Antique Dodge Hula Girl Lamp

A bit of non-horological repair work

You may have seen this lamp in an antique store, on eBay, or even in the movie Pearl Harbor. Here a bronze statue of a women dressed simply in a grass skirt performs the Hawaiian Hula thanks to the wonders of a small electric motor. The lamp is supposed to convey the art of the Hula, or at least the titillating aspects of the dance, to the amusement of the owner. It is certainly kitschy and it reminds me a bit of the notorious “leg lamp” from the movie A Christmas Story.

img_1657If I remember the story correctly, my father saw this lamp at a rummage sale back in the 70’s or 80’s but my mother, being sensible, wouldn’t allow him to take it home. It’s a bit of a shame I suppose because back then the lamp wasn’t considered an antique; today original pieces sell on eBay for between five and fifteen hundred dollars!

In the years since that fateful day my mother has relaxed her position on the lamp so my brother, sister, and I pooled our funds together and purchased the lamp as a Christmas gift for my father about a decade ago. Since then the lamp has stood proudly on his bar.

Unfortunately about five years ago one of the grandchildren forgot to turn the motor off. The poor woman danced all night until a string from her skirt wound around the rotating cam on her hip and popped off the rivet to the fastener holding her skirt in place. There was no more dancing after that.

Finding a shop to repair the lamp turned out to be a fruitless endeavor. A watchmaker was suggested so my father asked me to take a look at the problem. I took the lamp from him about three weeks back and labored on it whenever my other jobs ended up queued for parts.

The rivet which had failed is a tiny pop rivet about 2mm in diameter. I wouldn’t be able to place a new pop rivet without removing the cam which was soldered to the motor shaft. Fortunately my father still had the original rivet; I tried working it back into the hole and flaring the end but there just wasn’t enough material left to make it work.

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Here you can see the front of the rivet- the back end has been torn away

Plan B was to turn a nut and washer on the lathe and use a 1.4mm case screw to fix the fastener back in place. The nut was turned using some brass stock that was about 3.5mm in diameter.

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Turning solid brass rod to fit the skirt fastener

I whittled that down a bit to serve as the bearing on which the fastener would rotate.

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The bearing needs to be a good fit so that the fastener will rotate without binding

A dimple was placed in the center of the bearing to help center the 1.2mm drill bit.  Once the center was drilled out, a tap was used to add threads for the watch screw.

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Threads are added for the screw

The nut was then severed from the brass rod and smoothed on a polishing stone before I turned my attention to fabricating a washer for the screw side. Unfortunately the camera battery tapped out at this time so there are no pictures until final assembly.

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If this were a watch repair that fiber would cause major problems
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Viewed from the side

With the fastener fixed my job was technically finished but I wanted to make some other minor adjustments before returning the lamp to my father.

The power cord was not original to the lamp and was an ill fit. It was only about three and a half feet in length and the cord had no character to match the lamp.

I removed the steel plate from under the base and discovered that the original power cord had been removed years before, probably when the insulating sleeve began to fail. The repairman had simply spliced a new cord to the severed ends of the old one.

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The cracked brown wires are the remains of the original power cord

The power cord was removed and a new one was sourced from Vintage Wire & Supply Co. along with a retro style LED bulb.

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The previous repairman’s handiwork is removed
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New parts received

Installation was straight forward and a bit cleaner than before.

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Rewiring complete

I also replaced a plastic grommet which was an improper fit and straightened some bends out of the base so that the dancer stood a little more upright.

The lamp may have taken a fall in the past as the three way switch was bent pretty bad too. I attempted to locate a replacement on the internet that matched the look of the lamp but failed. Fortunately a little bit of work with pliers sorted the issue out.

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Switch before straightening
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Switch after straightening

The lamp was reassembled, tested, and returned to my father. A little sewing was needed to secure the skirt in place and my mother assisted with that bit. I think the skirt hangs a little low but that’s an easy fix. All in all, it’s a job well done.

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Done.

Author: RyMoeller

Amateur watchmaker who also happens to be interested in genealogy, Formula One, and the halcyon days of yore.

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