Archive for the ‘Traditional Camp Equipment’ Category

The Stonebridge Automatic Folding Candle Lantern

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

 

NOTE: This is a significantly revised version of a much earlier post published on 11/9/2010 that I have since deleted.

The Stonebridge Automatic Folding Candle Lantern was patented and manufactured by Charles H. Stonebridge in 1906 and quickly became one of the most popular camping equipment items of the day.  In World War I it served as the U. S. Army issued Medical Corp lantern and field lantern in addition to being selected for use by the Canadian armed forces and the armies of several European nations.  A number of camping how-to books and dozens of magazine articles recommended the Stonebridge lantern, which can be seen in old book illustrations and photographs of early campers.  Some of the authors that specifically mentioned or recommended the Stonebridge lantern include –

  • Edward Breck – The Way of the Woods; A Manual for Sportsmen in Northeastern United States and Canada (1908), G. P. Putman’s Sons, New York, NY
  • Francis Buzzacott – Buzzacott’s Masterpiece, or the Complete Hunter’s, Trapper’s, & Camper’s Library of Valuable Information, (1913), McMains & Meyer Publishers, Milwaukee, WI
  • Horace Kephart – The Book of Camping And Woodcraft: Guidebook For Those Who Travel In The Wilderness, (1910) and Camping and Woodcraft, a two volume set, Vol. 1 Camping (1917), Macmillan Publishing, New York, NY
  • Calvin Rutstrum – The New Way of the Wilderness (1958), Macmillan Publishing, New York, NY
  • Stewart Edward White – Camp and Trail (1907), Outers Publishing Company, New York, NY

Early illustration of the Stonebridge Lantern (bottom right) in this collection of items to be included in the camp kit.

Stonebridge lanterns were produced in galvanized steel, solid brass and aluminum.  Woodcraft author Stewart Edward White highly recommended the galvanized model while author Horace Kephart recommended the brass version.  Aluminum models were generally not recommended as the aluminum of the day was very soft and could not take the abuses of camping without soon being bent out of shape.  Interestingly, Kephart’s own surviving lantern is an aluminum model.

Kephart’s own Stonebridge lantern.

Courtesy of the Hunter Library Special Collections and the Mountain Heritage Center Special Exhibit:
“Horace Kephart: Revealing An Enigma”

The Stonebridge was an ingenious, feature-packed lantern.  It had a flat, internal wind shield located beneath the peaked “roof” of the lantern.  The wind shield, designed to protect the candle flame in high wind, contained an opening for smoke to exit the lantern. The lantern windows were made of isinglass (thin sheets of mica), a material that is transparent rather than crystal clear.  Isinglass is somewhat flexible and more resistant to breakage than glass sheet but pressing on it too hard leaves whitish, cloudy spots that cannot be repaired.  Isinglass is remarkably durable.  Surviving Stonebridge lanterns manufactured more than 100 years ago are regularly found with the isinglass windows fully intact.  However, the method used by Stonebridge to install the isinglass makes it nearly impossible to replace a window if damaged or missing.

The lantern also featured adjustable air vents that regulated the amount of air entering the lantern.

The floor of the Stonebridge featured a self-adjusting flexible wire candle holder and 6 rows of small round vent holes to admit air and allow for drainage if water were to enter the lantern.  These vent holes are a bit of a nuisance as melted candle wax can (and occasionally does) drip out of them when the lantern is in use.

The lantern back was of a solid sheet that featured a brass rimmed port to allow the lantern to be hung on a nail.  It also featured a wire bail from which the lantern could be carried or suspended.

Of course, the most important feature was its ability to collapse into a flat, rectangular box that took up little space in the crate, pack or warbag.  Dimensions of the Stonebridge lantern are:  Folded: 4 1/8” x 7” x 1 /2”. Unfolded:  4 1/8” wide, 4 /2” deep, 10” high to the top of the peak of the “roof” and 14” including the extended wire bail.

The Stonebridge lantern was such an important part of camping for so long, when America entered the modern lightweight backpacking age, one of the most popular candle lanterns turned out to be a Japanese copy of the Stonebridge in aluminum alloy.  I owned one of these lantern back then but at the time did not know of it’s historical connection.  If you would like to see the Japanese copy in 1970’s action, I recommend you check out the “Backpacker & Hiker’s Handbook” by William Kemsley Jr. (Stackpole Books, 2008). Kemsley was the founder of Backpacker Magazine and the book is chock full of 1970’s hiking photos, many of which show this interesting lantern.

1970’s backpacking candle lantern was a copy of the Stonebridge lantern

Because I consider the Stonebridge lantern to be so quintessential to a traditional camp it was the very first item I purchased when beginning to assemble my woodcraft camp kit.  Rather than choosing an original, I chose a rustproof solid brass replica from Lee Valley Tools of Ogdensburg, NY (no longer stocked).  It now appears that Garrett Wade is the only firm that carries it. As the price was recently reduced, it may be that Garrett Wade plans to clear out their remaining stock.

As I had not seen an actual Stonebridge lantern, I believed the replica to be exact with the exception of having differently shaped air vents.  I’ve since discovered that the replica is quite different.  For a start, the dimensions are not the same: The Replica Dimensions Folded: 4 3/8” x 6 1/4” x 1 /2”. Unfolded: 4 1/4” wide, 4/3/8” deep, 6 1/8” high to the top of the peak of the “roof” and 12” including the extended wire bail.  Second, the stampings on the top of the lantern have been altered.

Genuine and replica Stonebridge Lanterns side by side

The original stamping that included the manufacturer’s name and the various patent dates, included the phrase “Made in the USA”.  This is absent from the Indian-made replica. The vent holes are also different, not only in shape (round holes instead of vertical slots) but they are not adjustable.  The floor of the replica is of solid brass sheet and the spring clip that releases the lantern bottom for folding is also different in looks and function.

This side view of the genuine and replica lanterns shows the differences in the shape and design of the vent holes

Still, despite these changes, the Stonebridge replica makes a great traditional camp lantern because it is  sturdy, it is rustproof, it does not drip candle wax through the bottom, and the isinglass windows are mounted in such a that they can be replaced if need be.  However, while I’ve been entirely happy with my replica, I’ve wanted a vintage Stonebridge lantern after seeing a nice original example a couple of years ago.

Stamping on genuine lantern

Stamping on replica lantern

Because galvanized steel versions made up the bulk of the company’s lantern production, nice originals often come up for sale on eBay, priced around $50-$100.00.  Brass models must have been made in very small numbers as I’ve yet to see one.  Aluminum models are only slightly less rare.  In ten years, I’ve only seen two.  The first one was out of my reach and the next one I bought.  It’s just like Horace Kephart’s personal lantern!

My example is in good condition considering it is aluminum.  I can attest to the fact that the aluminum lanterns are very soft indeed.  It is difficult to fold and unfold the thing without bending it out of shape.  In addition, the various components of original Stonebridge lanterns where held together with tiny steel rivets. The aluminum sheet is so soft, that with even moderate use, the large end of these rivets can wallow out the hole they are in, causing them to fall out, particularly those that hold the air vent adjustment.  In fact, the aluminum lanterns are so soft, if I were packing one for camp, I would put it in a sturdy, rigid cardboard box for protection.

Since I can use my sturdy brass reproduction for camping, I may simply display this Kephart lantern clone.  If you desire an authentic camping light from the woodcraft period, you simply must add a Stonebridge Automatic Folding Candle Lantern to your camp kit.

A Flash in the Night ~ Vintage Flashlights for Camping

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

 

The Eveready #2697 Official Boy Scout Flashlight.  Introduced in 1927, it was the first outdoor flashlight sold in the United States.

Although kerosene lanterns and candle lanterns are perfectly adequate for most of my camp needs, there are times when I need a truly bright, focused beam of light.  That’s when a flashlight is indispensable.   I’m not talking about the modern super tech lights but flashlights that were created for genuine field use in the early to mid-20th century.  If you plan to replicate classic camping circa 1880-1920, then a flashlight might not fit in. While they were introduced in the late 19th century, batteries were too short lived and flashlights were not weatherproof enough field use.  Otherwise, having a flashlight in camp can come in handy and it is clear that they were being used in traditional camps during the pre-WWII period.

