Interview with Paul Baldwin (EN2)

Interview with Paul Baldwin (EN2)
“My Personal Thoughts & Experiences While On Galloo Island”

Before I discuss my personal thoughts and experiences while on Galloo Island, let me tell you about what I know about the history of Galloo Island. The Lifesaving Station was established on the 20th day of June 1874 by the United States Lighthouse Service. During a really bad storm in 1929 the lifesaving station was heavily damaged and repairs were by the men how served there and supplies were brought to them from the mainland. Galloo Island Lifesaving Station was completely torn down and rebuilt in 1937, due to deterioration in the overall structure. This station has been the center of government on two separate occasions, once in 1949 and again in 1957. The United States government contemplated closing Galloo Island Lifesaving Station and reassigning its responsibilities to a couple other lifesaving stations along Lake Ontario.
Mr. Harwood (“Mac”) Mac Sweeney owned Galloo Island from 1949 to 1958. Mac was a really nice man who went out of his way to helped out where ever and whenever he could. Mac was very family orientated man just like all the other families that once inhabited this place they called Galloo Island. Originally there were many families that lived on the Galloo Island, they were self supporting farmers, that tender their flocks, grew crops and made the best of what they had while living on the island. There was an old school house that was on the far side of the island, children went to school during the winter months.

Author’s Note:
            “The only part of the old school house that remains today is its foundation, that walls have long since come down, because of neglect and time.”

Those hard working farm families that resided on island during the early years hired a teacher that spent the winter month’s education their children. The teacher lived with one of the families and spent her off hours help the entire community. I believe the name of the teacher on the island was Elsie Coit.
Death on the Galloo Island back then was handle very differently them we do today. This fact became really evident during the winter month when traveling to the mainland wasn’t possible. If someone died during the cold winter months the body of deceased was stored outside in a pine casket style box either on the back porch or in the barn. When travel from the mainland to the Galloo Island was possible the deceased was put on the boat and transported to its final resting place. The family of the deceased also traveled with the body and a proper burial took place.

Author’s Note:

            “To the best of Paul’s and my knowledge there wasn’t an established cemetery on Galloo Island. All of the deceased were taken from the island to mainland for burial.”
Now that I’ve given you some insight about what I know about the history of Galloo Island, let’s talk about my experiences while I was stationed at Galloo Island Lifeboat Station. I joined the United States Coast Guard because I really enjoyed working on small boats and I want to be a boat handler. I knew the Coast Guard would give me the training and opportunity I valued most. I was sent to Galloo Island Lifeboat Station in December 1954 and remained there until I was transferred to Oswego Lifeboat Station in September 1955. I was flow out to Galloo Island on a Piper Cub Airplane by a flying service out of Watertown Airport. 

Author’s Note:
            “Back then and as it is today, Watertown International Airport is a public facility that stands in the town of Hounsfield, Jefferson County, New York and is five miles west of Watertown, New York.”
At that time the flying service used a 65 horsepower motor light wing Piper Cub Airplane that had a seat for the pilot and one for the passenger. I sat in the back seat with my sea bag placed between my legs or on my lap. This was a really interesting adventure for me considering I’ve never flown in a light wing Piper Cub Airplane before. The interior of the plane was cold and because it was winter time the planes landing gear was outfitted with skies instead of wheels. At that time Galloo Island wasn’t equipped with an air strip; the only possible place to land this type of aircraft was in the meadow behind the Lifeboat Station. The area behind the lifeboat station provided enough distance and area for the Piper Cub Airplane to land safely on the snow covered meadow. As I nervously sat in my seat the pilot made is first pass at the meadow. I guess the pilot sensed something wasn’t quite right, so he went around again. As the pilot made his way around again I was thinking to myself:

“I’m about to die, before I’d even set a single foot on Galloo Island.”
As the pilot made his second pass, he must have felt it was ok to land. Within a few moments the pilot landed the Piper Cub Aircraft safely in the meadow without incident, although I have to admit the landing was a little bump as the Pipe Cub first touchdown. I was relieved as he taxied the Piper Cub to a stop. I was thankful to be alive. When I arrived at Galloo Island Lifeboat Station, parts of Lake Ontario were already frozen over, especially on the east end of the island.

