Friday, November 2, 2012

Ham Radio-Continued Incremental Improvements

It's been a while since I've posted an amateur radio update.

I had my rigs set up temporarily in my living room when I last posted. They got ousted over the summer, for the sake of letting visitors feel that they're not in imminent danger of electrocution when they come over. ;)

That was fine, my intention was always to move them out into a dedicated space in the garage. My plan for the summer was to clear out a section of the garage, put in some flooring and walls and build a little sound studio in a corner. Then reality struck.

Robbers Fire
First, we had a wildfire. That had me putting my effort into outdoor work. I'd already taken care of the normal maintenance for the property, but when a wildfire is within a mile of your home, suddenly you start seeing a lot more that can be done. So the work in the garage was deferred for the duration.

A number of our friends came over one day to help out, by the time we'd finished the property was in good shape. The hardest part there was, once the chainsaws got fired up, getting them to stop while there are still some trees standing on the property. ;)

Home Repairs
Next was some planned home repairs. Which turned out to be more extensive than planned. I started expecting to replace the sill plate on our patio. That work grew significantly once I got started, and it ate up all the time and money I expected to put into both the original repair and building up my ham shack in the garage.

Meanwhile, my radios were stacked in a location where I couldn't use them, and the antenna cables were run to a part of the house where there weren't any radios.

After the home repairs were complete, I tried to continue with the original ham shack plan, but it just wasn't going to happen. The money for lumber and all was spent, and I just wanted to get back on the air. Also, there's a good likelyhood we're going to be moving out of this house within the next year or two, so the more elaborate set up I'd planned is looking less reasonable.

Fallback Plan
Instead, I decided to come up with another idea. But first, I moved over the cable for my 2m antenna to where I could hook it up to the radio in its current location on the other side of the house. I started to plan a new HF antenna (I still have zero contacts with the original 40m dipole I put up, mostly because I've been off the air all summer because of the points listed above.) The new antenna idea oscillated between an 80m dipole, a 40m loop, and an 80m loop. My daughter (KJ6TFT) and I went out and measured tree locations on our property. It was a low-energy activity that let me start getting my ham mindset going again.

Among the things I was looking for was an antenna that would tune up on more bands. My coax-fed 40m dipole would do 40m and 15m, but after a couple of near-but-not-quite contacts on 10m I wanted something that could radiate more efficiently on other bands. There are a number of ways to manage that, and I've gotten halfway there on more than one. :)

And there was still the issue of having a place to put my radios.

Well, the further along I got, the clearer it became that if I was going to get anywhere, I would have to divide my work into two lots: stuff that had to happen before the winter weather set in, and stuff that could be done regardless of weather.

The end result was that after playing around with fishing line and a bow and arrow for some hours, while seeing the first storm coming in on the weather reports, that I dropped the new antenna project for the time being and focused on making improvements in my present antennas to change them from the "get on the air, quick" configuration from last spring into a "likely to stay operational all winter" configuration.

As it happens, that turned out to be the right decision.

Upshot
I'm running long, so I'll save details for later. But last night I was able to check into a 2m net for the first time in months. I'm using a set-up that can keep me on the air all winter, at least. There are a couple of tweaks I still want to make before there's snow on the ground, but none of them are critical, just things to make the setup nicer.

Also, I've made some changes to the 40m antenna and I should be able to get on the HF bands again with a temporary set-up this weekend, and I should have things settled into something I can run with all winter within the next week. The antenna looks better than ever to my antenna analyzer, and I'm hoping it gets some signal out. I expect to be putting a call out to some locals over 2m to see if I can arrange my first HF contact within the next few days. At worst, I'll fall back to making some 2m simplex contacts and start collecting grid squares. I may only have a J-Pole, but so far I've only got one square (CM99mb), so anything is a step up.

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