My story begins with accepting a transfer from a Coast Guard cutter in Seattle, Washington to one “Tillamook Rock Lighthouse” on the Oregon coast. Having never seen this lighthouse or any other lighthouse, and being 18 years old, I always acted on impulse, never asking questions that might be crucial to my future happiness. I had seen lighthouses in pictures and they were always located on some point of land where there was sufficient land mass and you could go for a walk, if the mood struck.
Imagine my surprise when my transfer papers had me reporting to the Coast Guard Cutter Ivy at the Tongue Point Depot in Astoria, Oregon for delivering me to my duty station, which I was told was one and a half miles out in the Ocean! An even bigger shock awaited me when the cutter arrived at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, and I saw this huge rock protruding straight up to 100 feet above sea level with 3 sides that were sheer cliff.
The cutter Ivy had to lay off a safe distance from the Rock, (a common reference name), orders were given, and a landing craft type boat was lowered into the water for transferring personnel and supplies to the lighthouse.
The slightly stormy boat ride to the rock was not the most pleasant of boat rides I had experienced in my brief time in the Coast Guard, but my attention was quickly focused on a boom that swung out from the middle area of the Rock with about 90 feet of cable dangling down to the boat we were in and a life preserver with a half pair of canvas pants attached to it, this was my introduction to a “breeches buoy.”
The boat crew was more than familiar with the procedure, and at this point one of the boat crew unhooked the breeches buoy from the dangling cable and assisted me in getting into it. After which he snapped the breeches buoy lifting eye into the cable hook, looked up to the boom control room on the Rock, and made a large circling motion with his right arm.
I had seen this circular arm motion many times in western movies that indicated “circle the wagons,” but just as I was enjoying the humor of the moment, I was abruptly jerked from the boat and rose 80 feet into the air, and then swung to the one flat spot on the Rock where two lighthouse crew members greeted and unhooked me from the cable.
The introductions were brief, for as soon as I removed the canvas pants, one of the welcoming committee climbed into the breeches buoy in preparation for his turn at time off of the Rock. With a circular wave of his arm towards the boom operator’s station midway up the Rock, it was up, up, and away at 80 or so feet in the air, and he was dropped into the waiting boat.
The other crewman led me up the 75 vertical stairs to the building level and introduced me to Oswald Allik, the civilian keeper in charge of the light. His civilian status was by choice I was told. He had been given the opportunity to join the Coast Guard or to remain as a Coast Guard employee in command, a/k/a, Officer in Charge. Having spent several years on the Lightship Columbia, a few miles away, then spending 18 or so years on the lighthouse, he preferred his civilian status.
So, after a tour of the Rock, I was shown to my quarters… my room! Each of us had our own room, small, but comfortable and with 3-foot thick stone block walls, it was surprisingly quiet. Then we toured the Officer in Charge office, the mechanical equipment room, the electrical generator area, the air compressors (for the fog horn), and finally the light itself. We climbed the spiral staircase to the top; the view was impressive and commanding for miles in all directions. The thought occurred to me, as I viewed the distant points of land that my previous conception of a lighthouse with surrounding land, where one could go for a walk would not apply here. The building itself occupied the entire top of this rock with only a couple of feet on the sides for access to the sides of the building.
During my tour, I suddenly came to the realization that the 8 cups of coffee I had consumed during the trip to the lighthouse were in dire need of removal. I questioned my tour guide as to the location of the used coffee removal area, at which time he directed my attention to a very small structure outside of the main building and positioned so as to “hang” over the side of the Rock. The very small building looked exactly like one my father had built behind our house in the country, except there were no “ventilation holes” for odor removal. As I entered the tiny room, I noticed that it was directly in view of the window of the main building, and I further noticed that although the sitting area hole was the correct size, there was no collection area or trap door, and I was able to see 100 feet down to the waves pounding at the bottom of the Rock.
Necessity was more immediate than trying to reason the whys and wherefores of the building’s construction, and I quickly began the used coffee removal procedure. It was at this exact moment when an “updraft of wind” surged up the Rock and, with NO trap door to protect me, my full 8 cups of coffee were re-deposited all over me.
I quickly exited the tiny room and there –looking out the main room windows– were two faces laughing hysterically. After a brief moment to regain their composure, one of the faces appeared outside to show me where the INDOOR coffee removal area had been relocated some years ago.
The removal of the “old” tiny building was not considered important, so it remained as a source of entertainment whenever a new crew member arrived for duty on the Rock.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2018 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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