The following excerpts and photos are from unpublished memoirs and family photo albums chronicling the 27-year career of veteran lighthouse keeper Arthur C. Shaffer and his family as recounted by his daughters, Donna and Kathryn. Art served in both the U.S. Lighthouse Service and Coast Guard along the Pacific Coast to Alaska at seven different lighthouses from 1937 to 1964.
Arthur Carl Shaffer was born on December 18, 1908 in Williamsville, Illinois to Arthur and Minnie Rainey Shaffer. Art was the second of four boys, but grew up with only one younger brother, Roland, as the two other brothers died in infancy or early childhood. Arthur Sr. applied for, and obtained, a homestead in Fergus County, Montana where he hoped to raise draft horses for haying. But the timing was off as farm equipment was beginning to be mechanized, so by 1915, the family had moved to Great Falls where Art was raised.
At age 17, Art left high school to become a working cowboy on cattle and sheep ranches in that area for the next seven years where he endured isolation, sub-freezing temperatures and the ever-present possibility of serious injury. Unfortunately, this was during the Depression and his wages went down to 50 cents a day, so in 1933 he enlisted in the army.
In 1935, Arthur C. Shaffer was transferred to Fort Vancouver, Washington where he met his future wife, Olive Hauge, on a blind date arranged by Olive’s sister. Olive was beautiful and it was love at first sight. When he went back to the barracks that night, he told a friend that he had met the woman he was going to marry. Art quit the army and left Vancouver shortly after marrying Olive on April 21, 1937 to seek his fortune in Ketchikan, Alaska as a fisherman on a friend’s boat. His intent was to send for his bride when he got settled.
Art found out almost immediately that he was not suited for life on a fishing boat. He became piteously seasick! Within short order, he joined the CCC in Ketchikan, and built wooden plank sidewalks in that town. He was mailing a letter to Olive at the post office when he spotted a notice advertising civil service testing for an assistant lighthouse keeper at Guard Island Lighthouse. He took the test and was hired, returned to Vancouver to get Olive, and reported at Guard Island on October 13, 1937 which began his 27-year lighthouse service career.
GUARD ISLAND LIGHT STATION, KETCHIKAN, ALASKA 1937-1944
Life at Guard Island is filtered through the stories told by both Art and Olive and the photos of their time there. It seemed they thoroughly enjoyed living there. And why not? They were young, healthy, and had an exquisitely beautiful part of the country to explore. Yes, Guard Island was the size of a peanut, but they were both busy with their jobs: Art as assistant lighthouse keeper and Olive as a brand-new housewife who was devoted both to Art and making a home for him.
They enjoyed fishing, boating, writing letters to friends and relatives, taking photos, gardening, playing cards and periodically going into Ketchikan for R & R. Family photo albums show successful fishing trips around the island. Fresh fish for dinner must have been a treat for the crew who had to rely mostly on canned and frozen food.
One probable reason Art was able to handle the isolation of Guard Island was that it was still during the Depression (he was happy to have a job) and however cold it got there, it never hit the wind chill factor he endured in Montana punching dogies! And, of course, for four of the seven years he was stationed there, he had the woman he loved with him. As he wrote on the back of a photo of Olive he sent to his father, “Olive Hauge Shaffer. Excellent cook. Wonderful wife.”
One story Art told about their time at Guard Island was about Olive and her cat, Nuisance. He was doing some of the never-ending maintenance required at the lighthouse by painting the living room floor in their quarters. He told Olive to keep the cat out as he didn’t want her walking over the fresh paint. Olive’s reply was, “Oh, Nuisie wouldn’t do that.” Nuisance, of course, did just that, having gotten away from Olive without her noticing. Art came home that evening to find cat tracks on his fresh paint! He was irritated at the time, but it made a funny story in the retelling.
Arthur C. Shaffer came to Guard Island as a U.S. Lighthouse Service employee, but with the advent of WWII and the consolidation of the U.S. Lighthouse Service with the Coast Guard, civilian keepers were given a choice to stay civilian or enlist. Art choose to accept a commission as a coxswain with the Coast Guard on August 15, 1941, and continued to serve on Guard Island.
When war was declared just after Pearl Harbor, orders came down that the dependents had to leave Guard Island, so Olive left for Vancouver early in 1942, a few months pregnant with their first daughter, Kathryn. Art stayed on almost to the end of WWII when he was reassigned to New Dungeness Lighthouse in Washington in November of 1944 after serving seven years of isolated duty.
