Any suggestion for cleaning a rusty old railroad lantern?

My grandfather worked on the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad (and its predecessors and successors) for about 40 years off and on and I have a good bit of his ‘souvenirs’ from that time including a lantern- pretty much identical to this one in all things except that at some point it was painted blue with what I would guess to be outdoor house paint sometime before 1979 (the year my grandfather died). It’s in good condition considering it’s 70 years old (it’s marked GM&O 39 which I would guess refers to 1939). I haven’t checked its value but I’m guessing it’s fairly negligible considering it’s not particularly rare and not in great condition but my interest in it is family history anyway.

It’s been on my back porch for years and I’ve rarely given a second thought to it but for some reason I’ve decided I want to clean it up and use it on my mantel. (My mother used it in a storm that knocked out the electricity as recently as the early 1990s but I’m not ambitious enough to fill it with kerosene and a wick- I just want it to be decorative.) Under the blue paint is a lot of rust however.

So- I want to clean it as it’s covered with dust, dead bugs, rust flakes, and generally “anything outside for many years gets dirty”, but I don’t want to damage it because it’s old and rusty. Is there anything I should or should not do? For example: washing it with a wet soapy rag: yea or nea? Is there anything I can put on it to prevent it from rusting further and if so should I strip the paint first (the blue paint that’s been on for 30+ years is holding up surprisingly well)?

I’ve actually considered wiring it for electricity, but so far as I know the reservoir tank is good and I don’t want to make a hole in it.
Thanks for any advice in restoring rusty old lamps.

Thanks for any advice.


Value wise, they’re so common (I’m assuming it’s an Adlake?) that you probably wouldn’t get more than $50 for it.

In my experience, those things hold up really well, even if they look funky. If it got painted in the meantime, that probably sealed things up even more.

I wouldn’t think it would be falling apart, so generally you can be pretty rough with them. Soap and water would be fine, as would a more gritty polish. Heck, you could probably get a brass wire head for a dremel or cordless drill and get it cleaned up, if that’s what you want.

Usually, the globe is the most valuable part, so make sure you set that aside and don’t break it. They’ll burn the Dollar Store lamp oil for tiki torches if you don’t want to worry with fuel oil.