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Survival Equipment

Tips for buying a used Coleman gasoline lantern at garage sales or thrift stores

Tips for buying a used Coleman gasoline lantern at garage sales or thrift stores

A source of light during a power outage is really important. And a good way to acquire a reliable lighting source and save money is to look for used gas lanterns at thrift stores and garage sales. Here are some things to check the lanterns for.

by Leon Pantenburg

These two green Coleman gas lanterns were salvaged, and the red one cost five dollars at a thrift store. They all work well after a good cleaning. (Pantenburg photos)

These green Coleman gas lanterns were given to me, and the red one came from a thrift store. They all work well after a little work. (Pantenburg photos)


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Old Coleman mantle lanterns show up frequently at garage sales or in thrift stores. Sometimes, a thorough cleaning or very minor repair will fix one.

In other cases, the gasoline model may have been gotten rid of when the owner decided to upgrade or change over to  propane. The savvy shopper may get a good deal, if  he knows what to look for.

I am not a particularly good tinkerer, but hate giving up on good equipment.

So when I was given three grungy, dirty Coleman vintage camping lanterns, I tried fixing them. One ended up being thrown away, but the other two are now fully-functional. My most recent acquisition, a model 200A single mantle, was bought for five dollars at the local Restore. All it needed was a new mantle.

If I can fix a lantern, so can you! There are several sites that explain how to trouble shoot problems, and Coleman still carries a full line of most  repair parts. (Proceed with caution!!! Check out this link for safety tips before trying to fix any gasoline lantern!)

So suppose you come across a likely-looking lantern at a garage sale or thrift store.  Here are some things to check out before buying it.

Check visually for leakage: If there is a noticeable crack or hole in the tank or around the fittings, don’t buy the lantern. If it is an obvious antique, it may be worth the money to buy another tank. But if you’re looking for a working lantern, buying a  replacement tank may not make sense .

Try the controls: Do the knobs turn easily?

See if the controls move easily, often, the only problem is that dirt or dust has accumulated and keeps the knobs from turning.

See if the controls move easily, often, the only problem is that dirt or dust has accumulated and keeps the knobs from turning.

Unscrew the fuel cap and check out the tank:  An accumulation of varnish and crud can mean a tank needs to be flushed and cleaned.

Work the pump: It should move back and forth easily and build up pressure.

Check the fuel tank cap: Sometimes all the lantern will need is a cap that seals. Replacements are easily found on the Coleman website

Pressurize the tank: Then open the valve and listen. If you can hear a slight hissing, that probably means the lantern will work.

Is the globe cracked or missing? Replacements are easily found, but that will add $10-$12 to the cost of the lantern.

When you get home with your new old lantern, here’s what you can do.

Be careful: Gasoline is explosive, so use caution and proceed with care.

Clean it up: Take a hose and brush and scrub off all the dust, cobwebs, fly poop and assorted crud that has accumulated. My vintage 228E double mantle model had hung in an old building for probably 30 to 40 years. It literally had a half-inch of dust all over. After a good exterior scrubbing and drying out, and a tank rinse with denatured alcohol, a new globe and mantles were all it took to get the lantern working again. It looks really cool when it’s lighted!

Lubricate the pump: Frequently, all that is not working is the pump. If the lantern has not been used in a while, the

Try the pump. Twist it counterclockwise, then pump is about 20-30 times. If the leather cup is dry, no pressure will build up. Fixing that may only take a little oil.

Try the pump. Twist it counterclockwise, then pump it about 20-30 times. If the leather cup is dry, no pressure will build up.

leather cup may be dried out.  Try the  pump handle – if no resistance has built up after about 20 strokes, that might mean the cup dried out.  A drop or two of light oil may be all the lantern needs. Otherwise, a new pump will cost about $10 at WalMart.

Clean the tank: Varnish can accumulate in a tank if the lantern has been stored with fuel in it. One recommendation is to fill the tank with denatured alcohol, and let it sit for a while. Depending on the varnish accumulation, that should dissolve the crud. Rinse thoroughly with more alcohol and let it dry with the cap off before filling and using.

Put on new mantles: This sounds simple, but in some cases, a user might have botched this very simple task and the lantern didn’t work. Any mantle with a hole or tear should be replaced, even if the lantern works with it.

If these activities don’t make the lantern functional, you may need to disassemble it completely and do a better interior cleaning.

Don’t experiment with safety features and don’t get discouraged. There are several Coleman lantern collectors’ websites and parts, even for the oldies, are available.

Check out these sites for parts, dis-assembly instructions and restoration tips:

Be careful, be safe when you work , and that garage sale survivor of a failed camping trip may be turned into a valuable piece of preparedness equipment!

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View Comments (4)


  1. Leon

    03/25/2014 at 21:22

    I’ll try that next time I have a stuck check valve.

  2. Doug Fleuette

    03/24/2014 at 15:57

    You can get the new check valve at you can get the removal tool on eBay.. almost everything on a Coleman lantern is replaceable.. don’t just throw it away because it doesn’t work…

  3. Kevbo

    03/08/2014 at 11:54

    Pump check valves can usually be unstuck in-situ without much trouble. I am 8 for 8. I am 1 for 1 on stripping the valve trying to remove it with a screwdriver so I no longer try that. I was able to unstick the stripped valve, so that lantern is running nice.

    Empty the font (tank). Remove the pump plunger (varies with vintage) and unscrew the square stem. Pour in a teaspoon or so of your preferred solvent into the pump cylinder. Carb cleaner is good, but I have had luck with lighter fluid and also just coleman fuel.

    Let it soak for a while…overnight would be good but who is that patient? I usually hold out for an hour or so.

    Now you need a source of regulated compressed air, or a bicycle pump. You need about 5-10 psi max. Too much could burst the font. I wrapped a piece of old bicycle inner tube around my dusting gun so it would seal in the filler bung. Make sure the pump cylinder is aimed away from you and bystanders, and then Blow air in through the filler and you will soon hear the hissing from the pump stop when the BB in the check valve pops loose. Put in some more solvent and repeat a couple times to clean out the crud.

    I use pneumatic tool oil in the pumps. This won’t gum up, which is what sticks the valves.

  4. Bardy Jones

    09/13/2012 at 17:17

    A couple of other tips. If when you light up your lantern, the flame seems to blow past the mantle instead of making it glow, there is an obstruction in the tubes that lead to the mantles. Remove the brass thingy the mantle attaches to and inset something (I used to use a frayed electrical cord) up to the mixing chamber. It is usually a spider web, or that’s what it looks like.

    One of the most difficult problems to fix is a leaking check valve. The check vakve is at the bottom of the pump and lets air enter the tank, but not leave. When it gets fowled (usually from too much oil on the pump leather) it allows the pressure to leak out of the tank. Pump up the lantern and leave the pump handle open (don’t tighten it down) and hold a flame to the end of the pump. If you see a flame, bad check valve. Almost impossible to replace. Needs a special tool AND a new check valve. You will have to pump more.

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Survival Equipment

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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