Although Guard Island was barely big enough to hold the lighthouse buildings and two residences for the crew, the Shaffers were happy there. They didn’t complain about isolation or loneliness; they seemed to have made the best of the opportunity offered to them.
NEW DUNGENESS LIGHT STATION
SEQUIM, WASHINGTON 1944-1946
Art had about a month’s leave from the time he left Guard Island until he had to report to New Dungeness in December. He used that time to visit his wife and two-year-old daughter, Kathryn, in Vancouver, WA. In fact, it was the first time he would see his firstborn.
While New Dungeness was also classified as isolated duty, it was much less so than Guard Island, even though dependents were not able to live there during the war. Olive stayed in Vancouver until a few months after their second daughter, Donna, was born in 1945. Then she and the children moved to Sequim where Art could come to see them during his leave time. His schedule was something like two weeks on and one week off, so at least they had several days together every month.
It wasn’t very long until Art received orders to report to Ediz Hook Lighthouse in April of 1946. He was promoted to Boatswain’s Mate Second Class by then, though he would still be in an assistant role at the new station.
EDIZ HOOK LIGHT STATION,
PORT ANGELES, WASHINGTON 1946-1948
Arthur C. Shaffer didn’t have to travel far for this transfer as Port Angeles is only 20 miles from Sequim. This was the first time the family was able to live together at a lighthouse since the children had been born.
Art reported to head keeper Criss C. Waters, a Lighthouse Service employee, who had been at Ediz Hook for the past 13 years. Criss, the crusty old Lighthouse Service veteran and Art became life-long friends. He wrote a glowing recommendation for Art when he left there two years later.
Criss was fond of Kathryn and Donna, having raised kids of his own who by then were grown. Art would take Donna over to visit Criss at the office on occasion. She would sit on Criss’ desk while he would hand her correspondence from USCG Headquarters and say, “Here, Donna, file this.” She would have great fun tearing up the papers. It appeared Criss, as a Lighthouse Service employee who was close to retirement, was somewhat disdainful of the USCG’s rules and regulations and thumbed his nose at them occasionally.
While Art was stationed at Ediz Hook, his younger brother, Roland, drowned March 12, 1947 at the age of 37 in the San Francisco Bay area under mysterious, if not suspicious, circumstances. Art loved his brother. They had grown up together under hardscrabble conditions in Montana.
Art wanted to go to the Bay area at the time to see if he could find answers to some of those questions and glean why his beloved brother wound up drowned in San Francisco Bay, but because he was dedicated to his duty and his family, he didn’t go. As a man who honored his commitments and felt them deeply, this was just one of many times in his adult life that he put other considerations ahead of his own desires.
In the spring of 1948, Art C. Shaffer received a promotion to Boatswain’s Mate First Class and orders to transfer to Cape Flattery as Officer-in-Charge. Yet again, the little family would be separated as Cape Flattery was not only designated as isolated duty, but dependents were still not allowed at this family station even three years after WWII ended. Art reported for duty in May of 1948, while Olive and the children headed back to Vancouver, Washington once more.
CAPE FLATTERY LIGHT STATION, TATOOSH ISLAND, NEAH BAY, WASHINGTON 1948-1950
When finally, in 1949, the USCG allowed dependents back on Tatoosh Island, Olive and the children were eager to go. One of the most salient memories was the trip out from Neah Bay in a Coast Guard lifeboat. The family was hoisted up to land in what was called “the basket,” a square frame, open-air box. That basket was the only connection to the outside world, bringing groceries, mail, supplies, and occasional visitors. It was a little bit like a carnival ride... exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Art manned the controls when the family was hoisted onto Tatoosh. Neither he nor Olive would allow anyone else to handle that responsibility.
One of the most “exciting” events on Tatoosh was the time everyone on the island gathered to watch the Weather Station release some weather balloons. Lost in time is why this particular release was so special that everyone gathered for it. However, for a four-year-old and a seven-year-old, just watching those big balloons go up was a treat.
Because there was no school on the island, Art and Olive gathered the necessary elementary school textbooks with the help of a bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and taught the children at home. When asked later in life if it was difficult to get the daughters to study in a class of one, Olive noted, “There weren’t a lot of distractions.”
