SFI > 250 or bust!

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Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

I started setting up the station on Friday, mostly laying out and fitting everything. The antennas went up Saturday morning.  Being: a dipole fed with ladder-line from my SG-239 smarttuner. And a low 40m dipole for NVIS. I already played with that idea but a chat with ON4WW revealed his team was going to put a stack of chips on NVIS so…

The main dipole’s feed point was about seventeen meters high. End points float a good six meter high. But the garden is too small so the length is a compromise and even then one end was drooping down. But it worked on 40-80-160, the only three bands in my category. Actually it worked as in ‘the smart-tuner made it 50 ohm on the three bands’. It didn’t quit work well to get stations in the log. Especially not compared to the teams with full size and presumably monoband antennas of either polarization.

The low 40m dipole resonated down in the band with SWR = 1.2:1. I got lucky. A quick RX test revealed that it showed a slight improvement for ON, G and PA stations. Maybe the difference will be more pronounced with a vertical or my rotary dipole high on the tower. I didn’t make much use of it.

I had planned to use at least one RX antenna. I wonder why. Choices included a BOG, my Wellbrook loop or an ad hoc K9AY. In the end I deployed a DOG: my spare 80m Dipole laid On Ground. That seemed to help a bit, at least it heard the EU stuff. Don’t know about DX. But it’s worth to experiment further on because it’s easy and cheap. I didn’t want to waste a long run of RG-213. Rather: I didn’t want to unreel a long stretch of that in the wet grass, only to have to reel it back in the day after. So I dug up a length of RG-58 from back in the days at my parent’s house. It was only 15m long and low band RX only so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Everything worked, from antennas to rig and software. I didn’t expect a fast start, but it was painstakingly slow. After a few hours a competing team called and they had exactly one QSO more. Good! At least their number for me was one less than what I gave them. A few times I heard raindrops on the tent. But it stopped after a few seconds so I was hoping for the rain to go away. Around 20.45 utc I decided it was time to cover the generator with my improvised shelter. The rain intensified. As I exited the tent and strolled over the lawn, there was a lightning bolt followed by some thunder.

This is wat I had feared: yet another thunderstorm. Suddenly more lightning and loud thunder and more rain. As the interval between lightning grew shorter and the thunderclaps following sooner, I decided to shut down for a while. I put the rig and laptop inside and waited… And waited… for over an hour. After an hour and a half it was still going on but I must have fallen asleep at that point. I woke up at 3 AM local, which is 1 AM utc. The forced shutdown once again took away my motivation. Well, forced… No one was pointing a gun at me but better safe than sorry. What happens at music festivals can happen when you’re hiding in a tent under tons of copper wire and aluminum.

My first thought was to quit and sleep more. Winning had been impossible from the start, and the fun factor was pretty low. But I felt I owed it to my wife because she once again set up the tent. Just like in 2014 when a thunderstorm ruined it for me too. I filled up the generator. It struck me that the level was still high after six hours of use. I reconnected the rig, laptop and peripherals and was good to go. But it wasn’t easy getting stuff in the log. I didn’t hear much on 160 again. Where is everyone? Sunrise on Top Band was uneventful and it was a bust on 80 too. Four to five minutes of CQ CQ CQ between two logged contacts. Rate less than 30/h on any band. I was tired and bored and I decided that nine more hours of this served no purpose. I started breaking down with just over 400 QSO in the log. And I could submit in the meaningless 12h subcategory.

I’m used of doing contesting on my own but this is another thing. Rates are low and no second radio to get at least a feeling of not wasting time. I have done FD in the past and always had someone around to joke with, to whine about the low rates or to take over the key or me to catch some sleep. Never say never but I think solo operations are done. Mind you: I didn’t want to do it alone this time. No one could or wanted to join me.

Besides that, FD from my garden is something I won’t be doing anymore either. If the goal is to be active, have fun and make a bunch of contacts, it’s the perfect spot. Technically it’s feasible as I have proven two times now. If you really want to be loud and play with the big boys, you need more space. Setting up is a pain too. Routing guy ropes and antenna wires between the tower and yagi elements, taking down elevated radials… A clean field with no obstacles is a blessing.

