From Beacons of Light to Radio Chats

By Louise Popplewell, Victoria Advocate, Texas

Jan. 9–PORT LAVACA — “CQ, CQ, this is W5TLH — Whiskey, Five, Tango, Lima, Hotel — calling QC from the lighthouse at Halfmoon Reef, USA 363 in Port Lavaca, Texas, QRZ?”

Simply put, in ham operator lingo, that means “Hello out there, go ahead and speak if you can hear me,” explained ham operator Patty Martin.

A response came from someone who identified himself as Carl, calling from Arizona. He is curious about the lighthouse.

Patty responds: “You are 59 (coming in clear) in Port Lavaca, Texas, at the Halfmoon Reef Lighthouse. The weather is sunny and beautiful. We are operating today from inside the lighthouse.”

Patty and her husband, Jim Martin, are Extra Class Amateur Radio Operators, licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The Martins, who live in Richardson, took a week off from their regular jobs to pursue a dual hobby that combines ham radios and lighthouses.

“Ham radio is a hobby and traveling to lighthouses was first a hobby, and then a passion,” Patty said.

They arrived in Port Lavaca on New Year’s Eve after having broadcast from the Texas Maritime Museum Lighthouse in Port Aransas and Lydia Ann Channel Lighthouse near St. Joseph Island earlier in the week.

But Halfmoon was special because they were able to broadcast from inside the lighthouse.

The week’s activities were part of a special events competition in which members of the national Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) made contact with as many lighthouses as possible.

Caller Dan, a participant, said, “Sure was great to work with you from INSIDE a light, probably my first QSO with anyone actually inside a lighthouse.”

Broadcasting got under way early when Jim set up the 14-foot antenna, which he designed and built, behind the lighthouse. When taken apart, the antenna fits into a container that measures about 4 feet in length and in inches around. But it allows the couple to reach out to operators around the world. Within the first hours, they heard from most American states and a couple of foreign countries.

The Martins said they were a bit overwhelmed and delighted that so many people were interested in the lighthouse.

Two years ago, they founded the Texas Lighthouse Radio Society, which has similar goals to that of the national society.

“The purpose of the society is to draw attention to the historical significance of our Texas lighthouses and assist in creating publicity about them to help in any renovations taking place. It is our hope that none of the existing lighthouses in Texas will ever be closed or lost to disrepair,” Patty said.

By the time they were ready to head home, the Martins had made more than 1,500 contacts from the three lighthouses. Of that number, more than 800 were made from Port Lavaca and consisted of talking to people in 48 states and about 10 countries.Back home in Richardson, Patty wrote, “Boy, we had a ball at the lighthouse. We made over 800 contacts. It was a total blast. We really had a lot of people calling on the radio, but there were so many people calling that we had a pileup. This means that so many stations are calling at the same time that it sounds like a huge rumble, and you can’t hardly pick out anyone speaking, since there is so much noise. That was exciting.”

George Ann Cormier, chairman of the Calhoun County Historical Commission, provided the Martins with most of the information they shared with callers.

Built in 1858, Cormier told them, the original location of the lighthouse was on the southern tip of Half Moon Reef in Matagorda Bay. It consisted of three tiers placed on pilings about 10 feet above the water.

Children were born and raised in the small confines of the lighthouse, which was home to the keepers.

The lighthouse was an important aid to vessels entering or leaving the bustling port towns of Lavaca, later Port Lavaca, and Indianola until the outbreak of the Civil War, according to information compiled by George Fred Rhodes, former chairman of the historical commission.

In 1861, Confederate troops gained control of the lighthouse and extinguished its light. Although the Confederates had hoped to dismantle the light permanently, damage was slight and repairs were made. The beacon was re-lighted on Feb. 20, 1868.

In Rhodes account, he quoted the late King Fisher as saying that he knew of his “own personal knowledge that the lighthouse was maintained in active use until early 1942.”

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and World War II was declared, its light was extinguished when lights all along the coast were blacked out to prevent them from aiding the enemy in any way. Its light was never reactivated.

The lighthouse remained in Matagorda Bay until 1943 when it was removed because of damage sustained in the 1942 hurricane.

Considered a hazard, and condemned by the Coast Guard, the lighthouse was moved to Point Comfort on property owned by Bauer-Smith Drilling Co.

In June 1978, W.H. Bauer Sr. and his wife, Louise, deeded the building to the historical commission.

After being repaired, it was moved to Port Lavaca and dedicated to the people of Calhoun County on Aug. 10, 1985. It is located adjacent to the Bauer Community Center and serves as a beacon to folks entering the county.


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