The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 18, 2012

A lighthouse in the mountains

By owner Steve Keblesish
guest writer

SUMMERSVILLE — Honestly, it all started over a joke.

Back in 2009, Rick Butler, an interesting fellow from Ontario, Canada, spent the summer as one of our guests here at Summersville Lake Retreat while working as part of the crew erecting wind towers at Beech Ridge, a wind farm project in neighboring Greenbrier County.

As luck would have it, we were located near the transportation route that the tower components traveled to reach their destination. On more than one occasion, we had marveled at their size as they passed by, just one blade stretched over half the length of a football field.

Because of our unique location above the cliffs overlooking Summersville Lake, one evening we off-handedly ribbed Rick that if he would be kind enough to divert one of the tower sections in our direction, that we would keep it and disguise it as a lighthouse.

He replied with a classic deadpan expression on his face, “Funny that you say that, mate, we just lost one over the hill.”

As it turned out, torrential rains had recently undermined the crib blocks supporting one of the newly delivered tower sections, and it had indeed rolled 75 feet down an adjacent hillside, deeming it unsuitable for wind production.

Rick put us onto Geoff Kerr, the Beech Ridge construction manager. He was instrumental in facilitating our eventual purchase of it from parent company Invenergy LLC.

Even though we still had to overcome some major obstacles in transporting it back to our location, we were ecstatic. We now owned it; now we just had to get it home!

By this time, having gotten our first close-up walk-through of our actual tower component, we were taken aback at the sheer size of it. It covered a length of 100 feet and weighed almost 72,000 pounds.

We had begun to wonder just what we had gotten ourselves into, considering the fact that it took two 50-ton crane units simply to unload it off of the truck.

But again, Geoff stepped up and introduced us to Art Naatz, construction superintendent for White Construction, the main contractor at Beech Ridge. He, Doug Stoehr, Shawn Woods and the rest of the crew had already assembled more than 100 of these units on site and assured us that they were up to the task of transporting it to us.

We should have known better, but we assumed the transport route back to us would be the same that it took to reach its original destination. All of the logistics and planning (wide load permits, pilot cars, etc.) were no sooner set in motion, than we realized that maintenance and repairs were ongoing on the New River Gorge Bridge The main route back to its future home was effectively severed.

Again, Art, Doug and the rest of the crew calmly took it in stride as the initially planned route took a detour of over 100 miles, literally circumnavigating our location.

As plans were being made for moving day, we had some additional groundwork to be done at our location. Although our existing entrance could easily handle the largest of fifth wheel campers and motorcoaches that visit us , it could in no way accommodate what was heading our direction.

Back once again to the West Virginia Department of Transportation to acquire the necessary permits required to double the width of our entrance and roadway leading to the site.

To further complicate issues, after watching the tower sections being transported last summer “tail first” on the seven-axle stretch semi rigs, and having planned the landing site layout accordingly, ours arrived “head first” — the opposite of what we had planned.

This is where God’s hand truly intervened in the form of Roger Hilsher, the rig’s driver.

After taking just one look to orient him to the landing zone, Roger expertly BACKED his rig a quarter mile through our winding entrance road and perfectly into place. In one shot!

From there, it was simply a matter of coordinating the efforts of two 50-ton cranes — again, kudos to Doug and the operators at Beckley Crane.

Finally it was ours, lock, stock and barrel. Now what?

Back to Rick, the initial instigator of the whole thing on where to turn next. Rick informed us that by sheer coincidence we had a resident tower expert living in our midst. Bill Toney, owner of Engineering and Testing 2000 has devoted most of his professional life to the erection of towers of all description and was the lead engineer on the entire Beech Ridge project. The thought of recycling a wind tower, itself the very symbol of the next generation of green energy, piqued his interest, and from that moment, Bill and his engineer assistant Nycoma Scott were a continual source of technical wizardry in guiding us through the engineering portions of the project.

After several long discussions with them ranging from wind shear load to cathodic protection, it quickly became apparent that it was time to go back to school before we tried to build what would become the equivalent of a 10-story building.

It also soon became all too clear that the size and scale of our undertaking dwarfed our meager budget. If this project had any chance of getting off of the ground at all, we were going to need some help in more ways than one.



Fayette Institute of Technology



Fortunately the very idea of an actual lighthouse in our community resonated with Vickie Nutter and Barry Crist, educational administrators of two of the more progressive vocational programs in our state.

Slowly an idea began to take shape. What if we could use this opportunity to create a unique on-site learning environment that could become the incubator for several classes to experience hands-on learning on a large scale?

Several discussions led us to Roy Neal, welding instructor at the Fayette Institute of Technology, who enthusiastically jumped aboard. We put our heads together and turned a simple set of octagonal gazebo plans into a reinforced lamp room with a surrounding widows walk capable of withstanding the wind shear loads that it would incur being placed 100 feet into the air on the top of a mountain.

Roy recruited fellow instructor Gary Chapman and his drafting students to put our field sketches into a series of AutoCAD drawings. After engineer Bill reviewed them for accuracy, they were approved and sent back to Roy for his students to begin production.



Nicholas County Career & Technical Center



At the same time, we approached instructor Joe Hypes, who taught welding courses at the Nicholas County Career & Technical Center, and discussed the feasibility of his students fabricating a 10-story, solid steel spiral staircase. Joe tapped into the resources of fellow instructor Dan Cutlip’s pre-engineering class on the design and layout of what would literally become the backbone of the entire project.

