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.    

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Deconstructed APRS

Deconstructed APRS
Anticipating a change in our ham fleet, I pulled the APRS equipment out of our truck today. I've run this set-up since Alaska, after I acquired twin Kenwood TM-D700A's from a ham near Anchorage. I picked up a used Garmin GPS III and the rest is nearly plug and play. I like the old Garmin III because it also shows the Maidenhead Grid Square. So, it's dual purpose when I'm running mobile or portable. 

My brother from another mother, Sean KL1SF, got me started in APRS several years ago. I have intentions of installing it in our new truck as soon as possible. I also want to finally put HF in the truck as well. The interior layout of this truck will better accommodate the VHF/UHF equipment along with the HF equipment (Yaesu FT-857D). I have a screwdriver antenna still in the box ready to go. So, once the weather warms up and I have some spare time, my installation will begin. 

APRS'n from Crater Lake National Park
In looking back, it's funny how it took me several hours to install all this equipment and it took me less than 25 minutes to deconstruct it. My deconstructed equipment, as seen in the photograph at the top, will get a brief rest but fear not, it will be beaconing again soon. I will be running the exact same setup in regards to equipment, but I may change my antenna mount. I originally had the mount on the hood but I may opt for a more permanent location on the top of the cab roof. This should extend my range and make for better receiving and transmitting. I have some time to decide on the mount but it will also involve deciding on a location for the HF antenna. I pull our camper so it will have to favor the front portion of the truck bed, if mounted behind the cab. I look forward to sending APRS packets out again but for now, I'm QRT in that capacity. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Same Parking Spot, Different Frequency! NPOTA, Crater Lake National Park, Take 2!

Crater Lake National Park, 02/25/2016

It was a beautiful day this past Thursday and I decided to take a long lunch and operate from Crater Lake National Park. As it turned out, it was a pretty good idea. I decided to park in almost the same spot that I parked during my last operation (see photo at top). 

Bed Mounted Buddipole
I put my Buddipole vertical antenna up in the bed of my pickup truck as seen in the photo to the left. I toss the counterpoise up onto the snow and run the feedline into the truck were I operate from the passenger seat. I drag my laptop computer with me and log using N3FJP software. I operate on battery power, utilizing my A123 batteries I purchased from Buddipole. During this outing, my output power was 60 watts and after an hour of operating, I still had life left in the battery. 

I concentrated on CW (Morse Code) during my last operation so I opted to work some SSB this time around. I'm not a huge fan of SSB, but once in a great while I'll find the microphone and hook it up to the rig. I'm not entirely sure but this operation may be the first time I've used SSB with my Yaesu FT-857D. A first for everything I suppose. And truth be told, I did break out my key and did make one contact before having to shut things down and head back to the office. It took me awhile to make my first contact but once he spotted me, it was not long before I began to have a few stations call.

Operating Station
The propagation was somewhat interesting and almost what I would call pin point propagation. I was plagued by lots of QSB but for the most part, signals were pretty darn good. I made contacts from coast to coast including one in Canada. I did experience the normal, those who tune up on your frequency and others who don't listen closely to your instructions. I will often times try to work some weaker stations so I'll tune an ear for them. This is where timing is key! And I refuse to acknowledge stations who jump out of turn when I'm attempting to log a weaker station. But things went rather smoothly and I only wished I had a bit more time to play. More extended lunch breaks will be in my future, when time allows of course. I enjoyed the mid day propagation.

Our Internal Weather Report

In case you were wondering about all the snow you see in my photos and videos, the weather report at left will update you on the winter so far at Crater Lake National Park. Since October 1st, as of this past Thursday, we have received 343" of snow. With any luck, we will stay on track of a normal year, as the winter snow pack is needed for this drought effected area. It's been a first for me, experiencing all this snow.  And to think that Crater Lake is still a little bit behind normal. So, with the break in the weather and a little more snow in the forecast for the weekend, I thought it would be a great time to get some fresh air and head to the RIM to catch some rays and waves! 

By the time I ended my operation, I logged 44 QSO's, all but one were Single Side Band (SSB). Not shabby for an hour or so lunch break. I know a few folks will think they are in my log, but if they did not confirm my information, they did not make it, period.  

My Dated Evidence of my NPOTA Operation for 2/25/2016
Once I got back to the office, I walked across the street to the Steel Visitor Center and picked up our park visitor guide. I stamped it with the passport stamp showing the date of my operation at Crater Lake. I'm there almost daily, which has me thinking of just leaving my portable equipment at my office. This way, if my work schedule supports it, I could sneak away for what I like to call a "Lakepedition" or "Rimpedition" to work any stations that can hear me during an extended lunch. Plus it's nice to get some fresh air from time to time. 

My log has been uploaded to Log Book Of The World (LOTW) and any hard copy QSL request I receive will be answered directly as time allows. I will also eQSL any contacts if I receive a request, but I only log in to eQSL once every 30-60 days as I'm not extremely active. I did shoot some video on this last operation so please checkout the video HERE. Thanks to those who called, sorry to those I missed but I'll be at it again. I normally post any possible activation on Twitter or the NPOTA Facebook page.