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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

1931 US Coast Guard Fowey Rocks Light Cable

In late 1930 the Simplex Wire and Cable Company of Boston, Massachusetts, was awarded a contract by the US Coast Guard for 310,000 feet of cable of four types, all for telephone communications off the East Coast of America. The order included 85,000 feet of the company’s new continuously loaded cable, the first of its type to be made in the USA. The cable described in this article was laid from Miami to Key Biscayne, then on to the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse.

Although no mention is made of future projects, this run would have taken no more than about 65,000 feet of cable; Simplex continued to make and lay offshore cables for the Coast Guard and other branches of the US Government for many years.

The source for the material in this article is the Simplex house magazine, The Simplex Spirit, issues of 1930 and 1931. Archive copies of the magazine were made available to the Atlantic Cable website through the generosity of Edmund J. McDevitt and Michele E. Frost, whose father (also named Edmund J. McDevitt) worked at Simplex from 1927 to 1968.

For all of his 41 years at Simplex Mr. McDevitt worked in the printing/repro department, eventually becoming its supervisor in 1960; at that time he was also appointed editor of The Pennant, the successor to The Simplex Spirit. He had the foresight to preserve his archive of both publications after retiring from the company, to the benefit of today’s industrial historians.

—Bill Burns

The Simplex Spirit, October 10, 1930 (Vol.11 No.6)

Simplex Awarded U.S. Coast Guard Contract

We have been fortunate in obtaining recently the contracts for considerable Submarine Telephone Cable from the U.S. Coast Guard. This cable embodies several improvements which will result in greatly improved transmission characteristics when compared with any similar cable manufactured previously.

The contracts cover:
160,000 ft. 2 Cond. Type 17
25,000 ft. 4 Cond. Type 17
40,000 ft. Single Cond. Armored Tirex
85,000 ft. 4 Cond. Continuously Loaded Cable.

The first two orders are for the conventional rubber insulated and wire armored type of cable, except that the material will be built to rigid electrical requirements, covering low electrostatic capacity, low leakance or conductance, etc. The capacity requirement calls for a dielectric constant of approximately 3.00 for the rubber compound. The new type cable will result in an improved speech transmission of 65% to 85% over the old type cable.

The single conductor cable is an entirely new type and is used for small isolated Coast Guard stations. This cable involves several new features including low capacity and carries its own return circuit over the armor wires. The armor wires also serve to “load” the cable, that is, to increase its inductance so that speech is possible over long lengths. The Tirex jacket is applied to preserve the armor.

The order for continuously loaded cable will be, when completed, the first continuously loaded rubber insulated Submarine Telephone Cable made in this country. The continuous loading is applied by spiralling a 12 mil iron wire closely around the copper conductor, thus increasing the inductance and improving transmission greatly. The loaded conductors are insulated, cabled and armored as in the first two cables, maintaining the same rigid electrical requirements for low capacity. This cable should be 100 to 150% better than the old type cable.

Simplex is fortunate and proud of the opportunity to co-operate with the Coast Guard in these new advances in submarine cable telephony and looks forward with confidence to the successful solution of the problems involved in their manufacture.


 

The Simplex Spirit, November 10, 1930 (Vol.11 No.7)

H.E. Rowand of U.S. Coast Guard gives fine talk before Executives Club.
Explains in detail Coast Guard work and service requirements of Simplex Cables.

H.E. Rowand

More than sixty members and guests of the Executives Get-Together Club know more about the United States Coast Guard and its work than they did before the October meeting. Mr. Rowand’s talk, the basis for the following notes, gave everyone a new and personal interest in the Coast Guard cables we are now making.

The Coast Guard dates back to 1790, earlier than the U.S. Navy, and at the time it started it was the only floating unit of the government. Its duties were and are to prevent smuggling, to enforce the customs laws and to save life and property at sea. Since the advent of the radio, its field of activity has widened because it is called upon to respond to distress calls from ships at long distances from the coast.

In 1870 the U.S. Life Saving Service was established and has 276 stations along dangerous stretches of the coast - such as Cape Cod and the New Jersey shore. In 1915 the old Revenue Cutter Service and the Life Saving Service were combined to form the U.S. Coast Guard as it stands today.

It is of great importance that the various stations and branches of the service should be in direct communication with each other. While the Coast Guard telephone lines and cables are less extensive than those of the telephone companies, they consist of several thousand miles of both land lines and submarine cables located on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and the Great Lakes, one of its longest lines extending 700 miles. Where it is convenient to do so, the Coast Guard contracts for the service of the Bell Companies but in many locations such service is not easily available. The coast is not always near the mainland and its lines are often on outlying islands with submarine cable from island to island.

The methods of installation and type of line construction used must be fitted to the various conditions. Difficulties are encountered and much ingenuity must be shown to install and maintain pole lines and cables. In some places, water and quicksand interfere with placing poles while other locations are rocky and present an entirely different problem. In the Florida swamps, alligators and snakes make pole line construction uncomfortable.