Back then the United States Coast Guard considered Galloo Island as isolated duty for anyone who served on the island. As a Coast Guardsmen we got five days off each month. This was the only thing I really didn’t like about my duties on the island. My commanding office at that time was Chief Robert (“Bob”) G. Reneers BMC, and he served at Galloo Island Lifeboat Station from 1955 to 1956.
Author’s Note:

“Chief Robert G. Reneers lived in Oneida, Wisconsin after he left the United States Coast Guard. Galloo Island Lifeboat Station was built in 1937 and was decommissioned in 1973”
During the winter months the flying service out of Watertown Airport, flew U. S. Coast Guard personnel on and off Galloo Island. If the weather was bad and personnel couldn’t fly out, we were eligible for an extra day on the mainland. While I was station there Galloo Island remained open during the winter months. During those cold winter months when we were iced in with temperatures that got below thirty-six degrees below zero, we would spend our morning hours conducting maintenance on the inside of the Lifeboat Station or we would go work on the lifeboats in the boathouse. The lifeboats were stored up on rails in the boathouse that was close to lake. When the temperature was really cold we were able to maintain a workable temperature inside the boathouse providing we fired up the old furnace. Our afternoons were spent in classes training in first aid, seamanship, water purification and navigation.

My primary duties were maintaining the lifeboats and the lifeboat station mechanical equipment.  If you were a senior NCO’s you were qualified to perform inspections on private boats. Galloo Island Lifeboat Station was completely self sufficient. On the island we generate our own electrical power with two large four cylinder gasoline Kohler DC Generators that were attached to large battery banks. We did a complete valve job on the engines about every eight week. This type of preventative maintenance was necessary because the fuel would gum up of the cylinders and because of soot build-up inside the cylinder heads. We also had an inverter that took our DC Power and converted it to AC Power. Our radio communication systems were all AC Power. We also purify our drinking water that was drawn from a shoreline well located near Lake Ontario. We would test our domestic water on a daily basis and add chlorine or other chemicals as needed. There was a fire pump located by the shore of Lake Ontario and was easily accessible in the event we had a fire at the Lifeboat Station. If we want to watch TV we had to start-up a third generator that was strictly AC. Back in the 1950’s you didn’t have GPS, you navigated the waterways by dead reckoning or plotting your course on a nautical map. You were also required to memorize the lake characteristic, light buoys and lighthouse along the waterways. We would time the flashes on the lighthouse and we knew by the flashing characteristics exactly where we were on the lake. The depth of the Lake Ontario was measured by throwing a lead weighted rope over the side of the boat that was marked in feet.
             It’s funny I owned a charter fishing service on Lake Ontario for over 20 years and I had more electronics on my boats then you can even imagine. We didn’t have those luxuries when I served in the Coast Guard. Even though I didn’t have those things back then I feel it made me a better boat handler as I grew older”

As the winter months passed into spring and summer our standing order changed. As private boats made their way out of the docks we started routine patrols along the waterways. The boating season became even more hectic as it got closer to Memorial Day. Once boating season started we always had at least one lifeboat in the water at all times. As we patrolled the waterways the Senior NCO’s would conduct all the boat inspections, check registrations, safety equipment and answer trouble calls. There were calls from boaters who ran out of fuel, boaters that had went aground, some boaters had equipment failures, or we received calls for boats that didn’t make their way back to the dock. We would also warn fishermen if a storm was approaching and request they make their way back to their respective docks. Back then bass fishing was the most popular and there were fishermen all over the lake. If we received a trouble call about boats that had mechanical failures or ran out for fuel they were either towed to Sacketts Harbor or Henderson Harbor, New York. As I looked back I remember one of the toughest patrols I have ever had was a twenty foot pleasure boat that blew up while traveling from Henderson Harbor to Oswego, New York:
         "We started searching the waters and found one of the two men washed up on an island. We continued our search, but the second man was still missing. Someone spotted the second man two weeks later floating next to a freighter in the shipping channel.”

Let me continue on with my story and working relationship with Harwood (“Mac’) Mac Sweeney and his farm. Mac had his own private plane and would travel between the mainland and Galloo Island. When Harwood (“Mac”) Mac Sweeney would fly to mainland he would ask Chief Reneers if I could help out around his farm, The Chief said it wasn’t a problem. One of my main responsibilities was to tend his heard. This was especially crucial when the sheep were pregnant. Sheep when their pregnant have a tendency to fall as they try to get up. If they couldn’t get back up the unborn lamb and mother would both died from starvation. So as part of my farm duties I was responsible for touring the entire island in an old Jeep Pick-up and made sure all the pregnant sheep were standing. If I found one or more of them lying down I would help them get to their feet.
Author’s Note:

“Prior to Paul’s enlistment into the United States Coast Guard, he was a farmer and new all about life on a farm.”
One of my other duties while Mac was gone was to feed hay to the heard. I would load up the back of the Jeep and bring the hay out to them. These chores were done long before I got here and we looked at it as helping each other out. That’s how it was done back them. I would also help Mac Sweeney after hours as well. I would repair and help Mac maintain his farm equipment. I made sure Chief Reneers was always made aware of what I was doing to assist Mac during my off hours.

