Sperry Searchlight For Sale
$30,000 as-is where-is
Operates well - needs minor work.
Sperry searchlight on original Military wheels.
GE Generator on civilian wheels and tires.
On original carriages, secured on tandem-axle trailer.
Trailer needs work prior to highway transport.
Has removable side platform for operator.
Includes some spare parts.
Contact:
John R. Sybenga
P.O.Box 322
Oskaloosa, IA 52577
(phone 641-673-4857)

Captions and Info:
  • mvc610 - In storage behind house 2004
  • mvc611 - In storage behind house 2004
  • mvc612 - In storage behind house 2004
  • mvc613 - In storage behind house 2004
  • mvc614 - In storage behind house 2004
  • scan001 - Moving the 2-cart searchlight and generator into the antique machinery display at the local fair. Grunt and groan, it's a terrible job in the late July (1999) heat.
  • scan002 - Waiting for it to get dark enough to hit the sky.
  • scan003 - The beam formation is nice'n tight. Believe it or not, the beam is several miles long. It "chops off" at 40 to 50 thousand feet altitude where it leaves the Earth's atmosphere. Combine this altitude with the incline of the beam and it can be ten miles long. On cloudy nights it just hits the bottoms of the clouds forming an image of the positive carbon's crater.
  • scan004 - Same as #3
  • scan005 - Searchlight mounted on the flatbed trailer, July 2001. Trailer needs a paint job.
  • scan006 - Engine compartment, both sides. Runs like a dream. Was converted from 6 volt system to 12. Electric fuel pump was re-located so as to be below the gas tank level. Original mechanical fuel pump is still there, but needs a diaphragm to work. Generator compartment has modern panel guages, but I have the original parts. I do not know why they were changed out. I have always used lead substitute and Marvel Mystery Oil in the gas. So did the previous owner.
  • scan007 - Same as #6

A Few notes about the searchlight:

It is in good working order. There are only a few things to fix someday. One is the feeding fork for the negative carbon feeder. I have run searchlights since 1966, and every Sperry I've run had to be hand fed on the negative side. Once I got my own Sperry I learned why. The feeding fork breaks and it's a real pain to replace. I've concluded it's a design flaw.

To put in a new fork the brain box must be removed. This alone is quite a job since crusty old wiring must be un-done up inside the light's body. If you are a tall, slender, contortionist, this might not be much of a challenge. It takes 3 men to safely remove the brain box. One on the inside guiding the long, gangling, jointed control arms so they don't bang into the mirror, a 2nd guy on a step ladder holding and withdrawing the box, and if you're smart, a 3rd guy to catch and guide the control rods as they come out of the body. Maybe a 4th guy to dial 911 in case the 2nd guy falls off the ladder and breaks a leg. Once the box is in the shop, it's a diabolical puzzle as to exactly remove the old fork and put in a new one. The new forks I've had are not as good as the old 1940's ones since an existing fork was used as a casting pattern to make the mold for the new ones. Then the brain box must be re-installed and re-wired correctly into the body. It will feed OK for a time, then the fork breaks again. If the broke off part happens to fall into something electric, whoosh! The search light's circuits are not fused in any way. There is also the chance that the remaining fork part might jam the revolving drive stud as it comes around, resulting in stripped gears or a burned out feed motor.

I've tried several things to solve the feeding fork design problem. The first thing was to put long extension wiring on the terminals with a large multi-pin plug so as to eliminate the need for a tall, slender, contortionist. Just un-plug the plug and have the inside guy guide the extension wire out along with the control rods. the other thing was to use a softer torsion spring on the negative carbon jaws. Just enough for adequate electrical contact but less than the usual death grip usually found. This resulted in better fork life, but they still break. another thing I want to try is to make a custom fork out of nylon or something that will flex, but not break. This will also solve the problem of not being able to oil the feeding fork without having to remove the brain box to get to it. Another idea is to make a special fork with a a cross piece on the open end to keep the tines from bending, spreading, and breaking off. In the mean time, I'm just going to hand feed the negative carbon just like everyone else does.

Other tliings on my fix list (someday) are the main knife switch, a proper paint job, and replace the outer heavy wiring as the insulation is in poor condition where it has to flex when light tilts up and down, and make or find a set of sod pans for the Generator wagon. Also looking for authentic Sperry wheels and hub caps.

I've been running carbon arc lights since early childhood. My Father used them in his photo studio and I developed a strange fascination with them. I started collecting them as a projectionist and have quite a number of the various brands and models. I ran my first anti-aircraft searchlight in 1966 in Hollywood CA. Theatres began abandoning arc lamps in the late 1960's in favor of "idiot bulbs" and early so-called automated systems. By early 1970's the transition was complete and both projectionists and are lamps were extinct. The very last theatre here in Iowa to kack its arc lamps and traditional projectors was in Bloomfield IA on Sept 3, 2002. Their passing was well documented. These 2 historic dinosaurs now repose in my collection. Thus, the anti-aircraft searchlight is the sole remaining vestige of the long carbon arc legacy which started way back in 1804 when Sir Humphry Davie discovered the phenomenon.

There is no particular urgent reason for me to sell my searchlight. It took me 20-some years to find one I wanted and had the cash in hand to buy it. The only problems I have is that I don't have a building to store it in year around (it's stored during the winter in a rented building) and I can not find insurance to cover it in case of fire- theft-vandalism-damage-etc. I do have a serious chunk of money wrapped up in it and all would be lost if something were to happen to the light. Therefore, I would CONSIDER selling it a museum, or another RESPONSIBLE collector as an antique (which it is) who can guarantee it will be well cared for and not chopped up for an advertising light.

The unconfirmed story behind this light is that it spent most of its 60 years stored in an armory building. Was auctioned off to an auto dealership where the burner was damaged by an inexperienced operator. Then it was sold to a promotional business where the burner was re-built and was used as an advertising light which I ran. It was slated to be chopped, and long story short, I ended up buying it to prevent this.

When I got it, it was still on 2 traditional carts as seen in the photos. This makes it difficult to take around, which is why searchlights get chopped. Since these have a true steering bar, not just a wagon swivel tongue, they are impossible to back up. After having this nightmare happen a couple times out in traffic I bought a long flat bed trailer and mounted both carts semi-permanently, thus preserving the antique integrity of the light set. The mounting was done by custom made wheel cages fabricated at a local machine shop. The wheel cages are bolted to steel plates under the trailer bed. This made it much easier to take around. The original wagon tongues are in storage. A footboard is attached to the trailer's side making operation of the light easy.

John R. Sybenga, Owner
P.O.Box 322
Oskaloosa, IA 52577
(phone 641-673-4857)