Breaking news: ON5ZO’s useful antenna space doubles!
How did this happen? Gigantic thermal expansion? Did I just turn into a conquering force putting my flag anywhere I want? A sudden earthquake that moved my fences a few dozen feet outward? Or did I just buy some ground?
More than a decade ago, we started looking for a QTH. We had a few requirements. Location with respect to our roots and affordability of course. But I knew that if I ever wanted to put up a tower, some other parameters were not to be neglected. Lots of space and neighbours, or better: the lack of the latter. That means I immediately put my veto on houses under HV power lines, houses with small gardens, houses in dense residential areas. And everything else that I saw as a threat to my dream that was a modest tower with tribander.
For about two years we looked at every real estate website. We drove around every weekend looking for ‘for sale’ signs on houses. We even placed a bid on some houses but came too short. There was this ON5 who was moving to France. He sent a message to the local clubs: house for sale that comes with tower with legal permit. A permitted tower is ‘pure gold in erection’ these days in Belgium. The house was only so-so needing a lot of work to get it to meet our needs. The location was a bit impractical too. But I was blinded by that tower, and there were some other benefits that pulled the XYL over the line. I seem to remember a sauna was one of those. The owner wanted to sell to the highest bidder but hams had priority because of the tower. Maybe he was afraid that a non-ham buyer would make him take down the tower? I was the only ham to show up at the auction that December day in 2001. In fact there was only one other possible buyer apart from me. Another young couple, seeming newly weds or about to go to live together just like us. Only two parties, my odds were getting better. And I didn’t expect the other couple to be Rockefellers. I raised my hand two times as the auctioneer raised the price. But I was soon overbid by the other guy who got a positive nod of the head of an older guy in the crowd. His father? I admit, maybe our self imposed limit was a bit on the low side and not realistic. But we were not backed up by a parental checkbook like the other guy obviously was. My dad who was with me and I finished our drinks while the older guy ordered some more. They had something to celebrate.
Very frustrating always pulling the shortest straw but in retrospect it all served a purpose. One day, by accident, we drove past this QTH which had a huge ‘for sale’ sticker on the garage. Well, not really by accident: ham radio helped fate. Since we were looking for houses in this area, I proposed my club’s QSL manager to drop a box full of outgoing QSL cards in ON4KV’s mailbox. Back then he was the national UBA QSL manager. I looked up his address and printed directions. As we drove down his street, about four hundred meters lower, we saw the sticker on the garage door. We pulled over and rang the doorbell.
The owner, a nice old lady, told us the sticker had only been there for two days so far. She was a widow and the lot had become too big for her to maintain by herself. The property had yet to be listed on websites and in the classifieds. We got a tour of the house and liked what we saw. What we saw were mostly opportunities. We learned that the garden was bigger than you could tell from the street view. This was it! We jumped on the case and to cut a long story short (nothing ever goes without a bump here, especially when third parties want to make a buck too): about six months later we got the keys to the front door and called it our home. The QTH has proven excellent: a solid house to start with, a nice location, friendly people all around, lots of nature. And it plays on a ham radio level too.
So although I am blessed with quite some space here, it’s never enough for an HF DXer / contester. Or is it just me? For ten long years I was dreaming to be the owner of the lot behind us. It would allow me to put up some more simple yet effective antennas, since I am now limited along the length axis of our lot from N-E to S-W. And it would give me some more breading room because the available space is crammed with TX antennas and wires already. Of course, in my dream of owning the lot, the price wasn’t an issue. In that dream, the grass mowed itself. In that dream there was only the bright side of owning much land: bury coax and put up aluminum.
After he suddenly passed away, we learned that the man who always had taken care of the property, was in fact not the actual owner. We learned that the ownership was complex, involving a handful of families, all elderly people. Last fall they decided to let the property go and sell it. It got our immediate attention and we were excited to lay our hands on it. As the dream could become reality, I landed with both feet on the ground. We knew the lot wouldn’t come cheap. They would squeeze every Euro out of it. But that problem could be relatively easily overcome. Putting money on the bank costs more than you get in return these days. Or worse: those white collar crooks threaten to take your savings to pay for their greed induced bankruptcy. Land on the other hand doesn’t lose its value, on the contrary. But the biggest problem was: how do you keep an 80 x 50 meter piece of land (4000m²) under control? It would also mean buying a tractor to mow it. More money needed for heavy machinery. Putting sheep on it? That means a lot of work and responsibility too and I’m not too keen on becoming a sheep farmer or a shepherd. In the end we worked out a deal with a friend: we would buy the lot and register each his own half. That meant half of the price and half of the work with still plenty of room left for the both of us.
Without going into detail: we missed out on the deal with the seller and it wasn’t even a money issue this time. I had always known that buying this lot would be a one time opportunity. If it ever got sold, the new owner would never sell it again during my lifetime. And that is exactly what happened. I comforted myself: no money spent so it’s still there to do something else, no extra work maintaining 4000 (or 2000 with the friend’s deal) square meters and things would just stay like they have been for ten years. I had given up on the dream, especially after lobbying for about three or four months and getting a cold turkey.
When the new owner came to visit his purchase, the XYL dared to address him and ask if he wanted to sell part of the land to us. Sure enough, he wanted to do so. A few days later he took a ribbon and hammered some rods in the ground and delimited the part he wanted to sell. While I wouldn’t have declined some more square meters, common sense says the part he wanted to let go has the right ratio of “extra space to extra work”. We agreed on the price and started the official procedure to split off part of the big lot and merge it with our current property.
The red tape procedure took its time but in the mean time the lot is officially ours. Twelve years ago I would have screamed: “here comes Tower Two” with a shovel in my hand, but I have calmed down growing older and wiser. One tower will do. The main reason we bought the extra land is to maintain freedom. There is no way the land surrounding us in an official agricultural environment can be used to build houses on. If the law would allow, it would have been sold for crazy money and built on long time ago. Not now and most likely not in the distant future will people be allowed to build houses on it. But agricultural activity can also pose a problem. What if someone lets his horses graze on the land and decides to build a horse stable along our fence? We would lose our panoramic view and face a brick wall when looking outside from the living room. So now there is a green lawn buffering our terrace from whatever might happen. Furthermore the total QTH is now worth more than the simple sum of both values. And the kids have some more room to play, away from the TX antennas and in parental view in stead of on the side of the house.
Of course you don’t hear me say I will never put an antenna on it. But first things first. Remove the old crooked and torn fencing and have a new fence placed. And before that, a big old dying tree has to be cut. No I won’t have time to be bored soon…