Profiles: Earning Bucks the Old Way

"I like the old-fashioned type of things," he says. "My son just talked me into an answering machine at home."

He knows his profession evokes nostalgia, "but I would never mention it to a customer because it makes them feel old," he says.

"Sure, it's drifting into the past," he adds of his profession. "More modern things come out all the time. Just like I'm 68 and I'm drifting into the past, too. You've got to realize that. … But as an older person, I still enjoy what I do and I will go as long as I can."

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Frank Schubert, 87 -- Lighthouse Keeper, Coney Island Lighthouse, New York, N.Y.

Widespread automation has made Schubert the last full-time civilian lighthouse keeper in America, but he doesn't get real choked up about the fact that he could become the last of his kind.

"When I get out, that will be it," he says matter-of-factly. "They'll make sure it will be completely automated and everything else."

Schubert started out as a buoy tender in 1937, has been a lighthouse keeper since the 1940s, and has worked at the Coney Island station in Sea Gate, Brooklyn, since 1960. There is at least one other lighthouse keeper, in Boston, who is a member of the Coast Guard, the agency that oversees Schubert and the lighthouses.

"When I first started on this, it was all kerosene," he says. "Right now, it's not as much [work] as it used to be, but years ago, it used to take half an hour to light the light up."

He also had to physically and repeatedly wind a giant mechanism resembling a grandfather clock so the kerosene light would rotate in the tower.

These days, the system is electrified, mechanical and electronic, though Schubert still climbs the tower at least once per day to make sure everything is running smoothly, and makes repairs when necessary. A handful of cruise ships have replaced passenger ship traffic out on New York Bay.

Much of Schubert's time — now as always — is taken maintaining the lighthouse and the home next door, where he lives and once raised his family. The maintenance is a bit easier at Coney Island than at his prior posting, New York's Old Orchard Light, which was located well offshore.

"When they got a man to be a lighthouse keeper he had to have good knowledge, a little of everything," Schubert recalls. "If an electric line went out, you couldn't call an electrician. If a pipe went out, you couldn't call a plumber. You had to do it all."

Schubert also guides groups of tourists by appointment.

"School classes, college students, senior citizens and these different clubs," Schubert says. "I usually take them up in the lights, show them the light works."

Somewhat to his surprise — he doesn't see why people are so interested in lighthouses — he has become something of a celebrity in his advanced years.

"I've been on every TV station, every radio station, in all the papers," Schubert says. "In fact, I've been on TV in Italy, Germany."

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