Friday, May 22, 2009

Using Water to Start A Fire. Carbide Lamps

Winter 1970

Tinkle on the Fire, Using Carbide Lamps to start a fire.

We were lost in the Woods and poured all of our water on the fire, but it didn't start, then we had to tinkle on the fire to get it started.

It was a super cold night but we were going coon hunting anyway. This was my first time going coon hunting and using coon dogs. I have never done this before, but I had friends that were experts in coon hunting and trapping of other animals. These survival skills will stay with me the rest of my life. I was just sixteen years old, and just like then, I still have a craving for adventure.

I can't remember everyone on the hunt, but I think it was Donnie, Danny, Larry, another guy and myself. The sun just went down and we took our .22 caliber rifles out for the hunt along with two black and tan coon dogs and Joker, a German Sheppard.

It wasn't very long before the coon dogs started wailing and barking at a coon that they had treed. Of course it was a dark night, there was no moon and the sky was extremely clear. The temperatures were at the minus fifteen degree point, but as kids, we were indestructible. In order to see we needed to use some kind of flashlight and the regular battery powered lights didn't last long at these low temperatures, they didn't really put out the amount of light that we wanted and they just weren't as bright as the carbide lights that we did use.

The carbide used a dark gray granule that was about a quarter inch in size. The light consisted of a reflector a water chamber and a carbide chamber. I now understand that it was actually called calcium carbide. CaC2. We light the lamps and it put out a small but very bright flame as the wet carbide provided an acetylene gas that produced the flame. The carbide lamps not only provided a brighter flame at a lower cost than a flashlight, it gave a wider, less focused beam that lit a much wider area making our peripheral vision much better too.

We finally came up to the tree where the coon dogs had the coon treed. With the carbide lamps we could easily see the coon looking at us. I didn't have my rifle with me because I was there to learn and not hunt myself. It was just another fantastic adventure into the extremes. My friend shot the coon with the .22 long rifle shell and we had no doubt that it hit. The coon was still alive and sitting in the tree and I said to shoot him again, but my friend said to hold on, he didn't want to ruin the pelt and that I will soon see what happened.

The coon was hurt and as we waited we could see that he was getting weaker and weaker and started to get dizzy. Finally the coon fell out of the tree, maybe a total distance of twenty feet. As soon as he hit the ground, the coon dogs were on him. I could hear the sound of bones breaking as they locked jaws and bite each other as hard as they could. The fight lasted for a long time and only consisted of a hard jaw lock for the whole time. Time and time again, it sounded like bones breaking. Finally the coon was too weak to hold up and he died. I never really like to see any animal die, even though we were avid squirrel and rabbit hunters. This poor guy wore a mask, but he too had a life and a family.

We picked up the coon and then went on and continued our hunt. Suddenly Joker, the German Sheppard had a coon treed. Again the story was the same, we shot the coon and waited until he fell. But with the German Sheppard, the whole fight story was totally different. Joker just grabbed the coon by the neck and gave him a real hard shake, breaking his neck, and the fight was over, so that was it. There was no extended fight or suffering for the coon. It was over in a manner of seconds. So we picked up that coon to and went off into the woods following the trail of the dogs howling as they treed coon after coon.

We were way out in the country in Western Illinois and we weren't paying attention to where we were going. The temperature continued to fall and we decided to head back out to the house. As we walked, we never came onto the road or even the creek, it was just patches of farmland and woods. I looked into the sky and it was the first time that I have ever seen the Northern Lights. They were very bright and absolutely beautiful. They hung just like a curtain and had the same types of folds that a curtain had. Their size was immense and they were beautiful blue, purple with hints of red throughout. They seemed to have no movement as the pictures of the Aurora that are commonly seen on TV. But their size was beyond anything that I could comprehend. Again, it was absolutely beautiful and one of the greatest sights that I have ever seen, even to this day.

We continued to walk through fields and patches of woods but were totally unable to find our way. What we didn't know that as we were following the dogs from coon to coon, instead of being in the woods south of the house, somehow we walked all the way to the north of the house and this is why we were totally lost. It was very late, very cold and we were very tired. We had to take a rest, our feet were near freezing and so were we and if we stopped, it could have very well led to the disaster of frost bite or even worse.

