Monday, September 12, 2016

HF Installation Nearly Complete

Radio Layout
I spent a large part of this past weekend installing HF radio equipment in my truck. I had already completed my Kenwood UHF/VHF install, so HF was all that was left. I pulled my trusty Yaesu FT-857D out of its case along with the accessories and went into install mode.

The biggest decision was where to locate the HF antenna. I did not want to put it at the front of the truck as it would be an obstruction. The top of the truck was out of the question (although the top of the cab would make the best ground plane) due to height. So that left the side or rear of the truck. I had no desire to put a large hole in my truck, so I opted for mounting the antenna on the bed rail. I will outline full details of my install in a later blog. But for now, I was looking to set up the interior. Even though I have a large truck, there is actually very little room in the cab for mounting ham stuff. I try to avoid airbag paths so that even narrows my availability even more. I also wanted a location as discrete as possible, too. 

Mount Side View
I mounted most of the equipment on the passenger front side of the truck. My wife is already used to the encroachment of my equipment on her side. The equipment is mounted in such a way (as seen in the photos) that it really does not bother her. As seen, our truck has four cupholders in the front so I took over two of them. I mounted the Yaesu FT-857D on a bracket that allows me to adjust it when the cupholders are in use. It also allows me to adjust it in such a way to make it comfortable operating from either front seat. The antenna controller sits just above the Rigrunner and is within reach of the driver seat. I would not classify this as a temporary location but if it works out here, they can stay or they can easily be moved. Since I have one power source coming into the cab feeding the Rigrunner, it makes short work of powering all that I'll be running. 

I'm pleased with the amount of noise that I have with my diesel but I feel that I can alleviate more with better grounding. The Noise Blanker takes out most but some bands are worse than others. In looking through my stash of ham stuff, it seems I haven't any ground straps. So, those should arrive later this week. I also ordered a smaller microphone adapter cable as the one that came with the separation kit was about as long as my truck. Apparently, most people must mount these in vehicles and in their trunks? But for now, I'm can operate mobile and the only things left to do is work on some grounding and make a new cable for my key. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day Rig Installation

Antenna Installed
Took advantage of the US Labor Day Holiday to finally install my Kenwood dual bander & APRS equipment. Since my old truck was similar to my new truck, the install was pretty much the same with only a few challenges and changes. I had less room in the engine compartment to wiggle my hands into but it all worked out in the end. Once in the cab, a bit of spousal assistance got the job done. It was not long before I had power to the radio and I was actually hearing stations. My last broadcast on APRS was in February, so it had been awhile. 

Copilot Side
I wanted to tuck as much as possible out of the way and the photo to the right shows how I chose to install my equipment. The power comes in from the battery and first runs into my APO3, which automatically powers down my equipment so I don't kill my battery. From there, it feeds into my RIGrunner 4005 fused distribution box. This is the main power feed for anything in the truck. Using Anderson Powerpoles makes quick connections of anything that I have in the cab. I have one 25 amp fused connection left for my HF rig.

From the Driver Seat
My internal layout is a bit different only because I have Upfitter switches and onboard navigation. I did not want to block either one. My sacrifice was two of the four cupholders in the front center console. No big deal as these just normally collect loose change and dust anyhow. I run an older Garmin GPS III as it feeds data to the Kenwood in NMEA format. I also like it as it does Maidenhead Grid Squares so it's pretty simple to know my grid if needed. This is also powered by the RIGrunner. Everything is in view and after passing the spouse test, it's here to stay. When it comes time to install my HF rig, that will be installed on the driver side of the center console similar to the Kenwood seen in these photos. Just not sure where I'll mount the remote head as of yet. 

One of the biggest things I try to keep in mind with any install is, of course, airbag deployment. I hope to never experience that in our truck, but any piece of equipment can become a deadly projectile if mounted in the path of any airbag. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Planning Resumes After All Hardware Has Been Delivered

My Comet antenna finally arrived from Ham Radio Outlet. Now I have no excuse to put off doing my mobile installation of my VHF / UHF rig any longer. I decided to open the hood of the truck and start my initial planning of how I was going to run the coax from the antenna and also the power into the cab of my truck. I really don't like a sloppy install and I prefer to think out all of my options before I jump. I believe taking my time with some careful planning will pay off in the end.

