With assistance from Charles Tanski, James Woodward, Nicholus Johnston and Candace Clifford.
Heceta Head Lighthouse is situated on a breathtaking span along the Pacific Coast Highway in a remote location on the Oregon Coast and draws one of the largest numbers of visitors of any in the country. On February 25, 2001, the lighthouse’s first order Fresnel lens was removed from the lighthouse for repair. After over a century of service, the lens had been taken out of operation eight months earlier because the rotation mechanism was worn out and the lens was leaning nearly six inches.
A ground swell of local support including that of U. S. Congressman DeFazio, had voiced the importance of retaining this classical lighthouse lens and ensuring its continued characteristic flash.
In the spring of 2000 Chief Warrant Officer Joe Cocking and Chief Petty Officer Nick Johnston were contacted about the lens. Over the years, Nick and Joe, along with their two partners Jim Woodward and Jim Dunlap, have been involved in numerous lighthouse lens-related projects including St. Augustine, Cape Canaveral, Stannard Rock, White Shoals, Navesink, Fire Island and many more.
Like detectives trying to solve a mystery, Nick, Dave, and Joe carefully inspected the lens, looking for clues as to what might be causing the 1894 lens to cease smooth operation. After completing their inspection, they determined that in order to repair the lens it would have to be removed from the lighthouse. The decision was made to turn off the light and cease the rotation of the lens for the second time in its 106-year history.
The rotation mechanism had suffered from excessive wear and was in need of a complete overhaul. Most of the bullseye glass panels that give the light its unique flashing characteristic were starting to loosen and were in danger of being dislodged.
The goal of the project was to repair and restore the lens to its operational condition and submit a report providing the lens history, assessment of the lighthouse structure and specific recommendations for the continued operation of the lens.
On the morning of March 4, 2001, Chief Johnston and crew started the task of disassembly and removal of the apparatus from the lighthouse. For an entire week the team worked many long hours carefully removing all of the glass panels and crating them. Using a block and tackle and plenty of muscle the cast iron pedestal was removed from its place in the tower.
The next phase of the work was to remove the 27 lens panels from their storage crates for inspection and stabilization work. During the week the chariot assembly and roadbeds (bearing surfaces) were taken to Koontz machine shop where CWO Cocking and Chief Johnston met with the shop foreman and discussed the manufacturing of new chariot wheels and necessary work to resurface the bearing surfaces.
Senior Chief Dave Heye ensured that the machine work was completed, the rusted deck of the lighthouse was repaired, and all gears and shafts inspected for wear and alignment purposes.
The 900-pound pedestal base was hoisted up the staircase from the watchroom one deck below. The pedestal base was carefully maneuvered and lowered into its original position and bolted into place. Piece by piece the remaining iron pieces were hoisted to the top of the tower and put back into their original places.
On March 10, team members CWO Cocking, Candace, Gretchen, and Cullen arrived for the final week of reassembly, inspection and documentation of the project. The crates were hoisted back to the top of the lighthouse and unpacked one by one. Gretchen inspected and recorded the condition of each prism and the condition of the frame before installation. Then the panels were removed from their crates and gently raised into position and installed.
When the time came to test run the rotation of the lens, a noticeable amount of drag and noise ensued. The team worked late into the night and the problem was corrected, and by 9:30 p.m. the light was rotating like a fine-tuned clock. On Wednesday, the lens spider was hung and the process of installing the upper catadioptric panels was accomplished with the same care and procedures as the previous day’s work. The lampstand and lampchanger were installed and Chief Johnston went to work focusing the lamp.
The Oregon State Parks sponsored a town hall meeting for anyone who was interested in lighthouse project management and basic care and maintenance of a Fresnel lens. Cullen Chambers provided an excellent slide show and lecture on managing a project, in his presentation he providing detailed information on inspection, contractors, materials and solutions to taking on a lighthouse project challenges. Nick, Joe and Jim provided a power point presentation and lecture on the care of the Fresnel lens along with a slide show of America’s lighthouses.
Finally the remainder of the lighting and electrical equipment were installed and tested. On Thursday night, March 15, Heceta Head Lighthouse was once again operational, sending its familiar signal out 22 miles out to sea and greeting the mariners with its friendly flash.
During the lens assembly, Cullen Chambers and Park volunteer John Emmons performed a detailed condition survey of the lighthouse and outbuildings. In his report Cullen detailed the current condition of the lighthouse, service room and both oil houses, identifying problem areas and providing a prioritized list of items to maintain the structural integrity of the buildings.
Needless to say, active-duty and civilian members of the Coast Guard, employees of the National Park Service and dedicated representatives of the lighthouse community working in conjunction with Oregon State Parks personnel accomplished this ambitious and intense project. Without the splendid cooperation of all of these individuals, this multifaceted project could not have been accomplished.
For more information on the Heceta Head lens project, see this National Park Service web page: www.cr.nps.gov/maritime/lens/heclens.htm
This story appeared in the
October 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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