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Surprisingly, One Man Connects Oregon Coast Lighthouses at Heceta Head, Terrible Tilly

Published 05/24/22 at 12:35 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Surprisingly, One Man Connects Oregon Coast Lighthouses at Heceta Head, Terrible Tilly

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(Florence, Oregon) – Two lighthouses along the Oregon coast are known to be among the most photographed in the world: Tillamook Rock between Seaside and Cannon Beach, and Heceta Head near Florence. Yet there's another rather poignant connection between them. One man, named Oswald Allik, served on both lighthouses as a head lightkeeper until their end, closing out both of them as they shut down in one way or another. (Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

In the case of Terrible Tilly, that old sentinel was replaced by an automated light elsewhere. In the case of Heceta Head Lighthouse, it no longer had a need for people to run it as it became automated inside.

Allik, a native of Estonia, was there for two very historic moments in the long tales of Oregon coast lighthouses – and those tales are not over yet.

Many don't know that he served aboard both lighthouses.

Allik is most famous for his logbook entry on the final working day of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, that distant, remote light offshore from Tillamook Head that still cajoles the public to this day by tickling their imaginations. He is best known for being the last man on that foreboding chunk of land, along with famed Oregon history author James Gibbs.

Courtesy Keepers of the Heceta Head Lighthouse

Gibbs also served in the US Coast Guard with Allik about that time – and there is strangely a Florence-area connection with him as well. But that's coming.

Allik penned this entry on September 1, 1957:

“Farewell, Tillamook Rock Light Station. An era has ended. With this final entry, and not without sentiment, I return thee to the elements.”

Allik started on Tillamook Rock back in 1939 and served various ranks there, including leaving for a little while. He missed one of the big landmark events of the spooky place, the storm of October 21, 1934, that nearly wrecked it.

His final entry noted much sorrow in leaving, in seeing it abandoned. He said “May your sunset years be good years. Your purpose is now only a symbol, but the lives you have saved and the service you have rendered are worthy of the highest respect.”

However, he was quickly reassigned to another famous spot on the Oregon coast, down towards Florence, to the Heceta Head Lighthouse.

There, things weren't as tempestuous or as dangerous. His log entries of Tilly note plenty of ravenous storms, waves lashing the tiny rocky spot in the middle of the ocean and thick fog surrounding them at all sides. Here close to Florence, there were keepers quarters on dry land.

One serious adventure, however, involved a massive landslide caused by heavy rain that came down the hill and snapped the electrical wires that fed the station and its electric light. It was February 12, 1961. Allik and two other assistants had to go up top, insert a gas lamp where the light is and turn the lens round and round by hand, which meant everyone taking turns and walking round the lens room. This they did for hours, until about 7:30 in the morning.

This was the only time during its service the light was interrupted.

One newspaper report from the period talks about Allik and an “Orwellian black box” that sits in the lens room, with an area on it that's sensitive to light. If the first bulb goes out, then another is automatically popped up to replace it. If both go out, the little black box notes that no light is being shone and it sends a warning to the station at the keeper's quarters.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was built in 1880 and served until 1957, some 77 years. Heceta Head Lighthouse started construction in 1892 and was switched on two years later.

Allik was there in 1961 when it closed down to human beings, only serving four years, but allowing him to retire in glory. He had seen the end of both famous lights.

Gibbs was another mate under his command aboard the Seaside / Cannon Beach light. Gibbs went on to write numerous books about the Oregon coast and the entire west coast, and gave extensive interviews about his experiences aboard Terrible Tilly until his death. He eventually settled just south of Yachats, below Cape Perpetua, and his home featured an actual working lighthouse. He called it Cleft of the Rock.

In fact, for a time, he lent his light to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse in Newport.

Cleft of the Rock was visible for miles out at sea during these modern times, until Gibbs passed away in the 2010s. It wasn't necessary these days, with all lighthouse-like functions for mariners going to digital and satellite coordinates. But ships passing in the area said they appreciated the sight.

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