By: Mark Abrams
It was a nice day in fall 2018 in November when we started the installation of the new site on top of the Westin Hotel which is in the town of Mammoth Lakes and is about 40 miles north of the town of Bishop, the largest city in the eastern Sierras on Highway US395.
The installation plan was for the three of us to head up to Mammoth at O’dark:30, our term for leaving early in the morning. We all lived in the same general area, so we picked up each person at 5AM to head north in a single vehicle carrying all of us and all of the equipment for the site. We had packed the vehicle the previous day with the repeaters, transmit combiner, receiver multicoupler, power distribution panel, router, site monitor, power supply, batteries, battery tray, cables for the batteries, sync, oscillator, receivers & transmitters, equipment rack, antennas, antenna cables, brackets, clamps and anything else that we needed, so we were ready to head out as soon as we got together.
We headed north on the San Diego Freeway which had minimal traffic at that time of the morning. We wanted to be out of the LA area by heading up California Highway 14 by 6AM which was an hour drive from where we started our trek to be ahead of the Los Angeles traffic. We made it on time to the Sylmar area and continued north on Highway 14 until we reached Mojave where we stopped for a quick pit stop and to stretch our legs. Back on the road and we drove another hour until we merged with US395 heading north and continued for another hour until we reached the town of Lone Pine where we made another pit stop to stretch. After a short break, we continued heading north on US395 until we reached Mammoth around 11AM.
We then drove over to the Westin Hotel where we would be installing our equipment. The Westin is the tallest building in Mammoth and sits on top of a small hill which provides the hotel with a great view and a good location for radio signal propagation. The hotel is home to three different cellular companies as well as the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department and others. It will soon be home to our Diga-Talk network once we finish our installation. We arrived at the hotel and pulled into the underground parking. Since it was before the ski area was open, the hotel was sparsely occupied which made it easy to find a parking space and be able to have room to open the car doors without danger of damaging the adjacent vehicle. We found a good parking space and went upstairs into the lobby to meet with the building engineer in order to get access to the 8th floor where all the utilities were located in order to get the installation started.
We went upstairs to the “radio room” and discussed the installation with the engineer. We also met with the IT person who was supposed to get us an internet connection for our equipment. To our surprise, we found that they had already run a cable from the IT room in the lower lobby up to the 8th floor and into the room that we were going to occupy to provide us the internet connection. So we thought that we were off to a great start and now it was time to start hauling the equipment from the car to the radio room. We asked for the use of a bell cart to help us transport most of the materials. We started to unload the car onto the bell cart and piled lots of equipment onto the cart. We then took the elevator up to the 7th floor which is the end of the elevator ride. We then had to travel down the hallway to the stairwell nearest our equipment where we placed the bell cart in the stairwell. Now it was time for the chain gang to haul the equipment up the flight of stairs to the radio room. Trip after trip, we carried the expensive & heavy equipment up the stairs and then back down to the cart over and over again. Eventually, we had emptied the cart and it was time to make another trip down to the vehicle to bring up the next load. So we went down the hallway and over to the elevator, then down the elevator to the lower lobby level where we were parked. We took the cart over to the vehicle at which time we started load it up with more equipment, tool boxes, batteries, cables drills and other power tools that we would need for the various tasks at hand. Now it was time to head back to the elevator and back up to the 8th floor. After several trips back and forth, it was time to carry the batteries up the stairwell to the 8th floor. The batteries weighed about 140 pounds each, so we had two people carry each of the three batteries up the stairs at which time we felt that it we felt that we had enough equipment and tools on the 8th floor to start with the installation.
The first step was to install the rack to mount the equipment. First we had to assemble the rack because we did not have the room in the vehicle to transport it fully assembled. We had ordered a rack that was 7 feet tall to match the height of the room. When we assembled the rack, we found that the room was about 1/8 inch shorter than the 7 feet which made it a considerable challenge to get the rack assembled and upright in the room. The top of the rack was digging into the ceiling which made the rack very secure once we were able to get it in place and vertical. When one attempts to stand up something that is the same height as the room, it is easy if it is a rod or a stick. The item was a rack that had a footprint that is 20 inches wide by 16 inches deep. It was far more challenging to get it stood up without having extra height in the ceiling but we kept working on the problem until we had it resolved to our satisfaction. So now that the rack was in place, we were able to start assembling the equipment. We started with the battery tray at the bottom of the rack and then placed the batteries in the rack. However, we were not certain how the rest of the items were intended to be bolted into the rack. The person who had built the system was not with us for the installation and no one was certain how the equipment was intended to go into the rack. We discussed the issue and made a plan as to which piece of equipment went in the rack and started assembling the equipment. As the work proceeded, we found several times that we had failed to account for some cable length or piece of equipment, so we would have to move the equipment up or down the rack until we finally managed to get the equipment properly into the rack.