A short history of the tubular “outdoor” flashlight –

Conrad Hubert, a Russian immigrant (real name Akiba Horowitz) living in New York, owned and operated the American Electrical Novelty & Manufacturing Company, a firm that manufactured various small electrical products such as small portable fans, pocket lanterns and the like. Hubert became interested in the electrical inventions of David Misell, an English expatriate living in New York City.  Misell had invented numerous electrical devices including a small hand held lamp, a bicycle head lamp, a handheld device for lighting natural gas burning equipment and a handheld light, which he patented in 1898.

 

Conrad Hubert introduced the first dependable flashlight in 1898 under the name Ever Ready.

Hubert hired the inventor to improve his company’s existing products and to develop new ones.  When he learned of Misell’s handheld light, Hubert immediately recognized its potential and decided to focus on developing it. Both men, as partners and individually, patented several flashlight designs before Misell sold his patents to Hubert, who introduced the world’s first dependable flashlight in 1899.

David Misell’s first flashlight patent while employed by Conrad Hubert’s American Electrical Novelty & Manufacturing Company (Patent No. 617,592).

 

Of course the flashlight would not have been possible without the invention of the storage battery.  At the time, nearly all product development, manufacturing and marketing of batteries was conducted by the National Carbon Company.  National Carbon marketed the very first dry cell battery (the type we think of as a battery today) for consumer use in 1896 and the first dry cell flashlight battery in 1898.  That battery continues to be produced today in the same form, dimensions and power parameters as the “D-cell” battery.   The firm also supplied the materials required to manufacture batteries to the American Ever-Ready Company, who made batteries under their own label to complement their flashlights.  Ever-Ready battery sales outpaced flashlight production enough that Hubert changed the company name to the Ever Ready Battery Company.  In 1906, National Carbon bought s half interest in the Ever Ready Battery Company.  The business name was changed again to The American Ever Ready Company and the trademark was shortened to simply Eveready.

Most of these early lights featured tubular cases of celluloid fitted with a brass reflector and glass lens on one end and a steel battery cap on the other.  In addition to tubular flashlights, vest pocket lights were also popular.  These were shaped like a Prince Albert tobacco can with a lens mounted at the center of one end.  Flashlight bulbs were made using very thick carbon filaments, which were required to survive the jolting associated with carrying a portable light.  Unfortunately, the batteries of the day did not produce enough power to overcome the resistance of the thick filaments for very long.  If the flashlight was used continuously for even a short length of time it would become uncomfortably hot to hold and the batteries would quickly die. The device was nicknamed flashlight because the only way to maximize battery life and avoid overheating was to turn the light on for a second or two at a time to produce a “flash” of light.

 

 

                                                     Ever-Ready Flashlight Advertisement from 1899

 

The first great leap in flashlight technology was the advent of tungsten bulb filaments in 1910.  The new substance made it possible to produce filaments that were smaller in diameter and far more durable, meaning bulbs burned brighter and batteries lasted longer.  Around the same time, the familiar push button switch appeared.  By 1912, flashlights were cased in tubes of either hard vulcanite rubber tubes or nickel plated brass.

Around 1914, box lanterns entered the market. Box lanterns were small rectangular affairs with a standard tubular style flashlight lens mounted at the top center of one side.  One end featured a bail to allow the user to hang it around the neck or from a nail or branch.  These box lanterns were often shown being used outdoors in product advertising, particularly in Boy’s Life, the official magazine of the BSA. The heyday of the box lantern style light ended around 1921 when this style of light virtually disappeared from the market.

                            Eveready “Box Lantern” Style Flashlight

Beginning in 1921, Eveready introduced a line of new nickel plated tubular flashlights including the Model #2674 3-cell “spotlight” with a 300 ft. range.  The new light was heavily promoted for use outdoors.

                                      “An Eveready is as necessary as a camp axe”!

In 1927, Eveready marketed the first purpose-built outdoor flashlight with the introduction of the Model #2697 Official Boy Scout Flashlight.  The #2697 was very similar to the #2694 industrial flashlight and featured the same right-angle head, the “safety lock” switch and the hanging ring of that model.

The Eveready #2697 Official Boy Scout Flashlight patent.  This model was the first outdoor flashlight on the market.

The new Boy Scout light featured an olive/khaki painted case with elaborate detailing, contrasting with a bright nickel plated lens, battery cap, belt clip and switch.  The angled head, like the battery compartment, was made from brass sheet. The head was essentially hollow, sealed at both ends with brass plates riveted in place. This type of construction resulted in a relatively lightweight light but the hollow head was subject to denting.  The belt clip was attached to the head at the top and the back with rivets.  Like nearly all flashlights of the period, the #2697 used the #14 2.74 volt, 0.741 watt miniature bulb with the E10 screw base.  These bulbs were very dim by today’s standards.  The lens surround featured a screw-adjustable focus to produce a diffused beam or a spotlight beam and everything in between.  Oddly, the glass lens could not be changed if broken as it and the lens surround were permanently connected.  The #2697 was no brighter, more dependable or weatherproof than ordinary household flashlights but the right-angle-head, safety lock switch, adjustable focus lens and belt clip made it ideal for outdoor use.  The #2697 flashlight became the model for what an outdoor flashlight “looked like” for decades thereafter.

                                         My own Model #2697 flashlight

Flashlights join the military –

United States military forces were using flashlights before America’s entrance into World War 1.  At the time, flashlights were the responsibility of the Signal Corp.  Manual No. 3, Technical Equipment of the Signal Corp (1916) listed a 2 cell Ever Ready flashlight as standard equipment.  By the 1920’s the US Army Air Corp procured the Type A-1, 2-cell tubular flashlight.  However, all of the military flashlights used during World War 1 and most of the interwar years were issued for signaling or inspection purposes.  As this article is about outdoor/field flashlights, we are interested in the kind that are built to be rugged enough to withstand daily outdoor use such as Army soldier would carry.  And those did not exist until the late 1930’s when the US Army issued the TL-122 flashlight, a militarized version of the Eveready #2697 Boy Scout light.  The TL-122 was the first in a long line of military angle-head flashlights that continue to this day.

The TL-122 used the same case as the #2697 with the “TL-122” designation stamped into the head instead of the BSA emblem.  The light was painted Army olive drab and the lens, switch and battery caps were finished in black. The innards were unchanged as the TL-122 used the same #14 screw-base bulb.  Because the TL-122 was derived from the #2697 it featured the same screw-adjustable focus and odd lens construction that meant the glass lens could not be changed if broken, not a particularly good attribute for a light that might be subjected to battlefield abuse.  As the TL-122 was issued for a very short period they are relatively rare today.

More Angle-Head Lights –

In 1939 Eveready introduced an updated Boy Scout flashlight, the Model #8257, fitted with the newly developed PR9 2.7 volt, 0.41 watt, flange-base bulb. This bulb was brighter than the older #14 flashlight lamp. The case of the #8257 was less decorative than before and had a more functional appearance.  The head was crafted from cast aluminum instead of thin brass for greater durability.  The new head design was shorter by a half inch over the previous model.  The light was fitted with a more contoured belt clip mounted only at the back of the head.  The case was painted olive/khaki and featured nickel plated lens and battery caps, switch and belt clip.  The switch was also new and now featured a push button signaling switch.  As before, the BSA emblem was stamped on the head.  The lens surround was now redesigned so that a broken lens could be replaced.  The #8257 also eliminated the screw-adjustable focus of the previous model.  Instead, it featured a fixed focus spotlight beam.  At the same time, Eveready introduced the “civilian” #2257 flashlight that was virtually identical to the Boy Scout light.  It was finished in olive green with black lens and battery caps, switch and belt clip.

The #2257 was quickly adopted by the US Army as the revised TL-122A, first issued to troops sometime around 1941. The new TL-122A was the first to place the model designation stamping inside a circle, a feature that was used on all later variants.  The TL-122 was fitted with a large rubber O-ring seal in the battery cap to improve water resistance in that area.  In all other respects it was identical to the #2257.  Once America entered the war, TL-122A production was contracted to additional firms to ensure that demand for the light could be met.  These firms also produced a fair number of Boy Scout flashlights as well.  Although the TL-122A can be seen in many WWII photos, it was no longer is use by 1944 as it was replaced by the plastic cased TL-122 variants.  Good surviving examples of this light are uncommon today.

