Monthly Archives: July 2016

“Hello, my name is Tim and I have BRD”

Black Radio Disease…

I couldn’t help myself.

I could say that it runs in the family…

W9KKX/SK with his TS-520 station (approx. 1980)

W9KKX/SK with his TS-520 station (approx. 1980)

My great Uncle Bob, W9KKX/SK (yellow shirt in the picture) got a TS-520 and all the station bits when it was brand new in the early 1970’s (albeit Kenwoods were gray instead of black back then.)

TS-520 station ad

TS-520 station ad

It was his primary radio for a long time. As a kid he would let me sit at his radio desk and spin that silky VFO knob and listen to that wonderful Kenwood audio. I ask you, did I even have a chance? In the picture with uncle Bob is my other great Uncle, Paul W9SIZ. He was and is a Collins man. He’s in his early ’90s now and still operates his KWM-2 station every day. Every family gathering in those days had the sound of SSB and CW as the mood music. Their social interaction was different from others which led to the inevitable retreat to these men’s shacks. Early on I was encouraged to tag along. This pattern, which was well established years ago continues to this day. I speak with perfect strangers on the radio a lot and apparently enjoy it enough to spend a fair amount of time and money to do it. I wouldn’t call that anti-social.

This early exposure to Kenwood Hybrids led me to my own complete TS-830S station, though it was many years after initial exposure as I couldn’t afford them when I was young.

Kenwood TS-830S station

My Kenwood TS-830S station

TS-830S Station

TS-830S Station

As much as I like my TS-830S station and it is filled with memories of times past and will always be a part of my station it was time for an update to my primary station radio. I know that ICOM 7300’s are selling like hotcakes but I’ve got Kenwoods deep in my bones. That and I like as many knobs and buttons as I can afford. This thing is an absolute pleasure to operate. I told my XYL that it’s the last radio I’ll ever need. I’m not sure that she believed me but at least I made the effort. I think that the TS-590S/SG will stand the test of time just as the TS-830S and the entire line of Kenwood Hybrids have. This radio will occupy a space next to my TS-830S as long as I am operating a station. It may well be the last HF radio I ever need.

PS – My older son has Uncle Bob’s call now, W9KKX.

 

Want to slow time? Use the QSL bureau!

One of the last remaining ways in which one can slow time is to use a QSL bureau. I love it when I get home from work and there is an envelope from NIDXA, my incoming QSL bureau. Here’s what arrived earlier this week:

ARRL Centennial QSL cards

ARRL Centennial QSL cards

The cards were from November and December of 2014. Perhaps not as exciting as some rarish DX station but nice nonetheless to get a card for a past contact. I don’t get these envelopes too often, maybe 3-4 times a year. Typically the cards are from contacts well over a year and in many cases well over 2 years past. It’s always nice to remember a contact from the past and in this fast-paced world it’s nice to know that something still moves slowly.

Each call area has an incoming QSL bureau, the Ninth Call Area bureau is run by the Northern Illinois DX Association. While I periodically fund my account at the incoming bureau, I’ve never used the outgoing bureau. I may try the outgoing for my next batch of DX cards just for the fun of seeing how long it takes to get a card back via the incoming bureau. I realize that there are a number of on-line confirmation systems including LoTW however I like to receive physical QSL cards. They are a longstanding tradition of our hobby. LoTW has its purpose but it can’t replace the feeling of walking out to the road to get the mail, seeing an envelope from NIDXA and opening it to find a handful of QSL cards from contacts you made several years ago.

If you want to slow time, use your QSL bureau!

 

Hustler 4-BTV – Initial measurements

Here are some initial measurements for the temporary installation of the 4-BTV. These measurements were made at my station (100 feet of RG-8X connected to the antenna which was connected to approximately 50 feet of RG-8U that leads in from a workshop to the station location.) The antenna was set at the starting dimensions stated in the assembly manual and is on a temporary vertical mount with sixteen 30 foot radials in a wide open space at least 50-70 feet away from any structures.

