My First Tower

ma-40Time to dust off the Ham Radio category, which hasn’t been used since February, 2013 just a few month after we had moved into our rental property. Since that time the SteppIR BigIR has been quiet with no operating activity since August, 2012. Currently there are not even control cables connected. Just a quiet shack and I vertical raised. Nearly 2 years have passed since that time with the hex beam mounted on a tripod in the backyard. That all could be changing shortly with the purchase of my first tower.

While I haven’t operated, amateur radio is a hobby you can walk away from and return to without missing much. I know conditions while off the air have been terrible, so I haven’t missed much. Sure there have been DXpeditions and contests nearly every weekend, but once I get the antenna situation sorted out, I will fire up the rig and be back on the air, providing I get the okay from the XYL and more importantly I have some time.

Last week I read an email that was forwarded from Vic, K2VCO was was selling a US Tower MA-40 Series Tubular Tower. This had been a tower I had wanted since it would work very well with the hex beam I built. Unfortunately at $1500 it wasn’t really something I could add to my Christmas wish list. I had seen this sort of tower offered a few times on the NCCC Reflector, but never could rustle up the money or time, but always inquired.

This time around, I emailed Vic, asked a few questions but told him I could not pay for a few days. He said there was someone else interested, but if they didn’t get him the money he would email and let me know. As luck had it, the other party seemed to back out and the offer was on the table. The price of this used tower, $200! How could I pass it up? Even if I don’t put it up now, at our rental this will still be perfect for the hex beam when I get around to making repairs and raising the tower. The MA-40 is a tilt-over, crank up tower that has a maximum of 40′ and is just 21′ when retracted.

So next week I am off to Fresno in a 24′ U-Haul truck to pick up my new tower. While it might inspire me to actually fix the broken fiberglass spreader arm, I will have check with local regulations on erecting this. I don’t know if the city requires any permits for a 40′ structure, but it’s something I will need to investigate. The second consideration is room in the backyard. With two 10’x10′ cages for my wife’s Bengal breeding, I am not sure I have the necessary room without rearranging the backyard and pouring more concrete to lengthen the patio.

Regardless, I am excited to be adding this piece of hardware to my station.

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Going Vertical

Progress has been made! I was able to finish up some items on my wife related to do items and put some time into working on getting the SteppIR BigIR installed. It’s been October since I last operated in a contest (CQP) and with very little free time to play radio, getting aluminum in the air hasn’t been a high priority.

I spent about 15 minutes digging a hole that would then be filled with concrete surrounding a metal support mount that the SteppIR BigIR would be mounted on top of. I spent a few minutes aligning 2×4 pieces of wood that held the 24″ metal post in place, in the center of the hole. I mixed up some concrete and began pouring. In just a few minutes I was rinsing out the bucket, washing off the tools and letting the concrete dry.

I figure I will check it on Sunday, at which time I will place the SteppIR BigIR in place. There was other work that had to be accomplished before getting on the air. I had to cut the control cables from the antenna end when we moved in December. It took about 45 minutes, but I was able to rewire the control cables and reattach them to the SteppIR BigIR.

Hopefully by Monday or Tuesday I will be able to get some ground radials in place and begin configuring the antenna for use. I am still aiming at May and the CQWW WPX CW contest as a return. I am still undecided on how to get the hex beam in the air. After being on the roof attaching my weather station, I won’t take the chance to climb on the tiled roof again. Safety is a huge concern and I am not ready to chance it.

That leaves me very limited. I am still looking at possibly at attaching a mount to the facing that hangs down off the roof. This would possibly allow me 25-30′ in which to raise the antenna. Right now the hex beam is about 7′ high sitting on a larger tripod. Obviously NOT ideal, but sometimes we must go with what we have. The last option is to raise another 4×4 post in the ground and attach the mast to the 4×4 pole and raise the hex 15-20′ into the air.

It seems the true tower options are just not viable right now. I thought I had a lead on a 55′ crank up, tilt over tower but the work to get it down and moved, only to possibly not have it installed, I could not justify following through.

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Radio in May?

It’s been since CQP, last October that I actually turned my radio on and participated in a contest. Back in January I commented about an April/May return to radio (read All Out of Ham). I won’t say I am ahead of the game as we roll into the middle of February, but I have made some progress in order to get on the air. The “shack” is finally put together. Not, unfortunately it is not a free standing structure with it’s own power. Much like our last house the shack is a corner of the garage. While I have the radio and computer set up, along with the amplifier, it will take some time to work on making all the necessary connections, both inside the shack and the lines that will feed my antennas.

