Upgrading An Old Lantern

[Shockwaver] stumbled across some old kerosene lanterns, and decided he also stumbled across his next project. He decided to leave the kerosene out, and in its place used some RGB LEDs to bring the lanterns back to life. This is quite an upgrade. Considering the burning kerosene will only put out a few colors of light, the astute reader will have realized the RGB array has the ability put out over 16 million colors.

After some initial testing, he settled on a 24 LED circle array powered by an ATtiny85. The FastLED library helped him keep the code within the tight memory requirements. [Shockwaver] was not used to working with the such a small amount of memory, but after some fiddling he was able to make it work in the end, using 8,126 bytes.

The source can be found on his github page. Be sure to check out the video below to see the RGB lantern in action.

33 thoughts on “Upgrading An Old Lantern

  1. Good idea – the paper “diffusor” looks horrible, though.

    What might look neat would be a one-way mirror instead of the glass bulb to create an “infinity-view” inside the lamp. Wait … I just have an idea for my next project …

    1. I agree on the paper, but the rest of the project is a great start! Maybe I’ll give my front porch lights an upgrade using this as a base… Previously I’ve had excellent results using that ‘frosted glass in a spray can’ stuff…

        1. One of the direct methanol cells might work great if you put methanol in the tank. But I think you would need a pressurized source of air or oxygen, or maybe a tiny air compressor pump of some kind.

  2. 9V to 5V using a 7805. Please … no.
    Its a really nice packaging exercise with the lamp, but please remember for a 7805 (or any linear reg) voltage over your target voltage is dissipated as heat.
    Assuming 24 x 20mA for each LED + 12mA for the ATTiny = 0.6A
    P = Delta V x I, so (9V – 5V) X 0.6 = 2.4Watts wasted as heat from your battery.
    Linear regs are nice and simple for beginners, but there are now many simple switchers which can do a much more efficient job, for not a lot more effort.

    1. I seriously that a 9V battery can put out 0.6A for any period of time. The high impedance, low capacity, high retail price makes it the least economical power source except for really low drain devices like smoke detectors or multimeters.

    2. There are some applications where a linear regulator and battery are the preferred power source. The ripple and harmonic noise of switching regulators is too high in certain situations where low noise is required.

  3. Probably good for those Chinese made kerosene lamps. I quit trying to buy them when the POS kept catching on fire. There are gaps between the metal joints that slowly (or quickly) leak fuel. Initial inspection catches some but those that seem OK in the store still leaks as the lantern heats up. Rather astonishing any store chooses to carry them.

    Not to sound too patriotic but the American or Canadian made ones are of much better quality with a sealed tank to avoid leaks.

      1. For good lanterns/lamps and all things old-timey/traditional, try the good folks over at Lehman’s (www.lehmans.com)… their shipping lead time is usually fairly slow (the time between placing the order and it actually getting into the carrier’s hands, that is), but their products and their customer service are both top notch. Not an Arduino to be found, but if you need anything your grandparents or their grandparents ever relied on for daily life, odds are good that Lehman’s has it. Anyone who’s ever had the privilege of browsing their catalogs or visiting their store in lovely Kidron, Ohio will know exactly what I mean.

        Fun fact: A great many Hollywood props seen in period movies came from Lehmans.

      2. These appear to be vintage Adlake railroad lanterns. They were manufactured for decades and used by many railroads. A bit of searching on Ebay should yield a useable specimen; it’ll be cheaper without a working burner.

        1. I cringed when I first saw this hack thinking he was going to drill holes in the base or lid. I’ve seen butchered Adlake lanterns converted to table lamps that would be worth serious money today had they not been hacked. Back in the early days of electricity oil table “hurricane” lamps were often hacked up to work on electricity along with candlestick phones. Said lamps are next to worthless to collectors.

          Judging by the lack of dirt or soot on these lanterns they aren’t very old relatively speaking – maybe Penn Central 70s vintage. Looks like this mod is reversible so no blood/no foul. Neat hack.

          1. Upon close examination of the photos, one lantern appears to be entirely unmarked. The other is embossed with “C N R” which was the accepted abbreviation of the Canadian National Railway Co up through 1960 (since then, their reporting mark has been “C N”).

