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.