Thursday, September 05, 2013

Wayfarer Illuminates Patterson's Night Scenes

On night runs the New England Section has ridden behind period dynamo and battery lamps that lit a few spokes and a small, dim patch of pavement near the front wheel. An oil lamp barely illuminated the reflector inside it's housing. Vibration made quick work of bulbs in fork-mounted lights. Tire-driven generators were better heard than seen. Speculation on artistic license in Frank Patterson's night scenes was inevitable. The countryside was much darker in the day, but still...

None of us ever turned out on a bike equipped with a carbide lamp. Even when electricity began to dominate bike lighting, contemporary accounts spoke of the brilliant white light carbide gave off. For eyes trained by the alternatives, it would not have taken much more light to appear brilliant. How much better was the gas light?

At the time of his tour recounted in Over the Top, Wayfarer was a devotee of the oil lamp. Three years later he switched to carbide. Writing in Cycling, 13 December 1929, he argued that carbide had proven superior for upkeep as well as illumination:

I sit in perfect safety behind the white light of my gas lamp, which illuminates the whole width of an ordinary road and the hedgerows in addition. I can see where I am going. I can locate unlighted (and unlightable) obstructions. I can ride fast - that is to say, fast for me!

It seems that Patterson may not have exaggerated after all.