Chapter Six: Trolleys and Interurbans
Elmer Walker's story, the story of technical progress within the Community, and especially the story of why an electric railway was decided upon for the New World and how Elmer and his crews began building that railway.
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by Elmer Walker

Although I am a second-generation homesteader, I was there from near the beginning as my parents were part of the first group to settle in our Pennsylvania valley in 1925.

As a young boy, I grew up with a fascination with science, invention, and electronics -- a tech-oriented kid in a non-tech community. There never was any attempt in the Community to try to discourage me or to deny me the learning opportunities I sought. I imagine my parents and their friends thought it was more important to be good parents than to create a homesteader out of me. In fact, my teachers encouraged me to explore and to demonstrate the devices I had created. I guess they assumed that I would someday leave to work in industry. But while I did leave the Community to begin college and to serve as a mechanic during WWII, I had very little interest in making money or joining the treadmill. After the war, I never did go back to college to finish that engineering degree. Instead, I was fascinated with the idea of coming up with better solutions to some of our problems. Perhaps I preferred being a big frog in a small pond or the one-eyed man in the land of the blind, as someone said. What I said was that I would rather be valuable than wealthy, although in today's world, it takes more than talent to become wealthy.

I suppose my most useful contribution has been making tools to help make our work easier. Whether it was a loom, a mill, a steam engine, or a hand tool someone needed, I was the one to make it, install it, repair it, and improve it.

One of my great discoveries was a Franklin stove. Yeah, I know that just about every stove sold on the market is called a Franklin stove, but actually none of them are. The same thing is true with Webster's dictionaries.

Most stoves burn like cigarettes. In a cigarette, the smoke is cooled before it reaches your lungs, which is good. Of course, it would be better if the smoke never reached your lungs at all. In a stove, the rapidly cooling smoke creates tar which coats the flue pipe and sometimes burns the house down. Produced with the tar are soot and invisible gases, such as carbon monoxide. In a real Franklin stove, the hot gases are recirculated through the heat and get a second chance to burn, thus increasing the effectiveness of the stove, although making it harder to start.

However, the Franklin stove is tricky to design, and the secret has been lost over time. But I was willing to fool around with the thing, using old drawings, and I finally got it working properly. I had the great advantage of being able to add forced circulation, using an electric motor which used very little current.

I was also the one that brought electricity to the Community. For years, everyone had been using kerosene lamps, but the lamps caused problems. They were never quite bright enough, produced too much heat in the summertime, often carbonized and filled the house with stinking smoke, consumed oxygen and added combustion byproducts and petroleum fumes to the air of the room, forced us to purchase kerosene, and constituted a burn and fire hazard. On several occasions, children were burned, and once a house caught on fire, due to accidents with these lamps. But on the other hand, there was real hostility in the Community to installing a conventional lighting system. Everyone wanted to be in harmony with Nature and not with Ready Kilowatt. My solution was a low voltage electrical system used only for lighting that employed smaller, more efficient bulbs. Nobody really needs 150-watt light bulbs inside a house. I built a small steam engine to power the lights, and we installed the system in the school. The wood that used to just heat the building now operated the steam engine which produced light for the building at the same time.

I was then asked if I could solve another problem. Our sawmill and lumber mill used gas engines or gas generators powering electric motors, and we used gas motors or generators in other places as well. If I could produce power for lighting, why couldn't I produce it to run motors that would replace these gas engines? Thus, I started work on building a larger steam engine, one that could supply power to the entire community, using either scrap wood or coal for fuel. I ended up building several steam engines, each one somewhat larger and better made than the previous. When most people think of a steam engine, they picture the one James Watt improved, with massive cylinders and a big firebox, which is going back quite a few years. My engines didn't have a boiler but just coiled tubing that was heated by a fire. Much higher pressure is produced that way, and the danger of an explosion is eliminated. Power is produced more quickly too, although a steam engine still takes a long time to get running compared with a combustion engine. The engine itself could be a turbine or something looking similar to a combustion engine. In fact, to avoid the necessity of creating my own pistons and everything, I made the steam engines out of used motor vehicle engines. I used two identical combustion engines to make each steam engine, with the pistons coming together in cyclinders that were twice as long. Steam provides greater expansion than the gas from combustion, hence the longer cylinders. The power output was a good bit less than the same engines produced with combustion, and the speed was lower as well, but the torque was much greater. If I had made the engine from scratch, I would have also made the pistons three different sizes, with the steam being used three times, first in the smallest cylinder and last in the largest cylinder.

Our trolley system was a late experiment. During the 50's, we had been talking about ways to generate income because many of us had been having to seek outside income in order to support ourselves and our families. Until that time, we had only been trying to supply our own needs, which we could never do 100%. So, the proposal was made to open the store and to try to market hand-crafted items, organic foods, and whatever else we could sell to locals and to tourists. I had read about how the early trolley companies had built amusement parks to create business for themselves, so I suggested that a trolley ride to our lake, which would be prepared for fishing, swimming, and picnicking, could be an attraction. This idea was not enthusiastically accepted; many wanted to keep the lake to ourselves, and others doubted if such an operation could be practical. However, I was given permission to tinker on trolleys, as long as I spent only my own money initially (the permission was really to lay track -- no one cared what I did in my own space).

By keeping in touch with some of the streetcar clubs, I was eventually able to get us a Birney for just the cost of trucking it in (which exhausted my savings). A Birney is the smallest trolley, less than 28 feet long, holding a couple of dozen passengers at most, and having a single truck underneath (a truck consists of four wheels, one or two motors, and a braking system, all operating as a unit). The Birney had two trolley poles, both in the middle, and controls and doors at both ends, so it could operate in both directions without turning around. After I finally got into the motors and controls, I realized that much had corroded away. Nor did I understand enough to restore the car. For several years, I hardly touched it, but I did not forget it either; I kept in contact with the streetcar clubs, visited museums with similar cars and asked questions of the people who had restored them, read old manuals, and eventually began the task. Fortunately, I was given a lot of help by friends and family. We were finally able to bring about a miracle. However, it would have been much easier to have built a car from scratch if I had known what to do.

