Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.
Make that: had fun on the bands. My holidays are now over and I’m facing a very busy period with the start of the new school year. So back to the boring life of a civil servant trying to make a living. But that feeling is back. The last three weeks I was QRV almost daily. I renewed my pledge of allegiance to the HF bands.
To propagate or not to propagate…
That is the question. I must admit that these beloved HF bands weren’t in the best of shape. There were days that there was hardly anything to be heard between dawn and dusk. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that we’re facing a few rough years when it comes to the upper HF bands. And the lower bands are populated by vampires. They only come out at night.
The sun giveth and the sun taketh away. And with a K=5 the Big Brass Ball In The Sky took it all away. One day the RBN showed the CY9C expedition only picked up in W1+2+3 on the classic daylight bands. But we shouldn’t blame the sun for it all. Many times the RBN picked up my signal on virtually every continent at once. On 30+20+17 meters of course. Not above. Yet there was hardly anyone on the bands. One day I badly needed someone on RTTY to answer to but there wasn’t any RTTY to be heard! I plead guilty: I haven’t been active a lot either lately. For over a year and a half my activity was limited to a weekend’s contest. And even that turned out to be a lot less than I had hoped for. That said I hope to be more active again. The contests I entered made me very happy. Chasing DX and weird prefixes was fun again despite the lack of serious propagation. I hope for a storm free fall and winter so I can leave the tower up and play on the low bands. Maybe those will calm down noise wise and provide more DX?
Thirsty for Thirty
Between the summer contests, I decided I wanted to be active at sunrise and after sunset. I haven’t done a thing this year on the WARC bands. My guess was that only 30m would be somewhat open and not 17/12. So I quickly made a simple 30m dipole as an inverted V with the apex at 15m above the ground. Of course that worked and as a bonus the SWR was 2.5:1 or so on 6m. There were a lot of 50 MHz spots but I didn’t hear much on the 30m dipole. Nevertheless I worked a few new ones I think. I don’t keep track of DXCC scores. It was all local stuff. Soon I discovered that there was life on 17 after all. So I decided to trade the 30m monobander for the WARC triband inverted V. That also presents a lower SWR on 6m so the amp puts out some more power. Not that I heard more, it is by no means a good 6m antenna. In three weeks I made 330 QSO with 66 DXCC entities. And a lot of weird prefixes for the UBA prefix hunt.
In the loop
I didn’t take down the RX loop I made for WAECW. I must admit that this loop has helped me quite a lot. I wasn’t active on the low bands, which was the main purpose of this loop but I was amazed how well it worked on the other bands. Especially on 30 and 17. On several occasions I could make S7 EU signals compeltely disappear when I switched from the inverted V to the RX loop. And on several occasions I could lower the noise on 10 MHz to make a JA or a K audible. Signals that were almost impossible to copy on the dipole could be copied right away with a bunch of noise eliminated. Impressive for its simplicity and price. I like this loop a lot but it will be hard to give it a permanent place. I will do some testing later this season when the grass doesn’t grow anymore. I especially want to compare it to the not so cheap Wellbrook active loop. Which as a much smaller footprint, in its defence.
My last RTTY contact was made more than two years ago. I’m pretty sure because the MMTTY program was not installed on my new shack PC I assembled in July 2014. Not that I’m a big fan of RTTY but the OJ0DX guys were very active on that mode and loud too so I wanted to work them. Stepping outside the comfort zone. I didn’t succeed because they were gone before I got RTTY going. I had tried lots of settings and parameters. At a given point I was afraid my second K3 had a broken line out circuit. It worked on the left radio. But that radio is hooked up to the big tube amp and I only use the 500W Elecraft amp outside of contests. So I wanted to get it to work on that radio. In the end it was a matter of setting the pitch parameter on the K3 to the same value as MMTY. DUH! Apparently I wasn’t the only one because a google search combining K3, MMTTY and ‘no line out’ took me to the pitch issue. I had wasted many hours on that, trying so many things. I even made an audio cable feeding left K3 into right MMTTY input and vice versa. Since right channel MMTTY did decode left K3 audio but left MMTTY channel did not decode right K3 line out, I started to fear a broken K3. But there you go, all is fine in the end.
While looking for a solution I tried to find an RTTY signal on the bands. But there just wasn’t any. The bands aren’t great right now but it seems there isn’t a lot of activity either. As I already pointed out. I found a YB station I called but I accidentally dropped a bunch of CQ’s on him. The RTTY n00b that I am. I didn’t select the right RTTY messages under the buttons. I think that’s OK now. I once was a clown in CW too, so I more or less recall the feeling of trying that for the first time and messing it up completely. It’s safe to say that most CW aspects have no secrets anymore. Except QRQ but I see no practical use in that except the QRQ itself.
I did make 50 contacts in the SARTG contest, including some DX from the east. I had to QRT when the bands might have opened up to the west. As always it grew boring fast because there just isn’t any fun for me in clicking around on the screen. But you make contacts and occupy the bands and it’s a break from the usual.
During my active period there was CY9C. I thought it was a new DXCC on the counter but LotW tells me I have already worked this one in 2005. On 30+20+17 CW. Now I also have 40CW. I don’t have a mic attached outside of the occasional SSB contest but I couldn’t resist calling them on phone. I set up my call and fi’nye wav files and hoped I would not be asked a question. I worked them first call on 20 SSB and my call and a report were all I had to use. Two simple function keys…
The day after I had to go out early but the web-cluster showed them active on 40 SSB just after my sunrise. I quickly fired up the shack. I had to use the PC for voice keying. I could have taken the headset too but I was just too lazy. My SSD PC boots faster than I can look for the box, unpack then headset and hook it up. I think it took two or three calls, in fact it took two or three pushes on the function key, and I got them on 40 SSB too. Although Clublog currently shows my second phone contact on 80. I sent an email four days ago but I didn’t get an answer and it’s still listed on 80. I’m sure it was 40 because my 80m antenna is down. I also tried to work them in RTTY but it seemed more like a lottery than anything else so I gave up after a few tries.
A lot of very rare and semi rare DXCC entities have been activated over the last two years but CY9C is the first one I actually bothered to look for and try to work. Just for fun. I don’t give a damn about expeditions and DXCC anymore. Of course it helped that they were really close to EU. Nevertheless I will chip in a few dollars for this one.
