Cheboygan Crib Light Seeing The Light

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Historical Information

The plan for the Cheboygan Crib Light as drawn-up by the District Engineer called for a round crib with an octagonal cast iron pierhead beacon centered upon it. While a contract for the fabrication and erection of the cast iron tower was awarded late in 1883, work on the crib itself did not begin until the opening of the 1884 season of navigation.

Click to view enlarged imageWork began with the construction of a wooden crib onshore in Cheboygan, which was then lowered into the water and towed out to the specified location at the entrance to the dredged river channel. Sunk in place with the addition of crushed rock, an upper level consisting of oak timber framework was then constructed atop the crib, with a basement oil storage room beneath the location in which the tower was to be installed. The deck of this superstructure was then leveled at a height of eleven feet above the water, planked with timber and fitted with a circular oak ring centered over the oil storage room to serve as an anchoring foundation for the cast iron tower itself.

Click to view enlarged imageOn October 15, 1884, the cast iron tower was then assembled atop the oak ring and securely bolted in place. After a set of cast iron spiral stairs were installed to provide access to the lantern, the interior walls of the structure were lined with 2 inch wide beaded pine paneling to help provide insulation, and to prevent condensation. Glass prism grates were installed in the lantern floor to allow light to pass into the structure's interior, and a pot-bellied stove was installed in the lower level, and a hole drilled in the gallery floor for its galvanized iron stovepipe. Atop the gallery, a prefabricated octagonal cast iron lantern was installed with a copper roof surmounted with an 18-inch copper ventilator ball. Atop this ventilator a lightning rod was installed and grounded to the water by way of a cable attached to the exterior of the structure.

The district Lampist arrived at the site to install the flashing red Fourth Order Fresnel lens with a 159 candlepower kerosene-powered lamp. The occulting mechanism was carefully adjusted to ensure that the station's designated repeated 2 second cycle was attained, consisting of a single second flash followed by a 2 second eclipse. By virtue of the tower's location atop the eleven foot high crib, the lens sat at a focal plane of 36 feet, with a resulting range of visibility of ten miles under clear conditions.

Click to view enlarged imageWith construction complete, the entire structure was given a fresh coat of brown paint, and the Light was officially exhibited for the first time on the evening of November 1, 1884.

There station was built without a dwelling in the crib, and since there was insufficient room within the tower for living space, it would appear that it was District Inspector Commander Francis A. Cook's plan to have the keeper live on shore. Since the Lighthouse Board annual reports of the time make specific mention of the fact that an Assistant Keeper was assigned to this station, it would appear likely that he operated under the supervision of the Keeper of the Cheboygan Range Lights, and thus likely lived in the Font Range dwelling with the Head Keeper.

One can only imagine the drudgery involved for the keepers who manned this station. Every afternoon he would have to leave the safety of the dwelling in Cheboygan and row the mile out to the light in whatever weather the lake was dishing-up that day. On arrival at the crib, he would carefully secure his boat at the foot of the crib, and then gingerly step from the heaving boat onto the eleven foot ladder, climbing up to the deck while simultaneously carrying any supplies needed for the night. The lamp would illuminated at dusk, and the keeper would then sit in the solitude of the tower, huddled close to the stove to keep warm on cold nights during the late season, making frequent climbs to the lantern to adjust the light by trimming the wick, winding the occulting mechanism and adding fuel to the lamp. As dawn finally raised its head across the Straits of Mackinac, the lamp would be extinguished, and the illuminating apparatus, lens and lantern would be cleaned in preparation for illumination later that day. The keeper would then row the mile back to shore to get some sleep, knowing that he would have to back out on the crib to repeat the cycle a few short hours later.

Click to view enlarged imageTo provide an extra measure of safety for the keeper, and to facilitate the transfer of supplies, a work crew from the Detroit depot arrive at the station in 1892 and installed a pair of iron boat davits on the crib. The keeper no doubt considered this addition to be a real improvement for, since it would allow him to raise the boat to the crib deck, where it would be safe from being broken against the crib by the crashing waves, and allow for far safer unloading of supplies.

In 1897, it would appear that the difficult conditions on the Crib came to the attention of the District Inspector, since it was in this year that a small dwelling and a pile protection for the boat were constructed on the crib. At the same time three and a half cords of riprap were placed around the base of the crib to protect against the action of the seas. The following year the District Lampist delivered a new and improved Fourth Order lamp to the station, increasing the distance of visibility to twelve miles.

It is a particular property of wood that if it is either kept dry or wet at all times, it holds up for extremely long periods of time. However, wood that is subjected to alternating periods of wet and dry will begin to rot. With the crib and decking being constructed entirely of wood, it is not surprising that by 1899 the entire deck needed replacement, and an additional 28 cords of riprap were installed at the crib's base in an attempt to stave off the complete re-facing that was becoming clearly inevitable.

