Kerosene Fuel Of My Youth

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret

Aladdin Kerosene Space Heater
Aladdin Kerosene Space Heater
Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Major Van Harl USAF Ret

Wisconsin -(  After fifty years I am headed back to the small village of Innellan, Scotland on the river Clyde.

The Colonel and the new 2nd Lieutenant are taking me there because I have been talking about going back as long as I have been married, and for my daughter as long as she could speak and understand.

I have all these alleged fond memories, some that I will have to reevaluate after I get back in-country.

One not so fond memory is the cold and damp of my village. We did not have central heating. There was one coal-fired fireplace in the kitchen where we spent most of our time, and the rest of the heating was done with Aladdin kerosene space heaters.

We had two of these heaters and we would move them around the house to whatever room we were using. At night we left them running in the hallway to keep the house warm.

It never dawned on me that everything we owned and everything we wore smelled like burning kerosene. Everyone we knew used kerosene space heaters so everyone else smelled like kerosene also.

Aladdin Kerosene Space Heater
Aladdin Kerosene Space Heater

My mother grew up on a farm in Iowa without electricity and as the youngest of the children it was her job to walk to the store down the road, buy kerosene and haul it back home for the lamps and lanterns used by her family. She also was responsible for refilling and cleaning the lamps.

As a nine year old child my assigned tasked given to me by my father, the Navy Master Chief, was to refill and maintain the Aladdin kerosene heaters. The Scots did not call it kerosene, they called it paraffin. At least twice a week I would take the heaters out onto the front porch steps and refuel them. There was an enclosed door way I could have used to stay out of the cold Scottish rain as I refilled the heaters, but I always managed to spill kerosene on the floor so I was banished to perform my fueling task outside.

If my mother was preparing a large meal and needed another cooking surface, she would have me bring a heater into the kitchen. She would place a metal pan on the top to heat up some side dish for that evening meal. When we left Scotland and returned to the US we brought back one of the Aladdin heaters. We continued to use it and the folks still have it for emergencies.

Now the Aladdin heaters are considered antiques and sell at collector prices. I have my own kerosene space heater that I bought over 30 years ago. It still works and I still use it on occasion.

While stationed in Alaska I was introduced to Aladdin kerosene lamps and now have a shelf full of them along with my Dietz kerosene lanterns. I always keep kerosene on hand, but my wife and daughter do not really like the smell of the burning lamps inside the house. For years in Scotland I never noticed.

Using kerosene to heat, light and cook on seems rather quaint in North America, but in countries such as India and Nigeria almost all the cooking is performed on a kerosene stove. The Indian government subsidizes the cost of kerosene, so it sells for about 15 cents US for a liter of kerosene. This is done to keep the population from deforesting the nation looking for fuel.

Only 0.1 percent of a barrel (over-all average) of oil is made into kerosene. That does not sound like much, but that means approximately 1.2 million barrels of kerosene is consumed world-wide every day. So while it appears old fashion for modern Americans to be using kerosene for heat, light and cooking, for millions of people that is the only source of regularly available fuel.

Finding bulk kerosene in third world countries is easier to accomplish than readily finding it in North America.

American insurance companies do not like kerosene space heaters. Owners fail to maintain the wicks properly and the soot rises up. If not caught immediately it can cover the inside walls and furnishings of a home in a couple of hours. Then of course the home/policy owner wants the insurance company to clean up the mess and pay for it.

Kerosene, the fuel of my youth, is now more of a novelty, but I can pull down any one of my kerosene lamps or lanterns off the shelf, fuel them up and have light in minutes. I can also get out my space heater and my kerosene cooking stove and use them if the power goes off.

Some replacement parts are available online. However, kerosene is not cheap in this country – no government subsidies.

When the electricity goes out people will put up with a bit of a “smell” in order to see in the dark, also most of the Scottish homes have central heating now.

Major Van Harl USAF Ret. / [email protected]

Aladdin Kerosene Space Heater
Aladdin Kerosene Space Heater

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:

Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  [email protected]

  • 8 thoughts on “Kerosene Fuel Of My Youth

    1. I vaguely recall some of my country relatives using “coal oil” for lights as kerosene was known in southern Illinois.

    2. Brings back memories of my grandparents home in the winter. I recall this being one of the reasons they always had to do their ‘spring cleaning’. All walls, ceilings, windows, drapes, furniture, etc. in the house had to be cleaned. I even had one of those KeroSun heaters about two decades past when we had power outage problems. Worked great in emergencies!

    3. Until 3 1/2 yrs ago I used a KeroSun 22000 BTU kerosene heater every winter when it got really cold or when we had storms that took out the power. It put out so much heat that even with all the interior doors open and the outside temp at 18 degrees the living room was 75 degrees with the bedrooms at 60! If you kept the wick trimmed and cleaned the entire unit once a season there was minimal smell.

    4. My wife and I talk about our young years and how much our life has changed we grew up with the smell of kerosene
      but we did not know there was anything else the dim light of lanterns turning the wick up or down for more or less light
      we had wood or later coal cook stoves and heaters my job was to cut wood or bring the coal in
      my wife was raised in New Mexico mountain areas I was raised in western Colorado
      my job was to cut the wood and bring it in the house if I forgot to cut or bring it in my dad would make me go get it no matter how cold it was or the time of day or night so I did not forget to bring it in very often
      Thanks Thomas Ramsay US Navy Veteran,

    5. We didn’t use them much. We had a wood burning stove that kept the place toasty warm. I have a little buddy propane heater that burns much cleaner than kerosene in case I need it.

    6. I too have many Aladdin lamps, all in working order. I also keep several gallons of K-1 on hand for emergencies.
      In addition I have many spare parts for models 6 through 23. And of course extra wicks, mantels and chimneys.

    7. I have several Aladdin lamps. A couple of them are replaceable. Still work and sometimes I fire them up just for the glow. I also have a “modern” kerosene heater for emergency’s. Back in the early 70’s I had a kerosene “drip” heater that heated the whole house. That was not a good memory, hard to maintain a steady heat.
      Quit using kerosene heaters and lamps about 18 years ago. My granddaughter was always getting nose bleeds when she stayed over at my house (which was almost every weekend). Only happened when it was cold out. My wife told me to not use the lamps or heater and see what happens. Sure enough, the nose bleeds stopped. So did our congested lungs!!! Kerosene coats everything, nasal passages, lungs, house, clothing EVERYTHING! Still great for emergency and a little nostalgia, but not to keep a daily use.

    8. Not much need for kerosene heating in Southeast Texas but my parents always had a kerosene lamp handy for power failures right up to the 1980’s when it was finally retired and replaced with a propane lantern and later with battery powered lanterns.

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