Saturday, March 31, 2007

My White Elephant Light

I re-wired my "white elephant" light yesterday. Since nearly everything but the border paper for the dining room is finished, and it's on order, I decided it was time to re-wire the light. I had installed it last fall but hadn't written anything about it since I knew it needed work. Here is how it looked after I had taken down the four individual globes and remembered I should be documenting:

Why is this a "white elephant" light? Because that is where it came from of course!

In family legend my paternal grandfather (farmer turned electrician) came home one day in the early 1960's and told grandma that he had bought a rather large old house in the very small Iowa town that they had retired to. Done deal, no discussion. Her immediate comment was "Why would anyone want that white elephant?" and the name stuck. The house sat in the middle of two town lots, grandpa moved it onto one lot and sold the empty lot for what he had paid for the house. The house may have been built as an upstairs/downstairs two-flat but I doubt it. Regardless it had been two apartments for many years before grandpa bought it. He inheirited "Bernadine" the upstairs tenant (I vaguely remember her, very old and scary) she stayed for years. He always held the downstairs apartment open, when he had a vacancy, to make sure that any new teachers coming into town had a place to live. My light came from that house.

My dad put it in my bedroom when I got my own room at age 12. Since we lived in a 1960's two story at the time our ceilings were only 8 feet high. Grandpa told dad he had to re-wire the light before he could hang it and gave him some clear light cord to do it with. Dad shortened the chains and hung it. When my parents moved into the home they ran as a bed and breakfast in the late '80's my light became their dining room light. When they moved out of that house, the same month we started cleaning up here, March of '05, I got my light given back to me packed in a box.

I wanted to lengthen the chains back a bit and after hanging the light in the dining room I realized that the wires ran a little too close to the bulbs up in the central pan for my comfort. We had used this light for 4 months without lights up in the pan.

I started by taking everything down and pulling out the old wires. I had ordered, from Sundial Wire, 100 feet of braided gold lamp cord:

I decided to cut long lengths and make sure I had plenty of room to run my wires around the edge of the pan rather than across the middle so they wouldn't come near the bulbs in the center

I couldn't figure out how to get the individual sockets apart. I was afraid to pry them apart with a screw driver, like you do with today's sockets. They are heavy, about triple the weight of new ones. The sockets are all stamped "Bress" and have a patent date of 1899 on them. The globe fitters are stamped "Hubbard." I resorted to calling my Dad to come over and he pried one apart with a screw driver after frankly admitting he couldn't remember how he got them apart before.

I forgot to shoot pics, as i was so engrossed in getting all my wires connected back correctly. I'm very glad the plastic insulation inside the rayon cloth is color coded. Eventually I got it back up. I put compact flourscents in the main pan to reduce heat up there, and 15 watt bulbs in the individual globes, and the globes are frosted and cut glass and are quite beautiful.

I doubled the drop on the chains (of course Dad had saved them all these years and they were included in the box when I got it) The total drop on the fixture now is two feet.

The drop on our original light in the living room is three feet, which is a little low. What I find interesting is that the dining room light is in the middle of the room, but you don't want to put the table directly under it, as it would block the natural aisle from the kitchen to the living room. The dining room, inexplicably, lost it's original fixture, and it wasn't upstairs in the attic, I wonder what ever happened to it.

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