Poor-man’s Gate Opener

When I built my driveway gate, I had all kinds of grand ambitions for tricking it out. Automatic opener, battery backup, intercom with video, motion-sensing lights. The works.

Then the first winter came.

As plumb and true as the posts were when Brother Harold and I put them in back in August, once the New England frost got to working on the soil, they started to drift. Not sure what went wrong – we dug pretty deep on both holes. But, now the posts are a good inch and a half further away from each other on top than they were. That led to problems with the latch – it no longer reached across the gap between the gate and the post. With no way to latch the gate, we ended up leaving it open all the time. Not exactly what I built the gate for.

The frost heave got me to thinking that the expensive gate opener I was looking at would end up as a bust. I was going to install an electric latch with the opener, but clearly that would suffer the same alignment problems that the current manual latch was having. And, as winter tends to be a regularly occurring event in New England – often as frequent as once a year – I figured I’d just be in for a least two adjustments to the gate every year, if I could even get it to work in the first place.

IMG_1433Then I spied the Mighty Mule Cable-Gate Lock. It’s really simple – just a remote-controlled solenoid that trips a hook to drop a chain or cable stretched across a trail or driveway. I’ll stipulate right up front that this arrangement offers no security from people with bad intent. The lock body is just plastic, and a couple of raps with a rock and you’d be in and able to trip the hook manually. Or you could just snip the chain with a bolt cutter. This is clearly a system that’s designed to keep honest people from accessing your property. With the bad guys, at best it’ll make them think twice about entering, or at least slow them down long enough for someone to notice they shouldn’t be there.

But for me, it seemed to be a good choice. I was getting sick of getting out of the truck to unlock the gate, and this will at least let me do that using the remote. Plus, with the clever addition of a bungee cord to provide a little boost, once the gate is unlocked, it can swing all the way open by itself. It still needs to be closed manually, but it only cost $130, as opposed to over a $1,000 for the opener system I was looking at, which probably wouldn’t have worked.

Solar? Hmmm……

There are still some issues – the remotes are very limited in range, and I was hoping to be able to open the gate from the house. Looks like I’ll have to run some low-voltage wire down to it and figure out how to trip it with a switch in the house. And, it runs off of 8 AA batteries, which I imagine go dead pretty fast. There is a connector inside the chassis labeled “SOLAR”, but there’s nothing in the documentation about it. My assumption is that it can be powered off a 12V solar panel, which opens up some interesting possibilities for after-market modifications. Hey – I like to void warranties.

It’s working pretty well so far. Check out this short video:

And with all the money I saved, I can start putting in all the other systems.

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