The submarine cable problems encountered by the Coast Guard are equally complex. Cable landings must be made in difficult places where cables will pound in the surf and be exposed to damage from rocks and ice. To keep them in place they are weighted or chained. Even with such precautions, it is necessary in rough places, such as the coast of Maine, for the cable ship to spend a considerable time every summer renewing and repairing cables. When it becomes necessary to locate and repair such cables in winter, additional difficulties are encountered. When laying cable, it is often a problem to get the end ashore if the ship cannot get near the beach because in shallow water, small boats or lighters must be used and allowances made for winds and tides.

The Coast Guard needs well made cables having low transmission losses and long life. In some places in the North, the life of a cable seems to be limited by the life of armor wire. In the South there has been trouble with the rubber absorbing water and specifications have been rewritten to cover water absorption. It also wants cables with a low attenuation constant, cable that will “talk up” over reasonably long distances. By installing parallel trunk lines, the land line losses have been made lower but there is still much improvement to be made in submarine cables. Those now being made by us should show a marked improvement and allow conversation over much longer distances than has been possible heretofore. They will be used to maintain communication with lighthouses off the coast of Florida. These light houses are steel towers on coral reefs. The cables will be laid in shallow water and will be the only means of communication with the mainland. A portion of the cable is to be protected by a Tirex Rubber jacket - a new idea in submarine cable protection.

Mr. Rowand emphasized the importance of our making the best cable possible, the need to watch every small possibility of trouble and the serious responsibility which will rest on the cable after it is laid where it may be the only means of getting aid for ships in danger. Efficient cable performance may prevent loss of life, property or ships and the best cable that we can make will be none too good.


 

The Simplex Spirit, January 10, 1931 (Vol.11 No.9)

Coast Guard Cable now on way to southern waters
Part on way by Cable Ship “Pequot” Balance to go by rail

On December 17th, delivery was started on the Coast Guard material covered by Factory Orders 14973, 14974, and 14975. In a short space of 6 days, sixteen 5,000 ft. lengths of 2 Cond. Type 17 Cable had been delivered and put aboard the Cable Ship “Pequot” at the Boston Navy Yard for shipment by water to Key West, Florida.

The remainder of the cable will be shipped to its destination in four gondola railroad cars. Sixteen 5,000 ft. lengths of 2 Cond. Type 17 will be divided between two of these cars, five 5,000 ft. lengths of 4 Cond. Type 17 will be the load of another, and eight 5,000 ft. lengths of Single Cond. Armored Tirex will be the content of the fourth.

In accordance with the contract with the Coast Guard a total of 39 splices will be made. Some of these were made at the Navy Yard when the cable was shipped aboard the “Pequot” and the others are being made on loading the material on the gondola cars. Roy Barnard of the Testing Department is in charge of this work.

Some very interesting snaphots taken of this work both at the Navy Yard and at the factory appear herewith in a special insert.

In a later issue the final test data showing the very remarkable telephone constants and efficiency of these cables will be published.

1. Cable reels arriving at Navy Yard.

2. Cable ends opened ready for splicing.

3. View of snatch block and capstan for paying cable into hold.

4. The Cable Ship “Pequot” U.S.C.G.

5. Cable being lifted by ship’s boom into position.

6. Coiling cable in stern of Pequot.

7. Splicing in hold. Conductor in mold for cure.

8. Side view of reel set up and snatch block.

9. Half of cable in ship’s hold.

10. Cable going into hold from capstan.

11. Stern of Pequot with cable reel.

12. View of capstan at Simplex Plant with cable going into gondola car.


 

The Simplex Spirit, March 10, 1931 (Vol.12 No.1)

Coast Guard Cable now Laid and Ready for Service
Vice President C.R. Boggs Witnessed Laying of Cable

On Sunday, February 8, Vice-President Charles R. Boggs left Boston to go to Florida to witness the laying of part of the cable which we recently made for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Arriving at Jacksonville on Monday he was joined by C.J. Zeigler, our Jacksonville Manager, and drove down the entire east coast of Florida.. This gave him an opportunity to see the country, including the turpentine groves, the orange and grapefruit orchards, the various palm trees and other semi-tropical vegetation. They stopped at Daytona Beach, spent a night at Palm Beach, and arrived at Miami Beach on Wednesday.

Typical road scene from Palm Beach to Miami.

 

Skyline of Miami.

The Coast Guard was at that time laying the four conductor cable between the south shore of Miami and Key Biscayne, which is an island five miles off shore. This cable will give telephone communication to the island as well as to the lighthouse seven and one-half miles farther out. The island contains the largest plantation of cocoanut palms in the country with about fifty-five thousand trees.

Four Conductor Cable on Barge. Mr. Boggs and Mr. Rowand in background.

