Introduction: Cable Car

My grandma has trouble walking these days and I was going to build her a ramp. After examining code requirements, etc, I realized that a full sized ramp would take up a lot of space and be very expensive. I had to figure something out that would help grandma and my wallet at the same time.
So, after mulling about a few configurations and set-ups for a feasible ramp, I had a brain storm. Why not build an elevator? Further exploration of that idea exposed a few safety issues that I simply could not resolve to any degree of comfort or assurance of grandma's safety.
But, the seed was planted. I could not get the idea of a powered lift for grandma out of my mind.
This is where those musings led.

Step 1: Making the Plans

Picture of Making the Plans

The first thing I had to do was determine where to put it and the needs of grandma to design it's function. First, it had to eliminate any steps between the house and the garage where the car is parked. Second it had to fit her small 35" motorized chair. And finally, it had to support her weight combined with the weight of her chair, or a cummulative rough 300 pounds.
Previously, there had been a short ramp in place for her to walk down. But, now the slope was too steep for her to walk down and her cart could not manage that degree of slope safely. But it's location was relative to the spot where a different ramp would work well.
Off her back porch I had built a 10' x 13' deck some 3 years ago.I decided to build the cable car adjacent and parallel to that deck so that she could simply roll out off the porch, across a few feet of deck and onto the car platform. I decided to build the platform to rise level with the deck at the top of it's rise and settle flush with ground level at the bottom.
So, I began by digging out the area next to the deck. Then I marked the locations for a few footers to build posts up to hold the rails.

Step 2: Placing the Footers

Picture of Placing the Footers

The idea was to roll a platform down two rails. So, I had to install eight footers to a depth of only 12 to 18 inches on which I would install short posts on which the rails would rest.

Step 3: Laying the Base

Picture of Laying the Base

As you can see, the base drops about 18" below bround level. This will allow the platform to rest flush with the gound level at the bottom of it's run. But, I couldn't just leave it as a muddy pit below.
So, I layed in a layer of wire mesh on the ground surface, then pured in a 2" layer of concrete as a base. I installed a drain at the far end to keep it from filling with water. Then I cased it in with brick.
The drain was extended out from the base about two feet to link up with a french drain which I am now digging across the back yard to keep the rain out of the basement.

Step 4: Posts and Rails

Picture of Posts and Rails

The idea was that the platform will roll up and down a pair of parralel rails. So, once the concrete set, I cut posts from PT 4"x4"'s and using lag screws I attached the rails at about a 20 degree angle. The rails are cut from PT 2"x6" and run a bit over eight feet long.
I screwed the rails in line with the inside line of the posts so that there is a 2" over hang on the outside permitting the lower rear wheels two ride past them on the bottom of the rail. These are shown in the next step.

Step 5: The Platform

Picture of The Platform

Now that the base and rails were installed, it was time to begin construction of the platform.
Essentially, it is a simple 40"x40" platform angled and set on wheels. I used PT 2"x10" to form two cantilevers on the outside of each rail and then tied them together with PT 2"x4"s and used deck hardware for added strength.
The front wheels I salvaged from my son's now defunct Hinda Minimoto motorcycle. They are 10" wheels with inclusive bearings. These became very important from a safety standpoint which I will explain in my next step.
On the rear of the platform, I used two sets of smaller wheels on each cantilever. Like a roller coaster, I positioned a small wheel on the top and the bottom of each rail to grab the rail and keep it from flipping forward.

Step 6: Safety!

Picture of Safety!

Now the whole purpose of this project is to make grandma's life easier while at the same time feeding my need for eccentric efforts.
The idea of a little old lady careening uncontrolled down an eight foot ramp because the cable snapped was simply a stopper to this project until I could figure out a way to pre-empt such a disaster.
This is where those Minimoto wheels come into play. I thought they had been thrown away with the rest of the bike after I took out the electric motor last summer. While searching for something else, I found them , much to my suprise, stuck up on a shelf in the garage next to an old Ford 5-speed transmission from my old Escort.
On the rear wheel of the motorcycle was a drum brake! How absolutely incredibly lucky was that! The project could proceed.
I loaded the brake with a spring on one side which locked the brake. Then from the other side of the brake, I ran a cable to the main cable. So, if the main cable snaps, the spring will automatically retract and lock the brake

Step 7: Power

Picture of Power

I bought an electric hoist motor with a 450 pound strength to use to operate the car. It's only 110 volt with a max draw of 20 amps.
From the basement, I ran a power line from a dedicated breaker and used water-proof conduit and junction boxes. this step was probably the easiest.
I mounted the motor below the rails inside the rear-most posts. Then I used 485 pound test pulleys to run the cables to the platform. All the hardware holding the motor, pulleys and cables is stainless. Nothing is too good for Grandma!

