The oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the North Shore went dark Monday, Nov. 25. A group of four volunteers with the Lake County Historical Society known as the "Light Keepers" were called upon to diagnose the problem and find a solution.
According to volunteer Tom Koehler, the lighthouse's beacon is an assembly of two lamps and a motorized gear train that create the Two Harbors Light Signal signature of "one white flash, five seconds of darkness, one white flash, 15 seconds of darkness and then repeat. Flash, five seconds, flash, 15 seconds, and so on."
The equipment is made up of parts originally designed for air field service in an earlier era and then modified for lighthouse service. This specific beacon has been in continuous service here for the past 49 years, stopping for only 15 minutes each month for maintenance. It is worn out.
The volunteers have been keeping it running since the Coast Guard decommissioned the Two Harbors Light Signal nearly two decades ago. They have been able to change out defective parts by using parts cannibalized from other beacons of the same manufacturer.
A local machine shop has contributed specialized services to rebuild a unique drive shaft, which may need rebuilding again. The volunteers have replaced consumable seals periodically and are faced with this task once again to get the light in operation sometime after the Thanksgiving holiday. The motor has been extremely noisy and may require replacement as well.
An ideal solution would be a replica light made by a Florida-based company specializing in Fresnel lenses for lighthouses. These lenses are made of optic-quality acrylic plastic, illuminated by an LED illuminator and rotated by a digitally controlled motor.
Instead of drawing nearly 2,000 watts of power and needing a mechanical drive with all of its interconnected components and maintenance needs, the replica would draw a couple hundred watts at most and almost no mechanical maintenance requirements.
The stumbling block is coming up with the estimated $60,000 for the replica light. In the meantime, it is time to patch and repair an aging machine.
The original glass Fresnel lens was removed from service by the Coast Guard and the current beacon was put in service in 1969. The Fresnel lens ended up in a museum in Ohio until local efforts got that lens returned to Two Harbors a few years ago.
The original lens, still the property of the Coast Guard, is on display in the residential structure of the lighthouse, visible to those who stay at the bed and breakfast.