Kate's Corner

Kate’s Corner #37

Tillamook Rock Light Station, National Archives image 26-LG-62-76

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

Last time we discussed hoisting materials up a cliff with a derrick at Split Rock Light Station in Minnesota. In contrast, construction materials were floated in to shore to build Tillamook Rock Light in Oregon in 1881. That lighthouse stands on a desolate and dangerous hazard off the
mouth of the Columbia River. The top of the rock was blasted off to establish a foundation. Building took 575 working days and cost the life
of one workman.

The lighthouse tender Columbine landing building materials at Tillamook Rock. National Archives image NA 26-LG-62-73

Engineer Secretary Major J. H. Gregory wrote on 19 October 1887:

“The Tillmook Rock, Oregon, light station is situated on a bold basaltic rock which stands isolated in the Pacific Ocean off Tillamook Head, and twenty miles south of the entrance to Columbia River.”

“From its exposed situation, special heating apparatus is required for the rooms occupied by the Keepers, the stoves furnished having proved
unsatisfactory, in place of which it is proposed to substitute hot-water heating apparatus, the estimated cost of which including chimney is five hundred dollars. The inclemency of the weather requires that this apparatus be furnished at the earliest day practicable, and request is therefore made that the Board be authorized to procure it by purchase in open market, on the best terms possible.”

National Archives image 26-LG-69-30

A 1934 storm spewed boulders through the lantern room, smashing the Fresnel lens. Iron bolts anchored 3 feet into the rock were ripped out. Some areas of the lighthouse were neck deep in water. The next day the keepers were able to show an auxiliary light and inform the mainland by ham radio of their survival.

Repairs were extensive. Captain J.H. Jensen, master of the lighthouse tender Rose, wrote on February 11, 1935:

“The landing of these [construction] materials, also of men and provisions
during the stormiest part of the year, was a rather difficult task and dangerous at times. . . . the ship was anchored as close in to the Rock as possible, and the cargo boat used to ferry the material to be landed back and forth. The landing of cement was the most difficult task . . . . We built a platform on the forepart of the cargo boat, wrapped the cement and other materials in three separate tarpaulins, each one wrapped opposite from the other, this was then placed in a new sling. The fall from the shore donkey was then made fast, the load was hove overboard and up as fast as the donkey could lift it. A stern line from the boat to the tender prevented the boat from being hove into the rocks. This method was used for all materials and provisions other than timber and a large casting. This casting, weighting about a ton, was placed on a raft and floated in, with one line to the rock and one to the tender, to keep it off the rocks until they were ready to hoist. . . . The two stiff-leg timbers were floated in under the gin-pole and hoisted up, end on, . . . . After considerable pulling, rigging, and doubling up of tackle, both timbers were landed . . . .

I try to picture that in my mind.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in May 2015. Photo by Jeremy D’Entremont.

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21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copy

Information is from Lighthouse Service Bulletin, April 1935; and National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 31.

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