Chief Machinery Technician (MKC, USCG, Ret.) Richard Staats, then a Petty Officer 1st Class Machinery Technician (MK-1), spent two weeks with his reservist and active duty shipmates on Patos Island in the summer of 1985 working on the lighthouse and surrounding structures. That July, the Coast Guard had requested volunteers from the reserve with certain skills – electrical, carpentry, general construction – to perform two weeks’ active duty on the island. About a dozen men from Idaho, Washington and Oregon answered the call.
Two of the reservists from Oregon were Staats and LT Greg Evans. Another volunteer was Petty Officer 1st Class Port Security Specialist (PS-1) David Malland (later, Master Chief Petty Officer, PSCM, USCG, Ret.) from Seattle. Staats and Malland remain buddies, and it is on their recollections that this history is based.
The lighthouse was automated in 1974 when Coast Guard keepers were no longer needed and the island was therefore essentially abandoned. The mission of the Coasties was to raze all structures they could – except the lighthouse (and to patch it up as well as possible) – in the short time ashore. Below are several photos of the structures when the work began in 1985: (2)
The reservists boarded Coast Guard buoy tender FIR (WLM-212), stationed in Seattle – she served Patos and other lighthouses up and down the Washington and Oregon coasts. The reservists and their equipment were taken to the island from FIR in a small boat, while the ship remained anchored in the bay. In addition to the reserve Coasties, others in the work party were active duty crew members stationed aboard FIR.
Upon arriving on Patos, the reserve crew pitched tents to live in; active duty troops and officers bunked on FIR. The housing for lighthouse keepers was too far gone to accommodate any arrivals.
Staats was assigned to disconnect the generators, repair the inside wiring of the lighthouse, and fix its porch light. Another of his jobs was to re-roof the lighthouse. He noticed that the Fourth Order Fresnel lens was in perfect condition, while the ¾” thick glass surrounding it on the tower suffered from bullet holes.
Other Coasties, both reserve and active duty, set to work tearing down the surrounding structures. They quickly discovered that there was no way to demolish completely the sturdy foundation of the keepers’ house with the equipment they had with them, so the active duty Coasties procured a small bulldozer flown in by a National Guard Chinook helicopter. Evidently even the ’dozer couldn’t quite accomplish all the demolition that was needed. The chopper, however, succeeded in blowing down the tents on one of its maneuvers.
An amusing story about a building fixture. One toilet was a fancy, low, one-piece. A Coastie wanted it, so it was detached and hauled toward the beach to await removal. It was quite heavy and took several men to carry it down the difficult terrain. Nearly at the beach, and on a cliff, the bloody thing took on a life of its own and pitched forward, breaking into several pieces, and then gave itself a burial at sea. About 10 years later, a scuba-diving pal of Staats was exploring underwater at Patos. He was astounded to discover pieces of a toilet in the bay, and sent a photo of it to Staats – who then told him the story of its demise. Perhaps the toilet is still there, unmoved since 1985.
The Patos Fresnel lens has a tale of its own. The late Jim Gibbs is a former Coastie and prolific author who has written extensively about maritime history in the Pacific Northwest (Amazon.com: Jim Gibbs: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle). Indeed, in 1976 he built his home on the Oregon coast onto which he constructed a lighthouse. Several articles claim that the Patos lens is either on display or is installed in the private lighthouse (for example, Cleft of the Rock (Cape Perpetua) Lighthouse, Oregon at Lighthousefriends.com). But Gibbs’ own description of his “Cleft in the Rock” does not specifically bear this out (Gibbs, J., OREGON’S SEACOAST LIGHTHOUSES, at 111-124 (Medford, OR: Webb Research Group, 1992).
Staats’ parents, and his aunt and uncle, had built their own homes in the late 1960s on the coast. Coincidentally, Gibbs built his home next to theirs. Staats visited many times with Gibbs who gave him tours of the lighthouse and museum-quality artifacts. Staats does not recall Gibbs mentioning the Patos lens.
(1) © 2022 C. Clark Leone and Richard G. Staats
(2) All photos courtesy of MKC Staats