To increase the effectiveness of the structure as a day mark, the main body of the tower received a coat of white paint in 1901, with the lantern room roof being painted a contrasting bright red.

Click to view enlarged imageBy 1903, the deteriorating condition of the crib had reached a point at which it was critical that major repairs be undertaken to preclude its total collapse along with the tower above. A contract was awarded for the replacement of the wooden structure with something of a more substantial and permanent nature. The contractor arrived in Cheboygan and began the rebuilding by removing the entire wooden superstructure to a level twelve inches below the water level, a point at which constant immersion had precluded rotting of the timbers. On this solid foundation, a new concrete pier, faced with masonry was constructed, incorporating a new oil storage room below the tower and a cellar beneath the dwelling formed within the mass of concrete. To enhance safety, an iron hand railing was installed around the perimeter of the deck level. This railing was subsequently replaced three years later when an unnamed schooner collided with the tower.

To help preclude a reoccurrence of the 1906 collision, an automated fog bell was established on the crib in 1911, sounding a characteristic a single stroke every tens seconds.

Click to view enlarged imageAutomation came to the crib in the late 1920's when the kerosene lamp within the Fourth Order Fresnel was replaced with an acetylene system equipped with a Sun Valve. The Sun Valve was designed to automatically turned the gas on as the cold of night arrived and off with the arrival of the warmth of day. Equipped with a tank into which acetylene could be pumped from the lighthouse tender Amaranth the light could be supplied with sufficient acetylene to stay lighted for the entire season. Thus any emergency troubleshooting by the Keepers of the Range lights, and a full-time keeper was no longer needed on the Crib. Thus it was that the last keeper assigned to the Cheboygan Crib Light left the structure on August 6, 1929.

It was likely during this time that the Crib Light became fondly known to locals as "The Dummy." A name that was commonly used when referring to the Light into the early 1980's, by which time crib had taken on a noticeable "leaning tower of Pisa" list, and was believed to be in danger of collapsing into the water. By this time, the use of Radio beacons, RADAR and LORAN-C had become universal in Great Lakes navigation, and the value of the Cheboygan Crib Light as an aid to navigation had decreased considerably. After evaluating the condition of the structure, the Coast Guard determined that the cost of stabilization and restoration would outweigh any navigational benefit, and made the difficult decision to scrap the iron tower and dynamite the crib into oblivion.

Hearing of "the Dummy's" impending destruction, a number of Cheboygan citizens raised their voices to see if some arrangement could be made to save the century old landmark. An agreement was reached with the Coast Guard whereby the tower would be donated to the City of Cheboygan for display as a historical attraction, and a new home for the structure was identified on the West Breakwall off Gordon Turner Park. A contract was entered into with Ryba Marine of Cheboygan to relocate the tower and remove the crib.

Click to view enlarged imageIn the 1984, a Ryba barge with a boom arrived at the crib, and by means of a bar placed through the tower's round upper widows below the gallery, the tower was lifted from the crib and lowered onto the barge. From there it was transported to the Breakwall and lowered into the position in which it sits to this day. After installation, the glass windows were replaced with Lexan for safety reasons, and the tower was given a new coat of white paint, with the windows and door frame receiving a historically inaccurate coat or bright red paint.

When Dick Moehl and Sandy Planisek of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association visited Cheboygan early in 2001, they were dismayed to find that the tower had deteriorated, with the Lexan having crazed, and the station leaking as a result of the caulking having fallen out over the years. They approaching the City with the proposal that they would offer their labor to restore the structure if the City would cover the cost of materials. Receiving approval for the project from the city, Dick and Sandy set to work on August 2, 2001. After re-caulking all joints throughout the structure and replacing the Lexan windows, they painted the tower in its historically accurate white paint, gray gallery and red roof and ventilator.

Thanks to Dick and Sandy, the structure now has a fighting chance of making into its fourth century!

Finding this Light

From downtown Cheboygan, take Water Street East to First Street. Turn left on First Street to Huron Street. Head East on Huron Street to Gordon Turner Park, and walk the beach to the lighthouse and pier.

Reference Sources

 06/14/200 email from the Cheboygan County Historical Society. Cheboygan Tribune article by Brenda Webb, 09/25/01
Great Lakes Light Lists, various, 1924 through 1958
1953 Coast Pilot, US Army Corps of Engineers
1980 photograph courtesy of Joann Gulau.
NPS Inventory of Historic Light Stations.
12/31/01 telephone conversation with Tom Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.
Annual reports of the Lighthouse Board, various, 1884 through 1911.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Tom & Phyllis Tag

Terry Pepper. This page last updated 12/02/2007 .

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