Step 8: Completeing the Platform

Once the motor was installed, I test-ran the whole works. The platform rolls smoothly up and down the rails, each run taking approximately 30 seconds, for a full one minute circuit.
I've tried to load a video of my test run, but can't quite figure out how. I've posted a question about that in the Help section and will include it in a re-edit once I've figured it out.
Finally, I laid on decking as a walking surface and installed a light-weight railing.
At the bottom of the run, I poured a concrete pad which matches up flush with the platform at the bottom of the run. Grandma can roll out onto the deck and right across on to the platform at the top. Then an easy decline down to ground level where she can roll right out onto the sidewalk and then to where ever she'd like to go from there.
The only issue I still haveto figure out is how to put the control on the platform itself. The control wire is only five feet and I need it to extend about nine feet to followthe platform. But at the same time it needs to neither drag on the ground nor be run over by the platform itself without being lifted overhead. If anyone has any thoughts an that matter, I'd be happy to hear them.

Thanks for reading everybody!


muddog15 (author)2014-02-04

Great for moving furniture. Time to make a big version of this.

Tinworm (author)2014-01-12

Rather than a cable car, I think this is a funicular railway, in essence, isn't it?

I really like it. It is a very nice project, very nicely built.

From the positioning of the black railing, I presume Gran's wheelchair goes straight in (so that she will be facing uphill). But doesn't this make rolling off on to the deck at the top tricky (having to turn her wheelchair left before exiting)? I think I'd have had her rolling on to it from the right, so that she faced the deck, then roll off straight ahead at the top (and reverse when coming down).

sfarmer11 (author)2013-11-03

What if you put your line like a loop so as it goes down all the loops extend but as its going up the loops gather collecting it nicely. Kinda like the cords and hoses on those big car trailers

Roy Glen Gilliam (author)2013-05-02

You said, "I don't want to build a ramp", but on the front of your cable car is a ramp; don't know why you made both???

Mockfish (author)2008-06-09

Thanks for the feedback everybody! I'm glad everyone likes it. Second to grandma, it makes it worth all the effort. I'll try to respond to a few of your thoughts here. I was actually considering the self-retracting extension cord adaptation for the controls. Good to know someone else sees the same thing I do. I think I'll go that way. Harbor Freight does have some inexpensive models. All the parts are gauged by working strength. So the weight limit is the weight limit. I made sure of all that before-hand. And I went with wood for cost. I've discovered in some of my other projects that wood has an amazing amount strength, so I'm not worried about breakage. Warpage I do think about, but I figure if necessary, it wouldn't be hard to simply replace a wooden rail versus the cost and effort with working with steel. And lastly, I did actually look at scissor lifts like for a motorcycle, but in the end it would have been more costly. It did have certain advantages such as a smaller footprint and a built-in inherent safety, but this design offers easier repair and upkeep. I mean if the jack broke, I'd need a whole new jack. On this, I could replace any part in a few hours at most. Thanks again everybody! Have a good day!

Mockfish (author)Mockfish2008-06-09

I still haven't got a video to post here since Yahoo video is not a supported source? But here's a link to a short one minute video of the test run. I shot this before the job was complete so the platform is still skeletal. Enjoy.

greatscotmagic (author)Mockfish2008-06-13

Great idea. I have to use a handicapped cart myself and I am looking to add a way to get from my porch to the gorund. This seems like it would really fit the bill. FYI, why not try putting the vidoe on Youtube instead of Google Video? Youtube is supported here. If you need help doing that, I will be happy to assist you.

astro boy (author)greatscotmagic2009-10-25

or post a link in the Instructable.