So last weekend I lowered the tower and took down the dipole. There were some thunderstorms in the forecast but that turned out to be somewhere else. But I need to focus on my job now for a few weeks. That is also the reason I cancelled my Field Day SSB participation. OT1A accepted my request and agreed to join me but I decided not to do it in the end. It is a logistical burden and a weekend away from my computer and papers during one of the busiest moments of the school year. I have never done much operating in September.
The plan is not to get carried away too much by the job and to be active again later this month. Yes, that feeling’s back!
Or: The one with the fishing pole support. No idea when and where but I’m sure when the day comes this thing will receive a warm welcome.
The much touted (well… on these pages at least) portable mast system has solved many of our field day worries. One that remains: an easy yet stable support for the ten or twelve meter high fishing rods that keep the dipole ends up in the air. In our previous FD campaigns we hammered a wooden fence pole in the ground and put the fishing rod against it. Then clamp it down with a liberal amount of ty-raps. This often made the pole rotate around the wooden post and skew towards ground. Maybe my latest little welding project can help to set things straight. Pun intended.
Ingredients taken from my stock: one piece of angle stock 30x30x3 mm. Three ends of concrete rebar, each 30 cm long. And a steel car rim I kindly got for free from the local tire shop owner. Double the numbers for two items because even in these modern times, the Greek di still means two and a dipole still has one pair of legs.
But how to keep this thing on the ground? Concrete blocks? Not kind to our backs, knees and hips. Furthermore my trailer will already be close to its maximum payload without concrete blocks. What about steel bars bent in an L-shape jacked into the ground? Again more weight and physical exhaustion from the hammering. We’re not quite in our twenties anymore. And even drifting far away from that. I came across the ultimate solution for this. It just seemed too crazy not to buy and use these:
Actually these are tent pegs. But aren’t radio amateurs known for using everything in a way it wasn’t designed for? I found these at Germany’s biggest online ham store. The anchor points are three pieces of 5 or 6 mm thick flat stock that I welded to the rim. It pays to know how to calculate the circumference of a circle from the diameter and to scribble a long division on the back of a DIY-store receipt. The receipt was for a 25 mm drill I picked up earlier that day. That’s the size of the hole to put the tent peg through and my largest drill bit was only 17 mm. A 25 mm hole through five millimeter thick plate isn’t a joke. The drill bit is rather long and I couldn’t lower my drill press’ platform low enough. It took some thinking and fitting but I managed to make clean holes. I deburred the holes with my step drill and when it stopped raining that evening, I got out the stick welder and fired away. Not bad for a few hours of casual construction work. Most time went into drilling the six big holes.
About the audio: The camera has a very noisy autofocus and the camera was less than 1″ away from my mouth and nose. Not easy shooting this while doing that.
Below you can see the project’s inauguration. It held an eight meter long fishing pole in the air. It’s not perfectly straight but that’s because of the terrain and I didn’t bother to level the base. The L-stock is perfectly square to the rim. Or as this guy would say: ‘close enough to close enough’. This finished product was used for a single RX loop in the WAECW contest. With two persons it should take about a minute to anchor the construction to the ground and strap the pole to it. Looks like a real FD asset.
WAECW: Love it or hate it. I love it. Always have since I accidentally got sucked up by it in 2001. What QTC? Why do they all send ‘QTC?’? After that I got trained in copying QTC for 2002. Yes: the QTC game. Nothing more fun than copying a bunch of 36 WPM (or more?) QTC and not messing up. Don’t expect high rates. It’s a slow contest and for once it’s not about rate. It’s mostly about multipliers. There’s always nice and rare DX on. And you get to work it. Even if you sometimes have to wait until the Powerhouse Rude Boys got their turn. And in the best of cases, that rare DX comes to call you!
I had the weekend more or less to myself and the WX worked with me. Once again it was nice weather with the right ingredients. I set up Friday afternoon. That is the same old boring routine. Crank up the tower, disconnect 160 for this one, put up 80 and reinstall the RX loop and the DoG (dipole on ground). Don’t know if this RX stuff really helps. I sometimes think they do, sometimes it’s noise all over anyhow. I might do a dedicated RX test this winter. I took the other DoG (pet) for a run while riding my bicycle along and enjoyed one of the most picturesque sunsets in a long time. Actually not El Sol was the star in the picture but the silhouette of my tower and antennas on a yellow background. That sight combined with the smell of harvested wheat and freshly pressed straw bales made me lyrical. I love living on the countryside. And you know it’s WAE CW when the shack windows are open to create a breeze and you miss the weak QSB infested serial number when yet another tractor or harvester does a roaring drive-by.
For the third contest in a row (IARU and EUHFC preceded) I repeated my new mantra: no expectations, no targets, no pressure – just fun. And it worked. Add to that no strategic planning of the off times combined with a laid back attitude and I found myself having fun. And when it wasn’t fun, I just took a break. A shower, a snack. Out for a walk with the dog. Watch a movie I recorded on the HDD. I watched in two sessions. I enjoyed a good 15m opening in between. But I need to tell you about the start of the contest.
I decided to sleep first and start later. When the alarm rang I hit snooze. When it rang again I just told the alarm to keep quiet. So it was 0215 UTC when I got out of bed. I was a bit cranky because of the brutal wakeup. I switched everything on and started to run on 40. Through the high isolation headphones I heard a rattling sound under my first CQ. A relay? What is it? The rig? The amp? It was the rotator controller! What? In twelve years it never missed a beat. Whenever I keyed the rig with more than 300W, the controller went crazy. I tried on 80: the same! Why does this device fail me now? It’s never a good time for a hardware failure but please not now.
Engage analytic mind. It’s only when more than 300W. Not below – clearly RFI. And when not keying, the controller works fine and the antenna turns. So the hardware is fine. I have never seen this in over ten years of QRO operation and there is no new antenna. What is different now than before? Two things: the RX loop and DoG – but I used both in IARU without a problem. Only now I use the underground coax instead of running a spare coax over the lawn. The other difference is: I left the electric tower winch’s plug connected to the 230V AC wall socket outside. Long shot but it’s one thing I normally not do. When the tower is up, I pull the power cord as an extra safety against eager little fingers – and there are twenty of those in and about the house. I disconnected the K3’s RX coax. Didn’t help. I went outside to the garage and did three things: disconnected the winch’s power cord, unscrew and reconnect the RX coax line from the underground coax and unplug and reconnect the rotator’s control line. I can break that one up in the garage when it’s a thunderstorm. Back in the shack things got fixed: even with 1000 W the controller didn’t click. What was the cause? My guess is that there was a more-or-less bad contact where the rotator cable is split in the garage. Pulling it apart and sliding it back together might have solved it. It never returned during the rest of the weekend and I was off to the races.
