"World's Most Boring Story"
I assume no responsibility for boredom, confusion, disgust, or other harmful or uncomfortable affects brought about by the reading of this material.
If you've ended up here, it is very likely you have nothing worthwhile to do or it was an accident. Perhaps you should consider finding a hobby?
The HF Years
Well, First This...
Umm... What's Ham Radio?
I Wanna Be A Ham Too
Getting On The Air
Finding a Niche
The VHF Years
First Steps in VHF SSB/CW
First VHF DX
An August Surprise
Meteors are OK too
There was DX Everywhere
Improvements and Expanding Horizons
Things Would Never be the Same Again
Good but it Could be Better
A Real EME Array
WAS Or Die
A New Interest
Best of the Best Terrestrial DX
New Array and a Goal Reached
End of an Era
On The Air Again
Something Completely Different
Back To VHF DX
The Great Return
Still Got the Talent
I Need an Antenna -- Quick!
OK, But is This Thing Going to Work?
I Need Power
What Has This Got to do With it?
Here an Element, There an Element
Well, First This...
As a kid I had two hobbies... playing with anything electrical or electronic, and digging holes. I think digging holes was my favorite. I just loved to dig holes, and the bigger the hole the better. I started this at the age of 3. When I was 10 I dug the "mother of all holes"... it was four feet square and twenty feet deep. I would have kept going, but at 20 feet water started seeping in and covering the bottom of the hole. Since I didn't have any way to pump it out, that ended the mother of all holes project. Yeah, I know... it's a wonder that thing didn't cave in and bury me. Dad made me fill it in when he discovered it. Rats! Of course I proceeded to dig another, almost as deep, and this time I was more careful to keep it out of sight.
But I also liked experimenting with electrical things. My fourth grade teacher told me I couldn't wire up a string of Christmas lights to run on batteries, so I spent my entire Christmas vacation that year proving he was wrong. I've always been that way -- if someone tells me something can't be done, I set out to prove otherwise. Of course, I knew everything about electricity. That's why when I got that 12 volt transformer from Radio Shack, I was sure they had the primary and secondary markings reversed. So I wired it up my way and plugged that devil into a wall outlet. The explosion could be heard a block away. But it was fun! Come to think of it, I guess there were a lot of explosions in those early years.
Later, I traded hole digging for antique bottle collecting. Actually, the two sort of
go together, because one of the best ways to find old bottles is to dig them out of old dumps. I still collect
antique bottles, although I haven't devoted much time to it for several years.
Umm.. What's Ham Radio?
My sixth grade Science teacher had a copy of the book Junior Electronics And Radio Experiments that he kept in the classroom. In the back was a short section on something called amateur radio (which apparently was also known as ham radio). After reading it I still wasn't quite sure what ham radio was, but it sounded interesting. Besides, from what I could gather out of the book, hams played with electronic things all the time! Eventually I got my very own copy of that book, and although its jacket disintegrated long ago and the book shows many signs of wear, it still sits on my bookshelf.
One day, about two years later as I recall it, Dad told me he had discovered one of these "hams" right in our home town. He had known the man for many years but never realized what those antennas in his yard were for. It didn't take long for me to get introduced to Bob, K1OJN. I visited his "shack" (which curiously looked very much like your ordinary house trailer to me), where he had two radios... a big one that howled, squawked and whined a lot but on which you could hear stations hundreds of miles away talking; and a little one that sat quietly most of the time, but occasionally you could hear a conversation coming in crystal clear. That one was apparently called "two meters" (although I could only see one small meter on the front) and was only good for short distances. The big squawky radio he called shortwave. I knew about shortwave, but not this particular aspect of it.
Bob was very nice and gave me some addresses where I could write for more information on ham radio. I scurried home and set out to write to all these places. Not long after I had several little packets of information. I started to get some idea what this ham radio stuff was all about, but apparently one needed to get a license to talk on these things. There were books available, but I couldn't afford them. Fortunatly, I found several of them under the Christmas tree that year.
Meanwhile, my parents had found an old Hallicrafters S-118 shortwave receiver for me,
so I strung a piece of wire out the window and over some nearby trees so I could now listen to hams on the air.
