Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2017

From the Commodore

A Rattlesnake Adventure at Cape Canaveral: Florida

By Debra Baldwin


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2nd from the left is Cape Canaveral Lighthouse ...

I went around the district on the Lighthouse Tenders on inspection and construction work, carefully making notes and reports on the efficiency of the keepers, the need for maintenance and repairs at stations, for post lights, range lights and the type of lighting equipment used: 8-day post lights, 5-day lens lanterns, locomotive head lights for ranges, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th order lenses, etc. No thought was given by Tenders’ complements nor myself as to hours of labor. We all worked to get the job done to take advantage of the tidal conditions. Equitable time off for fishing or relaxation was granted which satisfied everybody.

I loved my work in the Lighthouse Service in the Sixth District. I had happy relations with the personnel of tenders, lightships and light stations. Captain Johnson, Master of the Tender Cypress, lived near us on Bull Street and his rolling gait was a familiar site going to and from his home. Captain Redell of the Snowdrop once stopped by the house on Bull Street with two fat marsh hens that he had shot in season for our family to cook.

The Lighthouse Tenders were so busy working buoys and delivering supplies, that at times I had to go by rail on tours of inspection, particularly for such stations as St. Augustine, Cape Canaveral, Jupiter Inlet and Hillsboro on the East Coast of Florida.

For example - Cape Canaveral: Florida East Coast Line R.R. to Eau Gallie, routed out by the Porter at 6:00 A.M; down to the waterfront to hire a fisherman with his “put-put” to Canaveral Post Office on the West Side of the Island; hire the Postmaster’s spring-less wagon (just boards on wheels) and driver to drag me five miles across the rattle snake mosquito ridden trail, through the savannahs and palmetto scrub, to the Canaveral Light Station.

On this last leg, I watched the driver suddenly stop the team and run ahead with a big stick - whack, whack, whack, as he tossed a limp rattlesnake to one side. At the light station, the assistant keeper, Floyd Quarterman, showed me with great glee, a cage full of live rattlers that he had captured that were trying to get to his baby chicks. He extracted their venom for some mysterious medicinal purpose.

No inhabitants lived on the Island for miles around the station. After the inspection, I ate lunch provided by the wife of the keeper (paid on my expense account). The return journey was by the same wagon and fisherman’s “put-put,”five miles on the Banana River to Eau Gallie in time to catch the F.E.C. Railway to the next southern stopping point: one uncomfortable, mosquito ridden hot day, but an interesting adventure.

The head keeper, Clinton Honeywell, with rare foresight, bought many acres of beach wasteland around the station for a song, and during the Florida “boom,” sold it off at a high price, retiring a wealthy man.

Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from "The Making of a Lighthouse Engineer," the unpublished memoirs of Commodore Frederick P. Dillon.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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