10m band

Frequency SWR
28.000 1.1
28.300 1.3
28.800 1.4
29.300 1.4
29.700 1.4
10m SWR

10m SWR

15m band

Frequency SWR
21.000 1.1
21.200 1.3
21.300 1.4
21.450 1.6
15m SWR

15m SWR

20m band

Frequency SWR
14.000 1.3
14.150 1.4
14.250 1.5
14.350 1.6
20m SWR

20m SWR

40m band

Frequency SWR
7.000 2.4
7.125 1.8
7.225 1.6
7.300 1.8
40m SWR

40m SWR

Obviously some tuning is in order, at least on the 40m band but for a temporary mount and sixteen radials it seems to be performing well.

While the XYL is away the OM will play

With one exception, all of my HF antennas are wire. I’ve thought about getting a vertical for quite some time. My original station when I was first licensed had a homebrew 10m vertical strapped to the chimney of my parent’s house. Not the most effective but it worked with the old Swan 350.

The Hustler x-BTV line has always been interesting. They been around for a very long time and consistently get good reviews. Plus they are relatively inexpensive when compared to their competition. I also like the fact that, setup properly there won’t be any need for an antenna tuner.

While there are a three versions, 4-BTV, 5-BTV, and 6-BTV I chose to get the 4-BTV. Covering 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m is all that I was interested in as I can solve the 80m problem with wire antennas that I already have deployed and I don’t operate on 30m.

A friend and fellow operator, Josh KD9DZP recently obtained a 4-BTV to test as he sets up his new HF station. I was really impressed with the simplicity and build quality of the antenna. It’s performance was so good with his TS-590S that I quickly decided to move my planned purchase of a 4-BTV from “some time” to the very next day. This was helped by the fact that AES had them marked down from $160 to $140. The order was placed Sunday night and the antenna was dropped off by Brown Santa early Tuesday afternoon.

4-BTV

4-BTV

It was very late Friday afternoon before I had time to start to work on the antenna. I picked up a roll of radials on the way home from work and started to put together a set for a temporary deployment.

Roll of radials

Roll of radials

I planned to do a temporary deployment until I had the time to make the permanent install. Some years ago I picked up a very nice temporary folding vertical antenna mount.

Portable folding vertical mount

Portable folding vertical mount

Portable folding vertical mount

Portable folding vertical mount

It has bolts for 16 radials. With a 500 foot roll of 14 AWG wire, I made the radials 30 feet long.

Sixteen radials

Sixteen  30 foot radials

The cat thought I was making sixteen new cat toys for him.

Radial or cat toy?

Radial or cat toy?

He just about lost his mind when I started to pull all of the radials out into position.

With the radials prepared it was time to unbox the antenna and start to assembly.

4-BTV unboxed

4-BTV unboxed

The antenna parts are nicely packed and the build quality is very good.

4-BTV traps

4-BTV traps

My wife’s mom had surgery this week and my wife is up at her house taking care of her so I needed to go up there for awhile on Friday evening. By the time that I returned home it was almost sunset. I didn’t want to wait until Saturday morning to finish the antenna as I really wanted to operate into Friday evening. So I hauled out an LED worklight  and some bug spray and completed the antenna assembly and deployment. It was completed at 10:30 PM CDT by the clouded light of the moon and the LED worklight.

4-BTV in the moonlight

4-BTV in the moonlight

Following the initial recommended dimensions resulted in an SWR of 1.6 in the center of the phone portions of 20m and 40m. This was plenty good enough for a 10:30 at night. I ran 100 feet of RG-8x to my workshop and attached it to a drop of RG-8 that goes to the shack and connected the 4-BTV to one antenna input of my TS-480SAT and left my Cobra Ultralite Senior on the second antenna input.

First contact was N6JW, John in Riverside, CA with a 57 report! It was 10:45 PM CDT. I could hear him on the Cobra Ultralite but he was weak (44). He was 59 on the 4-BTV! I typically can’t work west on 20m that late into the night. This was quickly followed by contacts with stations in Washington, the Virgin Islands, and more in California. I’ll grant varying band conditions but it appeared that I was off to a great start.

