Sunday, March 25, 2012

Backyard zip line project

WARNING !!! Zip lines could be very dangerous. Once you install your zip line, please test it with weights to make sure cable is secured and the speed of descent using your pulley is safe. DO NOT put your child on zip line before you test it. WARNING !!! 

FOR SALE - this entire zip line assembly is now for sale. Please contact me if you are interested to purchase all of the items seen on this page for $200 (shipping extra). This includes - turnbuckle, mounting hardware, cable, pulley, handlebar, connectors. (kids are extra :-).This is a pretty good deal as I have paid close to $350 for all this and had to make numerous trips to different shops to pull it together.

Today we had completed a fun project with my kids - installed a zip line in our backyard. We usually setup a very small 30 feet zip line once a year and use rope for that, but rope is very stretchy and does not work well for zip lines. This time we decided to do it “right”. We went to Lowes and picked up 145 feet of the heaviest metal cable they carry along with two pulleys and fastening hardware for the cable. My backyard has about 6 degree slope and we installed zip line parallel to the ground. Both ends of the cable we connected to the pine trees on the left and right sides of my yard. we have put wooden blocks between the cable and the tree so that cable does not damage the tree bark. I used router tool to make grooves in those wooden blocks so cable will be held in one place. The blocks were nailed to the tree trunk.

We tried using one pulley at first and that was not working well. Instead we cut two strong metal stripes and connected two pulleys together.
The hardest part was tightening the cable. I really wish we had a tool for that. Instead we used a metal bar as a lever to pull the cable. Total length of the zip line is about 135 feet (~41 meters), so the cable is pretty heavy and still has a bit of sag. However this sag is not too bad since it helps to control the speed when kids slide down the line. Just about 8 feet away from the end of the line we have put a stopper on the cable so that the rider does not crash full speed into the tree. This stopper is just a simple metal clamp on the cable – the same kind we used to fasten the cable to the trunk of the tree. Instead of using handlebars we decided to just use the rope with several loops for hands and feet – depending on the size of the rider he could use loops at different height and just “stand” with his feet in the loop, instead of just hanging on with his hands only. This really helps since at the end of the zip line the pulley hits the stopper on the cable and the rider swings forward somewhat violently and can be thrown off the line if not holding on the rope well enough.

This was a pretty easy project to do, only took about 2 hours and now my boys (and neighbors’ kids) are having a blast.

May 2012 update:
After kids having been using zip line for some time, the rollers completely worn out to the core. These rollers were Lowes $4 a piece (I have two of them coupled) and I need to replace with new ones (which wont last for more than another couple of months), or better yet get a quality rollers really designed for this kind of stuff.

The cable  also has stretched quite a bit and I have inserted a turnbuckle (18" for $30) to tighten the cable when I need it. They sell it at one local company called Pennsylvania Sling Company. These guys have an amazing assortment of cables, turnbuckles of any size and all kids of other cool stuff made of metal - all with very reasonable prices. I wish I knew about them before I went shopping for zip line supplies to Lowes. Comparing Lowes and this "Sling" store for zip line stuff is like comparing Seven Elleven (being Lowes) and Wal Mart.

Major problem was with the proper tightening of the steel cable. Here is how I accomplished it (you need at least 2 people to do it):

June 2012 update: 
After my kids have used this setup for a couple of months, the $5 pulley that I have purchased at Home Depot is now completely wasted. In fact, it got wasted looong time ago. The problem is that wheels on that pulley are copper and when you use it on steel cable those wheels get worn out extremely quickly. It really only took a couple of weeks for that pulley to become defunct and zip line was sitting not being used. So I bit the bullet (price-wise) and went on to buy a nice PETZL steel pulley on Amazon for about $79 (ouch!) plus steel handle, etc. all in all for $120. Here is a photo of the pulley (it is tiny!) and steel handlebar:
Once I have put the pulley on the line, I had no idea how fast would it go and expected it to be no faster than the first pulley I bought at Home Depot. What a mistake it was... I should have tested it before I asked my son to ride it. He went down zip line extremely fast - probably twice as fast as with the original pulley (or so it seemed to me). At the end I do not have a soft stop with wood block and rubber, etc. I just have a clamp on the cable. When he came down that part - pulley hit the clamp and I was standing ready - just in case. However I did not even have time to react... My son flew off that thing and hit the ground hard. Lucky him (and me...) - he did not even have a bruise as he got up instantly and just said he wont ride it again until I do something to lower the speed. Hell, yes. I took of the pulley right away and now need to find the time to lower the overall angle of the zip line to reduce the speed. Boy, this was scary experience and I should have known better.