This was the warmest of all my field day nights. Usually it gets very chilly to plain cold overnight, but trading shorts for long trousers and putting on a fleece sweater was more than enough this time. I also enjoyed the sunrise with the birds waking up and starting to show off their musical skills. But the rate was just too low with no one to complain to next to me.

I learned a lot again this time. The mast support works. I get the job done on my own, but an extra pair of hands could speed things up. Should the need arise for ad hoc emergency comms, I’m ready!  ☺

NOTE TO OT1A: lots of electrical tape and cable zip ties were used in true FD tradition.

Last Tuesday I connected the laptop, the CAT interface and my Winkey (Stone Age Vintage 2001) to the K3 with my spare linear lab power supply. I didn’t want to remove one of both switched mode PSU from the rack under the shack’s desk. I had to reinstall the Prolific drivers as Windows reset them to the newer versions without checking with me first. In true Microsoft Windows tradition…

CAT worked right away after this driver downgrade. But it took me a while to figure out why Winkey wasn’t keying the rig. I forgot to switch to VOX from PTT keying on the rig. I was too lazy to get the dummy load so I had reduced the RF output power to zero watts. Once I figured the VOX thing out and keyed the rig, it shut itself down when I touched the paddles. Oh no. Now what?

Try again – same issue. This could mean two things. Either there is something terribly wrong under the hood of one of my K3 rigs or my spare PSU folds back under load. It has worked before: two years ago I made +200 contacts with 100W output using this old power supply. I had no option than to dive under the desk and dig up an SMPS. I tried keying the rig and it worked even at 100 W power out. It goes without saying that I went outside to the garage to get the dummy load after all. I would never key a 100W exciter into an open circuit.

In the evening I got out the generator. It hasn’t turned in two years except for a ‘does this thing still start?’ test last year. It got a new air filter and the oil got changed two years ago too. I decided to suck the gas tank dry. No worries, I have a tool for that. I use it to empty the lawnmower’s oil carter. That gas has been in there for two years so I decided to remove it and pour some fresh gasoline in it. Better safe than sorry. It took me a few pulls on the starter cord and off she went. I measured the unloaded voltage which was 230 V give and take a few. I let it run unloaded (and unleaded ☺) for about half an hour and decided it will work just fine. Fingers crossed!

Yes I got radials. Plenty. Do you need some?

I’d rather use horizontal antennas for Field Day. But like I said in Part 1: my garden is too small to use one or more dipoles. I would have to make them either too short or they would make an inverted V with a too sharp corner at the top. Both scenarios are too much of a compromise because I really want to put out a strong signal. That’s what people come to expect from me  ☺

So for now, I think I will go vertical. ‘Think’, yes. As I type this, it’s nine days before FD. I don’t want to look for a bigger location, and I don’t want to add another item on the list of things to do, called ‘make / find / buy / steal two 10m high supports’. The plan is to make a triband vertical with three radiators. The aluminum mast should almost be full size for 80m, with a small coil on the feed point to compensate two or three missing meters missing. Then a full size wire for 40m, on a rope from the top of the mast. And a second wire on the other side to make a 160m inverted L. I can keep the horizontal wire high enough because I can go pretty far and have one high support. That currently holds the 10/15/20m trapped vertical for SO2R. That antenna needs to come down and the support pole needs to be moved. Great job – not. While all this sounds great in theory and looks simple in my imagination, there will be some obstacles to overcome for sure.

And all the above will not work efficiently without a good radial system. So I decided to invest in that. It’s something that can always be deployed. Who knows what crazy things I might start to do in the future. I bought five 100m reels of 1.5mm² stranded wire, four times 10m and two times 25m chicken fence. For now, that is all  ☺

I clamped the fence wire between two strips of aluminum flat stock. I use 6 mm bolts, and four pop rivets. I also made short strips with a 6 mm hole. These will be used to connect all the fence wire strips together to the feed point. I took three wires, each twenty meter long and put a crimp ring terminal on that. I used a 6 mm bolt to connect these cable eyes to the strips that will connect the chicken fence.

Here you can see what it looks like. I put it down in a random fashion when I was testing this. See my WX-WPX post. Next time I use this, I will think about the lay out of the radials and chicken fence wire before putting it down. The mast should be in the center of the ground plane’s hub. I don’t know if and when there will be a next time.

