oil lamp 3(This picture shows a coal oil lamp with a card inserted behind one “prong” of the wick burner.  It will help to explain what mother meant when she told about putting a card at the side of the globe.  It cast a shadow on that side of the room, allowing children to sleep better.)

BY Cleda Amy Rodgers, circa 1969     (This article was written by my mother. Oneta)

We aren’t members of the oldest generation who are around yet.  But to the two generations who are younger, we say, “What do you really know about the coal-oil lamp?  We can remember the times when just about the time of the evening when the sun was going down, Mam would say “Oh my, the lamp doesn’t have coal-oil in it. You kids get your coats on and run to the neighbors to borrow a little coal oil.”  We had to hurry because we had to get back before dark, and the neighbor lived a mile away.

We would get to her house out of breath and maybe she would only have what oil was in her lamp but she’d share with us by taking the burner out of her lamp and pouring part of her coal-oil into my little jar.  That would make me feel real bad but we had to have a light, so I’d thank her as sweetly as I could, then away my sister and I would run across the pasture to take the oil to mama.

It made us feel real good when she would put the oil into our lamp and then would light it and put it in the middle of the table with us gathered around to eat a good supper. . .

Have you tried to do that lately?  We did – and the light shines right into your faces and you think you can’t see at all.  My husband and I had some friends to come out to the homestead house for supper by lamp light not so long ago.  We’d move the lamp on every corner of the table trying to see better, but to no avail.  Then we set it off the table but couldn’t see at all so we gave up and put it back in the middle of the table like our folks used to do in the good ol’ days.

. . . We’d eat our supper and after the dishes were taken from the table, we gathered back around it again, this time with our books, to study our lessons for school the next day.  Mam would help us read or give us our spelling words while daddy would help us with arithmetic.  What a cozy feeling when we were tucked in bed and daddy would put a card by the light – you won’t understand that if you never seen it done, but that was part of the game.  He would take a card – we always had them in those days, cause everybody wrote to their friends and relatives on penny post cards – and put it next to the lamp chimney on the side next to where we were put to bed and he and Mam would pick up their Western magazine and sit near the table on the other side and read, taking turns and reading to each other out loud, so I’d lay awake and listen as long as I possibly could stay awake.

Then off to sleep to awake by lamplight again, when I’d hear my daddy shaking down the ashes in the heater and stirring a fire in the range so Mam could get breakfast for us hungry kids and then off across the pastures we’d run with our lunch pails and books in our hands, to the school house two miles away.  We’d almost judge our neighbors in those days by the kind of coal oil lamp they had.  If you would wash the chimneys every morning when you washed your dishes and be sure and take a very clean cloth to polish them, then trim the wick carefully and fill the lamps again, you’d be very well rewarded when nite time came.

But if you weren’t careful, sometimes, I’ve seen a chimney with a hole broke in it and a piece of material carefully pasted over that hole with flour paste – sounds unbelievable but it would work.  But you couldn’t wash it when that was the case and it seemed like that chimney would last and last in that condition – so you didn’t just have to go to town after another one.  When you run out of coal-oil you could put desolate in the lamp instead. I think it must have been a very poor grade of coal-oil, used in machinery, anyway it caused the poor old lamp to smoke something awful and you had to trim the wick down – and it smelled up the house terrible.  Not much light in your house at nite when that was the case.

I remember when we got a house with doors between the rooms and I’d take a lamp in us girls’ bedroom, my two sisters would turn their backs to the light and go to sleep but not me, I always managed to have a book so I’d read until Mam would call, “blow that light out this minute.”  “Okay, I’ll just finish this page.”  Then very carefully I’d put a card by the globe on the side toward the door and turn the wick down as low as I could possibly see it at all, and go on reading until I couldn’t stay awake any longer so very quietly I’d remove the card, blow the light out and turn the wick back up so Mam wouldn’t know next morning when she cleaned up the lamps.