I know I'm going to almost mirror the install in my old truck, in my new one. There are a few obstacles, as things are a bit different on my new truck over my old. First, beginning with the interior, where I had my control head mounted for my rig will not work in this rig. This has forced me to decide on an alternate location. It's ironic that I have this full size, one ton truck, but there is not much room in the cab of the truck. It goes beyond just throwing a rig into the truck. I'm conscious of airbag deployment (as everyone should) and of course, I try to be as inconspicuous as possible with the install without sacrificing ease of operation. I also need to plan on my future HF installation as well. I do have plans of running HF in this truck, which I did not do in my last. So, I need to keep that in mind as well. I will be installing my VHF / UHF rig first and then I'll move onto the HF side of things.

Rig Runner Fuse Block
One of the things I will do, as I had done previously, is run power from the battery to the Rig Runner pictured at right. I will also install a cut off switch that will power down all of the equipment running to this block, after a designated amount of time. This assures I will not return to my truck to find a dead battery from leaving any equipment powered on. I also run in-line noise filters to aid in reducing any noise from the electronics of the truck. So, once I install these items, along with the rig and my GPS unit, it does not take long before you use up some valuable front seat real estate. 

Another challenge is dealing with the cramped conditions under the hood. Gone are the days that you can climb into the engine compartment and work on anything. There are many places I can barely fit my hand in between engine components. As you can see from the photo at left, my truck has little room to work once you lift the hood. With modern emissions controls, today's engine compartments are a nightmare to most. This makes me realize how important my dealership is when it comes to working on my truck. I have no personal desire to open the hood and dig into this motor, even though I have experience with older engines. I would hardly give much thought with drilling a hole in the roof of my previous trucks but now with curtain airbags, one has to be very careful where they drill. 

Entry Point
Even though I can just barely get my hand into the engine compartment, this is where I have planned my firewall access point (where circled). I used this same large grommet in my last truck, but it was much easier to access on the old truck. I will run both the power from my battery and the antenna for my VHF / UHF rig through this grommet. The future HF antenna will be mounted on the bed rail of the truck and the coax will enter through the floor, coming up into the truck through the floor. This first install will be the most challenging part of my radio installation (the part under the hood). I could take the easy way out and run everything down and then up into the cab from below, but this would be the most direct access to the cab. The antenna will be mounted on the passenger side alongside the hood and the feedline will run across the engine compartment to the driver side. 

I'm looking forward to running APRS once again, having the ability to get back on the radio from the truck. As time allows, I'll be plugging away at getting my equipment installed, now that I have all necessary hardware. I think patience and planning will pay off, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my truck is radio friendly (not spewing RF, making communications nearly impossible). I will hopefully find out soon enough. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Almost Ready for my Mobile Installation...

Now just waiting on Antenna
I ordered new parts for my mobile antenna installation and so far, I'm about ½ way there. I ordered the antenna and mount from Ham Radio Outlet but so far, only the mount has arrived. They charged my credit card for both, so I sent them a note asking when I could expect to receive the mobile antenna. Hopefully I'll hear from them this week. The invoice did not mention anything about a back order, but maybe it's being shipped from another store? Either way, I won't be installing the mount until such time I have the antenna to go along with it. 

I opted for the Comet CA-2X4SRNMO antenna. The Diamond and the Comet had pretty equal reviews. I've had mobile antenna's from both so it came down to price. I'm looking forward to getting back to transmitting APRS and having VHF/UHF in the truck again. We don't have the best cellular coverage to and from work and good portion has none. So, having the rig in the truck is nice since we have better repeater / APRS coverage than we have cellular coverage. 

Project will move forward with the antenna installation when the rest of my order arrives. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Same or Different?

Old Truck, Old Antenna
I'm finally getting around to planning the antenna location / installation in our new truck. In our old truck (seen at left) I had used K400 mount with a Larsen 144 / 440 MHz dual band antenna. The antenna worked "okay", but I felt I could maybe do better. Obviously, not the best place for an antenna but it worked out pretty well. If I lived closer to the Grand Canyon, there might be a desire to put a hole in the roof and mount it there. But my plan is to put it in the same place but on the opposite side of the truck. Since I was looking at possibly replacing the antenna, I wanted to do some comparison shopping as to purchasing the same or different antenna. As with any product research, using the web to find actual user reviews was the first place I began.

Larsen gets great reviews but so does the Comet CA-2x4 SRNMO and the Diamond SG7500NMO. The advantage to the Comet or Diamond is that they do tilt allowing to lower the antenna out of harms way. Now, our new truck is a bit big for most parking garages, so antenna interference would most likely come from our garage or mother nature. 