Now I had a new power generation problem. While my latest steam engine could produce enough power to operate the car at a useful speed, or enough power for everyone's light or enough power to run our various pieces of motorized equipment, it could not begin to handle all these tasks at one time. In addition, it took a lot of fuel to keep it going, and someone to tend it at all times, so I was reluctantly given permission to put the Community on the public power grid. We bought the power for the Community, not for individual houses or buildings, which saved a great deal of money, and I took on the task of wiring everything up, including the trolley.

We first ran the car on just a few hundred feet of track, and then we extended the track to the store. After demonstrating that the trolley was working OK and that people were interested in riding it, we were given permission to extend the track to the lake, and the lake was prepared to receive visitors. The trolley system was completed in the spring of 1960. After then, on weekends from May through September, we would have picnic lunches and sales at the lake on Saturdays, unless it rained. The money charged for the trolley rides really never did actually pay for the time and trouble that went into it, but we thought it was successful at helping draw tourists to buy our crafts and lunches.

I am pleased to say that others have taken great interest in these projects. My sons and daughter, Kevin, John, and Brenda, have all become interested in my work: Brenda likes to design, and I think she'll be an engineer one day, Kevin likes to tinker and tweak, and John is an electrician. George Lincoln's parents joined the Community in the mid 50's. George has the personality of a builder and a leader. He left us for college and work as an engineer, but he was always dropping by and helping out, and he was eager to return as soon as he learned of the New World. My wife Betty has been a constant, invaluable supporter, and her common sense has often straightened us out or solved the problem for us, even though she doesn't know beans about engineering.

When the task of founding a whole New World presented itself to us, I was glad that we had acquired our trolley experience. In order to maintain even a nineteenth-century civilization, we would have to be able to mine ores hundreds of miles apart. Yet we did not want our New World to fragment into separate peoples who would eventually go to war with one another. So, we needed an efficient transportation system that would keep them united. There are many alternatives to trolleys, and George has presented an analysis of the merits and problems of each, using dollar amounts when possible. The lowest tech solution would be dirt roads plus horses and wagons. Such a system would initially be much cheaper but would eventually lead to very high transportation costs, discouraging trade between the new communities and encouraging fragmentation. The high transportation costs would also result in expensive products which might encourage dependency on the old world. A high tech solution would be the construction of asphalt roads and the use of trucks and automobiles. Ignoring the Founder's prohibition against combustion engines for this analysis, such a transportation system could ruin us economically anyway, due to the huge investment required. As a lower cost alternative, we could use trucks and buses on gravel roads, buying new vehicles only after years of use. Except for the fuel costs, that system would be comparable or even cheaper in start-up costs than a trolley system although the operating costs would be greater; however, it would leave us dependent on the other world for vehicles, parts, and fuel, which would keep us struggling economically, very much like the third world countries which have adopted that solution. The system most similar to our trolley system would be the use of steam trains instead of trolleys. With the very small industries and communities that we planned, long trains would have far too many stops with far too many cars being connected and disconnected while short trains would require the construction of many steam engines. Steam engines would be more difficult to build than electric motors, and steam trains would have to carry a large supply of wood, which would take additional energy. It's true that we would have to produce power from steam for an electric railroad, but a large power plant with steam turbines would be more efficient than small engines used on trains, and the fuel would not have to be hauled around. So, a trolley system seemed like the best bet. If we wanted long trains in the future, we could always run them on the same track, and there's no advantage to their not being electrified. The diesel trains used in the US owe their existence to economic power, not diesel power, as the diesels actually generate electricity which is used to power motors in the trucks. In Europe, electric trains have dominated.

An electrical railway system has these advantages: First, it uses energy the most efficiently due to the low friction of steel wheels on rails, the efficiency and regenerative abilities of electric motors, and the use of a weightless fuel (electricity), provided transmission losses are kept low through the use of high voltage lines. Second, it allows the use of multiple sources of power -- wood, coal, water, wind, and sun. Third, the power stations and electric lines can also supply power to homes and shops. Fourth, the system can be built using fairly low-tech equipment and materials; we would need only the equivalent of the technical level of the 1890's to maintain it. Fifth, we would not need the deep cuts and wide bends of a standard railway, as we would have only short trains, with nearly every car powered.

Once deciding upon the trolleys, the question was whether we should build a light weight, low speed system or a heavier, higher speed system. In this case, the best solution would be to grow from one system to another. As long as we built the cars to the same height and width, there would be no incompatibility. In the beginning, lighter cars with less powerful motors operating at lower speeds would be more economical; later with longer distances to cover, heavier and more powerful cars could run at greater speeds over more carefully leveled and straightened tracks.

The final issue to decide on was uniform standards for the new cars. If we built the cars following no particular pattern or standards, we would have increased costs and reduced efficiency. The first item to be considered was the matter of gauge (width between the tracks). Railroad tracks have been built to gauges of from as wide as seven feet to under two feet wide, while a gauge of four foot, eight and a half inches has become the standard, a gauge that goes back to the ancient Romans. In Pennsylvania, the cities did not want the streetcars to use the same gauge as the railroads for fear that railroad cars would be operated over city streets, so the state adopted a gauge of five foot two and a half inches. The advantage of a narrow gauge is that it allows for narrow, low-cost cars and tight turns; therefore, narrow gauge tracks were laid in mines and in rugged mountain country. The advantage of a wide gauge is that it allows for wider, stabler cars. The advantage of standard gauge is that it would allow us to use standard railroad equipment, and the advantage of Pennsylvania gauge is that it would allow us to use old streetcars.

