Three hours southwest of Portland, along a scenic stretch of the Oregon coast, stands Heceta Head lighthouse. This classic lighthouse offers a spectacular view, towering two hundred feet above the ocean. It’s also a functioning lighthouse, able to project a beam of light more than twenty miles out to sea. But after more than a century of exposure to the punishing rain and wind, the lighthouse was closed for repairs in 2011. That’s when Amy McAuley, the owner and sole employee of Oculus Fine Carpentry, became part of a small army of subcontractors hired to help restore the lighthouse to its original condition.
With a background in fine arts and almost two decades of construction experience, Amy has developed a unique craft: she uses traditional methods and tools to restore the windows on nineteenth century buildings, like the Heceta Head lighthouse. Because Amy does all of her work with traditional tools — “I sold all my power tools six years ago,” she says — Amy can perform her work in remote areas where electricity isn’t available. The Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department is a frequent client of Amy’s, since many of the historic buildings they own are located significantly “off the beaten track.”
After working in construction since 1996, Amy wasn’t sure she wanted to continue in the construction trades. Frustrated at not being able to get ahead or put her art degree to good use, she didn’t have a clear path forward. But she continued working in the field and finally found her passion for preservation after watching a PBS documentary on the restoration of an English castle. Learning technique on the job, and doing plenty of reading on her own, allowed Amy to turn that passion into a marketable skill set. With help from the PCC Small Business Development Center, Amy formed a strategy to bring her high-value skill set into its niche market. She founded Oculus Fine Carpentry in 2002.
“I never wanted to be a business owner,” Amy says. Being your own boss involves paperwork and legal or accounting procedures that can be daunting. But Amy credits the SBDC with giving her a solid foundation of best practices for owning a “solo” business, as well as providing specific advice. “Often times these folks who have a gift for the construction trades don’t necessarily have any business background, or they’re a little scared. And I feel like [the SBDC] is a great avenue to make them successful.”
After two years of work at the Heceta Head lighthouse, traveling back and forth from Portland, Amy’s work helped bring the lighthouse back to life: it reopened to the public in 2013. “Working on the lighthouse was the experience of a lifetime,” Amy told us. And despite local claims that the lighthouse is haunted, Amy was not bothered by the ghosts. In fact, she told us the trick to screening out the eerie sounds of the howling wind: “put on headphones.”