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Acetylene tank for headlights


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Hi I recently bought an antique car with acetylene headlights and have the original tank with the gauge on the bottom My question to anybody is can I get the tank certified and refilled and where can this be done? I live in Massachusetts. Is there some sort of regulator that needs to be used? If not able to refill what are people using these days to retain the acetylene headlights. Thanks for any info.

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Those original tanks have asbestos within and cannot be legally refilled (here in Alberta for over 20 years and presumably elsewhere). 
 

Filling it yourself from another tank is theoretically possible but dangerous and should not be attempted. 
 

Most users keep the original tank as display only and hide a smaller, modern tank to supply the lights. 
 

You will definitely want a regulator. 

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If you are talking about the tanks that are commonly referred as "B" tanks, then they are exchanged at any plumbing supply. If you have your own tank and want it refilled then you need to go to a welding supply that refills acetylene tanks.

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Everything I have heard says that the very old style tanks with the gauge are no longer legal for use. They are often used on Brass Era cars for display at shows so you should still keep it for that purpose. Ones that still have the Nickle plating in good

condition are still quite desirable.  But strictly for display.

Any welding supply store can sell you a more modern tank that is legal to use and re-fill. However they are intended to be used in a upright position if the valve is in the center of the tank. There are older tanks around with the offset valve and no gauge ,

they are safe to use laying down with the valve at the top..

It might take a bit of looking at swap meets but they are still legal to re-certify and refill. 

You need a regulator, they are available. The one from the teens usually looked like this. They ran at a set pressure, not adjustable. The setting is stamped on the top " Button ". I am not sure if different pressures were available but they probably were . Headlights don't need much pressure.

 

Greg in Canada

imagespres.jpg

Edited by 1912Staver (see edit history)
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I don't know. Mine was last filled in the 80s or 90s and I was concerned they weren't going to fill it, but they did. I took the car to small gaslight parade, and I was the only one there using an original tank. Everyone else there were using tiny modern tanks and welding regulators. The new ones have to be kept upright, so no laying it down on the running board for those guys with their modern tanks. I saw at least a couple of them right by the driver's leg. That puts the regulator in reach of the driver, and they could "dim" their headlights by varying the pressure.

 

"Lay flat" type tanks without the gauge exist, and you might have better luck getting one filled. All are old, but could still turn up at a welding supply. Look a B tank with the valve off center like yours.

 

You need a regulator. It is probably a flat diaphragm thing that is not adjustable by the driver. There are several different ones depending on the size of burner (I think). I never had to deal with that issue as my original is still there. A welding regulator could work in a pinch, and being adjustable, should work with any lights.

 

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  • 9 months later...

You are describing something quite different. Originally, gas lights were powered by a carbide generator as you illustrate. Around 1908-1910 (I'm not sure of the date) Prestolite introduce a pre-filled tank. It was mounted on the running board and you just exchanged it for another when it was empty. The earlier generators had to be regularly cleaned - a messy job and one that the replaceable tank eliminated. Ironically, you'd have no trouble at all using a carbide generator today since all it requires is calcium carbide & water to work...

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9 hours ago, 1914Princess said:

It is my understanding that these tanks were acetylene generators that used calcium carbide and water to o generate the gas

F4B4BB47-26DC-4F80-BB3D-92C823A06A90.png

This is the settup on a 1913 motorcycle I had. I do believe that the headlights were mostly owner supplied add-ons at this time.

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There is also the original piping. The original piping was brass and acetylene reacts with brass and can cause an explosion, or so I've been told. Someone smarter that I will have to fill in the rest of the story.

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I don't believe acetylene lights would be correct for the 1914 Princess you just bought. What you need, according to the ad you posted, is a set of square bodied electric sidelamps.

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Obviously I missed something. Is there another thread?

 

5 hours ago, TAKerry said:

This is the settup on a 1913 motorcycle I had. I do believe that the headlights were mostly owner supplied add-ons at this time.

 

That could be on motorcycles. The headlights-as-an-option idea was a bit earlier on cars, it was pretty much standard equipment by 1913. In fact, by 1913 quite a few cars had electric lights. My 1913 Studebaker 25 has acetylene headlights and a Prestolite tank. Bigger Studebakers already had electric lights in 1913 as did many other cars. By 1914, acetylene lights were pretty much extinct on cars, though some trucks had them through 1921 or so.