At a meeting to decide on these standards, I stated that standard railroad cars and equipment were currently much too heavy for our operations, and old streetcars would need expensive or time-consuming restoration, even if we bought some of the PCC's that Pittsburgh was retiring; besides we would not be needing many passenger cars anyway. Nor would we be able to find or buy appropriate trucks and axles of either gauge. As a result, we could use any gauge we wanted. I told them that there is no reason to believe that standard gauge is superior; only a historical accident created that standard. I suggested a gauge of six foot; it would provide better stability and thus reduce the chance of a derailment and would allow wider cars. Curves would have to be more gentle, but trolley cars operated singly or in short trains with every wheel powered could handle much tighter curves than standard railways anyway; street railways had curves with a radius as tight as 35 feet, although the track had special flanges; we wouldn't need anything that tight. Usually, train and trolley cars were between eight and nine feet wide, but I wanted our cars to be a full ten feet wide. Wide cars would be very comfortable for passenger coaches as they would allow for two wide seats on either side and an aisle of decent width, and they would allow wider freight loads as well. I further stated that I would like a uniform width and height for all cars, to make loading and unloading from platforms easier. I suggested a height of three feet above the rails for the floors. I further suggested that all freight cars be eight foot high inside. I was asked at that time if pantographs or third rail collectors would not work better than trolley poles. I replied that, in high speed operations, they would; however, poles were very efficient in lower speed operations, simpler, and cheaper. We could later upgrade to either system without much trouble if we wished. For trolley operation, I suggested that we standardize on twelve hundred (eight grand) volts DC as a reasonable compromise between high and low voltage (it was used by most interurban car companies, thus I would be able to copy their designs).

We would need power in the New World, and I suggested moving our current steam engine down there. We had not had any major power disruptions, and I could prepare one of the older engines to take its place in case of such an event. The unit moved to the New World would not give us a great deal of power, but it would get us started. Using it, we could run either the town lights (at night), the sawmill, or one trolley, but not any two at one time. In addition, the new trolleys would be rather slow, as we would have to match their motors to the output of the steam engine. However, the trolleys would be traveling only short distances for the first few years anyway. In November, we moved that engine to the New World and built a chimney for it, and it performed satisfactorily.

George also designed the station that would transfer people from one world to the other. We wanted it to look like some kind of warehouse or trucking station from the outside, even though we built it out of sight of the road. Fortunately, building permits and inspections are not required in that county, and zoning is unheard of. No approval of any kind was necessary except from the trucking industry. There were quite a few restrictions there, and a necessity for reporting our business. However, we avoided this problem by using mostly small trucks (which do not have to be inspected for weight) and by never delivering goods between other companies; thus we could avoid being considered a trucking company and having to report our activities. In designing this station, we decided to power it and the trolleys from generators running off of automobile engines fueled by propane. That kind of generator was decided upon because we wanted a lot of power, very quickly, for a very short period of time. It takes a lot less work to convert a motor vehicle engine to propane than it does to convert it to steam; besides, a steam engine would take a while to power up. We wanted to produce our own electricity because we did not want to alert the power company or anyone else that anything unusual was happening in our station.

The parts of our new trolleys most difficult to construct were the trucks, motors, brakes, and electrical equipment, so we spent the last part of 1966 making designs, gathering equipment, and testing the results. We purchased used wheels at first but machined our own axles. We also purchased coil springs for use in the trucks; we used a truck coil spring rather than the railroad type because the latter were too heavy. We welded our own trucks following old designs as much as possible, but making everything lighter and stronger, and wound motors and built air brakes to go in them. We actually made several trucks before we were pleased with the result. We wanted trucks which could carry heavy loads while softening the ride, and which would be easy to work on, especially the motors. We designed the trucks with two motors per truck, but initially, we installed only one per truck, and not a powerful motor at that. The motor could be removed, repaired, or replaced, or a second motor added without having to lift the car body off of the trucks, especially since our carbarn would have standing room underneath the tracks. (I have been asked why I didn't use smaller wheels, since smaller wheels would have lowered the car heighth, reducing wind resistance. However, they would have made maintenance more difficult and replacing the motors in the field impossible. Thirty {two and a half dozen} inch wheels were a good compromise.) The trucks for all the cars were identical in size and in most other details, so any truck could be used with any car. They were six foot wide between the rails and six foot long between the axle centers; this made them eight and a half foot long overall. For later cars, we quit making the trucks all alike, as we wanted softer-riding trucks for passenger-carrying cars and stronger, heavier trucks for freight and work cars.

In Alabama, George Lincoln began the construction of the station in January, after most of the larger building projects had been completed in the New World, and Brenda began work on the temporary carbarn. Her design was a semicylindrical building, looking like an oversized Quonset hut, but using plywood (and a few fiberglass sheets for light) for the arched roof. We later disassembed this building and rebuilt it on the other side.

As soon as this barn was completed, we began work on three cars, each designed to be as practical as possible. Of course, the plans for these cars had been drawn back in the fall. These cars would need to be lighter than future cars because our steam engine could not produce a great deal of power. For this reason, the four cars were initially limited to a seventy-five (six dozen) horsepower each, and only one could be operated at a time. As we also had to have cars that could be completed at a reasonable cost without involving too much labor, we kept them rather simple. In addition, we had planned for them to be built using mostly marine plywood, as we would not have sufficient appropriate lumber otherwise. Under the floor of all the cars were five I-beams which stretched from end to end and provided the structural support of the cars. These I-beams were welded together with heavy crossbeams at each end and lighter crossbeams in between. The I-beams used to construct the combine and box motor were four inches deep; those used for the flatcar were six inches deep. The attachments for the trucks were welded to these I-beams and their crossbeams. The passenger car and the freight car were framed in light steel with sheets of plywood fitting between the frames and screwed into place. The plywood thus served as the inside and outside skin and provided the rigidity that the cars needed and helped to support any loads carried. Each car was divided into sections, and these sections were either partitioned or partially partitioned, the partitions greatly improving the strength. The work car was built of heavier stuff, as it would have to carry the most weight and could not utilize internal bracing, but it had two cabs of similar but all wood construction. On all three cars, the plywood was stained a dark brown on the outside and was varnished on the inside. All three were double ended, with controls and trolleys at each end. Each end also had a large white light in the middle and two smaller red lights to the sides. A fourth car was also built; it was constructed entirely of steel and had no wooden parts. It had a cab, so to speak, on the one end only, but the trolley could be reversed to use in either direction, and the lights were the same as the others. All four cars had couplers at both ends. We decided to make couplers standard on all cars, so a disabled or unpowered car could be towed.