The TL-122A military flashlight (replica) compared to the Eveready #2697/TL-122.   The  TL-122A was a military version of the second generation Boy Scout flashlight, the #8257, introduced in 1939.

 

The cases of subsequent TL-122 variants (TL-122B, C and D) were made from thick plastic that was much more rugged than the earlier lights.  The later models  featured an extended battery cap to hold spare bulbs.  Because of complaints that the cases of the TL-122B smelled and gave off a waxy residue, it was quickly replaced by the TL-122C, which featured a sealed lens, battery cap and switch for near waterproofness.  The TL-122C is the most commonly found military flashlight from World War II.  The last variant, the TL-122D, added an extended shroud around the lens to hold various lens filters.  That model was never issued during wartime.  Today’s military flashlights are most similar to the TL-122D.

The plastic bodied variants did not go unnoticed by outdoor enthusiasts.  Calvin Rutstrum recommended TL-122B and C style flashlights in his book Way of the Wilderness (1946, Burgess Publishing Company, Minneapolis, MN).  Though the light illustrated in the book is not described as a military model, it is certainly a TL-122B or C model.  Rutstrum even mentioned that he carried spare bulbs in the battery cap and that recent models had the advantage of being waterproof.

A new kind of light –

Aside from the angle head family of lights, no other vintage outdoor flashlights existed (that I am aware of) until the introduction of the Rub-R-Lite, manufactured by William M. Lennan, Inc. of Los Angeles, CA.  The revolutionary feature of the Rub-R-Lite was the seamless rubber casing that made the flashlight virtually waterproof and more damage proof than any light then available.  William Lennan had been interested for years in developing a water resistant flashlight.  He applied for a patent of a rubber encased; water resistant flashlight as early as 1934, with patents granted in 1936 and 1939.  However, no product was produced as Lennan continued to modify and improve the design.  The final design of the Rub-R-Lite was patented on March 18, 1941 (2,234,972) and entered the market in 1943.  On August 3, 1944, the light was approved and certified for use in mines by the US Mine Safety and Health Administration (Approval No. 0C-610).

                            Final Patent for the William Lennan Rub-R-Lite, March 18, 1941

In the lighting department, the Rub-R-Lite was decidedly non-revolutionary as it continued to use the common #14 screw-base bulb. However, it did feature an adjustable focus. This was accomplished by means of an internal focusing wheel.  By turning the wheel clockwise or counterclockwise, the bulb was moved forward or backward in relationship to the reflector, which changed the focus from a diffused to focused spotlight.

 

                            The innovative Rub-R-Lite manufactured by William M. Lennan, introduced in 1943

 

The light featured an internal chassis of lightweight steel that contained the lens reflector, bulb, focusing wheel, switch and batteries.  This chassis was encased within a seamless, natural black rubber housing.  The switch could be operated by pressing on the housing, where on/off finger positions were located.  To replace the batteries/bulb, or to adjust the focusing wheel, the lens was removed from the housing by gently prying the rim of the housing away at the edge.  The lens, which was seated in a groove molded into the rubber, popped out of the housing.  The reflector was then removed and the entire chassis was ejected from the housing by sharply shaking the flashlight, bulb end down, until the chassis slid partway out of the rubber where it could be pulled the rest of the way out of the housing.

                                              The Rub-R-Lite internals removed from the rubber casing.

 

While Rub-R-Lite brightness/beam was no match for military flashlights fitted with PR9 bulbs and fixed spotlight focus, it was the first light available to the general public that could be used confidently outdoors in all kinds of weather.

My Choices –

To round out my camp lighting selection I desired an outdoor flashlight produced during the traditional camping era.  Because I happen to be impatient, I didn’t want to wait to find a suitable original.  With that in mind, my first purchase was the replica TL-122A from What Price Glory.  This light is a close copy of a genuine Tl-122A with a few very slight changes. The light lacks the O-ring seal on the battery cap, which is stamped with the letters WPG instead of the original manufacturer’s trademark, the belt clip lacks the oval hole of the original and the rivets attaching the switch to the case are of copper instead of the brass or steel.

The WPG replica is fitted with an incandescent PR9 flashlight bulb just like the original. The fixed focus reflector is superb.  The light throws a sharply defined beam of light, though with the old style bulb, that beam is relatively dim.  The case is made from brass sheet and the head of cast aluminum.  Fit and finish are excellent.  The replica is painted Army olive green with black painted lens surround, battery cap, switch and ring – just like the original.

Because the replica uses a Pr9 bulb it is easily upgraded to the superb KT-LB 3 volt LED bulb rated at 30 lumens.  This bulb is very inexpensive and is widely available.  For long lasting performance, even in cold conditions, I replaced the standard alkaline D-cell batteries with AA-cell Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries.  This was accomplished by using a pair of parallel battery adapters.  These adapters use three AA-cell batteries to match the voltage of one D-cell.  This setup is much lighter than using the original size batteries.  The pre-focused beam of the flashlight, upgraded to the LED bulb, produces a bright, sharply defied beam of light.  Of course, the upgraded flashlight is nowhere near as bright as the tactical LED super lights of today but I didn’t need or want it to be.

Just a couple of years later I happened upon an original Eveready #2697 Official Boy Scout Flashlight in good condition.  It required some cleaning up but now works like new.  Of course, because it is an original, the #2697 was fitted with the very dim #14 screw-base bulb.  Sadly, there are very few LED upgrade lamps for this type. I found the #222 E10 LED bulb (1.5-3v – 6 AA-cell or 2 D-cell batteries, 50 lumens).  This bulb uses a plastic bulb cover that looks somewhat like an original #14 bulb behind the light lens.  Though the bulb does not seem as bright as the TL-122A replica, most likely because of the difference in the reflector, it is much better than the original incandescent bulb.  In terms of old time traditional camp beauty, this flashlight beats them all.

 

 

                                                          Boy Scout Flashlight and TL-122A flashlight.

I recently added another flashlight to my collection – a Lennan Rub-R-Lite.  The example I found was in remarkable condition.  The rubber case is undamaged and looks new. The metal reflector is in very good condition.  The lens, though a bit hazy in the center, is mostly clear and not cracked or broken.  Again, I upgraded the batteries and bulb.  For the bulb upgrade I selected an NL340 lamp (1.5v-9v, 2 – 6 AA-cell or 2 D-cell batteries, 0.5 watts power, 50 lumens) sold by Reflectalite in the UK.   All in all, it is a very rare example of the first American-made waterproof flashlight.

                                                     My Lennan Rub-R-Lite. A near perfect example.

I suspect that folks would like an idea of how the lighting performance of these three lights compare.  Absolutely the brightest, sharpest beam is produced by the What Price Glory TL-122 replica.  That’s because – 1)  the fixed reflector of the Army light is so good, 2) the reflector of this newly produced light is also new and is as polished and reflective as possible, and 3) the bright KT-LB 3 bulb.  This light is the most powerful vintage style flashlight you can buy.  It is too bad than a modified version with vintage Boy Scout markings is not produced.

The original Eveready #2697 Official Boy Scout Flashlight comes in second. The old style screw-adjustable focus never achieves the sharp spotlight beam of the TL-122 replica.  Being a roughly 90 year old light, the reflector just does not compare to the new one used in the replica, even with the brighter LED bulb upgrade.  However, it is certainly an adequate light and is the most beautiful of the lot in my opinion.

The 1940’s era Rub-R-Lite comes in a dismal third.  I thought this light would be GREAT but the lighting performance is far below the other two lights in my collection.  Again, the old reflector does not do its job like a new one.  The 50 lumen bulb is very bright and is not at fault.  The old lens is somewhat hazy and that is certainly a contributor (I plan to polish the haze out at some point).  It seems to me that the real culprit is the focus or lack thereof.  I have attempted to adjust the focusing wheel in both directions and while the bulb does move forward and backward in relation to the reflector, the best the light can do is produce a very diffused beam.  Still, it is a truly unique, rare vintage camp light.

