Dome delayed

April 14, 2002 11:00 pm
Restoration volunteer Terry McNamara and pilot Dave Everson prepare to fly supplies to the lighthouse. (Stephen M. Corley/The Daily Triplicate).
Restoration volunteer Terry McNamara and pilot Dave Everson prepare to fly supplies to the lighthouse. (Stephen M. Corley/The Daily Triplicate).

By Fred Obee

and Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff

Fog shrouding the St. George Reef lighthouse yesterday delayed delivery of a refurbished lantern room, but restoration volunteers spending the night at the site expressed relief, not disappointment.

"That's fine with me. We can relax a little bit now," said Guy Tower, who is guiding restoration of the lighthouse and the replacement of its lantern room dome.

The plan now is to fly the dome to the lighthouse just after dawn today if the weather cooperates.

Originally planned as a two-day operation, volunteers worked frantically all afternoon preparing the lighthouse tower for its new top. They breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the dome delivery was delayed.

In addition to preparing for placement of the dome, volunteers are working on other restoration tasks, which includes unsealing the windows of the lighthouse stuck shut by many layers of paint.

"I can't wait to open this up and let some light in here. It's like a dungeon," said volunteer Terry McNamara.

Preparations for installation of the refurbished dome began at mid- morning as about 20 volunteers gathered at Crescent City's airport. From there, a small helicopter made eight trips to the lighthouse, ferrying people, sleeping bags, food and tools to the lonely outpost perched on a rocky island about six miles offshore.

"It's like running a way," Tower said, as he marshalled his troops and equipment.

Once on the island, the volunteers immediately took on their assigned tasks. One person kept the pad where the helicopter landed clear of water and debris. Four people went straight to the top of the lighthouse tower and removed the temporary cover put in place when the lantern room was removed. Once that was accomplished, they cleaned off the rim and bolt holes.

The work at the tower's top was precarious. No railing or other structure stood between volunteers and the 150 foot sheer drop to the rocks below.

Yet more volunteers began dislodging a large boom three stories tall that the sky crane helicopter will return to shore after it delivers the lantern room.

While the tower and the boom were being pepared, other volunteers went to work inside the lighthouse, where rooms are being restored.

One woman, going though some kitchen cabinets, found some magazines, newspapers and a handwritten recipe book from 1974 left behind by a former keeper. Called Gary's Cookbook, it contained recipes for chili, cinnamon buns and other dishes.

In another room, a group set up a makeshift kitchen. On the menu for the volunteers last night was red beans, rice and sausage.

Ultimately, the goal is to fully restore the historic lighthouse. The interior was originally lined with the redwood and Port Orford cedar paneling. Tower and his group will work to install running water and electricity.

"It won't be like a bed-and-breakfast type of thing, but it will be ready for tours and it will be leasable for universities or other groups who may want to study oceanography or just want that experience out there," Tower said.

St. George Reef Lighthouse was originally constructed to warn passing ships after the Brother Jonathan sank at St. George Reef in 1865. It took 10 years to construct.

As navigational maps and technology progressed, the need for the lighthouse waned. In 1975, the Coast Guard-run lighthouse was decommissioned and no one was charged with maintaining the structure.

Tower and preservation society member Phil Acton said it became popular sport to shoot out the lighthouse windows. Eventually the torment of storms and the passing of time stripped the structure's interior.

Thanks to the local preservation society, the damaged dome and lantern room was removed and flown to shore two years ago for repairs and new windows.

Unexpectedly, the helicopter carrying the lantern room dome flew in too low. The frame crashed to the ground and was dragged to its destruction.

Dale Long, owner of Fashion Blacksmith, created an exact replica of the room's frame out of stainless steel and bullet-resistant windows were fitted into the frame. Now that dome stands ready at the Crescent City Coast Guard station, awaiting a break in the weather.