Back On The Bands Part 2: Portable Operation

Back on my first trip to Dayton in 2011, I was about to escape without spending a lot of cash when I found myself taking a long, hard look at the Buddipole system. This portable offset dipole looked well made, and it seemed to have a bit of a cult following with QRP operators. I was getting up the nerve to pick one up when one of my friends discouraged me from buying one. ‘They just don’t work that well’ is what he told me, and I ended up walking away.

Fast forward to March of 2019, also known as the third month of January here in the Midwest. And even though I’d just spent a bunch of money on parts for an inverted L antenna that were still sitting in the box, I decided today was the day, and I placed my order for a new Deluxe Buddipole. Within a few days I was out in front of my house, getting ready to go tailgate portable with the Buddipole from my driveway.

Getting Started

A close up of the ‘cold side’ coil.

Antenna assembly is pretty simple with easy to follow instructions. I didn’t time myself, I’d guess my first attempt at getting it up an on the air took me about 20 minutes tops, but I’d say I’m closer to the ten minute mark now. I was also impressed with the build quality as well. All of the threads on the coils, antenna arms, and whips seemed to be well made. No binding or stripping reported here. That same quality and enginuity can be found throughout the entire design. Even the guy rope connector seemed well thought out, but none of that means a thing if it doesn’t work.

The center tee. Notice the banana plugs used to feed each side. It can’t get much simpler than this.

After dealing with an uncooperative 12v battery (another casualty of the long, cold winter) and digging out an old power supply, I was finally ready to connect the coax and burn up some clouds. My first stop was where I always go first: the Maritime net on 14300. The net controller was in seven land, but I managed to work him on the first call. Nice! I told him what I was up to, and he gave me a signal report of a 5/7. Not too shabby for a coil shortened dipole! I was ready to work some more stations but it was starting to get cold, and 20m was already shutting down for the night, but I was still pretty happy. A trip from Iowa to the Oregon coast with a portable antenna is always a good thing, but I still had my doubts. could this antenna perform on a regular basis, or was this just a fluke?

Fire, a very important ingredient for all outside adventures in the early spring. Brrrrr!

Since then, I’ve spent quite a few nights out on my patio with the Buddipole and a newly acquired FT-891, and I’ve had excellent results, much better than I would have expected. I’ve checked in with several operators on the Maritime net, had QSOs with stations in California, Canada and elsewhere on 20 meters. Better than that, the antenna seems to work pretty well on 40 as well. I ended up working stations in Montana, Maryland, and even managed to have a quick QSO with Roberto, I2VRN, near Milan. Sure he was doing all of the heavy lifting, but still. Considering how bad the band conditions have been recently, I am very pleased with the results.

Getting ready to burn off some clouds in the back yard

One of the things that’s always intrigued me about radio is the ability to take it with you. Whether it’s just a night out on the patio with a portable or a full fledged DXpedition, I’ve always loved the idea of setting up at a remote location and seeing what I could hear. Now, thanks to the Buddipole, I have a portable 40 thru 6m antenna that seems to work pretty well. I don’t know how much exotic DX I’ll be working with it, but I guarantee I will have a lot of fun.

If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have bought the long version, with the taller mast and the longer whip sections, but those can be purchased separately, and will probably happen sooner than later. Most importantly though, I wouldn’t have waited so long to add this gem to the antenna arsenal.

Back On The Bands, Part 1: The Base Station

The eagle has landed

So there I was, enjoying another mind numbingly boring day at my office when I get an instant message from a friend of mine who lives in Arkansas.

“Dude, it turns out I’m not going to Dayton after all. How about I come up to Iowa and help you get an antenna put up?”
“You wanna drive from Arkansas to Iowa to help me put up an antenna? Are you high??”
“Well, yeah! But I’ll still ready to make the drive up. What do you say?”
“Yeah, OK. Sounds good to me.”

At this point, I figured it was just the weed talking and didn’t think much of it. Well, at least until Thursday that is, when my friend sent me another message that morning.

“I’m getting kind of a late start on things, but I’m leaving here now. I should be at your place this evening!”

I guess it wasn’t just the weed talking after all.

It’s been a few years since I was active on the ham bands. The base station got put into storage, the sloping long wire fell victim to a terrible hedge clipping incident, and the mobile antenna was taken off of the 4Runner and never installed on the new Tacoma. I did manage to check in with the Maritime net on 14300 a couple of times while using a portable magnetic loop, but those check ins were few in far between.

A Comtek 9:1 balun feeds the antenna. The ground radials will have to wait until a major excavation project happens later this summer.

Earlier this year though, I found the plans for a sloping inverted L that would fit inside the confines of my yard pretty well. I could use a walnut tree at the end of the driveway to hang the elbow of the L from, and run it over the driveway and across the width of my lot to a post on the other side. This should give me great coverage on 80, and it just might even give me some capabilities on 160, a band I’ve never used.

Excited by my plan to finally get back on the air, I called up the good folks at DX Engineering and soon had a box of coax and parts on its way. Soon I would be back on the bands, burning up the clouds with my FT-2000 and AL-811H amp, and I couldn’t wait.

And then it got cold.

Ridiculously cold. So cold that you could scrape the frozen RF off of the big loop’s antenna wires cold. Well ok, maybe not that cold, but if you live in the Midwest, you know what I mean. Needless to say I didn’t get my antenna up before the ground froze solid, and my plans came to a grinding halt. The box of antenna goodies sat in the corner unopened, and waiting for better days ahead.

Finally, with my friend’s truck in my driveway, a break in the never ending rain, and three whole days cleared off on my calendar, the time to put a bunch of metal up in the air had finally arrived. I drug out the box of antenna parts, rope, fishing line, sinker, and all the other stuff needed for the project and we got to work.

As you can see, we aren’t exactly breaking any new technological ground with this one. It is, as another friend would call it, “just a wire in a tree”, or as I like to call it, my 100% organic, bio-degradable tower. It’s definitely not fancy, but that’s the beauty of radio: it doesn’t have to be fancy to work. The question still remained though: would this antenna do what I hoped it would do? I mean, I was pretty confident this antenna would give me 80, but I ran out of yard before I hit the magic 120 feet mark. Would this thing work at all on 160?

So far, i would have to say the answer is yes. As I expected, the antenna seems to work on 20 through 80 with no problems, and that’s with our currently awful band conditions. As for 160? Well, I managed to make contacts with a few locals on Sunday afternoon. Ankeny and Altoona aren’t exactly exotic DX, but they sounded like music to my ears! We’ll see how it goes this winter, but I am pretty optimistic. All in all, I’d have to say I am very pleased. I still want to add a hex beam for 20 thru 10, but until that happens, this will work out fine.

My friend made it back to Arkansas Sunday night, where we had a brief 5/7 QSO on 80m. It turns out his radio is getting into his father in law’s microphone when he transmits. Maybe I’ll have to return the favor, and drive down there to help him get his radio back on the air.

Boris remains unimpressed.