If you read the WX-WPX post, you know why I abandoned the vertical antennas for field day. And why I now have a box full of radials with no use for. In short: I couldn’t get the vertical antenna to work because too little time, low on mental fuel and too little space for convenience. So for field day this year, I will downsize and compromise to get a fit and stick to my own adage: use dipoles for field day. More specific: one dipole fed with ladder line from an automatic antenna coupler a/k/a the smart tuner. We won with that last year, but there are two differences this year. Since my garden is too small, the wires will slope down steeper and the ends will come lower to the ground. And this year there is at least one skilled and experienced team that wasn’t participating last year. Maybe they need more radials?

I can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to contesting and the weather. This time: thunderstorms, lightning and rain rain rain. Friday evening I emptied the rain gauge in the middle of a shower. It was at 28 liter per square meter, in half an hour. I guess it’s well over 30 l/m² now after ninety minutes.

Not that it was unexpected. It was in the WX maps and forecast since last week. And I personally predicted it six months ago. Not hard to do: major contest equals shitty WX over here. I don’t need infrared satellite images, high altitude weather balloons, multi-CPU processing power and complex mathematical systems to predict the weather. I just look at the contest calendar, and if it’s a major contest from October to April, it will be storming. From May to August, there will be major thunderstorms. No contest? High probability for nice weather. My forecasts are +90% spot on. I have the statistics on my side.

It doesn’t end here. The forecasts predicted more of the same for the whole WPX CW weekend. With showers intensifying and thunderstorms with severe wind gusts. That means tower down which in turn means my 40m dipole too low and I had set my mind on SB40 in WPX CW.

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. I know my English idioms. With an m not a t. With Field Day just around the corner, a plan hatched. I could as well try the new and improved antenna raising system and make the 40m antenna for field day and use that as SB40. I can winch that construction down much faster than the electric winch on the big tower. The electric winch on the telescopic tower has a major gear reduction. I guess it can pull a loaded train, but the gear ratio is so big that it takes almost twenty minutes (!) to winch the 15m tower up all the way. Fifteen being two sections of 8m length with 1m overlap for stability. Furthermore the field day setup is so simple I can do it with one hand and blindfolded, literally. I cannot do that on the big tower with multiple ropes and coax and rotor control cable.

Wednesday evening was Radial Fest (dedicated post coming in due time). On Thursday evening I mounted the ON5ZO Antenna Raising Structure v2.5. It worked without a hitch. Like always there are some details I could do better and smarter. Live and learn, I’m not a mechanic designer nor a trained welder. But I moved, installed and deployed it all by myself in under an hour. If you do this with two persons, it can be done much faster. I put it down without much looking, so the antenna mast bumps against the kids’ swing. I need to replace that for next week’s Field Day because it will be higher then.

I rushed home from work on Friday to deploy the radial field, and waited for XYL to come home. I needed to walk around the block and access the adjacent lot. She had to hand me the radial wires under the fence so I could lay them out. I had asked the owner’s permission to put some wires on the ground ‘to take part in an antenna experiment’. That sounds more scientific than ‘I’m going to fool around with an insane amount of wire once again’. Noteworthy: the temperature was high and sweat was abundant. A sign of things to come: thunderstorms.

Finally there was a considerable ground screen in place, and the winched mast went up and down smoothly. That together with a pulley to haul the antenna wire up made adjusting the wire for 7 MHz a breeze. It resonated where I wanted it to but the SWR dipped at 2.2:1. Phase angle was positive and so was the X-part, so it behaved as if too long although it dipped right at 7020 kHz or so. Frustration built while I was frantically trying to get it right before the thunderstorms would break loose. My guess was that the wire was too close to the mast at only half a meter away. With the mast being about 13m high, this might be too close to a quarter wave on 7 MHz. I had done exactly this for years on 80m with an inverted L. Only 13m is way off from resonance on 80m. I could test this easily by detuning the mast. A simple extension would do, either mechanically (wire or tube) or electrically (loading coil).

It wouldn’t be now that I would see if theory and practice matched. The wind picked up speed and it turned dark when it wasn’t supposed to yet. The first roaring was heard so I dropped or actually rather gently lowered the mast and the wire and went inside. Soon after it started pouring down by the buckets. A nearby strike made the windows shake when thunder clapped. The XYL was away to run some errands and she told me it was the biggest shower she ever witnessed. By that time the street here was covered with a layer of mud. Luckily our house is almost a meter above street level. Fire engines drove by and roads were blocked. First by water and mud, then my firemen and police to keep vehicles away. I started typing this blog entry and took a shower and finally I went to bed.

