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'52 Commander clock black light not working - bulbs work

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  • Speedo / Tach / Gauges: '52 Commander clock black light not working - bulbs work

    Hello helpful Studebaker experts!

    The black lighting is not visible in the clock's face. I replaced both bulbs (#55, 6 Volt) and both work. (I know that they work because I can see them lighting up when looking from under the dash.) Somehow the light isn't making it through to the clock's face. I poked a damp Q-tip in one of the purple glass filters. It removed some dirt, but that didn't help at all.

    Background info: The black lighting in the speedometer does work, giving me something to compare to. There one can see dim purple lighting - only at night. (But nothing is happening lighting-wise in the clock.) Shining a flashlight on the speedometer or the clock causes things to light up and glow for a little bit.

    Do you know what might cause this, and any remedies?

    Thank you for your help.

  • #2
    Welcome to the Forum, Scott!
    The "SEARCH" bar in the upper right corner of your screen can pull up dozens of threads regarding these black light illuminated dashes. It seems every one of us has experienced or addressed the issue.
    "All attempts to 'rise above the issue' are simply an excuse to avoid it profitably." --Dick Gregory

    Brad Johnson, SDC since 1975, ASC since 1990
    Pine Grove Mills, Pa.
    '33 Rockne 10,
    '51 Commander Starlight,
    '53 Commander Starlight "Désirée",
    '56 Sky Hawk


    • #3
      It isn't that the black light isn't working, but rather the radium paint has finally failed, resulting in a black out condition in the facial features. In other words, the numbers, letters, and tick marks don't glow no mo. There are only a couple cures for this. find a replacement paint, with the same, or similar properties and touch up the numbers, letters and tick marks, or buy NOS speedo and instruments to replace the old.

      More, or less......



      • #4
        I have ordered a product that promises to be helpful. It is a glow in the dark powder made up of strontium aluminate. Mixes with clear acrylic to produce a long-lasting bright green glow. Will keep you posted.
        Studebaker! If you're lucky enough to own one, you're lucky enough!!!


        • #5
          The problem is that the zinc sulfide paint used on the dials with loses its efficacy over time, so it takes more light to produce less glow. The best solution is to repaint the gauge faces and needles to get back to square one. As far as why the clock no longer glows but the other instruments do, I'm wondering if that variance would be due to the supplier... Borg or Westclox produced the clock, while the rest of the instruments were probably made by Stewart Warner or AC. I'm interested to hear the results with strontium aluminate... as I understand, it's mainly used to provide a longer glow time after light source is removed.

          I'm pretty sure they didn't use radium in the paint, as that was generally utilized in situations where there was no dedicated illumination source. I have a couple of clocks with radium dials that no longer glow on their own, but will respond decently under a fluorescent blacklight. It's the same thing there; zinc sulfide paint that gets tired over time... the radium still retains its punch, however
          Whirling dervish of misinformation.


          • #6
            Your mostly correct, now, for the rest of the story......

            I should have included the technical details (rather dryer then my Martini) in the explanation, as most people aren't in the real know and just thirst for new (old) knowledge. I apologize for the omission and for depriving the masses this new (old) knowledge.

            The luminescent qualities of radium were discovered around the turn of the 20th century. It was mixed with various types of paint, which was then used to illuminate various features on the faces of such items as clocks, car, naval (ship) and aircraft instruments. There is a really long list of other applications, but for the sake of brevity, they are not included in this note. Besides, I feel asleep about half way down the list..............

            The problem in our old vehicles is the result of the breakdown of the crystal structure of the zinc sulfide within the radioluminescent paint containing radium-226 used, rather then the radioactive decay of the radium itself. You can actually place a geiger counter, (purchased new, or used on Fee, errrr, I mean Ebay, starting at the amazing low price of just $34.99), near just about any automotive instrument display through the 50's and it will detect residual radium particles. In fact, I should think your great, (to at least the 20th power), grand children should still be able to do the same. Provided, of course, there are any Studebaker's surviving. As I understand it, radium has a half-life of between 1,500 and 2,000 years..........

            No need to worry though, according to medical authorities, there is no significant health risk, unless you remove the assembly, shake it thoroughly and sniff the dust emitting from it.............

