Fuels for Pharos

Florida Lighthouses_narrowWhat fuels did/does a lighthouse (pharos – the Greek word for lighthouse) use? I became curious about this when I discovered in an Internet  article the name Colza oil. What the heck is Colza oil? Somebody’s mispelling of Coal oil? I had to find out.

Well that led to this article on lighthouse illumination (more). I enjoyed researching it – I hope you enjoy reading it. Any additions or corrections are welcome. Please contact me.

The principal methods and types of illuminating a lighthouse are below in order of usage. The dates and equipment used are from the photo and webpage on the left. Two other excellent pages on illuminants for lamps are Illumination Sources and the lighthouse page called Pharology.

1. Open fires of wood, charcoal, tar, or coal

2. Candles of wax or tallow dips

3. Fish oil 

4. Whale oil (1720-1864) – also know as Sperm oil or Train oil

5. Vegetable oils – Colza oil used in the Argand lamp; Lard Oil (1864-1884), Olive oil, Rape oil, and Coconut oil. Rice Bran oil is also used in some lands for illumination. today

(vegetable oil vs mineral oil)

6. Mineral oil – non-vegetable oils (hydrocarbon, petroleum or paraffin oils) including white oil, liquid paraffin, and liquid petroleum used as lighting oils.

7. Manufactured fuel gas, Manufactured gas or more commonly known as just Gas – gases with such names as Coal gas, City gas, Oil gas, Illumination gas (1904-1980) derived mostly from coal, but also wood, and oil. Acetylene was another manufactured gas.

8. Kerosene (1884-1955) used as a lighting oil in the vapourized oil burners

9. Electricity (1898-now) carbon-arc lamps up to present day light-emitting diode (LED) lamps

10. Solar Continue reading

Aiding and Abetting* at Pulteney Point c. 1970

* see Wikipedia for a definition

Pulteney Point - photo John Morris

One of our responsibilities as a lighthouse keeper was to assist mariners in distress. This was not a written rule. The written rule was to maintain the light and foghorn.

There was one stipulation in our Rule Book where we could assist a mariner who ran out of gas or diesel by supplying them with enough fuel, free of charge, to get them to the next port of call where they could purchase their own.

One evening Walt Tansky, my boss on Pulteney Point at the time, was interrupted by a knock at the door and saw a young man there who informed him that he had run out of gas and could he get enough to get him to Port Hardy. Walt said he remarked that Port McNeil or Sointula was closer, but the man said he had just come from Alert Bay and was heading north. Continue reading