By: Mark Abrams
It was a typical spring day on Tuesday, March 22, 2022 when we were out to accomplish two tasks during that day. We were getting ready for our work at The Oscars that was starting on Thursday and we had an issue with our network connection which has been giving us trouble since the previous Friday.
On Monday the previous day, we were talking to the WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider) that provides our network connection to our site at Cerro Gordo. We have had equipment there for about 3 years and have not had any issue with the network connection. However today was different because our network connection was not working since the previous Friday. We had complained to the WISP about the connection the previous Friday and on Monday they reported to us that their equipment was working just fine and that the problem had to be our equipment. Although we suspected that may not be true, we had no way to prove our suspicion so we had to prepare to head to the site which is a 5 hour drive from the office.
Monday also was preparation for The Oscars. I had written the program for the radios and needed to test the program to verify that it would do what our customer expected the radio to do. So I had the crew set up the base stations that we use for the event and tested every channel in the radio both for proper operation and for any cross talk between channels. After testing for about 20 minutes, I was convinced that the radios were programmed correctly. Now it was time to program the rest of the radios, charge all the batteries, gather the spare batteries for the trailer and get them all charged, gather all the audio accessories for the radios including the speaker-microphones, surveillance kits & the headsets and gather all the other accessories we needed for the show such as tables, chairs, tent, sandbags, RF filters, test boxes, antennas, cables and mounting brackets that would be needed at The Oscars.
The crew was busy preparing everything that I could possibly need for Tuesday. By Monday afternoon, the crew had finished preparing a new microwave radio, POE injector, microwave dish and a router. We had to be prepared for any contingency because the site was a 5-hour drive from our office. Getting to the site and having to go back was not an option so we had to prepare for anything that we found.
The next day Chris and I were heading to get our COVID tests done that were required for anyone who works at The Oscars. We met at the shop around 7:30AM and hit the road heading towards Burbank where one of the authorized testing sites was located. We followed Google Maps to the site and we arrived around 9:30AM due to normal Los Angeles “rush hour” traffic which meant that we spent 2 hours making a 30 minute trip. Upon arrival, we parked the car and proceeded to the testing site which was located in the parking lot behind the building. After waiting in line, we were able to get our testing done then headed back to the car to continue our trek to Cerro Gordo. From where we were located in Burbank, it would only be a 4.5-hour drive to the site, so we got on the 170 freeway and headed north. After merging onto Interstate 5, we continued north towards Highway 14 to head towards Palmdale where we would stop and get gas at Costco since the gas there was typically 35-50 cents per gallon cheaper than the street price. I intended to fill up the tank for the long trip which may not be sufficient to make the round trip, so it may be necessary to fill up again especially when you consider the amount of gas that is consumed while driving up the dirt road to the site. Also, I thought that we would get something to eat while stopped in Palmdale so that we would be set to head directly to the site once we arrived in the Olancha area where we would turn off the main highway towards the bottom of the mountain. I am getting ahead of myself as we were still driving through the Canyon Country area.
We proceeded north on Highway 14, talking to each other about the job ahead and listening to the radio to pass some of the time. I was fairly busy since I was driving while Chris decided to inspect the inside of his eyelids while he started to drift off into never-never land for a short cat nap. So we continued until we came out of the mountains and started counting down the streets starting with Avenue S and continued to count down until we had to get off the freeway at Avenue L to get to the gas pumps at Costco. I was expecting a massive line like the lines that I have seen at the Costco gas stations in Los Angeles, but the line to get gas was nominal and far shorter than expected. After filling up the tank, it was time to fill up our bellies so we went north on Highway 14 over to Avenue I where the local In-N-Out Burger was located. It was about 11AM so the normal lunch rush had not started yet so we pulled into the parking lot and went inside to order our meal and then use the facilities for our pit stop.