About oneta hayes

ABOUT ME Hello. To various folks I am Neat’nee, Mom, Grandma Neta, Gramma, Aunt Neta, Aunt Noni, Aunt Neno, and Aunt Neto (lots of varieties from little nieces and nephews). To some I’m more like “Didn’t you used to be my teacher?” or “Don’t I know you from someplace?” To you, perhaps, I am a Fellow Blogger. Not “fellow” like a male or a guy, but “fellow” like a companion or an adventurer. I would choose to be Grandma Blogger, and have you pull up a chair, my website before you, while I tell you of some days of yore. I have experienced life much differently than most of you. It was and is a good life. I hope to share nuggets of appreciation for those who have gone before me and those who come after me. By necessity you are among those who come after me and I will tell you of those who came before. Once upon a time in a little house on a prairie - oops, change that lest I commit plagiarism - and change that “house on the prairie” to “dugout on the prairie.” So my story begins...
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42 Responses to COAL OIL LAMP

  1. luckyjc007 says:

    A very good story of the way life was when the oil lamp was used for their lighting. It makes me appreciate electricity even more ! 😃

    • oneta hayes says:

      I have one of these lamps which I have used when our electricity goes off. Satisfactory? Well, no. I don’t know how people read, studied, and did stitch work with that kind of light.

  2. dawnlizjones says:

    I’m so spoiled. I just so spoiled!

  3. Helen Hayes says:

    Enjoyed the story!

  4. mandibelle16 says:

    Great stories and memories. We do have a coal oil lamp from my one Great Grandpa somewhere. It is hard to believe in today’s world that you depended on that light so much, to eat around, do homework around, to read by before going to sleep. It sounds though that you look back at this time with nostalgia and good feelings. I liked your piece very much!

    • oneta hayes says:

      Thank you, Mandibelle. This piece was written by my mother, so it is her story instead of mine, but I do remember the pre-electricity days. The best I remember we had several lamps. At least it seemed like a lot when I washed them! I don’t remember when we got our first electricity, but it was battery operated (I think). And I think it was when I was in high school. But there were several progressively better lights between the kerosene lamp and electric lights. And my daddy progressed as science developed new light methods.

  5. SarahC says:

    That is very interesting! We had a reunion that i missed last year, but I contributed some writings I had kept , of family, anyways when I read the history they compiled, I realized back when i coulda cared less I wish I had been asking lots of questions! So nice to share this thanks

    • oneta hayes says:

      Oh, yes, SarahC. How sorry I am that I did not read mothers writings and ask questions when I had the opportunity. We get so busy with raising children and making a living that we forget to value other things. Then I find myself one of the oldest, and sure enough my family doesn’t have time to ask me questions either. Reaping what I sowed.

  6. shoreacres says:

    The technology may change, but the impulse doesn’t. I didn’t have to put a card on the side of a lamp, but I did take myself off to my bedroom closet with a quilt and a flashlight to do my late night reading.

    I love oil lamps, although even at the cabin we had Colemans instead. I have a little collection of them that includes a hospital night light, and a couple of finger lamps, for carrying here and there. Some still have oil in them from this winter. I need to get busy and burn it out, before it gets too hot.

    A lovely story, this. I do think the kerosene lamps did better than candles, and it’s certainly true that they did better than the old whale oil lamps!

    • oneta hayes says:

      Nancy Drew? I didn’t read much in those days. Most of my love for reading was started by a gift of “Flicka” and “Black Beauty” I think. I know they were both books about horses. My aunt gave them to me, probably when I finished grade school. From there I guess I entered my Hardy Boys and Cherry Ames days. We had some pretty propane lanterns that had mantles that burned brightly. We had to be very careful though because the mantles were easily broken. Each stage was very exciting. I remember how proud my folks were because they were able to keep up with the new technologies even though they were far behind the city dwellers.

  7. judyjourneys says:

    Presently, I have three kerosene/coal oil lamps in my home. I burn lamp oil in them–scented when I can find it. I like burning them on rainy days and at Christmastime when I want a soft ambience.

  8. oneta hayes says:

    Sounds very nice. And it probably costs less than candles if it leaves fragrance. I didn’t know one could buy scented oil. That might entice me to give it a try. Thanks for the suggestion.

  9. Now I know where the talent comes from. What a joy to read and share your mother’s story. Thank you.

  10. Faye says:

    We still have a hurricane lamp – I guess cyclone/typhoon/hurricane (from wherever you live) which was a lamp regularly used when I was a child for general purposes but it really came into its own when the violent winds howled. Fuelled by kerosene but I do believe perfumed oil can be used today. Thank you for the memory. The lamp today (or a slightly smaller version than the original) is tucked away but if power fails and wind howls there really is no more comforting light. Again thank you for blog. (Ie we do have battery lights but I personally prefer the old lamp). cheers!

