Of all the sacrifices required of lighthouse keepers, perhaps the most difficult was being separated from loved ones for months on end, particularly in the case of young men who were assigned to stag stations. Many of these young keepers had sweethearts with whom they regularly corresponded in hopes of eventually being transferred to a family station where they could finally marry and settle down to a semblance of family life.
In the case of Orlo Hayward, it took a few years before that dream was realized. He met his future wife, Estella Woodard, at the hotel that her family ran in Florence, Oregon in 1919 when he was just 17 years old. Family lore is that some friend pointed Estella out to Orlo and told him that this was the girl he should court and marry.
Orlo joined lighthouse service a short time later and accepted a post as 4th assistant at the ultimate stag station: Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. He didn’t have much of an opportunity to see Estella as his leaves were very infrequent due to the normal adverse weather at that off-shore station. At one point, he ended up serving more than a year without liberty due to weather delays in the leave rotation schedule of the five keepers assigned there.
However, after a couple of years, Orlo left the Rock and transferred to New Dungeness Lighthouse in Washington, and though it might have been further away from Estella, it was an easier place from which to obtain regular leave, so he could see her with more frequency.
In the interim, the two corresponded on a weekly basis and their courtship began via the mail pouch. Estella saved many of Orlo’s letters which give a nice glimpse of lighthouse life at the stations at which he served from 1922 to 1924 until they finally married. Here are some excerpts from the mailbag below at the start of their courtship when the two were “just friends.”
Jun 1, 1922
Dear friend Estella,
I received your letter yesterday, and was tickled to get it. The keeper here has gone for a five-day period, and I have to take every morning watch, midnight until six. About five minutes past four, I put the light out, clean up, eat my breakfast, and then call the second assistant at six and then I go to bed and sleep till eight.
I worked all day yesterday on our power boat the government furnishes us. I cleaned the engine and painted it red, black, and green. Sure looks swell. I hate to run it now ‘cause it will get all dirty again. Flies are thicker here than fleas on a dog’s back. I’m getting sick of them. Came pretty near eating one yesterday in my cup of cocoa, haha.
Yes, if this station was only close to home, it would be fine. Do I have to batch? I’ll say I do. That is, I try to, and this here a’batching I don’t like any too well.
Haven’t had time to try making any pies or cakes yet, ain’t stuck on the job anyway. But at the Rock we took turns at cooking the week apiece but here I’ve got to cook for myself only and that isn’t no snap being I have such a delicate little appetite, you know.
Once a day is all I have to climb this 100-foot tower and that’s enough, too. So you got dizzy climbing Heceta [Head] tower, well you couldn’t climb this one at all then, for this tower is lots slenderer built and you make such a sharp turn going up that it seems you are trying to turn around yourself.
As long as you’ve lived so close to the sea and never saw a devil fish, why there’s lots of them in the river there, but I guess nobody fishes for them down there. Your father and mother ought to know what they look like, ask them anyhow. They have a small body and big long legs all around them from a foot to three feet long and these legs are full of holes and they have an awful suction. If one should get ahold of you underwater, you couldn’t get loose. Look in the dictionary. I think they give a picture of one.
Sure would have liked to be at that basket social with you. I’ve only been to one in my life. So, you haven’t the cold, well you’re lucky. I’ve been blowing my nose every 30 seconds since I’ve been here. Well, I’ll have to close for this time. Hoping to hear from you real soon. I remain ever your friend,
Jan 24, 1923
Received your letter yesterday, so you see I’m quite prompt in answering this time. Well goodbye. I’m going to Tatoosh Island [Cape Flattery Lighthouse] in five or six more days. It’s called the jumping off place. I want to stay there for about two years as I have a better and quicker chance to advance.
Tatoosh isn’t so bad though. There’s a big wireless station with ten men and the chief operator is married and has his family there and there’s a weather Bureau, also, with two families. And then comes the lighthouse with four keepers. The keeper is a married man and the first assistant is from here. His wife and her mother are here yet waiting for the tender to take them and their furniture and also myself and my few household goods.
The radio men out there have a moving picture machine, and they put on a show once and sometimes twice a week. So, you see it isn’t so bad out there and I’ll get 72 days vacation out of the year and $10 more a month.
Some floods you’re having down that way. No such thing up this way. So, you are going to California. Are you coming back again? I hope so. My transferring may cause me to wait a little longer for a vacation. I don’t know.
No, there’s no ducks here and very few chickens and what there is of them they don’t appeal to me. Particular, ain’t I. No, the radiomen change around all the time. They hardly ever stay in one station more than six months. So, your dad is getting a radio set. it will be fine for a place like that.
Well I will close as it is time to get to bed. Will write you a nice long letter after I get to Tatoosh. Ever your loving friend,
Orlo E Hayward.
Feb 1 1923
Received your letter today forwarded from [Port] Angeles. I’m back to Dungeness now and expect that tender any day now to take me out to Tatoosh. So, you would rather I’d stay here than go out there. Well, I may be foolish, I couldn’t say. My folks [keeper Eugene Hayward and his wife, Viola] are coming here to take my place.
I’m going to buy a boat from the Coast Guard and get an engine for it and see if I can’t make some money fishing out there. And I’m going to take up a correspondence course to be certified in radio repair.
Don’t you worry, wherever I go I will not forget you. And I’ll not fail to write. I will get mail out there once a week. Don’t worry, I’ll take my vacation alright. Nobody will stop me either. I think that I’m about old enough by this time to know what girl I like best and as for keeping my eyes on the girls up here, there isn’t many to look at.
Forgive me for sending such a short letter, but I don’t feel very good. Please write soon. Lovingly,
~To Be Continued~
This story appeared in the
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