Belgian HF Devils ride again – part I

Part I: Preparing the resurrection

The first weekend of June normally coincides with an even at work that I can’t skip. So Region 1 Field Day CW is something I can never do. In 2006 the event was a week later so ON4CCP/OT1A invited me to do a two man FD effort. We dubbed our team “Belgian HF Devils”, a name we came up with a few years earlier for a contest we did together in the M/S category. When was that? 2003? How time flies! The 2006 FD adventure was fun. We ended second place for the first time we participated, only beaten by a large crew. We learned a lot about field day operating that weekend but we never were able to materialize the gained knowledge.

When my annual calendar for work got out last year, I noticed this year the activity was planned one week earlier. So the FD weekend 2011 was free. I immediately sent a text message to ON4CCP’s phone to see if he wanted to do a field day together again. Luckily he agreed. I would have done it all by myself otherwise but I’m glad we can team up once again.

In 2006 we messed around with wires and so called smart-tuners. The planned laptop/keyer combo didn’t work so Koen had to drag his desktop PC and monitor from the shack to the field etc. For this year I considered it a challenge and something new to put together a FD setup. So I started planning and thinking.

Transceiver / Logging

I wanted a light and truly portable setup. My laptop has CPU and other resources enough (I think). The K3 is small and light weight. So I’d like to use that one. Furthermore that gives me the first opportunity to take out the custom made K3 carrying bag I bought. I hooked up my USB-to-RS232 convertor, installed the drivers for (ahum) Vista and that worked right away. CAT logging? Check!

But what to use for keying? I’ve had it with LPT/COM transistor interfaces. Those work but contemporary computers lack the ports. And I’ve had a VERY nasty experience with LPT keying in the past. Not the keying itself but a computer system going bananas because of CPU load. I still have my old vintage serial WinKey kit I bought many many moons ago. I hooked that one up too and N1MMLogger reported W/K software version 4. WT# version 4? My SO2R keyer reports WinKey version 20! K1EL still had a v10 chip on sale so I ordered that one. Microham’s W4TV assured me v10 was more that enough for carefree single radio CW keying with the N1MM soft.

A few days later I found the 8 pin CPU in the mailbox (pretty steep S/H: 5$ with a 1.5$ stamp – expensive envelope!). Swapped the chips, hooked it up and got a v10 report. I brought a second USB-to-serial dongle from work. Wait! What’s that with FTDI versus Eltima chips and drivers for USB-to-serial? I’ve got one of each now. It seems that microHAM uses Eltima so I’m going to use this one for Winkey and the FTDI model for CAT with the K3. I did a quick test and all worked fine. Soldered my spare Anderson Power Pole cable together while the iron was hot.

The Generator

I could use the same generator as 5 years ago. My father-in-law brought it in four weeks before D-day. It was covered with dust and I wonder if it had been used since 2006. However it started right away and the meter indicated 220V so that was promising.

Wire & Cable

To minimize cable losses, not really an issue on the low bands anyway, I wanted one long run of coax between the antennas and the operating position. I still had a 40m long run of ½” RG-217 coax. Thick, low loss and heavy! I bought a full ‘new old stock’ 100m drum in 2002 when we bought the QTH here but it turned out that plugs for this cable aren’t easy to find. The runs in use have been fitted with N plugs, and I successfully experimented with a homebrew solution in the past. However I bought a set of UHF (PL) connectors for Ecoflex15 cable. As it turns out, these are slightly too big to fit the RG-217. It took me quite some time and efforts to find a way to mount these on this type of coax. I should have gone the homebrew route again here, using brass piping accessories and a PL barrel connector cut in half. But finally I found a way to put them on the RG-217. I would not do this with a cable that is hard to reach, but for a long run of coax that’s only used on the ground and easy accessible, it doesn’t matter.

The plan is to use a 40/80m dipole and my shorty 160m dipole (loaded with coils). I planned to make a small switching device that reads the K3’s band output and uses an A/B relay switch to select either antenna. I reworked my old but trusty A/B switch but maybe I won’t have the time to automate the switching. But I have a switching device lingering around that I can use to select the antennas by hand.

To avoid yet another run of cable for the relay’s control cable, I can finally put my bias T’s to work. I bought these last year for a future project (#101 on the list of unfinished projects).

With one week to go (I’m writing this during a Saturday WPX CW break), I still need to:

  • clean and prepare the telescopic tower so that it slides without hickups
  • clean the concrete blocks to support it (moss accumulated over the years)
  • empty the lorry and see if it all fits
  • prepare the guying system
  • look for light coax runs to go from ground level up the telescopic tower
  • prepare AND TEST the DC-injection system to control the A/B relay
  • retest laptop/WinKey/N1MM combo; although all parts have been tested recently but not in combination with each other
  • prepare emergency tool kit and spare parts / adapters for quick and easy problem solving

T minus 51 hours

This morning I cleaned up the concrete blocks for the telescopic mast’s base. I sprayed it with some leftover moss-killing substance a fortnight ago and with some brushing, the moss went off. Then I changed the oil of the generator’s engine. Judging by what came out (look and smell), it might has well been good to have changed the oil! I don’t know who uses this thing and for what purpose, but it sure is in good shape! Then I loaded up the generator with a /P electric heating. It’s field day after all! I went as far as 2kW continuous which exceeds the alternator’s specs of 1900W peak / 1600W continuous. When heavily loaded, the voltage dropped as expected to a mere 200V and the generator started shaking. But with the load for a simple field day station (100W TRX, laptop, some light), there is no annoying noise and a stable voltage. This beauty served us well in 2006, let’s keep the fingers crossed for this weekend! In the afternoon I tested the DC switching for the relay using the Bias Tees. That seems to work. I also dismantled the aluminum telescopic push up mast. Deploying it by pushing it up section by section is a real PITA. Pneumatic affordable mast anyone?

All this was done in between preparing wood for a new fence, fixing the pump to water the garden, water the garden and go for a walk. A very busy day in the burning sun. And a fierce win that blew off my sun hat several times! Here are some pictures:

2 replies on “Belgian HF Devils ride again – part I”

GL in the contest! I’m hosting the ON4NOK/P effort from my QTH in the Restricted category. My K3 is ready to take another 24h FD style beating 😉

73 de ON4WIX

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