From Living Without Electricity (by Stephen Scott and Kenneth Pellman):
“The majority of Old Order Amish use lamps that burn “white,” or clear, gasoline or naphtha. The fuel tank in these lamps is filled with compressed air. The air forces the fuel to the generator tube, where it is vaporized, and then to the mantles, where it is burned.
Mantles are loosely woven fabric bags treated with a rare earth mineral called thorium. Before actual use, the fiber of the mantles is burned away, leaving only a fragile mineral skeleton. When the lamp is lit, the mantles glow very brightly but do not flame after the first few seconds.”
A great low-tech way to light with one drawback. The heat it produces is a killer in summer. If I sit too long around one of these it means the fast track to dehydration. And I don’t even wear heavy broadfall pants.
Scott and Pellman explain that the more conservative Amish often use old-style kerosene lamps. This summer the old-style kerosene lamp was my back-up at Abe and Sarah’s when the flashlight batteries had died and I hadn’t finished my pre-bedtime reading.
Using the more traditional lighting devices such as this and oil lamps means there is also the higher possibility of fire, though of course Amish are careful to try to prevent that.
Yet there have been numerous instances of fires in Amish homes, sometimes with tragic results, and it is a concern.
Many Amish use home fire-alarm systems. When staying with the Lapps this summer, the portable floor lamp got a bit too close to the downstairs wall alarm, melting the seal and triggering the fairly crude device.
With a bit of a struggle, Daniel, Mary and I got it re-triggered and ready to go again. It had something of a wind-up alarm clock feel to it. But it sure was loud and no doubt it would startle even the most tired bones out of sleep.
Sometimes salespeople sell these alarms in Amish areas, aware of the existing need in the community. To hear the Amish tell it, the prices they charge can often be on the high side.
Still, overpaying for a fire alarm is a lot better than not having one when you need it.