The very gates of hell…

Or at least, of purgatory. I bought an automatic gate opener for the front of our property last year. It serves as a barrier of last resort to keep the livestock from escaping. The gates existed before we bought the place, I just added the openers. It has turned into a project that never ends.

The main problems have been the proper operation of the various components involved. Last year when I first assembled it, the main problem was getting wiring under the driveway to the far gate. Since my end goal was to have a keypad on the driver’s side as you enter I put the whole system on the south side of the gate which would be that side. It came with a sensor to bury along the inside of the property to trigger opening as you drive out. I assembled the basic components and used an existing irrigation culvert under the driveway to route the wiring for the far gate. The distance through the culvert was too far for the stock wiring so I had to buy some sprinkler system wiring to extend it. The gate worked okay using the remotes, and winter arrived before I could assemble the keypad and exit sensor. This meant that we had to use the remote or an app on our phones to open the gates for anyone entering and leaving the property. This was fine for a while, but a bit of a pain.

In June I began putting the rest of the system together, starting with the exit sensor. Unfortunately when I connected it I noticed that the gate would open randomly, and sometimes often enough overnight to drain the system’s small 12v battery (which is charged by a small solar panel.) I also learned through this process that due to our latitude the solar panel was barely enough to run the system through a dozen or so open/close cycles a day. Thankfully you can daisy chain solar panels together to increase the rate of recharge, so I bought two more and arrayed them down the south side of the gate entrance. I called tech support about the random openings and narrowed the cause down to the proximity of the south pasture fence and it’s steel posts to the sensor. The only solution was to move the sensor to the other side of the driveway!

This meant disassembly of the entire system and relocation of the controller, sensor, and solar panels to the north side of the gate. Also I would need to reverse the two gate opening arms, meaning a re-running of the wiring through the irrigation culvert under the driveway. Doing the task the first time was by far the hardest part, and I wasn’t looking forward to the chore. This summer’s crazy wildfires and unbelievable smoke prevented me from ever getting to it until now, when once again I’m staring down the barrel of winter.

The new wire conduit route from the culvert to the control box, now on the north side of the gate.

When I installed it last year, I ran flexible conduit through the culvert. I figured it was time to replace that with something more permanent and sturdy. Everything was buried under dirt, rocks, and weeds, so finding it was going to be interesting. I used the loader of my tractor to gently scrape the surface back and forth until I unearthed the old conduit.

I asked my friend Brian over to help, as pulling fish tape, pull strings, and wire through conduit is much easier with some at either end. He informs me that there is a device that uses a garden hose and conduit to burrow under and through things like sidewalks and driveways. If I could burrow a straight shot it would vastly simplify the whole system and remove the need for extra wiring. We go to the hardware store and find the device, which is only about $5.

It (almost) worked. I was amazed at how swiftly it zoomed through the first quarter of the distance Sadly, it all ground to a complete halt about one-third of the way under the driveway. With daylight fading, we abandoned the idea and reverted to the original plan of re-running conduit through the culvert.

We rough together the conduit and fish a pull string through as dusk approaches.

The next good weather day I pull wire and re-build the entire system reversed from the original layout and of course the sensor continues it’s odd behavior of randomly opening the gate. I spend a while on hold and get nowhere with tech support, who focuses solely on providing proof of purchase to verify that it is still under warranty.

I dig through my history of the purchasing and find that this unit was bought fifty weeks previously. Yep, I’m two weeks inside of warranty! I call them again and finally get a guy who is motivated to solve my problem. He authorizes a return and ships me a new sensor ASAP.

I’m so close to finishing this project, yet still not quite done. And of course, winter is coming.