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    The publication date for issue 289 is the 10th of December, meaning subscribers should receive their copies during the week leading up to that date. It is also available from caving suppliers such as Inglesport and Starless River, or from our new website

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Historical Caving Attire

Jenny P

Member
Isn't there a risk of spontaneous combustion from pressure build up of Acetylene in a sealed container? This could apply to carrying (almost) spent Calcium Carbide out of caves.
I have wondered which came first in blowing up glass bottles - a popular pastime from before my time, which I would never indulge in of course. Would the bottle explode from the build up of gas pressure alone, or plus combustion pressures? If in my youth I had tried this stunt I could report that the result was dramatic but that question was unanswered.
In the days when I used to use a carbide lamp I always carried one or two spare lamp bottoms containing a charge of carbide, each with an individual screw cap. When the carbide ran out in your lamp, you could simply switch over the base and re-light the lamp. So carrying even 2 spare lamp bottoms gave you about 9 hours of light, comparing favourably with the electric lights in use at the time.. The amount of spent carbide left in the lamp base was insufficient to cause any problems if you screwed the cap back on tightly. So, despite using a carbide lap for many years, I never dumped carbide in a cave but always took the spent carbide out with me to dispose of elsewhere.
 

Jenny P

Member
In the days when I used to use a carbide lamp I always carried one or two spare lamp bottoms containing a charge of carbide, each with an individual screw cap. When the carbide ran out in your lamp, you could simply switch over the base and re-light the lamp. So carrying even 2 spare lamp bottoms gave you about 9 hours of light, comparing favourably with the electric lights in use at the time.. The amount of spent carbide left in the lamp base was insufficient to cause any problems if you screwed the cap back on tightly. So, despite using a carbide lap for many years, I never dumped carbide in a cave but always took the spent carbide out with me to dispose of elsewhere.

My husband recalled that when he was in the army, running the Dales Club at Catterick, he once took a novice caving and didn't realise the chap had put his spare carbide in a cardboard box in his pocket. The result was quite severe burns when the box got wet and disintegrated - luckily not far into the cave. After that he researched a safe way of taking carbide down a cave and realised that using the spare screw-top bases, also worked to take spent carbide out. It's a pity that the caving shops who sold carbide lamps didn't all sell the lamp bases - we had to order them specially.
 

Brains

Well-known member
Yes the acetylene gas given off will explode under pressure in a sealed container. In welding / cutting equipment the gas is dissolved in a fluid to prevent this. Waste carbide that was still gassy, and new spare bits, would be carried in rubber "pigs" These would be a section of car inner tube (remember them?). The ends would be folded over and sealed with a rubber band also cut from the inner tube. The seals would blow off before a dangerous pressure could be attained.

The acetylene molecule has a triple bond, and burns inefficiently, the unburnt carbon soot would then glow incandescently in the flame giving a lovely light with a warm colour. The soot of course would get up your nose as well as on the cave walls! Acetylene has a garlicky like smell, and with the hiss of the jet and the pool of light you knew all was well

When LED light first arrived the diodes gave a very cold bluish light that felt very alien after carbide and halogen bulbs. The colour may still be cold but I guess we are used to it now
 

Graigwen

Member
Back in the 60s, when we used to live down Sleets Gill because it was the easiest cave to reach by cycle from our home town, one of my mates used to cave in his only smart clothing - a crimplene suit. A quick brush to get the mud off and he was ready for an evening out.
I ruined my first suit by wearing it down Nash Scar Cave - the bat shit did not brush off well.
 

Dickie

Member
We once made a very effective flame thrower from a garden sprayer with a handful of carbide chucked in the bottom!
 

wellyjen

Active member
Yes the acetylene gas given off will explode under pressure in a sealed container. In welding / cutting equipment the gas is dissolved in a fluid to prevent this. Waste carbide that was still gassy, and new spare bits, would be carried in rubber "pigs" These would be a section of car inner tube (remember them?). The ends would be folded over and sealed with a rubber band also cut from the inner tube. The seals would blow off before a dangerous pressure could be attained.

The acetylene molecule has a triple bond, and burns inefficiently, the unburnt carbon soot would then glow incandescently in the flame giving a lovely light with a warm colour. The soot of course would get up your nose as well as on the cave walls! Acetylene has a garlicky like smell, and with the hiss of the jet and the pool of light you knew all was well

When LED light first arrived the diodes gave a very cold bluish light that felt very alien after carbide and halogen bulbs. The colour may still be cold but I guess we are used to it now
Another "remember them" item of caving gear was the BDH container. The BDH laboratory chemical supplier used to send out glass winchester bottles of their more unpleasant chemicals inside a tough plastic outer container, with a screw top lid and rubber seal to retain the contents in transit, should someone drop it and break the glass bottle. Any one with a contact in a lab could pick these up for free after the winchester was empty. Perfect for carrying stuff underground that didn't like getting wet. I once placed a car inner tube pig of spare carbide inside one and screwed the lid down tight. Unfortunately, the pig couldn't have been properly sealed up and there must have been a bit of moisture in the BDH, as a few hours later the resulting explosion blew the top of the BDH lid off in a neat circle. One of those instantaneous "I'm dead" moments, followed by "OK, I'm not, what the hell was that". 😲
 

Addy

Member
You could do worse than look over some of the photos taken by J. Harry Savory depicting caving on Mendip in the early part of the last century.
A man Deep in Mendip,
Or the Wessex Publication 'A Pictorial History of Swildon's Hole'.
 