I'm in the purple dot marked by the arrow.

I’m in the purple dot marked by the arrow.

Saturday 6AM local (4z) I fired up the amp and shack PC and I checked the online lightning detector and early forecast. All clear, as was the sky. It was damp outside and I emptied the rain gauge again: + 33 l / m² during the shower. Wow, that’s a lot of water. I raised the field day tilt over mast and went into the shack. There the temporary GP antenna presented a nice match. My K3 said 1.1:1 down on 40 CW and the amp didn’t notice much reflected power. Great!

My plan of a serious SB40 turned into a simple test of the antenna. I decided to leave the cluster off and just dialed the VFO. And of course I tried running. It was after sunrise, and I let the RBN brag about my signal. It got picked up from East Coast to central USE, PJ2 and PY. On the other side of the globe, some skimmer in ZL could hear me when he sun was setting on the antipodal path. Not bad, but not a surprise either. Simple verticals do work so why wouldn’t this one? For the purists: I have a bookmarked hotlink that only shows my callsign on the RBN, so I don’t see any other stations. I logged about 150 contacts, from VE9 down to Brazil and some goodies in between (PZ, YV, ZF). And EU’s were loud, which is good for FD next week. Soon after the signals faded and the band was empty. Family time!

In the afternoon I wanted to continue the work on the FD vertical. I plan to use the mast itself as the 80m radiator, and suspend the 40m vertical from a rope. The 40m part was OK as empirically established in the morning. I had another tube that fit into the top section, so by now the total length is almost 17m. Not bad for some aluminum tubing but still a good 4m shy of a full size vertical on 80. My initial thought was to use a base loading coil but the tube on the top I just fitted, was a leftover from the burned WARC dipole. I also kept the coils that fit on this tube (it was a trapped WARC dipole). So I attached the coil making inductive top loading. Theory says you need a bigger coil on top compared to base loading but it results in less losses because of the lower current as you move up in height. Before raising the system I measured the continuity between the individual mast tubes. I got a beep on each taper. Great!

Not really. There was a distinguished yet broad SWR dip on the analyzer’s display. Too low, but that could be an easy fix. What worried me more is that the curve moved wildly on each sweep. Resonance shifted almost a MHz on each swing. How can that be? Because it swings in the wind? I left it unguyed during the testing and pruning phase. I couldn’t see the antennas while measuring because…

I have talked about my broken antenna analyzer before. RF-wise it works 100%. But the battery compartment and the keypad have a problem and replacing it costs more than a new model from another brand. In the mean time I just use it in the garage where the feedlines enter and where 230Vac is available. I use a 12Vdc adapter to feed the AEA analyzer. I have done this for years now, but in the meantime the DC plug seems to have developed a bad solder connection inside so I need to hold the plug firmly or it drops out and reboots. I could have deployed a long extension cord to the outskirts of the garden and measure there, but I was just too preoccupied with it all…

By now, when typing this almost five hours later, I forgot what I have tried to get this working. At a given point, I just snapped. Countless hours spent over the last weeks, even months by now. And I am desperately trying to achieve something, who knows what and why? Why? Recapitulate… I want to do field day from my garden because all other plans and joint-ventures didn’t work out. I want to put out a big signal, I don’t want to compromise, I can’t fit textbook picture perfect horizontal antennas in my small garden so I want to make a three band vertical hence all the wires and chicken fence in my lawn. And along the way I want to be active this weekend in WPX CW. All my energy got drained, I’m tired and I am very short fused towards my family. This is useless. At that point, I abandoned my antenna plans. My garden is big but just too small for this stuff. Especially when the field day rules specify that you can’t use existing structures. Furthermore in my case I need to cram all the FD stuff between all the antennas and wires of the main fixed station. I’m sure I could pull it off on a 40m by 40m terrain that has no obstacles. It’s called FIELD day for a reason, not GARDEN day.

It boils down to two options. First choice is to cancel my field day participation now and look for a suitable terrain next time. Preferably with and at OT1A. The second option is to settle for less and compromise. Either which way I need to buy a huge plastic box to store all the radials and chicken fence wire. And regret having bought it. Anyone looking for a portable low band ground system?