My initial plan for Saturday was to spend the morning doing another NPOTA activation but with a brand new antenna and good results the first night of operation I decided to stay home. So Saturday morning I cleaned up the radial deployment from the prior night and began to operate. I did however decide to have a bit of fun with my wife as she was up at her mom’s. She thought I was going to be gone out on an NPOTA activation so I texted her a picture of the antenna in the middle part of the backyard at home:

XYL fun

XYL fun

She knew that I got the antenna but thought it was out on a portable operation. Little did she know that it was right in the middle of our backyard. (She came home later in the day Saturday and realized the location. It was funny. We quickly agreed on a permanent install location. She’s a keeper.)

4-BTV

4-BTV

4-BTV radials

4-BTV radials

Over the course of Saturday I had a few nice QSO’s and picked up a bunch of NPOTA stations. I did a lot of A\B testing from the 4-BTV to the Cobra Ultralite Senior and in most cases the signal was stronger on the vertical by around 2 S units. As I was writing this post I worked K6QCB at Yosemite (NPOTA NP58). This was at 01:39 AM UTC. He was 57 into my station and I received a 56 report in return. I could barely hear him on the Cobra Ultralite Senior. (Granted that he was running a portable station.) I also worked 4V1G while writing this (02:24 UTC). I broke the pile-up on the first call with a 59 report, granting the standard DX reporting standard – everyone’s a 59, and a bunch of other variables, it still feels good to do that with a new antenna even though there may well be a number of factors involved in obtaining the result. What’s most important is that he heard me in a pretty good sized pile-up. He was 57-58 into my station on the 4-BTV and 43-53 on the Cobra Ultralite Senior.

So far I am very very happy with the 4-BTV. In it’s temporary location it seems to be functioning very well. To be fair to my Cobra Ultralite Senior, one end has dropped a bit down in the tree that holds that end so it’s probably at 20 feet instead of 30 feet which in turn causes a bit more sag at the feedpoint in the middle. Another antenna project is to get its anchor points up higher in the trees. My guess is that this will improve it’s performance. In no way am I saying that the 4-BTV is better overall. It was better given today’s conditions and the Cobra’s current deployment. What I am saying is that having antenna options is very nice and I’m glad to have added the 4-BTV to my antenna farm. I can’t wait to get it permanently deployed. I’m going to use the DX Engineering radial plate so that I’ll have 60 radials as more is definitely better in the case of radials for a vertical antenna.

 

Portable mast tilt-up device

On our first camping trip of the year I took my EARCHI antenna and the Spidebeam 12m pole. I used a couple of ratchet straps to attach it to the awning arm assembly.

Spiderbeam pole attached to camper

Spiderbeam pole attached to camper

Once it was up it was fine. The problem is that standing the pole up can be a two-person job in most cases. While the pole isn’t heavy and it only has a wire antenna attached it still is 12m long and a bit unwieldy on the way up. You really need to keep the base anchored in order to stand it up easily. If nothing is around to serve this purpose you need a person to hold it while you walk the pole up. There may be instances where nothing will serve and no one is around to help so some sort of device is needed in order to enable standing up one of these poles solo.

I’ve seen various forms of mast holders comprised of a round tube of some sort attached to a board which is placed under your vehicle tire for support. These are useful devices but the problem is that they typically don’t allow for tilting the mast up. You need to stand it up and then place it in the tube. I’ve also seen versions that use a tube attached to a piece of square tube that it placed into the 2″ receiver on your vehicle for support. Some versions allow for tilting but only perpendicular to the anchor point.

I wanted something that would allow me to tilt up the pole solo and allow either the aforementioned vehicle support or free-standing. Searching the Internet did not result in any device that quite fit my needs. One really good homebrew version that I found was the One Person Antenna Raiser by KL7JR. This is a very good example of what I was thinking of building. As with all homebrew projects he’s built several versions with improvements that all adhere to the base design.