So there you have it.  If you would like to add a vintage flashlight to your kit, you might want to consider one of the models I’ve tested here.  Here’s to brighter nights ahead!

Notice! Dietz Lanterns Available Again!!!

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
New Dietz No. 50 Comet lantern from W.T. Kirkman

Here is some great news for traditional campers.   W. T. Kirkman Lanterns, Inc. is now stocking a NEW production Dietz Comet lantern!  If you’ve read my post on types of kerosene lanterns, you know that the Comet is my favorite of all time.  It was the official kerosene lantern of the Boy Scouts of America from the early post WWII period up through the 1960’s.  With an overall height of just 8 1/2 inches and a base diameter of 4 1/2 inches, the Comet is the smallest cold blast kerosene lantern ever produced by Dietz.

I discovered that the Comet was listed in the 2013 Dietz product catalog but I could not find them for sale in North America.  I figured that Woody Kirkman would eventually stock the new Comet.  In July of last year, a reader, Terry, commented that Kirkman’s was again selling the Comet in addition to recommending that anyone interested also purchase the Kirkman replacement globe for the Comet as it was much better than the standard Dietz globe.

These new Comet lanterns are delivered with a holographic sticker emblazoned with the Dietz logo, something not seen on previous Comets.

New holographic Dietz logo sticker.

The really exciting news is that Kirkman’s is offering a tin plated version of the Comet (along with painted versions).  The tin plated model has not been offered since before WWII and is historically correct for a pre-war Comet.   The painted lanterns retail for $10.95 and the deluxe tin plated version sells for just $5.00 more.

Left: New tin plated Comet lantern Right: New red painted Comet lantern.
The holographic sticker has been removed with Goo Gone and elbow grease.
I think the sticker is incongruous with a vintage kerosene lantern.

Though I’m thrilled to see these lanterns available again, in my opinion, the quality of the product has declined over those sold just a few years ago.    For one thing, the globes now offered are not as finely molded nor of the same thickness as the previous version.

Left: New production Comet globe Right: Comet globe offered just a decade ago.
Note how much more precise the molding is on the older globe. The glass is thicker too.

Luckily, Kirkman’s offers a heavy glass replacement globe for the Comet lantern that is very nice (though it still does not approach the quality of the original).  If you purchase a new Comet lantern, do yourself a favor and buy a Kirkman’s replacement globe at the same time.  The difference in globe quality is amazing!

Left to right: 1) New production Comet globe 2) Recent production Comet globe 3) W.T. Kirkman replacement Comet globe 4) Original vintage Comet globe made by Hocking glass

Unfortunately, I have other complaints as well.  The red painted lantern I received was delivered with several paint chips.  I’ve seen little used vintage Comet lanterns over 50 years old that had fewer paint chips than the new Comet I received last week.  While the paint chips are small, it is disappointing to see a chipped finish on a lantern that has not seen a single day of use.

Left: Vintage Dietz Comet manufactured in 1950. Right: New Dietz Comet manufactured in 2013.

Here is a new Comet compared to one sold just a few years ago:

Left: Green Comet with brass trim is from a decade ago. Right: New Comet was manufactured in 2013. The bail and burner are of raw carbon steel like the original and will rust if not protected.

Previous Dietz Comets were delivered in a very nice cardboard box. New Comets are not.

I know it sounds like I am seriously unhappy with the new Comet but I’m not.  Even with my complaints, I would not pass up buying one.  For one thing, it’s a brand new Dietz Comet!  For another, even original Dietz hurricane lanterns were utility barn lanterns.  Those with painted finishes easily chipped in use and all but brass finish models quickly rusted if exposed to moisture.  If you use a kerosene lantern with a painted finish, it will get marred and if you use a tin plated lantern, it will rust if not protected.  As soon as I restore or purchase one of these lanterns, I give it a good coat of car wax.  Everything is waxed – bail, burner, cap, globe wires, chimney (inside and out) and lantern body.  I also wax the plated lanterns.  If you keep your lantern waxed regularly, it will never rust.

A collection of Comets that includes a couple of restored, vintage Comets, a new-old-stock vintage Comet, a new Comet made a decade ago and three new Comets just purchased from W.T. Kirkman (one red painted and two tin plated).

For traditional camping, these new Comet lanterns are just the ticket!  The beautiful tin plated model is a near perfect late 1930’s lantern while the red painted model looks just like much like the Comet of the ’50’s that was adopted as the “Official” lantern of the Boy Scouts of America.  You can’t get more traditional than that!

The Woods Arctic Sleeping Robe – the Woodcrafter’s Winter Warmer

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

 

The Woods Three Star Arctic Sleeping Robe

 

 

Today, outdoor folk depend on lightweight, efficient mummy shaped sleeping bags for a warm sleep.  Today’s mummy bags are truly a marvel.  Using high fill-power down, ultralight shell fabrics and advanced construction techniques, these light and lofty calorie trappers weigh less than four pounds and compress smaller than your pillow, yet are comfortable to well below 0°.  But what came before the modern mummy bag?  How did campers sleep comfortably in frigid conditions during the woodcraft age?

From the first traders to explore the North American continent until after World War II, outdoor folk used wool blankets, the most desirable being the Hudson’s Bay Company Point blanket.

A Canadian hunter packs up camp and his Hudson’s Bay point blanket  in Unloaded!”, the cover illustration for the November, 1921 issue of The Beaver, the Hudson’s Bay Company magazine for employees.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet, even the wonderful Hudson’s Bay blanket had its limitations.  The weight and bulk of blankets necessary to sleep comfortably in frigid weather was excessive.  Two blankets were required for camping at around freezing.  Much below that and even more blankets were needed.  As a single 4-pont blanket weighs a bit over six pounds, you can see that a cold weather setup, even when using the best blanket available, the camper had to deal with quite a bit of weight and bulk.  Of course, this problem did not go unnoticed by the old-time experts.  Warren H. Miller in particular, was concerned with how to sleep warm using something other than the blanket, devoting an entire chapter of his book Camp Craft to the problem (Ch. 3: Eliminating the Blanket, 1916).  Miller was more concerned with the great bulk of trying to pack multiple woolen blankets than weight.  He devised a pack bag lined with quilted wool batting that could be laced up into a sleeping bag.  Experimenting with various linings including a caribou skin, he found that he could sleep comfortably below 0° at a weight of just above 4 pounds.  He and others also described sleeping bags that were recommended or denounced depending on the writer’s experience or biases.

All of the early bags were rectangular (like a blanket folded lengthwise) in shape and insulated with layers of blanketing, wool batting or goose feathers.  The fill was encased in an envelope that closed with laced grommets, buttons or clasps.  There were debates about which insulator was best but no matter the fill, all were relatively bulky and heavy.  Nearly all were only moderately successful, most being soon forgotten.  However, one particular model captured the market and soon embodied the characteristics the public came to associate with the term “sleeping bag” – the Woods Arctic Eiderdown Sleeping Robe, manufactured by the Woods Manufacturing Company, LTD, of Ottawa, Canada.

The Woods Company, founded by James W. Woods in 1885, started out as a canvas products supplier but within a few years had evolved into a manufacturer.   Woods produced canvas tents and other canvas goods for prospectors, surveyors, lumbermen, and the military.  Sometime around 1898, the company introduced a new type of sleeping bag designed for extremely cold weather.  Externally, the bag was unremarkable but the insides were a different story.  The bag was revolutionary for being the first to use *duck down plumes for the insulation, stabilized with “Harwood patented” internal compartments.  The use of some kind of internal compartment to prevent the migration of down continues to be employed today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sleeping Robe bag was a 90” x 90” rectangle of tightly woven Egyptian cotton, lined with Kersey wool (later, Junior models with dimensions of 78″ x 84″ and 80″ x 80″ were also offered).  When folded in half lengthwise and secured with snaps, it became a sleeping bag.  A flap of wool was sewn to the open end of the bag to protect the head and shoulders of the sleeper.  The new bag proved to be warmer and more efficient than blanketing, batting or feathers for the weight carried (6 times warmer than wool, 3 times lighter according to Woods Ltd. advertising).   Today, the Woods Arctic Eiderdown Sleeping Robe is generally recognized as the first modern sleeping bag.