About WPX: the temporary mast with the 40m GP is down for now at 11PM local time. There are thunderstorms around, but not real close. My plan is a repeat of today. Play some more around sunrise and then call it a day.

Sunday morning, pretty early. I got up and let the dog out and fed him. I saw cauliflower-like clouds and felt little drops. You could tell by the look and feel of the sky that another thunderstorm was imminent. So I left the antenna down and WPX for what it was and went to bed again. Maybe I could sleep some more? Through the window shutters I saw a bright flash and wondered if it was lightning. The answer came soon in the form of a loud thunderclap. Good thing I left the antenna down and the coax unplugged. A brief shower followed and I decided to get up and start dismantling everything when the rain stopped. And so I did.

I’m in short of USB ports! When I bought this laptop I knew it hadn’t enough USB ports for Field Day. I need four but only have three. Keyboard, mouse, WinKey and CAT should find their way into and out of the laptop. I have an old USB hub that came with some other device I have already ditched. This works for the mouse and external keyboard. I have an old ‘no brand’ USB-to-serial dongle. I plugged it in and soon Win10 told me it’s good to go. Finally I plugged in a Prolific dongle, vintage 2007-2008 or so. Couldn’t get it to work. Of course, what is the fun in everything working right away without a hitch?

prolificShit

In the true spirit of overconsumption, the Prolific site advised to throw away a perfectly good device and buy a new one for factory support with the new Windows versions. Actually they didn’t talk about what to do with the old, they focused on trying me to buy their new products. Like hell I will! Google disclosed tons of people having had this problem. Soon I learned that the key to success is to NOT download the latest drivers which seem to be deliberately bogus – why else print a red guidance to buy a new one?  Apparently I had to install the older version. Luckily the guy offering this solution on his blog, also provided the download for these older drivers. Soon after that Windows told me the Prolific dongle is also installed and ready to use. I hope Windows is right… Testing scheduled after the coming weekend… Stay tuned (but please don’t tune on top of me).

I might have enough coax cables at hand for Field Day. But it feels like I don’t. Never enough, right? I have a long stretch of coax that needs plugs. I plan to bury it in a tube along with some other cables in a few weeks. So I soldered the PL plugs to this forty meter long stretch of Ecoflex 10 coax cable. I have another fifty meter run of RG213 in stock that has N plugs. That should do to connect the antennas to the transceiver.

I also have a presumably fifty meter length of RG217 cable. That ½” low loss HEAVY stuff. It’s hard to find plugs for that since it’s quite an obsolete cable. I purchased a complete ‘now old stock’ drum when we bought the house. I found matching N plugs from a renowned RF brand but they were ridiculously expensive in 2002-2003. So I didn’t buy those. I found a batch of used but good N plugs when attending a ham fest in 2003 and I used these for the fixed feed lines from shack to various junction boxes outside. Once I managed to make a homebrew PL style socket by modifying a regular PL plug and using brass plumbing reductions. K1TTT’s idea.

But for the 2011 edition Field Day I bought plugs for Ecoflex 15 type cable. Expensive enough but within reason. These plugs do not fit 100%. But it worked and got tested before taking it to OT1A’s field day site.

50m of RG217 with DC bias T’s (@ON5ZO 2011)

This virtually lossless cable below 10 MHz turned out to be faulty. It took some time to realize and admit that. It got tested here before hauling it to OT1A’s but antenna SWR was way up when deployed. We lost quite some time because of that. We checked everything from antenna to TRX except the part in between: this coaxial cable.

Back home I hung it on a hook where it has been for five years until two days ago. I put in on the antenna analyzer with the other end connected to a dummy load. Sure enough the screen showed SWR bumps of 4:1 and more from 1.8 MHz to 52 MHz. Visually the cable was OK, so I suspected the plugs. I removed all the PVC tape from one of both plugs and unscrewed the nut. The center pin came off too so the problem revealed itself without further inspection. True Ecoflex 15 has a much thicker center conductor than RG217. In 2011 I filled the cup with solder tin but it didn’t hold up.

