The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Cable pulley hauling line


Mark has wanted a zipline to run from our parking area to our core homestead for years, both as a way of moving people and of moving stuff. Over and over, I explained the reasons I didn't think it would work:

Route map

However, I've been wondering lately if a different cable-related scheme might be the way to expedite hauling while the floodplain is sodden and our eventual driveway upgrade is slow in coming. Glad of any line-based solution, Mark was quick to remind me that we really only need to span the worst of the swamp, which would be a smaller distance and would require cutting fewer trees out of the way.

our new access point by the goat shed, we could potentially run a 350-foot cable from a hill above the driveway near the ford (point A) to the goat-shed area (point B), hauling supplies in the ATV to point A (since an old logging road runs up onto that knoll) and then in a cart from point B to our garden along another old logging road. This would cut off the entirety of the terrible-driveway areas and allow me to haul in the manure I so badly a few short weeks. (Yes, we're hitting crunch time around here.)

Pulley system

A zipline might be dicey for hauling supplies, but what about a circular line designed like a hefty pulley clothesline? One person would stand at point A loading buckets onto the line, then someone else would pull the line at point B and unload the buckets.

I'm thinking of using galvanized "aircraft" cable just like people use for ziplines, either 7x7 or 7x19 strands. Does anyone know how to figure out the weight limit on a system like this (so I can decide which diameter cable to spring for --- 3/8", 5/16", or 1/4")? And how would you suspend the load --- make a little carriage for the buckets to ride in that is suspended from the cable by some kind of hook? Or make the cable support a single line like a zipline (instead of my pulley system) with a carriage that rolls along it pulled by a rope on both sides? Either way, do you think this system is even feasible over a 350-foot span? Please tell me why my idea is every bit as crazy as Mark's was (or how you would design the system to make it work)!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Reminds me of the rope tow at the ski "resort" in Iowa with a tractor at the top of the hill. Could you add a motor and use a large rope instead of cable?
Comment by Linda Sun Apr 5 08:28:01 2015

I'm an old homesteader from the first wave of the back to the land movement in the 1960's. I still live in my original homestead in the mountains of VA long after all the fad followers went back to grad school on mommies money after life got too hard trying to live off the land. So there were those that really believed in the vision and those that tried it while it was cool but eventually went on to their yuppie lifestyle, only to dream of returning to their idyllic simple life. Well I'll hand it to you, you are hanging in there, and I love you for it. But take some advise from an old grizzled mountain man that can pass along some wisdom from making many of the same mistakes you are making...

These repeated musings you engage in and around your access difficulties, your mud road, the swamp, the ATV, the hauling supplies, hay,manure etc. can all be put to rest if you just accept the idea that a decent access road is the best way to go In the long run. I read your blog for the amusement offered by your naive and innocent attempts at farmstead ing. But do you see the pattern of how you undertake projects,or repairs and pursue in a short sighted manner, only to have to come back later and fix your earlier, half assed attempt with some kind of shoddy prop up or repair. If I can offer you one bit of advise, Do it right the first time. You are not saving money, or time by doing these projects in a shoddy manner. You end taking more time and money in the long run trying to fix it right and suffering with it, than just doing it right the first time. It's not even hippified or cool, it's just stupid and a waste of time. So dedicate some of your zip line musings to designing and saving up for a decent road and so many of your concerns will be fixed. You won't have to haul hay in 3 bales at a time. You can bring in manure by the dump truck load. You won't have to muck about with stuck vehicles, and then get them yanked out and repaired. I mean really, really think about how much time and effort is wasted around your poor access. Think forward, do you want to be hauling groceries up some hill to a zip line in the snow in February when you are in your 60's or 70's?? Look at this as an investment in your retirement that you will be able to use Now and into perpetuity. Okay you guys are cool, with your hippy ways of doing things and it is a good laugh to read about your rechargeable battery powered chainsaw, but get real for once and make your readers proud by growing up and doing something right the first time and GET A ROAD!

Comment by HillBilly Billy in Virginia Sun Apr 5 10:29:36 2015

I think it can be done, but I would avoid running the cable across a neighbor's field. But it won't be cheap to do it right.