I enjoyed most of the contest. Conditions are what they are. But now that we have the RBN, I see that there is more propagation than activity. You might think a band is dead when no one answers. Yet my signal is received all over the world. VK4CT’s skimmer even picks me up on 80 most of the time when there is a path of darkness between us. On 40 the RBN gives me good S/N from JA over ZL to PY. Yet I don’t log much from that side of the world… Too bad.
Sometimes things were slow, even to WAE standards. Lower bands were noisy. Ten meters opened up to USA for a brief moment but enough to catch a dozen multipliers if you include the Canadians. Fifteen was quite good Sunday evening around sunset here. Even a few true Californians logged. No sixers from the east coast. This year just like any other I suffered the occasional EU caller. Some were persevering.
I mentioned the big gun hot shot spot hoppers before. And I might have also mentioned the follow observation. As soon as a spot appears, the second radio or mult station immediately and frantically starts calling. They have to outgun each other and in doing so they fail to listen and call too much. Then the DX sends ‘…5NN 123’ and no one has heard to whom he comes back. If we’re lucky it remains silent for the DX to repeat. But it also happens that the silence is used for someone to send his call again, to have the others do the same. Which takes us back to square one. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200 or a mult for this matter. It’s even funnier when such a loud blind caller gets picked, and then has to ask for multiple repeats to get the serial right. More than once I happen to copy the serial the first time. Either I have better ears myself or my stations has. If that’s the way to get more multipliers than me, if that is the answer to the question why they always get so much more multipliers, then I’m glad to settle for a few less.
Always a treat when DX calls me. Especially on 80 which is not the easiest of bands with a simple wire and in noisy summertime. Even better when the face behind the call turns out to be familiar (hi Nate @TI5W). Regular caller Rich K3OO only gave me one lousy QTC. A few minutes later he came back and offered me a full plate of nine QTC. Yeehaw! And thanks for the generous comeback. I think VO1MP sent me the fastest ten QTC of this edition. I was flirting with my copying speed limit but Yeehaw squared: flawless copy. That’s the thrill I was talking about.
I am happy with the result: 930 QSO and 1400 QTC. I didn’t operate the whole 36 hours. N1MMLOgger+ tells me I only operated twenty eight hours. That means I could have done eight more. Imagine that! I didn’t plan my breaks so I guess I missed some prime time. I didn’t go after every station. I moved only for mult spots. I didn’t aggressively beg for QTC. Just a plain polite question. Great score from OR2F again with low power. Amazing.
Every year I consider doing this one in SSB too. But I just don’t see the fun in this one on sideband…
The XYL is right (for once): I have done a lot of work since spring. First I finished the field day mobile mast installation in May. Early July I traded the X-frame base that holds a pole for a concrete foundation. Next I finished and installed the new small tilt over tower and *drumroll* I finally buried the conduit that takes a bunch of cables across the garden.
This last job was supposed to be done three years ago when we bought the extra lot. But the guy with the excavator broke his word and didn’t come before the new fence was installed. Once the garden was closed, there was no way anymore to enter with a big machine. That left me three options: do nothing, dig by hand or find a smaller mechanized-motorized alternative. The last option would have to be mini because even a medium sized machine would damage the garden.
I’m not afraid of manual digging and I have done my share. Even as a toddler I liked digging holes in my dad’s vegetable garden. Wearing a kid sized overall like the real workers. The record was as deep as I was tall. But this time it meant digging half a meter deep, thirty five to forty meter long through very dense and heavy soil. There are a few companies around that rent small trenching machines. That was it! The smallest fitted my trailer and could easily be driven through the gate and would not turn the lawn into a war zone. Another rental firm had a movie that showed the machine in action. A nice clean cut, a neat heap of loose excavated soil nicely on the side and apart from the trench, the lawn survived unscathed. Little did I know that this was quite a misleading infomercial!
I booked the machine for a day in June when both the XYL and me had a day off. I like some company and a helping hand. I booked the trenching machine for half a day. The trip to and from the company would take an hour to pick it up. And another hour to take it back. I planned an hour of digging and half an hour of pressure wash cleaning. I hooked up the trailer at sunrise and we left home early. We dropped the kids at school way before the bell rang. The forecast put showers on the WX menu but so far it was dry. All went according to plan and by 9 AM I had the machine in place in my backyard and the engine was roaring. It had taken me some time to figure out how to handle the beast but finally I was ready to lower the blade and slice through the dirt. And then it started drizzling. Which soon turned into rain.
To say that we had a wet spring would be an understatement. For a few weeks in May and June, record breaking showers brought liters of rain. This rendered the soil very wet up to more than half a meter deep. And the top layer was soaking wet. As soon as the blade descended into the hole I had dug as a starting point, the machine operator (that’s me!) descended into hell. Unlike in the movie, the machine didn’t bring up a nice portion of loose soil. Instead I got a sticky ball of clay. I hadn’t moved an inch and yet the machine was dirty all over. And dirt all over the lawn too. Faint heart never won fair lady so full throttle and let the blade grind. It started raining heavily so I knew I was in for a muddy ride.
Next problem: there was hardly a ride! The wheels did nothing but slipping over the soaked lawn. The wheels buried themselves instead of moving backwards to dig a trench. No grip whatsoever. I started, no: I exploded into a raging fireball of cursing and swearing. Nothing I could do but try to move a bit, then go back and retry. Soon there was more damage from the wheels than anything else. The machine just sank into the lawn, creating huge holes. Frustrating. Suddenly digging by hand looked appealing. I could do that whenever it was dry and it would have left the lawn intact because I could put the clods with the grass on top back and have a clean garden.
It was then I realized I had been misled by the accompanying video. It’s easy to dig a trench in light and bone-dry soil under a pleasant sun. Then shoot a movie to show how easy and clean it is. In the real world (the one I happen to live in) it becomes a mess when you do it in heavy soaked soil when it’s raining cats and dogs. But the machine was here, the damage was already done and I needed to hurry. Hurrying usually isn’t a good idea – more on that later.