            Now, you know the rest of the story.

            Dear, would you make me another Martini, please?



            • #7
              Thank you very much for your replies. I wasn't clear enough in my original post.
              I was trying to indicate why I think there's a problem other than one of the paint losing its ability to light up.
              In more detail . . .

              >> Background info: The black lighting in the speedometer does work, giving me something to compare to.
              >> There one can see dim purple lighting - only at night. (But nothing is happening lighting-wise in the clock.)

              What I was trying to indicate there is that (in the dark, at night) one can see a purple glow (in the speedometer in this case) - when the "black light" is working at all.
              I turn the parking lights on, and rotate the light switch a bit to get the (very dim) dash lights to come on.
              I can see, say "orbs" of purple light emanating from the sides of the speedometer toward the center.
              There is absolutely no purple light showing on the clock face. So I do not think the black lighting is making it out of those purple glass filters to the clock face. If the purple light was making it to the clock face, I'd be able to see it (as I can in the speedometer), even if the numerals' "glow-capability" was expired. (may it rest in peace)

              >> Shining a flashlight on the speedometer or the clock causes things to light up and glow for a little bit.

              (Rockne10, thanks, I read posts about radium fading, and about the fact that really there is no radium, and the women with cancer, etc.)

              I was trying to indicate here that since the clock hands and numerals glow just fine under a flashlight I think the clock's numerals and hands, uh, "glow-capability", is fine.
              In trying to support this further please let me add that when illuminated with a flashlight the numbers on the clock actually glow brighter and longer (after the light is removed) than the numbers on the speedometer.

              In short, all of the above text is trying to indicate why I think there's a problem other than one of the paint losing its ability to light up.



              • #8
                To remove any doubt about my hypothesis that the clock hands and digits glow well:
                I just went out into the garage with a fluorescent black light, turned all other lights off, and illuminated the dash.
                The clock's hand and digits glow quite well.


                • #9
                  I have addressed this conversation for the last few years, and the answer is always the same. Improve the ultra-violet lighting. There ARE UV LEDs. and YES they WILL work on 6Volts. And YES there are non polarity sensitive LEDs, but really all you have to do is isolate the two connections, and bias them correctly.
                  Bez Auto Alchemy

                  "Don't believe every internet quote" Abe Lincoln


                  • #10
                    Okay. I have been doing some homework on how this system works for awhile now, but I'm still lacking a bit in hands on experience. It appears that the speedometer and fuel-temp-amp-oil gauge have the bulbs and purple filters inside the gauge assembly; but the clock has 2 bulbs/filters mounted outside the clock case, 180 degrees apart, with light from them shining in through little slots covered by plastic? windows. On the one example I found online, it appeared that those plastic filters had turned opaque... or maybe were really dirty. Definitely looks like there's a lot more obstacles to shine through to illuminate the dial, compared to the other instruments.
                    Whirling dervish of misinformation.


                    • #11
                      Thank you Lark Hunter. Can you please share a link to the photo that you found?
                      Here are some photos that I found:
                      Folks, please see images 3 through 5 to see the bulbs mounted externally, as Lark Hunter mentioned.

                      Thanks also for mentioning the other gauges. There is no light showing at the fuel-temp-etc gauges either. The wiring diagram only mentions two bulbs for the Commander, I figured that they simply weren't lit up (and figured that the bulbs for the clock weren't shown since that was an option). Hopefully that was a bad assumption on my part. If my back allows it today I'll poke my head under there to see if I see bulbs by the gauge cluster. (Looks like it may be time for me to buy a bore scope / endoscope. Any recommendations?).

                      Is anyone "clear" (pun intended) on the path the light should take to get from the purple glass filters (someone referred to them as 'garnet') through to the clock face?

                      Bezhawk, I want to acknowledge your message - thank you. Right now zero light is making it from the (working, filtered) bulbs to the clock face. If indeed something has become opaque then swapping the lights with other lights will run into the same issue. (Some people wrote of shining a light at the dash. My (current) goal is to get the original parts working, if possible.)

