By: Mark Abrams
It was a typical day in 1991 when we planned to install the repeater system at a tower site in the east bay area near Concord. Mt Diablo which is the only site that connects the San Francisco Bay Area to the San Joaquin Valley is a national park with paved roads to access the tower site. Unfortunately, we were installing at North Peak Diablo, not the main site that was easily accessible from the park. We had to drive in from a completely different direction.
The main Mt. Diablo site was controlled by Watson Communications. One had to pledge their first born and place their wallet on a serious diet to occupy space on that tower, so it was decided by the people in charge of the project that we would not use that site. We were to install the repeaters at the North Peak Diablo site.
The site poses unique challenges to anyone who plans to install or maintain equipment at the site. The access road is several miles long, wide, well graded and easy access until you are less than a mile from the site. At this point, the road changes to the road from hell. At the point of transition, there is a small block building that permanently houses a piece of heavy earth moving equipment. This equipment is used to grade the road and help drag vehicles & equipment up the difficult portions of the road.
Once you pass this point, the road becomes insane as it is the width of a vehicle that is cut into the side of the mountain. It is almost straight up on the right side while being almost straight down on the left side. The road bed is rocky and tears up tires. If you stop your vehicle to get out and inspect the road before driving on it, you are likely to fall off the cliff as there is little room for you to exit the vehicle. This is the wrong place to have a flat tire or any other vehicle malady because there is insufficient space to be able to move from the front to the back of the vehicle or exit the vehicle at all. Proceeding up the road, part of the road bed has deteriorated and fallen into the canyon below. Wooden boards were inserted into the roadbed to make up for the missing rock and dirt so that you do not inadvertently fall into the canyon below.
After getting past this area, the road gets wider and steeper. The road gets so steep that you feel like you are lying on your back while driving up the road and standing on the floorboards when driving down. The various vehicles eat away at the soft roadbed in this area and causes massive moguls to form. The site is not accessible without 4WD at any time as a 2WD vehicle will just spin its wheels unless it is being dragged by the earth moving equipment up the road. One crawls up the road at a snail’s pace in 4WD low which the vehicle rocks back and forth from the alternating moguls making you feel like you are about to be thrown out of the vehicle. If you did not wear your seat belt, you may not be alive to regret the fact that you did not wear it. You can easily get bounced out of the seat and slam your head into the ceiling of the vehicle with sufficient force to give you a concussion or break your neck.
If you survive the road and get to the top of the hill, it is time to stop the vehicle and change your underwear. If you open the door to get out of the vehicle, do not take more than one step because the second step will cause you to fall down the mountain. So I came up with the brilliant idea of sliding across the seat and exiting on the passenger side of the car. I found out that all you can take is one step on the passenger side as it is almost identical to the driver’s side of the vehicle. So here I sat on top of the mountain wondering how I could turn the vehicle around to head down to the city below or take the road back to the buildings that are behind me. Fortunately, the building we needed to access was straight ahead so I was able to avoid the impossible task for the moment. I drove the road that straddled the top of the mountain until the mountain became wider at the top and the road became a bit tame. The road eventually passed a 100’ tall Rohn 45 guyed tower at the very top of the hill that we were supposed to use to mount our antennas. As we drove past the tower, the road started a decent and proceeded another 50 yards when it then made a 180 degree turn to the left while continuing its descent to the building which was on a flat pad that was cut into the side of the mountain so that the building could be built.
We arrived at the building and proceeded to determine the parameters for the installation. First, we had to determine where we would place the equipment within the building. There was a good spot on the 2nd floor of the building, so we identified the place for the equipment and the routing for the cables. Since the tower was about 60 feet above us up the side of the hill, we had some very long cable runs to reach the equipment from the antennas. There was a cable tray that ran up the side of the hill from the building to the tower, so there was a safe method of running the cable. We took careful measurements to determine the exact length of the cable so that we could cut the cable to the correct length as we took the cable off the cable spool. The cable was about $8 per foot, so we did not want to waste any cable, nor did we want to cut is too short.
Now it was time to head down the hill to where we parked the bobtail truck that had the equipment, antennas and cable. That truck would never have made it up the road since it was not 4WD and it was wide enough that it would be questionable if the truck could actually fit on the narrow portion of the road if it had 4WD. So now we had to send a crew down the hill with me to the truck, unload the first equipment rack, load it into the Blazer and drive the equipment up the hill. The round trip to get the first equipment rack was about 45 minutes. We unloaded the vehicle at the building and proceeded with round two of the shuttle service to get the second rack of equipment. We then made a third trip down to the truck to get the third rack of equipment to shuttle up to the building. Each one of the racks had to have the power supplies and the power amplifiers removed for transport up the hill and to carry the racks up the stairs to the 2nd floor. After bolting the racks in position, the amplifiers and power supplies had to be reinstalled in the rack and reconnected.
