The days grow noticeably shorter, telling me it’s time to prepare the oil lamps for the winter.
Ironically, and to my personal disappointment, we don’t use oil lamps nearly as much on the homestead as I’d like to. It just doesn’t make economic sense to burn fuel, which must be purchased and hauled in to the property, rather than light with free solar- and wind-generated electricity. Nevertheless, we still find many times when we need the lamplight, so now’s the time to get them ready.
The first step, fueling the lamps, is one that I don’t care to do, which may be why I’ve put the task off so far this autumn. I spread newspapers in the covered porch of our shed, bring out all the lamps that need filling, and get a jug of fuel. I always wear latex or nitrile gloves to keep the fuel off my hands, and carry a paper towel to sop up inevitable drips. I fill each lamp with a funnel to about 1/4 inch from the top, lower if the wick is extra long, then carefully, firmly close up the lamp. I wipe the outside with the towel, and set it aside. When I’m finished, the papers go straight into the wood stove to be burned.
I then round up all the lamp chimneys and wash them. At best, they’ve got a few season’s worth of dust accumulated. Others will need to be thoroughly cleaned of soot, particularly the ones in the guest house, where they’re used by people who are generally less familiar with proper lamp trim. These I will swab thoroughly with a rag to remove the initial creosote before putting them gently in a dish pan with the others. I’ll scrub them carefully, then rinse, and rinse again. When they’re ready to dry, we’ll polish them with a dish towel—can’t let water spots form, or that will diminish their use and beauty. Once they’re dry, we’ll check to make sure the towel hasn’t left any lint.
By the time I’m done, hopefully the dishwater will have removed enough oil from my hands that I can handle the chimneys without leaving fingerprints. Each will be returned to its lamp. Each lamp base will get a polishing with a rag as well; many of them are glass (easier to see fuel levels) and if they’re clean they’ll help diffuse light and look prettier.
It’s not a long project, but it requires a lot of care and attention. The result is largely decorative, but often functional as well.