 

3 hours ago, AHa said:

I don't believe acetylene lights would be correct for the 1914 Princess you just bought. What you need, according to the ad you posted, is a set of square bodied electric sidelamps.

 

What is a 1914 Princess?

 

SIdelamps are a whole separate issue, and typically burn kerosene (or "lamp oil" today) on cars that have acetylene headlights. They are typically electric on cars with electric headlights, and a 1914 car would almost certainly have electric headlights.

 

3 hours ago, AHa said:

There is also the original piping. The original piping was brass and acetylene reacts with brass and can cause an explosion, or so I've been told. Someone smarter that I will have to fill in the rest of the story.

 

I think the lines on my Studebaker are some combination of copper(?) tubing and rubber acetylene welding hose (I'd have to look), but welding regulators and torch bodies for acetylene are made entirely of brass. I can't imagine them doing that if it was reactive. Has anyone else heard this?

 

.

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Bloo,

The OP also posted another thread concerning a 1914 Princess cyclecar he had just purchased with pictures. I combined the two threads. The car has two tail lights mounted where sidelights should be and no provision for mounting headlites. A 1914 would normally have electric lights.

 

The brass piping came up on another forum and I was incredulous as well but the experts warned everyone.

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The reason I think that the Princess had carbide headlamps is that there is tubing running to each lamp and the tubing terminates in the trunk. The Deitz lamps that are currently mounted on it are oil tail lamps with red lenses.  This a interesting car, it had been sitting for many years in a collection that a fellow here in Michigan has, I think it originally was part of the Barney Pollard collection. After a little work on the magneto it fired right up and purrs like kitten. 

5F08D9EA-EF13-48CD-9CC1-B42A2A053627.jpeg

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according to Google,

... Whenever a copper or copper-rich alloy is likely to come into contact with atmospheres containing (1) ammonia, water vapor and acetylene, or (2) lime-sludge, water vapor and acetylene, or a combination of these two, there is the probability of acetylide formation and danger of explosion. The action is aided by the presence of air, or air with carbon dioxide, and hindered by the presence of nitrogen. Explosive acetylides may be formed on copper or brasses containing more than 50% copper when these are exposed to acetylene atmospheres. The acetylides produced by action of acetylene on ammoniacal or alkaline solutions of copper(II) salts are more explosive than those from the corresponding copper(I) salts. The hydrated forms are less explosive than the anhydrous material ... In contact with acetylene, silver and mercury salts will also give explosive acetylides, the mercury derivatives being complex ... Formation of silver acetylide on silver-containing solders needs higher acetylene and ammonia concn than for formation of copper acetylide. Acetylides are always formed on brass and copper or on silver-containing solders in an atmosphere of acetylene derived from calcium carbide (and which contains traces of phosphine) .

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Ok, first we really must define our terms. The small lights that are on it now are called "side lights." It would certainly appear they are used as head lights but that is the incorrect term. The tubing running up to the lights could have been conduit for electric lines with the battery being placed in the trunk. More research would be required to know for sure. I am not aware of acetylene sidelights. The square bodied lights depicted in the ad picture would normally be kerosene side lamps.

 

Ok, after a little googling, I found these two pictures. The correct sidelights are small round lights, not the square shaped lights I thought I saw in the ad you posted.

 

It will be interesting to know if they were acetylene.

 

image.jpeg

image.jpeg

Edited by AHa (see edit history)
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Thank you for all this information, it sounds like I may be best to look at carbide lamps that I can electrify for safety reasons. I don’t think the tubing is conduit because it is only a 1/4” tubing.  The photo of the white car is at the Peterson museum in LA, it has been highly customized and is not original.  These cars were made in Detroit for only a few years and I believe the one I have is one of only a handful left. I am looking forward to restoring it. I just ordered new rims from Australia so I can build new wheels. 

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The lights on the car in the black and white picture do appear to be acetylene. They look bigger than typical sidelights, but much smaller than car headlights. I wonder if they could be motortcycle headlights?

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I think it originally was part of the Barney Pollard collection. 