Christmas 1949 was a standout as the children were told Santa would be making a visit. Christmas Eve, Kathryn and Donna were perched on the top step of the stairs leading down to the living room when the man himself arrived with the baby dolls they had asked for, but they were aghast that Santa loped in carrying a doll in each hand by the neck! They later complained to their parents that he should not have done that.
Another memory from that winter were the Arctic blasts that hit Northwest Washington in January of 1950 which enabled the children to play in the snow for the first time while on the island. Having received orders to transfer to Cape Blanco Light Station in Oregon as Officer-in-Charge, Arthur C. Shaffer moved his family from Tatoosh to Port Orford in July of 1950.
CAPE BLANCO LIGHT STATION, PORT ORFORD, OR 1950-1952
Cape Blanco was where the children learned what the word “hurricane” meant. Wind was, and is, a constant there and winter winds of between 70 and 100 miles an hour were not uncommon. It was when those fierce winds were blowing that Art Shaffer had to crawl on his hands and knees to and from the house and the tower. Kathryn and Donna thought that was what all dads had to do to get to work sometimes.
One year, the wind blew out the bathroom window of the duplex. Another time, Olive invited some women from the Lutheran church out to the house for a gathering. One parishioner got out of her car, struggling to get her door open due to the wind. Her Sunday hat, picked up by the wind, took off flying north. Fortunately, Art spotted what was happening and ran after it where it was caught in the bushes and returned it to the wind-blown visitor. She accepted the hat, immediately got back in her car and headed back to town. The “church lady” was never seen again.
As Cape Blanco was out on a point over an up-hill narrow road with drop-offs on both sides, the school district didn’t want to risk other kids to the potential danger of a school bus traveling that road in high winds, so Kathryn and Donna were the first to get on and the last to get off, even though they were the closest to town. At their young age, the girls were totally oblivious to the reason why and any possibility of danger involved.
Another weather phenomenon that was ever-present at Cape Blanco was the fog, as in, fogged-in 90% of the time. Olive was aghast that her little girls were so pale that it didn’t look like they had ever seen the light of day. Every summer she would take the children back to Vancouver to see relatives and stay for a few weeks. She delighted in seeing the girls turn “brown as berries,” in her words.
One story that doesn’t involve the wind centers on Art’s love of boxing. There was a leather boxing speed-bag installed in the basement of the duplex and Art enjoyed working out with it. Ceramic figurines were popular in those days and Olive had the ceramic figures of George and Martha Washington on display on the table in the living room.
One day George and Martha were found broken on the living room floor. Somehow it was determined that it was Art’s boxing that lead to George and Martha’s demise, but shortly thereafter the boxing bag was taken out of the house and Art had to find other ways to stay in shape. The Washingtons were repaired and were a fixture in the Shaffer living rooms for a few decades longer.
Art received a transfer to North Head Light Station in the fall of 1952. Olive was not a complainer, but she was probably very happy to leave Cape Blanco due to the wind and fog and the inability to grow the flowers she loved due to the hostile environment.
NORTH HEAD LIGHT STATION, ILWACO, WASHINGTON
The family lived in a two-story home up the hill from the lighthouse. Arthur C. Shaffer was the Officer-in-Charge with two men under him. The other men and their families shared a two-story duplex in the same compound as the Shaffer home, the office, and shop.
While Art was stationed at North Head, he was involved in removing the 4th order Fresnel lens that was installed in 1935 and replacing it with an aerobeacon. In 1953, he received the Coast Guard good conduct medal for “meritorious enlisted service . . . with congratulations on this well-deserved recognition of your exemplary conduct and efficient service.”
Art showed Donna how to lower the flag at sunset, never letting it touch the ground, and folding it into a triangle. Kathryn was a member of the local Girl Scout troop and earned several badges. When she wanted to work on the weather badge, Art was a great resource. He helped her learn what the various semaphore flags he flew signified as well as what the names of different cloud formations were and what they could tell about incoming weather.
Art used to wax the kitchen floor late at night (these were the days that kitchen floors required real wax on them) with a buffing machine that was used to keep all the floors at the station shining. It was pure bliss to fall asleep to the hum of the buffer and a storm waging outside. Art always did the waxing as the buffer was a huge, heavy piece of equipment that neither he nor Olive wanted her to have to deal with.