*The term “Eiderdown” in the product description referred to down plumes being used as opposed to feathers, which were in common use for pillow and mattress stuffing at the time.  Woods never used the down plumage of the eider duck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                              

The Sleeping Robe in open and closed positions

Interestingly, the Arctic Sleeping Robe was not mentioned in the early camping literature.  Perhaps it was not known to American camping writers as Woods was a Canadian company.  In any event, Americans eventually learned of its existence after the Robe was selected for use by the Amundsen Northwest Passage Expedition (1906) and the Steffansson Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-1918).

During the 1920’s the Robe was chosen by the American mountaineer and scientist Bradford Washburn for his Yukon Expeditions and was included in the survival equipment carried on the polar flights of U.S. Navy explorer Richard E. Byrd.  It was also chosen by members of the Simpson-Roosevelts Field Museum Expedition to Central Asia and the First Canadian ascent of Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak.

 

Expedition leaders in the 1920’s heaped praise on the Woods Arctic Sleeping Robe

With a growing awareness of Woods products in America, Woods opened a factory and sales office in Ogdensburg, NY (most likely to avoid import duty and taxes).  By the 1920’s, the Robe was carried by the best sporting goods stores including Abercrombie and Fitch, Griffin and Howe and Von Lengerke & Detmold (of these, only Griffin and Howe survives).  These shops served a very wealthy clientele that included Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Shackleton, Col. Townsend Whelen, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. The Robe was an ideal product to be carried by these high-end shops.  At an average price of $65.00 ($1,101.69 in 2013 dollars!), it was quite expensive and out of reach for all but the very affluent.

1920’s Woods Sleeping Bag pamphlet from Griffin & Howe, then located at 234 East 39th Street, New York, NY (the shop moved from that location in 1932).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the 1930’s the Robe was firmly ensconced as the image of a modern expedition “sleeping bag” and was finally described in the outdoor literature when it was recommended by Labrador explorer Dillon Wallace (1863-1939) in “The Campers’ Handbook” (Fleming H. Revell Co., New York, London & Edinburgh, 1936).  Wallace noted that the Robe was part of the standard issued equipment carried by the Quebec Forest Rangers.

However, the most famous reference to the Woods Arctic Sleeping Robe in literature was in Ernest Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1940) ~

“He doesn’t know about that robe, Robert Jordan thought. Good old pig-eyes doesn’t know why I paid the Woods boys sixty-five dollars for that robe.”

“It is very beautiful the snow,” Pablo said. “You won’t want to sleep outside with the snow falling.”

So that’s on your mind too is it? Robert Jordan thought. You’ve a lot of troubles, haven’t you, Pablo?

“No?” he said, politely. “No. Very cold,” Pablo said. “Very wet.”

You don’t know why those old eiderdowns cost sixty-five dollars, Robert Jordan thought. I’d like to have a dollar for every time I’ve slept in that thing in the snow. “Then I should sleep in here?” he asked politely.

“Yes.”

“Thanks,” Robert Jordan said. “I’ll be sleeping outside.”

“In the snow?”

“Yes”…“In the snow.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book also includes a memorable love scene involving the Sleeping Robe but you”ll have to read that for yourself.

Hemingway made numerous references to the Robe in the book.  He was obviously knowledgeable of it.  His familiarity with the Robe was due to his owning one, no doubt purchased from one of the great shops described above.  A review of 1930’s era catalog descriptions and prices make it quite likely that Hemingway owned a “Three Star” Arctic Eiderdown Sleeping Robe.  The Three Star was the most popular model that Woods offered and retailed for an average price of $65.00 in the 1930’s.

The Arctic Sleeping Robe in its duffel bag. WOW! Just look at that logo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Robe remained essentially unchanged from its inception through the 1960’s when it was updated with newer shell materials and a lighter lining than the Kersey wool.  Eventually however,  it was surpassed by a new generation of efficient mummy bags.  A good mummy bag filled with 3 pounds of 550 fill power down, encased in a nylon shell and closed with a nylon tooth zipper, weighed around 5 lbs. and was as warm as the 16 lb. Sleeping Robe.  Mummy bags quickly became the dominant type among serious outdoor folk, relegating the “old-fashioned” rectangular Robe to the “has-been” category.

Yet, the Arctic Sleeping Robe remained popular among a small cadre of enthusiasts and incredibly, remained in production along with other very historic Woods products (the #1 and #200 canoe packs and “Prospector” canvas wall tents) until 2008 when the company folded.  Today, the Woods name has been revived by Infinity Sports Group of Langley, British Columbia, Canada.  The new company brought back the Arctic Sleeping Bag though sadly, the canoe packs and Prospector tents are gone.  The latest iteration of the Arctic sleeping bag appears unchanged and prices are actually down from what they were 75 years ago (the current“5-Star” and ”3-Star” Arctic sleeping bags retail for $899.99 and $699.99, respectively).  Woods does not state the fill power of the down used in these bags and do not say if the bags are produced domestically or imported.  If they are made in Canada, using 600-fill goosedown or better, the price may be about right as the bags are quite large.  The “5-Star” in particular is made with two separate quilts filled with 1 3/4 pounds of down and that adds up to the equivalent of purchasing two sleeping bags and their attendant labor and cost.

Of course my interest is in the vintage Woods Sleeping Robes fitted with snap closures as they were an important part of the traditional winter campers’ kit, owned by some of the greatest explorers and outdoorsmen of the first half of the 20th Century.  And of course, I’ve always wanted to own one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These old Arctic Sleeping Robes go for more than you’d expect.  Being the cheapskate that I am, I was willing to wait until an affordable Robe came along.  And wait I did!  For nearly seven years.  Then one day, a co-worker said he’d found an old sleeping bag among his father’s belongings and as I was a camper, would I want it?  Sure!  No matter what it is or what shape it’s in, I never turn down old camping gear.  To my surprise, the bag turned out to be a genuine Woods Arctic Three Star Sleeping Robe fitted with a snap closure!  This is the same model owned by Hemingway.

My Robe is of ‘50’s or ‘60’s era production, fitted with the poly/cotton canvas shell and closed with rectangular, nickel plated snaps.  It is lined with Kersey wool.  In most respects, it is nearly identical to those models made at the turn of the century.  Sure, I wish it had been made early enough to feature an Egyptian Cotton Shell but considering that it was free, I’m satisfied.

Note: The Robe was photographed on a 60+ year old Hodgman PakLite brand canvas air mattress, another wonderful piece of vintage gear. At my age, an air mattress is a necessity for sleeping on the ground and it would be incongruous to pair the Woods Arctic Sleeping Robe with a modern model.  For cold weather camping I recommend that you spread a Hudson Bay blanket over the air mattress before placing the sleeping bag on it.  The blanket serves to insulate the sleeping bag from heat loss due to conduction.

Hodgman PakLite canvas air mattress, circa 1948
Note: The mattress was greatly overinflated for photography purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have the wherewithal to Woodcraft it in winter, then you’d best locate one of these Woods Arctic warmers with haste!

 

 

 

 

 

Coleman 242c Pressure Lantern Made in 1948

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

I’ve always wanted a Coleman 242 series “Junior” lantern.  These were the small-sized, single-mantle lanterns produced by Coleman beginning in 1933 (Model 242) through 1970 or so (242E).  Of these, I am most attracted to the early models, 242 through the 242C lanterns with the nickel plated founts (fuel tanks).  After WWII, the 242C lanterns were also produced with painted tanks, which I do not care for at all.

I found this Model 242C lantern (manufactured March, 1948) at a garage sale last week and paid one dollar ($1.00) for it!!!  What a find!