I decided to move the machine to the other side of the garden, where I had planned to finish. That way I could take a clean start and advance in the other direction. The XYL kicked down an open door: “put some boards under the wheels”. As if I hadn’t thought of that myself but I didn’t have anything that came remotely close to use for this purpose. Except for the ramps I rented along to get the machine on and off the trailer. That was it! I took the two aluminum trailer ramps and let the machine drive on that instead of on the lawn. I had to move forward every meter and a half to relocate the ramps but this way the machine actually moved and didn’t dig itself into the ground. Once I had figured out the routine, I was able to finish the job in due time. Actually a little over the budgeted time but I had built in some leeway in the schedule.
During my muddy adventure the XYL had already installed the pressure washer. This was a vital tool as well. After all the terms of the rental stipulated I had to return it spic and span. It was a fairly new machine with the paint still shiny and clean. A least until I started my work. Now I needed to get all the dirt off and make it shine again. As with all jobs, this took longer than anticipated. The pressure washer only worked intermittently. I use this device only once or twice a year and just like always there were some small dirt particles clogging the nozzle. Poke it, wash it. Poke it, wash it. After a few poking cycles the nozzle got freed up and the pressure washer worked at full duty cycle. The dirt stuck stubbornly and huge chunks of lawn were flying around. Me: wet from the rain, wet from the washing, wet from the sweating. Once the trenching machine and the ramps were clean, I took a wet cloth and started wiping and drying the operating console and the joysticks. If I didn’t want to pay for a whole day, we’d better hurry and move the machine on the trailer and get going.
I turned on (or off – depending how you look at it) the ignition safety and pulled the cord to start the engine. It took two tries, I yanked the starter a third time but the engine didn’t start. Which was weird because it started right away the other times I had pulled the cord. I checked the fuel level – more than half full. I was getting pretty annoyed by the impending deadline to return this devilish machine. And so I pulled the cord with my typical enthusiasm and power. The engine didn’t start but I broke the starting cord. Yet another round of profanity for all to enjoy. Now what?
My wife asked from a safe distance: “Did you move that switch into the on position”? Of course I did. “Then why is it still off?”, she replied. Like a raging bull I ran to the machine, called her close and finger-pointed at the ignition switch which I had set in the on position. “No, not that switch, THIS switch here – it’s still off”. HUH? WHAT switch? As it turns out there is an emergency switch on the backside of the operating panel. I didn’t notice it and I accidentally must have hit it with the cloth when cleaning the console. I did wipe the backside clean but did not look at it. That’s why the engine didn’t start when I yanked the cord. But Lady Hawk Eye had seen this switch.
Returning the machine in time became impossible. Returning it at any point in time was impossible as long as the engine wouldn’t start. I can hold my own in French but this time I asked my sweetheart to do the call. I was too effed up to talk in French. The rental company is in the French speaking part of the country and they don’t speak any Dutch there. Hell, they speak nothing but French there. Apparently these guys weren’t too eager to send a repair tech. Soon the talk got too technical and the XYL handed over her phone and walked away. Left to my own devices. They wanted me to unmount the starter, go there for a repair, come home to mount the fixed starter, and then load up the machine and take it back. That meant the rest of the day commuting and burning diesel. I got some quick guidelines over the phone on how to dismantle the starter. They must have taken me for an idiot because all it took was loosening three M8 bolts and take off the cover. My area of expertise does not cover combustion motors and I certainly don’t perform surgery on a machine that isn’t mine but for which I did pay a 300 Euro warrant. As it turns out, the part they wanted me to bring in for repair was a small spool with a piece of rope and the other piece of cord that broke off. If this is all there is to it, it’s something I can fix myself. Err, no I can’t. Fingers too fat and rope too small so I called in the XYL. She tied the loose ends together and wound up the rope. I reassembled the starter and tried starting the engine. Nothing to lose. All I can do is win. This time with the emergency switch disengaged of course. It took a few pulls because the rope was now shorter and it was hard to get the motor over the critical point. But I heard the engine was eager to start. I couldn’t yank too hard because that would either break the cord again or loosen the knot. But then the engine started and I ecstatically drove it up the ramps and onto the trailer. In the end the company did only charge me half a day and did refund the complete deposit. Neither did they charge me for the broken cord. Which I guess is more the southern style of the country: laid back and relaxed. That’s why I forgive them their monolingualism ☺☺
As it turns out, as soon as the digging was done, the sky cleared up and it stopped raining for the rest of the day. Apart from the bad start I was quite happy. In two places I had to deepen the trench a few inches by scooping out dirt with a pickaxe. And apart from the place where I didn’t use the ramps to drive the machine on, the lawn was pretty intact. Now I needed to get the conduit in. I chose to put all the wire and cables in the conduit first before laying it in the trench. It was a gamble but I wanted to put as much copper in the 50mm tube as possible. That means: one RG-213, one RG-217 (1/2”), one 3G1.5, one 3G2.5 and one ‘two pair balanced audio’. A remainder of my career as broadcast service techie. This is in fact two shielded twisted pairs. Good to drive some relays or so. I have no clue what I’m going to do with all this. But it opens up perspectives now that all these cables run from the garage to the most remote part of the garden. Out of sight and out of reach. The RX loop antenna had booked one coax already.
All this copper makes for a long and heavy sausage. I had to call in the XYL a few times to squeeze this copper baloney through the conduit. In retrospect I shouldn’t have asked her that. She’s strong but simply lacks the muscles for this kind of job. And I get cranky because can’t see why something that goes for me doesn’t go for anyone else. We had to do this job two times: once to get the whole length into the conduit and then the excess length into another existing conduit that I put underground when we rednewed the terrace in 2009. Even my wife, who is always friendly, reverted to world class Olympic gold medal winning profanity while she was cursing me and I quote: ‘your F***ING cables’. I was proud that she finally swore along with me. I was the ‘swearee’ but that’s a small price to pay.
The cables terminate into a metal powder coated cabinet. This is put in the concrete floor of the dog’s kennel with four threaded rods size M8 and chemical anchoring. And two and a halve tubes of silicon sealant. I gave the cabinet two coats of quality paint and I put several cable glands on it. Even two big ones where I can put an RG-213 through that has a PL or N style plug already attached. That makes it easy to get runs of spare coax in and out of the cabinet without cutting and soldering.