Now it was time to get the other materials up to the site from the truck. We started another shuttle round to bring up the antennas, brackets, hardware and all the interconnecting cables for all the repeaters. This filled up the Blazer for the fourth round of shuttling equipment to the site. While I was taking the equipment back up to the site, Richard worked on setting up the 8’ diameter cable reel so that we could pull off the correct amount of cable from the reel. He had to remove the tie-downs and roll the cable reel into position. He then took the center piece of the cable reel stand which consisted of a 2.5” pipe and inserted it through the center hub of the cable spool. He placed the left stand on the pipe and then the right stand on the other side of the reel. The feet were extended on each side of the reel at far as they could extend without lifting the cable reel. The lift gate had previously been lowered about 2 feet with one of the feet from each side of the stand extending over the lift gate. Once the lift gate was raised to the height of the truck bed, the cable reel stand was lifted up which lifted up the cable spool on the stand, thus making it possible to pull the cable off the spool. With the cable spool free to turn, we pulled the correct amount of cable (which was 240 feet) off the spool. Now, we had to wind up the cable into circles that were small enough to fit into the Blazer. We proceeded to pull off 3 runs of cable and wound up each of the 3 runs and loaded the 3 runs of cable into the Blazer. At that point, the Blazer was too full to be able to place any more cable in the vehicle. So now it was time to run the next shuttle up to the top of the mountain. After unloading the cable, I headed down to the truck again for the second group of 3 cables for the installation. We pulled off the last 3 lengths of cable, wound them up and placed them in the back of the blazer. I then drove them up the mountain to the building. We unloaded the cable at the building at which point we had all of the cable up at the site. Now it was time to close up the cable reel, remove the cable reel stand and secure the cable for transport to the next tower site location. We then locked up the truck and proceeded up the mountain.
It was already after 3PM, but we needed to get the installation further along before we left the site for the evening. We planned to work two days at the site, so we wanted to have the equipment installed in the building and completely wired before we left the site for the evening. We continued working on the equipment installation and attaching all the interconnecting cables. We wired AC power to the racks and had the entire 10 channel repeater system operational (less the antennas) before we left for the day. Now it was time to head down the hill and regroup for the next day.
We were staying at the E-Z 8 Motel in Oakland to which we referred to it as the Sleezy 8 Motel. It was in a convenient location near the Oakland Airport. There was a Denny’s restaurant a few doors away where we ate on a nightly basis. The food at Denny’s was terrible, but it was always open when we were done working for the evening. We often tried to find another place to eat, but we were rarely able to find another place that was still open when we would get down from the mountaintop. One night when we were walking through the parking lot trying to enter the Denny’s restaurant, I was solicited by a guy who claimed that he was broken down and needed money to fix his car. I gave him $10 dollars even though I did not believe his story, but I thought that in the off hand chance that it was true, I would want to have someone help me if I was in that situation. When I gave him the money, he argued with me that it was not enough which made me more certain that it was a scam, but I had already given him the money. We proceeded to go inside to eat dinner and then returned to the motel to head to our room. Tomorrow was to be another day of hard work so we passed out shortly after returning to the room.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the motel then headed back up the mountain to install the antenna system. The trip to the site took about 90 minutes and we were met at the site by the local crew. We proceeded to climb the tower and start the installation of the antennas. There was insufficient space on the tower for us to mount our antennas, so we had to build a crossarm on the tower. Once that was built, we mounted the two triple omni-directional antennas on the crossarm and attached the jumper cables to the bottom of the antennas. We were now ready for the 1 ¼”feedline cable to be run up the tower and connected to the antennas. We had six runs of cable to run up the tower. Each cable was secured to the tower and connected to the antenna jumpers. We then sealed the connections will heatshrink tubing that had a sealant inside the tubing which kept the connection free from the water intrusion that would ruin the cable if the water got inside. After securing the cable to the tower, we opened up the covers on the cable tray and proceeded to route the cable down the hill to the building, then brought the cables through the cable entrance and routed the cables over to the equipment. We had about 3 feet of cable that we had to cut off on each run of cable which meant that our measurements were fairly accurate. After installing the connectors on the end of the cables, we checked the antennas with a wattmeter and attached the antennas. The system was now fully operational and it was time to go have dinner and head back to the hotel.
We went back to Denny’s restaurant again because it was too late to go anywhere else. When we were walking through the parking lot, the same person who was there yesterday was there again soliciting money. He approached me with a different story than yesterday since he did not recognize either Richard to myself and asked for $20. I told him that he had a different story yesterday and I wanted my $10 back since he was scamming people. I threatened to call the police if he did not return my money, but he took off rather than returning the money.
Another day of hard work and the job at North Peak Diablo was finished. We still had several sites and days to go before the entire job was finished.