I considered buying square tube and building it out of steel or aluminum but cost and weight were a factor. So I decided to build it from Ash. I’ve got a reasonable stock in my woodshop and more is readily available at my favorite hardwood store, Kettle Moraine Hardwoods.

Two Ash boards

Hardware

Hardware

I planned to use a 3 foot length of 4 inch PVC to hold the base of the Spiderbeam pole. This was the closest fit to the OD of the Spiderbeam pole with the end cap left in place. The plan was to insert the bottom of the Spiderbeam pole into the PVC which was held in place by a tilting mechanism with some form of support once in the upright position. With an initial design drawn up and some inevitable changes along the way the build proceeded as illustrated below.

test

Parts cut

I added some extensions to the base to provide some additional stability when used stand-alone.

Tilt mechanism

Tilt mechanism

To lock the tilt mechanism down I used an eye bolt held by a threaded rod with a plastic knob with a large washer epoxied to the bottom of the knob.

Tilt Mechanism

The completed device

With finish applied and PVC pipe in place

With finish applied and PVC pipe in place

The PVC pipe is 36 inches. I wanted a reasonably good part of the Spiderbeam pole supported. When I stood it up it immediately reminded me of the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) for the Saturn V.

Saturn V launch pad for comparison

Saturn V launch pad for comparison

My device is just a little shorter and much lighter than the MLP.

Free-standing, ready for the Spiderbeam with site inspector cat

Free-standing, ready for the Spiderbeam pole with site inspector cat

Free-standing with Spiderbeam pole

Free-standing with Spiderbeam pole

Rebar stakes hold the device in place. I plan to form the tops into handles and add some stops to the rebar so that they firmly contact the device and hold it in position. Once the pole is standing bungee cords are used to hold it in position against the rests on the upright portion.

The complete package

The complete package

The device, less the Spiderbeam pole weighs around 5 pounds and folds to make it easy to put in your vehicle.

 

This device makes standing the Spiderbeam pole up very easy. It goes up and comes down in complete control.

 

Home away from home

As I’ve previously posted, in the Spring of 2015 my wife and I decided to purchase a camper. In the process I did a lot of research about the towing capability of our 4Runner and the realities of owning and towing a travel trailer and simply want to add to the information that is available. There are a fair number of 4Runners in the world and it was very helpful to gain some insight from others experience by reading posts on various blogs and forums, especially http://www.toyota-4runner.org/, the place for all things 4Runner.

My wife and I camped in tents together when we were younger but as time passed my wife was less and less enamored with camping in tents so it faded away for some years. I continued to camp on many canoe trips and of course numerous Boy Scout camps when I was a Scout in addition to all of the time with my sons over the years. We have reached the stage where the kids are well on their way to being on their own so it seemed like time for my wife and I to renew camping together. We love the outdoors but sleeping in a tent gets a bit old. So we decided to get a camper to solve that problem.

Now the question was what kind of camper. There are a lot of types of campers in all shapes and sizes. We knew we didn’t want a motorhome for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was cost.  A fifth wheel wasn’t possible as we don’t own a vehicle to tow it and it would be bigger and more expensive than we needed for just the two of us. We knew we’d be towing something and given that our tow vehicle is a 2008 Toyota 4Runner V6 that left pop-ups, hard side folding campers, and travel trailers. We ruled out pop-ups and hard side folding campers as they are too small. So given our interests, budget, and towing capacity we started to look for a medium size travel trailer. Given a towing capacity of 5000 pounds for a V6 4Runner I knew we’d need to be at or less than 4000 pounds to stay below the 80% of tow capacity rule of thumb.

Thankfully here in Wisconsin we are swimming in RV dealers. There are literally 5 dealers within 20 miles of our home. The closest one was Roskopf’s RV Center so we paid them a visit to see what they had in travel trailers. As with most dealers they have a lot of campers. We went through a number of them but to large extent it was sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, most everything was either too small or too big but after a bit of looking we found the one that was just right, a 2015 Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB. We purchased the camper from Roskopf’s and were very pleased with the experience. Brian Roskopf provides great customer service and definitely goes the extra mile to take care of his customers.

