Point Arena: From Lighthouse to Lightguide by John Cavalli (1995)
This article first appeared in the JuneAugust 1995 edition of the CasStaNet, an excellent, engaging newsletter produced by technicians John Cavalli, Paula Buckner, and Dan Sitts at the Point Arena Cable Station. It is not for public release. The photographs and sidebar pieces are mine; the text of the article belongs to the authors.
Cavalli began the CaStaNet on his own two years ago (1993) in order to "Connect The People of the Global Cable Stations Operations District." It reports on AT&T cable station activities worldwide as well as covering the work of other groups which support or relate to their operation. I wish this publication and other internal AT&T newsletters were made available to the public. I think they present a better corporate image than their press releases or advertisements.
For a good, current overview on transoceanic cables:
Point Arena: From Lighthouse to Lightguide by John Cavalli
The Point Arena lighthouse struts triumphantly towards the Pacific Ocean on the rugged Northern California Coast. Sometimes, in the morning, the sun shines between two eastern mountain peaks to spotlight the small spit of land supporting the lighthouse, marking the spot in California closest to the Hawaiian Islands. On such days, the billowy clouds and rolling foothills are bathed in soft morning colors and our most prominent landmark stands tall and brilliant with sunlight reflecting off its stark white surface. At night, light from this working beacon is visible for over fifty miles. This is its 125th year of operation. Since 1978, when the lighthouse was automated, it has been maintained as a California registered historic tourist attraction by a group of local volunteers.
To the north of the lighthouse, Manchester State Beach sweeps, hook like, for five sandy miles. In 1956, the AT&T Long Lines engineers thought this beautiful beach would be the perfect site to land the HAW1 ocean cable. The lighthouse and point loom large here, such that AT&T christened this site the "Point Arena Cable Station," even though the station is physically located in Manchester. This explains why our station's CLLI code reads "MNCHCAOl" rather than "PNARCA01," a source of confusion over the years.
Establishing this station changed the lives of many local people. Farmers, construction workers, and hired hands were locally employed to pour foundations and to pull the transmit and receive cables up onto shore. Some locals were hired as technicians and later either retired from the station or transferred to other areas within AT&T. Some even returned. Gary Malik, station manager for the past two years, worked here as a technician in 19681970. His wife of twentyeight years, Carol, grew up in this area. Since our station is so rich in history, technicians Jim and Floyd are busy now creating a small archival museum to contain artifacts collected from this station over the years, such as firstyear black and white photos and an old pair of metal safety glasses. Floyd likes to point out that the techs of that era were doing okay; a 1956 station photo shows many 1957 automobiles.
Surrounding the station are the grassy bluffs and park lands of Manchester State Beach, resplendent now with wildflowers. Long rows of driftwood are casually strewn about by the ever changing tides on this stretch of beach, home to some of the best surf fishing on the West Coast. At one time this beach was proposed as a site for a nuclear power plant, but our proximity to the San Andreas earthquake fault nixed that idea. The San Andreas meets the ocean one quarter mile north of the station, at Alder Creek. The proposed nuclear power plant was then built down the coast at Diablo Canyon. Ironically, that location was later determined also to be near an earthquake fault.
The towns of Point Arena and Manchester, each with a population of just over 400 townsfolk, are six miles apart. We receive our U.S. mail at our P.O. Box in Manchester and we purchase many of our supplies in town at its only market, the S & B Country Market and Hardware store. To get gasoline for the company truck, we travel into Pt. Arena (no gas station in Manchester). This newsletter is published at Arena Press in Pt. Arena.
In 1988, the advent of fiber optic ocean cables rejuvenated our station with the installation of AT&T's second SL280 system, the HAW4 cable. The land radio towers were dismantled (forfeiting bandwidth), their associated gray equipment were removed, and the handful of existing analog circuits were regroomed to provide ample room for the new blue and white equipment bays to carry thousands of digital circuits through to Sacramento. Management was realigned under IOD and three additional technicians were hired to accommodate 24hour/7day coverage. The kitchen was remodeled, a Merlin phone system was installed, the office flooring was replaced, and we received our first computer (an AT&T 6300).
In 1992, the TPC4 cable system tripled the calling capacity of the station. Two Alcatel 560 systems were added, along with various mux and DACS equipment, increasing the work load and responsibilities of the station personnel. With its 56 RC48DF shelves and associated NCOE, the TPC4 system carries 36,456 channellevel circuits.
Abalone (a large, indigenous mollusk, highly prized for its meat and shell) season is now in full swing and eager divers abound at Manchester State Beach campground and at our other next door neighbor, the KOA Kampground. Our tech, Floyd, lives in his deluxe RV at the KOA during his work week, and commutes home to Fremont, California on his days off.
Since Ray Spor departed recently to work in Bandon, Oregon, taking his 21 years of Pt. Arena Cable Station experience with him, our techs Dan and Jim have now assumed "old man" status, each with eight years service here. Pt. Arena personnel have varied AT&T backgrounds, including ATTIS, WECO, TIRKS engineering, marineland radio, building maintenance, microwave tower engineering and construction, private line, switch, and facilities.
The staff has an active community spirit. Dan and Jim are volunteer firemen in their little communities of Albion and 6 Sea Ranch, respectively. Kyle coaches football, basketball, and track at Point Arena High School. John is attending College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, California, and will graduate Phi Theta Kappa in December. Floyd regularly visits the Pirate's Cove coffee shop where much of the local politics are discussed and debated. Paula and George, being new to the station, are not so firmly planted yet, but are kept busy with OJT and with various AT&T training trips. Gary, has been busy fundraising for Point Arena High School's Sober Grad Night with activities such as a dunk tank and a community abalone feed.
Today, in 1995, we still enjoy the same farmlands and surroundings that were here in 1956, when the office was noisy with the analog and radio technology of the day. Now, via lightguide, we quietly transmit thousands of voice and data calls under the shadow of the landmark Pt. Arena lighthouse. by John Cavalli
"Point Arena, a long level plateau about 50 miles northwest of Fort Ross is the first prominent point on the California coast north of Point Reyes. Navigating north from Fort Ross, boaters will first pass the mouth of the Gualala River, which intersects the coast 15 miles southeast of Point Arena, Mendocino County, famous for its scenery, art colonies, and exotic lifestyles, begins here at Gualala River."
"In the summer, small pleasure and fishing boats can anchor at Bourns Landing, a mile and a half northwest of the Gualala River, or at Havens Anchorage, 12 miles southeast of Point Arena."
"The closest anchorage to Point Arena is Arena Cove, 2.5 miles to the south east. This slight indentation, with a high yellow cliff on its south head, affords shelter to small vessels in northwesterly weather. A wharf, a three ton hoist, plus gas, fuel, water and groceries are available at the cove. The town of Point Arena is a mile to the east. Point Arena Light, at the western end of Point Arena, is in a white tower with a black gallery 155 feet above the water. Arena Rock is 1.4 miles north of the lighthouse. Although it is covered by 13 feet of water, navigators can usually mark the presence of Arena Rock by the breakers that form over it except in very smooth weather. Stay well outside of Arena Rock in thick weather, since shoaling can be abrupt in those conditions."
NYNEX Boaters Directory, Northern California Edition, 1988