It was about 11:30AM when we were back in the car and on the road heading north. Mojave which was about 23 minutes ahead was one of my traditional stops on the way up north and is about one third of the way from Los Angeles to Mammoth where I often go to ski. We reached Mojave and continued north without stopping in town since there was no need to stop. Heading north on Highway 14 continued to bring us closer to our destination, one mile at a time. I kept the speed to 70 mph which gets us there in the prescribed time but tends to keep the CHP and the county sheriff from stopping us for a traffic ticket. Most people travel the road around 73-75 mph with some motorists traveling significantly faster which makes them the target for the traffic ticket so I felt confident that we would be able to make the drive without incident. At about 50 minutes north of Mojave, we reached the merge point with US Highway 395 which heads north along the Eastern Sierras and is the main road traversing the area. Continuing north, we reached the Coso Junction area where we briefly exited the highway to look at the new construction, then back heading north after a short 2 minute stop. After another 30 minutes of driving, we arrived in beautiful Olancha; a small town on the main highway about 30 minutes south of Lone Pine. We were now at the point where we turn off the highway to head towards the base of Cerro Gordo mountain, but I had decided to stop and take a look at the bottom end of the microwave link that brings the network connection to the tower site. The big problem was that I did not know where the microwave link was located for certain. I had an idea where it might be located, but I was not certain. So we turned off the highway and headed over to the local fire station where I knew that a tower was located that had microwave dish antennas.
We arrived at the fire station around 1:30PM and found the tower behind the fire station. I was told that the tower belonged to Lone Pine TV who was a local WISP, but not the WISP that was providing us with our network connection. I looked carefully at their tower while explaining what I saw to Chris. I was speculating that possibly our WISP was renting tower space from Lone Pine TV, but none of the antennas on the tower looked like the antennas that we have seen from our WISP at the several other locations that we had visited in the past. So we felt that it was unlikely that our WISP had any of their antennas on this structure. While we were considering the possibilities of where our WISP antennas were located, we looked around and found another antenna structure that had two microwave dish antennas nearby. It was apparent that this was the structure that belonged to our WISP.
The structure was a telephone pole with a steel mast sticking up above the top of the pole. The vertical mast was supported by pipe offset mounts that attached to the pole near the top of the pole and again about 4-5 feet below the top. The bottom of the mount became separated from the top of the mount causing the top mount to rotate on the pole attachment. The vertical mast was no longer pointing up as it was now pointing down at about 150 degrees from vertical. Both dishes were pointing at the ground and the lower dish acted as a stop when it hit the phone pole which put a semi circular indentation in the antenna shaped like the phone pole. This would explain all of the symptoms that we found remotely and what was reported to us by the WISP.
The good news was that we felt that we found the problem and that we did not need to drive up the mountain. Although the evidence was strong that we found the problem, it was not conclusive because we did not know for certain that these dish antennas belonged to our WISP. The bad news was that we were not in a position to fix it. Now it was time to call the WISP to confirm that we were in the correct place. I dialed them from my cell phone and they answered. I described the location of the phone pole and they confirmed that I was in the correct place. So I took a picture of the top of the pole with the antennas and sent it to them via a text message. After receiving the photo, they had many questions regarding the fine details of the construction of the antenna mount so that they could get the correct materials to fix the problem. Once I told them everything that I could, they felt that they could get ready to head there the next morning to fix the problem. We then put our cameras away and headed back to the main highway to the Chevron station to use the facilities to clean up and make another pit stop.
We had the good fortune of finding the location in Olancha of the bottom end of the microwave link. If we had not found it, we would have headed up the mountain to try to figure out what was wrong with the link. Anything we would have touched would be something that we were likely to break. Without knowing that the problem was on the bottom end, we would have found no signal from the bottom end making us think that the microwave receiver was broken or that the antenna was out of alignment. If we moved the microwave dish antenna on the mountain in an attempt to find the signal, we would have misaligned the antenna and reduced the receive quality of the signal or completely lost the signal, necessitating another trip to the mountain to fix the problems that we would have injected into the system. We knew that we had securely mounted the microwave dish antenna at Cerro Gordo, so we felt that it was unlikely that the dish had moved. So it was very fortunate that I decided to find the bottom end of the link in Olancha.
