Adams & Westlake "Kero" Lanterns: The Last Stand
by Ted Douthitt Jr. and Jerry Gorzoch

The Adams & Westlake #300/400 Kero is one of the more common railroad lanterns in today's collectors' market. This is the last kerosene railroad lantern manufactured by Adams & Westlake and is still in production, although not for regular railroad use. While the same basic model designation has been in effect for well over 60 years, there have been a number of design changes that distinguish Kero's of different era's. Based on examining more examples than we ever intended, here are five versions that we've identified:

Version 1. This one is easy since we are talking about the original version as found in Adlake Bulletin B-84-A made in the Elkhart Factory. We will not describe every subtle variation since there were at least four different bails alone. The main feature of the A&W Kero made from 1930 to about 1935 is that the lantern has a completely flat wire bottom, unlike all of the later Kero's. The bottom ring is the same as the one in the Adlake #200 and #250. See photo at left from a 1934 Kero. We should note that the current "post-railroad use" version of the Kero with "fantasy" or commemorative markings (see below) has once again appeared with a flat wire bottom. These Kero's are undated however, so Version 1 lanterns are distinguished by a flat wire bottom and a date from the early 1930's.

Version 2. The first major change in the Model 300/400 came in about 1935 or 1936. Here, the wire bottom is no longer completely flat but rises up to meet the vertical wire guards. This was the only major change for roughly a decade, but all Kero's up to the present have retained this feature. See photo at right from a 1938 Kero.

Version 3. In late 1945, it appears that some "Armspear type" parts were more or less merged into the Kero. Specifically the lid latch (the one with a strip of steel and two rivets) became the "standard", replacing the bent wire spring. This had been a feature of most Armspear lanterns since the first "Model 1925" lantern. At the same time the dome was changed so that "ADLAKE KERO" was stamped into the top of the dome. Previous Kero's (Versions 1 & 2 ) were marked Adams & Westlake Co. on the skirt front of the lid. This style remained until about 1964 when the month and year lettering stamped under the pot holder was eliminated. Updates - See new updates on Versions 3 and 4 at the bottom of the page.]

Version 4. In about 1965/66 there were several changes. One was that the wording on the bottom of the font holder was changed to: Adlake Kero.. USA Canada..PATENDED. A second was that a drain hole was added to the very bottom of the font holder. Yes, Virginia, those holes were factory made and not done by a bunch of antique dealers trying to make lamps out of old railroad lanterns. A third change was that the lid, which previously had two soldered-on nail-like devices to keep the globe retainer in place, was redesigned so that the lid had two stamped impressions in the sides to hold the globe retainer. By the way, the globe retainer itself was -- and still is -- the same design as the original. It is still being made. [Updates - See new updates on Versions 3 and 4 at the bottom of the page.]

Version 5. About 1970 or so, the tooling at Adams & Westlake broke. New tooling was made, but the Kero design was changed such that the smoke dome was, for lack of a better description... bald (See photo at right, by Paul Hoste). There was no writing on the top and no ridges between the vent holes on the lid. On the skirt of the dome on either side were marked the railroad name and the words "ADLAKE KERO." The bottom of the font holder was bald as well. At a point later on, the word "ADLAKE KERO" were eliminated, although there are reports of some lanterns having only the word "Railroad " stamped on the skirt of the dome.

What were the last railroads to order marked Kero's? We have been able to verify a number of "late models" which we feel are from the very late 1960's through the 1970's. Adams & Westlake continues to sell the Adlake Kero 300/400 for specialty purposes, but we are referring here to the last railroad lanterns bought by real North American railroads for use in service, in other words, the "Last Stand":

  • B.N. Inc. (Burlington Northern)
  • B&O. RR (Baltimore and Ohio RR)
  • C&O (Probably just before the merger)
  • C. P. R. (Canadian Pacific Railway)
  • C. N. R. (Canadian National Railways)
  • C.T.A. (Chicago Transit Authority)
  • DM&IR RR (Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range - use of "RR" is a first)
  • I.C. R.R. (Illinois Railroad)
  • PC (Penn Central)
  • Sou Ry (Southern Railway)
  • W.T. Co. (Washington Terminal)
  • WMATA (Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority)
  • The Washington Terminal Co. was reportedly still buying Kero's as late as 1975. We also have good information that late model Southern Railway lanterns were made but only marked with a number "927". The origin of this number remains a mystery, at least to us. Finally, at least two modern transit authorities - Chicago Transit Authority and Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority -- apparantly used Kero's into the late 1970's. For the time-being, we will use 1979 as the cutoff date for the regular use of Kero's in railroad service.

A Postscript: No history of the Kero would be complete without at least mentioning its fate in "retirement " from real railroad service. The Kero has enjoyed a new lease on life as a "fantasy" lantern, doing cameo appearances for railroad clubs, museums, and other organizations! Numerous organizations have ordered Kero's from the Adams & Westlake Company with "railroad-like" markings for promotional, commemorative, or fund-raising purposes. Actually, a real railroad, Norfolk Southern, bought marked Kero's in 1998, but these were purchased as promotional items, not for regular railroad use.

Since the latest Kero's are "modern style" models, often of a lighter weight than their older counterparts, these lanterns should fool no one....but they sometimes do. There are reports of such lanterns going for fairly high auction prices, most likely purchased unknowingly by new collectors. A particularly good example is a Kero marked "G.C. & S.J. R.R. for "Golden City & San Juan Railroad." The marking sounds like a grand old Colorado narrow gauge line, but in reality it is an modern invention of the Colorado Railroad Museum which sold such lanterns in its giftshop. We cover these new lanterns in a separate article "A&W Kero's: Heritage Lanterns". For now it is safe to say that the Kero, in all of its forms, is alive and well and will continue to be a focus of collectors for a long time to come.


We received the following comment in early 2015: "Regarding your article on "Adams & Westlake "Kero" Lanterns: The Last Stand" I have a lamp the may shed additional information. The article states for Version 3 that ADLAKE KERO" was stamped into the top of the dome (in addition to other information) and that the style remained until about 1964 when the month and year lettering stamped under the pot holder was eliminated. My lamp is stamped with the date 3-64 (March 1964). However, the article states in Version 4 that the wording on the bottom of the font holder was changed to: Adlake Kero.. USA Canada..PATENDED, a drain hole was added to the bottom, and the lid was redesigned with two stamped impressions in the sides to hold the globe retainer. My lamp has all these features yet has the date stamp from Version 3. Also, the very top of the lid which has the ADLAKE KERO stamped on it also has the symbol for the Pennsylvania Railroad (keystone with overlapping PRR) centered at the top." [Our thanks to PB for the comment.]

We received another comment in mid-2016: "I recently acquired a "KERO" short globe lamp from my stepfather. It had belonged to his father who had worked for the C&O Railroad in the Kentucky/Ohio region in the mid 1930's to the early 1950's. those dates can be confirmed. This lamp has a date (I assume) stamped on the bottom of 1 51. It has all the features listed for Version 3 EXCEPT like the Version 4 (1965 and later models) it has the "Adlake Kero.. USA Canada..PATENDED" stamped on the bottom and the date 1 51 as well. In addition, it does NOT have the "drain hole" on the bottom, and it still has the "two soldered-on nail-like devices to keep the globe retainer in place". All parts look original and the lamp is well used but still intact. So if the date is correct, which seems to be the case, then some adjustment to the versions may be in order? [Our thanks to HH for the comment.]

Acknowledgments: Thanks to everyone who contributed information.