My dad had half a trailer of dry, light and fertile soil in excess. I picked that up and distributed it on top of the closed trench and used it to fill the holes. This light dirt is ideal to get the lawn seed germinating. My youngest of four and a half helped me out to sow the grass. It took three weeks of daily watering to cover all the dirt with fresh green grass. Done!
This is one of the projects that take a huge amount of time to finish. I’m glad it’s finally done and I hope to harvest the fruits of my labor in the coming years.
Finally a perfect contest. Everything was perfect or close enough.
This is the perfect contest format: only twelve hours so you’re done before it gets slow and boring and before you fall asleep. It has CW for the real contester, SSB for those who don’t know CW and mixed mode for those who like their shots diluted.
It’s the perfect contest for those with limited antennas. No DX to be worked, only EU-EU so those with smaller and lower antennas get their share of fun too. And there is a lot to be worked, you never run out of stations to work.
It was the perfect weather here. Dry and no wind. Warm enough but not hot. No thunderstorms close by.
It was the perfect timing: I badly needed a perfect contest.
I wouldn’t be myself if among all this perfectness I wouldn’t point out some less perfect items. Like the QRN from thunderstorms to the east of me: Italy, the Balkan, the Baltic states. Which is exactly where I point the yagi from here (90°). Although the QRN was more pronounced on the low bands. And the propagation. At the start I thought I was without 10/15 but that more or less solved itself along the way.
But these two little beauty spots could not ruin my perfect contest. I never did so well in this one and broke my personal record from 2013.
- Best score: 390567 now: 432378
- Most QSO: 1289 now: 1378
- Most mults: 303 now: 314
I had a very slow start. I tried ten meters but it was almost dead. Not many callers and all weak signals. I didn’t want to get on 20 from the start. I commuted between ten and fifteen meter but it was slow. I had come to terms with 2016 being a slow year with average scores and this contest would not be an exception.
I decided to use the online score board. Two of my fellow countrymen joined in: OP5T and OR5T. It drove me mad to see them run away from me. Especially OP5T built a big score. I knew this was only possible by running on twenty meters which seemed to be the only productive band. So I decided to let it go and continue my own tactic. That is: try to make the most of 10/15 because 20 will be good later on too. In the meantime OR5T and I switched positions on each update but OP5T ran away and was in the top 5 position. I was… top 20 material. I’m a nice guy and I grant everyone their pleasure and success but my contesting ego wanted to restore the Belgian pecking order.
The second clock hour was above 100. This was acceptable especially coming from a first hour of only 75. But not what it should and could be. Then the rate picked up and I was on a roll. I left both my Belgian friends behind and could focus on a few other calls and climb my way to the sub-top. You can say many things about the online score board but just like in IARU last month, it added an extra dimension and made me stay focused and active when things got slow.
After the slow start the rate picked up and stayed high enough. My personal benchmark has become: try to work 100 QSO/hr averaged over the duration of the contest. So this would mean 1200 QSO in 12 hour. It became clear that this goal was within reach and along the way I logged more multipliers and a higher score than ever before. So in the end I was very happy. I would have never believed this eleven hours earlier.
Each year the question arises: how do the top scorers get so many multipliers??? And why can’t I?
I found Top Band to be very noisy and no skimmer outside of EU picked me up. I look at the propagation on the RBN and indeed: there was not a single EU-DX trace on the map. Only inside EU. This accounts for the lousy state in which 160m was.
After the contest I posted my score on 3830 and sent in the log because I was going away on Sunday. At night I went outside for a fresh nose and to flex the sore muscles. And a pee for the dog. The sky was clear and I got overwhelmed by a huge sense of satisfaction. This really was the perfect contest!
I know that many readers have been holding their breath since last year’s sneak preview. Finally I finished this project.
When we bought this house, there was no cable TV. That was the very first thing we ordered and had installed. Not so much for TV but for broadband internet. The previous owner, an old widow, used a rusty satellite dish and some disintegrating VHF/UHF antennas. These were mounted on a six meter high steel tower that held another two meter mast on top. I couldn’t care less for the antennas but the structure was a nice bonus for someone who had to build an amateur radio station from scratch. It held the first dipole legs and later on L wires and elevated radials up high for many years. But as I said: the TV antennas were falling apart. The tower itself was completely corroded. Not a trace of galvanizing or paint. Cracks were appearing in several places. And the installer didn’t spend much on the concrete base. The foundation was simply too small and the whole tower sank away together the sinking base. A few degrees closer to the ground each year. Needless to say this was bound to go wrong one day.
I removed the TV antennas ten years ago. I didn’t like climbing this small tower nor put a ladder against it because the tubes may have been rotting from the inside. I had been wondering what to do when I removed the old tower. After all it was a vital point in my low band system. And how to get rid of this dreaded heap of rust? Without damaging the hedge, the fencing, the house, the crops on the adjacent lot…
The replacement issue was simple: I would make my own small steel tower. Not that I have a bucket list, but if I ever had one, ‘weld yourself a tower’ would have made the list. I am not a welder nor a fabricator but I file myself under ‘wannabe metal worker’. I had to decide how high. Six meters would do, like it is now, with some tubing on top. Triangular or square? I settled for square. Since I cannot get more than three meter lengths on my trailer, I decided to make two sections each three meter long and then weld them together. It would cost me more to have six or eight meter sections delivered to my doorstep than the bill for the steel itself.
I wanted a lightweight (relative of course) structure that I could tilt over. Light means I’d better not climb it. Tilting it over means easy access for antenna experiments and safer when yet another record storm is upon us. I calculated the weight of two designs. A triangular model with round tubing and diagonal cross bracing or a square model with L shaped flat stock. Since the weight for the same length was about the same for both models, I opted for the square design since that seemed easier to weld inside the construction.
I made the base for the tilting in summer 2015. I also made an anchor with six M16 threaded rods that I put in a new concrete base. By the end of last year’s summer I had given the base three coats of quality paint and bolted it to the concrete base. And I finished the lower section of the tower. That was the end of summer and the tower section hibernated in the garage. When my 2016 summer holidays started I wanted to finish this project ASAP.
Welding the second tower part was easy now that I knew how and how not. I had made a jig to keep the corner profiles at the exact spacing when welding the cross members. Joining the two parts in a straight line and not warped was a real PITA. In the end I just yelled ’To hell with it’ and welded away. A few hits with the hammer and the result was pretty acceptable. It would of course be much easier if I had a loooooooong welding table and not just a 80×80 cm plate. I had to use a ladder on each end to support the ends and then try to align both sections in the middle on the table. All by myself. If I had to start over I would first join the individual L stock and then weld the six meter long tower in one piece. Actually, knowing what I know now I would probably go for the triangular model with round tubing, with what I know now.
