Railroads & Locomotives History Maxon Railway is an office on rails

Maxon Railway is an office on rails

By Lou Maxon | October 19, 2023

A space for inspiration on a short-but-wide railroad

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A two-story office structure made of glass and unpainted steel sheets sits on a wide-gauge track
Maxon Railway has just one car — a two-story, electrically powered movable office that can detach from the owner’s home and move off into the adjoining woods. Carrie Radford

As the Maxon Railway car pulls away from the platform everything seems business as usual. Steel rails. Steel wheels. A slight clickety-clack. The whizzing soundtrack of an electrified locomotive. Check. Check. Check. Check. 

Except this is no ordinary rail car and this railway is definitely nowhere near ordinary.

Located in the Pacific Northwest with the forest as its backdrop and in the historic shadow of logging railroads in addition to the Milwaukee Road and the Great Northern, my Maxon Railway is more than just a one-of-a-kind train set. 

My railway is wide, with a 15-foot gauge; short, at just 110 feet long; and tall; with its one railcar towering 24 feet above the rails. With a functional interior inspired by caboose design, the office of the Maxon Railway is a private two-story working space for my branding and design studio. It runs on reclaimed rails from the Great Northern Ry. which once ran through and terminated in Carnation (Tolt) on the Cherry Valley branch line with service to Seattle and Chicago on the iconic Empire Builder line.

The studio features a working inspiration space on the first story complete with an observation car-inspired glass wall spanning 10 feet and reaching nearly 24 feet in height, offering views of the valley and sightlines to the original railroads that once brought passengers and freight to town.

A desktop with open notebook and railroad memorabilia
Having an office that detaches and moves away from the rest of the home frees the owner, Lou Maxon, from distractions. Carrie Radford

Designed in partnership with Seattle-based architects Olson Kundig, a firm widely known for spaces that connect and commune with the landscape, Maxon Railway was imagined and built with a mix of centuries-old technology and modern engineering.

My office railcar operates by means of a 240-volt electric motor with a frequency drive control. The motor couples to a gear reducer that transfers power to the main axle shaft on one end of the office. By the use of limit switches and rheostat, the control of motion is attained. A reclaimed and rewired General Motors Electro-Motive Division locomotive control panel governs its direction and speed. At the insertion of the reverser, I can run the studio down the railway at notch 1 through 8 at a speed ranging from a couple miles an hour to top speed of 6 to 8 mph.

A wall, built of raw plywood sheets with a locomotive control stand and a rad and white striped sign reading slow
The two-story office is powered by a 240-volt electric motor controlled by a repurposed Electro-Motive locomotive control stand. Carrie Radford

The second story is reached by a ladder inspired by ones youd see on a freight boxcar or caboose. To transport items between the two floors I have a vertical rail dumbwaiter operated by a spare lever on the locomotive control panel. A steel basket moves supplies up and down and is operated by a small electrical motor manufactured in Japan and normally used to power sushi belts in restaurants. Electricity is supplied to the railcar by means of an industrial-size reel mounted under the rail carriage which unspools and spools a protected 40-amp electric cable out and back in with each round trip journey.

Upstairs features a full library with dramatic views over the valley and through the forest and treetops. It serves as a place of reflection and study for me. Two of the interior walls are made from rolled steel and magnetized for displaying work and inspiration while the other walls are slightly sanded pine plywood, a nod to the old cabooses and their sparse interiors.

In addition to providing a creative backdrop for my work, the studio is a rolling mini railroad museum of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Artifacts abound on shelves and desks from lanterns to telegraphs, model railroads, print ads, tickets, timetables, and a bullet-ridden Great Northern locomotive shield. On one shelf is an original prop from the movie The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson. 

As my studio rolls down to the end of the line its safe to say I don’t have an ordinary commute to work. And thats what makes it memorable. A railway that truly proves that it is the journey, not the destination that counts.

Follow Maxon Railway or on Instagram @maxon_railway.

A image with the camera pointed toward the blue sky showing a two-story glass wall and overhanging roof.
The two-story glass and steel office is a striking sight as it rolls down the Maxon Railway. Carrie Radford

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