It was now after 2PM and we discussed whether or not we wanted to head up the mountain. Even though we found what we were fairly certain was the main problem, nothing says that there isn’t another problem on top of the mountain that was completely independent from the problem we found. So now we had a dilemma to head up the mountain and probably waste our time or head back to Los Angeles. If there was something on the mountain that was wrong, it would be a lot more painful and time consuming to head back to Los Angeles and then have to head there the next day. We were busy getting ready for The Oscars and really did not have the time to come back without some difficulty so this was a difficult decision to make. After evaluating all the facts, we decided to head back to the shop and hope that we made the right decision.
While we were returning to our car, we were approached by a young girl who was asking for $1 to purchase a soda. It has been my policy to not give money to people asking for money as the money is often used for drugs, cigarettes and other non-essential items. I usually offer some food since I carry packaged snacks in the car and they cannot be easily used for anything else. I offered her a snack, but she turned it down and before I could say anything else, she left. So now we got into the car and began to head south back towards LA. We passed through Coso Junction and continued heading south stopping at Little Lake to look over the ruins of the old Little Lake Hotel that used to be operating from that location. We also tried to go up the dirt road to the radio towers to get a closer look at the radio tower site because we were told of a possible location that we might be able to use for our Diga-Talk Network. Unfortunately, the gate to the road was locked and none of our keys would open any of the locks. So we turned around and headed back to the highway and proceeded south again heading towards Pearsonville, The Hub Cap Capital of the World according to their claims. We drove for about 10-15 minutes and exited the highway at the Shell station in Pearsonville. We parked at the station and went inside to make another quick pit stop and pick up some popcorn for munchies on the way south. After getting the popcorn, I found Chris hanging out with the girl that had begged for money back in Olancha. She was using Chris’s cell phone talking to her grandfather trying to arrange to get some money sent to the station for gas. She had a falling out with her boy friend who was into some questionable activity and she did not want any part of it. Her boyfriend had her purse with her wallet and cash, so now she was trying to get back home to the Sacramento area. From where we were at, there was no fast way to get there since all the mountain passes were closed due to the winter snow. The only two ways for her to get home was to head south to Mojave and take Highway 58 west to Bakersfield and then north on Highway 99 to Sacramento or heading north to Reno and turn west on Interstate 50. Either way, she was in for a long drive. She had Apple Pay, but could not get it to work with Chris’s phone and we were unable to figure out how to get it sent to the station. So after working with her for about 30 minutes trying in vein to get her the money she needed from her grandfather, she left the station and went back to her car. As we approached our car which was close to her car, we both dug into our pockets and gave her $20 towards helping her solve her problems.
We felt bad for her, but we had given her some help and got her going in the right direction to get back home. So now it was our turn to head home. The rest of the trip was uneventful heading down US395 until we branched off on Highway 14 past Mojave, Lancaster and Palmdale. We then left Palmdale heading south into the mountains and exited into the San Fernando Valley while continuing south on Interstate 5 until we reached the Long Beach Freeway where we headed south towards the shop. The traffic in Los Angeles was typical and it took us until 6:30PM before we got there which was better than we estimated. Now the day was over, so we both headed to our respective homes after I took some time in the office to handle the daily emails.
The next day was very busy getting ready for The Oscars which entailed multiple tasks. We cleaned the trailer that we use for the red carpet events and started to load the trailer with the required equipment after we pulled the trailer out of its parking space and got it in position for loading. We used the ramps to roll the equipment into the trailer and carried in the totes with the radio accessories, spare batteries, battery chargers, filters, etc. While this was happening, I created the radio sign out sheets for the event placing all the names of the people on the spreadsheet that had been supplied along with the number of radios for each department and the radio channel that they were supposed to use. I then printed out the daily sign out sheets, the sign in sheet for the end of the show and the alphabetical listing to find people by name. I placed all the information in an envelope along with the directions for the event from our customer. I then placed the envelope in the trailer and we attached the trailer to my vehicle so that I could bring it to the show on Thursday.
When I went back inside the shop, I was informed that the microwave link had been repaired and that our site at Cerro Gordo was back up and working. This was welcome news as it would have been difficult to go back tomorrow to Cerro Gordo. It was another successful day with the network issues resolved favorably.