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A Lighthouse in the Mountains

2012-10-18-First-Sunrise Honestly, it all started over a joke. Back in 2009, an interesting fellow from Ontario, Canada by the name of Rick Butler had spent the summer as one of our guests here at the Summersville Lake Retreat while working as part of the crew erecting wind towers at Beech Ridge, a wind farm project in neighboring Greenbrier County, West Virginia. As luck would have it, we were located near the transportation route that the tower components traveled to reach their destination. On more than one occasion, we had marveled at their size as they passed by, just one blade stretched over half the length of a football field! Because of our unique location above the cliffs overlooking Summersville Lake, one evening we offhandedly ribbed Rick that if he would be kind enough to divert one of the tower sections in our direction, that we would keep it and disguise it as a Lighthouse, to which he replied with a classic deadpan expression on his face, “Funny that you say that Mate, we just lost one over the hill.” As it turned out, torrential rains had recently undermined the crib blocks supporting one of the newly delivered tower sections, and it had indeed rolled 75’ down an adjacent hillside, (leveling several medium sized trees in the process), deeming it unsuitable for wind production.

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Rick put us onto Geoff Kerr, the Construction Manager at the Beech Ridge project who was instrumental in facilitating our eventual purchase of it from their parent company, Invenergy LLC. Even though we still had to overcome some major obstacles in transporting it back to our location . . . we were ecstatic! We now owned it; now we just had to get it home! By this time, having gotten our first close up “walk through” of our actual tower component, we were taken aback at the sheer size of it. It covered a length of 100’ and weighed almost 72,000 pounds. We had begun to wonder just what we had gotten ourselves into, considering the fact that it took not just one, but two 50 ton crane units simply to unload it off of the truck. But again, Geoff stepped up and introduced us to Art Naatz, Construction Superintendent for White Construction, main contractor at Beech Ridge. He, along with Doug Stoehr, Shawn Woods and the rest of the crew had already assembled over 100 of these units on site and assured us that they were up to the task of transporting it to us.

Assuming that the transport route back to us would be the same route that it took to reach its original destination, we immediately should have known better because we all know what happens when you assume something.   All of the logistics and planning, (wide load permits, pilot cars, etc) were no sooner set in motion, that it was at that point that we realized that ongoing maintenance and repairs were currently being performed on the New River Gorge Bridge. A resurfacing project had begun that had extended throughout the entire summer had bottlenecked traffic down to one lane, effectively severing the main route back to its future home! Again, Art, Doug and the rest of the crew calmly took it in stride as the initially planned route took a detour of over 100 miles, literally circumnavigating our location!


Screen Shot 2012-11-16 at 10.36.28 AMAs plans were being made for moving day, we had some additional groundwork to be done at our location before we could receive such a large load. Although our existing entrance could easily handle the largest of fifth wheel campers and motorcoaches that visit us on a regular basis, it could in no way accommodate what was heading our direction. Back once again to the West Virginia Department of Transportation to acquire the necessary permits required to double the width of our entrance and roadway leading to the site.

To further complicate issues, after watching the tower sections being transported last summer “tail first” on the seven axle stretch semi rigs; and having planned the landing site layout accordingly, ours arrived “head first”, opposite of what we had planned. This is where God’s hand truly intervened in the form of Roger Hilsher, the driver. After taking just one look to orientate him to the landing zone, Roger expertly BACKED his rig ¼ mile through our winding entrance road perfectly into place, in one shot! From there, it was simply a matter of coordinating the efforts of two 50 ton cranes, again, kudos to Doug and the operators at Beckley Crane.


Screen Shot 2012-11-16 at 10.36.38 AMFinally it was ours, lock, stock and barrel. Now what? Back to Rick, the initial instigator of the whole thing on where to turn next. Rick informed us that by sheer coincidence we had a resident tower expert living in our midst. Bill Toney, owner of Engineering and Testing 2000 has devoted most of his professional life to the erection of towers of all description and was the lead engineer on the entire Beech Ridge Project. The thought of recycling a wind tower, itself the very symbol of the next generation of green energy, piqued his interest, and from that moment, Bill and his Engineer Assistant Nycoma Scott have been a continual source of technical wizardry in guiding us through the engineering portions of the project.


Steve-with-core-drillers-oct-16-2012-1535After several long discussions with Bill and Nycoma covering a wide range of issues, from wind shear load to cathodic protection, it quickly became apparent that it was time to go back to school before we tried to build what would become the equivalent of a ten story building. It also soon became all too clear that the size and scale of our undertaking dwarfed our meager budget. If this project had any chance of getting off of the ground at all, we were going to need some help in more ways than one.


Fortunately the very idea of an actual Lighthouse in in our community resonated between Vickie Nutter and Barry Crist, Educational Administrators of two of the more progressive vocational programs in our state, and slowly an idea began to take shape. What if we could use this opportunity to create a unique onsite learning environment that could become the incubator for several classes to experience some “hands on” learning on a large scale?


Several discussions led us to Roy Neal, Welding Instructor at the Fayette Institute of Technology where he enthusiastically jumped aboard. We put our heads together and turned a simple set of octagonal gazebo plans into a reinforced lamp room with a surrounding widowswalk capable of withstanding the wind shear loads that it would incur being placed one hundred feet into the air on the top of a mountain. Roy recruited fellow instructor Gary Chapman and his drafting students to put our field sketches into a series of AutoCAD drawings. After Bill, the engineer reviewed them for accuracy; they were approved and sent back to Roy for his students to begin production.


