A Lighthouse in the Mountains
By this time, having invested several years of homework into the subject of Lighthouses in general, our research began to uncover some very basic and universal feelings among lighthouse experience collectors. Far and away the most popular aspects they sought out were an authentic architectural design with an operating beacon and a gallery deck that they could access. Above all, we heard time and time again that the true “Lighthouse Enthusiast” loathed the many tourist trap attempts that are so commonly seen at attractions, golf courses -n- such. What they seek is a true aid to navigation with a working light, and steps that can be climbed to a view overlooking water. In other words, if we attempt this . . . we’d better do it right.
With that mindset from the beginning and knowing that even the smallest fifth and sixth order lenses were really beyond our budget, we sought out some form of light that would reproduce the powerful beacon effect of a Fresnel lens. We were informed by a lighthouse enthusiast friend that a good alternative may be an old aviational beacon. We looked into it and found that the United States Government, back in the 1930’s contracted both Crouse Hinds and Westinghouse to produce near identical beacons for just such a use at rural airports across the country and by the very nature of their durability in an outdoor environment, became the next generation replacement for the aging Fresnel Lens Systems. Our friend also told us that many were destroyed by vandalism during the period of the 50’s & 60’s when many lighthouses fell into disuse and ”good luck” in finding one at all, much less in operating condition.
As luck would have it, we did not have to look far. We had to register the site where the Lighthouse would stand with the Federal Aviation Administration due to our close proximity with Rader Airfield, directly across the lake from us. So we contacted Mary & Jerry Rader who immediately became interested in the project. While Jerry facilitated the process of registering the Summersville Lake Lighthouse with the FAA as an aeronautical aid to navigation, (she’s now marked on the charts!), Mary casually mentioned to Donna that there may be an old beacon lying around in the back of one of the hangers. We mentioned that we would come over and take a look when we found the time, but things always seemed to get in the way. What little spare time we did find was spent tracking down leads on old beacons that might possibly be worth restoring, and to be totally honest, we thought at the time, really . . . what are the odds?
We finally found a free afternoon on New Year’s Day when we got the chance to dig through a pile of old airplane parts and there it was…. after months of searching and incredibly, all of this time it was sitting in an old airplane hangar right across the lake from us. A Westinghouse L802 Rotational beacon complete with a double bulls eye Fresnel lens, circa 1941!
The Rader’s graciously donated the beacon to the Lighthouse Project “In Memory of Gerald L. Rader” who lost his life on approach to Rader Field during a snowstorm in November, 1992. Of course this meant a full disassembly and restoration of the beacon. Master Electrician Ed Wood performed a full upgrade on the electrical components, from the old 1000 watt metal halide incandescent bulb system (very energy consuming and expensive to operate), to a 400 watt multi vapor system. Our initial test drive with the vapor bulb warmed up to temperature and the rotational worm drive motor in operation pulled only 4.5 amps. . . easy on the budget!