Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Derailed: An Order of Amateur Radio Parts Goes Awry

Derailed Train. Hiram Percy Maxim's order goes off the rails.
Perhaps Hiram Percy Maxim had an order on this train.

I put in an order to one of my favorite ham radio outlets, Universal Radio a few days ago for parts to put a first-class feedthrough in for my antennas. It was supposed to arrive today. I was looking forward to taking advantage of the nice weather tomorrow to do the installation.

Unfortunately, it didn't arrive. The UPS status is "exception, train derailment." Yeah, that's a problem. According to the news it was hopper cars filled with corn that went off the rails near Albuquerque. Since I didn't order several tons of corn, I'm hoping either the car with my order didn't follow the corn off the rails, or that it was on a different train sitting in a railyard held up by the clean-up and all.

My order was mostly hardware that wouldn't be bothered by a tip sensor sort of event, but I also had a gift for a friend in there that I hope arrives in good condition. A radio, as it happens.

If it arrives coated in corn dust but otherwise OK, I'll try to make that a "feature". Like a corn-dusted Kaiser roll. Must be good, right?

Albuquerque Train Derailment

Update: The order has arrived, a day late, and with minor smushing of one corner of the box. Hopefully all is well inside and I can still get the feedthrough in this afternoon.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Amateur Radio Desk Complete!

I've finished the rolltop desk that I started restoration work on this weekend.

Long story short, I needed a real place to put my amateur radio equipment. It's been perched on a short bookshelf behind my desk for months now. Before that it was in the living room on an end table beside my easy chair. Neither were great set-ups, of course. Now I've got a proper place for my radio station to stay, and I can protect it from dancing cats with the roll-down top. Here's the desk in its place:

Newly refinished roll top desk for amateur radio.

As you can see, I've already got some amateur radio paraphernalia on the walls around the desk. A world map formerly owned by KA6C (sk) passed on to me by George, KG6LSB along with a really cool collection of KA6C's QSL cards (which will be taking up residence in this desk.) The clock is not atomic, but it's set to within a minute of GMT so that I can keep track of world time properly. I have my old completion certificates, including one of my code completion certificates from the 70s, and my three licenses on the wall as well (KD6KGV, AG6HU, and my present call, W8BIT.)

Today the oil should be dry enough for me to start fitting out the desk with power strip and a mass of equipment, so it'll never look this nice again. Until I put the top down. That's the nice thing about a roll top desk.

I will probably have to wait until next week to route my antenna cables into the house through the crawlspace and up through the floor under the desk. I won't be able to get to it today, and we've got weather blowing in tomorrow and through the weekend. Fortunately the desk is next to the window where my temporary feedthrough brings the cables in, so I'll be able to operate until I get the cables re-routed through the new feedthrough.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rolltop Desk Restoration for Amateur Radio

I needed a place to put my amateur radio stuff. Power supplies, radios, microphones, QSL cards, and so on. Through great effort, I was able to clear a four foot space in our "computer room", a spare room given over to computers and my electronics desk. But I needed a new desk to fill that space. The two I have available in the garage are both too large.

This Saturday was our amateur radio club's monthly breakfast. Afterward would be a perfect time to see what the local thrift stores have to offer. The closest thrift store to the restaurant where we hold the breakfast is also our family's favorite. But when my daughter and I stopped by, they weren't open yet. So we crossed town to fill the car's tank with gas, then swung by another thrift store. The door was open.

The New Desk's Base and Cubbyholes, So Far:

Use "View Image" to see full size original.

We walked in and had a look around. Then one of the workers told us they weren't open yet. We made our way to the door, then he told us it'd be OK. We were about 20 minutes early. There was a beautiful, if a bit well-used, rolltop desk there. I borrowed a tape measure, and sure enough, it's four feet long. The question was whether I could get it home. After a bit I discovered that the whole desktop would lift off. A few measurements, and it looked like it would fit in the car. So we bought it.

It was a tight fit in the car. The fellow at the Salvation Army Thrift Store was a great help. We got it in, and home.

My daughter helped me clean it up. I had her take some oil to it. The beauty of the wood started to show. After a bit, I realized that this desk would really look good with a bit of work. As much as I wanted to just get it in place and start loading it up with amateur radio stuff (and get the walkways in the computer room clear enough to get through), I decided to do some refinishing on the desk.

And what results! The desk is made of real hardwood. The color is natural. All it takes is some linseed oil to bring it out. I used a mild stain as well, but it only enhances the wood's natural color, it doesn't change it.

The Top, So Far:

Use "View Image" to see full size original.

I also put some new fabric on the rolltop. The old fabric was pretty awful looking. It's been hidden behind the cubbyhole insert, but I'm pulling that out and putting it on top of the desk to make room for the radios on the desktop. I picked out a fabric with a look to match the period appearance of the desk itself. It was a struggle to install the new cloth, but I managed, and the rolltop goes up and down well, still, though I'm planning on a little more tuning before all is done, there.

Now I'm looking at my power supplies and thinking I need to put some sort of veneer face panel on to keep them from looking too ugly for the desk. Next thing you know, I'm going to have to get another desk for my ordinary ham radio gear, and fill this one with beautiful vintage equipment!

It's going to be a couple more days, I'm guessing, before I can actually put this desk into service. But the work is well along, and having such a beautiful new desk is going to be reward enough for the sacrifice of walking around boxes for a few extra days.