Elbert “Rex” Lucas loves to solve problems with his hands.
The 76-year-old Fayetteville native worked as a heavy equipment maintenance operator for the Army. After his military service, he worked as an industrial maintenance worker for DuPont Teijin Films, where he retired after 37 years.
While working for DuPont, Lucas became close friends with coworker Billie Hooks. The two later became neighbors on the edge of Lake Upchurch, about three miles outside Hope Mills. Hooks and his wife, Teena, died about two years ago.
“Billie was crazy about lighthouses and had to have one,” Lucas said.
Billie Hooks bought a wooden lighthouse during a “lighthouse buying craze’’ and mounted it on the edge of the lake. It stood there proudly until the winds of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 blew it down. Disappointed, Hooks dragged the broken lighthouse behind his house.
It sat there and rotted for several years until Lucas decided he would restore it to honor his friend.
“When I saw it laying behind his house, I knew it was special to him,’’ Lucas said. “Something had to be done with it rather than it going to waste.”
Hooks’ son, Chip, now owns the house. Lucas approached him about restoring the lighthouse. With Chip’s permission, Lucas dragged the damaged wooden frame to his property where it sat another year while he gathered the materials he needed for his vision.
Lucas reasoned there was enough housing left to rebuild it.
“I wanted it to look like the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and the more I looked at photos of the lighthouse, the more details I noticed,” Lucas said.
Seeing the monumental task before him, Lucas enlisted the help of his daughter, Lori Lucas, and his son-in-law, Doug Lazenby.
Lucas designed it.
“I just painted,” Lori Lucas said humbly.
Lazenby helped put the lighthouse together and bolt it to its base.
“Barring another hurricane, it’s built to last,” he said.
The lighthouse is basically comprised of three parts: the base, the cone and the light. Overall, it stands about 13 feet tall.
For the light’s housing, Lucas turned a two-and-a-half gallon bucket upside down and painted it black. The container holds a light that spins just like its larger counterpart on the Outer Banks. Ever a stickler for detail, Lucas fashioned the surrounding guardrail out of wire and envisions someday adding small model figures to the display.
“The bucket was then mounted on a carburetor air cleaner,” Lucas said.
The cone, or tower, is made of strips of sheet metal, and the windows were cut out and made from 3x5 photo frames.
“The entire structure sits on a base that’s made up of an old charcoal grill,” Lucas said.
Lucas used caulk to make the bricks look realistic. He used his hands to make the caulk look like stucco or stone.
Lucas estimated he worked on the structure for four months.
Overall, Lucas estimates he has around $200 in the restoration of the lighthouse. He credits Metal Worx Inc. in Fayetteville for donating the memorial sign that reads, ``In Memory of Teena and Billie Hooks.”
“I told Metal Worx about my project and they wanted to donate the sign,” Lucas said.
Lucas said he couldn’t have completed the project on his own and credited his family and neighbors for their help.
Lucas set a goal to have the lighthouse completed in time for the lake’s Fourth of July festivities. The crew finished the lighthouse on July 3, one day short of their deadline.
“It rained and stormed that day,” Lucas said, chuckling at the memory.
“Yeah, we installed the lighthouse while thunder and lightning crashed overhead,” Lazenby said. “But we did it.”
Lucas restored the lighthouse to honor his friend’s memory, and it stands as a memorial to their friendship.
When asked what Billie’s son, Chip, thought of the tribute to his father, Lucas said: “Chip became very emotional, and we’ll just leave it at that.”
Jason Canady covers Hope Mills for CityViewTODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.