Again - TEST zip line with something other than your kids (or at least do it yourself) before letting children ride it. At least this is what I would do next time.

UPDATE - August 2013. I decided to dismantle this zip line for safety reasons. There are too many risks of different kind involved here and I want my and neighbor's kids to be safe above having fun.

Monday, March 19, 2012

4 days long spring in Pittsburgh

In my house the winter starts when I change tires from summer to winter tires. The spring starts when I change back to summer tires. As of last night - the spring is officially here (as are my summer tires).

Winter 2011-2012 in Pittsburgh was warm and I only got to ski twice - once on my cross country skis on the golf course that is next to my backyard and once with kids in Nemacolin resort on downhill skis. Having such unusually warm winter with so little snow, it was even stranger to go from that winter to summer in 4 days. We had frost and 30F cold in early March, and then 4 days later it was sunny with 65F and stays this way for over a week now. How about a 4 day spring? (I hope I don't make some folks in Seattle jealous of this :-).

Yesterday it was 72F and I went for a 9.2 miles run in North Park - almost none of the trees have leaves yet, but you can smell and feel the spring. I took some pictures with the iPhone while running:

Friday, March 9, 2012

The best kept secret in Pittsburgh

Just a couple of months ago I was lucky to be invited to an event hosted by IBM in one of the lesser known places in Pittsburgh. I have never heard of that place before and most people I asked did not know anything about it either. The event happened to be hosted in the Roberto Clemente Museum ( located only 10 min from Pittsburgh downtown. The museum is privately owned by a well known Pittsburgh photographer - Duane Rieder ( Duane bought the old firehouse about 15 years ago and mostly with his hands restored it to a pristine shape, built a museum on the main floor, photo studio and part of the museum on the second floor and a wine cellar in the basement. He processes about 30 tons of grapes and makes and stores his wine in that basement. He sells a lot of that wine to Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers and Pinguins. The most amazing part of this whole thing is that Duane seems to do most of this stuff himself - with few helpers. I am not a baseball fan, but I was totally impressed with the museum - there is Clemente's silver bat, one of his golden gloves, championship rings and tons of other memorable things, not to mention photos, documents, etc. VERY very impressive. If you love baseball - this is like a central baseball church on earth :-).

I had my iPhone with me, so I took some pictures (more photos here).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pittsburgh Phipps Conservatory

One of my favorite places in Pittsburgh is our Phipps Conservatory. If you ever visit Pittsburgh - this is a must see location.We go there with the whole family several times a year and the best part is that Phipps changes exhibit to match the season. This is truly a paradise for photographers - all year long. I have posted Picasa Album with some of the photos I took there: (46 photos). Here are some of those pictures (taken with different cameras over years):

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Corn maze navigation

I love mazes and have always wanted to navigate large maze. here in Pennsylvania there are beautiful mazes made each year on corn fields. Just imagine a full size large corn field and a maze cut in it. From what I understand, they do not really cut it, they just plant corn in a pattern, so it grows as a maze from the get go. Seems like it take a lot less work to do it that way, instead of cutting after corn grows to be twice as tall as human. This past fall my family and our friends went to one such maze. It was a blast! To make it easier they gave us a map. On the map they have set "treasure points" so you have to find all of them. It took us over an hour to navigate all the points. It was a great day and next time we go, I think we will try to do it without the map. We will be sure to take our flashlights in case we get stuck. Here is their site:

Here are few pictures, but you can see more in the Corn Maze slideshow:
 This is a real picture from the airplane - amazing, hah?