We had to start a fire. If you have ever tried to start a fire at very cold temperatures, you will soon find out that even totally dry tinder is difficult to start. Even the matches didn't light very well at these temperatures. So we dug through the snow and pulled the driest leaves out of the bottom that we could find. We gathered small sticks, medium sized sticks and larger sticks so as the fire increased in size, we would incrementally be able to sustain it's growth. Everything was frozen wet. The leaves were still saturated and frozen, so we had to overcome this barrier and dry the leaves before we could get anything going. We never applied the skills of making a whittle stick as I learned in the Boy Scouts so we just worked on lighting the small grasses, twigs and leaves.

But what were going to use to start the fire. A match only lasted fifteen or so seconds and that was it, far too short to get a fire going. So we thought of a great idea, we had a can of carbide with us. So we made a pile of carbide and pour our remaining water on it so it would give out the acetylene gas where we could ignite the twigs and leaves and get our fire started.

We kept working on getting this fire started and were almost there since the leaves just started to dry out and had little bits of smoldering tinder going, but that wasn't enough. We finally poured the last of our water on the fire and it still wouldn't light. This sounds totally crazy, but that is the way we did it and it was the truth. We still didn't have the fire going and we were really, really cold and in a danger and emergency situation. Where were we going to get some water, was our next question. Well, with all of the water that I drank all night, I had to go to the restroom so all of us took turns tinkling on the fire. One bladder at a time we worked on supplying the carbide with its water source and continued to dry out our leaves and tinder. Finally, at the last drop, we had a fire going strong enough to dry other leaves and have a sustainable fire.

We just started to get warm and our hands and feet thawed out and the sun came up. Being too stupid to use the North Star as a reference earlier, we now knew that we were walking the wrong way the whole time and realized that we walked all the way around the house and were actually north of the house all of the time.

This is how a person can suddenly get into trouble, serious trouble, just a few hundred feet from safety and shelter. Many people die every year from hypothermia and other reasons just because of the lack of simple knowledge that is taught in every survival book or the Boy Scout Manual. If you just think about, just a simple thought can mean the difference between life or death. The Bible says, "He who shuns knowledge, is a fool."

Again, if we were smart enough to pay attention where we were at all times, we wouldn't have gotten lost. If we would have used our carbide lamps as a source of heat, we would have used the carbide much more efficiently and would not have to had used so much water or even tinkled on the fire. The lamp's flame would have worked just fine. But as most kids, they think they know everything and think that it can't happen to them and we were some of those kids.

Here's some information about Carbide Lamps. They are also known as acetylene gas lamps that have a valve to regulate the flow of water that create and burn acetylene (C2H2) which is created by the reaction of mixing calcium carbide CaC2 and Water, H2O. When the reaction is completed, the residue inside the lamp is caused caustic lime or Calcium Hydroxide. Calcium Hydroxide is toxic to animals and should not be dumped onto the ground where it can be consumed by animals. Over time the hydroxide will react with carbon dioxide in the air to form calcium carbonate, or limestone. The lamps first appeared in 1894 as bicycles and other uses and then were developed in the United states as mining lamps and patented in New York on August 28, 1900 by Frederick Baldwin.

When I was a kid, the calcium carbide was available at the hardware store in what appeared to be quarter pound containers that looked like miniature paint cans for a very low price. Today it is available from a company called Karst Sports for about $80 in a ten pound quantity. Their production description said that if they sell it in lower quantities that it would cost the same because the bulk of the cost is because of the HAZMAT Fees. The hazardous Material fees would cost the same for even smaller quantities. Here's another good link with real good information about the workings and chemical reactions of the Carbide Lamps.

Also, when I was a kid, in almost every comic book there were ads for the Carbide Canons. My friend in Chicago had one of these canons that really packed a punch and had a very loud bark similar to a high powered rifle.

Jeff's Adventure Timeline

Light your trail with a Carbide Lamp.
I am buying used Carbide Lamps and other mining tokens.
Buying Carbide Lamps on ebay
Books About Carbide Lamps
Carbide Lamp on Wikipedia
Survival Books, Videos and Supplies
Survival Books
Survival Equipment
More Survival Equipment
Survival DVD Videos