When Soldotna area resident Mary Krull began her journey toward filling a niche in the business community, she wasn’t actually thinking about what kind of business she wanted to open. She just really wanted a train car.
Krull has been enamored with locomotives for years and had been searching for one to buy for a while; it wasn’t until after owning a rail car of her very own was close to becoming a reality that she began to think about what to put in it, she said. Now, two train cars sit atop the hill leading out of Soldotna on Kleeb Loop and will be refurbished over the next year or so until they are transformed into a coffee house and a beer and wine bar mixed with a restaurant.
While these business ventures are still in the early stages, Krull’s involvement with trains stretches back decades.
“We had a boy,” she said. “We had a son, and … one of his first Christmas’s he got a toy train, and it stuck. And he was a train kid from 1 year old into the present, and he’s 23.”
Krull described how her family went through all the stages of replica trains, from toys to wooden trains to model railroading. Eventually, her son got some real-world experience on a steam locomotive, she said.
“I just was part of his journey as a little boy who loved big things that go fast and belch steam, so that’s where this whole thing started.” she said. “I love them. I love the nostalgia primarily and I love seeing things from a bygone era that normally would not get saved. So a lot of this is about saving a piece of history and a lot of it is about repurposing something into something else and giving it a second life.”
That’s Krull’s goal with gallery coach 602, a double decker rail car built in 1954. Passed around from company to company, the car was retired by the Alaska Railroad in 2002 and has been sitting unused in a Homer boat yard for several years.
Once the youngest of Krull’s three children went off to college, she said she found herself with some time to kill. It didn’t take much digging for her to realize it would be much cheaper to buy a train car already in Alaska, as shipping them to the state is difficult.
“They’re just extraordinarily expensive to ship to where we live,” she said.
Rail car 602 will hopefully be transformed into a new location for Small Town Coffee Roasters by Christmas or early 2018, Krull said. It will be operated by that business but will go by the name “Brew at 602” under Krull’s ownership.
“I’m a total lover of coffee, and I’m a big fan of Small Town Coffee Roasters,” she said. “And he’s been looking to open a second location for a while.”
Krull said she and her family wanted to preserve as much of the original car as possible. The trouble with that is that train cars have different regulations when it comes to being up to code than do establishments inside the city of Soldotna.
Building Official Ralph Linn has been working with Krull to get 602 into code compliance, no easy task with a bi-level coach. In fact, Krull and Linn said in all their research on repurposed rail cars, they couldn’t find any example of someone upgrading a double decker like they’re doing.
The rail car conforms to certain standards that were set for it, Linn said, but much needs to be changed for it to conform to building code standards like the aisles, the stairs leading to the second deck and the amount of space above the seats. Large sections of the second deck, called mezzanines, had to be removed.
Rail car 602 will retain its original seats, however. Reconfiguring the car has been “a challenge to say the least,” Linn said.
“This is a one of a kind project,” he said. “It takes somebody with quite a bit of vision to be able to want to do something like this because there’s such a difference.”
Rail car 602 is now placed on a set of trucks — the wheels underneath a train car — on a set of tracks at Krull’s property on Kleeb Loop in Soldotna. It will be welded to the trucks, and the trucks welded to the track. Doug Bass, the welder hired for the job, joked that he was told to make it secure enough to withstand a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.
The rail car will be attached to a replica of a depot that will be built, Krull said, which will house an art gallery and gift shop.
Krull’s second rail car hails from a bit farther away than Homer. The car, named Addie Camp, was built in 1913 and was shipped from South Dakota where it was taken out of service in 2008.
“We got the one car, and I kind of wanted a caboose,” Krull said. “My son (said), ‘Mom, if you’re going to get one train car, you might as well get the whole train.’”
Krull bought Addie Camp from a tourist attraction railroad company, the same one her son had worked for during a summer. She asked the owner about buying any of the company’s “rolling stock” during a trip with her mother last fall, and soon after became the owner of Addie Camp, a train car Krull has ridden in before.
Addie Camp now sits atop Kleeb Loop as well, and Krull plans to turn it into a beer and wine bar serving food such as tapas. She plans to serve primarily Alaskan beers, premium wines by the glass and small plates.
“I was trying to fill a niche,” Krull said. “I was trying to open something in Soldotna that we don’t have, something unique, something different.”
Krull is focusing on the Brew at 602 project first, and will address Addie Camp later, she said. She estimates the bar and restaurant could be open sometime in 2018. She’s currently looking for a chef, she said.
Addie Camp will serve as seating only for the bar. The actual bar, kitchen and bathrooms would be in another building, possibly built to look like a replica signal tower, attached to the rail car, Krull said. She is considering putting rentable space on a second level.
“We don’t have a lot of venues where you can go and rent a facility for a birthday party, an anniversary, something like that,” Krull said.
She has dubbed the entire development “Whistle Hill.”
“I am absolutely blessed to be able to live a dream,” Krull said of the projects. “It’s just been great. I’m having a ball — I’m having the time of my life.”