I cleaned the cup with desoldering wick. Then I made a sleeve of desoldering wick. I used that as a spacer between the center conductor and the plug’s pin’s inside. I pulled and twisted the PL center pin but it didn’t release so I guess this time it’s a better connection. The antenna analyzer then showed a flat SWR plot from Top Band to Magic Band. R = 46 ohm on 30 MHz with X = 0 ohms at 0°. Not bad for a homebrew dummy load. And with low loss coax cable…

I also found two short runs of Aircell7 in my pile of junk/parts/miscellaneous stuff. Too short to be useful, too long to throw away. I made N-to-PL adapters from it, coiling them up so they will act as a current choke. I have many N-type plugs and sockets in use so these adapters always come in handy.

And along the way I discovered I have another length of what looks like 20 – 25 meter of RG213 with male and female N type plugs. I really have tons of stuff, so much I don’t always remember I have it. Or I can’t remember where I put it.

But for field day, the coax needs should be covered.

Plan A: team up with OT1A again. Use his gigantic terrain again. Use his electronics, I provide the antenna stuff again. Too bad he had to cancel his participation. There’s always…

Plan B: maybe my local club would like to do FD CW? Too bad the key members are probably out of town that weekend. There’s always…

Plan C: rent a van to haul all the stuff to my backup location. Use the van as a shack. That would eliminate the need for a tent. Too bad the terrain is inaccessible for the moment. The vegetation grows like crazy and already comes up to my knees and the owner only plans to mow it in a few weeks. There’s always…

Plan D: ask a passionate contester, who shall remain anonymous, to team up with me. That way I could look for another terrain and have an extra pair of hands to set up and to get through the slow hours. I have perfect terrain in mind, but I’m a bit reluctant to ask the owner. Don’t know why though. Having OM Anonymous join me would be an incentive to ask it anyway. Unfortunately OM Anonymous answered ‘maybe next time’ so I’m stuck with….

Plan E: do it on my own again. Here in my back yard. That has lot of benefits: you can’t forget to bring a thing, clean rest room, no need to move all the stuff away from the house etc. Major drawback: my garden is a bit too small to install the antennas that I had in mind. I cannot ‘go long’ with the ropes. And I don’t have the high supports to keep the wires off the ground. And I centainly don’t want a compromise. I’m in to win, or suffer while trying. ‘Die trying’ is a bridge too far.

So that leaves me in a sticky situation. I now need to completely rethink the antennas. And make, tune and test them. And I have spent hours over the last six weeks to get the antenna raising system (a/k/a the portable mast) to work. Plus I need to make sure the WinKey and CAT work on my Win10 laptop. And what about the generator? It hasn’t been used in two years. I just started it once last year to see if the engine worked and it did. But will it this year?

So currently the status is: I’m trying to get everything ready for Region 1 Field Day CW. If I manage to pull that off, I might participate. Then the last key factor is the WX. I don’t want a repeat of the 2014 scenario.

The field day that wasn’t

My previous post revealed that my WordPress theme was aging. It developed compatibility issues with the latest WP versions, especially on the picture gallery. I don’t use free or commercial themes. I roll my own. I have been using a commercial tool for that for many years. It’s called Artisteer btw. Because the free upgrade period for that has expired for ages too, I decided to pay for an upgrade. That decision was made in August 2015. And executed a few days ago. I don’t post many pictures so that wasn’t really an issue. But I wanted to show off my ‘wind direction indicator thingy’ and the problem became prominent.

I imported the old theme and exported it with the current version. Issues solved. And to discover the novelties in the latest release, I made up a new theme. Still very blueish, because it really is my favorite color. De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum. Period.

Now if only I could provide some ham radio content… I don’t even know what the current SFI is. 250 or bust!

Very little activity on the writing front. You may have noticed that. Also zero radio activity since ARRL DX SSB. That might be my longest period without a QSO in the log ever. Does that mean I’ve been a couch potato all this time? Not at all. On the contrary. I’ve been doing double shifts in the homebrewing department. One big ham radio project that’s still going on: my field day ‘antenna raising structure’ v2.0. And a couple of small side projects. Let’s not forget a dozen projects in the garden. Like a big swing for the kids including a fireman’s pole to slide down. Now leave me alone you rascals and go play on that giant playset!