 

C.J. Zeigler, Manager of our Jacksonville Office and H.E. Rowand.

The Coast Guard crew started laying the cable from the island to the Miami shore by placing the cable on the barge and towing the barge across the bay. The shallowness of the water required this method of laying, and even then the barge went aground a couple of miles from shore when the tide receded so that the laying of the cable was not completed until the next day on the high tide. There was no difficulty whatsoever in laying the cable. At each end the cable was carried up the shore and connected to overhead lines. The overhead line on the island runs across and down to the southern-most point of the island, and connects with the cable running out to the lighthouse, some seven and one-half miles off shore.

Miami Shore. Four Conductor Cable is laid between this point and Key Biscayne.

About a week later the forty thousand feet of our Tirex Single Conductor Submarine Cable arrived, was coiled by hand from the freight car onto the barge, and was laid from the island to the lighthouse on Wednesday, February 18. The barge was towed out to the island by a Coast Guard seventy-five footer, while Mr. Rowand and Mr. Boggs went out on the Coast Guard cable ship, “Pequot.”

Start of Single Conductor Tirex on Key Biscayne.

 

“Six Bitter”or seventy-five footer

 

The “Pequot”

 

H.E. Rowand, Electrical Engineer of U.S. Coast Guard, C.W. Bilz, Supervisor of Gulf and Western Division, U.S. Coast Guard and Mr. Peterson, Executive Officer of “Pequot.” Laying Single Conductor Cable.

As the “Pequot” could not go into the shallow water, they were put off in a motor sailer and joined the barge at the island. The shore end of the cable was carried from the barge to the shore by a motor sailer, and then the seventy-five footer proceeded to tow the barge to the lighthouse.

Light House end of Single Conductor Cable seven and one half miles off the coast of Key Biscayne.

The cable was run off over the stern of the barge, through a snatch block rigged high over the center of the barge. Due to the shallowness of the water, there was no necessity of having any method of braking the cable. They proceeded at a rate of about three, knots and two hours. Although there had been a storm the day before, the shallow water had become perfectly calm, and there was no difficulty in the laying.

Terminal of Four Conductor Cable on Key Biscayne. Mangrove Swamp.

The Coast Guard crew proceeded to connect the ends of the cables and Mr. Rowand expected to make a variety of electrical tests on the cable the following day. The Coast Guard flotilla, consisting of the “Pequot,” the A B boat, the seventy-five footer, the motor sailers, and the large and small barges remained at sea and were to proceed down the coast the next day to complete the laying of some of our two conductor cable which they had been laying off the Keys during January. Mr. Boggs was then taken back to Miami on board the seventy-five footer and spent the next week at Miami Beach vacationing.

The city of Miami is a very clean, modern city of about one hundred thousand population. Miami Beach is a separate city on a narrow island, joined to Miami by a couple of three mile causeways. Unlike northern beaches, it is a well developed small city, with charming Spanish types of residences beautified by all kinds of palm trees. There are three very large and expensive hotels on the bay side and more on the ocean side. Although the weather was not perfect while Mr. Boggs was there, normally it is sunshiny all day, with a temperature of from seventy to seventy-five degrees.

The beach itself is perfect for ocean bathing. With this and the horse races, dog races, and the Jai-Alai games he was able to occupy his time very enjoyably. Interesting pictures taken during his stay in Florida are shown on pages four and five.

[Editor’s note: The photographs have been inserted at appropriate places throughout the article.]

“Afterwards”

 

Florida Office

We had the honor of a visit during the month from C. R. Boggs who stopped on his way to observe the laying of the Coast Guard cable off the Florida Keys.

After a most enjoyable evening spent at the Biere-Mar Camp Mr. Boggs and Mr. Zeigler left early the next morning and drove down the East Coast to Miami Beach. Mr. Zeigler feels that Mr. Boggs’ little visit was very beneficial as he received a helping hand on sales work with important prospects.

One of the most interesting features of the trip was the landing of the cable on the east shore of Key Biscayne over a “white water flat” where there was not enough water at times to float a skiff.
It required the combined efforts of “all hands and the cook” and a huge caterpillar tractor to make the landing but the job was accomplished without accident.

Key Biscayne is 7 miles long and 1 mile wide and is generally alive with diamond back rattlers and mosquitoes but at the time the work was accomplished both were absent due to a cool Northeaster. There are about 55,000 bearing cocoanut trees on this Key which are a menace to the communication service due to the wind causing the nuts to fall on land line crossing the Key.

The Tirex armored type of cable has attracted widespread attention among the Engineers and its selection by the U.S. Coast Guard for Florida will no doubt have a most favorable effect.


More information on the US Coast Guard cableship Pequot may be found on this page.

Postscript: On October 2, 2012 the National Park Service accepted ownership of the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse from the US Government.

Fowey Rocks Light in 2008

Last revised: 16 March, 2013

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