While rack assembly and equipment mounting was proceeding, Chris was working on mounting the antennas on the roof of the building. We had met to discuss how to fabricate the brackets to mount the antennas so that we did not damage the roof structure and hand railings. At the same time, Mark was working with the IT departments attempting to secure our internet connection to connect the site to the rest of the network. All three tasks were proceeding with dispatch, but each task had its issues, problems and delays. The IT manager did not properly understand what we needed with out internet connection and Chris was having some difficulty with the fabrication of the brackets. Each of us had to stop what we were doing and assist each other from time to time in order to overcome the issue at the time. Mark had to make several trips down to the IT department to discuss the internet connection parameters in an attempt to get it to work. I had issues lifting the equipment and holding it in place while installing the mounting screws. Chris needed help with cutting the brackets, and removing the burrs that would cut fingers whenever one would handle the brackets.
One of the big issues we faced was a lack of power outlets to power the equipment. We figured out that we needed a 20 amp outlet to plug in our outlet strip, but all of the outlets were occupied and none of them had 20 amp capacity. We needed to rewire the outlets, but we did not have the supplies, so we made a list (checking it twice to see who was naughty or nice) of the materials we needed. Since we were still in shoulder season between the busy times, the local Do-It-Center closed at 5PM before we were able to get there to purchase the materials and they did not open until 8AM the next morning. We worked until 6PM so the store was closed, but we were OK with going there in the morning. It was time to head to the restaurant to have dinner which we all were looking forward to enjoying after a hard and long day at work. We ate well and enjoyed telling war stories about our respective difficulties with the job along with other topics. Soon, dinner was finished and it was time to head over to the house where we were planning to spend the night.
We arrived at the house and started checking things out. The house had been vacant for awhile so some things needed attention. We turned up the water heater and plugged in the circulating pump. We turned up the heat in the house to make it more comfortable because it is kept at 55 degrees when no one is there. We then attempted to flush the toilets and found out that we had little water pressure. So we checked the sinks and found that there was also very little water available there. So now that it was pitch black outside with a new moon and without any street lights, we were now faced with figuring out why there was no water. Taking a shower in the morning or using the bathroom has serious limitations when there is no water. So with flashlights in hand, we went outside in the 30 degree weather in an attempt to find out what was wrong. The main valve seemed to be turned on at the water meter, so we went around the side of the house to find the water shutoff valve for the house. Since we were in snow country, the main water valve is not above ground outside the house otherwise it would freeze. After searching around for where the main valve was located, we decided that it must be underneath the house in the crawl space. This required clearing out the closet of the extra mattress, the extra blankets and storage boxes that were blocking access to the hatch that led down to underneath the house. Once we were able to get down underneath, we found the valve that shuts off the water to the outside sprinklers which was not shut off. What we did find was the main water valve to the house was shut off. The person who was supposed to shut off the outside sprinklers accidentally shut off the water to the house. So now we had water, but we still had to clear the air out the pipes to get the faucets and toilets working properly. We ran each of the faucets to clear out the air while the faucets sputtered over and over again until the air was cleared out of each line. We then flushed the toilets several times to clear the air out of those lines and to clean out the toilet bowls so that they would be clean enough to use.
Now that the house was usable and we no longer were considering a move to another location, we were able to settle into the house and relax while one of us decided to clean up and shower. We made certain that the beds were ready and sat down to watch some TV, however, none of us wanted to stay up much longer as it had already been a long day and we had planned to be up at 6AM the next morning. After a short time, we all decided to retire to our respective beds and get a goon night’s sleep.
The next morning came early and we proceeded to get ready for the day. After getting dressed and getting ready to leave, we headed over to the New York Deli, a long time fixture in the Town of Mammoth Lakes that had some great things to eat for breakfast. We took the long drive (1 minute) to head over to the deli and obtained a parking space directly in front of the deli. We sat down at a booth and ate breakfast there at the deli before heading over the Do-It-Center to pick up the supplies that we needed. That was another long drive that took us another three minutes of travel by car. We pulled into the parking lot and pulled into a space directly in front of the building. We went inside and started the process of shopping for the items we needed. It took some time to locate everything we needed, check out at the register and return to the car. We now had to head over to the hotel which was a whopping four-minute drive. We pulled into the underground garage and parked in the same parking space that we had the previous day which was reasonably convenient.
