Weatherford Democrat

April 21, 2013

NOW HEAR THIS: Let there be light

Weatherford Democrat

— NOW HEAR THIS: Let there be light


Since earliest time, mankind has looked for ways to light up the dark and function more easily at night. Hey, it’s scary in the dark. There are boogers, monsters and all sorts of really evil unseen things dwelling in the darkness.

When our earliest ancestors discovered fire, it was certainly a “red letter day” in many ways.  While it provided a great variety of benefits, its ability to penetrate the darkness quite radically changed the way we lived. 

Initially, early man only used light from an open fire, either from an open campfire or torch, to provide light and security at night. Ever the innovator, early men and women quickly learned to build lamps and candles to burn various oils, fats, and resins. Olive oil, pine resin (fat wood), whale oil, rendered animal fat or natural petroleum deposits on the surface were used to fuel these primitive lamps. By the 18th century we were learning to harness hydrocarbon gasses from coal mines and wells for use in lighting of street lamps and other public venues.  Whenever I think of gas street lights, I cannot help but recall the classic song, “The Old Lamp-Lighter,” written in 1946.

Advances in the electrical industry by such pioneers as Thomas Edison gradually eclipsed the value of gas lighting. By the turn of the 20th century, incandescent lighting dominated the field in urban cities and towns, although down on the “pore farm” and elsewhere in America’s rural heartland, the kerosene or “coal oil” lamp reigned supreme.

As I have recounted on several occasions, we didn’t have electricity on Route One Millsap until the early 1950s. I vividly remember reading about Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot by the light of a kerosene lamp. These oil-wick lamps produced a very soft reddish glow and from what I’ve read were equivalent to about a 20-25 watt bulb. All my life I heard that reading in dim light would hurt your eyes. However, if this were true, I’d have never been accepted for Navy flight training.

Although oil lamps were quite dim, we were fortunate to have a much-improved Aladdin lamp which incorporated a mantle mounted above the kerosene flame, much like classic Coleman camping lantern. The flame heated the mantle to incandescence and produced a much brighter and whiter light that was supposedly equivalent to a 60-watt light bulb.

With sharply escalating energy prices beginning in the 1970s, folks began to look for more efficient means of lighting their homes. Incandescent bulbs are notoriously inefficient, turning over 90 percent of the energy used into wasted heat. Fluorescent lights have long been the choice for efficiency, operating for less than a fourth the cost of incandescent. In recent years, manufacturers have developed compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) which have built in ballasts and can be used in all light fixtures.

Yet, CFLs have many down sides – they contain mercury, are expensive, are subject to fire, they are fragile, will not operate in extreme temperatures, and do not come on instantly. The latest development in lighting, light emitting diodes (LEDs), solve all these problems and use half the energy – if we could only afford them.

As for me, there are already enough daylight hours to wear this old man out. Burning the midnight oil is no longer a great priority.

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to