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Pipe Personalities - Arthur Strout

Arthur S. Strout

While watching an episode of the DIY Network's series Building off the Grid I learned about a somewhat lesser know pipe smoker by the name of Authur Strout who had a pretty interesting job back in his day.  This episode of Building off the Grid was of the restoration of the Halfway Rock Lighthouse in Casco Bay, Maine.  The lighthouse had been sold at auction in May of 2014 for $283,000 to Ford Reiche who took on the monumental task of restoring the lighthouse which is only accessible by boat and subject to some very turbulent seas.  Arthur S. Strout was mentioned as one of the lighthouse keepers during the years of 1929 to 1946 and was pictured smoking a pipe while playing a hand of solitaire and I'm sure that pipe helped him while away many a lonely hour on that small rocky island. Believe it or not Strout came from a family of lighthouse keepers.  The Strout family of four generations served a total of 128 years as lighthouse tenders, with over 100 years of combined service between family members.  Most of the time was served tending the Portland Head Light but Len Strout was the keeper of the Portland Breakwater Light and our featured pipe smoker Arthur Strout, was keeper of Halfway Rock Light.

(Excerpted from sources listed below)
Strout spent 17 years in all at Halfway Rock, beginning as a second assistant keeper in 1928. In 1939, when the Coast Guard took over management of lighthouses from the old civilian Lighthouse Service, Strout joined that branch of the service and thus became the first Coast Guard keeper at Halfway Rock. In In 1942 an article in Parade magazine (which is where the photo of Strout smoking his pipe was first shown) reported that Halfway Rock Light, unlike most lighthouses on the East Coast, had not been blacked out by World War II.

During that time the three keepers had eight days of shore leave each month. Keeper Strout happened to be on leave during a storm in late 1935 that severed the telephone cable linking the station to shore. Recalling that John Pendell, his assistant, often chatted via radio with Perley Swasey, a nineteen-year-old amateur operator, Strout asked Swasey to radio the lighthouse and ascertain conditions there. Swasey learned that waves had broken over the rock for eighteen hours straight and had partially destroyed the boat slip. With this information, Keeper Strout was able to procure supplies while on shore to make repairs at the lighthouse. The light was eventually turned off a bit later for the remainder of the war, and was returned to service in 1945.

Halfway Rock is a windswept, rocky ledge far out in Casco Bay, about nine miles east of Portland Head. Its name comes from its location about halfway between Cape Elizabeth and Cape Small in Phippsburg. There are several treacherous ledges in the vicinity that have claimed many vessels, including the brig Samuel in the spring of 1835. The construction of the tower was very similar to Massachusetts' Minot's Ledge Light, with massive granite blocks dovetailed together. The lighthouse originally held a third-order Fresnel lens, exhibiting a white light punctuated by a red flash every minute.
The first room entered was the kitchen of the establishment. There, every thing looked in the best possible order, with its neat pantry, finely polished cooking stove, and shining utensils. The next flight of stairs brought them to another room, the bedroom of the principal keeper; and above this was a second room, with two beds for assistant keepers. A fourth flight of stairs brought them out into the watch-room, where the keeper on duty remains all night, to see that the light does not go out, and to keep guard generally. In this room there was a stove, a chair, a table, and a small lamp. It contained also the driving clock, commonly called the 'flash clock,' whose mechanism operated the flash light. for such is the 'characteristic,' as it is called, of the light at Half-way Rock.
In 1888, a new boathouse was built with an upper story containing keeper's quarters. This improved the living conditions, but the tower was always the safest place in a storm.
The days were split into 12-hour shifts for the two men on the station, so the crew members didn't see that much of each other. There were three clockwork mechanisms that had to be wound once a day. The fog signal also had to be operated as needed.
Reaching the mainland for supplies required an 11-mile row to Portland, often made difficult or impossible by rough seas or ice. In February 1934, the keepers reported that ice an inch thick extended all the way past Halfway Rock. Eventually, under the Coast Guard, a buoy tender out of South Portland delivered supplies each week.
In 1975, the keepers were removed for good and the light was automated with a modern DCB 224 optic. The original Fresnel lens went to the museum at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Today the lighthouse tower stands alone on Halfway Rock, still an active aid to navigation. Storms have destroyed the other structures. Most recently, the station's marine railway was destroyed by the "Perfect" storm of October 1991.
The property was made available to a new owner under the guidelines of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, but there were no applicants. As a result, it was put up for sale via online auction in May 2014. If you'd like to see more about the restoration of this lighthouse you should be able to find in on demand or record a rerun of the show by searching your tv listings or you can purchase it from YouTube for $1.99

More on Halfway Rock Light :

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Keeping the smoking lamp lit since 1989