View Full Version : Carbide Headlamps

04-01-2017, 07:40 PM
Two gas headlamps, and two tail lamps (one a 20th Century and one that looks like an unbranded copy of a 20th C model) came with my 21F and 23F projects. I'd like some help identifying the headlamps.

The photos show both headlamps, one that I have stripped and rust treated, the other as it came to me. They are identical except that, in the dismantled one, you may spot that some previous owner has drilled two holes in the top of the housing that sits on top of the lamp, above the burner, to let the heat escape. Maybe he wanted additional cooling, but who knows after all this time. Otherwise:

1. Both headlamps were painted black, but during stripping of the first lamp, I found remnants of olive paint under the black. It is hard to tell but I can't see any olive paint on the unmolested lamp.

2. The "U" shaped standard H-D mounting brackets came with the lamps.

3. The door glass retaining rings hold 6 inch door glasses.

4. The stripped lamp held a 5 1/2 inch mirror, smashed beyond repair. The unmolested lamp has a 5 inch mirror fitted, perhaps not original.

5. The doors are hinged at the top and lift from the bottom.

6. The only nickel plating remnants visible were on the door glass retaining ring, the bevelled ring immediately inside the door glass. All else looked as if it were originally enamelled.

I have only the 18-19 Accessory catalogue and none of the illustrations, nor the descriptions or dimensions of spare parts for the "H-D Nos. 1, 2, 3 or X-Ray" headlamps seem fully to fit these two.

I understand that accessories such as saddles, lights etc are a fascinating or frustrating area (depending on one's personality!), and that many of the options available and reasons for different versions appearing on 100 year old machines may never be found, but I'm posting on the chance that these might be a Harley-Davidson standard.


04-01-2017, 11:28 PM
With the hinge at the top, they look like Victor brand as used on model T Fords.
Any markings on the vent domes?

04-02-2017, 04:37 AM
No markings at all that I can discern Mark.

04-02-2017, 03:08 PM
I have one,was told at Davenport that the hinge on top was early,like 1908,people burned their hands holding it up when lighting and dropped the lense often breaking it & was changed to side hinge...????

04-02-2017, 11:14 PM
I thought that I should do some more research on the lamps so, on a rainy Monday here in the Southern Hemisphere, after an unsuccessful struggle with the service brake on my 21 F project out in the shed, I made a coffee and went on line looking for any images of similar carbide lamps on J Model Harleys. The 3 keys to spotting this model headlamp in photos are - the top hinge (or absence of side catch); the heavy, well rounded rim to the front door, and the four screws in the N/S/W/E positions on the front.

I had about five or six hits among an awful lot of photos. Interestingly, most were in Europe, for example in the archives of the Dutch Yesterdays sales house. Another one of interest was on the 1915 combination with wicker chair which was ridden by the characterful gentleman and his partner in at least one recent Cannonball. Some photos gleaned from the net are attached, with the hope that I am not breaching any copyright law or conventions.

Tommo and others have made the valid point that it is difficult to be pedantic about lighting sets, speedos, horns, buddy seats etc. as "period correct". As the new owner stood in the dealership, contemplating just how much he had handed over for his new, bare machine, he may have postponed the cost of these accessories for a year, or gone for a cheaper, non-H-D endorsed brand. I suspect that this was even more likely outside the US where dealers would have been less subject to factory influence.

I'd still be interested in any further comment or information on my lamps.


04-02-2017, 11:18 PM
And the Cannonball machine referred to above.


04-03-2017, 10:01 AM
mine does not have the 4 screws on the front

http://i1200.photobucket.com/albums/bb324/duffeycycles/HD%20headlamp%207_zpsrfkrwqjy.jpg (http://s1200.photobucket.com/user/duffeycycles/media/HD%20headlamp%207_zpsrfkrwqjy.jpg.html)

http://i1200.photobucket.com/albums/bb324/duffeycycles/HD%20headlamp%206_zpsigyute0v.jpg (http://s1200.photobucket.com/user/duffeycycles/media/HD%20headlamp%206_zpsigyute0v.jpg.html)

04-03-2017, 10:15 AM
And I think these are acetelene not carbide

04-03-2017, 11:13 AM
Acetylene is produced from the mixture of carbide, and water. Preto-lite tanks just pressurized the acetylene.

T. Cotten
04-03-2017, 11:39 AM
I found a two-pound can of Shawinigan carbide in the dumpster last summer, Folks!

But my Prestolite and Autolite "headlamps" only fit on a miner's hat.


04-03-2017, 11:05 PM
Thanks for your input folks.

Acetylene/Carbide/Gas. All terms are used down here in the Antipodes. Carbide might be a bit more prevalent in UK/Australia/NZ than in the U.S. as compressed gas cylinders seemed less common on motorcycles down this way than the need to faff about with mostly British-made generators using calcium carbide and water.

Roger, your lamp is not the same as the two with which I opened the thread. It looks identical to a third, very rusty and battered lamp that also came with my bikes. I've attached a couple of photos of this lamp. The brass inner bezel; the shape of the burner hood; the shape of the domed rear body with the three fixing screws for the mirror; the pattern of holes at the bottom around the burner; are all identical to yours. The only difference is that a PO has replaced the rivets holding the left hand fitting for the bracket with screws. This lamp is about 90% of the size of the two I originally posted; and I suspect is older. There are traces of nickel plating on the rotted out door surround of mine but, like yours, the whole lamp appears to have been painted black at some stage. (Apart from the rusted out side of the front door, everything else on my lamp is solid and it is certainly repairable by a competent metal worker.)

Where I've got to is that the two lamps I initially posted appear to be "period correct" for, and used on some, 1920s motorcycles; and even if not a Harley-Davidson sponsored product, are worth renovating. From the variety of gas headlights out there it is obvious that many thousands were produced by many manufacturers during their peak period of use, and motorcycle owners were happy to use what was available, and affordable.

I am looking at fitting a 7 inch reflector with a 12v bulb in the lamp being refurbished, and running both head and the tail light off a rechargeable battery. I want to do it in a way which is unobtrusive and fully reversible if, in the future, another owner wants to restore gas lighting. If anyone has any experience of doing this, I'd like to hear of it.


04-04-2017, 12:23 AM
After searching the worldwide web I found an answer very close to home. A search on barnstormers.co.nz will take you to a New Zealand based website for pre-1945 motorcycling enthusiasts. Hitting on "Barnstormers Remembered" along the icons across the top of the home page will take you to a lengthy page of articles beginning with a 1928 Raleigh restoration. Keep scrolling down until you come to an article "Some More Early NZ Pioneers". Among the family snapshots under this heading are two of the same circa 1923 Harley Davidson with what looks like a locally built sidecar - and my acetylene headlight! On one of the photos the four bolts on the front of the headlight door (that go through to hold the glass retaining ring) can just be made out. Looks like I'm home free! I wonder if the machine in the photo is the 1923 basket case now sitting in my shed?