Garden Pond Part 1

August 20, 2018

This summer we decided to build a garden pond. I figured we could do it “simple” and “quick” using plastic livestock water tanks… but it has become a bit more complicated over the course of construction! Below is the final-ish plan for how our pond is set up. It includes a main, deep pool for fish, and a second pool mostly filled with various materials to act as a natural bog or swamp filter.

This design is based on a combination of sources, from pond books to internet forums to various other info. While it may not be the best/cheapest/simplest method, I’m hoping that it will manage to combine natural filtration, low-ish maintenance, and an interesting look! The main fish pond should be deep enough to over-winter fish in Minnesota, perhaps with the addition of a bubbler and/or heater.

Transporting stock tanks is always entertaining…

After extensive planning, we started digging the holes.

Thanks to some research, I had already determined that our garden used to have a duplex in the 1800s, which was at various times home to a saloon, an election polling place, and a local con artist. While digging the smaller hole, we ran into the limestone foundation.

I dug up an entertaining array of artifacts from the old rubble, including bottles, pottery, coal, a narrow-gauge railroad spike, a knife blade, and an empty .38 revolver casing!

After getting the holes finished it was time to install some plumbing for the pump and filter system. I added heat tape to the pipes since there’s no easy way to drain them. The pump will probably stay turned off in the winter and I have a thermostat-controlled switch to turn on the heat tape if the ground temperature drops too low.

The pump is also located underground in a waterproof box. This will eventually have a bench on top of it.

Next came the stock tanks. The pond holes ended up quite a bit larger, as we decided to just use the tanks as the bottom of the pond and extend everything with flexible liner. This might be a bit redundant, but it does make the bottom few feet of pond extremely leak-resistant!

Getting a square liner to fit an oblong hole is a hassle, and results in a lot of unsightly creases. I did my best to reduce or hide these, but still ended up with some ugly folds (pic below is not the final liner arrangement).

The bog filter received a plastic shelf raised off the bottom with brick (which is safer for fish than cinderblocks or limestone, which can leach lime into the water). Below the shelf is a PVC diffuser for incoming “dirty” water. Above the shelf goes gravel and dirt for the swamp in various layers. The two pipes at right are cleanouts to help deal with the inevitable mud that will make its way into the bottom void area.

Coming soon, some more details and photos with actual water in the pond!







Further Monorail Remodeling

February 3, 2017

Here are a few more updates and photos of the monorail!

The station platform and new steps:


And some winter views:




And a few more concept renderings:

deck table1

On a sadder note, I recently learned that Kim Pedersen has passed away. Kim founded the Monorail Society and authored a great book on the history and technology of monorail trains. He will be truly missed.




Monorail Remodeling

September 18, 2016

Below are some aerial photos of the monorail showing our “station” (deck) platform started, and the very scenic rural setting between farms and forest:

Drone 12

Drone 11

Aerial photos are courtesy of Tim Walgrave.

Below is a newer floorplan render, showing potential layouts for two cars. This version includes a “sleeping”/”living room”/”office” car and a “kitchen”/”dining”/”guest” car. My improvements will mostly be drop-in modules that don’t permanently alter the car interiors. I have a few friends using the other cars and designing their own interesting interiors!


A close-up of the main control panel, featuring some more museum displays and a Baron von Raschke action figure (after his professional wrestling career, the Baron drove the monorail at the zoo). If any of my readers have photos or artifacts they’d like to share in this small and very unofficial museum, please let me know!


We also have a projector screen that can be set up for monorail movie nights!



More to come as I continue working on this!

More Monorail Extras

April 8, 2016

Recently I happened across the estate sale of a former MN Zoo employee. I was able to pick up a number of old zoo shirts ranging from the 1980s to more recently. A few of these have a neat little “Conservation” montage of zoo animals and the monorail:


There were also quite a few issues of Minnesota Zoo Magazine from the 1980s. A few of them had monorail-related pieces, including a neat shot of the snowplow in action.

magazine1a magazine2a magazine3a

And we even found a monorail ticket from 2008! (Two-sided scan below)


Some of these will probably end up in my mini-museum in the monorail cab.

Monorail Phenology

January 13, 2016

While cleaning out my monorail cars I came across a few interesting documents. Several notebooks marked “Phenology” describe local wildlife seen along the monorail track. Phenology is defined as “the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life”. An article from 1979 explains these notebooks:

“The operator/tour guides keep their eyes open and when a phenlolgical event is spotted, they record this observation, its date and location in a phenology logbook kept by the stationmaster. This data is summarized each day on a report board in the station for all the MZG’s public to see.” (from MZG Newsletter, Minnesota State Zoological Board, 1979)


For those interested in reading these notebooks, I’ve scanned and uploaded PDFs here. There are a few torn and missing pages, so these are not 100% complete. There is also some water damage and fading from sitting in the train for a few years, some pages are hard to make out.