    • oneta hayes says:

      Thanks for the comment. I brought my lamp from the back today and gave it a center place on my table. My candle needed to be changed, so it was exchanged. All this discussion “lit a fire” in me to bring it out and get some scented oil and try it out again.

  11. dvaal says:

    I’ve always felt that I just caught the tail end of the world I was meant for. My grandmother was my very favorite place to visit. She lived this way -and the memories, they are some of the best of my life. I wish kids today, could know the joy of a simplistic life, filled with hard work that left you feeling proud -at the end of the day.
    Great story, makes me long to revisit my own memories. I think I must.

    • oneta hayes says:

      I have just left your place.I enjoyed your story and left a comment there. Technology has changed so fast in recent years it seems to always leave young people wanting the latest gadget. I don’t think they have ever experienced the marvel of a brand new “technological marvel” that leaves one affected like I was the first time I used a telephone, or does any child now look in the back of a radio to see the little people? Starting to punch those buttons at a year old doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

      • dvaal says:

        You are so right. I like this idea of looking in the back of the radio for the little people. Have you blogged about that? If not, that would be a story. Please, let me know if you do/did.

  12. Hayley says:

    Wow what a lovely tale – I felt as though I was right there. I can see that your mother was a writer too! How wonderful that you have her writings and memories close to hand so that you can re-live those parts of her childhood! So very special xx

    • oneta hayes says:

      Thanks, Hayley. I hope to transfer a lot of written material to new storage methods so they can be available for my family in a form easier to keep. Of course, stories on a power stick do not have the personality of handwritten notebooks, but they can be duplicated more easily. 😀 See you.

  13. Awesome! Thanks for sharing.😃

  14. Gosh, I felt so good reading this. We used lanterns in my parents house with the epileptic source of light that we had then, but we used kerosene oil to light it up and now that I read this, it reminds me of the glow of the lamp, though sometimes it would smoke and blacken the globe.

  15. truejoy1986 says:

    This is beautiful. The closest I have been to living this way has been on camping trips as a kid with a propane lantern (not really the same, I am sure). I love the detail in your telling, and the warmth of nostalgia. Thank you for sharing!

    • oneta hayes says:

      I lived through the progression from oil lamps through various changes before we got real electricity. We lived in the rural area so Daddy progressed as technology became available. I’m not sure but I think I was a teen before real electric lines reached out house. I think we had generators (or something) that gave us good light before that. Thanks for coming over for a visit. I see you left some likes for me. Of course, like all bloggers I like that!

  16. Indira says:

    Nice story.It reminded me of my oil lamp days till the electricity entered our house. So many childhood memories are coming back to me.

  17. oneta hayes says:

    Thanks for responding. We have come a long way since these lamps. They stir nice memories, don’t they? I hope yours are.

  18. reocochran says:

    This was a heartwarming story, Oneta. Your parents taking turns reading made me smile, dear. Bless you for sharing these humble life practices. Smiles, Robin

    • oneta hayes says:

      Robin, while you were reading this, I’ve been browsing your blog and marked your follow. I’m sure it will be a pleasant journey for me. Thanks for reading and responding.

      • oneta hayes says:

        One more thing, the coal oil lamp story was my mother’s story so it was her parents (my grandparents) who put the children to bed and read to each other. I thought it was sweet also.

  19. My paternal Aunt Helen had two Hurricane Lamps. She was born in 1920 and died May 2010. I also remember my maternal Grandmother and Aunts talking about pot bellied stoves. My mother’s family came from Davy, West Virginia and eventually settled in Dayton, Ohio some went to New Jersey. Your Oil in the Lamp story reminds me of this gospel song. I’m not a particularly religious person but this was one of the songs we sang in Sunday School many years ago! Memories!

    Give Me Oil In My Lamp….

    • oneta hayes says:

      Thank you much for your comment on my “Oil Lamp.” I also, am familiar with the song to which you refer. It has been a long time since I heard it. “. . .keep it burning til the break of day.”

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