Being that the lantern is now 65 years old, I did not immediately try to light it.  First, the insides needed a good cleaning as fuel that had been left in the tank had turned to varnish.  To begin the process, I ran a few ounces of Berryman’s B-12 Chemtool through the system under pressure, followed by the same amount of lacquer thinner, swished around the tank and left for an overnight soak.  Deep in the bowels of the tank, Coleman pressure lanterns (and stoves) are fitted with a “check valve”.  This valve employs a small ball bearing that works to create a vacuum inside the pump housing on the up-stroke of the pump.  This causes air to enter the pump housing to fill the vacuum.  On the down-stroke, this air forces the ball bearing forward, allowing the air to enter and pressurize the tank.  If the check valve fails while the tank is pressurized and the mantle is burning, air is released back up the pump housing instead of fuel – a great safety feature.  Often, old fuel that has turned to varnish “gums up” the little ball bearing making the check valve inoperable.  In my experience, a long soak in lacquer thinner has always worked to free a gummed up check valve.  After the thinner was drained, the tank was filled with the same amount of new, clean white gas.  This was swished around, drained, emptied and the tank refilled and the process repeated until water-clear fuel was observed coming from the tank.

Next, for safety’s sake, I installed a new valve packing and fuel cap gasket.   The packing prevents fuel from leaking at the on/of valve and of course, the gasket seals the fuel cap.  If these seals fail, you could have a serious fire on or in your hands!  Remember the “O” ring failure on the Challenger Space Shuttle?  After installing the seal and valve packing, the stove was filled with fresh Coleman fuel (white gas) to which one ounce of the Berryman’s B-12 had been added.  Then I fired the thing up.   The photos are from this first ignition.  The $1.00 lantern works like a charm!

Close-up of fount. The inscription reads “The Sunshine of the Night – Coleman“.

The little beauty did not require much external cleaning up.  The nickel plating still looks decent and the porcelain vent (the dark green part) is not too nicked up.  All in all, a great, functional lantern for a very, very low price.   Now, I just need to build a small cabin to light with it!

A Packable Dutch Oven Perfect for a “tramp” (a Hike, Not a Hobo)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

 

 

A Dutch oven of cast-iron is very serviceable on any trip that permits carrying so heavy a utensil.  Why are none made of cast aluminum?” (emphasis is mine)~ The Book of Camping and Woodcraft, Horace Kephart (1909)

If you’ve never enjoyed biscuits, cornbread, pie or cake, stews or anything prepared in a camp Dutch oven, you don’t know what you’re missing. Outdoors folk have used and treasured the Dutch oven for generations because it is the one cooking vessel that can make all of the above and then some.  Eggs can be fried or perfect flapjacks made on the inverted lid, heated over coals.  Vegetables can be steamed in it.  Corn on the cob can be boiled in it.  In short ~ the Dutch oven is nearly the perfect cooking utensil.  I say nearly because the weight of a traditional cast iron Dutch oven makes it too heavy for all but horsepacking, Jeeping or fixed camps.  As useful and popular as Dutch ovens are in fixed camps today, they were not particularly popular among the old Woodcrafters.  Their extreme weight was part of the problem.  Even the old-timers  that liked them, only recommending them only for horsepacking or the like.  Some, like Stewart Edward White, positively disliked them.  Nearly all of the old books also mentioned that while Dutch ovens were very rarely used in the East, their use was more widespread in the West where undoubtedly, horsepacking was the customary mode of wilderness travel.  In Kephart’s time, cast aluminum Dutch ovens weren’t available but even those of today are too heavy for tramps (hikes) and thus, are now most popular among river rafters.

Back in the ‘80’s, I taught an annual class in camp cooking and Dutch oven cooking was part of the curriculum.  Since that time, I’ve regularly used a Dutch oven in fixed camps.  In the ‘90’s, I completed a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Instructor’s course and learned to bake in the backcountry using the Banks Fry-Bake to prepare cinnamon rolls, pizza, and even cherry pie.  I found the Fry-Bake to be the best of the various commerical backpacking bakers but even that noble pan could not match the camp cuisine prepared in a Dutch oven.  I’ve also used pie-pan “Dutch” ovens (see my post below), which work surprisingly well; but again, do not match the performance of a “real” thick-walled Dutch oven.

After developing an interest in traditional camping, I renewed my search for a Dutch oven light enough to take on a solo hike.  After all, if I was going to cook over a wood fire, I was going to do at least some of my cooking in a Dutch oven!  My goal was to find a vessel with what I consider crucial Dutch oven features – 1) it had to be made from thick walled, cast metal (aluminum would be the only material light enough to easily carry), 2) it had a tightly fitting lid to hold in the heat and featured a depression to retain coals or briquettes for baking and 3) it had to have steep, deep sidewalls to allow baked goods to rise.  In addition, the perfect vessel had to be compact for easy packing.

My search led me to the IMUSA cast aluminum Caldero, that I discovered by accident during a visit to a local Hispanic grocery.  This little pot immediately struck me as the near perfect lightweight Dutch oven.  In fact, if you Google “caldero”, you’ll find that a number of online “department” stores list them as a type of Dutch oven, i.e.: “calderos/Dutch ovens”.  The caldero I found embodied several of the Dutch oven characteristics I’d been seeking. It was made of thick walled, cast aluminum, had a tight fitting lid and the sidewalls were deep and straight.  However, though the lid was domed for good internal volume, it had no depression.  It was also fitted with a plastic knob for lifting.  I picked up the caldero and inverted the lid.  The domed shape now provided a depression for baking though the fit was not tight at all.  Still, at a cost of less than $12.00, it was worth experimenting with.

Calderos are made in many different finishes – polished spun aluminum with riveted handles and aluminum lids, cast or spun aluminum in porcelain or other colored finishes and glass lids, cast aluminum with non-stick cooking surfaces and glass lids, cast aluminum with non-stick interior and exterior finishes and the one we are interested in, unfinished cast aluminum with cast handles and a cast aluminum lid. Calderos also come in several sizes and can be purchased individually or in combos or whole sets of sizes.  The caldero I selected was the IMUSA 18-Centemeter Caldero (18 cm, 1.5 liter or 1.6 qt., 7” x 7”x 2 ¾” deep, 2 lbs.).   This size is often described as a #2 caldero.  The store carried an even smaller size (#0, 14 cm, 1/2 liter capacity).   It now appears that IMUSA has discontinued these two small sizes and offer a  20-Cenemeter model as their smallest caldero (20 cm, 2 liter or 2 qt., 7 ¾” x 7 3/4” x 3” deep, about 2 lbs.).  If you want a #2, the only brand I know of is made or imported by the Allied Metal Spinning Corporation.

An internet search of caldero a couple of years ago turned up only a few specialty Hispanic online stores stocking unfinished cast aluminum calderos selling from $6.00 to $20.00.  I now see that calderos are now stocked by Sears, Walmart, K-Mart, and Macy’s stores (at least online) and have become more upscale and correspondingly expensive.  I suspect that this is to appeal to American tastes.  Natural cast aluminum models are less commonly stocked in favor of the newer styles described above (not useful for camping).  Prices for these fancier models are also higher ($29.99 – $40.00).

Of course, for the caldero to work as a Dutch oven, the plastic knob would have to be replaced, which I did, with a stainless steel eyebolt.  On the underside of the lid I ran the shank of the eyebolt through a large aluminum spacer before tightening everything up with a stainless steel nut.  Now when the lid is inverted, the large spacer is used to lift the lid.  I carry a BSA “Hot Pot Tongs” for that job.

 

BSA Hot Pot Tongs

 

A recent search of the Boy Scout Official store did not turn up the tongs, which have been stocked since at least the early 1950’s.  Luckily, the Banks Fry-Bake company now carries their “PotGripz”, which are nearly the same.

I recently had an opportunity to try out the little Dutch oven camping in the Ouachita mountains of southeastern Oklahoma.  It produced perfect, golden cornbread on the first try!  While I should have elevated the oven over coals like a real Dutch oven, I used my improved Nomad stove along with a “little larger than twig” fire built on the inverted lid.  As with a pie pan oven, when using the Tramp oven over coals or briquettes, you rest bottom pan on three rocks.  The coals should be centered, with the support rocks spaced around the outside.  The rocks should be of equal height so the contents of the oven remain level.  Dutch oven author John G. Ragsdale prefers to use three tent stakes over rocks as he believes that it is easier to level the pan, but I’ve never had any trouble finding three rocks that I couldn’t level by digging down if need be.