Next up: painting. One layer of anti-rust base coating. Two layers of high quality finish. Dark green for the lower quart, the other part mat gray. This turned out to be a pretty good choice to minimize visual impact. The base section blends in the crops and trees. The upper section blends in the sky. Painting this construction with a brush was no fun. It’s only corners and edges. For the finishing I decided to dilute the paint a bit and used the paint gun. I should have done this for the primer and the other layers too.
I had planned to remove the old tower and install the new all by myself. I knew this wasn’t a smart plan and in the end I asked my neighbor to give me a hand. We have done many jobs together here and at his place. He’s my age and a real DIY-guy too so I knew his assistance would be very welcome. It took us half an hour to remove the old tower. I cut the tubes with an angle grinder. This is the machine I fear the most. Especially since I didn’t know how the tower would behave. I was afraid the cutting disk might jam when the slicing through the tube. My assistant kept the tower tensioned in the direction it needed to fall. No margin for error! I decided not to cut through all the pipes and lattice bars. In the end the tower was just held by a few points. I whacked it with my heavy hammer and suddenly it snapped and fell right where it needed to land. What a relief, really! I cut the thing in half and loaded it on the trailer. Good riddance! The plan is to clean the mess at the base and cover the concrete with something (woodchips? gravel? huge flower pot?).
Then it was time to put the new tower on its tilting base. Last year’s sneak preview movie is the evidence that it should fit and actually it did. But there is no way I would have done this without the help of my neighbor-friend. Not even the XYL would have been of any use (sorry my dear). When the hinging bolt was in place and secured, I put the tower straight up vertically. I was very glad to see it was straight. The construction was not bent and it was square with respect to the horizon. This was confirmed by holding a level against it. This was important to me because I see things being level, straight and square as good craftsmanship as opposed to the poor work of a quack.
To end the job I only had to mount the three meter aluminum tube on top. This is in fact the boom of my old three element monoband yagi for 28 MHz. It holds two pulleys. One for the L-wire for 160 and one for who knows what. I also put an eye bolt in one of the cross members. This holds the rope to tension one of the 80m elevated radials. To make the tilting easier I looked for some counterweight at the base. I had some old fitness weights lying around. I used a threaded rod to make a ‘weight satay’. This counterweight helps but some more weight would be welcome as it’s pretty hard to get it down or up. I will look in the scrap container for some heavy stock next time I’m at the steel yard. Or just fill a PVC conduit with concrete and put a rod through it.
This project took a big bite out of my spare time. Time for the hobby but during which I didn’t get to fill the log. I’m very glad the old crooked tower is gone. And I’m glad with the result of this construction project. Time will tell if I did the job right. Will it last as long as the tower I just cut into pieces..?
And what about the ugly? That’s how the bad looks. Read along.
Today the results came out. Turns out I am Numero Uno in the 12 hours subcategory. I think I did not even operate the full twelve hours. I have a pretty low error percentage, in fact the best of all. That’s what I aim for: logging accuracy.
So far for the good. Too bad that the stupid WX made me quit early. That’s the bad.
This afternoon I had to take some parts out of my plastic field day container. I was shocked to see that it was very wet inside. The rain and thunderstorm during field day didn’t affect this box? And it was dry when I put everything in it. The container was sealed and put under a shelf in the garage so it can’t be from recent showers. Yet everything was wet and a musty rotten smell penetrated my nostrils. Some ropes even had mold on them. There you have it: the ugly!
Then it hit me. When I put everything away, it was seemingly dry but in fact it wasn’t. Many lengths of rope had soaked up all the water. Afterwards it evaporated in the sealed container only to condensate right away. This caused the nasty smell and the mold stains on some items. That did not happen last year because it was dry and warm. This year it was wet from the rain at night and the fog Sunday morning.
Lesson learned: before storing the container for another year, let the ropes dry a for couple of days.
I have been thinking about doing SSB field day, but OT1A has failed to answer my request so far ☺
Finally it was time for a serious contest effort in over four months. Not only was it time, I also actually had the time. And the WX would cooperate. All of the forecasts were in sync: possibly a local thunderstorm on Sunday late in the afternoon. But by then the contest would be over and the tower down.
I decided to crank up the tower and install the low band wires on Friday night. The weather was calm and it was an enjoyable evening. The tower went up smoothly after being nested for over four months. I had to reinstall an elevated radial that I took down for field day. I had to lengthen the 80m wire from SSB to CW. Last usage was ARRL DX SSB, go figure! And it was a test for the new pole I put in ‘quick concrete’ three days before. This pole has a pulley and I use it to keep the 80m L wire tensioned high up in the air. It had sat on an X-frame for many years but the XYL got tired of always having to stay clear with the lawnmower. Me too but my priorities are slightly different from hers. As a result the weeds were thriving around the base. Now the X-frame is gone and the pole sits in concrete, resulting in a smaller footprint. And yes it held up nicely for this simple purpose. It also held the 10/15/20 vertical for SO2R. That one will probably be replaced in the future. So no high band SO2R in this contest.
When all was up, I did a quick test in the shack. No issues detected: SWR was as it has always been so I figured all was well. Apart from the solarham.net graph that sowed a dreadful K index. Oh well, we’ll see what the bands bring. I had low expectations anyway.
Saturday morning I decided that I would need an RX antenna for the low bands. I have the Wellbrook RX loop that seems to work. But my guess is that without spending money you could homebrew something at least as good. But that would have a bigger footprint. Wait: avoiding homebrewing and small footprint were the key elements in deciding to buy this loop… Since there currently is no coax anymore from the garage to the corner of the garden where the loop is, I decided to try something. Something completely unscientific. No calculations, no modelling, nothing copied from notorious Low Band Bibles. Just a crazy idea. I put the spare 80m dipole on the lawn from East to West as a DoG (Dipole on GND). And then I got the unsolicited but highly appreciated help from my oldest son. Together we put a fiber glass pole against his climbing tower and we made a single terminated K9AY-style loop. With a terminator and a 9:1 transformer and a ground stake. That one was perpendicular to the DoG. Since I have only one spare coax from garage (i.e. the hub between inside and outside) to shack, I had to combine these RX antennas. For that I bought an RX-only antenna combiner (Diamond SS-500). So I simply combined the loop and the DOG. I cannot do this with the RX loop without rearranging many things because this active antenna has DC power over the coax. One crazy experiment. And I was glad that my oldest son was eager to help me out. My guess is that he had spent all his TV-time credit and was looking for a plan B activity.
