How to light a carbide lamp,
by Lady Jillian Spagthorpe
I have noticed that many people who own and drive motorcycles consider it necessary to be home before dark. As it seems a shame to curtail your enjoyment of the conviviality offered by your local pub, especially in the winter, I have decided as a public service to prepare a simplified set of instructions for lighting your motorcycle’s carbide lamps.
Step 1: Gas Generation
Calcium carbide is hygroscopic, i.e. it will absorb the moisture from air and emit gas if left in an unsealed container. Your first task is to figure out how to open the sealed can of calcium carbide rocks with a screwdriver, a key or your teeth. Next, open the carbide gas generator and remove the cagelike object inside. Pour in a handful of carbide rocks, and then attempt to reinsert the cage. You will need to do this several times, in several different positions and with increasing force, before realizing that the cagelike object needs to be inserted before the carbide rocks. Retrieve the rocks from their now wedged-in position at the bottom of the generator, insert the cagelike object, pour the rocks over it, and shut the lid. Open the spout of the reservoir and fill it with water (you may be tempted to pour in some of the pint you’re holding in your other hand, but you won’t enjoy dealing with the sticky mess that would be the ultimate result of this impulse). Shut the spout, and open the petcock which allows the water to drip onto the rocks. Production of carbide gas should begin shortly thereafter.
Step 2: Gas Distribution
Now that gas is being generated, it needs to flow through the rubber tubes or metal pipes from the gas generator to the front and rear lamps. This process is prone to two types of problems, leaking and blockage. Turn on the petcocks at the generator and at the lamps, and determine whether one of these two situations appears to be the case. You will probably need to procure a pin or bent paper clip or similar object to ream out the jets on either or both ends of each pipe.
Step 3: Gas Combustion
Now that you have set up gas generation and gas distribution, it’s time to light the lamps. In the early part of the century, when carbide lamps were popular, everyone smoked, and finding a light was not difficult. This is generally the point where you realize that you don’t smoke, and don’t have any way to light your lamps, so head back into the pub to bum a light. Things have progressed since you left, however, and it may now take some time to find someone who a) smokes, b) has functioning lighting materials, and c) isn’t too drunk to understand what you’re asking.
Once you have your matches or lighter, open the glass window on one lamp and light the gas. If the light is too blue, there is too much gas in the mix; if it’s too yellow, there’s not enough. Go back to steps 1 and 2. When you have a solid, nonflickering white light, shut and latch the glass window and light the other light. Adjust as you did the first one. By the time the second light is lit, the first will have blown out, so repeat earlier steps as necessary until both lights are lit at the same time.
You are now ready to go; if you have been sufficiently dilatory, or run into a sufficient number of problems, it should now be dawn, and light enough for you to drive home safely.