With North Head being so much closer to Vancouver, there was a lot of company during those years. Razor clams were plentiful on the Long Beach Peninsula in the 50s. When the tide was low the family would very often head to the beach, with or without visiting friends or relatives. Sometimes no one else wanted to get up early in the morning so just Art and Kathryn would venture out. If they had company, Olive and the other women would prepare clam fritters, clam chowder, and all the fixings.
Olive not only kept the keeper’s quarters Western-Area-Inspection ready, she planted dahlias, became a Girl Scout leader, sewed dresses for her girls, washed laundry in a wringer washer, hung them to dry on a clothes line, ironed the sheets on a mangle iron, and continued honing her considerable skills as a baker and North Dakota farm-style cook.
During the summer of 1956 she and her friend and fellow Girl Scout leader, Dorothy, went into the “fish business.” This included driving a cool, black van-like vehicle to pick up fish at the dock from Dorothy’s husband, who was a fisherman, and then driving them somewhere else. This was Olive’s first job since marrying Art in 1937.
Kathryn and Donna enjoyed beachcombing at North Head, looking for interesting pieces of driftwood and occasionally finding the elusive glass float that had escaped from a Japanese fisherman’s net. They found many over the years of living on the Pacific Coast and Art was happy to share them as unique souvenirs with interested family and friends.
In February of 1957, Art received a transfer to Cape Arago Light Station. A winter storm hit as he was travelling south to Coos Bay and it was raining so hard that the only way he could navigate was by watching the white line on the right-hand side of the road. The family stayed at North Head doing some preliminary packing and Art came back to drive them down himself.
CAPE ARAGO LIGHT STATION, COOS BAY, OREGON 1957-1964
The clearest memory of Art as Officer-in-Charge of Cape Arago is how dedicated he was, as always, in keeping the light on to make sure the ships at sea had it as a navigational tool. He felt this responsibility deeply.
He, of course, worked the day shift with the crew doing maintenance both on the grounds and inside the buildings and performing the required drills, such as fire and foghorn drills, and making sure all equipment was in good working order.
Later in the day, even when it wasn’t his turn on the swing shift, he was over at the office on the island after dinner, working on and organizing correspondence, paperwork, keeping things “shipshape” in general and, of course, he took his turn on the graveyard shift. He was by nature an organized man who took pride in doing a job well done.
His hard work paid off when it came time for the station to be inspected by the Coast Guard brass as it was on a regular basis. He always received high marks and was given the Coast Guard good conduct medal twice more, once in 1959 and once in 1962.
Arthur C. Shaffer retired August 1, 1964 at age 55. When he and Olive drove away from Cape Arago Lighthouse after 27 years in the Coast Guard together and having raised two lovely girls to adulthood, they had each other, a brand new 1964 red Pontiac station wagon, and a Coast Guard pension. His Coast Guard career had provided stability for his family, but the wages per hour were pretty low, especially considering the 16-hour days he had put in.
They moved inland to Roseburg, Oregon, and Art took on work at the Sutherlin plywood mill as a lumber grader on the graveyard shift. He worked there for 13 years, marveling in how much money he was making. These were the boom years in the forest product industry in Oregon and Art worked any and all overtime that he was offered.
Olive also worked hard in Roseburg as a clerk in a pharmacy. They bought a house, put down roots, and saved their money, affording them a financially worry-free retirement. Art Shaffer died on July 30, 1984 almost 20 years to the day of his retirement.
Arthur C. Shaffer was a gentleman in all aspects of his life. He was naturally hard-working, responsible, and fair-minded. Those attributes served him well in his career with the Coast Guard. He never asked any of the men under his command to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself, including the graveyard shift. He led by example. Daily coffee breaks with each man taking a turn at hosting is an example of how he fostered camaraderie among the crew and their families.
To his children, he had “killer” sense of humor. When he was feeling light-hearted, they found him wonderfully funny. Because he was a quiet man by nature, when he did come out with a well-turned one-liner it caught one’s attention. He did have a great way of summing up a situation succinctly.
He kept his own council, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t acutely aware of what was going on. Like most wise human beings, he was an observer and had opinions on most things, but was not predisposed to share them unless asked. Whenever he did have something to say, it was worth listening to.
When his obituary was printed in one of the Coast Guard magazines, Olive received a sympathy note from one of the enlisted men, Garth Brandt, who served under Art at Cape Arago, expressing condolences and saying how much he thought of him. He wrote, “Art never knew it, but I sampled my actions as an Officer-in-Charge after him. He was a great influence on me.” There could be no better eulogy than that.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2019 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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