SFI > 250 or bust!

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.

IARU contest overview. Thanks to 3830scores.com

IARU contest overview for the last five years. Thanks to 3830scores.com

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!

Comparison of the rate this year (left) and last year (right). Thanks to N1MMLogger+ for the graph.

Comparison of the rate this year (left) and last year (right). Thanks to N1MMLogger+ for the graph.

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.

I needed to realign the yagi with respect to the rotary dipole. I established that it was not the 40m dipole that moved during a stormy night last November. It was the yagi’s boom that shifted away from its bearing. My plan was to tackle this once and for all because by now I know what the problem is.

Way back, in 2005 when I was still a construction n00b and my father was still in charge of all things metallic, he made special plates for the boom-to-mast clamps. By now it’s clear that these plates are made of too thin sheet. The plates deform and compress when the bolts are tightened. So the distance between nut and bolt head shortens, which in turn decreases the clamping force to the mast. This was one of the jobs on my list for this summer. But even with a tilt over tower it isn’t always easy to reach certain parts. So I was thinking of an easy way to access these remote parts. I was looking for a scaffold. But where to store that away the other 364 days a year?

Earlier this week I was moving stuff in the garden. When walking under the yagi I saw a part on the lawn. I immediately recognized it and knew where it came from: the parts I used to keep the current choke balun from touching the yagi’s phasing lines on the feed point. I strapped this part to the yagi with zip ties. In April 2007. And now it seemed the zip ties broke. Both. At once. I looked up and saw I was right. A second part had also come loose too but it was still bungling up there. The balun was still in place but was now attached only to the PL-socket on the driven element. So all the stress of the weight was on the PL socket. Not good.

For over six months I got upset by seeing the dipole and the yagi not perfectly aligned. But that’s nothing but a visual nuisance. This was far more serious. The feed point connection could snap under the weight of the balun and coax. So last Wednesday I tilted the tower over and reinstalled the spacers. Now with six cable ties instead of four. And a beefier type. I find it hard to believe that four zip ties snapped at once due to being ‘worn out’ or so. But I see no other possibility. They clearly look broken, snapped in half. But four at a time? In a short interval? Could it be exposure to the elements for over nine years? Anyway this was a quick and easy fix.

With the tower down anyway, my plan was to realign both antennas and change the plates while I was at it. For that I needed to loosen and remove the bolts and replace the plates on the clamps. But I can’t access these bolts because my ladder is too short.

Wait a minute. I hear you thinking: “You still need a ladder with a tilt over tower? And your ladder is too short? What’s the use to tilt it over then?” Exactly. Two problems. First of all, I can’t get the tower lower than the longest yagi element or the lower boom half. When something hits the ground, the tilting has to come to an end or I will bend or break something. But to me, the major problem is a helluva design flaw. The manufacturer, a notorious brand of crank up towers in the BeNeLux, decided to put the winch to crank up the tower, on the side of the triangular tower that faces ground when tilting it over. So you can’t completely lower the tower or the winch would get squashed between a few hundred kilograms of tower aluminum and the ground. OT1A has exactly the same tower, and his winch is mounted on another side of the tower, so the side facing the ground being clear. He can put his tower completely horizontal on the lawn when there is no antenna on it.

A dozen years ago I was so glad the tower finally arrived after a long delay past the due date that I didn’t notice it at first. Slim chance that I would have sent it back though, risking another few months of delay. So this is a major screw up by the engineer and welder who put this thing together. Oh well.

So with the antenna parts still out of reach with my modest ladder, I decided to quit trying to fix the boom to mast clamps. I actually tried reaching the bolts but I had to stretch my arm and the wrench slipped and I bumped into a protruding part. That hurt. This is exactly the situation that causes injuries or worse. A scaffold would be nice. The working platform only needs to be two meters high. A few years ago I used one of a friend and it was really handy but the owner doesn’t have it anymore.

In the end I was able to align the yagi to the dipole. Just by pushing the boom opposite to the displacement and rotating it over the mast. Another proof that the clamps are loose. That means that the next strong gust or modest storm will dislocate that thing again. It’s still clamped enough that it won’t completely come down, but this needs a decent permanent fix.

After the repair I took the antenna analyzer to see if all was still fine but this one died suddenly. It already had a few problems. Like not operating from batteries anymore. But now the display is black and it doesn’t respond to the keyboard anymore. It has served me well since 2002 or so. It wasn’t an El Cheapo either! You can now buy better, smaller and lighter analyzers for half the price. Which is what I have done right away.

No pictures. I never carry my phone when working and I’m so preoccupied with the job at hand that I forget to take pictures with the big camera. I’m just over a thousand words so the text will be close enough to a picture.

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?


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.