Finally! New Door Opens 2009
The 2009 summer season at Harbor of Refuge Light
Station will begin with a bang – the sound of the closing and
opening of the new watertight door now protecting the offshore
The door was installed on the lighthouse by the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during late May, successfully completing
the most difficult part of an 18-month joint project between the
Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation and the Corps to fund,
design, fabricate, deliver and install the massive new entry.
The entire doorway system, which weighs more than
800 pounds, consists of the door, its frame, and a surrounding patch
for badly rusted sections of the lighthouse caisson which had to be
cut away. It was
fabricated by the Marine Division of Railway Specialties Corp. of
Bristol, PA, especially for the lighthouse, but is similar to doors
the firm fabricates for use on U.S. naval vessels.
“This was a challenging project that required
ingenuity and persistence from everyone – plus some help from people
who wouldn’t ordinarily have been involved in such a project,”
according to Judith Roales, president of the Lighthouse Foundation.
“From the beginning, it had hurdles and setbacks, so we’re
are really thrilled to finally have the door up.
We’re grateful to everybody involved.”
Troubles began last year when the Foundation was
unable to find a company to take on the work.
“The job was too big and complex for area welders and metal
works,” Roales said, “but too small to interest bigger companies,
However, the Corps of Engineers came to the
rescue and through its contacts had the door made by Railway
Specialties. The company
took a real interest in the project and gave the Corps quick
turnaround on the work to meet the deadline for planned installation
last September. But that
wasn’t to be. Late
summer storms destroyed the
landing dock at the lighthouse and diverted Corps work crews to
emergency repairs elsewhere.
The door was stored in a Corps warehouse over the
winter, and preparation for the installation began again this spring.
Foundation volunteers installed a temporary landing deck three
times the normal size to make plenty of work space, but the biggest
question was how to get the massive doorway onto the light station.
Delaware Bay and River Co-op, the oil spill
cleanup consortium, offered to help, and officials from DBRC, the
Corps, and the Foundation made a trial run in the oil boom deployment
to test using its onboard
crane to lift the door from the boat to the lighthouse.
“It was a good idea,” Roales said, “but
unfortunately, the DelRiver was
too big a boat.” It
couldn’t get close enough to the lighthouse because of the
breakwater stones and it couldn’t be held steady long enough in the
complex currents to risk swinging the door over the open water with
“We’d never worked with DBRC before, and
we’re pleased they were willing to try to help,” Roales said.
“We hope there will be other opportunities for our
organizations to cooperate.”
The delivery issue was finally solved by Delaware
Bay Launch Service, the company that provides transportation to the
lighthouse for the Foundation’s regular summer tours.
Using a crane at their base in Slaughter Beach, launch crews
and Corps workers put the doorway pieces and a small Kubota front end
loader onto their largest launch and sailed both to Harbor of Refuge.
There the pieces were lifted onto the landing deck using the
front end loader and muscled the rest of the way to the base of the
lighthouse with pure man power.
“I’m sure there were some sore arms and backs
that night,” Roales said, “but the launch service always goes the
extra mile for us and this was a perfect example of the kind of
service they always give us.”
Even then, bad weather interfered again and the
door sat at the lighthouse only partially installed for more than a
week before workers were able to return.
Then there was the task of cutting and drilling
the cast iron caisson, which proved to be well over two inches thick.
Tools overheated and bits broke.
That’s how maintenance and engineering folks at the Lewes
ferry terminal became involved -- providing tool support.
Then suddenly, it was finished.
Late on the afternoon of May 18, Charles Myers, the Corps’
Harbor of Refuge project director, notified the Foundation that the
door was fully installed and fully functioning.
Keys to the new door were delivered the next morning just in
time for a special tour scheduled by the Southern Delaware Tourism
office for participants in a conference of the Mid-Atlantic Travel and
Public Relations Association.
“The old door had leaked badly and was weak
from rust and attempts to break in,” Roales recalled.
“We worried a lot about water damage and about vandals
getting inside. But now
the lighthouse is truly secure.”
The next step in the project will be to resurface
the interior of the caisson surrounding the door and the two-foot
thick passageway through the concrete block lining.
That work, using a Belzona epoxy product began during the June
13 work trip. Belzona tech rep Vince Brady was on hand to train
volunteers and oversee the initial applications.
Meanwhile, Roales said, tour participants who
have never seen the lighthouse before will hardly be aware there is a
new doorway. Although the
technology and materials of the new door are thoroughly modern, she
explained, to the untrained eye it hardly looks any different than the
old door. The historic
appearance of the lighthouse has been preserved.