The dial readouts on this thing left a lot to be desired, and you could seldom find your way back to a frequency
once you left it. I had one of those Radio Shack frequency counters of the time (this was the late 1970's), and
after some considerable experimentation I found out how to hook it into that receiver to solve this problem. It
didn't tell you the actual frequency, but you could calculate it easily enough if you juggled the right numbers
I Wanna Be A Ham Too
I wanted to become a ham, so I started studying for my license. You had to learn morse code, and some rules, and some theory about electronics and radio. There were several types of license you could get, and everyone said I should start with the Novice because it was the easiest to get. But I wanted to get my General license, so I set my sights on that. I had never been good with math, so some of that technical stuff got a little sticky. And that code... oh, that code was a nightmare! How could anyone learn to understand that stuff I wondered? Finally I did learn all the letters, but I could only copy at very slow speeds... and I needed 13 words per minute for my General license!
Some time had gone by (two years) and I had aquired other receivers. First a Hallicrafters S-40B,and then a real ham receiver -- a National SB300. One day I was tuning around 80 meters when Bob dropped by to check on my progress. I happened to tune in a CW station who was sending really, really fast -- 20 words per minute.... and Bob could copy it! That did it. I was going to increase my speed if it killed me. I doubled my efforts. I also aquired another receiver, a Heathkit HR-1680, which was quite modern and solid state. It was amazing that I managed to get all this equipment on such a limited budget as I had then.
Finally I was ready to try for my license. In those days you either had to travel to Boston
(which to me was the far side of the moon), or wait for the FCC examiners to come to Bangor. By the time I finally
got a chance to take the test, I could copy 25 words per minute! The code was no longer a problem, and I did OK
on the written test too. It was official -- I was going to be a ham!
Getting On The Air
My license would be arriving from the FCC soon, but I had no transmitter, and no money left. I figured it would be a while before I could get on the air. Then I got a call from a ham who wanted the HR-1680 receiver I had. He had an old Heathkit DX-100 CW/AM transmitter that he would trade for it if I was interested. I said if he could bring it over right away I would trade with him. Would you believe it? The very next day after I made this trade, my new license arrived in the mail. I would now become known by a variety of new names: N1BUG, Number One Bug, Bug-Man, The Bug, and a few others.
It didn't take long to string up a dipole. I had no way to switch the antenna from the
DX-100 transmitter to the NC-300 receiver... oh well, I could unscrew the connector and do it by hand to go from
transmit to receive and vice versa... it was slow, but it worked. I got on the low end of 80 meters to look for
my first contact. Mysteriously, I had fallen in love with code, and couldn't really understand why anyone would
want to waste time on voice modes. Oh, well, to each his own. At 0045 UT on October 22, 1981 I found Ed, W2RJW
from Oakland, New Jersey, calling CQ and I answered him. I was a ham and I was on the air!!! Several more CW contacts
followed that evening and in the days that followed. I got on other bands and worked some DX, I hooked up a microphone
and tried AM, I strung wires all over the back yard. I was a ham!
Finding A Niche
I tried a lot of things in those early years, but I had trouble finding something that would hold my interest for any length of time. Whatever I did, I soon got bored with it. DX on 10, 15, 20, 40 meters was too easy... it bored me. Ragchewing was OK, but there were only a few people with whom I seemed to have something in common... the notable ones being my new ham radio friends Brian, KA1GBB and later George, KA1HPJ. I was a net controller for one of the popular Worked All States type nets of the era, and that was fun for a while. I took a net control spot on local CW and SSB traffic nets, and I did continue that for several years. Contesting was great fun, but only on the lower bands, and perferably on CW. I was interested in old "boat anchor" equipment, so I used to tune the bands hunting for CW signals with a chirp or some other telltale characteristic and then call the station to find out what they were using.
There were some equipment upgrades during those years too. I saved up money and bought a Swan 350D transceiver. Its digital readout was nice. Later I saved more money and got a Kenwood TS-520S, which I liked very much. Eventually those rigs gave way to a Kenwood TS-820S when they became cheap enough on the used market so I could afford one. That was to become my main (and only) HF rig for many years, right up until the end of my operation from Milo in 1994 (but I am getting way ahead of myself). I enjoyed homebrewing equipment, and I was power hungry, so it wasn't too long before I built an amplifier using four 811A tubes. Many years later, in the early 90's, it would be retired and replaced with a new homebrew HF amplifier using a 4CX1000A.