I am pretty sure this is correct and I saw it in Barney's daughter's collection when I bought a CDO from them.  An experience and sight I will never forget as there were wonderful brass cars all around and a huge pile and crane in the center in a industrial complex in Wixom, Michigan

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Thank you for all this information, it sounds like I may be best to look at carbide lamps that I can electrify for safety reasons. I don’t think the tubing is conduit because it is only a 1/4” tubing.  The photo of the white car is at the Peterson museum in LA, it has been highly customized and is not original.  These cars were made in Detroit for only a few years and I believe the one I have is one of only a handful left. I am looking forward to restoring it. I just ordered new rims from Australia so I can build new wheels. 

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I have not used my acetylene lights much, but when I did, they were super effective. As long as you have good mirrors inside, they will make electric lights of the period look like toys.

 

I just looked and mine are plumbed in acetylene welding hose. Nothing unsafe about that. It is made for the purpose.

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Worthpoint is a service that archives old ebay auctions and cruddy low resolution versions of the pictures from them. If you pay them, you can see what things sold for long after they disappear off ebay. Possibly useful to some people. Not a selling platform as far as I know.

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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The picture you just posted on the other thread shows a light with round mounting points on both sides. These seem to be more plentiful than the type with the blade mount on one side. I'm just saying.

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Those lamps on the cowl of the 1914 Princess may not even be automotive. They look much more like carriage lamps. They may even have used candles originally (if they are even original vintage lamps?).

Don't be afraid of using acetylene gas lamps on an antique automobile. Do be respectful of the dangers of fire (a very rare problem unless someone is extremely careless!), but the likelihood of explosion is extremely remote.

Many hobbyists over the past sixty plus years have converted gas headlamps to electric. It is easy to do, simple to use, and we feel comfortable with electric lamps. It should always be remembered that in the 1910s as electric lamps began to seriously replace gas lamps, many many people were more comfortable with the familiar acetylene lamps. Acetylene lamps had been around since before most people ever saw an automobile, and most people were comfortable with them. Electric lamps were some new-fangled thing, required batteries that went dead (forget arguing how one could run out of gas, people were used to that problem), bulbs burned out, people didn't trust them.

It should be interesting to note that Ford finally replaced the gas lamps with electric for the 1915 model year. Ford made a decision, and the switch was made. No continued option etc. Original era photos can be found with 1915, 1916, and I have even seen a 1917, model T Ford with gas headlamps. Although Ford factory and Henry did not authorize it. Ford dealers, when faced with a customer that did not want the new fangled electric lamps would switch them out and replace them with an old set of acetylene lamps and brackets they probably had sitting on a shelf. It was win-win for the dealer. He could charge a couple bucks for a set of obsolete lamps he had, and take back in trade a brand new set of electric lamps that another old customer would be willing to pay another couple of bucks to put on his older Ford. Lots of pictures of older Fords can be found with the electric headlamps, just as some photos can be found with later cars with the earlier lamps. It may not have been authorized by Henry, but it was done.

 

In recent years, there seems to be a bit of a movement in the hobby to convert headlamps back to their original acetylene. There have been several threads on forums about people doing so. One of my longtime best friends recently bought a 1914 Ford runabout that had had its headlamps converted to electric by a past owner. He has already converted it back to acetylene. Several meets and tours including the Old Car Festival at the Henry Ford have gaslight runs after sundown, which has been encouraging hobbyists to join it on the gaslight fun!

 

Some big trucks continued to use acetylene headlamps until almost the end of the 1920s.

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In my early years in this old car crap and hanging out with some old timers that if "if it isn't brass it's nothing but a used car"  it took me a while to get use to the plain glass lenses shooting the 2 narrow beams of light spotting the road like search lights.

It's been a while since I fooled with carbide generators but recall they can get pretty cruddy inside.

 

Now a Side step.

As a young teen in the early 70s we used to be able to buy the carbide pellets at the "old" hardware store and for fun on Saturday morning go to a remote school yard with a heavy old style trash can with the "fixings" (wink.wink) and blow up the can high in the sky" (maybe 10 feet was our max)with what was really a carbide bomb. 

Then we got caught..and told not to do it anymore"on school property"  So we stopped.

Today we'd be hauled off and parents arrested.

 

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