There are still some logistics that need to be worked out. Antennas. Where do I place them? With CC&Rs no longer a concern I have considered my options. At one point I wrote about K6EQR, who knew a ham selling a 55′ crank up tower. the further away we get from this piece, the less inclined I am to foresee this option in my future. Still a heck of a deal at $300! My original plan was to mount my hex beam on the chimney, using a specialized mount. After climbing onto the Spanish tiled roof, I am not too keen on attempting to get to the chimney as the roof was just too slippery and not a real good idea. I have been looking at mounting the hex beam back on the Rohn H-50 and trying to raise it,bracing it to the wood flashing, just below the roof. Not sure if that would be enough to support the hex of not. The other problem, trying to raise the mast extended to 35′-40′ with the hex beam already installed.

My other antenna is the 32′ SteppIR BigIR and I have found a place in the middle of the backyard, surrounded by 30′ high palm trees that will “hide” it from neighbors while allowing me to run radials in a north-east-south direction up to 90′! This antenna shouldn’t be difficult to install, as I just need to dig a hold and set the mounting post. I do have some concern, as I had to walk this antenna to our new house. Unfortunately I failed to retract the metal tape in the housing. Hopefully I haven’t suffered internal problems with the tape coming off the spool.

I am targeting the 2013 CQWW WPX CQ Contest as my return to the air. Looking at the most recent issue of CQ, I posted my best score ever (since 2009) of 510,867 points in low power, all band, assisted in W6 while operating just under 32 hours (36 max). A score and effort like this won’t happen unless I can get the hex beam up in the air. The vertical will allow for the low bands, which are the big points in WPX. Still I have to look at what other options I have and see if I can find a work around in order to get back on the air.

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All Out of Ham

With my wife in continued pain and suffering from her back surgery and not moving at a rapid pace, the last thing I should be thinking about is amateur radio. I already passed on the RTTY Roundup last weekend and will end up missing NAQP CW this weekend. In reality, it probably won’t be until April or May that I have a fully functioning shack. Priorities being what they are, my wife comes first along with her rehabilitation.

That hasn’t stopped me from stealing a corner of the garage in our new place so I can use it as my shack. The raised floor is now in place and I am hanging faux wood paneling (again). I like the look and and feel of it, reminds me of my dad’s shack (N6SV) down in Poway, CA. Although I just found out today I have 2 dead 110v outlets and the closest 220v outlet is on the other side of the door that leads in the laundry room. Not sure I will be running my Alpha 76PA when all is said and done.

I did come across a helluva deal today from K6EQR, who made mention in a reflector e-mail to the NCCC that another ham was selling a 55′ crank, tilt over tower in Folsom for $300! I did not hesitate to jump on the e-mail and make an inquiry. While I am not so sure about setting up at this house a tilt over, crank up tower fits the bill for me. The tower was raised in 2006 and had a 3el SteppIR on it. This would be perfect for my 5 band hex beam and maybe even the 6-meter beam I have.

Still much work must be done in order to get back on the air. It’s been very rough the last 18 months for me and ham radio as time has not allowed me much opportunity to get on the air. I have achieved a few awards, some personal, some from contesting. Hopefully I can beat my April/May deadline and be back on the air. Now to check with the city to see if I can erect something like this tower in my backyard.

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No Sweepstakes

It was a weekend I was looking forward to, as it brings a particularly enjoyable contest called the ARRL Sweepstakes. It’s actually the first part of a 2 part contest, this weekend participants use CW (Morse code) to make contacts with as many stations as possible in North America while trying to achieve a “clean sweep.” This year, the Ontario section has been broken into 3 separate sections, so operators must now work 83 ARRL/RAC sections. I have been fortunate to get achieve a clean sweep once in 6 tries (combined between CW and SSB) over the last 3 years.

Unfortunately due to the lack of people at work, no one signed up for my weekend shifts, so I won’t be participating in Sweepstakes for the first time since 2009. I was hoping to work the CW contest (this weekend) more so than the SSB contest starting November 17 since I was able to win my section the last 2 years, running low power (100 watts). While I haven’t done much contesting the past 6 months, I was looking forward to work on a combined total of 1000 QSOs (contacts). The last 2 years I was able to break the 500 contact mark, but was not able to put in enough time to double those numbers.

Chances are I high I will skip out on the SSB portion of this contest and wait in lie for the CQWW DX CW contest that starts on November 24. Its another contest that I enjoy operating in, but haven’t put in much over about 6 hours in this contest the past 3 years. It’s a long contest as well, 48 hours and trying to juggle work and family life when you have a 6 year old can be challenging. Hopefully my work schedule allows me that time to get at least 20-24 hours in. This would allow me to work some DX stations (outside the USA).

The only other contest I might consider this year will be the ARRL 10-Meter contest in December. It’s another one that is enjoy and you don’t have to spend a lot of time in to generate contacts. So not much radio left for me this year but I am disappointed to be missing Sweepstakes this year.

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