Supplies (Fuel, food, other provisions, materials etc.) were brought to Galloo Island by the “Maple” a 125 foot long United States Coast Guard Buoy Tender. Her skipper was BMC Charles Fitzpatrick or “Fitz” as he was best known. 
Author’s Note:

            Charles (“Fitz”) Fitzpatrick was the Officer in Charge of Galloo Island Lifeboat Station from 1953 to 1954 when he transferred to the USCG Maple. While living in Sackets Harbor, New York, Charles Fitzpatrick and his wife Jan owned a local oil and lumber company for some 20 years. In 1960 the couple bought Galloo Island from Edward L Allison who owned the Galloo Island from 1958 to 1960. The Fitzpatrick’s operated a sheep and cattle ranch on Galloo Island until 1983.” 
Let me tell you how the United States Coast Guard and Secretary of State under Eisenhower were linked together during my time on the island. The United States Coast Guard Galloo Island Lifeboat Station was responsible for transmitting and receiving coded communication for the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. John Foster Dulles had a rustic log cabin near a cove on Main Duck Island in Lake Ontario, Canada. Main Duck Island is situated at the entrance of the St. Lawrence Seaway and is just on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario. I believe Secretary of State John Foster Dulles built his rustic log cabin on the 1,005 acre island. While Dulles was Secretary of State; Galloo Island Lifeboat Station and Lighthouse were the two closest military installations to the Main Duck Island. The Federal Government/State Department had a radio installed at Galloo Island Lifeboat Station and that radio was directly connected to the Main Duck Island Lighthouse. As part of the Coast Guards support efforts, they would conduct drill from Galloo Island to Main Duck Island in the event they needed to extract the Secretary of State. We would receive coded messages from the State Department in Washington DC and radio them over to the light keeper at Main Duck Island lighthouse. The light keeper would take those messages to Secretary of State Dulles and either wait for a reply or continue on with his duties at the lighthouse. The people serving at the lifeboat station would be in constant contact with Main Duck Island Lighthouse Keeper. There were coded messages going to or being sent by the Secretary of State Dulles to Washington DC each and every day he was on the Main Duck Island. The only person who made trips back and forth to Main Duck Island was Chief Reneers. I never got to see Secretary of State John Foster Dulles rustic log cabin, I admit I’ve fished near the cove where Dulles cabin was, but that sometime after I left the Coast Guard.

Author’s Notes:
            “John Foster Dulles, 52nd Secretary of State, served under Dwight D. Eisenhower from 26th day of January 1953 to the 22nd day of April 1959. Dulles was buried on the 24th day of May 1959 and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery after a long bout with cancer. The log cabin on Main Duck Island was his favorite place to go and recharge after spending long periods of time at the White House. In 1941 Dulles bought Main Duck Island. The only people on the island besides him and his wife were the Main Duck Island Lighthouse Keeper and a radio operator. Washington Dulles International Airport was named in Dulles’s honor.”

I got to know Gordon L. Koscher (SA to EN-2, 1953 to 1958) while I was stationed at Galloo Island Lifeboat Station. As I recall Gordon served at Galloo Island Lighthouse from 1955 to 1958. I believe the distance between the lighthouse and lifeboat station was about five or six miles. Both locations were connected by an old dirt and gravel road. The road wound around Galloo Island and there was one part that ran especially close to Lake Ontario. We had problem every spring and during the winter months with that section of the road. During the wet spring months and cold winter month the road would either washout or freeze over. We used an old Caterpillar Bulldozer to re-build or break up the ice on that section of road. We would use that Caterpillar Bulldozer to push sand and stones back into the area of the road that washed out. Once we completed that part of the restoration we would then re-grade that area as smooth as possible. During the winter months we would break up the ice and push it back towards the lake. The Coast Guard had an old Dodge pickup that we used to travel the roads that ran the length of the island and between both of our military installations. If memory serves me correctly Gordon Koscher was still there after I completed my hitch with the United Stated Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.) which ended on the 23rd day of June 1956. As I think about the only U.S.C.G. installations I hadn’t had the pleasure of serving at were those on Lake Erie.
Sometime after I left Galloo Island Lifeboat Station and just prior to it being unmanned the United States Coast Guard would go out and winterize the lifeboat station sometime after Labor Day. The station remained closed until the navigation season reopened the following spring. Today the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts all the major inspections, checks registration, etc.   

I grew up along Lake Ontario and it has been an enjoyable part of my life. The lake is a great place for those who like to fish and the area around the lake is very appealing to everyone. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about being on Galloo Island was my time away from my wife Elaine. As I look back over my life in the United States Coast Guard I firmly believe this was a “Dream Learning Experience.”
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