 

Interior of the Tramp Oven
Caldero Dutch Oven ~ Ready to Bake!
Baking in the Tramp Oven
Just Right!

 

Cornbread!

 

At a weight of 2 pounds and a packed size of 9 3/16” x 3 ½” (with lid inverted), the little Tramp oven is light and compact.  You can fry, braise, boil, or bake in it.   I plan to experiment with baking a bannock in it in the near future.  I can’t imagine the bannock would scorch due to the thickness of the pan.   And at a cost of less than $12.00, you’d be hard pressed to find any alternative that would be as light on your wallet.  Why don’t you try one of these “tramp” ovens yourself?

The Pie Pan “dutch” Oven

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

 

 

As I mentioned in my A Packable Dutch Oven Perfect for a Tramp” post, I’ve also fashioned a lightweight “Dutch” oven from pie pans and have had surprisingly good luck turning out biscuits, cinnamon rolls and the like.  In fact, until I devised the “tramp” oven, the pie pan oven was my favored method of lightweight baking in the backcountry.

The downside to a pie pan oven is that the thin aluminum can melt if subjected to too much heat.  Though I’ve never seen it, I’ve heard reports of light aluminum pie pans melting when too many coals were used or the oven was foolishly placed over a roaring fire.  When using a pie pan oven, never use more than handful of coals, small twig fires (as in a hobo stove), or the low heat on a single burner backpacking stove.  It will take some experimentation to learn just how much heat you need and how long it takes to bake in one of these but remember, they are made from thin aluminum and it doesn’t take much to heat the interior up in one of these.  Now, let’s go over how to make one of these stoves ~

YOU WILL NEED

  • Three heavy duty aluminum 9-inch pie pans (The pans I used were WINCO commercial pie plates (22-gauge seamless aluminum, 10” diameter, 1 ½” deep, 4 1/3 ounces and $4.25 ea.)

 

  • One 10-32 x ½ (fine thread) brass machine screw
  • Two #10 brass washers
  • One brass #10 wing nut

INSTRUCTIONS

Drill a center hole large enough to accept the #10 machine screw, through the very center of two (2) of the pans.  I also use two brass #10 flat washers between the pan surfaces and the screwhead and wing nut, respectively.  These are not necessary but I like washers.  The bottom of one upright pan is affixed to the bottom (inverted) pan by using the hardware like so –

 

      

 

The two pans in the photo above have been bolted together.  The pan on the right serves as the upper container for holding coals, briquettes or a twig fire.  The inverted (bottom) pan on the left serves as the cover for the oven.  In use it rests on the third pie pan to create the oven like so ~

 

 

Dutch oven author John G. Ragsdale advises that two bolts, located 3 or 4 inches apart, are more secure than a single center bolt and while he may be correct, life is t0o short.  I’ve always used the single center bolt.  Ragsdale also recommends that the outer surfaces of the pans and interior of the upper pan be painted with black stove paint to improve performance.  That step is worthwhile but eventually the outsides will develop a hard, black carbon coating anyway.  I’ve also seen instructions that recommend clamping the edges of the upper pan set to the lower pan but I’ve found that that is not necessary when using heavy duty pans.

When using the pie pan oven over coals or briquettes, you rest bottom pan on three rocks.  The coals should be centered with the support rocks spaced around the outside.  The rocks should be of equal height so the contents of the oven remain level.  John Rasdale prefers to use three tent stakes over rocks as he believes that it is easier to level the pan, but I’ve never had any trouble finding three rocks that I couldn’t level by digging down if need be.

I recommend that you do not use pans made from stock thinner than 22-gauge as they will not hold up to the heat.  The WINCO pans shown here feature rolled edges which makes them very sturdy.  There are deep dish pans made by other manufacturers that would offer greater internal volume.  I have never seen these in stores but can be found online.  Vollrath makes a 9-inch anodized aluminum pie pan, which I consider the creme de la creme of pie pans.  These are made in the USA from 22-gauge anodized aluminum.  However, they are 1/4-inch shallower and cost more than twice that of the WINCO pan.

A set of pie pans and the hardware to assemble the Dutch oven weighs half that of the caldero though the packed size is similar.  However, the thin pie pans do not compare in baking performance to that of the thick cast aluminum of the caldero.  Surprisingly, the caldero was less expensive than purchasing the materials to make this oven.  Still, you might want to experiment with an oven like this to see which type you prefer.

Woodcraft Project ~ Trapper Nelson Indian Packboard Restoration

Friday, December 28th, 2012

For those not familiar with this traditional packboard, let’s review its history ~

The Trapper Nelson Indian Packboard, patented by Lloyd F. Nelson in 1924, represented a significant advancement in pack design, appearing on the market near the end of the classic camping era.   The pack was first conceived after Nelson used an Indian packboard on a tramp in Alaska in 1920.  The native-made article featured a stretched sealskin, stiffened by a willow frame.  Though Nelson found the packboard uncomfortable, he considered it an improvement over the popular Poirier (Duluth) pack that dominated the field at the time.  Nelson was confident that he could produce a pack superior to anything then available with regard to distribution of weight, carrying comfort and carrying capacity.

Working nights in his basement, Nelson came up with a wooden frame, braced with cross slats, a ventilating canvas back panel and a quickly detachable canvas packsack.   Nelson invented the concept of hanging the packbag from the frame by running a heavy wire rod through a set of screw eyes attached to the frame and inserted through grommets in the packbag.  To remove the packbag, one only had to pull the two heavy wire rods out of the screw eyes and give a tug to the packbag.  This method of bag attachment was copied by Kelty and other pack makers decades later in a slightly modified form (Kelty replaced the screw eyes with aluminum aircraft rivets that Kelty drilled holes through, to accept the wire (now known as a clevis pin).  In his U.S. Patent application, Nelson noted that his packboard could be produced in various sizes without departing from the spirit of the invention.  This was easily accomplished by simply lengthening or shortening the frame rails and wires and adjusting the number of screw eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patent images courtesy United States Patent and Trademark Office website

 

 

 

Though considered crude by today’s standards, the Trapper Nelson represented a breakthrough in pack design.  Nelson predicted that the new pack would be popular with trappers, foresters, miners, surveyors, timber cruisers and Boy Scouts, which it did, after a slow start.

Nelson worked tirelessly, carrying a sample pack on his back into every sporting goods store from San Diego to Seattle.  Orders were slow in coming but as sales began to improve, Nelson soon encountered problems.  Attempting to sew the packbags himself, and combining them with a frame made to his specifications, Nelson found that he could not produce the pack quickly or efficiently.

In 1929, he contacted Charles Trager Manufacturing of Seattle, Washington, a producer of  lumberjack supplies, to have them produce the pack.  According to the Trager website, Nelson sold the business to Trager but he must have retained some rights as he later negotiated agreements with manufacturers in Canada to produce the pack under the Trapper Nelson name in that country.  Just weeks after the agreement with Trager was completed, Nelson was asked to fill two orders totaling 1000 of the packs by the United States Forestry Service.  From that point on, the Trapper Nelson became the dominant pack for overland hikes and tramps in North America.  The Poirier pack was forever relegated to canoe tripping (as a portaging pack) after Lloyd Nelson’s pack became popular.  Unbelievably, Trager produced the Trapper Nelson in the United States until 1986, long after the development of the modern aluminum external-frame backpack.  Trapper Nelson packboards remain highly popular with Alaskan hunting guides and prospectors, who consider them superior to modern aluminum frames for carrying the heavy loads associated with those activities.

Now to the project ~

I purchased an old, beat up Trapper Nelson at a swap meet about eight years ago, to serve as part of the décor in my son’s “Boy’s Life”, circa 1950-themed bedroom.  I think I paid $5.00 for it.  The bag was in fair condition, the frame was in very good shape with only a tiny crack in a cross brace and everything was there.  The metal components that had originally been brass or nickel plated were rusted but the three galvanized heavy wire rods, used to attach the packbag to the frame and to connecting the cross braces, were in perfect condition.  Sadly, the previous owner carved his name in one side rail and drilled a number of random holes through the lower frame on both sides.  I carefully washed the packbag, applied Lexol to the leather conchos (rivet reinforcements), oiled the frame with linseed oil and stuffed the old packbag with plastic and newspaper to give it shape.  It then rested in a corner of my son’s room until a few months ago.  Desiring a new look to his room at age 17, I came home to discover that the old pack had been relegated to the Goodwill pile.  WHAT??? Give this wonderful traditional pack to Goodwill?  No way!  I decided that I would restore it!