            More fun facts:

            Railroad Lanterns (such as these) manufactured by Adlake, Dietz, and others, are prolific. A lantern’s value comes from a combination of factors, including: being embossed with a road name or reporting mark, being overall intact (not modified or badly bent/disfigured), degree of freedom from rust and pitting, whether or not the kerosene pot is free of leaks, whether or not the lid opens and closes smoothly and seats properly, whether the globe in it is embossed or etched with a road name or reporting mark (ideally matching that marking of the lantern, though globes/lanterns come in a limited number of sizes, so globes can be swapped out to make a match… no such thing as “numbers matching” in the RR lantern world), whether or not the condition of the lantern is authentic (not stripped, not repainted, not faux aged/finished, not badly rusted, not mismatched with a misfitted/forced pot or globe), and if the railroad name is/was local to where the lantern is being sold.

            Plain (unmarked) RR lantern frames are *not* a goldmine. The lantern market peaked a couple decades ago, and while it’s not in the bottom of the trough, it’s barely started climbing again (and likely won’t ever re-match the peak it reached in the late 80’s/early 90’s) (I hope I’ve got the period right, I think that’s when it peaked). If a plain RR lantern has a pot attached that’s intact, then the bulk of the value comes from the pot, since it could be parted out and placed into a more valuable lantern that needs an intact pot (many are rusted through on the bottom, due to environmental exposure during actual use). Embossed RR lantern frames carry varying degrees of value depending on the road name (or which era a given name/recording mark lines up with, as railroads periodically experienced name changes, mergers, etc…). Certain eras of a given railroad’s history are more valuable to collectors, depending on factors such as scarcity or railroad prominence.

            Lantern globe value more or less follows suit with the above mentioned factors. If it’s not embossed/etched/cast with a road name or recording mark, then the value is lower (sometimes significantly). Beyond those factors, globe value is also predicated by globe color. Railroad lantern globes came in a number of colors, each of which had significance and indicated a level of caution, or a certain alert (ex: danger, stopped train ahead). In typical order of value (from least to greatest) globe color goes thusly: clear, red, amber (orange), green, purple(?), and blue. Sometimes globes were also done in two colors, for example blue over clear where the top half of the globe was blue and the bottom half was clear. These two-color globes are very rare. Combining the two main factors, marking and color, typically increases value accordingly.

            Lantern globes in all colors have been reissued to be used as replacements in the normal course of use of the lantern, as well as for collectors. These reissues will always be recognizable as reissues by a knowledgeable collector and will usually be marked or will have been cast differently in order to make it clear that they are not original. On occasions individuals acting in bad faith have created forgeries, which will look ridiculously close to the original globe in nearly every way. Sometimes a trained eye can determine if a globe is a forgery, although other times the forgeries have been so good that confidence in that particular globe has been reduced overall and the values have fallen. These forgeries were common back when lanterns were highly collectable.

            The most valuable lanterns will be those which are a combination of a desirable road name on the frame with a matching globe in a desirable color. Not every railroad issued marked globes or frames though, and counterfeit globes are floating around, so certain marked lantern frame/globe combos that seem like they should be priceless might just be of a significantly lesser value than might be expected. It takes years to build up a working knowledge of all of these factors, though the internet has been helpful for newer collectors seeking to gain information.

  4. Actually kerosene flame may allow you to see more colours. Given rather narrow-band characteristics of LED emission, diodes “produce” a light that is colourful until bounced of a colourful object which “eats” narrow-band RGB components. The same problem applies to cheap CFLs and white LEDs. See CRI for details.

    1. That’s what I thought at first but it looks like the mod doesn’t require any new holes since the original wick assy had already been removed by the previous owner. I collect railway lanterns and while I won’t convert my grandfather’s CN&W lantern to LEDs I might do it to a hacked-up Milwaukee Rd lamp that somebody converted to an incandescent table lamp.

  5. The power system isn’t the best – but the 7805s were the only regulators I had on hand. It could be far more efficient, but it does get me a few hours of run time. Rev 2 will use something a bit more efficient – I might just go with a straight LiPo battery and not worry about the loss from a regulator.

    As for frosting the globe – that was the original plan, but currently this project hasn’t physically damaged/modified the lamp itself. I’m loathe to actually do any lasting damage to these.

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