Now it was time to start the work for the day to finish the installation of the equipment for our new tower site. We went back up to the 8th floor to the equipment room and proceeded to pick up where we left off the night before. Mark and Chris went back to work attempting to finish running the antenna cables from the roof where our antennas were located to the equipment inside the 8th floor. Although the antenna cables were only about 50-70 feet long, there were many obstructions that had to be negotiated. The cables went inside the building through the side of the platform which was inside a network of metal lumber that made up the structural members for the roof structure. The space was very tight and only Chris was small enough to be able to get into the tight space and handle the tricky maneuvers that were required to get to the cables. The cables had to be lowered to the 8th floor which had multiple obstacles. We had to have one person on the roof feeding the cables into the building which Chris was inside the roof structure and Mark was on the 8th floor receiving the cables and routing them into the hallway so that they did not get kinked or damaged in any way. Once we had that accomplished, Chris had to climb down from the high area inside the ceiling structure to get to the place where we had to penetrate the drywall to bring the antenna cables into the radio room. From that point there was about 35 feet of horizontal run to the equipment location within the room. The cables needed to be securely fastened to the drywall with clamps and anchors into the drywall while routing behind existing ducts. Some of the areas of the room were difficult access due to the ventilation equipment in the room so we had an obstacle course to negotiate in order to get to where the cables entered the room. Getting a ladder into the area to reach the ceiling to secure the cables presented an additional challenge, but we were able to get it done. Eventually, we had the cables over to the rack and we installed the connector on the end of the cables and connected them to the equipment with flexible jumpers which were still down in the vehicle so we had to make another trip down to the parking level. Whenever we had to get something from the vehicle, we always tried to think of anything else we needed so that we minimized the number of trips to the vehicle, but we were not always successful in anticipating our needs.
While the cables were being secured, I went to work on the electrical outlet situation. I moved equipment out of the way to get access to the outlet. I opened up the outlet to change it while the power was live, a task that I had performed many times in the past. After changing the outlet and adding a 2nd outlet, we now had what was needed to plug in our equipment. Now we watched as the radios went through their boot up cycle and eventually came on the air. The control channel started transmitting and now my radio was able to log onto the site.
We still did not have a working internet connection to connect the site to the rest of the network, so Mark went to work on that issue, trying to locate the IT manager at the hotel. Apparently, the IT manager had limited knowledge of the IT infrastructure and most of the configuration of their network was done by an outside vendor who was located in another part of the country. They handled multiple hotel properties and were very rigid in how they dealt with us and the IT manager making it difficult for us to get what we needed. We made multiple calls and pleaded for what we needed, but to no avail. The ultimate result was that we were unable to get the internet connection from the hotel in spite of them having sufficient bandwidth to handle our small request. Now it was time to contemplate how to get a connection for the site to the network while we started the clean up process.
We now were working on finishing up the various details of the installation, labeling equipment, tying down the last of the cables, cleaning up debris, sweeping the floor, packing up tools, transporting items that were no longer needed down to the car, meeting with the maintenance manager to go over our installation to make certain that it met his requirements, meeting with the hotel manager to discuss the future of using the radios in the hotel, demonstrating the performance of the radios, delivering demo radios to the staff so that they could determine the performance of the radios, etc. After all those tasks were completed, we removed the balance of our tools and supplies and proceeded to pack them in the vehicle and get ready for the trip heading south.
Normally we do not leave a site without completing the work. In this case, we decided that it would be necessary to fall back and regroup. We decided to leave the site without having a network connection knowing that we would have to return to finish the job. The site was working as an island and not connected to the rest of the network. This meant that one could talk to anyone that was also logged onto the same site without any trouble but could not speak to anyone logged onto any other portion of the network. We felt that we would be able to return with the appropriate equipment within the next 30-60 days to complete the required link to connect the site to the rest of the network.
It was now after 4PM in the afternoon and the sun was getting low in the sky. It was much later than we hoped to be finished and leaving Mammoth. We had to head south on US395 to Long Pine where we were supposed to meet up with David to start the installation of the new site at Cerro Gordo. David had all the materials for that installation, but we were the manpower and had a lot of the tools required for the job. So we headed out of town and got onto the highway. We stopped in Bishop at Mahogany Smoked Meats, the best place to get smoked meats. We purchased several flavors of jerky and a few other treats to have for the balance of the trip and for up on the mountaintop for the next two days. The work is long and grueling but having our small portion of heaven with us makes the job that much easier.