Fulk

Well-known member
I once heard a story about someone who put spent carbide in an ammunition box to carry out of the cave. Evidently, his party stopped for a rest and this guy placed the ammo box on the floor of the passage where, a few minutes later, it blew up owing to the pressure build-up inside.
 

martinr

Active member
I have some 60's fibre helmets and functioning carbide lamps if that is of any interest. Caving with a candle stuck on a plastic helmet causes the helmet to melt a bit - I tried it once!
 

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ALEXW

Member
On holiday in France earlier this year I went to a farm sale and bought an acetylene powered bird scarer. I have absolutely no reason to own a bird scarer but for 10euro it seemed like it could be a bit of fun. The guy I bought it from was delighted to present me with a 5kilo tub of carbide. I bought a packet of flints and on November 5th decided to see if it worked. I filled the reservoirs with carbide and water and stood well back. Nothing happened for about 10minutes so I fiddled with the pipes and the igniting mechanism burnt all the hairs off my arm and set fire to my jumper. I reassembled it and tried again... there was the loudest bang I have ever heard. Neighbours came out of their houses to see what was happening. I hid in my house with the lights turned off. If anybody wants to have a play with it I'm in Manchester and I also Have a Petzl lamp head unit and remote reservoir.
 

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ALEXW

Member
In COPD last edition there are some good photos from the past including one party who went into Giant's in peacetime and came out at war with Germany.

Iirc helmets came in after the war when the pits were nationalised and cavers used the NCB compressed cardboard type with lamp bracket. I can remember Jimmy Lovelock using a WWII GI helmet - I think there are photos in one of his books.

I started in ganzies (old clothes plus boiler suit) then bought an ex-RAF survival suit known as a "goon suit" then got a British Sub-Aqua diy wetsuit. I started with my mum's old hiking shoes (nailed) but soon bought a pair of boots with Vibram soles from F. Ellis Brigham's.

Then Caving Supplies opened and kit became much more "professional".
When I was at school in Manchester in the 70s I used to cave with my physics teacher Frank Addis and wore similar outfits as above. Safety on ladders meant clipping an ex army steel crab onto a waist length consisting of 6 or 7 wraps of hemp rope.
I few years ago I was involved in a rescue in Langstroth where I was assisting the fire service pump the sumps. I decided that my old goon suit would be ideal as I would be stood in water for a while. I worked to a degree and I was quite warm even having been stood in water for a good few hours. When I eventually tried to exit the cave I discovered that the bottom half of the suit was full of water, so much so that I couldn't get out until I used my knife to cut off the feet and let the water out.
 
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tony from suffolk

Well-known member
I once heard a story about someone who put spent carbide in an ammunition box to carry out of the cave. Evidently, his party stopped for a rest and this guy placed the ammo box on the floor of the passage where, a few minutes later, it blew up owing to the pressure build-up inside.
Many years ago, I was carrying an ammo tin down Swildon's with a spare carbide lamp inside, strung across my back with a bit of bailer twine. As I jumped down the drop at the bottom of the old '40', the tin banged on the edge & exploded, catapulting me across the chamber & into the opposite wall. I had no idea what had happened but having been helped up, with no obvious injury, just a bit deaf, it soon became clear - the lid of the ammo tin was bent up at an acute angle. I then had to drag the bloody thing round the the Round Trip.

A couple of years ago, I obtained some carbide from our local farmer with the intention of using its crude anesthetic properties to quietly put the moles who were destroying my lawn to sleep. In the end, I didn't have the heart to kill them, but I did enjoy sniffing away at the carbide, which bought back many memories, some not entirely happy. Sad I know...
 

Mrs Trellis

Well-known member
iirc the ammo can accident was in Aggie. The person was using a carbide lamp and opened the ammo can whilst bending over it.
 

davel

Member
Scan_0020.jpg


This 1961 caver is wearing:
  • NCB helmet (mail order from Black's of Greenock)
  • Headlamp made from a bicycle lamp - with bell wire cable protected by spiral-wound flexible gas hose and belt-mounted battery box made from a small Quality Street sweet tin containing a bell battery.
  • Army surplus overall (with turtleneck sweater underneath)
  • Football socks
  • Cheap rubber-soled leather boots
 
I once heard a story about someone who put spent carbide in an ammunition box to carry out of the cave. Evidently, his party stopped for a rest and this guy placed the ammo box on the floor of the passage where, a few minutes later, it blew up owing to the pressure build-up inside.
I think this might have been on the wall of the Wessex, not sure if still there. I certainly remember a disfigured ammo box which had suffered this fate.
 

wellyjen

Active member
I think this might have been on the wall of the Wessex, not sure if still there. I certainly remember a disfigured ammo box which had suffered this fate.
Likely that there has been more than one carbide ammo box explosion. Given how both carbide and ammo boxes were ubiquitous in UK caving at one time. Sealing one inside the other without foreseeing the consequences must have happened several times.
 

wormster

Member
My first trip through the Rhossyd number 9 addit 40 years ago with T’owd Man, my kit consisted of a pair of hand me down leather walking boots and Wolly socks, brown chords (it was the 70’s) string vest, rugby shirt from school, ex army green woolly jumper and a canvass cagoule, for lights T’owd Man had an ever ready big torch and I had a candle ina jam jar!!!
 

Jenny P

Member
I do recall that when we first used carbide lamps as late as the 1960s you could buy the carbide in tall narrow tins from bike shops as the lamps were first sold as bike lamps. However, when this source dried up we found the best way to buy carbide was to go to the local agricultural supplier and ask for "a 7 lb tin of bird scarer" please. This worked out quite cheaply but the disadvantage was that the lumps were rather large to work well in a carbide lamps so we had to send some time smashing the lumps into smaller pieces with a lump hammer. It gace a new meaning to preparing your kit ready for a trip.
 
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