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My lovely wife and I built a beautiful house next to a lake, but we had no easy way to get down to our dock. Friends and neighbors joked that we needed to build a chairlift; we all laughed. Then at some point the laughs became musings, musings became a plan, and six months later, we had our own lift.

We basically built a rolling cart that rides along 3-inch, Schedule 40 pipe and is lowered and raised via two drums that are each attached to 7,000lb-capacity aircraft cable. (We doubled the line in case one breaks.)

A variable-frequency drive motor controls the drums. The motor controller takes single-phase 220V power and converts it to three-phase variable frequency for speed control.

A Linear brand four-button remote sends signals from the cart up to the main control unit. The pipes themselves double as conduit to get our control lines down to the lower box that lets us send the cart back down, and they allow me to run power lines down to my dock.

For a while, the cart wouldn’t stop fast enough at the bottom when overloaded. After some research, we finally discovered that the motor controller would only allow so much back current. We reconfigured the controller to override the protection parameter and provided a power resistor the size of a tennis ball can to absorb the excess power. At $80, it’s the most expensive resistor I’ve ever bought.

My dad and I built the chairlift as a team, and it was a very fulfilling life experience, both as a functional, useful project and as a father-son endeavor. As I was draining our bank account and my vacation time building it, my wife kept calling it “your tram!” Once it was finally done and worked, she started showing it off to her friends and family, talking about “our tram.” Good thing she couldn’t hear my eyes roll. We both laugh about that now.