Growing up in the northwest, camping with Coleman appliances was the usual thing for me. From early on there were family camping trips; later came hunting trips, and backpacking/horse packing trips into the Oregon wilderness. Light and cooking heat for many of these trips was provided by one Coleman appliance or another, sometimes several at once. We used to marvel at the little red lantern that our hunting buddy Mark had used since the fifties. Mark’s brother once showed us an old Coleman suitcase stove that he picked up at a garage sale for $5. It had a cast iron manifold and still fired up on the old fuel that came in the tank, another marvel to us.
When I got married almost ten years ago, we received a new 414 two-burner stove as a wedding gift, a complement to our late model dual-fuel lantern. We splurged on a stainless Coleman cooler and forged our own new camping traditions with all-new Coleman equipment.
Then, about two years ago I was in a resale shop in downtown Seattle when I spied, on the bottom
shelf in a far corner of the store, an early seventies green two-mantle Coleman lantern. A flood of memories came back to me. I was again a twelve-year-old boy in deer camp, huddled over my dad’s similar looking 220F, trying to keep warm in the pre-dawn chill. On an earlier camping trip I would singe the corner of my down vest on that same lantern while we had supper in camp.
The attraction was powerful, the price reasonable. The lantern was dusty but appeared to be in fine shape with good paint, little rust, and just a bit of fuel sloshing in the fount. I bought it intending to clean it up and use it on our annual camping trip. I took it home, but to my disappointment it wouldn’t light. I checked all the basics that campers with Coleman know to do, but still no go. I didn’t know what else to do but turn to the Internet for help. I found Frank Bebb’s site with instructions for a complete teardown and rebuild, but also, on Coleman’s website were some
troubleshooting tips. It was most likely varnish in the tank from old gas, and the advice was to fill the fount halfway with denatured alcohol for a vigorous shake and an overnight soak. The next morning the lantern was burning brightly in my garage, and I was hooked.
My very next lantern was a twenties Quick Lite I won at auction. Again, I had to get on the ‘net for any information and lighting instructions. I hadn’t known that Coleman made lanterns that early.
Soon I went nuts and was bidding on and buying all sorts of lanterns I knew nothing about. A faded red 200A, one old Air-O-Lantern, a nickel 242C, a curved airtube lantern made by Coleman for the Yale company, and an odd-looking two-color beast the seller called a “Christmas lantern” were soon taking up space on my workbench. The more I looked the more kinds of Coleman lanterns I found that I didn’t have an example of, which is a curse for a completist with already obsessive tendencies…
I gave my dad a barn-grayed but nicely burning Quick Lite 327, and he immediately retired the seventies 220 from my childhood to make it his go-to camping lantern. When our friend Mark saw dad’s “new” old lantern on a hunting trip, dad was sent home with a box of lantern parts Mark had picked up at a flea market. It was a mostly complete slant generator lantern from 1929. I got it running with spare parts from Ronnie Hardison, who put me in touch with Warren Wright for the final missing piece. Learning the degree to which these two men were steeped in Coleman suddenly made me feel a lot saner. I soon had six slants in my collection. And then came a few two-burner stoves and my first Handy Gas Plant. Uh oh….
There was an invitation to join the Collector’s Forum, a visit with Cigar Mike [Merz] and his impressive collection right across the river from me, an opportunity to attend the national convention
near Seattle, some informal gatherings with fellow northwest collectors, and lots of two-way Q&A and sharing on the boards. Seems I get to learn more about the hobby and the great people involved at every turn.
Two short years into this, running out of garage space and seeing my wife’s hands on her hips, I’ve had to temper my desire to own every piece of Coleman I run across and examine what it is about these old gas “toys” that I love. I’m a tinkerer and a problem solver. I enjoy well-made things, which older Colemans most definitely are. I love history and biography, which is abundant with the Coleman Company and in the stories of fellow collectors. I enjoy teaching and helping others. I enjoy the satisfaction I get from turning something old into something like-new and serviceable. And I enjoy the camaraderie with other gas-pressure enthusiasts, whose interests extend beyond Coleman to other makes as well. It’s a truly global group, one about as diverse as you can imagine, and there appears to be a lifetime worth of learning to be done.
I’m having enough fun, I hope to stick with it that long.