‘Automation’ Comes to Triple Island c. 1950s

‘Automation’ Comes to Triple Island c. 1950s

– from Jeannie (Hartt) Nielsen (daughter of Ed Hartt, Senior Keeper on Triple Island 1954 – 1957) 

Triple Island at Dusk*

Ed and Eileen Hartt were lightkeepers for a number of years, on Lawyer Island, Triple Island, and Langara Island. The following is an excerpt from one of my mother’s manuscripts about life on Triple Island in the 1950s. 

It shows how lightkeeper’s wives often had to pitch in and help out – and how lightkeepers had to come up with some innovative solutions at times! 

My father was an extremely resourceful man, and devised one of the first power devices used on the light stations for rotating the light within the tower. His ingenuity came in useful in many ways on other occasions as well. What follows is just one example . . . 


– from Eileen Hartt (Wife of Ed Hartt, Senior Keeper on Triple 1954 – 1957) 

The combination washing machine/spin dryer we had purchased, turned out to be a real comedian in disguise. Its well worn casters (in fact, they were flat on one side) didn’t prevent it from charging all over the kitchen, like a dog on a leash. Its long cord plugged into the light socket hanging on the usual wire strung from the ceiling. It lurched and charged around the room with me in pursuit, trying to load it. Ed and the children thought it as hilarious when I missed the tub and my load of clothes scattered across the floor. 

One night as we sat at the table, Don (our assistant keeper) told us that the clock drive for the tower wasn’t working properly. It had stopped half a dozen times the night before and had to be constantly watched. Ed and Don went to inspect it and I followed along. It didn’t take long to find the problem. The pulleys through which the cable passed were so worn from the long years of use that they were binding. The gears also were well worn. Ed and Don put their heads together and came up with an alarm that would ring if the light stopped turning . 

It wasn’t very long after we put the light on that night when we found out how well the alarm worked. The sudden loud jangle of the bell brought us all to our feet and the three of us ran for the tower. Reaching the lamp room panting, Ed paused long enough to push the turn table and count to make the light revolve as it must. The men disappeared through the open trap door, and I was left to count and push, count and push. At first it was easy, but then my arm lost feeling, so I changed arms; then back again. It became agony, but I didn’t dare stop. I wondered if they would ever come back! 

At last I heard feet on the cement steps. Ed told me to leave the light and get on the radio. I was to inform Digby and the Department of Transport that the light was inoperable. My arms and back ached as the blood returned, and I hurried down to the radio room. 

“Prince Rupert Radio, Prince Rupert Radio, Prince Rupert Radio: Triple Island calling!” 

“Triple Island, Prince Rupert back. We have a message for you. Copy? Your light is burning steady. Do you copy?” 

I glanced out the window and saw the lights of the ship that had just reported our light, passing in the night. 

“Prince Rupert Radio, have copied. I want to send one to the main office and your station; light inoperable, worn gears. Signed Ed Hartt, Triple Island. Do you copy?” 

I looked out at the passing ship lights and made a face at them then went back to the tower room to tell the men we had been reported. 

“Wouldn’t you know it?” Ed complained. “You don’t see a ship or boat all day, and the second things go wrong there’s one right there!” 

“That’s the way things go,” Don agreed. 

That night turned into a nightmare for the two men as they tried to keep the light turning. The weight would only drop about ten feet then stop and have to be wound up again. 

As I walked bleary eyed through the kitchen the next morning I found my rambling washing machine was not in its usual place. It had given its life to become part of the electric drive Ed had devised to keep the light revolving. I found its remains in the engine room, but it was in a good cause, as our light never burned steady again. 

* photo – Triple Island at Dusk – Mike Mitchell

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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