RetroPlayer (author)Mockfish2008-06-10

Regarding the retractable cable reel, I would worry about one thing. The clutches on these usually suck, especially if you get a cheap one. Also, they are usually designed to lock as you pull out the cable.

You might want to attempt make your own unless you can find a good one and figure out how to modify it to remove the ratchet mechanism.

Another option is to make it wireless and operated by a remote on a keychain. This also solves the problem of people using it when they shouldn't (wouldn't that suck if someone lowered it and then left it down?)

This looks perfect for your needs:

One question, though: How do you plan to stop the wench once it reaches its final position? Keep in mind that if the wench isn't stopped right away when it reaches the top, the stress will eventually pull your contraption apart, or at least damage the motor.

Squid Tamer (author)2009-09-07

I think that mounting the motor on the car itself is the best option. I don't think that the cart would ever run over the cord as long as it dropped onto the side. And I can't imagine a little sliding every once in a while messing up the cables.

heathbar64 (author)2009-09-03

Beautiful job on this. ramps are always a pain because they have to be so long and are ugly no matter what you do. I may use this idea next time. I like the suggestion of a garage door opener. I think you would have to use the door springs as well to pull the weight. You didn't seem to use any rollers sideways to keep the platform centered on the track. Does it work smoothly without rubbing?

Stinklove (author)2008-06-08

you could install metal strips to the sides of the rail and have metal brushes slide along them to transfer the signal to move.. obviously reverse the signal for moving in the opposite direction

crazyrog17 (author)Stinklove2009-05-17

make sure it's a low voltage control circuit though or else there'll be fried cat lying around. have three strips, the center positive and the other two connected to the positive input of solenoids. when two are connected, that solenoid will circuit winding up and vice versa.

rybitski (author)2009-05-10

Why not something like they use on large cnc's? :

Just mount it in the center of the track shere there would be no interference. I am sure you could make something similar for less.
Spectacular job by the way, very inventive! The safety brake is ingenious.

Greenehouse (author)2008-07-03

Wow, fantastic idea. Well thought out and executed. The pictures and descriptions were right on the mark. Thanks for a great job. It has inspired me to work on something I have been thinking about for awhile (a Star Trek kind of elevator that is just a pole with a round platform you stand on.) I'm considering this for a quick way to get to the attic.

Derin (author)Greenehouse2009-05-06

Weren't turbolifts like conventional elevators?Or are you talking about the elevator near the reactor?

labrmnus (author)2008-12-19

Nice. My folks live on steep hill above a lake, they wish they had a cablecar. I wonder about a conveyor-belt, maybe made from those hand-cranked-fabric-truckbed-liner they sell to let you unload a load of gravel from truck. Or maybe have an swing-arm based device, somehow rigged to the platform stays horizontal as the arm itself goes through 90 degrees. Or maybe have cheapo pneumatic riser somehow, maybe made out of office chair chamber that deflates on command, or how about those screw-type car jacks with 2 jacks on each end tied to a central rotating motor moving both. Elevating devices can be neat but sudden drops can hurt, so I am cautious. Any comments on these things?

thb43 (author)2008-12-07

Here is an idea for your control wires. Look inside of an ink jet printer. There is usually a flat plastic ribbon cable connected to the print head. The flat cable rolls out/up when the printer head moves back and fourth. Do something similar for your cable car. Another idea is to put the motor on the car itself and make a sort of cog railway instead of using cables. Good job.

