We put the fun back in the funicular!

Yeah.  It was sad.  Distressing, actually.  The funicular was down and there was no way of getting it up (no, this is not an innuendo).  We need our funicular.  More than you might think.  It is especially vital when you get to our age to have a working funicular.  A non functioning funicular is just a real downer.

“What the hell you talkin’ about, Dave?!  What’s a fin-nuclear, anyway?”

A horizontal set of tracks with a cart on it is called a railway.  A vertical set of tracks with a cart running up and down it would be described as an elevator.  A funicular is a cart on a set of tracks running on an incline.  Victoria peak has one in Hong Kong.  The Swiss employ a few in the alps and the Italians often have mini-funiculars on their hillsides to service their vineyards.  We have one from the beach to the house – approximately 80 feet of inclined rail at a 30 degree angle.  The cart weighs about four hundred pounds and, with the electric motor, I can pull up about 1000 pounds on it….maybe more.  It was the funicular that made building up on the ridge possible.

Funicular Tracks

In fact, it is the funicular that makes a lot of things possible.  Even shopping.  When we go to town ‘on a shop’ we buy for a month or a few weeks, anyway.  We often bring home over two hundred pounds of food, supplies, materials and such.  Occasionally I’ll bring a big load such as thiry bags of Reddi-mix concrete at fifty-five pounds per bag.  We usually pack the food and other goods in plastic Rubbermaid totes and schlep them from the store to the truck to the boat to our beach.  But, at our beach, we are still quite a hike from the house.

Funicular at Work

Thank God for the funicular!  We load the stuff onto the cart and it pulls everything up to the deck right beside the house.  It is literally a lifesaver.  When the unit went down last week we went to town anyway and shopped (we had to).  A light shop is only two totes and one large cooler and five gallons of fuel.  Total weight: about 150 pounds (not counting the 350 pounds of lumber that stayed in the boat).  I carried it all up eighty-eight stairs (in three loads).  It was a workout.  Five loads and it would have been a myocardial infarction.

Today we made an effort at fixing the funicular.

We don’t know what we are doing.  The problem was a mystery.  To us, electronics is pure magic.  I don’t care what the geeks say, it is all the result of the dark arts.  Nobody can understand all that stuff.  Even my guru, Bill, says things like, “Geez, Dave, I dunno.  It’s all weird science, ya know?  Ya just gotta connect the wires to the right places and then step back and throw the switch. If the lights come on, you did good.  We call it a miracle where I come from!” 

Well, he is better than that, but that is the way he talks.  The voice of confidence.

So, with Bill advising by phone, we took to taking things apart and putting the multi-meter to other things, throwing switches, looking mystified and cleaning up connections.  The first few hours produced zilch.

The system is a marvel of hill-billy ingenuity.  And, sadly, part of it is mine.  And I have no idea.  Not a clue.  But, when we built it, Bill married up my crazy collection of mechanical stuff to an electrical smorgasbord and the cart went up and down the hill.

But then he went home and a few years later (last week) it stopped.  Ergo: the phone calls, the worry, the stress and the stairs.

It is complicated.  There are at least 5 different voltages used. Plus single phase and three-phase power.  The power we use comes from the sun, the wind (12volts DC) and/or one of the two generators (120VAC).  It is run through a charger and stored in the batteries (48VDC) that are then connected to the house by way of an inverter.  The inverter takes the 48 volts DC and turns it into 120 volts AC and we get lights.

Siemens motor controller

But the funicular runs on 240 VAC three-phase.  To get that we take the 120 VAC and convert that to 240 VAC single phase through a transformer I bought for ten bucks at the BC Hydro salvage yard.  That transformer is activated by a smaller DC transformer that uses something like 3 volts DC.  The 3 volts DC activates the switches.  The switches turn the transformer on and that sends the single phase 240V to the German-speaking Siemens motor controller (a mini computer) which then transforms it into three phase to run the 3 hp electric motor.

Confused?  Ha! That was the easy part.  The hard part is the damn motor controller and the micro switches.  That little assembly looks like one of those terrorist bombs you see on a cheap B movie.  A gazillion little wires going all over the place.  While I stare at that hodgepodge, Sal usually starts asking questions like, “Hey, see that thingy?  Is that supposed to be there?  What about that wire?  I am sure I have seen that wire somewhere on the fridge?  I know they aren’t connected, silly, but why are they the same?”  

I just slowly look up and stare hard.  My eyes get dark.  She shuts up and does something else.

The real problem is when she is right.  Sometimes that ‘thingy’ is in the wrong place.  Or whatever.  Gawd, I hate it when that happens! 

Anyway, the story for the day is that, despite all that, we managed to fix it.  Yes, we replaced the ‘thingy’ and followed the wire that looks like the fridge wire and did a lot of other stuff.  No idea which action worked.  When we were done and it was running, Sally didn’t say anything.

I had to.

“Ya know, I have no idea if it was the ‘thingy’, the fridge-like wire or the connections we cleaned.  Maybe it was the new switch we installed.  I don’t know what the hell we did.  But the chances are at least 50/50 that one of your suggestions did the trick.  Now that I have said it, we’ll let the matter drop.  OK?”

Sally just smiled.  Smugly.  She thinks she has a real knack for the dark arts.

And I am just going to let the matter drop.  OK?

6 thoughts on “We put the fun back in the funicular!

  1. Well, who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?
    Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?
    Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop?
    Who put the dip in the dip da dip da dip?


    • Well, Bill put the pull in the fun, fun, funicular. And I put the heft into the heavy, heavy assembly. Does that answer your question? We are kinda hoping for very little in the way of bomps, rams, bops and dips. But who knows?


  2. You did a great job of making an incline tram/railway/cablecar, but sadly, it’s not a funicular. A funicular is 2 cars, one at the top and one at the bottom. The system is designed to balance each other out to lighten the load on the motors. Some have 2 tracks, others have a single track with what is called a “horseshoe” halfway up the hill where the cars pass each other. Lots of info on the web about them.


    • Thanks for the clarification, Jeff. I really thought it was a funicular. Hmmm…….I may have to call it a funlift, I guess. The Mirriam-Webster says: A cable railway on a steep incline, especially such a railway with simultaneously ascending and descending cars counterbalancing one another.
      To my way of thinking, the use of the word ‘especially’ suggests that a single car would also qualify but two cars is more common…..? No?
      Doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it works and I will leave it as a lift or maybe dumbwaiter-on-steroids.


    • My pleasure. Thanks for the note. Your friend may be interested in funlift part 2. The lower half. I have been writing about that lately.


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