Oct 22, 2008

Tales of Trouble

I've always called it a 'trouble light.' Some people call them 'drop lights' or whatnot, but I've always known them as trouble lights, since you only use them when you've got troubles. I've hung more than a few under the hood of cars so I could work in the dark at what ails them.

When my father died, my brother and I calmly and peacefully sorted his numerous tools out between us. Each of us already had some tools ourselves, so we divided what we needed and then divided the extras. I already had a trouble light, a fairly new one, and so did he, so we each took one of my father's trouble lights because he had two.

This evening I had need of that light. The days have grown shorter and the chickens have been laying less than half their usual production because of that. In the old days, before lighting your coop was an option you simply had less eggs. Nowadays all you have to do is put a light in the coop for a few hours before dawn or after dusk and your chickens have enough light to stay active and lay eggs like it was the long hot days of summer again.

Trouble is, my big work light with it's tin half-globe shield and it's spring clamp is currently keeping pullets warm and alive. So, not wanting to spend any more money (spent plenty already, thanks) I went to the shop and found my father's old trouble light. It was hanging next to mine on the pegboard, two items with exactly the same purpose but far different value.

Let me show them to you. Mine, just a few years old, is molded in bright safety orange plastic, from it's thin rubber handle to it's orange cord. The cage over the light is hinged cleverly at one side, so that you just push gently and the front half swings open, giving access to the bulb. The metal cage and shield are thick plastic, and the whole thing without it's cord weights perhaps a pound. The on/off switch is cleverly hidden under the thin rubber that wraps the handle, so all you have to do is press down on the little round bump and it clicks on, clicks off with a quiet, efficient sound.

My father's light is a little different. It's old, for one thing. The bulb has been in there so long that it's got a brown fur of dust over it's glass crown, dust that will smolder gently and give off a singed smell when the bulb is burning. The black rubber handle is as thick as a closet-rod, and covered in recessed squares like a waffle iron. It has been handled so often that the black has been polished and rubbed to a satiny silver colour in piebald patches all over, and on the high ridges of the squares.

The cage that protects the bulb is steel, and there's no hinge or other clever little hidden release. There is, however, a metal band attached to the cage that hugs the top of the handle, and a pair of screws 180 degrees apart from each other. To get at the bulb you take a screwdriver to these two and back them all the way out. The clamp is threaded so the screws don't fall out, but there are washers in there you have to watch for, and the little eyelet of the ground wire that pokes up from within the depths of the rubber-wrapped socket comes loose when the screw is backed out. When the clamp is fully unscrewed the whole shield assembly comes off the handle with a tug and you have to pull to open it's halves--the cage is made with tight loops of metal attached to the hook at the top, and it doesn't open easily.

The on-off switch is strange. It's hidden within a thick hood of rubber at the top of the handle, looking for all the world like a mechanical clitoris. It is just a little smaller than the last digit of your pinkie finger, and about that long. Made of bakelite plastic the colour of old blood, it is thick and heavy, and you don't push it in, you pull it down with your thumb. When you do you feel a resistance, as there is a spring-loaded wire running back from that nubbin. When you pull down you see it's braided thickness exposed, a line that leads, you'd think, into some sort of Rube Goldberg contraption, and you fully expect to hear a distant clatter of steel bearings falling into cups and down long curved ramps, triggering spindly rods to pendulum down and knock ping pong balls onto tiny see-saw levers while little flags wave cheerfully.

There's a definite "CLICK" when you pull that bakelite nub, and the bulb comes on slowly, as if the light has to come from a long way away, but come it does, and as the glass warms the dust begins to darken, and a tiny wisp of smoke drifts up lazily to coil under the hook's hood.

I left my new trouble light in the shed, naturally. It still hangs there on the pegboard, its nice, clean orange cord coiled in loops and hung on a hook. My father's light is in the coop right now, hooked in the chicken wire that keeps the snakes and rats out, and is shedding it's timeless yellow glow so the ladies can stay up a little longer, eat a little more, scratch in the pine shavings and lay a few more eggs for us. It'll stay there all winter, until the days begin to lengthen again, and one afternoon in Spring I'll walk out there and coil the thick, rope-like cord up and unhook it, maybe grimace at the black oxidation it leaves on my hands. I'll bring it back and hang it on it's hook on the pegboard where it'll wait for another few months or a year or more, gathering a hair of dun-coloured dust on it's dome. Until it's needed again.