Mockfish (author)2008-06-10

Wow, thanks for all the great input. And I thought I had thought of everything! But, let me answer some more of your questions. I've looked at a few self-retracting cords and some of them have a locking mechanism and some don't. I could probably recreate something similar, but if I can find a ready to use unit, that is the way I'll probably go. I tried a couple of spring setup already, but a spring that doesn't stretch itself out after a few runs tends to take a bit of the load off the cable and introduces a bit of slack into the cable causing a jerky and possibly dangerous ride. As far as keeping the cart on the track, the sides of the platform, what I called Cart-i-levers, extend down past the outside edges of the rails fully encompassing them. Then the cart-i-levers are tied together at six places inbetween them holding them securly together. I physically tried to break them apart and derail the thing and couldn't do it. I am confident that it is safe from that perspective. Didn't I post a front view of the installed cart in my instructable? It would show how the cart fits onto the rails. I'll check and if not, I'll add one in there. I did consider a key-fob style remote system, but along with Grandma's knees, her memory is slipping a bit as well. I think a fixed control would be less likely to be lost. She agreed. I set up the cable length to run out at the bottom so that the platform stops at it's maximum length automatically. At the top I left in about 8" of over run. So, if she passes the deck by an inch or two, she can simply stop and bump it back down to level. If this becomes a problem, I'll install some automatic disconnect switches at the top of the run. That won't be difficult and I may do it anyway. I've tried to use simplicty as a hallmark and don't want to add any more bells or whistles then absolutley required. Eye Poker has already spied out my next step. The railing on top of the deck will be replaced this weekend. The space below the deck will be blocked up with some of that wooden lattice when I build the roof on the deck later this summer. All in good time. I still have to dig the french drain across the yard first because I keep getting water in my basement when it rains. That must come first. Did I mention that Grandma and Grandpa live with my wife and I? They live on the first floor of the house and we use the second and third. And the basement is full of my fishtanks. But your concern for little fingers is quite justified since we've got three kids, so their safely has been a prime factor in all my works. Thanks for looking out for them though. Thanks again everybody. I'm glad you liked my project!

pyro_fan_ryan (author)Mockfish2008-10-18

u should make an onboard switch systm wit a swich fo up and u swich fo doun

servant74 (author)Mockfish2008-06-13

On the self retracting cords, there is a 'plastic serpentine chain' of sorts that are used on CNC rigs for running cables in for the same reason you want to here, to keep the wires out of the 'mechagnism's. You can make them or purchase them. Think of something like light weight tank treads, at least that is what they remind me of. has pictures of what I am thinking of, but it can't be that hard to make at home!

bwcbwc (author)Mockfish2008-06-10

A couple more suggestions: The first one may be what you were already mentioning about the replacement deck railing. In the current picture, you have no railing around the deck for the entire travel length of the car track. The gap is only needed at the point where the car is level with the deck. Extending the railing can prevent accidents for people on the deck as well as providing a hand-hold for grandma as she exits the cart. A cheaper alternative to enclosing the entire empty space under the deck would be a solid gate on the cart on the deck side, and possibly on the two perpendicular sides so that people can't reach around.

cjbikenut (author)2008-08-06

I would try mounting the winch at the midway point under the deck,which reduces the length of the wiring run, and connecting the controls to the top of the platform railing . It would require rerouting the winch cable and probably lengthening the wire for the controls but then grandma could operate it independently. great project and nicely documented.

sovereign (author)2008-07-30

dude went all out! lucky grandma!

Derin (author)2008-07-05

Brushes+Line on track=onboard control

truk (author)2008-06-29

There are retractable cord available. If you could wire one of those into the control, you could run the cord into the cart and mount the control. It would keep the control cord tight to prevent accidents. Note that it should be attached to the cart near the bottom and between the wheel paths to be safest.

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-06-29

Great job!

vomajeff (author)2008-06-26

Excellent instructable. I'd like to try something like this at my church. Elevators are way too costly. Can't wait to see what's next from you!!

ootm (author)2008-06-25

How much was the hoist motor?

static (author)2008-06-18

Perhaps it's not readily apparent in the photos, but did you employ a means to insure that the wheels track straight on the rails? With one wheel braking is there any chance in the event it's ever employed that the platform might suddenly wretch akilter possibly tossing grandma and wheel chair off the platforms?

Lexrehabtech (author)2008-06-16

You have a major potential safety problem; pinch points. You need a way to ensure that Grandma won't get a limb severed or crushed between the platform and the deck as it comes up. Also, you must have a key operated control to keep children from playing with this and getting injured or killed. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Other than that, it is a very creative design.

beff50 (author)2008-06-15

to get the vid up here all you have to do is post the video to youtube. then you just have to copy and past the html code (not the url) into the instructable. then you have the video in the instructable.

pieman1 (author)2008-06-14

make 2 seperate circuits powering the winch. locate one at each stopping position of the platform. (top & bottom) include a "kill" switch that breaks the current flow of the circuit when the platform reaches its stopping point. the top platform circuit contols the forward (or let out cable) and the bottom circuit controls the reverse (take up cable) draw up a circuit diagram and work out any bugs its totally possible to do this with simple switches.