The most important car was our flatcar/work car. This car was seventy-two (six dozen) feet long, the longest length we would allow a car to be constructed. Above the trucks was a flat, rectangular platform, ten feet wide and the length of the car. At the front in the center was a four foot wide, six foot long control cab, looking sort of like an outhouse with large, waist-high windows all around, with a big light mounted low in front and a trolley pole mounted in the middle of the roof. At the far end of the car was an identical cab, facing the opposite way. Behind each of the cabs at each end of the car was a power boom and winch, to aid in loading or unloading poles, crossties, and rails. In the middle of the car was a light-weight T-shaped tower, six foot square at the base and four foot square at the ten foot height, topped by a platform, four-foot wide and twelve feet long with railings. The tower allowed workmen to put up or to work on the trolley line, yet the tower could be easily removed if in the way. It was lower than the trolley wires, yet still within convenient reach to assemble the overhead. In front of and behind the tower along the center line of the car were reels, the front one for copper contact wire and the rear for steel cable, feeder wire, or transmission wire. Used with the tower was a mast that could be raised to a height of sixteen feet above the platform; the trolley wire from the front reel would be threaded through this mast when wire was being installed. Mounted on the front left side next to the cab was a small derrick holding a motor auger which could be swung out to drill post holes. When not helping to build or maintain the trolley line and track, the work car could be used as a flatcar, mainly to haul large items that would not fit within the box motor car.

The second trolley which we built was a freight car, called a box motor. This car was forty-eight (four dozen) feet long, with six feet at both ends for use by the motorman, leaving a useful space, thirty-six (three dozen) feet long, ten feet wide, and eight feet high. This space was divided into four compartments, each nearly nine foot wide, ten foot long, and eight foot high. We designed large, roll-on carts with low, wide pneumatic tires that would fit into these spaces, the idea being to load the carts before the trolley arrived, thus making the loading and unloading of the trolley very fast. This scheme required us to build a large number of carts in addition to our other tasks. Both ends of the car were curved, almost half-circles, with three large windows for the motorman to see through ahead and a large light mounted low in the center on the front.

The third car was a passenger car, of the type known as a combine, also forty-eight (four dozen) feet long. At each end was a compartment which was six foot long, which included the entrances and a place for the motorman to sit or stand and operate the trolley. As was true with the freight car, the ends of this car were quite rounded, with three large windows in front at each end. The center section was thirty-six (three dozen) feet long, ten feet wide, and eight feet high. This section was divided into six compartments, each with a three foot aisle in the middle. Each section had two bench seats on each side facing one another with a table in between and a double window. Storage space was available underneath the seats, or the seats could be folded up to turn the entire section into a storage area. Likewise the table could be folded against the wall. Each window could be opened and included a slide-up screen hidden within the sill. The maximum seating capacity was forty-eight (four dozen) adults, but usually half of a section or a whole section was used for baggage. For this reason, the two sections at one end of the car had doors which could be opened from the outside. Normally, when loading or unloading passengers, the combine would be stopped at a dock, allowing the passenger to leave without climbing down a ladder, but there was also a ladder for the few occasions when someone would get on or off in between stops, a practice we generally discouraged.

The motorman's cab on all the cars was designed for simple operation. The motorman had to keep his foot on a deadman's plate or the car would automatically brake to a stop. He could either stand or use a simple round seat. Next to him was a horizontal lever that controlled speed. The deadman's plate doubled as a brake; removing a foot would cause the motors to cut out and the air brakes to engage. The brakes would remain engaged until the motorman put a foot back on the plate. There was also an emergency manual brake lever which did not require compressed air to work; this brake was locked on whenever the car was stopped more than briefly, unless the operator was reversing the car. There was a cord hanging down to blow a horn to scare animals away from the track, and another cord for a more polite bell for people. In the front panel were toggle switches to control exterior and interior lights. There were none of the gauges found in an automobile: speed was estimated (and not very high), and there was no oil pressure or gas tank. However, there was a gauge for air pressure, so the operator would be aware if it was low, and a gauge for the battery used for temporary lighting. These lights were used in those rare instances when the power was shut down, when there was a break in the trolley line, or if the trolley pole came off of the wire. The operator might also use this lighting when reversing the direction of the car (some operators would leave both poles up for a while, and others would have both lowered for a while). Since the car could be operated from either end, the controls at both ends were connected together; this meant, for instance, that stepping on the deadman's plate at either end could start the car rolling. To prevent accidents caused by curious kids, the operator would secure all the controls at one end before going outside to reverse his poles and then get back in the other end. One final piece of equipment was the radio which allowed the motorman to talk directly to those in the hollow tree, in other cars, or at the stations at either end. Although working just like a radio, this was actually an always-on telephone which worked through the electric contact.

Although they looked beautiful to me at the time, compared to later cars, these first attempts were rather ugly and crude. They were made of plywood and built by engineers rather than by carpenters. The doors and windows tended to stick or rattle, and cracks there let in cold air during the winter. The cars would shake and rattle, even though their top speed was not much over fifteen miles an hour, because our track was only approximately straight and flat and because we needed to improve the trucks to dampen bumps and vibrations better. The cars suffered from break-downs and various unrepairable ills. After a few years, the roofs leaked in a heavy rain. However, we loved them with a passion, even while we were cursing them, because they connected our settlements together and made our lives easier. Every new settler arrived on the combine; everyone returning to the old world used the combine. Every plant, every factory, every farm, every mill, every operation had its loading dock, and the box motor, flatcar, or combine would stop, following its schedule, to deliver logs, posts, lumber, furniture, carved goods, pottery, glassware, plate glass, brick, gravel, stone, cement, canned and fresh food, beverages, beehives, animals, milk, cheese, cloth, raw cotton, books -- in short, whatever we used. Carts and wagons did not cease to be used after the cars were introduced, but they were mainly used to haul goods or materials within the communities or to and from the cars. These first cars had a short life. For the first few years, they were our only cars and were used on a regular basis. However, the next series of cars were built of better materials and with more experience. They were also faster, stronger, and heavier. These cars were then demoted to sections of rail which received less traffic. When the plywood began to deteriorate, it was not easy to replace. The box motor was the first to be reassigned because it couldn't carry enough weight; it was used for some years as a livestock car. The combine was converted next; it became a traveling office for the railroad, parked on some spur of track most of the time. Finally, it was converted into a memorial of our early years, and it has remained in the same spot ever since. You can find it at Cave. The flatcar is still in use as a line car, I believe, although I haven't seen it for years.