                      Thanks to all,


                      • #12
                        The side "windows" are riveted in place. I would be leery about drilling out the rivets, unless you take it apart, and can get all the rivet pieces out. It would be a good idea anyways so you can clean and lubricate the mechanism, and oil it too. Sewing machine oil is perfect. Also align the points contacts, and file them so they make even contact and are smooth.
                        Bez Auto Alchemy

                        "Don't believe every internet quote" Abe Lincoln


                        • #13
                          52 Commander

                          You actually linked up the same photos as I was looking at . The purple filter material is called Wood's Glass. It appears that the other two gauges use just a single #55 bulb each; mounted dead center on the four gauge pod, and just under the speedometer cable on the other, at an angle. Taking all of that into consideration, and what I've heard from others about how well the system worked way back when, it's interesting that it did so with just the tiniest bit of light... incandescents don't produce much light in the UV or near-UV spectrum.

                          Other than making sure those filters are clean inside and out, the bulb globe is clean, and there are clear windows on the clock for the light to peer through- that'll assure you of the exact same output from the light source as when new... the main thing I think you'll be fighting is the tired phosphors in the paint. Sure, the markings can still be made to emit photons through brute force (much brighter light source or UV LEDs), but I'm also more interested in achieving the effect using stock materials . As mentioned before, I've been interested in this instrument illumination setup for quite awhile, but I've yet to own a vehicle so equipped (My Stude is a 1962). As far as I can ascertain, it was only used on 1947-52 Studebakers and 1949-50 Ford products. And in all this time, I don't think I've ever seen one restored to original functionality. It doesn't seem like it's out of the question, as more traditional gauges frequently get restored... and there are even a few people doing the 1960's Mopar electroluminescent stuff.

                          And while I'm here, does anybody remember if the odometer digits are supposed to be blacklight reactive, too?

                          Here's another recent thread related the subject: https://forum.studebakerdriversclub....minated-gauges
                          Last edited by Lark Hunter; 05-02-2021, 08:15 PM.
                          Whirling dervish of misinformation.


                          • #14
                            Lark Hunter Yo! (greeting from person born in Philly)
                            Thanks much for the info you keep providing. I enjoyed reading your other thread.

                            >> It appears that the other two gauges use just a single #55 bulb each; mounted dead center on the four gauge pod, and just under the speedometer cable on the other, at an angle.
                            How did you know this?

                            I looked through the Chassis Parts catalog (which shows the instruments) - no lamp is shown.
                            (so, in spite of my back protestation) I peered under the dash and indeed there was the bulb, just as you said.
                            I replaced the old bulb. The new one lit up as I inserted the fixture back into the instrument cluster.
                            (I turned the dash lights on first so I could test it in that way.) (test: Pass)
                            I can't see it lighting up from the front, I will report back after I check it at night.

                            (The old bulb looks fine, I'll test it.)
                            I'll re-check the odometer digits under a black light. I do recall seeing them a bit (not much) when I was lighting up the clock - but IIRC our teeth used to light up when we had black lights as a kid - so probably anything white shows to some degree.

                            Following up on learning that it is Wood's glass, here:
                            I see that:
                            a) violet passes through - which is what would enable me to see some "purple"
                            b) "With prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation, Wood's glass undergoes solarization, gradually losing transparency for UV"

                            If that's the problem, uh, well, let's hope that that's not the problem.

                            May disposable income become a thing for you again.
                            Last edited by 52 Commander; 05-04-2021, 04:31 PM.


                            • #15
                              Information owed from prior message follows:

                              Yes! The gauges are now lighting up. Not brightly, but they are! Very exciting!
                              Thanks very much Lark Hunter.

                              Rather than check the odometer digits under a black light, I shined a very bright flashlight on them.
                              When I turned the flashlight off the digits continued to glow.
                              So I imagine that, yes, the odometer digits are supposed to be black light reactive.

                              Interestingly, with the lights in the dash on, and it being pitch black otherwise, I could see the Wood's glass in the center of the speedometer - when looking from an angle on either side.

                              This is the first that I noticed that the PNDLR indicator lights up (dimly) too.
                              Last edited by 52 Commander; 05-04-2021, 04:50 PM.