We ziplined in Hartford, TN this last summer and I believe their zip line setup was good for 250lbs, but that was just using gravity to go down hill. You need to pull a gondola type basket up hill as well. This will not be easy with muscle power. What happens when you are pulling a basket half way across, up hill, and you get a cramp? Or your nose itches? Or do you have a small gas engine on one end and have someone on each end, one operating the winch to pull?

You have goats....why not get a pack mule? I'm not kidding about that either. It's likely what the original homesteaders used to get in and out.

Comment by Eric Sun Apr 5 11:09:14 2015

For an endless line, look at the stuff that is used to make ski-lifts from. Maybe you can find some second-hand material?

I think the size of the cable is not so much dependent on the load, but on the amount of slack the cable has. And it will be determined by the amount of safety you want to allocate for wear and tear; you don't want the cable to fail when one strand breaks! You have to balance the force of gravity on the load (which is vertical) by the vertical component of the tension in the wire. So if the line is very taut and runs almost horizontally, you'll need a lot of force in the line to counteract the weight of the load. (If the line has no slack you'd need an infinite force.) If the line is relatively slack the vertical component of the tension in the wire is larger, but you's have to fasten it higher up.

Most zip-lines are a single load-carrying line with a kind of trolley running over the line to suspend the load from. An extra rope (that can run in a loop) can be used to haul the trolley both ways.

There is at least one construction guide available on Amazon. Also, have a look at the buildazipline website.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Apr 5 12:15:54 2015

I think that Billy's advice (to get a proper road) is spot on.

You've already wrecked your golf cart and damaged both your truck and your ATV because of your bad access.

And you will reach a time in life when wip-wading through an almost frozen stream will not be an appealing (or even viable) option anymore.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Apr 5 12:48:43 2015

I absolutely loved Hillbilly In Va's advice.

Hillbilly Man said it all with the wisdom, and knowledge only a Man can have when it comes to these things.....but only if given the chance.

I also visit for the humor, and also for the frolic of the Woman trying to run it all.

The access road should have been number one priority 9 years ago. Just think of all the money you've wasted ....probably arguing the cost or whatever with Mark about it. You could have bought 10 roads by now.

No hard feelings Anna are what you are...a product of the system


Comment by Edith Sun Apr 5 12:56:23 2015
I agree, get a road. I'm not sure how much a road will coast to put in, and I'm not sure how much the heavy cable would cost, but it took just over $100 to put up a 75-foot overhead cable run for the dog last summer. (No, no an expensive prepackaged job, just the cable and 2 cable clamps from TSC.) The time, effort and money you would sink into a cable line would be much better spent on permanent access. Ain't none of us getting any younger.
Comment by Anonymous Sun Apr 5 14:01:43 2015

I can't tell you how to build a hauling line unfortunately, but I can tell you I supported one of my husband's ideas, that I personally thought was not a good one at the time. That idea saved our house from being flooded, as it redirected fast running water. Sure, it took the structure out that we built, and you could say it was a waste of time and resources because it got washed away, but better the smaller structure than the house!

So don't let some self-appointed experts in their own situations, negate any ideas you feel need more research in your situation. They aren't living where you are and while it may be fine to highlight the road as priority, they are giving that advice without knowing the actual details of your environment. If your land is flooded most of the year, how are you supposed to put a road in? The contractors won't jeopardize their equipment and will pick other jobs in easier locations.

I know people who put in a road quickly, and the part which got flooded every year would get washed away. Even when they resorted to hard structures. Some roads just shouldn't be put in some locations, its that simple. As far as I'm concerned, it would be a waste of time and resources to put in a road which is constantly inundated with water. That's when the circumstance dictates other considerations, and I think you're wise for exploring them. Even if you don't end up running with this particular idea, its sure sensible to consider it, given your situation.

We actually have problems with our neighbours driveway - two of them in fact. The one above the house, is what was responsible for siphoning the water down to the house during that particular flood event. The neighbours driveway next to us, has a concrete culvert to cross the gully which floods. Only the concrete speeds up the water and it ends up chewing into our backyard, taking soil with it. We're constantly having to come up with strategies to stop that from happening.

