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Hillside Access Issues Solved

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The angle of the incline necessitated a curved rail.

Hill Hiker, Inc. was founded 20 years ago by Bill MacLachlan in Orono on the northern shores of Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. Building on the expertise of MacLachlan’s father-in-law, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and inventor, the company’s first Hill Hiker® lift system was installed for a customer on the lake. The family-owned and -operated company has gone on to handle installations in some of the most scenic, and environmentally harsh, locations in the world: the rainforest of South America; blizzard-prone Alaska; and the ocean-battered coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, to name a few.

Hill Hiker designed and installed a custom cable car to traverse the hills of San Francisco. Its steepest lift is one with an 80˚ incline in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Specializing in custom outdoor systems also known as trams and funiculars, Hill Hiker has achieved its early goal of becoming an industry leader in design, safety and value. Its systems can be found in nine countries and 34 U.S. states and territories. One of its recent U.S. projects, featured in The Wall Street Journal and Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, provides a good example of the kind of work Hill Hiker does.

After 14 years of arduously hiking the stairs to reach their cottage on Long Island in Casco Bay, Maine, Bill and Valerie Sowles decided they needed an easier way to access their summer home. There are no roads, cars or utilities at their end of the island, but the panoramic views of the New Meadows River area, fresh breezes off the ocean and lush pines are breathtaking. The property is exceptional, everything the Sowles dreamed of for their summer hideaway, but that hike. . .

The Sowles began to build on their property in 2003 with a pier/dock linked to the cottage by 52 steep steps up the cliff. Building the cottage took approximately one year. All materials and supplies (windows, studs, appliances, furniture, fuel, etc.) were hauled up the hillside by hand for several summers. The Sowles realized that, in order to enjoy their cottage into their golden years, they would need a different solution. Bill Sowles decided on a Hill Hiker® inclined elevator after speaking with Bill MacLachlan.

The installation was uniquely challenging. Not only did the Sowles need a different mode of transportation up the hill, they needed a generator to power the lift due to there being no public utilities on their end of the island. The application uses a 5-hp winding-drum drive system, has a car with a 4-sq.-ft. interior floor space, 1000-lb. capacity and travel distance of 160 ft. The incline on the hillside increases by roughly 20˚ as the cab travels down the hill (approximately 16-30˚), so a self-leveling car and curved rail were necessary.

Due to the project’s remote location, Hill Hiker selected a mechanical system that keeps the car level at all times and does not require onboard power.

Hill Hiker uses two types of self-leveling systems, each with its own benefits. Due to the project’s remote location, Hill Hiker selected a mechanical system that keeps the car level at all times and does not require onboard power.

The crew began working with the Sowles and their general contractor, Cyrus Cleary, in October 2016. Cleary, an experienced marine builder, was instrumental in building the motor area, substructure and concrete step footings. He also automated the operation of the generator’s power and transported equipment from the mainland to the cottage.

Hill Hiker® inclined elevator systems are engineered and designed around ASME A17.1, Section 5.1 commercial inclined elevator and Section 5.4 residential inclined elevator codes with multiple, redundant safety features. This particular Hill Hiker® system — track, support posts, car and chassis — is manufactured out of stainless steel to better withstand the salt air/water environment.

Now that the Sowles have solved their hillside access issues with their Hill Hiker® inclined elevator, they look forward to enjoying their summer island retreat for many years to come.

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