Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2013

Wickie’s Wisdom

This Is Progress?

By Timothy Harrison


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The red lens of the DCB-224 optic in Gay Head ...

As we get older, time seems to be our biggest enemy and this is true with every human being. Some just don’t realize it until it is too late. And, as time moves forward, so does technology, which in many circumstances has improved our way of life. But time and technology has not been good to lighthouses.

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A DCB-224 beacon was installed in Gay Head ...

We all know that modern technology, which made a better lighthouse lens, helped save more lives. We went from lamps with reflectors to Fresnel lenses to DCB lights and Vega optics powered by solar and now to something called an LED light. It’s obvious from their lack of appeal, that beauty was never a priority in the development of the LED light.

Modern technology is what caused lighthouses to be automated, and many, if not most, lighthouse stations were abandoned and left to ruin; and many were lost forever and others may soon be lost. In recent years, nonprofits and local communities have stepped forward to save many of these historic structures, many which are on the National Register of Historic Places. In most circumstances, if caretakers had been originally assigned to the lighthouses, not only would more lighthouses have been saved, but millions of dollars would have also been saved in restoration costs. This can easily be substantiated by looking at the lighthouse stations that did have caretakers after automation.

Now the Coast Guard wants to take out the last of the Fresnel lenses, the rotating Vega optics, and DCB lights and replace them with LED lights, which they say are cheaper to operate. In fact, they have already done it at many lighthouses. Another case of this is from the Coast Guard’s recent announcement that they are going to remove the rotating DCB-224 optic from the endangered Gay Head Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. One of the reasons stated is that it is becoming harder to find replacement parts for the DCB lens. Hmmm, I guess modern technology can’t make replacement parts for the DCB, when in fact, thanks to modern technology, replacement parts are made or can be made for just about every old thing imaginable.

Although the DCB-224 lens at Gay Head Lighthouse looks small in the lantern room in comparison to the Fresnel lens that once stood there, at least its rotating beacon gives somewhat of an appearance of what a lighthouse should do for the appeal to the general public. And guess what–it still works.

This is similar to the excuse the government used and continues to use when removing the last of the Fresnel lenses from lighthouses. They also state that the Fresnel lens, as well as being too expensive to maintain, is too valuable to leave in a lighthouse. That’s like telling the owners of antique cars that the engines or the headlights should be removed from their cars because they are too valuable or expensive to maintain while attached to the vehicle.

Additionally, a number of lighthouse groups have spent tens of thousands of dollars to have a private firm manufacture Fresnel lens replicas for their lighthouses. And, guess what again–they work just fine, while doing the same job as the original Fresnel lens did. And, oh yes, they still need to be cared for and maintained.

Yet, for the most part, the modern Coast Guard has said that lighthouses are no longer needed. If that is really true, then why even bother to install an ugly LED beacon? Why does the government continue to be a leader in destroying history or trying to alter it, and then talk about saving it? Also, the Coast Guard has made no mention, as of yet, what they intend to do with the DCB-224 optic that they will remove from Gay Head Lighthouse. Will they trash it or offer it to the community with a gigantic page after page document of rules on how it will need to be maintained and displayed for the public?

In my humble opinion, I say let’s campaign to keep the DCB-224 lens in the Gay Head Lighthouse, and keep all the remaining lenses, of whatever style or make they are, in the lantern rooms of all the lighthouse towers that are publically viewed or publically accessed. Let’s stop destroying our history and start saving and maintaining what we have. Enough is enough. That’s my opinion and I welcome yours.

Timothy Harrison

Editor and Publisher

Lighthouse Digest

P.O. Box 250

East Machias, ME 04630


This story appeared in the May/Jun 2013 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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