Q: I have this brass fire starter that has "Clayton & Lambert Mfg. Co, Detroit, Mich., U.S.A." on the front. It is marked Mar 18 1902 on the pump button. This belonged to my grandfather, who was a friend of someone who worked on the railroad. Someone told me it was used to keep the tracks from freezing. Is this true?
A: You have a blow torch probably made c.1915. Railroad workers used blow torches to prepare wooden surfaces for painting and sometimes to melt ice on switches. Clayton and Lambert traces its history to 1888. Three Lambert brothers began making gasoline-burning blow torches in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1882. Clayton, an inventor of firepots, joined the firm in 1887 and the name of the company soon became Clayton and Lambert Mfg. Co. In 1899 the company built a plant in Detroit and by 1915 Clayton and Lambert was making auto parts as well as blow torches and firepots. The company moved to Louisville, Kentucky, after World War II and moved production to Buckner, Kentucky, in 1961. Gasoline torches and firepots continued to be made until 1970. The company is still in business in Buckner and now makes swimming pools and industrial storage structures. Your tool is interesting but not very decorative. It would sell for about $90 in a sale of tools or railroad memorabilia.