calcium carbide powered waterlights were standard up through WWII, I believe. There were still some around when I started going to sea in the late 60's, but mostly they were found in the back of lockers; pieces of the past.
Nowadays, all waterlights are powered by batteries, and the best ones have xenon strobe units which can be seen a LONG way off.
If your unit is indeed intact, it still has all the potential to make trouble for the unwary. Some Coast Guard unit might be delighted to accept it for their museum - or ask a maritime academy or naval unit. Just don't leave it where young kids can play with it, because they WILL find a way...
11-08-2007, 07:03 AM #5Senior Member
- Join Date
- Dec 1969
that is so cool to know
On closer examination, it looks like someone has already emptied it, it was loose on the bottom, and replaced the carbide with some sort of smooth pebbles. I have a carbide hunting light, so I am a little familiar with carbide...lol... so that makes me feel a bit better, but I had never thought of what they had used before a battery operated light was in use, this makes sense now.
It says from the top...
The Water Light
Marine Torch Co.
Patentees & MNFR'S
then the picture of the railing with preserver
The device meets in every way
The requirements of the board
of supervising inspectors
The top was not popped and it has a hanging ring with a wire that would be broken and torn off to let the water in to activate the carbide, now it makes a bit of sense in what I'm looking at.
Just a neat looking copper item.
11-08-2007, 05:48 PM #6
The coast guard had them removed during WW2 as they would ignite and burn and if a ship had gone down from enemy action and there was oil on the water, well it might not be pretty. Here are the regulations from WW2:
United States Coast Guard Regulations Applicable
to Certain Vessels and Shipping During Emergency
Part 153-- Boats, Rafts, And Lifesaving Appliances; Regulations During Emergency
153.22 Removal of calcium water lights. All calcium type self-igniting water lights shall be removed from all ocean and coastwise vessels and shall be replaced with approved electric water lights.Wylie
11-08-2007, 10:12 PM #7
We had battery-operated lights on some of our liferings. Notoriously unreliable. Chemlights were better.
11-12-2007, 04:56 AM #8
Something just occurred to me: Take one of your "smooth pebbles" and drop it in a container of water - does anything happen? I think the calcium carbide used in these things was in pebble form, and if so, they would naturally be smooth from tumbling about in the container for all these years...
At any rate - costs nothing to check this.
11-12-2007, 08:50 AM #9
Calcium carbide + water yields acetylene, which is flammable, but not self-igniting (as my sight-smoking lamp proves every time i use it). What did these things use to light the acetylene, I wonder?Absent comrades (sound of breaking glass)
11-12-2007, 09:52 AM #10
Can't remember; perhaps another chemical which exhibited an exothermic reaction? It would have to be continuous because these things floated low in the water and would naturally be swamped from time to time, depending upon the sea state.
11-12-2007, 09:55 AM #11
Bingo! Here's an answer; don't know if it is THE answer, but it supports my supposition...
The provision of Lifebuoy lights was mandatory for British seagoing vessels under Board of Trade Regulations. Holmes' lights were sold under various Trade names: The Handyman's Light for lifebuoys; the Manwell-Holmes Marine Light distress light for merchant vessels; and a modified Handyman Light for lifebuoys for the Admiralty. They also produced a distress signal, the Deck Flare. They were all charged with calcium carbide, it produced acetylene gas when water was dripped onto it. They also included a small quantity of calcium phosphide, which in contact with water produced impure phosphine, it spontaneously ignited, thereby igniting the acetylene.
11-12-2007, 10:03 AM #12
And here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_phosphide
The phosphides are nasty. We used to fumigate bulk grain with aluminum phosphide. A slow-acting and evil gas, phosphine, is produced as the pellets absorb water from the grain in a cargo hold.