By the way, their concrete culvert got damaged in that particular flood event - a whopping great big tree trunk slammed into it and got wedged. They had to take their lives into their own hands, whenever they crossed it afterwards, which they needed to do for work. Luckily their insurance company covered the damage, so it got fixed. Unlike the other couple I knew, who were constantly having to fork out money to fix the part which crossed the creek.

So yeah, access roads are great things, but they're not always the solution in many locations. We took a mixed strategy for our driveway, which is on a slope that has to deal with water at particular times of the year. We concreted the part up near the street, because there was no way a car would be able to take that steep climb in the wet. We lived with that solution for six years, before we opted to grid-pave the rest down to the house. So they're concrete grids, allowing vehicles to cross over the top, but water to penetrate them. Because they're pavers too, we can move them individually to put in drainage pipes if we find we need them.

We couldn't afford all that at once though, and took a few cars to the mechanics to fix exhaust pipes because of the dips in our road. Yeah, life ain't perfect but living where we did, gave us the opportunity to do things we couldn't do elsewhere. Couldn't afford flat land and didn't want to live in the city any more, where if you wanted to do something unusual, like keep chickens, you had to pass the regulations.

Everything costs money. Its your life and your environment, so do the best you can and don't stop blogging about it. :)

Comment by Chris Sun Apr 5 17:34:29 2015

When our driveway was cut in, we didn't have to deal with a swamp. But we did have a dip about ten feet down into a dry river bed then a 100 foot climb up the side of a chunky lava hill. There wasn't much option of where the driveway would go because there was only one route that was workable. So a bulldozer came in and cut the road. After that we took several years to gradually modify it to make it functionable without destroying our vehicles. As we had the money we did more grading, removed boulders, added fill, added a gravel topping. For the first few years we parked the Volkswagen down in the field because it couldn't navigate the driveway. It wasn't until our latest upgrade that this car can now make it to the house.

What I am saying is that perhaps it doesn't have to be all done at one shot. Possibly doing one section at a time, or one layer at a time would work. In our situation, it was a money thing. We had to save up enough to get each stage done. We physically did as much as we could on our own, hauling plenty of rock and fill. But we had to pay cash for the bulldozer and excavator work, and the truckloads of gravel.

Then there's the fun factor. What fun is there in a gravel driveway? Come on, a zip line over the swampy section would be far more fun. Or possibly a hanging rope bridge. Or a hand-over-hand pulley cart on a suspended cable. We're in the process of putting in a wooden go-cart type track down our hillside so that we can ride down to the livestock fields.....and take the feed and supplies down that we want. Is it necessary? Heck no, but it will be a whole lot of fun. Part of living on our homestead is enjoying life and making fun. We built a set of crooked stairs going down the hill and put a pond at the bottom wit a log foot bridge across it. None of that was practical, but it surely has been a source of enjoyment and pleasure. A lot of the building and experimenting on our homestead has a bit of a fun factor built in.

Practical is good. It's more efficient. Less costly. But usually dull and boring compared to the whimsical, wacky, and just outright fun approach. I spent most of my life doing things with efficiency and practicality in mind. I'm so lucky to have lived long enough to get the chance to live life via the fun approach. So I'd say, you want to try a zip line? Go for it girl and enjoy!

Comment by Su Ba Sun Apr 5 22:18:23 2015

I can't agree with the tone of all the others who share this opinion, but the driveway is clearly the way to go in the long run, despite the high overhead cost and technical difficulties. But if the final solution takes years to complete, you may well need an alternative in the works. Of course the zipline will surely cost you as well... in hardwork and in dollars.

Another comment alluded to this, but it really is all about tension, not about weight capacity. Unfortunately I cannot calculate the tension requirement as it is contingent upon the vertical drop along the line, flexibility of the line you choose, and the weight of the gondola both empty and under full load. Without hiring an engineer, you might just have to use trial and error...

But here are some thoughts: *Each tree (or anchor) must resist the required horizontal force of tension when the line is under full load. The higher your line is mounted, the more likely it is that a tree could be uprooted by the force.