I also have intentions of installing an HF antenna, but that will be behind the cab of the truck possibly mounted on the bed rail. My goal is to put the HF antenna on the driver side bed rail so I can visually see and adjust the screwdriver antenna while driving (if needed). 

My old Diamond K400 mount had seen better days so I'm retiring it. Figured I'd splurge on a new mount for the new truck. The old mount worked flawlessly and I love how it can be easily adjusted for nearly any angle.  

So, with three great antennas to choose from, now I just need to roll the dice and decide on one. I'm leaning toward the Diamond or the Larsen at the moment, but I've been known to change my mind a few times before I commit. In regards to my previous experience with the Larsen, the only issue I really had was the O ring in the antenna base. Since I took the antenna on and off several times, the O ring paid the price. In the end, gain and performance will be a deciding factor. 

Hopefully I'll be transmitting once again on APRS and have at the very least, VHF/UHF availability in the truck very soon. Between the mount and antenna, I'll be about $150 poorer. All the more reason to get what works best for me the first time around. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Planning Phase

Naked Interior
Having a new truck leaves me to contemplating equipment installation. This is essentially the same interior I had in my previous truck. The main difference now is, I intend to install an HF rig along with my UHF/VHF equipment. Yes, that could be one rig but I intend to have two. One will be my Yaesu FT-857D for HF and my UHF/VHF will be my trusty Kenwood TM-D700A. I'm looking forward to running APRS again. I find myself a bit...well...particular on where cables and antennas are placed. I prefer a clean install and everything but the important parts need to be out of sight.

My previous installation worked, but I think I can do a bit better. So, I'm looking at all aspects of the cockpit so as to decide on the most user friendly set up. I was thinking of trying to obscure the rigs but at the end of the day, any permanent antenna's will give it away, that something electronic is inside. So now it will be what works best without interfering with the front seat passenger or my operating room.  

Now that the weather is getting warm, it's time to complete the planning phase and move to the installation phase. It can be hard to drill holes in a new truck but being a ham, I don't give it much thought anymore. I just need to find my darn drill bits...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Cleaning The Shack & The Rock - A Non-CW Surprise

The Helm
Having received feet and feet of snow at the office this year, I'm certainly ready for spring! Just this weekend, two additional feet had fallen with heavy snow still on the way. I'm expecting another foot or more by the time I make it back to the office. I'm certainly not complaining as the west coast has needed all this precipitation. Hopefully this will help with the drought conditions and keep our fire season short and uneventful. 

In thinking of spring, I decided to spend some time spring cleaning the open floor plan of a shack that I have. In regards to ham radio real estate, it takes up a small corner in a downstairs room. The photo at left shows my operating position. Currently, my sole rig in the shack is my trusty Icom IC-703+ and Astron switching power supply. If you've read my blog before, you know I run QRP with indoor EndFedZ antenna's. 

Open Storage
Most of my open floor plan shack is used for storage. I have more downsizing to do which includes parting with more internal equipment. I need to find a local outlet for my external equipment (tower, Hazer, rotors and lots of feedline). I'll work on selling those as time allows but I've purged 50% to date. But I now have room to safely move around the shack. 

You can see two of my EndFedZ wires in the photo above. My 20 meter runs to the right and my 10 meter runs to the left. I also have a 6 meter EndFedZ that is out of view. I had a 15 meter wire up at one point and I may bring the 6 meter down for the 15. I think the chance of a band opening on 15 is much greater than 6 these days.

QSL Cards 
In cleaning up the shack, I came across my bureau cards for my Alaska operation (KL8DX). I have plenty more to complete but my goal is to make that more of a priority in the coming weeks. I need to get these out. I've changed incoming bureaus twice in the last 24½ months. My QSL bureau cards continue to follow me (as I keep my information updated at the various bureaus). 

I want to publicly thank the clubs, ham organizations and managers / sorters who continue to make sure I receive my QSL cards. And the big surprise was when I received my first bureau drop here in 7'land. The surprise was who the "D" manager happened to be. I received a nice note from Rock, NE7D with my bureau drop. I worked Rock several times on CW while I was in Alaska over the years. And come to find out, Rock grew up not far from my current QTH and is very familiar with this area. It was certainly nice to hear from Rock again as I've not worked him on the radio since I arrived back in the lower 48. Bureau drops are becoming less frequent as I'm less active and my cards take a bit longer to eventually catch up to me. I'm still excited when I get a drop even though it means a bit of work replying to them. But at the end of the day, that's all part of the ham radio experience. An experience that I'll never get tired of.