About 1983, when I got that TS-520S, I discovered 160 meters. DXing and contesting on
that band was a lot more fun because it was more of a challenge. You had to work a little harder for DX on that
band. Finally, something that held my interest. I was an avid 160 meter DXer and contester until 1987 when the
80 foot pipe mast holding my inverted V collapsed in a snow and ice storm. There were several different antennas
for that band during this time, but I always went back to the simple inverted V dipole. Three years in a row I
operated the ARRL 160 Meter Contest using only a straight key. My arm has never been quite right since then! Many
nights I stayed up at all hours chasing DX on "Top Band". By the time of the antenna disaster, I had
worked all states and 127 DXCC countries on 160m. I would surely have put the antenna back up if I had not found
other, even more interesting bands by that time. 1985 and 1986 were very interesting times for the 160m DXer, what
with the low solar activity. I vowed that I would put the 160m antenna back up for the next solar minimum in the
mid 90's, but as it turned out that was not to be.
First Steps in VHF SSB/CW
For some considerable time I had been thinking about trying VHF DX. I had read about it, and the reports sounded very exciting. But I didn't know any locals who had tried it, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.
Wandering around a small local hamfest in August, 1985, I spotted an old 2-meter multimode transceiver -- a KLM Multi-2700. It was too much to resist! The very first thing I did when I got home was hook up that rig. I had a 100 watt "brick" amplifer that I had been using on FM, so I put that in line too. The only 2 meter antenna I had was a quarter wave vertical ground plane that I used for FM work. I knew this was far from being a proper antenna for SSB/CW work, but I had to try it. I listened and called CQ off an on for the next few weeks, but didn't hear anything. Not a peep. Silence. Was my receiver working?
I knew there was a VHF contest coming up in September, so I planned to do a lot of listening then. Sure enough, contest weekend rolled around and I started hearing signals! I even managed to work a few stations, both on CW and SSB. My first VHF SSB contact came just minutes into the contest, at 1812 UT on Saturday, September 14, 1985 with AD1G in Presque Isle, Maine, FN66. My best DX that weekend was only about 200 miles, but I was thrilled with that! I was also hooked. Monday following the contest weekend I ordered a preamp and a new antenna for 2 meters.
When my new antenna arrived, I wasted no time putting it together and getting it in the air. It was small (a CushCraft A147-20T, with 10 elements horizontal for SSB/CW and 10 elements vertical for FM), with a boom length of only about 11 feet. But it was to be a huge improvement over my ground plane. I put it up on a mast I had at the end of the house, above my 5 element 10 meter yagi (which was only there because I had aquired it in a trade and it looked impressive up there above the roof). The poor 2m thing looked lost up there! There was no rotator in those days. It was turned by hand, which involved going outside every time I wanted to change directions. The new preamp, a P144VDA MOSFET design from ARR, arrived soon after the antenna, and I installed it inside the Multi-2700. I had to remove the 29 MHz OSCAR up-converter to get the preamp in there, but that was no big loss since I wasn't using it anyway.
With those improvements, contacts became routine. I found I could work stations 200 to
300 miles away every evening, sometimes a bit more. And so it went for some time.
First VHF DX
On the evening of November 29, as I was monitoring the 2-meter calling frequency, I heard a faint sound rustling in the noise. I thought is was noise at first. It was a hissing, raspy sound, but intermittent. Then I realized it was someone sending CW! Finally the thought occurred to me it just might be one of those aurora-propagated signals I had read about. I ran outside and turned the antenna north. Rushing back to the rig I found that this indeed was an aurora signal, and it was now quite strong! I answered the CQ, and made my first aurora contact with W1LKH, FN41 Rhode Island. Several other contacts followed, with stations as far away as Pennsylvania! Wow! This added a whole new excitement to VHF!
In the months following that first taste of real VHF DX things went on pretty much the same. I monitored the calling fequency a lot, made a few contacts almost every evening. And occasionally there would be an aurora. These auroras were very exciting, and I started monitoring WWV on a regular basis to get a better idea when we might expect one. On the 7th and 8th of February (1986) there came a particularly intense aurora that lasted for many hours and brought DX the likes of which I had only dreamed of! There was even aurora in the morning hours! I worked the first, second, third, fourth, eighth, and ninth call areas, plus VE1, VE2, and VE3 during that one. After that I was totally hooked. I lived for the next great aurora. Nothing on HF had ever been this exciting!