The fourth car was quite different from the others. I had searched for a damaged vehicle with a serviceable power shovel and finally located a Gradall. After adapting the hydraulic system to run off of an electric motor, we mounted the shovel on one end of an all-steel car, and a dump bed to hold gravel or dirt took up the rest of the space. There was no real operator's car other than the cab for the Gradall, and we had a number of problems in adapting our controls to the ones that already existed in the Gradall (it was designed so an operator could drive or move the vehicle from his cab. The operator of this car would have limited visibility when traveling, but it would normally be left at the end of the line anyway. We added outriggers to this car which would extend out and support the vehicle from tipping while operating the bucket. We got the outriggers and hydraulic controls from the Gradall. There were a number of useful things this car could do: it could dig ditches alongside the railroad, create a roadbed alongside when needed, spread gravel over the tracks, dig gravel from the quarry, and so on. This vehicle has had a long service life, although it requires frequent work.

George's transfer station was being constructed at the same time. It looked like a typical warehouse, sixty (five dozen) feet wide and one hundred and eighty (a grand and three dozen) feet long, covered with old corrugated sheet siding, except for some fiberglass panels in the roof to let in light. Two tracks entered in center of the south end between three foot high platforms. These tracks ran parallel for over 72 (six dozen) feet and then began to slowly converge. At a point 90 (seven dozen and six) feet from the entrance, they entered a concrete tunnel. The tracks continued to converge until they became one track and then reached the solid end of the tunnel, where there was a bumper, in case a car was not stopped soon enough. After a car had entered the tunnel, a sliding door would cover the opening. As the cars were ten foot wide each and a small amount of extra room was necessary, the platforms on either side in the station were eighteen feet (a dozen and six) feet wide. On the west side of the building towards the south end were three loading docks, for our fleet of small trucks (deliberately small, so they wouldn't have to stop at weigh stations) to load and unload. If not already on carts, incoming cargo was loaded onto them at that point and then -- if deemed appropriate -- wheeled into the gas chamber just north, where it would sit in an atmosphere of carbon dioxide for some time, in order to kill hidden insects, mice, or other pests (fans would remove the carbon dioxide before the door was opened). Past this gassing station and to the north were the offices and past them were the generators, which provided all the power for the building plus power for the trolley cars, and with them was the air-conditioning and filtration system. The east side was normally the passenger loading area, and thus it was not used as often for unloading and loading cargo, but it was always available for that purpose. It had one very long door and a mechanical hoist. A flatbed trailer could be parked parallel to the door, and rail for our railroad lifted from the trailer and placed directly on the flatcar with the hoist. Logs could be loaded from the flatcar to the flatbed in the same way. North of this loading area was the passenger station which included a waiting area and two restrooms, each with showers. On the north side of the building was the parking area for buses, with a covered roof. Originally, we intended to use Volkswagen buses, as we had been using for the Community, but we rapidly switched to large, coach-style buses for several reasons including, 1) the VW buses were wearing out too quickly, 2) they carried too few people, and 3) they soon were perceived to be counter-culture vehicles.

One other aspect of the building needs to be mentioned: the effort to keep out spores, fungus, pollen, insects, and small creatures. The air inside the building was constantly filtered at all times. To enter required traveling through two sets of doors, a short distance apart, to reduce the amount of outside air entering. One of these doors could not be opened while the other was open. While in the space between, we were supposed to vacuum our clothing each time. Then, we were supposed to take a shower after coming in and to change into other clothes, leaving those in a locker for the trip out. Each of the loading doors, except for the widest one, was designed with a rubber hood for the trucks to back into. The flatbed trailer supplying rails for our trolley was actually parked inside a shed with a closed door, although this space was considered "outside" and was not filtered. All cargos entering had to be fumigated with carbon dioxide and/or washed before they could proceed further. The trolley door leading to the carbarn had its seal and was supposed to be used only when absolutely necessary, and the door to the tunnel had a seal as well.

The station was designed to work as follows: Those being brought to the New World would arrive at the transfer station at night in buses, preferably with everyone asleep. The buses would not stop along the way anywhere near the station, thus not giving the passengers an opportunity to figure out where they were. When they arrived, they would be given temporary clothes and told to shower and to leave their old clothes in a marked bag with their luggage (we would send the luggage later, after laundering all the clothes and gassing the bags). Then they would walk down to the waiting trolley and get in. The gatekeeper on the other side, located in the Founder's hollow tree, would be notified that a combine was coming. This trick would be accomplished by him using a small loop which would open into a completely enclosed concrete box, in which was a microphone, a speaker, and indicator lights, one showing when the door to the tunnel was completely closed. Besides the equipment in this small loop, the gatekeeper would have clear sight up and down the trolley tracks in the New World through hidden windows in the tree and would have signals to tell him if a trolley was coming either way, plus "radio" links to both stations and to the trolleys. The motorman would start the trolley and would slowly drive it into the tunnel. When the car was completely within, he would cut off the power and announce on his radio that everything was OK. The stationkeeper would close the outside door and would notify the gatekeeper, who would close the small loop and open a large one. (Both loops started from the same connections on the Founder's bit of plastic, a switch determining which one was active. It had been discovered that if both wires were insulated and close to each other, that an opening would not occur. Thus the opening between the worlds could be several feet away from the gatekeeper.) The large loop would be located in the New World but would be almost unnoticeable. Along the track leading from Cave to the quarry, near where it passes the hollow tree, would be a wire going up one side of a wooden pole, across a simple bridge cross span for the trolley, down the pole to the ground on the other side and across the ground and under the tracks to the pole on the other side. There would only be two special problems created by the loop: first, the rails would have to have a gap at this point (no problem, we would begin laying rail right there), and second, we had to be very careful that the loop could not short between the trolley wire and track. Inside the tunnel, the motorman would see an opening suddenly appear in front of him as power went into the loop, and he would feel a rapid change in air pressure in his ears. He would then resume power. At the moment the rear wheels crossed the loop, they would no longer provide a ground connection, and the car would suddenly lose power from the old world and coast until the trolley pole crossed under the loop into the new. When that happened, power would resume, now coming from the New World, and the motorman would proceed to the hotel, where the immigrants would be unloaded for the night. As soon as the gatekeeper in the hollow tree saw the car was clear of the loop, he would close it and open his small loop, so he once again had contact with the old world.

