Thursday, February 10, 2011

Battling a Snowstorm at Owls Head Light in the 1960s

Owls Head Light Station, Maine
In calm weather, being a lighthouse keeper was hard work, but generally not stressful. During storms, on the other hand, keepers frequently had to battle heroically against extreme forces to keep the light and foghorn going for any unfortunate mariners in their vicinity. It was the same for the Coast Guard keepers of the modern era as it was for the civilian keepers of prior centuries. In severe weather, everything was always reduced to the simple equation of man vs. nature.

I just received the story below in an email from Linda Davis, who was passing it along for her husband, Melvin Davis. Jr., who was the Coast Guard lightkeeper at Owls Head Light in Midcoast Maine, 1965-68. In a storm in the 1960s, Melvin displayed courage and devotion to duty that would have made lighthouse keepers of any era proud.  Thank you to Melvin and Linda for sharing this.

We weathered many storms on Owls Head Light, but there is one I remember above them all. I believe it was the winter of 1967-1968. It was a fierce nor'easter.  The wind howled and the snow blew to whiteout and it was very cold. Everything was fine, then the lights went out. The alarms sounded and the generator kicked on and took over. After resetting all the alarms things quieted down. It was around 8 or 9 p.m.  Then, around 10 p.m. everything seemed fine -- the light was on, the fog signal was on, and the generator was running fine, so I went to bed. 

Around 2 a.m. the alarms started going off and everything was in darkness. I jumped out of bed, got dressed, grabbed my flashlight and went out to investigate.  By this time the snow was well above my knees. I went to the generator house, opened the door and got a face full of steam.  After the steam subsided and I could see with my flashlight, I found that the fan to the engine flew apart and went through the radiator. I knew there was nothing I could do so, I had to get a "notice to mariners" out as soon as I could. 

Getting back to the house I found the phone was dead also, so I couldn't call the Rockland Coast Guard to get the notice out. I knew then I had to get to the nearest phone which was approximately three miles away, but I didn't know if their phone worked or not either. I knew I had to try anyway. I told my family the situation and had them all stay in the kitchen area where the kerosene oil burner stove was, which was the only source of heat we had because of no electrical power to run the furnace. I had a four-wheel drive Jeep but knew that it was useless in the deep snow, so I trudged through the blowing deep snow. 

I finally got to the house  at about 4 a.m. and pounded on the door to wake the people up. They warmly welcomed me in after they realized I was the lighthouse keeper. They gave me a cup of coffee to warm me and gladly allowed me to use their phone to get the "notice to mariners" out. Later I found out that a tree had fallen across the wires leading to the lighthouse. Irving Smith of Owls Head normally plowed out the lighthouse road with his pickup truck, but this time because there was so much snow he had to use his bulldozer.  After a few days, power was restored, generator repaired, and Owls Head Lighthouse was back in service for the mariners.

The Lord looked out for us on many, many occasions.  I give thanks to Him for it all. Little did I know at the time that me and my family would be a part of Coast Guard history.  -- Melvin Davis, Jr.

1 comment:

  1. Great story Uncle Mel keep them coming . I know you have alot more because ive heard them . Justin