If you are visiting this part of our web site you most certainly have found our operation intriguing. Our operations look smooth and easy, but it is far from easy. Lots of work goes in behind the scenes to ensure that tours run smoothly. During our first summer of operation we ran the handcar enterprise out of a cargo container with a folding table in front for customers to check in. We had a laptop computer that received internet service from a t-mobile hot spot device, with power provided by a rechargeable battery pack. Communication with customers was accomplished by cell phone. With this crazy setup we were able to process 500 customers each weekend. Long term this was not sustainable and we knew we needed to build a long term facility if we were to return.
In June 2022 when we were selected to return we drew up plans for a long term kiosk that we could operate tours from. This would not be a simple plywood booth, but a technologically advanced building designed with the constraints of the site. Our site has no electricity, no internet, no water, and our lease prohibits the installation of any permanent structures. Everything we bring in needs to be able to be moved out by truck.
The building needed to be able to do the following:
Provide facilities to serve two concurrently operating handcar sets.
Provide two customer service workstations and a dispatcher desk for coordinating handcar movements and accepting customer phone calls.
Large customer service window for customer interaction.
Off-grid solar generating system with battery.
Cellular system 5g internet.
Three telephone lines.
Two-way radio system for communicating with tours over our route.
Transportable over highway.
In August 2022 we started construction inside our shop in Santa Clarita, California. It would take almost 5 months and more $100,000 to build the 120 square foot kiosk. Approximately 1500 hours went into its construction.
The structure was built atop a 1000 pound steel frame that resembled a shipping container. The base had pockets to accommodate lifting with a forklift. With the roof the building is 11.5 feet wide, allowing 4 inches of clearance to move out of our shop.
The structure could not exceed 11 feet high in order to meet highway clearance requirements for transport.
We opted to skip placing an attic in the building to give a higher interior space so the building did not have a confining feel to it. We painted the roof joists before the roof was installed.
We opted for tongue and groove pine ceiling to add character to the interior. On top of this we placed OSB boards, followed by paper, followed by asphalt shingles.
Electrical is quite complex. There are two runs of independent EMT tubing throughout. One run carries AC power for outlets and lighting. The second run carries low voltage 12 volt DC throughout. The building is powered by a 12 volt power system that provides power to the VHF radio system, walkie talkie charging bank, USB ports, refrigerator, network, telephones, audio system, and AC inverter. Since we are running the system off-grid it made power conservation sense to power the multitude of technology in native DC power. We took things a step further by installing 12 volt power jacks directly into wall plates. Our notebook computers also receive power through built in wall USB ports.
We used real wood lap board for the siding to resemble a Southern Pacific Railroad station.
We built custom cabinetry for the building and painted it green to match the scheme. The green chosen is a close match of US Forest Service green. We tried to imitate the colors found inside USFS fire lookout towers. While the joists were painted with latex paint, the cabinets were painted with two part polyurethane custom matched by Sherwin Williams commercial paint division.
Interior coming together. We placed T&G pine on the walls. This was quite difficult as supply shortages dictated visiting half dozen Lowes stores to acquire enough straight boards to complete the project. The floor is a unique plasticized product that uses a thin coating of real wood so as not to look artificial.
This window is unique in that it is actually a high end residential sliding glass door that we ordered window height. It contains three independent sliding panels that allow us to open one large opening or two separate windows at each end. This was a costly product running just shy of $10,000.
The dispatcher desk in the rear of the building looks out over the route.
This is one of two control heads for our two-way radio transceiver. This one is situated at the dispatcher desk and a second one is in the front for the customer service representatives. Emergency communications is important for our enterprise and we need to be capable of coordinating emergency response over the branch line. While our walkie-talkies on a good day transmit a mile between handheld radios, this well thought out base station is able to receive communications from walkie-talkies over the entire route to the summit. It utilizes a high gain directional antenna mounted on the roof to ensure we maintain communications at all times. The wall plate next to the radio has two types of USB ports for providing power to our notebook computers and also cell phone chargers. There are also power over ethernet ports for providing power to our voice over IP desk phones.
Inside the equipment box reveals only a portion of the hardware. Lower left is the 12 volt inverter that supplies 110 volt AC to the kiosk. Next to that is the 200 amp hour 12 volt battery. On top of the inverter is the 5g internet router, and power of ethernet switch for powering the phone system. We operate two desk phones, with built in expansion in the kiosk for three desk phones. The 5g internet cell site is across the street at City Hall and we are able to receive 30 mbps upload and 60 mbps download. Impressive speeds. Above that is the audio amplifier that hasn’t been pressed into service yet. Above that is our custom built power distribution box that feeds 12 volt power throughout the kiosk. Each run is independently fuse protected. Not visible and stacked behind is the off-grid solar battery charger, usb power supply modules, and the public safety grade two-way radio transceiver.
Preparing the station site began with shoveling recycled road base and creating a level pad next to the tracks. The orange markings show the future building placement.
Smith Tree Service came in trimmed the native Monterey Cypress trees to accommodate the building.
Meanwhile in Santa Clarita the building is moved out using forklifts and pallet jacks. There was only four inches to spare, but the building made it out.
Careful maneuvering with two forklifts down our driveway.
The kiosk was placed on the truck for the 300 mile journey north. Roof was tarped so the shingles don’t blow off on the freeway. The move was performed by our neighbor Freeway Towing. These guys are recovery specialists and they cleanup up the worsts of trucking crashes on the freeways around Santa Clarita. If you ever hear about a truck crash over the Grapevine, these are the guys that clean it up.
The next day a crane from West Coast Crane picked up the building and set it on the pad.
Building is installed with solar, but a little shading will require a little more tree trimming. On a good day our solar system generates 1000 watts of power.
Two of the more than 8 antennas to be found on the building. The yellow square is our UHF antenna for our future wireless microphone system to assist with presenting safety speeches. The roof mounted antenna is our VHF system antenna to ensure our signals make it to their destination. For the radio geeks we are licensed for 160.050 mhz within the railroad radio band and permitted to transmit 50 watts. Other antennas for cellular and wi-fi are mounted within the walls of the building.
Preparing the front for paver stone. Shortly after the kiosk was placed we installed a safety fence to protect customers from standing on the tracks.
The building is lit nicely at night using four led bulbs.