A motorman traveling from Cave to the old world would first notify the gatekeeper with his radio of his destination, and the gatekeeper would check with the old world station. The station keeper would decide if the trolley should be on the east or west side track inside the station and change the electrical switch accordingly. He would also start up the heavy-duty generator to power the car after it entered the old world. Nearing the hollow tree, the motorman would slow the car to about six miles an hour and turn on his light, if not already on. The gatekeeper would see him coming and would open the loop after making sure the door was closed on the other side. The motorman would see the track stretching ahead of him through the woods, until the tunnel would suddenly appear right in front of him. He would slide into the tunnel while braking and stop when he had passed the appropriate distance mark for his car. As soon as the gatekeeper saw that the trolley was completely inside, he would close the main loop, open the small loop, and notify the station keeper that the trolley was in the tunnel. The station keeper would open the electric door to the tunnel, and the car would proceed forward.

In later years, immigrants were mystified about the tunnel. They knew that the trolley had passed through a tunnel coming in, but when traveling south on the railroad, the tunnel was no longer there, so they wanted to know where it was. We old-timers considered the whole thing a good joke and would tell them we didn't know where it was either. When the bike road was built, it by-passed this section of track.

At the end of the summer in 1967, we received word that the people from California would be returning late, which would throw everyone else off schedule. However, this was fortunate for us, as we needed to lay rail and install wire while not much activity was taking place. We really needed about a good month without traffic, although I knew we wouldn't have that much time. When Jon and the Founder arrived, we went into overdrive, so of course, most of us never made it to the big party in Cave, and for those who went, I gave strict orders that we were starting at daybreak the next morning. Two very important tasks had to be done immediately: 1) There was no power for the trolley on the other side of the loop, so we had to run a wire all the way to the generator before we could lay any track. 2) The hollow tree still lacked some preparations, and the bridge cross span needed to be installed before we could operate the loop from there. Kevin was given the task of running the wire to the generator, and John was given the task of finishing the work on the hollow tree and loop. Both of them had a crew with them, of course. The rest of us spent our time getting the flatcar ready. I went down to the carbarn while Brenda cut on the generators in the station and opened the end door. The car shuddered as it started up and inched its way out of the building, across the road and into the station. When it was fully inside, I stopped it, and everyone began loading it, using the overhead hoist, from our piles of poles and rails which we already had waiting inside (the poles were new, but we had been able to purchase used rail and other track equipment at scrap prices). After rails and poles were loaded on each side, we hoisted aboard the reel of grooved contact wire, which was fastened in place in the center ahead of the tower. We also loaded a similar roll of steel wire, which we would cut up to make pull-overs and guys. There was also a good bit of hardware aboard, both for the overhead and for the tracks. For the overhead, we had crossarms, brackets, braces, insulators, hangers, and pull-overs, and for the tracks we had bolts, fishplates, tie plates, railbonds, and spikes. This was mostly salvaged equipment. And of course, the flatcar carried lots of tools underneath.

In the morning, before the sun and the party goers were up, I awoke my crew from their tents and sent Kevin to move the loop from the cave to the hollow tree and to operate the gate that morning. Going with him through the cave were Jerry and Gene, who I sent with a walkie-talkie to start the steam engine at Cave, if it wasn't already started, and to tell the saw crew that we would be using all the power that day. Also, I suggested that they ask for volunteers to join us on the railroad to speed up the work. When we got the signal in the station that Kevin was in place, I had him test his equipment, and then we piled on the flatcar. When everyone was on, I looked up at the glass window of the manager's office, to the left of the tunnel, and saw George Lincoln talking into the microphone while looking at us. I gave him the thumbs-up signal, and almost immediately the green light came on. I shouted, "All aboard!" and slowly advanced the controller until the car started shuddering its way into the tunnel. I thought, "What if it breaks down now? Would I ever live down the jokes?" While going into the tunnel, I cut on the cab lights and the headlights, so we could see. When we were fully inside, I stopped the car, and the gate slid closed behind us. Right after we heard the gate shut, the loop opened, and the light of the New World flooded in. I exited the cab saying, "Let's get to work." Maybe those'll be famous words some day.

To exit the tunnel, we had to lay track. We found crossties waiting for us, laying to one side or the other of the gravel railbed. The crossties were picked up by workers at each end and moved to the center of the bed while two others with survey tape and transit made sure the ties were placed parallel, the correct distance apart, and following the centerline of the railbed (our survey stakes were still in place) and the tie plates approximately positioned. Once the ties were ready, we needed to haul two rails from off the flatcar onto the tracks. Unfortunately, the booms could not be used in the narrow tunnel, so about a dozen of us had to climb back onto the car and inch the rails forward. When the rails were lying on the crossties, we lined the right rail as carefully as possible and then spiked it to every third crosstie, Brenda with the transit making sure it was lined up properly. Then we placed the second rail, making sure it was the exact distance with a little gauge that rode on wheels. When both sets of track were properly staked and adjusted (using long pry bars for minor adjustments), we could roll from the old world into the new. Normally, the rails would be bolted together with fishplates and electrically grounded to each other, but one track was in another world from the other, so we had to leave a small gap. I got back into the cab and eased the throttle forward. When the tower was underneath the bridge cross span holding the loop, I stopped the car, and John climbed up the tower to rig these poles. He had to be very careful and get it just right. The overhead wire from inside the tunnel and the wire attached to the bridge had to have a gap barely large enough for the loop and to be carefully aligned, as the trolley would have to jump this gap on every trip. Besides attaching the end of the overhead wire to the bridge, we also had to adjust the two guy wires Kevin had attached to each pole, to get the distance just right. I adjusted the right hand guy wire that passed behind the loop while others adjusted the others. After tightening my wire, I looked at the loop from the back side. The flatcar looked very strange with half of it sticking out of nowhere. I could see the end of the tunnel with its rubber bumper very clearly; from my position, it looked as though the rubber bumper was inside the flatcar. I did not experiment by stepping into the tunnel.