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Fayette Institute of Technology

At the same time in neighboring Nicholas County, we approached Instructor Joe Hypes who taught welding courses at the Nicholas County Career & Technical Center and discussed the feasibility of his students fabricating a solid steel spiral staircase that would turn out to be ten stories tall! Taking the lead of his counterpart Roy down in Fayette County, Joe tapped into the resources of fellow instructor Dan Cutlip’s Pre-engineering class on the design and layout of what would literally become the backbone of the entire project.

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Nicholas County Career & Technical Center

Dan’s Pre-engineering students were more than up to the challenge. Top engineering student, Torli Bush became consumed with dissecting a receding radius spanning 100 feet into a workable staircase complete with four landings, earning him an eventual scholarship nomination. Instructor Dan summed it up best when he stated that this is an incredible venue to develop and showcase the student’s skills, while at the same time building our next generation’s pride in their hometown community literally from the ground up.


Now armed with the proper individual dimensions for each step, Joe’s welding students designed an ingeniously simple interlocking stair step template that even Bill was impressed with. Then they went to work producing over half of them by graduation. By the time school sessions let out for the summer break, we had the completed lamp room frame onsite that Roy’s welding students had fabricated, and had hired on the Junior and Senior class standouts, Bill Bush and Gary Facemire from Joe Hypes welding class. They would apprentice onsite the entire summer under the direction of local Welder Gary Martin and his assistant Nick Siebert to complete the remaining stair steps. Gary and Nick would oversee the eventual fit and finish of the staircase from top to bottom, along with all of the hand railings and other life safety issues.

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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?

BEACON-in-hangarWe 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!


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The rest of the summer and most all of the fall were consumed with problems presenting themselves and obstacles being overcome one way or another. From Brian Winovich and the crew at the Western Reserve Lightning Rod Company, to the Foundation Experts Roger and Doug Gerwig, we are very grateful for the outpouring of generosity as people from all walks of life pitched in to help.   The following businesses became Corporate “Partners in Education” with us by contributing services, materials, equipment and expertise, all vital to the Lighthouse Projects success: Invenergy LLC, White Construction, Engineering & Testing 2000, ALL Crane & Equipment Rentals, Western Reserve Lightning Rod Company, Roger & Doug Gerwig – Consulting, Ed Wood - Master Electrician, Rader Aviation, Steel Con and Fastenal. We truly appreciate everyone that “stepped up” and made a difference in our community, for generations to come.

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Fundraising efforts were established where businesses and individuals can purchase stair step plaques, with 100% of the net proceeds offsetting the cost of steel material for the students to work with. Essentially, folks have the opportunity to become part of history in the making, as we will acknowledge their contribution with an engraved stainless steel plaque on the riser of “their” stairstep recognizing their family and loved ones or advertise their business. As there are only 122 steps to the top, don’t delay in securing a gift that will last beyond a lifetime for that certain lighthouse enthusiast in your life. We still have a few available! Summersville Lake Retreat has established, contributed to and distributed scholarships to the top graduating seniors as selected by their respective instructors upon graduation in June 2012, and have a continued working relationship with this year’s graduating classes, during which time the Building Trades classes will be designing the surrounding landscaping, incorporating a picnic pavilion at the base of the lighthouse that will be constructed in the Spring of 2013.

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The Summersville Lake Lighthouse was erected in Mount Nebo, West Virginia on October 17th, 2012. Standing 104 feet tall with a top elevation of 2,164 feet above sea level, the 77,000 lb. structure has a cylindrical tower constructed entirely of ½ inch thick steel. With a base diameter of 12 feet receding to 8 feet at the top, visitors will be able to climb 122 steps to reach a 360 degree gallery deck offering unparalleled views of Summersville Lake and the Gauley River National Recreation Area. The second tier lamp room houses a fully restored 36,000 lumens rotational beacon complete with a double bulls eye Fresnel lens capable of projecting a beam a distance of over 30 miles.

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The unique location and classic architectural design of this landmark project will provide spectacular views of West Virginias’ largest lake and surrounding mountain region, while at the same time re-using almost 72,000 pounds of structural steel otherwise slated for the ovens to be re-forged. “This has to be the most innovative second use of a tower section that I have ever seen” stated Geoff Kerr, Construction Manager for Invenergy LLC. “In fact, in all of the energy projects that I have been involved with worldwide, this is, to my knowledge, the first time that anyone has ever utilized a wind tower in a recycling project.”



The official dedication and Lighting of the Summersville Lake Lighthouse will be held on West Virginia Day, June 20th, 2013 when we will be celebrating our states sesquicentennial anniversary. We welcome our special guest and keynote speaker, Senator Joe Manchin. Mark your calendar to attend this special event.

Screen Shot 2012-11-16 at 11.44.00 AMThe Lighthouse Project is indeed already helping to improve some of the preconceived impressions about our great state. Roy Harper of Saco, Maine, writes in his November 22, 2011 blog on www.mrlighthouseenthusiast.com of his first thought upon learning of a new lighthouse to be constructed in West Virginia. After expressing his initial concerns of “What in the name of all that’s holy will it look like?” he researched our efforts and proclaimed our lighthouse to be modeled after the “golden age of lighthouses”, and has become an ardent supporter of our project to his readers.

Back then, Dad never called it recycling, he just seemed to have the knack for finding a useful “second life” for things. His thoughts were simply not to be wasteful and to be a good steward of the land, and it would come back to you. While I’m not sure that recycling a wind tower may be what Dad had in mind all those years ago . . . something tells me that he’s going to like it.


Photo by Terri Shifflett
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