Cleaning and Restoring Old Railroad
by Bob Brooke
If youíre a railroad buff
and want to collect old lanterns, youíll have to be particularly careful
how you take care of them. While manufacturers made them able to take
hard use, the fact that these iconic items of railroadiana were made of
iron and steel makes them vulnerable to rust.
Trainmen used lanterns to communicate with railroad engineers and
brakemen, especially at night when visual communication was nearly
impossible. Most old lanterns show lots of wear and tear. Most suffer
from dents, rust, and grime. Some trainmen painted their lanterns to
help prevent rust. And today, that paint is most likely in various
stages of flaking off. And while there are many different ways to clean
the paint and rust off lanterns, the following is a relatively simple
method that will at least get a lantern in a semi-restored condition.
purchasing an old railroad lantern, examine it closely. Obtaining an old
lantern online makes this impossible. If a lantern is in really bad
condition, no amount of cleaning will help it. If youíre planning to
restore an old lantern, check to see that all the parts are there, as it
may be impossible to find replacements.
And it all depends on how far you plan to take the lanternís
restoration. Do you want it to be like it was when new or do the dents
and such give it character? Unlike old antiques, railroad lanterns donít
lose their value if restored.
To begin, take several photos of the lantern to use as a reference later
on. First clean away loose dirt with an old paintbrush, then go over it
with a damp cloth. After preliminary cleaning, take the lantern apart.
Remove the glass globe or lens and set them aside. Place all the parts
in a cardboard box or tray so as not to lose any. To make sure you can
put the lantern back together correctly, make a sketch of the parts and
where they belong.
the lantern has been painted, apply paint stripper to the old paint on
your lantern following the directions on the container. After stripping
off the old paint, clean the lantern with warm water and grease removing
dish detergent. Dry thoroughly with a clean cloth.
If your lantern has any rust, and most old railroad lanterns usually do,
itís important to remove it with a rust-removing product such as Naval
Jelly. Be sure to remove all rust before going any further with
Once again, clean the lantern with dish detergent, scrubbing with S.O.S.
or Brillo Pads. Wipe dry with a rag and then use a hair blowdryer for
about 30 minutes or until completely dry.
If you plan on repainting your lantern, be sure to use a rust-preventing
undercoat, then a final coat of RustOleum in the same color as the
original or as close as possible to it.
Before assembling your lantern, clean the glass globe or lenses with
white vinegar. If they have rust stains, let the pieces soak for several
minutes a vinegar bath before washing with dish detergent and warm
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