Once the guys were properly adjusted, we next needed to add two more sections of rail (the rails were shorter than the car; I forget exactly how long they were at that time). Once again, we moved ties into place, and this time we used the booms to unload the next two rails, which made the job much easier. We lined up the right rail carefully, spiked it down, measured to the left rail, and spiked it down as well. Then I climbed back up onto the car and advanced the controller. When the last wheel of the car clicked over the loop, the car lost power, but continued to move forward. As soon as the car had cleared the loop, the hole to the other world disappeared. I let the flatcar roll to near the end of the track before stopping it.

Here we had the task of placing a pole, laying two more lengths of track and connecting our overhead (overhead is literally everything overhead) at this pole to the live wire coming from the steam engine at Cave. From now on, we would also be connecting this wire and the return wire overhead on opposite sides of a crossarm above the trolley wire as we went. Installing this pole took more time than with the bridge, as we had to dig the hole. Temporarily, the feed from the generator was hooked directly to the car and the return to the tracks to give us power for the electric auger. When the hole was dug, a pole was swung off the car on a boom, and the boom was adjusted until the base of the pole was over the new hole. Then ropes were attached near the top of the pole, the base lowered into the hole, the cable disconnected, and the rope handlers spread out with three helpers on each side to hold the pole in position. When the pole was in place and checked with a level (it needed to slant outwards slightly), dirt and gravel were packed and tamped with a steel rod into the hole (we later used concrete for this task, but none was available). The poles were thirty-six (three dozen) feet long; they were placed six feet into the ground and spaced ninety-six (eight dozen) feet apart. After the pole was raised, two linemen would climb the hole to attach the brackets, crossarms, and insulators. They added a bracket and wire brace just above the twenty (one dozen and eight) foot mark (a bracket is a long arm attached to one side of the pole only, and the wire brace connects at an angle from a higher position on the pole to it, to help support the weight of the trolley wire). Above that at the 24 (two dozen) foot mark, they attached a crossarm for the live wire and the grounded wire (the crossarm extends on both sides of the pole, and the live wire and grounded wire were attached to insulators at opposite ends). Then men on the tower on the flat car attached an insulated hanger to the bracket and hung the contact wire (called informally the trolley wire) from special trolley ears (the ears grip the wires) on the hanger. The live wire was hooked up to the contact wire, and the ground wire was given a permanent hookup to the track. It may sound rather dangerous working with a high voltage live wire like that, but we used a walkie-talkie to tell Gene and Jerry to temporarily connect and disconnect the power whenever necessary, and we tested the wire to make sure it was dead. Of course, while this was happening, others were busy with crossties and rails. Curved section of track were much more difficult to lay, as we not only had to bend the rail but to add outside poles (always slanted and braced with guy wires) in order to hold the trolley wire in a bent position around the curve as well. The bending of the trolley wire was supported by special hangers called pull-overs, which were attached by guy wires to the outside poles and which held the wire in the correct curved alignment and also absorbed the strain of a passing trolley on the wire. Of course, our railbed had been laid out with only gentle curves, which reduced the amount of work.

While we were busy, people would appear from time to time wanting to travel through the cave to the old world, including some children. One of these groups consisted of Doug, Jon, and the Founder. We had to tell them all that the cave was closed, and that we could take them through on the flatcar, but they would have to wait until we were finished unloading before they could ride through. Doug wanted to know how long it would take for us to finish. While I couldn't predict whether we would run into problems or not, it was very easy to compute an hour for each pole and a minimum of 165 poles to put up between the hollow tree and Cave if spaced the maximum distance apart, and some would need to be spaced much closer together on curves. Three weeks or a month seemed reasonable if we worked eight hours a day every day, and we would have to work twelve hours each day to finish within two weeks, which did not seem reasonable. We couldn't assemble the poles ahead of time, as the height of the bracket arm had to be exact, and it made little sense to try to dig the holes ahead of time, as the auger did fast work. I didn't bother to mention to Doug about the need to ballast the track. If that was not done, the rails would shift sideways while they were used, and much of our work would be lost.

Finally, people started arriving to help us, and the crossties and rails were laid in a hurry, although the poles were just as slow. When we ran out of rails, and almost out of poles, it was time to make another trip through the loop. I climbed up onto the flatcar and hollered all aboard. While my crew was clambering on or helping passengers aboard, I reached into the cab and removed the key, raised the trolley pole on the roof, walked down to the other cab, lowered its trolley pole, entered the cab, and switched on the key. Over the radio, I told Kevin to open up the loop, turned on my lights, and we motored into the black tunnel. Once inside, we were plunged into darkness except for the headlight, taillights, and cab lights. Then I heard the door lifting in front of me, and when it stopped, I advanced the controller again until we were back at the loading dock.

And so it went for the next three weeks. Our only really difficult task was bending the rails. This had to be done a little at a time, using a torch to heat the rail, which was carefully spiked down, and all the manpower we could muster to bend it. Then we had the task of bending the second rail exactly parallel with the first. Fortunately, we were not building a winding railroad. With the whole community wanting to help, we were able to arrange working in shifts, one crew from sunup until noon, and the other crew from noon until dark. On the other hand, we had to stop work from time to time to allow supplies and people to travel back and forth. We scheduled these trips and had the cars already loaded and ready to go before we returned to the station. Of course, they couldn't travel all the way to Cave, so loading and unloading and transferring cargo to wagons was difficult.

When we got to Cave near dark on the twentieth day, everyone wanted another big party, but I suggested that they wait until the whole line was ready. The next morning, I got my crew started working on the tracks towards the quarry.

The main difference in working that direction was that we first had to run down to Cave to load up with crossties. The crossties were near the track opposite the lumber saw shop, but there was no loading dock, so we had to load them from the ground. The booms had power winches, but there was still a lot of manual labor involved. After two straining, sweating fellows would raise one end of a crosstie, the cable would be passed under it, and then once it was in the car, two of them would have to wrestle it into place while balancing on steel rails, and then hold up one hand to remove the cable. This extra effort made me realize that we need some additional hardware for the flatcar to help pick up crossties, poles, or logs on the ground. When we got back to the area of the loop, we had to unload and place the ties first and then start on the rails and poles. While we had a lot of help in laying the track to Cave, no one showed up to help us at all on this day. We said that we would run the combine through at ten, so we returned to the station shortly before that time. Of course, entering the station is a bit different from the opposite direction, as we had to pass the loop and lower the one trolley pole and raise the other before we could enter.