TossManual (author)2008-06-13

This could be totally stupid (it's late, here), but would it work to mount the motor *on* the car? Then the controller wire wouldn't be a problem - just the power to the motor. And maybe the extra weight.

hydrnium.h2 (author)2008-06-13

I'm thinking: Backyard Roller Coaster.

Bear6977 (author)2008-06-12

Half way down the ramp install a J box for the control wiring. Then install so cord, use the curly type {like on a telephone receiver]. then you only need 4" of cable to reach from end to end.

wizardofflight (author)2008-06-12

One other method would be to get one of the spring load extension cord reels like on vacuum cleaners. I believe I saw one at Harbor Freight and remove the cord locking devise so that it is always constant tension so that as the platform goes down the cord is pulled out and as the platform goes up the cord is retracted. This is a great idea thank you! Alan

sumrall72830 (author)2008-06-12

I think that I would plant something soft around the bottom, as one day granny is going down as this contraption ages. Great idea, but not built for day to day use outside. The elements are going to eat it up.

phyzome (author)2008-06-12

I would add a lip to the leading edge of the platform so that the wheel chair is less likely to roll off.

Rishnai (author)2008-06-11

First of all, I'm assuming you did actually test the cable "breaking" with, sya a quick0release, and made sure that the one brake would actually stop things? I'm confident it would, but you can never be too careful. On that note, if something goes awry and the brake has to kick in, do you have a way for grandma to call for help if, say, she is stuck halfway up the ramp when it happens?

Rishnai (author)2008-06-11

I have to agree with the suggestion to use a garage door opener. I think that would be the method I, for one, am least likely to screw up, and that way it's nice and wireless. In fact, I'm not sure how strong a garage door motor is, but if it wouldn't be strong enough, perhaps just take an existing garage door system (beware that it might act up if it's like mine--'bout to rip that sucker off the ceiling and do the door by hand) and wire up your winch in place of the stock motor. Everything else unchanged, and then it will automatically stop if the car hits an obstruction that might otherwise derail it.

3.142rat (author)2008-06-10

I notice you've used good hardware here and then skimped on the two eye bolts at the top and the one "standing" Eye bolt on the cable car. in all of these cases I would recommend using a Forged, shoulder eye-bolt and a shackle to connect that to the cable ends. also with all you've done with the rest of the rig why not put the winch under the deck in it's own weatherproof housing. Just my $0.02 worth.

Lithium Rain (author)2008-06-10

Wow! What an awesome grandchild you are! That's very nice. 5/5 stars.

Kensational (author)2008-06-10

First, well done, great idea. I do have one question. Perhaps I miss something but in the last photo in Step 7 you seem to have the top board that supports the two pulleys very securely bolted with nice thick bolts in pre-drilled holes I assume with nuts and washers, however it looks to me that the "eye bolts" that directly hold the pulleys themselves are merely screwed into the short end of that support board. The support board looks like it will hold 300-450 pounds, but are the eye screws as secure? Do they grab enough wood and seat sufficiently? Could they pull out?

unjust (author)2008-06-10

very shiny. a finished pic with base pad would be a nice addition.

gleep (author)2008-06-10

You should add a wireless controller to her scooter! that way it has a power source and is always with her! you can use any RF mechanism you want and maybe even rip the circuits out of a garage door opener!

Eye Poker (author)2008-06-09

I see one possibility for DISASTER. The edge of the platform as it is moving up passes an open space below the deck. When the top of the platform meets the bottom of the deck anything hanging over that edge is going to get crushed (think small children's fingers) and has the potential for de-stabilizing the platform (think I've fallen and I can't get up). Get something to close off that space!

buttersnake (author)Eye Poker2008-06-09

Oooohh, good eye on that eye poker.

Eye Poker (author)buttersnake2008-06-10

When I saw that it instantly reminded me of the scene in "Total Recall" when Micheal Ironsides is hanging off the edge of the freight elevator. Chop!

posicat (author)2008-06-10

Would something like that work? You'd have to wire it to control relays in the winch control, but your grandma could keep the remote with her and even if the lift was in the wrong position, she could retrieve it and get on it again.

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