One of the side projects is a wind vane. I like to see where the wind is coming from so I can turn the antenna for least wind load. I have always done this by watching the ropes on the tower dangling in the wind but since they can’t move freely, that might be inaccurate. A fancy weather station is too expensive and overkill. I wanted a simple old skool solution: a wind vane. And now I have one. I made it myself from scrap material.

  • The arrow is a scratched piece of square PCB I cut diagonally. So in fact I have two arrows for symmetry and balance.
  • These arrows are held by small aluminum profile I saved from an old bent parasol. The PCB triangles are fixed to the rectangular profile by two M 4 bolts with a locking nut.
  • The swivel mount is a swivel wheel with the actual wheel removed.
  • Where the wheel’s axis was, I put an M8 bolt through a piece of 22 mm tubing. And a self-tapping screw to keep it from tilting.
  • I welded a square piece of flat stock as a base, and screwed that to the highest post of the children’s climbing tower. The tube might serve as a flag pole in the future. I leave the flag sewing to the XYL. Honey if you read this…
  • Finish: glossy raspberry red with a yellow accent, on a matt black support.

I did not provide a compass indication because I know where the North is.

It works! It didn’t cost much because all parts were in the junk box for many years. Once I got the idea of using the swivel wheel, it took me half an hour to cut, drill and mount and test the concept.

I get a kick out of making something useful with old rubbish and using parts that weren’t designed for the purpose it serves in the end.

One question remains: how to park a yagi with a rotary dipole on top when the wind blows hard? With the wind direction parallel to the boom so the elements take the wind? Or the elements alongside the axis of the wind so that the boom is perpendicular to it?

I used to be a contester. And to a certain extent: a DXer. A 24/7 ham radio nutcase. And in my mind, I still am. But for some reason, it just doesn’t seem to work out anymore. I want to contest and I want to hang out on the WARC bands. And although I have less free time than a two or three years ago, it isn’t a matter of time per se. What’s up with ON5ZO?

I discovered VHF ham radio more or less by accident in 1999. I got on HF late 2000. I did my first 167 contest QSO in January 2001. From then on, I was hooked. It has been a steep upward climb in which ‘more‘ was the key word. More time in the shack, more friends, more QSO, more antennas, more DXCC, more rate, yet more antennas, more radios, more elements on the antennas, more power, more options. MORE.
And everything worked out fine. All pieces fell into place. Lots of free time and holidays. A very cooperative XYL, even when both kids were born. And the only time I can remember I had to cancel a participation due to something unforeseen was RDXC 2005 for my granddad’s funeral. That’s a long time ago.

True, once in a while I decide not to participate in a contest because of the weather. I don’t want to crank up the unguyed tower when they predict too strong gusts. I had that in CQ WW CW 2012 if I remember the year, and +80 km/h gusts really make the tower shake when it’s all the way up. Mind you: that night there was not a word about winds in the forecasts. Too bad that during the last two years many stormy days coincided with major contests. The list of skipped contests due to what I file under ‘wind too strong’ has become pretty long. That has taken some of the fun away. And under the influence of the ‘philosophy of more’ I decided that if I can’t go all the way, I just don’t bother anymore. It’s as much QSO as possible or zero.

But there is another phenomenon at play. Something I find hard to define, and don’t dare to speak out loud. Have I become bored with contesting? Maybe not per se bored. But the urge to enter each and every contest is gone. For now? The ‘more era’ is over. My naïve effort to make it to WRTC 2014 from here in Belgium with a small station, limited antennas and ‘only’ 1200 W made me enter much more contests seriously than I ever did before. Now that I think of it, I have skipped many major SSB contests in the past (before 2010) because I just don’t give a damn about SSB. But that WRTC selection thing just sucked me into it. More precisely: the online standings page that put me on top of my regional standings until the curtain was about to fall. Oh well that ship has sailed (and sunk) but sure enough that whole WRTC circus (before and after) altered the way I looked at contesting. Not in a bright way. And what about my 5000 QSO in WW CW 2014? I never-ever saw this possible and I’m damn proud of it. It was hard work! Especially from not-so-most-wanted Belgium with what really is a small semi-permanent station in the world of serious contesting. I can never do ‘more’ than that until there is a major peak on the next solar cycle.