Phenology – Train 2 (Covers the period of 8/15/2001 to 8/30/2013)

Phenology – Train 3 (Covers approximately 7/4/2008 to 6/19/2012)

Also found in the monorail were several info sheets on various zoo animals seen along the route. These are probably cheat-sheets for the operator / guide staff to describe what passengers would see along the way.


I’ve also made a PDF of those sheets for archival purposes, available below.

Animal Info Sheets from Driver’s Cab

Monorail Extras

October 19, 2015

Work is gradually progressing on the monorail train, which has proven to be a wonderful place to camp out! As we work on remodeling and fixing up the train I will have more posts with photos and progress reports, but for now here are a few monorail-related odds and ends. First is a 1979 T-shirt design I came across:


And a 1984 postcard of the monorail in operation:


And some original monorail fare tokens from the zoo:

Monorail token web

I’ve made a few custom bumper stickers:


And here are a few more photos of the train’s origin, in case anyone is curious what the zoo side of things looks like. Some of these facilities might not be around much longer.

The abandoned MN Zoo monorail station (soon to become a new animal attraction):



Some pictures of the abandoned monorail track:

track4SONY DSC


In the maintenance barn with two trains parked inside:


Some close-ups of how a monorail bogie mounts to a car (normally this would be hidden between two cars, but one car has been de-coupled):

bogie3   bogie1

And a close-up of the transition from maintenance track (two rails for caster wheels) to monorail track (center beam for tires):


The remaining monorail cars from the zoo are destined for an East Coast museum.







Monorail Part II

July 27, 2015

As previously mentioned, I’ve purchased a retired monorail train from the Minnesota zoo. This follow-up documents some of the steps involved in moving a 100-ft long, 6-car monorail train from one place to another. All 6 cars are now in their new home in the countryside, the train makes a terrific weekend cabin and a very unique conversation piece!


The original weight was in the neighborhood of 27 tons (numbers vary depending on the source consulted, and few documents agree). We were able to lose quite a bit of weight by removing the wheel bogies and drive motors, which was also required for uncoupling and removal from the track.


For those interested, here are some of the bogies removed from the train. One is powered (with the large motor on top), and one is an unpowered idler:


The zoo was able to uncouple each car and move it on a maintenance track – actually two rails that support small casters under the cars. These originally allowed access to the underside of the train in an inspection pit.

For loading, we backed a trailer up to extensions of these maintenance rails, and winched each car onto the trailer using a cable puller or “come-along”.


Photo by Megan Emerson



Loading each car was about a 3-hour process, requiring occasional adjustments and stops to bridge various gaps in the rolling surface. After getting each car secured to the trailer, we drove them to their new home.


Quite a few unfortunate drivers can now say they’ve been stuck in traffic behind a monorail. The open ends of middle cars act like huge fiberglass air scoops and make for slow progress. I was able to take back roads for the journey, but you know you’re slow when a loaded cement truck passes you going uphill.

I had originally hoped to unload these by hand, using some redneck technology (a platform to roll them onto, and a series of jacks and blocks to lower them to the ground). Some friends pulled an all-nighter doing materials strength calculations and modeling possible methods, and convinced me this was even less safe than it sounded.


Instead, I hired a crane to do the hard part. Wieser Concrete has been amazingly helpful with this project, going above and beyond what we had hoped. I would highly recommend Wieser for anyone needing crane service in Wisconsin!


We tried various rigs for lifting these. The arrangement shown below was the first setup, strapping around the car with wood spreaders at the top to prevent crushing:

For the rest of the cars we used a much simpler and more stable lifting rig, with chains run down the ends to the steel frame. Most of the weight is in the bottom of the cars, the rest is mainly fiberglass.



After unloading from the trailer, we parked the monorail cars in a line so they formed a full 6-car train again. Below is an aerial view of one of the cars being moved into position:

Photo courtesy of Tim Walgrave

Photo by Tim Walgrave

The crane was able to place these very precisely, so we could nest them together as designed. We had assumed that fine adjustments would need more jacks and rollers, but an expert crane operator who can save hours of manual labor is well worth it!

Each car is fairly self contained, much like a small camper or RV. They have small hatches allowing access to the interstitial space and crawling passage between cars if desired. We may add bunks or other changes down the road, although I’m still planning to make as few major modifications as possible to preserve the original vehicles.


I’ve even started a very small museum of sorts in the driver’s cab, with a few historic photos and artifacts related to the monorail. And of course, no monorail would be complete without a Simpsons reference!