Digest>Archives> March 2000

Currituck Beach Lighthouse Ironwork Restoration

By Lloyd D. Childers

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Just how safe is it to walk through the iron doors onto the lighthouse gallery and stand on the open iron deck 150 feet above the ground? Are the railings securely anchored? Could you be injured by pieces of falling metal from the lantern room deck above? Few of the 185,000 annual visitors who climb North Carolina's Currituck Beach Lighthouse ask these questions but Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc.(OBC), the nonprofit group that leases the tower from the U.S. Coast Guard, takes them very seriously.

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To find answers OBC gathered a team of experts to perform a detailed inspection of the ironwork atop the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, especially the iron brackets beneath the gallery decking. A visual inspection of the ironwork from the gallery deck revealed some corrosion, but a closer look at existing conditions below the deck was necessary to prepare an appropriate scope of work and cost estimates for the job. The group consisted of International Chimney Corporation, Inc.(ICC), scaffolding experts, Alex Klahm, architectural metalwork designer, and Cullen Chambers, a lighthouse preservation consultant who has been involved in restorations at Key West, St. Augustine and Tybee Island lighthouses.

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The upshot of the inspection was a project description including structural and safety enhancements on the gallery deck, handrails, brackets, and belt course system to allow the area to remain safe for visitation and prevent potential hazards to onlookers below. In addition, OBC decided to complete repairs to the roof, exterior of the lantern room, lantern deck and associated ventilation system. Also, the temporary Plexiglas panels at the service rooms windows were replaced with reproductions of the original wooden windows. The $400,000 project was estimated to take eight-weeks, however delays in obtaining castings from the foundry extended the project to approximately 12 weeks.

The selected contractor, International Chimney, movers of the Hatteras Lighthouse, began erecting the scaffolding on November 1, 1999. Once in place, the entire gallery hand rail and post system was match marked, dis-assembled, and lowered to grade for re-work by Alex Klahm. In addition, Klahm designed and constructed splice plates to bridge over existing cracks in the brackets. Also, the existing cornice hanging down below the gallery deck edge was carefully removed, recast, and reinstalled. At the very end of the brackets, hollow hexagon chambers, which showed significant signs of deterioration, were ground away from the main portion of the brackets, recast and later reinstalled.

Other work consisted of removing and replicating the exterior door to the gallery deck. After removals were completed netting was placed from the outside of the scaffolding platform to the underside of the gallery deck to offer a degree of screening from the wind and facilitate sandblasting containment. A giant vacuum machine collected debris from the sandblasting.

While waiting for parts from the foundry in Florida, the gallery deck, brackets and associated ironwork were waterblasted to remove chlorides, and sandblasted in segments, allowing for only as much surface prep to be performed as could be prime painted the same day. To approach average member thickness severely corroded brackets were back-filled with Belzona Super Metal, a titanium based epoxy putty. Areas of light corrosion or pitting were simply primed and painted. Other work consisted of water testing the roof and curtain wall system, clearing the vent of all insect nests, dirt accumulations, etc., and cleaning and coating the surfaces. The lens was carefully protected during these procedures. Cornice pieces below the roof were removed and re-fabricated by Alex Klahm, and minor roof repairs were performed. On the interior of the lantern room, the slide plate vents in the sill of the curtain wall were stripped, neutralized and coated with a moisture cured urethane topcoat. Cracked and deteriorated masonry on the interior of the service room wall was repointed. Assembly of new parts began with the installation of the hollow hexagon chambers. New stainless steel connecting rods were installed from the acorn nut through the hollow hexagon chambers and gallery deck into the gallery handrail posts. Reworked and new handrail sections were fitted in between the deck posts and attached with new stainless steel hardware.

The lighthouse is scheduled to open for the 2000 season on April 1. For additional information on the project, call Lloyd Childers, keeper, at 252-453-8152 (M-F). Feel free to leave a message.

More technical questions may be addressed to Joe Jakubik of International Chimney at 1-800-828-1446 or Alex Klahm at 727-898-9999.

By Lloyd D. Childers,

Executive Director/Lighthouse Keeper

This story appeared in the March 2000 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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