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB and Toyota 4Runner (V6)

With a trailer largely selected there were some towing options to sort out. The hitch that is on a V6 4Runner is a Weight Carrying (WC) hitch. A Weight Distribution (WD) hitch is on V8 4Runners as they have greater towing capacity. The reason you might want a WD hitch is so that you can use a Weight Distribution Hitch with the trailer. You can’t use a WD hitch with the WC hitch. The trailer weighs 2885 pounds empty and the GVWR is 3750 pounds so that kept us below the 80% of towing capacity rule of thumb. The question was did I want to go to a WD hitch or stay with the WC hitch. I did a bunch of research , spoke to friends with travel trailers and WD hitches, and spoke to our RV dealer and it seemed as if the consensus was that changing the WC hitch on the truck out for a WD hitch and adding a WD hitch to the trailer was probably more than was required for the size of trailer and towing capacity. So we have been using the WC hitch though I have added a Curt Sway Control kit. I’m going to add a Firestone Ride Rite Air Helper Spring Kit this summer to level the truck off a bit. The hitch drops about 2 inches when the trailer is attached (empty tanks.)

Curt Sway Control kit installed

Curt Sway Control kit installed

With this setup the trailer tows very well. No hair raising moments when semi trucks pass you on the interstate. The trailer happily settles in at or near freeway speeds and cruises along. Depending upon conditions the mileage on the truck drops 5-7 MPG when towing the trailer. Our favorite place to camp is a 180 mile round trip from home. We typically get around 14-15 MPG towing the trailer. The worst has been 11.5 MPG on a trip in which the outbound portion was a particularly windy day with strong quartering head winds all the way to camp. That was a long drive. The brake controller that I chose is the Tekonsha P3 and I use Tow-N-See towing mirrors.

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Starcraft figured out a way to pack a lot of useful features and comfort into an 18 foot travel trailer.

18QB interior - front

18QB interior – front

18QB interior - rear

18QB interior – rear

18QB bathroom

18QB bathroom

Happy Camper

Happy Camper

As we’ve always had an electrical hook-up we’ve not boondocked with it yet so I can’t say how long the house battery lasts. I have ran tests with an ammeter to get a sense for all of the loads in the camper. All of the lights inside and out are LED. Here are my measurements:

Device Current (Amps)
Everything off 0.020 A
Furnace 4.5 A
Water Pump 6.5 A
Water Heater 0.8 A
Outside Light 0.5 A
Bedroom light 0.5 A
Bed light 0.3 A
Sink light 0.3 A
Table light 0.5 A
Switched inside lights (2) 0.72 A
Radio 0.26 A

The camper comes with one house battery (group 24, marine crank @ 80 F: 795 A, Cold Crank @ 0 F: 550 A, Reserve Capacity: 140 A) and at some point I plan to add a second battery and a portable solar panel and charge controller once we do go “off the grid.” Tank capacity works out to 5 days. The fresh is 26 gallons, gray is 15, and black is 9. If we go into camp with a full freshwater tank, gray empty, and black with some content due to starting the toilet we can go for 5 days with each of us showering each day, using the toilet (though we will use the campground toilets on occasion), and washing dishes at least twice a day. At the end of five days black and gray indicate that they are full and fresh indicates 1/3 (the granularity of the display for the tank monitors is in thirds.) In terms of LP, through all of last camping season we used about one-half of a 40 pound tank. We typically run the refrigerator on LP for the drive to camp and then switch it to electric. We used the heat a bit late in the Fall and the stove on occasion and of course the water heater is LP and that ran a fair amount each trip.

We camped 23 days last year and are very happy with this camper. It is just the right size for two people and has just the right amount of creature comforts. You can enjoy the outdoors and have a nice place to retire to at the end of the day or wait out a rainy day.