By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
They did it!
It was foggy and misty and a day late, but the volunteer crew of the St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society got the dome back on its tower Saturday morning with no problems.
"Oh, I just can't describe the feeling. It's great," said Guy Towers, the idealistic retired social worker who created the preservation society and took out a lease on the lighthouse 10 years ago.
Getting the steel-framed glass room back on the granite tower has been a two-year, $40,000 project for the group, and a rather amazing feat.
At about 7 a.m. Saturday, the smell of coffee filled every room of the lighthouse.
Men crawled slowly out of their sleeping bags, groaning with sore legs from a whole day of climbing the steep, spiraling staircase countless times the day before.
Two women cooked eggs and sausages on campstoves in the old kitchen.
At about 8:30 a.m., word came to the crew stationed at the lighthouse that it was finally going to happen.
Nick McNamara, Randy Rogers, Terry McNamara, Guy Towers, Bill Barton, Greg Acton and Perry Acton quickly put on their hardhats and got their tools ready.
At 9 a.m., through the mist, the giant sky crane helicopter lifted the lantern room from the Crescent City Harbor and started the 14-mile journey to St. George Reef.
Everyone who had sweated and hurried to prepare for the dome on Friday afternoon stood on the tower deck and cheered as the sky crane came into sight with the dome beneath it.
The operation was originally scheduled for Friday, but a fog blanket on shore prevented the operation's liftoff. Disappointment from that delay was quickly forgotten Saturday morning.
It was Terry McNamara's job to stand on top of the tower and catch the guide cables dangling from the dome.
Without a glitch, he grabbed the cables, handed them down to the other men who guided the room to its rim.
As the sky crane hovered in place for about 10 loud minutes, the crew, both inside and outside of the room, maneuvered the bolt holes of the dome rim over those on the tower.
Once perfectly aligned, it took the men about 20 minutes to lock it down.
"The eagle has landed," shouted a voice in the distance.
"WOOO-HOOO," shouted nearly everyone in the lighthouse involved in the operation.
A crew of about 13 volunteers including construction workers, plumbers, fishermen, tree climbers and medics spent the night at the tower, forging friendships in their common goal.
"I had tears coming down my face, more out of relief than anything," said Towers, the group's leader, after the dome was snapped in place.
It was two years ago to the month that this mission started. It was completed this weekend with a $26,000 donation to the group by Del Norte County's Bob Bolen.
The rusted dome with bullet-shattered glass windows was removed by helicopter in April 2000. The group planned to hire blacksmith Dale Long to repair it.
On that day a large crowd gathered in the harbor, watching for the historic dome's arrival.
It never made it. The helicopter pilot came in about 100 feet too low. The lantern room dragged on the beach and disintegrated.
"Even then, I never really felt discouraged. Somehow, I knew everything was going to work out even though I never really knew how we would pay for all this," Towers said.
Long was hired to basically build a brand new lantern room out of rustproof stainless steel and bulletproof glass.
It took Long about one year to finish the project. It has taken the preservation society another year of weathering delays, money and scheduling problems to put the dome back where it belongs.
For those two years, a set of rough wood planks covered the hole where the glass dome now stands.
That hole leads to a round room, lined with still fine redwood planks. The round room once housed the axle which once turned the huge lighthouse lens.
It it is a visually beautiful room and a wonder of architectural design.
Towers said as he laid in bed Saturday night and heard rain tinkling on his roof, it was the first time in 10 years he didn't feel worried about rain leaking into the lighthouse.
Rain and wind weathering the interior of the lighthouse has left extensive damage in each room and hallway of the 110-year-old beacon.
Now that the lantern room is sealed and back on, the deterioration will slow considerably and repairs to the rooms can commence.
It is Towers' plan to completely rehabilitate the lighthouse as an historic monument to its original purpose of warning ships of the reef's jagged and often hidden rocks.
To help pay for that mission, the preservation group is arranging for tourists to fly out to the lighthouse in a helicopter and get a tour.
Anyone interested in such a trip may call Philip Acton at 465-8929 for information and arrangements.
About 10 tourists took the trip Saturday after the lantern room was installed.