Maybe someone I know needs a trouble light. I've got a nearly brand new one they can have.

12 comments:

Nancy Dancehall said...

"and you don't push it in, you pull it down with your thumb. When you do you feel a resistance, as there is a spring-loaded wire running back from that nubbin. When you pull down you see it's braided thickness exposed, a line that leads, you'd think, into some sort of Rube Goldberg contraption, and you fully expect to hear a distant clatter of steel bearings falling into cups and down long curved ramps, triggering spindly rods to pendulum down and knock ping pong balls onto tiny see-saw levers while little flags wave cheerfully."

My god, it IS a clitoris!

Rudi said...

Why Nancy! You women, always with the sex on the mind.

Have you no reverence for that which we men hold most sacred? Our Tools!

We like to handle them, hold them lovingly, sometimes even polish them.
They are our prized possessions and we are hurt, DEEPLY hurt, when you make fun of them!

Irrelephant said...

Nancy, I hear tell you're only about five feet tall and seventy pounds soaking wet, so my question is this--where do you hide all that machinery? *lol* And do you clank when you...nevermind.

Rudi, you know you're just pouring gasoline on her fire, right? *lol* Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a tool to polish.

Gordo said...

My Aunt has my grandfather's trouble light. It sounds like almost exactly the same vintage. THe only difference is the switch. It's one of those back and forth deals that you used to see on table lamps: push it in from one side and the light's one; push it back in from the other and it's off.

Sigh. They quite literally don't make them like they used to.

mickelodeon said...

My mom's holding on to my dad's trouble light, but something tells me when it's time for her to give it up either willingly or when she'll have no use to even keep it - or anything else - I'll be the proud recipient of it. The same with the drill. It's a plug in! =)

Mona Buonanotte said...

I love that smell you describe when you turn it on...burning dust on the bulb. Mixed with the faint smell of years of use and old sweat and warm metal. Sweet Fancy Moses, does that bring back memories!

Mona Buonanotte said...

I love that smell you describe when you turn it on...burning dust on the bulb. Mixed with the faint smell of years of use and old sweat and warm metal. Sweet Fancy Moses, does that bring back memories!

Mona Buonanotte said...

I love that smell you describe when you turn it on...burning dust on the bulb. Mixed with the faint smell of years of use and old sweat and warm metal. Sweet Fancy Moses, does that bring back memories!

Mother of Invention said...

I've never heard them called that but I guess you could sub the word, "Brooding" lamps for a dual meaning! We hung one in a garage once for our cats, and then squirrels chewed the wires, it fell, started a fire and actually the one cat died as a result. Never again. I was indeed "brooding" over that one for a long while..

meno said...

I bet your dad's old light outlasts your orange one.

*staying out of tool discussion, but still smiling over it*

Todd said...

Have you ever dropped your tool? Sometimes people ask to borrow a tool. That's a big no-no however. Any real tool owner will tell you they don't loan out their tools.

Here's something disturbing to contemplate ....
A wall covered in pegboard with lots of tools hanging from hooks. Man, that'll give you nightmares!

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, the one my brother ended up with works like that. *g* It feels like the switch is one continuous piece of hard plastic or metal that runs the entire width of the handle. And yes, you're right.

Micks, you can't beat a good corded drill. Somewhere my father had an old Craftsman corded drill with a solid steel body, brushed silver. It doesn't run but DAMN it's fine.

Mona, I find that same smell, or one similiar, in old cars, and it makes me smile big big. *g*

OMG MoI! That's...dangerous! *lol* Dang tree rats. My tree rats never seem to get into trouble around here, thankfully.

meno, I guarantee it will. That's why I fought for one. *s*

Todd, you're a sick little man. *lmao*