The Lighthouse

Open fire back on historic lighthouse Workum.

Reid, the man who lights the open fire to pilot the “Manure” home.

During the night of 25 to 26 October flames of one and a half metres are towering over the roof of Reid’s lighthouse, at the end of the dyke near Workum. As a complete surprise to the returning skippers of the “Strontrace”, the regular barge service and the fishing boats an open fire is burning again at the entrance of ’t Soal. The fire brigade does not have to turn up, because Reid has just informed the council via the emergency number about his secret plan.
The story of the last “Zuiderzee” lighthouse keeper; the man who lights the beacon fire.

By Stephan Kraan

For years he has been planning to light an open fire on the lighthouse. But it never happened. As the organiser and initiator of the “Strontrace” (manure race) Reid has stopped his active work as a committee member ,but during the “Strontrace” week he is always very busy. Till last year. He asks, secretly, gas fitter Hylke Hettinga from Heeg to build an installation which can safely produce high flames. At the last minute he informs the organisation, the council officials and the mayor. The installation works. The flames are so bright, that it is possible to read the newspaper at the bottom of the lighthouse. By using a mirror, the light can be seen only on the waters between Hindeloopen and Kornwerd. At clear view the fire is visible on a distance of 20 kilometres. When the first skippers of the “Strontrace” reach the dark coast of Friesland, to their great surprise they see a bright fire. But nobody recognizes it as a beacon; until the Mari phone announces that Reid has added a new historical element to his “Strontrace”.

Fires on the dyke
At the time when the dyke between Workum and Hindeloopen was built in 1643 there was a beacon fire near Workum. A square oaken base with an iron plate on top of it. The unit rested on four high wooden shores, with stairs to climb to the top. On the iron plate is an iron basket in which the open fire burns.
In those days the towns of Amsterdam and Enkhuizen were responsible for the beacon fires of the “Zuiderzee” (now: IJsselmeer). In zigzag form the fires burn along the coast at night. Those beacons prevent the ships from sailing too close to the dykes. In those days, for instance, the lighthouse The Ven was built, behind the dyke between Andijk and Enkhuizen. The first beacons near Urk and Marken were built then as well.

The light house of Workum
In a newspaper of September 1712 is an invitation for tenders to build a dwelling near the Workum lighthouse on the dyke. It seems that between 1643 and 1712 the wooden beacon was replaced by a brick tower with 3 floors. Therefore Reid believes that his house was built in the spring of 1713. Around 1880 the open fire was replaced by an oil lantern. Forty years later all the coastal lights are nationalised. However the town of Workum decided to take responsibility for their own beacon.
Because besides loch-charges the town also receives fire and beacon charges from passing vessels. The money is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the sea lock.
The oil lantern was extinguished in 1932 after the “Zuiderzee” was dammed up. Then a line of two beacons with gas lights was installed. Each one of them on a four-leg of angle brackets. During the day these gas lamps are on a pilot light but every night the lighthouse keeper has to climb up to light the fire.
In 1967 Reid comes to live in the lighthouse of Workum. For seventeen years he has been operating the lights. Two times a day he climbs up in wind and weather; in the evening to light the lamps and in the morning to extinguish them. There is not much maintenance to do. Every now and then the mantles have to be changed. But in the course of time he repeatedly comes down with parts of broken iron and especially during winter is climbing the beacons getting more and more dangerous. Around 1984 the county takes over the beacon of the town of Workum. The gas lights are replaced by the present electric lights on solar cells. Reid is the last man who lights the fire of the beacons of the “Zuiderzee”.

New fire
After 140 years Reid lighted the open fire again. Not fuelled with wood but with wood gas as he calls the propane gas. This first time it is still a temporary construction. Meanwhile the gas fitter is building a permanent gas installation with a bigger and better flame. This way the ships of the “stront”, the bargemen and the fishermen can find the way to their haven through the open fire on the dyke of Workum, also in the future.