I received a generous gift from a friend — a Bardwell & McAlister Keg-Lite. It’s a vintage studio hot-light with a 750 watt bulb, fresnel lens, and barn doors. He hadn’t used it in years, so it was very dusty, but he told me it was in working condition, and he advised me how disassemble it to clean it.
I bought the cleaning supplies, and as I dusted it off, I noticed that the fresnel lens was cracked, though I didn’t know if it was cracked all the way through. Upon removing it to clean the back side, I learned that it was, in fact, in three separate pieces. Thus began my odyssey to restore the light.
I started with an Internet search for the manufacturer, Bardwell & McAlister, which was clearly legible on the back door of the light. Amazingly, they are still in business. Their site was no help regarding vintage equipment, so I called customer service and was put through to a very helpful man. I explained my project and that I was looking for a replacement fresnel lens. It turned out I needed much more than that.
The good news: The six-inch fresnel lens is still standard and used in modern lights. For $35.00 he could ship me one, but I opted for immediate gratification thinking I could find one easily in New York City, the capital of the world, where I should be able to find anything. My mistake.
The bad news: The gasket that held the lens in place was wrapped in asbestos insulation which must be removed, then the gasket must be wrapped in high-heat fiberglass tape. In addition, the power cord is not original to the light, and it had no switch, so turning the light on and off meant plugging and unplugging it from the wall — neither convenient nor safe. I’d need a 15-amp inline toggle switch.
So now I have instructions to restore the light and a simple shopping list: six-inch fresnel lens, high-heat fiberglass tape, and a 15-amp inline toggle switch. The gentleman at Bardwell and McAlister said I could get the lens from any theatrical lighting store, and the tape and switch would be easy to find at The Home Depot.
The six-inch fresnel lens was easy once I found SLD Lighting, which has a store in the Theatre District. They had the lens in stock, and I bought it on the spot. The rest was trickier. The Flatiron Home Depot proved yet again that the sales people don’t know much about what they sell. First I asked the concierge where I would find the fiberglass tape for my electrical project. He sent me with full confidence to the plumbing department. The plumbing department salesperson said there is no tape of that description in plumbing, but I wouldn’t find it in the electrical department. He said with full confidence that I would find it in the paint department. I gave up and went to the electrical department to look for the 15-amp inline toggle switch. The salesperson there had no idea what I was talking about. He left to find a manager and returned saying that the closest they had was a three-amp switch. Knowing little about electricity, I asked if he knew what the difference was, and he shrugged his shoulders. Trusting they guy at Bardwell & McAlister, I left without buying anything.
I then went to three other independent hardware stores. I couldn’t find what I wanted, but I got completely different opinions on what I needed to do and whether or not what I was asking for even existed. One store owner told me that a five-amp switch is the maximum I could get, and it would work fine with my 1,000 watt fixture. Lucky I didn’t listen to him. Fortunately, one store referred me to two local electrical trade suppliers. I went first to Midtown Electric Supply, and asked for the fiberglass tape. I got it, but they were so rude to me when I asked some questions (I’m not a professional electrician and needed some advice) that I left without asking about the switch. I got much more courteous service at G&g Electric Supply Company. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the switch and didn’t think I’d be able to find one. At least they confirmed that it was the right switch for a 1,000 watt light.
Then it dawned on me to try Barbizon Lighting Company. I knew of their existence in the photography, motion picture, and theatre lighting industries, but I had never used them. I called to explain my project, and they told me they had the 15-amp switch. I reserved it and went to the store to pick it up. When I had the switch in my hand, it looked very small, and I asked to confirm it was a 15-amp switch. The man helping me squinted at the label and said it was three amps. He searched the computer and said he had found one last 15-amp switch in stock. About 10 minutes later it arrived at the register in an unmarked zipper-lock bag in 17 distinct parts with no instructions. A store manager came to give me a quick tutorial, and now I had everything I needed to restore the light.
So this gift of a perfectly working hot light cost me:
- $8.90 — Cleaning supplies
- $13.28 — Scotch glass cloth electrical tape from Midtown Electric Supply
- $16.33 — Six-inch fresnel lens from SLD Lighting
- $43.01 — Arri 15-amp inline toggle switch from Barbizon Lighting Company
- $30.00 — Copay to have a doctor look at my profusely bleeding thumb that was in the way when my Xacto knife slipped off the wire I was stripping in order to install the switch. As an Eagle Scout, I should have known better. It was a deep puncture wound, but my tetanus vaccination was up to date and I didn’t need stitches.
Total cost: $111.52. But now I have a working vintage hot light, great experience restoring it, and a fun story to tell. That fun will work its way into the photos I make with it. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post with some of those photos.