While qualifying as watch stander at Anacapa Light in February 1956, I began feeling like a railroad man with
the constant attention to the timing of events. The Fresnel lens in the light tower had to make one rotation each 60 seconds – exactly.
We adjusted the two Seth Thomas pendulum clocks in the watch room – to the second, every six hours by a time tick from WWV, the National Bureau of Standards radio station. The clocks controlled the electronic transmission of the radio beacon, and in low visibility, the blast from the diaphone foghorn. The events occurred simultaneously so nearby mariners could time the difference between the two signals and compute their distance from the island.
Shortly after qualifying as a watch stander, I stood my first mid watch. I made some log entries and conducted a weather observation. After transmitting the weather data, I stepped to the door and timed the third order Fresnel lens. It took only 59 seconds to complete the rotation. I walked to the lighthouse and adjusted the control rheostat to speed up the lens. When I timed it again, it only took 58 seconds. I cranked the rheostat higher and the rotation time fell even more. By that time, I began getting frustrated.
Reluctantly, I walked to the bachelors’ quarters and awakened Dave Hicks, whom I’d relieved at midnight. When I described the problem, he looked out the window and even before using the stopwatch, he said, “It looks like it’s really whipping around to me.” After timing the light, he explained that the less time it takes for the lens to rotate, the faster it’s turning.
I stood dumbstruck for a moment while it sank in,
then I thanked him, apologized and jogged back to the lighthouse. That time, I adjusted the rheostat in the other direction – to slow the lens’ rotation. I never was too good
This story appeared in the
August 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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