So instead of unwinding in front of the TV as a mind-numbing therapy before the contest I spent the morning outside. We also made a long bicycle tour with the family including the dog. The real live pet, not the DoG! I took a shower and had lunch with half an hour to spare before the start. Of course I got a serious energy dip and almost fell asleep on the couch. Just in time I landed in the operating seat. I started the contest low power because the amp had to warm up. So the first bunch of contacts were made with 30W or so. I decided to keep the operating style calm and expectations low. I wanted to avoid frustration. I’m hooked on rate and the propagation wasn’t really helping. So no SO2R. I had a very, VERY slow start. It was hard to push the rate meter above 50. There were short lived spikes but I logged 170 QSO or so after the first THREE hours. That usually is logged in the FIRST hour alone! In a bigger contest, agreed. The rate was a huge disappointment and I blame the disturbed conditions. Ten meters was dead. Fifteen was as good as dead and everyone landed on twenty meters. So we’ve reached that part of the solar cycle! I took a few short breaks. One to sprinkle the lawn where I dug a thirty meter long ditch two weeks ago to bury a bunch of cables.
In the meantime I had rediscovered the online score board. I quickly configured the logger and I was in the race. There were a few callsigns that I had set to compete with. And that has kept me from taking more and longer breaks. Without this I probably would have been less active and less motivated.
Around sunset things went better and there was a short burst of activity on 28 MHz. There even was the first of only three hours that would yield over 100 contacts. The best hour (yet only a lousy 160 QSO) was on 20: from 2200 to 2300 utc. Then the rate collapsed. I started doing SO2R after all. I could switch between 40 and 20, and later on between 40 and 80. I went back to fifteen well after sunset and found it to be quite productive. Relative to the first hours that is, not like a few years ago. Same counts for 20. When these bands were totally closed I had to reside on 80. From 2AM to 4AM I didn’t even make hundred contacts combined. The low rate combined with a sudden craving for sleep made me decide to take a nap. I already had a short seven minute black out in the chair. I was back in the shack for sunrise but it was a total non-event. The rates remained low, following the propagation on the higher bands. I made a third +100 hour at 9AM. I wonder why there wasn’t much activity on 160? Don’t tell me that band was hopping when I took a nap? I worked VA2WA there for my only DX. I had a hard time working USA on 80. I gotz much cq in da face homie!
As for the RX antenna experiment: I used it to listen in diversity mode on the low bands. It heard pretty well, and it had a lower noise level than the verticals. I think I will spend some winter evenings doing real comparisons. If all goes well and not like it has gone two winters in a row. Anyway, it’s still summer and I had an enjoyable time on the air. Given the propagation and my location, I think I did well. But I’m not sure about WAECW with these conditions…
You might be an HF operator if your youngest son (4 y 4 m) mocks your new antenna for 6m by saying: “Ha ha ha what a small antenna that is”.
Indeed, between the HF antennas it looks a bit tiny. I might be looking for something new to do in ham radio. New but then again not radically new. No DMR chitchatting, no EME no PSK. I have never been very active above 28 MHz, as the right column indicates:
I once made an antenna for six meter: The Hentenna. I also found out that a WARC triband antenna has a low SWR on 50 MHz. Both my triband fan-dipole as well as the ‘permanent WARC antenna’. Does not work in any way but it accepts power and doesn’t make the rig or amp unhappy…
I also bought a two element yagi three years ago. What was I thinking? Even that little thing is too big and heavy except to put it on the main tower, which I refuse to do.
Recently there were many 50 MHz spots, so I it was time again to try something there. This time I made a 5/8 wave vertical. Yes with a matching coil. Yes with radials. Yes I tried the new AA-54 antenna analyzer. But it wasn’t easy to make it work by trial and error and I really have too much work and too little time to dig into literature and keep trying. The small support I use for my SO2R triband vertical was still free after field day so I decided to use the unused yagi parts and make it into a simple dipole. I have to start somewhere and my start on HF was with a dipole too.
I have made many dipoles, from 160 up to 144 MHz. It is the simplest antenna and almost always works. A dipole is very easy to get resonating and can be fed with 50 ohm coax. Catch: this 6m yagi uses a gamma match and doesn’t have a split driven element. My first thought was to use it ‘as is’. But the analyzer showed it was not resonating where I wanted it and the huge amounts of possible combinations of element length and position of the gamma match scared me. The easy way out would be to cut the tube in half and make a split element feed point with no matching. The road that has always led me to successful dipole construction. Problem: I didn’t have fitting material for the center isolator and I didn’t have access to a lathe to have someone turn it down to the right size.
My garage roof is Antenna Parts Walhalla, with many unused and decommissioned antenna parts. One of these parts is the mounting bracket for the 10m three element yagi. I did a remake of that antenna somewhere late 2011 when the cycle began its peak and 28 MHz was wide open. I had wild dreams of putting up a second beam for 28 MHz, doing power-split in two directions etc. The problem is that I never had the proper support to do that. I now have. And maybe a second and more permanent option in a while…
It was time for some affirmative action. I coldheartedly cut the tube in half. Since the elements are not long thus not really heavy, the four clamps (two on either side of the dipole half) provide enough clamping force. Just to be sure I hastily cut a small strip of insulator to provide some extra stability.
Mathematics and measurement were on my side. The calculated half wave length for 50.2 MHz and the measured length of the dipole were the same. I had some excess centimeters should tuning and pruning be needed. I had a piece of coiled up coax in my parts-bin with the shield and center conductor split and with cable eyelets on it so I took that to hook it up to the feedline. I think it’s a salvaged part of the hentenna. With the dipole about six meters high, the analyzer revealed that this antenna was good to go. SWR dip nicely around the part of the band I’m interested in. I hooked it up and went into the shack.
I didn’t hear much. Antenna not really working or just a case of Tragic Band? I called CQ with 500W output and watched the RBN. I wasn’t getting into the skimmers, that much was clear. There were a few question marks thrown at me. The signal had that distinct ‘local sound’. Sure enough it was an ON4. He put me on the cluster after the QSO but no one else called me so I called it a day.
