Homer teen realizes dream of running trolley

Posted: Thursday, May 05, 2011

HOMER, Alaska -- Oh, the ideas we bring home when we travel.

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Ap Photo/Courtesy Of Sally Oberstein
Ap Photo/Courtesy Of Sally Oberstein
From left, Bobby Paulino, Kenneth Schneider and Betsie Brennand stand outside the Homer Trolley in Homer, Alaska. The idea for a trolley that will educate and entertain tourists and locals is the brainchild of 14-year-old Alex Knudtson, of Homer.

For Homer and its summertime visitors, one such idea, the brainchild of 14-year-old Alex Knudtson, is about to become a reality. If Knudtson achieves the goal he has set for his first summer in business, the Homer Trolley will "educate and entertain tourists and locals who decide to get on."

Homer Trolley's operating season begins May 27 -- Memorial Day weekend -- and lasts until Sept. 5. Each day between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. -- with the exception of 2-3 p.m., a lunch and rest break for the drivers -- an all-day ticket will allow passengers to visit Old Town, the Spit, gift shops, art galleries, the Pratt Museum and Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.

Knudtson is quick to point out Homer Trolley is not to be confused with businesses already offering transportation from Point A to Point B. For instance, it won't go to the Deep Water Dock, where cruise ship passengers arrive and depart, because transportation is already provided there by Homer Tours. Contact information for local taxi companies will be available on the trolley.

"We're trying not to step on anybody's toes," said Knudtson. "We're trying to fill a niche that hasn't been filled."

What Homer Trolley will offer is an entertaining glimpse of life at the end of the road based on stories shared by local residents.

"About a month ago I put out an e-mail to old Homerites to see if they had any good stories they could e-mail me to spice the tour up. I got back all sorts of stuff. It's very entertaining," said Knudtson of the script written to include the stories he received.

The trolley's route was created with an equal amount of forethought. What is interesting in the area? What do tourists say they want? What locations do they want to visit?

While visiting Washington, D.C. and Boston, Mass., Knudtson shared his idea with historical tour operators in those cities and was given VIP passes so he could add to his level of research and learn more about the business in general.

"That's where we got the idea of putting advertising on the trolley," he said of space on the outside and inside of the trolley that is already spoken for.

The idea for Homer Trolley began when Knudtson was touring Liverpool, England, with his mother, Sally Oberstein, owner and operator of Generous Adventures Travel Auctions.

While there, he became familiar with DUKW tours, drawing the name from the six-wheel-drive amphibious truck used to transport goods and troops during World War II. Its name comes from terminology used by GMC: "D'' indicates a vehicle designed in 1942; "U'' designates a "utility (amphibious)," ''K" refers to all-wheel drive; "W'' indicates two powered rear axles.

"You could drive them into the water, drive around and drive out of the water. I thought they would be the coolest thing to have in Homer," said Knudtson, who went to work drafting a plan to open DUKW tours in Homer.

Research proved the idea cost prohibitive. However, when Knudtson spotted the red and green trolley stored in a yard last fall, he saw an opportunity to resurrect and revise his plan.

"The next day we went and talked to the owner, Willy Flyum. He had the phone in his hand and was about to call Tradio," said Knudtson of catching Flyum in the nick of time, just as he was ready to list the trolley for sale on a local radio station.

In November, Knudtson's plan for the 24-passenger trolley got a $650 vote of confidence when it won second place in BizIDEA 2010, a competition sponsored by Friends of the Homer Library.

Because the young entrepreneur's age limits his areas of responsibility, Homer Trolley is being operated by Generous Adventures Travel Auctions. Make no mistake about who is in charge, however.

"I'm the owner," said Knudtson.

His mother, Oberstein, agrees.

"I'm doing the majority of the marketing, but I run everything by him," she said. "I'm not doing anything without making sure he's in agreement."

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