I don’t have any before photos of the pack.  I never think to do that at the beginning of a project.  But here is what I did –

  1. Pulled the heavy wires out of the screw eyes that are used to affix the bag to the frame.
  2. Pulled the canvas packbag off the screw eyes.
  3. Untied the cord tightening the ventilating canvas backrest around the frame.
  4. Removed the galvanized heavy wire that connected the cross braces.
  5. Removed the steel screws that attached the oak cross braces to the pine frame.
  6. Removed the brass-plated steel end caps and nickel plated steel shoulder strap clips from the frame.

Now the various components were ready to restore or replace as needed.

I glued the crack in the cross-brace and then went to work on the side rails.  After spending several days filling the random holes and gouged owner’s name in the rails and sanding/refinishing the frame, I decided that I would never be satisfied with the results.  I had my brother-in-law, a custom cabinet and furniture maker by trade, make new side rails in straight-grained oak to match the cross braces.  The difference in color between the new side rails and the 60 year old cross braces was significant so I had to stain the new wood to even things up.  After staining, the frame components were given a couple of coats of teak oil and the cut ends of the side rails were sealed with three coats of spar varnish.  Then, the frame was hand-rubbed with a linseed oil/beeswax mixture.

The rusted steel wood screws and screw eyes were replaced with new solid brass hardware.  The end caps were re-plated in satin brass as original,  and mounted over the sealed ends of the side rails.  The clips that accept the shoulder straps (originally nickel plated) were brass plated in order to provide for a more uniform appearance.  The galvanized wires that affix the pack to the frame were heavily plated in nickel and given a satin finish.  All of the new and newly-plated hardware was left unfinished to allow everything to oxidize beautifully over time.

 

Here is the side of the frame showing the clips that accept the ends of the shoulder straps (lower frame).

 

This is where things stand at the moment.  I plan to replace the galvanized, heavy wire rod that connects the cross braces with one of solid brass (not seen in the photos here).   The packbag is very simply made and I think I could replicate it myself but I wanted to add some features so if anyone knows of someone experienced in sewing canvas, I may decide to have them make the packbag.  I already have a source for the leather for straps and pack harness if things work out.

 

The packboard as viewed from the top. The brass end caps have been beautifully re-plated.

 

I’ll update this post as the project continues to progress.

Woodcraft Skill Project ~ A Birch Bark Matchsafe

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

My birch bark matchsafe

One of the aspects of woodcraft and traditional camping that really appeals to me is crafting and making some or even much of your equipment.   If you enjoy working with your hands, if you are handy with tools or even a tool buffoon like me, you can make some of your own gear.

I made this birch bark matchsafe a few years ago and have been very happy with it.  It has proven to be sturdy and waterproof enough to keep my matches dry.  While the waterproof qualities may not equal that of a commercially made metal or plastic matchsafe with a rubber gasket, mine beats all of them hands down for beauty and rustic elegance.  And, every time I use it I think – WOW! I made it myself!

I live in Oklahoma, where we only have River Birch.  We are not a region known for significant birch forests.  If you do not have ready access to birch bark, I suggest you buy your bark from this site.  I purchased a large sheet of bark from them years ago and am still using it.  I have made lots of bark objects from that single large sheet.

At the time I made the matchsafe I’d never thought of blogging so sadly, I did not take photos of the steps I used in making it.  However, I see that some guy named Ray Mears has now copied me on YouTube (just kidding Mr. Mears).

I essentially made my matchsafe exactly as Ray did but made two mistakes –

1)      I stupidly miscalculated the length of the interior and made the matchsafe too short.  When the bottom and top plugs were inserted, the insides weren’t long enough to hold standard strike-anywhere matches.  To solve this problem, I cut a deeper birch plug for the bottom and hollowed it out on the inside with a crooked knife.  It worked but was more effort than just starting over again.

Bottom of birch bark matchsafe

Bottom of matchsafe and underside of stopper. Both are made from a birch branch and finished with raw linseed oil.

Interior of birch bark matchsafe

Here is the interior of the matchsafe showing the carved-out plug. Not a bad job if I do say so myself.

2)      Unlike Ray, I never thought of using an interior wedge/exterior compression string to hold everything together.  Thus, the notched, pointed end that fits into the slot came loose before the glue dried and it eased out of the slot a bit.  It didn’t really matter because the glue holds everything in place but it’s not perfect.

One more thing – Ray doesn’t mention doing this, but I thinned Elmer’s Wood Glue down with warm water and gave the interior and exterior of the bark part of the matchsafe a couple of coats, with an overnight drying time between coats.  I also oiled the stopper and bottom plug with raw linseed oil to bring out the grain.

 

Exterior of birch bark matchsafe

I gave the bark of the finished matchsafe two coats of thinned Elmer’s Wood Glue to enhance the waterproofness.

The Improved Nomad Woodstove

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

A couple of years ago I read Paul Van Horn’s online article on his Nomad stove.  I like Paul Van Horn.  I first discovered his writing while developing a school curriculum that focused on human reliance on natural resources for grad school.  The project led to my current interest (obsession??) in traditional woodcraft skills.

Paul’s stove is a high performance version of the old “hobo” or tin-can stoves, popular with woodcrafters a half-century ago.  Both Ellsworth Jaeger and Bernard S. Mason described tin-can stoves in their books “Wildwood Wisdom” and “Woodcraft“, respectively –

 

Tin Can Kitchens from Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger (1945)

 

Tin-Can Stoves and Bakers from Woodcraft by Bernard S. Mason (1939)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Improved Nomad Stove. Note side opening for loading firewood, fresh air vents at the bottom of the can, cooking grate from removable brass rod and lower set of holes to adjust the grate for windy conditions.

Looking into the mouth of the Improved Nomad Stove. The ventilated raised floor can be seen underneath the pot supports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Paul Van Horn, “the pot must be of a size that allows it to sit down inside the stove with a minimum of ¾” clearance between the sides and the wall of the stove on all sides.  A pot that is too large will result in a smoky, sooty burn.”  I just could not find the right pot.  Van Horn used a tin can but reading Camp Craft by Warren H. Miller (1918), one of my very favorite authors, proved that very well made aluminum camp cookware was available around the turn of the century.  Desiring a light aluminum cook pot of the right size, I searched for over a year until I found this 5-cup Bush Pot at Ben’s Backwoods.  It is a smaller version of the Mors Kochanski Bush Pot.  The new pot fit perfectly!  Made from dark anodized aluminum, it’s fitted with a very snug lid with a lift handle and like the Kochanski pot features a pour spout and folding handles.  The pot comes with a bail kit that the owner may attach if they so desire  Sadly, the pot will not fit into the paint can with the bail attached.

To ready the stove for use, I ignited a fire in it to burn the paint off the inside of the can and underside of the lid.  WOW! Does this stove burn hot!  One thing I quickly learned was to have a large pile of twigs handy because the stove will consume them rapidly.

 

Burning the paint out of the Improved Nomad Woodstove

 

After removing the paint, I rubbed the interior and exterior of the can with vegetable oil and heated it over a very low flame on on my range, “seasoning” it as you would a dutch oven to produce a protective rustproof coating.   Then I sewed up a storage sack from pre-shrunk cotton muslin that I coated with Filson Oil Finish Wax.

 

 

I pack the stove away by sliding the brass rods into spaces between the inside of the can and the interior floor.  Then, in goes the bush pot, wrapped in a flour-sack dish towel. with a pair of deerskin gloves packed inside.  The pot lifter fits down between pot and stove can and the lid is pressed on.  Finally, the stove is placed into the stuff sack and is ready for the trail!

 

Packed for the Trail

 

I like this stove alot.  It was easy to make, performs very well and is a versatile cooker – producing boiling water to pancakes and fried eggs.  I’ve been very pleased with how it turned out and now share it with the fraternity of outers that enjoy spending time under the stars.