Making “Lucy” Safer

After doing a bit of basic cleaning, I called the plumber to visit (Nov 10, 2013) to hook up the stove to the kitchen’s gas line. He was the first one to show me the process of lighting all the pilots, the proper burner flame characteristics and setting the oven and broiler safety switches to light those burners. The broiler wouldn’t light at that time.


I left the pilot lights going, left one kitchen window open, closed the kitchen doors and left the room. A couple hours later when I returned and opened the kitchen door I got slammed by a very strong gas odor.

So I shut off main gas supply and called PG&E. They were quite responsive. A technician arrived a few hours later and started checking the stove for leaks with a gas leak detector. Most prominent leak sources – oven pilot light area and the oven thermostat itself.

Then he checked the stove’s capabilities. He demonstrated how the burner flames should look, advised me to clear the burner holes of accumulated ash, especially since one of the burners took too long to light. He adjusted the venturis (shutters) and valve gas flow orifice caps to get the proper mixture of air and gas to the burners. He detected the broiler’s thermocouple was too weak to function so it could not open the gas line once heated.


OK. What’s a thermocouple? How does it get weak? How can I stop the oven pilot light from leaking? Am I in over my head?

NO! I will learn, no matter how long it takes. It’s worthwhile and kinda fun!

The PG&E told me something I found very interesting. He said they are trained on those old stoves to learn the basics of gas stove functions.  It seemed like Lucy was a great chance for me, as a big DIYer) to learn as well.

I loved the idea of keeping one of these mighty tank-like appliances going. It was motivational to think a 60+ year old American appliance was still in good enough shape and could outlast anything I’d buy today. There was no planned obvious self-destruct; no planned obsolescence coursing through this appliance’s arteries.

This stove was designed to literally last for generations. How cool is that? Today, corporations are too greedy to give a consumer a break. We’re lucky to get anything to last more than 1 year. Then we have to purchased extended warranties to hope for better protection.


Next visitor was a local antique stove expert (Marc Stagi) I paid to do a diagnostic. He confirmed the weak thermocouple and sold me a new one. He even hooked it up and the broiler lit up like a champ. He said the cooktop burner controls felt stiff and should be lubed. He gave me a bit of valve grease and advised to be very stingy when applying it.

Since I had already disassembled and reassembled one burner valve simply out of curiosity, I understood what needed lubing and the reason for the advice – excessive grease can clog the valve openings, preventing the gas from flowing properly.


After the parade of experts, it was clear my major goal was to deal with all the gas leaks. I didn’t know what was involved, other than to follow the PG&E technician’s recommendation to replace the oven thermostat and investigate why the area around the oven pilot light leaked.

But I started considering all the other points where gas could leak. So I devised a basic gas management plan.

  • disassemble, lube and reassemble the valves
  • clear the main and simmer burners of built up ash and debris
  • replace the cooktop burner gaskets
  • clear the stove top pilot holes
  • replace the broiler pilot
  • replace the oven pilot
  • pinpoint the oven gas leak
  • check various connections for gas leaks

I had been smelling raw gas in the heated air rising from the oven chimney ever since I hooked up the stove. A few more weeks into the restoration process, it occurred to me a gas leak detector would really help to pinpoint leaks better than using my nose. The serious ones like gas company professionals use were way too expensive and complicated. The consumer ones were generally poor performers but the UEi one (below) seemed a good compromise.

It’s critical for anybody working on a gas system or appliance to have some sort of detector, IMHO. Get one a.s.a.p. Don’t rely on your nose. By the time your nose detects something, things could be far more serious.

Gas leak detecting

A couple of days before Thanksgiving I got a gas leak detector from Amazon –  (UEi Test Instruments CD100A Combustible Gas Leak Detector ) to help pinpoint gas leaks.

It’s really cool. It claims to detect gases from the following:

Acetone, Alcohol, Ammonia, Benzene, Butane, Ethylene Oxide, Gasoline, Halon, Hydrogen Sulfide, Industrial Solvents, Jet Fuel, Lacquer, Thinners, Methane, Naphtha Natural Gas, Propane, Toluene. Jet fuel? Really? If I was worried about jet fuel leaks, I’m pretty sure I would invest in a more sophisticated detector.

I first tested it by opening the fuel cap on my car. It worked! So I put it to work on my stove.

The detector confirmed there was a high concentration coming from the stove’s chimney. The entire area under the hood was clear – no leaks. But it detected high amounts of gas just above the oven and broiler pilot lights.

Sadly, the unit’s power and setting dial broke only after three months – not a good outcome for such a pricey item. Apparently, it’s not constructed for serious use?


Surprisingly, the company kept its word to cover defects. I shipped the unit back to them. They fixed it at no cost and returned it.  It still works.

So I set my priorities: first make Lucy safe to use. Then later, a more thorough cleaning and derusting, replacing with parts that are in better shape. Finally, if the budget allows, consider giving Lucy a phased facelift; strategic re-enameling and re-chroming.

5 thoughts on “Making “Lucy” Safer”

  1. Great site you have here! I have a 1955 O&M, partially refurbished (I just replaced the oven thermostat as my latest accomplishment). One thing that’s been a problem for a while is the broiler. After bringing the stove out of temporary storage (I moved it across country), I couldn’t get the broiler to burn properly – flame was too low, and I think combustion was incomplete. Probably it needs more adjustment than I knew how to do (I only adjusted the Venturi flap). I haven’t been able to a gas appliance person to come out – but you seem to say that the gas company might do it – so perhaps I’ll give that a try. Again, many things for me to learn about my stove here!

    1. Hi Nelson. Thank you. Thermostat replacement! Nice!

      If the oven and cooktop burners are burning fine, I suspect the cross country move may have jolted loose the build up of debris in the broiler gas line(s). The broiler gas flow is pretty straight forward when compared to the oven’s. There are not too many factors that can impact the broiler’s gas flow. It would be wise to make sure the broiler valve is clear, the gas line is clear and the burner unit itself is free of debris. Once that’s done, if the flow is still to low, the problem might be the safety valve. It might not open sufficiently to allow the right level of gas to flow through it.

      Ah, safety valves! If the safety valve is to blame, that can be problematic. I have disassembled, cleaned and lubed my safety valves. I was motivated because replacement ones for vintage OKMs can cost a couple of hundred dollars and I’m poor. If they still hold the required level magnetic charge, but the lube fails, it’s far cheaper to relube than to buy a recharged one. 😉

      1. Hey thanks! I hadn’t thought about the safety valve only opening part way. I haven’t run across any disassembly guides for that though – is it easy to do?

        1. I doubt you will find anything online about disassembling a vintage safety valve unless I post something. 😉 But they aren’t too complicated. Just go slow and take as many photos as possible. If you decide to explore your safety valve, start simply. But if the safety valve becomes a big hindrance and you have to remove it, you can still operate the broiler as long as close the line gap where the safety sat.

          One thing I found very useful in collecting the free OKMs people dump is I gain the freedom to explore, take things apart, see how they’re constructed without worrying that I’ll make irreversible damage to Lucy. I’ve got lots of safety valves, oven controls, cooktop valves, oven and broiler racks, chimneys, doors, clocks, grates and other parts.

  2. Hi There!
    We seem to have lost touch…I am still interested in some parts if possible. Big problem now is that the oven pilot light has gone out so I am unable to turn the oven on to roast the turkey for Easter tomorrow!! The burners are still working fine. The Grillovator broiler was never working after the stove was hooked up by the pro. What is the trick to starting those pilot lights? Where are those safety valves? HELP!

Leave a Reply to Nelson Caldwell Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *