Sisters Island Fog Horn & Light c. 1927

Sisters Island Fog Horn & Light c. 1927

– Elizabeth Kate (Stannard) Smithman (Wife of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929). Story donated by her grandson Allen Smithman. 

Sisters Island c. 1927 - photo Allen Smithman

The fog alarm has to be kept going when it is foggy or snowing a blizzard. This alarm is also used when it is smoky in summer from forest fires. 

In the fog alarm building there are two big Fairbanks-Morse gas engines. It only takes one to run the fog alarm but when one breaks down the light keeper has to get the other one going. He then must fix the one that broke down in case the other fails, for the fog alarm must be kept going when it is foggy. 

The engine compresses air and when it gets to a certain degree it sends out a heavy blast at certain intervals. The Ballenas had 3 blasts in succession and The Sisters had 2 blasts in succession. These blasts are a guide to mariners as well as a guard (or warning) for they know where they are by the number of blasts. 

The same applies to the light. Each lighthouse has a different number of flashes it sends out. a person might think on looking at the flashes of the lighthouse that the light or lamp itself is going around but it is not. The light (or lamp) stands still but there is a revolving reflector that goes around the lamp and it has a very strong magnifying glass. The Sisters had two and The Ballenas had three. When this goes past the light itself, well, it sends out the flashes. The fuel used for the light is petroleum vapour (or coal oil) [kerosene] and is pressure fed through a tube. Someone has to be on watch all night. a clock mechanism which has to be wound every 2 ½ hours, rotates the lens. 

We had a tube burst one night and if no one had been on watch I shudder to think what would have happened. The whole lighthouse would have burned down for this one just had three minutes start and the whole tower was ablaze. If the one on watch had not the quick sense to turn off the flow of oil, well, we would sure have had the whole thing ablaze – tower, house and everything would have gone up in smoke, (for the tower was in the house but up oodles of stairs.) Of course all light towers are not in the house only where there’s not room enough for a separate house and tower. 

– Elizabeth Kate (Stannard) Smithman (Wife of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929). Story donated by grandson Allen Smithman. 

If you wish to read more about the life of Elizabeth on the lighthouses in her own words,
please go to Life on a Lighthouse

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

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