Dan’s students were more than up to the challenge. Student Torli Bush became consumed with dissecting a receding radius spanning 100 feet into a workable staircase complete with four landings, earning him an eventual scholarship nomination.

Cutlip summed it up best when he stated that this is an incredible venue to develop and showcase the students’ skills, while at the same time building our next generation’s pride in their hometown community literally from the ground up.

Now armed with the proper individual dimensions for each step, Joe’s welding students designed an ingeniously simple interlocking stairstep template that even Bill was impressed with. Then they went to work producing over half of them by graduation.

By the time school let out for the summer break, we had the completed lamp room frame on-site and had hired on the junior and senior class standouts, Bill Bush and Gary Facemire from Joe Hypes’ welding class. They would apprentice on-site the entire summer under the direction of local welder Gary Martin and his assistant Nick Siebert to complete the remaining stairsteps.

By this time, having invested several years of homework into the subject of lighthouses in general, our research began to uncover some very basic and universal feelings among lighthouse experience collectors. Far and away the most popular aspects they seek out are an authentic architectural design with an operating beacon and an accessible gallery deck.

Above all, we heard time and time again that the true lighthouse enthusiast loathes the many tourist trap attempts that are so commonly seen at attractions, golf courses and such. What they seek is a true aid to navigation with a working light, and steps that can be climbed to a view overlooking water.

In other words, if we were to attempt this, we’d better do it right.

With that mindset and knowing that even the smallest fifth and sixth order lenses were really beyond our budget, we sought out some form of light that would reproduce the powerful beacon effect of a Fresnel lens. We were informed by a lighthouse enthusiast friend that a good alternative may be an old aviational beacon.

We looked into it and found that the U.S. government, in the 1930s, contracted both Crouse Hinds and Westinghouse to produce near identical beacons for just such a use at rural airports and, by the very nature of their durability in an outdoor environment, became the next generation replacement for the aging Fresnel Lens Systems.

We did not have to look far for a beacon.

We had to register the site where the lighthouse would stand with the Federal Aviation Administration due to our proximity with Rader Airfield, directly across the lake from us. We contacted Mary and Jerry Rader, who immediately became interested in the project.

While Jerry facilitated the process of registering the Summersville Lake Lighthouse with the FAA as an aeronautical aid to navigation, Mary casually mentioned to Donna that there might be an old beacon lying around in the back of one of the hangars.

When we got the chance to dig through a pile of old airplane parts, there it was. After months of searching, incredibly, all of this time it was sitting in an old airplane hangar right across the lake from us. A Westinghouse L802 Rotational beacon complete with a double bulls-eye Fresnel lens, circa 1941!

The Raders graciously donated the beacon to the Lighthouse Project in memory of Gerald L. Rader, who lost his life on approach to Rader Field during a snowstorm in November 1992.

A full disassembly and restoration of the beacon was necessary.

Master electrician Ed Wood performed a full upgrade on the electrical components, from the old 1,000-watt metal halide incandescent bulb system (very energy-consuming and expensive to operate) to a 400-watt multi-vapor system.

The rest of the summer and most all of the fall were consumed with problems presenting themselves and obstacles being overcome one way or another. From Brian Winovich and the crew at the Western Reserve Lightning Rod Co. to the Foundation Experts Roger and Doug Gerwig, we are very grateful for the outpouring of generosity as people from all walks of life pitched in to help.

The following businesses became corporate “Partners in Education” with us by contributing services, materials, equipment and expertise, all vital to the Lighthouse Project's success: Invenergy LLC, White Construction, Engineering & Testing 2000, ALL Crane & Equipment Rentals, Western Reserve Lightning Rod Co., Roger & Doug Gerwig Consulting, Ed Wood, Master Electrician, Rader Aviation, Steel Con and Fastenal.

Fundraising efforts were established where businesses and individuals can purchase stairstep plaques with 100 percent of the net proceeds offsetting the cost of steel material for the students’ work. Only a few of the 122 steps remain available!

Summersville Lake Retreat has established, contributed to and distributed scholarships to the top graduating seniors as selected by their respective instructors upon graduation in June 2012, and have a continued working relationship with this year’s graduating classes, during which time the Building Trades classes will be designing the surrounding landscaping, incorporating a picnic pavilion at the base of the lighthouse that will be constructed in spring 2013.



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The Summersville Lake Lighthouse was erected in Mount Nebo Oct. 17, 2012. Standing 104 feet tall with a top elevation of 2,164 feet above sea level, the 77,000 pound structure has a cylindrical tower constructed entirely of one-half inch thick steel.

With a base diameter of 12 feet receding to 8 feet at the top, visitors will be able to climb 122 steps to reach a 360-degree gallery deck offering unparalleled views of Summersville Lake and the Gauley River National Recreation Area.

The second tier lamp room houses a fully restored 36,000 lumens rotational beacon complete with a double bulls-eye Fresnel lens capable of projecting a beam a distance of over 30 miles.

The unique location and classic architectural design of this landmark project will provide spectacular views of West Virginia’s largest lake and surrounding mountain region, while at the same time re-using almost 72,000 pounds of structural steel otherwise slated for the ovens to be reforged.

The official dedication and Lighting of the Summersville Lake Lighthouse will be held

West Virginia Day, June 20, 2013,  when we will be celebrating our state’s sesquicentennial anniversary.

For more information and latest updates on the lighthouse project or information on our cabins, camping, boat rentals and other services that we offer, visit our website www.summersvillelakeretreat.com .