*The mount itself is even more critical. If to a tree, the cleanest and strongest mount would be a bore straight through the center of the trunk. Where the cable penetrates on the opposite side, utilize a eye-loop and pin to prevent the cable from pulling through. The pin can be a rod, a plate, a ball, or some combination and must resist bending due to the tension and also spread the load in such a a way that it does not eat away at the living wood.

*On the downhill landing point I would recommend installing your own anchor. It could be a post (driven or poured), at least twice as deep as the anchor point is high and back-angled at about 45 degrees. If poured, it must be heavily reinforced to resist bending tension. The thru-bore would be recommended here as well. If at all possible, I recommend building the anchor on both sides rather than relying on the strength of a living organism which will naturally weaken the more you use the line. I'm thinking sections of telephone pole or 8-foot railroad tie. Pouring into a steel tube is probably an easier installation but it will rust.

*You should design the rig for cold weather and work out a method for adding spacers to the pin mechanism on either side to account for expansion of the cable with temperature increase.

Whatever you do, have fun and good luck!

Comment by Jeremiah Mon Apr 6 12:26:22 2015

Now I don't know how much you were figuring to spend, but it ain't going to be much cheaper than a road...have you given thought to purchasing, with consultation, an older dozer?

A friend of mine some years back got several estimates to do some clearing and landscaping...being a diesel tech lke myself (I know you aren't mechanics, but seeing what you have done maintaining the ATV etc you can do some stuff) he found a well used backhoe. Formerly a county machine, for about 3,000 delivered. Yes, he had to replace some hydraulic hoses and do a little welding, but he did all his own dirt moving work, did a few little favors for neighbors, and eventually sold the thing for what he had in it.

It's doable!

Comment by Eric Mon Apr 6 19:59:46 2015

You may wish to consider a ropeway akin to Nepal's Tuins. (The first link provides some technical information concerning design and building, While the second provides a greater overview)

Comment by Sean Mon Apr 6 20:04:51 2015
Anna and Mark: I just want to pop in and say that for the newest wave of folks who are actively (or aspiring to be) homesteading, your blog has been invaluable. Each decision you face, and each success and failure is useful and worth something to those of us who wish to pursue this lifestyle. I often wish that the folks who began the similar journey back in the 60s and 70s were more active in the blogosphere, but at 9 years in, your homestead is a veteran! Hillbilly Billy: there are so many folks who could benefit from your experience if you chose to share it with the world. I hope you consider doing so!
Comment by Karen B. Tue Apr 7 02:20:04 2015
Ever consider a Kick starter or fund me for the road? I'd be willing to chime in to help you guys out. Maybe you can offer to contributors the privilege to visit you once for a tour after the road is done. Like I said, I am willing to contribute. surely many others are as well.
Comment by pedro Tue Apr 7 22:03:06 2015
Having your own zip line would seriously be really cool. That's amazing how you are working on making your own. I hope it won't become an issue with your neighbors like you are worried about. It sounds like you have a plan to work around that though so I hope you post pictures when it is done!
Comment by Rose Henderson Tue Jun 2 12:48:58 2015

Hey I was thinking, what if you built a nice small tiny house just with the basics on the other side of the creek, like the size of Megan and Erek's house with the loft for Mark's sleeping quarters for days when you come home and have to hang on to limp rickety trees by the skin of your teeth to survive crossing the creek? Just one run on sentence to consider. Maybe buy a little land from the neighbor if necessary. Or work out a deal with him about using it and he can hang his hunting gun there and use it to kill deer sometimes.

This way, you come home, and don't kill yourself in high water times, and you can use it as a sort of zen meditation cabin for retreats from time to time heck, maybe just erect a yurt over there. Make sure to have a latrine, make it nice, or make a bath house that you can sleep in. The point is, I don't want you getting killed.

OK well stay dry!

Comment by Maggie Thu Mar 2 09:34:34 2017

I recommend using 7x19 Galvanized Aircraft Cable. Depending on what your load size is I'd say go with 5/16" or 3/8". 1/4" is just too skinny for that length and load.

Here's a quick cable size for backyard zip line kits that should work well for you.

Best of luck!

Comment by Chris Wed Nov 13 18:03:35 2019

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