What else is happening? I think I am in that phase of life where time is limited and so many things demand attention. Changing jobs last year made me leave my comfort zone and gone was the routine. But right now especially my two kids are the center of my attention. Ten years from now, as early teenagers moving into adolescence, they will probably stay clear as much as they can from the Old Man. But now they really like to do things with dad and I know that there are many firsts that I don’t want to miss. First steps standing up, first time riding up and down the street with the big bicycle, first dive into the big swimming pool, first this and first that.
There is also the fact that the house now needs to harbor four people instead of two. Two of which are continuously evolving at a rapid pace. So once in a while we need to redesign and redecorate some parts of the house. Out with the old, in with the new: painting, new furniture (bigger beds!), put up a swing in the garden, fix a broken bike, glue the broken guitar back into one piece: it takes time. Time that can’t be spent in the shack. “Daddy can you make us a workbench just like you?”. Sure daddy can. Of course daddy will. I won’t be turning on the radio this afternoon but instead saw boards and drill holes and screw that shit together. Satisfying and fun to do, but a killer for ham radio shack time.
Bottom line is that I’m still crazy and serious about the hobby. But external factors cause that I am enjoying the hobby somewhat less dedicated and on a different level. I have been doing many construction projects lately. Some of which are for the ham radio station. Some serve a general purpose. And many jobs are still on the to do lists. In fact I have done much DIY projects. For fun. But there’s not much that belongs on a page pretending to be about ham radio and contesting. Examples?

I have done some gardening. Making sure the lawn is green, fill potholes and fix molehills. And assuring that the XYL’s vegetable garden is ready for the next season. I planted some more little fruit trees. The kids love picking berries. There’s prune too now, if that tree already wants to produce.

I have made a few more bee hotels recently. Even some on demand for friends. I make from leftovers of past construction projects using wood. I just love to see those holes get filled and closed up, and seeing the bees fly out the next year. Einstein supposedly said: “If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live.” Don’t know if he really said it, but scientists are firm about the value of the bees. So if I can give them a hand just by drilling holes into pieces of wood and hang that up, why not? To attract and please them and their butterfly friends, I have provided several meters of flowerbed. That really colors the garden in summer.

Currently I am working hard to improve my field day portable mast. Now here’s a ham radio project! It’s prototype v2.5, coming from v1.0 (June 2014). It should be even stronger and more stable compared to v2.0 we used in 2015. Yet it should be easier to move and deploy. I hope to reveal it early June for IARU Region 1 CW field day.

Many moons ago I acquired this old heavy duty galvanized satellite dish tripod stand. I saved it from being decommissioned and maybe worse: scrapped. I had to move it a hundred times since we came here in 2002. It held my early antenna-fishing rods and first low band verticals. But for over seven years now it was just standing in the way no matter where I put it down. I got tired of hauling it back and forth to find a new place to store it. I couldn’t come up with a purpose for it so I decided to weld plates with wheels under it and weld a plate to the top that holds a big sheet of thick aluminum. Ta-da: I present you my weatherproof workbench /M. Can be used to put the miter saw on, excellent to weld on and ideal to serve drinks and snacks on when it’s BBQ Grill season. Yet another favorite activity of mine where my fate lies in the hands of the weather gods.

I also made a LED floodlight cart. I welded a square frame that holds concrete blocks as a base. I put two wheels under that, welded a two meter high square tube to it and mounted two 20W LED spots on a bracket so I can put it down everywhere and position the lights. Now I can even grill meat after sunset, keep on DIY’ing after dark or light the garden with a PIR motion sensor when someone enters the premises. All from scrap metal, the electro-junkbox and leftover concrete blocks. I only bought the wheels and the LED lights. Fun project!

There are still two things that I really need to do ASAP. I need to dig a trench that’s forty meter long and bury a tube that contains coax, power and control cables. That way I can connect some new and experimental antennas to the shack without running cables over the ground or against the fencing. That job has been delayed for almost three years now. I hope to do it before the end of June. And then I need to mount a waterproof cabinet on the remote end to interface the buried cables with the new devices. Whatever those may be. Two LED floodlights on a cart and a low band RX loop, as a starter.

And this summer I hope to redo some of the clamps on the tower, so that the antennas don’t shift anymore. If stronger gusts start occurring more frequently, I need to prepare. I already have the parts in stock.

You see: I’m quite busy. And although my callsign doesn’t end up in your log as much as it used to do, I’m bound to show up on HF again. I used to be a contester, and I still am.