There are probably not too many people in lighthouse history who started their service with the U.S. Coast Guard in Michigan and then became a lighthouse keeper with the U.S. Lighthouse Service in California. But such was the case with Raymond Joshua Deurloo who was born on March 29, 1904 in the tiny community of Gobles in southwestern Michigan.
Little could Raymond J. Deurloo have realized as a youngster how his life would change so dramatically when, at the age of ten, his father, Joseph Deurloo, suffered with an appendicitis attack. Raymond was with his father when the attack happened, and he made a frantic ride on the family horse to his parents’ farm and asked his mother for money for a doctor for his father. But his mother would not give him any money; instead she told the young boy, “God will heal him.” Whether she simply did not have the money or actually believed that nature would take its course is unclear, but his father died of a ruptured appendix.
Raymond’s mother then made him quit school and start working to support her and his sister Catherine. Even after his mother remarried and subsequently had five more children, Raymond was forced to support the extended family. In 1920 at the age of 16 he was able to join the U.S. Coast Guard on Lake Michigan. Although not confirmed, it is believed that Raymond Deurloo was stationed at the Chicago, Illinois Life Boat Station. However, things came to a head in 1926 when his mother asked his commanding officer to send half of Raymond’s pay to her so she could give it to her church. This infuriated Raymond, and he decided to get as far away from her as possible. He was told that there were jobs available in California with the U.S. Lighthouse Service, so he applied.
Because of his excellent work record with the Coast Guard, Raymond Deurloo was easily able to secure a position as a 2nd assistant lighthouse keeper in 1926 at the Point Vicente Lighthouse on the rugged California coast off of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. He officially reported for duty on September 26, 1926. This was an excellent opportunity for Raymond, especially since the Point Vicente Lighthouse was a newly established light station.
In those days none of the roads in the area were paved, but on his days off Raymond Deurloo would venture off to tour the area and would often stop at the Grants Corner General Store in Hermosa Beach, which was one of the few general stores in the area where he could get supplies for himself. Grants Corner General Store was owned by Herman and Wilhelmine Dettmers who lived above the store at that time with eight of their nine children. Although there is nothing to substantiate this, perhaps one of the Dettmers’ daughters caught a glimpse of Raymond or overheard conversations about the lighthouse keepers when they visited the store. Whatever the case, two of the girls, Charlotte and Hertha (Hattie), borrowed their brother’s car and made the adventurous trip to the Point Vicente Lighthouse where they met Raymond, who subsequently gave the girls a tour of the entire light station. Almost immediately, Hertha became infatuated with Raymond and soon a fast courtship took place. On November 29, 1928 the couple was married at the Methodist Church in Redondo Beach, California.
In 1995, at the age of 90, Hertha Deurloo made a return visit to Point Vicente Lighthouse. Her husband Raymond was not with her; sadly, he had passed on. Hertha recalled that when she and Raymond lived in the little white stucco house next to the lighthouse, that she kept more than busy. “I had to wash the kerosene lamps every day and keep things spic and span,” they never knew when the Lighthouse Inspector might show up. Being one of three families that lived at the station, they were always busy. “We didn’t let ourselves get lonely,” she said.
The Deurloos’ favorite pastimes were reading while sitting atop one of the bluffs, observing the migrating whales, and watching the two passenger ships that passed by each day on their way to and from San Francisco. They enjoyed listening to music, and Raymond enjoyed sketching and painting the picturesque hillside. Their keeper’s house did not have a telephone or electricity. Food was cooked on a coal stove and heat came from a fireplace that needed constant cleaning. At night, by the light of kerosene lamps, they worked on crossword puzzles or played games or solitaire.
Hertha Deurloo recalled that the only real irritant at Point Vicente was the fog horn, which in those days was a steam driven machine that gave off an ear-piercing blast. She said, “It may have been a life-saver for seafarers, but for the keepers, life amid the unremitting fog horn could be unbearable in times of bad weather. One time the fog horn went for three days in a row.”
One memorable event that Raymond Deurloo witnessed happened when the internationally legendary air ship Graf Zeppelin flew over the lighthouse on its famous 1929 world tour, something that was talked about for years.
From time to time, when supplies were needed, Hertha Deurloo would drive the one-lane road by herself in the couple’s 1924 Model T to her father’s general store. She recalled, “That was unusual for a woman to do back then,” saying, “It definitely turned a few heads.” She continued by saying, “Life was different back then.”
But not everything was as great as it could have been at the lighthouse. The head keeper, George W. L’Hommedieu, seemed to have a problem with some of his assistant keepers, some of whom, according to one report, may or may not have actually been aggravated by L’Hommedieu’s wife, which then in turn escalated with one of the other keeper’s wives. For example, 1st assistant Harry Davis, who had previously been stationed with L’Hommedieu at Mile Rock Lighthouse where L’Hommedieu had served from 1917 to 1926, had filed several complaints against the head keeper; however, after a short stint at Point Vicente, Davis was able to get a promotion and left to become head keeper at Lime Point Lighthouse. Davis’s replacement, Benjamin R. South, also did not stay long, and in 1927 he was replaced with Frederick C. Zimmerman. However, L’Hommedieu also did not get along with Zimmermann. Although Raymond J. Deurloo had tried hard to not get involved in these spats, especially with L’Hommedieu’s apparent course language, but apparently he finally had enough and he also filed a complaint against L’Hommedieu.
However, in spite of the friction between the head keeper and his assistants, the Lighthouse Inspector reported that the Point Vicente Light Station was a well maintained light station and rather than take sides, the Lighthouse Inspector took the middle of the road approach and reprimanded all the keepers and told them to learn to get along. Apparently this did not sit well with any of the keepers. In 1930 George W. L’Hommedieu was able to secure himself a transferr to become the head keeper at Piedras Blancas Lighthouse and Raymond Deurloo was offered a transfer to the Point Hueneme Lighthouse.
Before accepting the transfer to Point Hueneme Lighthouse, Raymond and Hertha Deurloo decided to take a drive to visit the light station and check things out. Although they liked the light station, after having a conversation with the 2nd assistant keeper at Point Hueneme Lighthouse, whom Deurloo would be replacing, they changed their minds. The 2nd assistant told Raymond and Hertha that the head keeper’s son at Point Hueneme was in a band and that he would rehearse when the 2nd assistant was trying to sleep. Raymond and Hertha decided that they had had enough drama in the Lighthouse Service, so Raymond Deurloo reluctantly resigned his position, deciding that it was time to move on and leave the good memories behind.
The Deurloos’ eventually resettled, and Raymond ultimately got a job with the U.S. Borax Company where he remained for 31 years, retiring as the Plant Foreman. At some point, Raymond Deurloo and his bother-in-law Walter Dettmers also started a bee keeping business, which became very successful. During World War II Raymond served as an Air Raid Warden in the community of Walteria, a position he was very proud of. On Sunday afternoons the family would take leisurely drives, sometimes stopping by the lighthouse to reminisce and take some photos.
Sadly, at the age of 67, on March 26, 1971, Raymond J. Deurloo passed away. He was buried at the Pacific Coast Cemetery in Redondo Beach, California. At the time of his death he was well known for his photography, and his oil and pastel paintings, and charcoal drawings. But he was also known as a good provider, and a man who loved and served his country with the highest esteem.
Similar to what many lighthouse families, who in their later years recalled their lighthouse life, Hertha Deurloo said that the couple had happy days at the lighthouse, “Very happy days.”
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2016 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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