When we got back to the station, there was a group waiting to use the combine for its first trip all the way to Cave, but they looked unhappy about something. Doug had just returned from Pennsylvania, and he spoke for the rest of them. He first asked me, "Do you have the railroad to Cave finished?" I told him not really. "Then," he said, "Why are you working in the opposite direction?" I explained that we needed to get to the quarry to pick up gravel to cover the track for ballasting. He said, "The problem now is that the track is not level, is that correct?" I told him, "Not exactly." He asked, "Then what is the problem?" "The problem is," I replied, "that without ballasting, the track will shift and move and get out of line. It will take far less time to prevent the problem than it would to correct it later, and we are taking a chance in the meantime that a derailment could occur." He asked me, "How long will it take you to complete the tracks?" I said that if we had the help we had had during the last three weeks, then the tracks would be finished to the quarry within another week, and then we would need about two more weeks for the ballasting project. Doug said, "We can't possibly give you a week; we are too far behind schedule on too many tasks right now because we have been waiting for you. Supplies that need to go both ways have been held up, and timber operations have been stopped for weeks. Can't this 'ballasting' wait until October or November?" I told them that if we waited that long that our railroad would be scrap. He said, "What if we gave you extra help and let you work on the track until ten o'clock every day? Then, you could operate the trolleys for us until six." I said, "What if we got the extra help, ran both a freight and passenger trip in the morning, and then worked until twelve?" Doug said, "I will agree to that if you first get caught up with this pile of stuff waiting to be hauled to Cave and whatever they have waiting to be hauled back." I said I couldn't agree to getting caught up first; the work would keep piling in. He said, "Then just give us two days of uninterrupted help, and we won't complain." I agreed, and the others agreed, and Brenda got in the combine, ready to leave, and they piled into it and were gone. Then we rode the flatcar over to the carbarn, got the freight car, and began loading up.

Actually, I fudged on the agreement a little. First, we counted that first day's work as one day, even though we got some trackwork done first. Second, we continued to work on the track in the afternoon; we just made sure the flatcar was out of sight and not drawing any current while the freight car or combine was running (this was accomplished by the motorman -- usually Brenda -- calling us on the radio just before starting). Of course, we just had a small crew in the afternoon, but we made sure we did the heaviest work in the morning. Not that anyone minded that I fudged on the agreement. Their real concern was that they could get their work done. The faster we finished the rail work the better for them, provided we didn't get in their way.

It was unfortunate, but necessary, for the railroad to get in their way, no matter when we had built it, although I should have installed two steam engines at Cave, as I later did. On future projects, the railroad would be built to the community before any other work took place, so there would not be any further conflict about when to use it and when to work on it. In addition, we would soon resolve the power problem for some years through an insight of George Lincoln. However, the amount of work required to build the railroad continued to be a problem. Actually, this first three miles was a very easy task, as we didn't have to cross any streams or do any major grading. When the only trip was traveling from the loop to Cave, it was very easy to do without a railroad, although a lot harder work in the long run, so it was easy to see the railroad as an unnecessary problem at that time. And people wanted to be able to travel back and forth whenever they wanted, which the railroad prevented. However, frequent trips between the two worlds was not a good idea, and when we actually started thinking of the New World as being the world we were living in, then this quibbling about the railroad ended, as it was the connector that held the communities of the New World together.

At any rate, the track and overhead were completed to the quarry, and then we began ballasting the track, using the shovel car, as we called it. There was a good bit of manual work done with the ballasting project, as we had to lift and adjust the track at times. Later, we built another car which did much of this work. When the railroad was ballasted all the way from Cave to the quarry, we annouced that it was finished, and that was an excuse for another party.

That night, I actually went to the party. I don't know why they call them parties; everyone just stands around and talks. Of course, I arrived late enough to miss the cooked dinner, but there were some raw vegetables and dip, so I was satisfied. Bill Curry was saying that we were a lot better off before we had the trolley; the walk through the cave and down the path to Cave was a lot more satisfying and natural than the trolley ride. Everyone looked at me to see what I would say; I told him I agreed, although I had been working too damn hard to enjoy the hike. I saw a few grins. "But," I told him, "each trolley load is worth a dozen wagon loads, and you will have a lot more time to go hiking if you don't have to work so hard getting things here."

That night, we ran the trolley back to the station at eleven. Only a few of us were on it. I couldn't help but thinking that there was a little romance in what we were doing too. I did some other thinking as well.

We had some hard work ahead of us. A second steam engine generator was needed immediately, so we could operate the railroad and the sawmill at the same time. We needed to plan and start building the next few miles of track, so we could add another community. The work on the roadbed would be quite different, as the power shovel would move to the very end of the track to dig the next section and fill it with gravel. To give it a little more reach, we would use a temporary section of track each time, which the power shovel could move into position. The car would be powered from electric lines and not from the overhead while doing this. We needed to design and build some machinery to make the work at the quarry easier. We needed some more work cars. We needed to build a concrete plant. Then we needed to extend the railroad to the bend in the river about fifteen miles farther south and also start building north, in order to give lots of living space for immigrants. This task would be difficult, because we would have to cross some marshy streams, requiring long causeways or bridges. Next, we could use a real powerplant, not these rinky-dink little steam engines. I could see a large size building, upstream and on the other side of the river, with a steam turbine and boilers fired by coal that had come down an incline from the coal seams near the top of the mountain, half a mile away.

In the meantime, we needed to pull away from the job of running the station, the powerplant, the combine, and the box motor car, and to give that work to others, so we could concentrate on more important and longer-range tasks. Kevin, John, Brenda, George, and I needed to break away from running a railroad. We had a civilization to build.

Chapter Seven: The Introduction of Plants and Animals into the New World


Comments | SECTIONS: | Writing | Thoreau | Home | Bike Pages | New World |
CHAPTERS: | Introduction | Beginning | Community |Discovery | Founding | California | Trolleys | Plants | Recruits | Standards |
CHAPTERS: | Rolling | Bees | | Copyright © 2003 Ken Kifer | February 22, 2003