Digest>Archives> October 2005

Keeper Returns to Lighthouse after 32-year absence


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BM3 Al Vachon USCG making his way from Little ...

After a 32-year absence from Little River Lighthouse in Cutler, Maine, former lighthouse keeper Al Vachon returned to the lighthouse last week to work as a volunteer helping to restore the endangered beacon.

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Little River Lighthouse as it appeared in 1972 ...

Vachon had not set foot on the remote island since he left the Coast Guard in 1973 and the return trip brought back many wonderful memories of another era when life was very different.

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Former Little River lighthouse keeper Al Vachon ...

Vachon came to Little River Lighthouse in March of 1972 to replace Coast Guardsman Robert Marston, who had been transferred to nearby West Quoddy Lighthouse. In those days, as a young man with lots of energy and thoughts of friends back home having a social life, his life on the remote island became a challenge – which he now recalls as one with great memories that will always remain with him.

Vachon remembers when the light station was in pristine condition and was amazed by the deterioration of the light station since the Coast Guard had abandoned it. Yet, at the same time, he was impressed by the amount of work that has already been done by volunteers to bring the lighthouse back to its glory days.

Vachon, now from New Hampshire, admitted being somewhat apprehensive about going back after so many years. That changed immediately when he met some of the locals, such as Andy Patterson, early in the morning of his first day back. “They are still as friendly and as helpful as they were 32 years ago,” he said. He also commented that the small fishing community of Cutler looked almost the same as it did when he left so many years ago.

Upon arriving in Cutler, Vachon immediately hooked up with Hal Biering, also known as “Mr. Hal,” a 78-year-old retiree from Alabama who has spent the last three summers working to save and restore the Little River Light Station. He and “Mr. Hal” soon became friends.

Vachon remembers that when he was stationed at Little River, one of the biggest thrills in those days was taking the station’s small wooden boat to town and waiting for the mail truck to arrive. That experience must have had an impact on him because, after his stint in the Coast Guard, he became a rural mail carrier for the next 31 years.

He said, “Going to town in those days was a big deal.” He and the other Coast Guardsmen stationed with him would go to the nearby Naval Station commissary to get supplies, but they rarely went all the way into Machias unless it was for something special.

Vachon’s biggest thrill this time was being able to sleep in the keeper’s house again, saying it was as quiet and peaceful as he remembered it. “It was a real experience, but even more thrilling was being able to climb the tower again. I took lots of photos to show my family and hopefully, they will accompany me on my next visit. My wife has been hearing about this place for so many years, but has never been here.”

Vachon was stationed at the lighthouse with Engineman John Arrington and Seaman Gary Sill. In those days, they had two pet cats on the island named Tom and Stubbs. They also had a pet raccoon which somehow became stranded on the island.

When Vachon left the island in 1973, he recalled being replaced by BM3 Tony Weyer. However, the lighthouse was automated shortly after that. The lens was removed from the tower. A modern optic was placed on a skeleton pole and the station was closed.

Vachon said he was impressed with the camaraderie, compassion and dedication of the volunteers of the American Lighthouse Foundation who are working to save Cutler’s lighthouse and was happy that he was able to return and help bring the historic Little River Lighthouse back to its former glory.

To learn more about the Little River Lighthouse visit their website at www.LittleRiverLight.org.

This story appeared in the October 2005 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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