The day after. A few spots again but I couldn’t hear much. I only heard ZA/HA2SG which after logging him, might be a new DXCC on 6m. Later on there was EI4KF calling someone without success. So I asked ‘EI4 PSE UP 1’ and went CQ’ing there. I logged EI4KF who was S7 for what I believe is another new entity on 50 MHz. There was a German skimmer picking me up pretty loud but no one else answered me. I tried again three times later that afternoon and evening but never did I get a reply and never did a skimmer pick me up seriously.
I admit that a dipole is not much. I agree that it might be too low. But is it really the antenna that is bogus or is it just that whenever I tried, the band wasn’t productive here?
I didn’t bother to take pictures when I made the antenna on Wednesday. I’d do that the day after. I wanted to get on the air ASAP. Only it started raining yesterday and it’s raining again now on Friday so… No pictures for now. Hey it’s just a piece of aluminum in the air. Too small and too low perhaps?
The quest for a compact yet performing way to raise wire antennas’ feed points over 15m high for field day.
Or for an IOTA expedition to EU-xxx? First some historical facts.
2001-2002: My first steps in HF contesting. What can be used as a small mast but is stronger than fiber glass fishing poles? Telescopic aluminum tubes, clamped to pole in parent’s garden. Take small ladder, pull upper tube out, tighten clamp’s bolt, pull out second section etc. There were seven tubes so six sections to lift. I could go almost 10m high but when the load was heavy, this became impossible. I could raise a three element yagi for 28 MHz like this, but I am known for having strong arms. Not for weaklings.
2003-2004: We bought the house and I brought the telescopic mast here. It held a four band fan dipole about ten meters above the ground. I put it in the center tube of a solid tripod that was used to mount satellite dishes to. This support was bolted to six concrete blocks each weighing fifty kilograms. Then came the big tower and this system took a break.
June 2006: This system got hauled to OT1A’s place for field day. We tied it to a post driven into the ground or something. Ten years is too long to remember details.
2006-2009: The system became my 80m inverted L with two elevated radials. On top of the aluminum push up mast, I put another few meters of fishing rod. Pushing this up contest after contest was a real pain and caused some strained muscles and bruised flesh. On one or two occasions I lifted a section a bit too high so it got pulled out of the bigger section underneath. Result: mast down and torpedoed into an adjacent lot. I had drawn lines on it to see what the limit was, but these marks faded…
2009- 2011: Not used. Only touched to move from one corner to another whenever it got in the way. On one occasion I did use it though:
June 2011: Dragged everything to OT1A’s again for field day. This time with tripod and concrete blocks. There we faced a major problem. If we assembled the mast horizontally on the ground and tightened all the clamps, it was too heavy to raise and put into the tripod’s tube. And the tripod could not be turned upwards with a few hundred kilograms of concrete on it. If we did it the classic way, pushing up section after section, it became too heavy to hold and some clamps couldn’t be tightened enough. We wasted a lot of time and energy there. Bottom line: if this stuff was to be used, a better system had to be found/bought/made.
Summer 2013: I wanted a system to put up a second antenna for contesting. And maybe hold a temporary thing for 50 MHz. So a plan hatched. I couldn’t weld and didn’t want to ask my dad anymore. He’s done with welding at 77. But maybe I could bolt something together? I bought a 50 cm by 50 cm plate that is 10 mm thick. I drilled holes to put ground stakes through, and bolted two pieces of angle to it. This was the hinge point for the aluminum mast. The benefit of laying it on the ground was that I could replace the tightening clamps with two simple bolts. This way the sections could not collapse anymore because two bolts ran through the joints. One summer evening I was able to test this and it worked. There I stood, with an erected pole in my hands. Pun intended. But was of absolutely zero practical use. I had to keep my hand on it. Why? Ground stakes too flimsy. Maybe guy it? And by all means the small two element yagi for the 6m band was way too heavy for this. If I wanted to realize this system and make it usable, I would have to weld and use more and heavier steel. And a winch. And so I bought a small inverted type welder and enrolled in an evening course ‘welding for beginners’.
Spring 2014. First attempt to make a serious system. Design goals:
- Manageable by one person (=me).
- Compact: should fit on my small trailer and easy to store the rest of the year
- Solid and safe, both the design as the built and the use
- Use only tools available for construction (basic hand tools, bench press drill, hand drill, miter saw, angle grinders, stick welding station up to 160 amps)
First I got a trailer full of metal. I welded a two meter long U-profile (110 mm width) to the 500x500x10 mm base plate. This held the winch. I reinforced the corners with gussets and provided two holes to fit a length of threaded rod. That goes through the bottom of the aluminum mast and is the hinging point. I made a wheel and put that on top to guide the steel cable for the winch.
Four 14mm rods held the thing in place when hammered one meter deep. It was very conceptual and certainly not to welding contest winning standards. But it worked, proven to be strong enough and I had made it completely on my own. The ground stakes were again on the light side, especially when winching up and down. So I used some bags of sand as additional weight.
2015 Field Day. The system got put to the test with a bigger ground plane (50cm long angled profile 50x50x5) for more stability. OT1A was amazed to see how fast we put everything up, and more important: without any effort or problem. I even added three meter of length to the aluminum mast with some extra sections. And I provided a pulley to lift the antennas after the mast was up and guyed. That way winching it up would cause less stress on the mast because it was lighter. The system was a winner. But it needed refinement and a few layers of paint.
2016: Time for some improvements.
- Isolate aluminum mast from the support construction. That way it can be used as a vertical antenna.
- Make footprint wider. Now I have a one meter long piece of 50x50x5 angle on all four corners.
- Replace 14mm anchoring rods with homemade 30x30x3 T-anchors.
- Provide a 40x40x3 tube to extend the height of the support with two meters. If the aluminum mast is 16m long, I took it up at 2m from the bottom before (1/8), where not it’s at 4m (1/4). This makes the aluminum telescopic mast bend less when winching it up.
- Make sure everything is self-contained. All parts bolted together when moving and when stored.
- Put wheels under it because with all this steel, it pretty heavy even for me.
The finished product
This is it. It works. It does a field day job. It’s solid. As always many things could be better. It is a prototype after all, designed and made along the way. Because there is three years of welding epxerience in it, I can clearly see how my skills have improved. Practice makes perfect. If I ever build another one of these, it will be bigger and better. But for now, it will have to suffice.