Word was out that someone was active in grid square FN55. In April and May I got a few calls from operators anxious to work me for a new grid. They wanted to try meteor scatter skeds. I had heard about meteor scatter and it sounded like fun. I did run a few skeds durning the April Lyrids and the Eta Aquarids that Spring, but nothing was heard. Everyone assured me the great Perseids shower in August would bring positive results, so I could hardly wait. As June rolled around I kept a watchful eye on the television and an ear on the FM broadcast band. I had heard that Sporadic E occasionally reached into the 2 meter band and that some really spectacular DX was possible when it did. But there was nothing.
By now I had become an avid sun watcher. I kept daily records of the WWV numbers, and
I rigged up a set of binoculars to indirectly view the sun and made daily drawings of sunspots. Drawing sunspots
was boring in 1986 though, as that was the lowest point of the solar cycle. I read everything I could get my hands
on about solar activity and radio wave propagation, especially aurora.
An August Surprise
One sunny afternoon on the 5th of August, I was mowing the lawn when I decided to take
a short break. Mowing the lawn never really excited me anyway. Dad had the TV on, and as I passed through the living
room I noticed particularly intense sporadic E had appeared on channel 5. Upon entering my room where all the radio
gear was, I checked the FM broadcast band... and sure enough, there were strong signals all the way up to 108 MHz!
I quickly fired up the 2 meter gear and listened intently. At first there was nothing. Then all at once there it
was, W4ISS in Georgia, EM83, blasting in at S9+. 2156 UT on August 5, 1986, and I had just worked my best DX on
2 meters so far! In the next 30 minutes I worked a dozen stations in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama
-- all new states! Everyone was S9 or better too! If there was ever one particular moment when I realized that
HF would never offer this kind of pure thrill, this was it.
Meteors are OK too
I had a few skeds set up for the Perseids meteor shower the following week. I secretly hoped it wouldn't seem too mundane after that sporadic E opening. But the Perseids did not let me down. I worked several stations, the best distances being Indiana and South Carolina. This meteor scatter stuff was pretty amazing, and unlike the other VHF propagation modes, you had some idea when this was going to happen so you could set up skeds in advance and really increase your state and grid totals. Great!
By this time I had started thinking in terms of collecting as many states as I could,
and every so often I allowed myself to wonder, just for a moment, if maybe I would work all 50 states on 2 meters
someday. I knew this wasn't possible by any terrestrial propagation mode; the ionospheric modes (aurora, meteors,
sporadic E) were normally limited to 1400 miles, with longer distances being extremely rare; and tropo, it seemed,
didn't exist in Maine. No, I knew it would take EME (moonbounce) to accomplish that, and I knew EME required high
power and massive antennas. Or did it? I had heard of small stations, with not much more than I was running, working
W5UN, the 32-yagi megastation, and I was eager to try my hand at it. I listened on moonset occasionally, but never
did hear Dave.
There was DX Everywhere
I kept working all the VHF contests, and I was sure to be on hand for any aurora that dared come along! There was a tropo opening in October. I worked AA4KP in Virginia but I wasn't impressed. Singals were weak and it was a difficult contact. It was not at all like the tropo others enjoyed near the coast or in southern New England. The Geminids meteor shower in December netted more DX, as did the Quadrantids in January, 1987. This meteor scatter stuff was as habit forming as VHF DX in general!
In the Spring and summer of 1987 I experimented with low power on 6 meters, mostly CW with an old junker I had picked up. It was easy to work DX on that band, and it was fun... but not to the same extent that 2 meter DX was fun. It was too easy on 6 meters! I also had a lot of TVI problems with that band. Everyone wanted to watch channel 2 TV, and channel 2 was weak in the area where I lived. Of course, our neighbors didn't have cable.
There was a lovely sporadic E opening on 2 meters in July, and another weak tropo to Virginia
later that same month.
Improvements and Expanding Horizons
I had started thinking it was time to make some improvements to the station. I was still working with a very limited budget, so I didn't have too many options. I started collecting parts to build an amplifier; a pair of 4CX250B tubes. I wanted a bigger antenna too. I bought a Cushcraft 4218XL yagi and put it up in time for the Perseids that year. What a difference! More new states and grids!
With the new antenna I was routinely working 300 to 400 miles with my 100 watts. Auroras were starting to get more common as solar activity picked up. Besides, my 160 meter antenna had fallen down in a bad storm early that year, which left me with more time to concentrate on VHF DXing. I hardly missed 160. I had put that new 2m antenna on a 40 foot tower with a rotator too, so no more going outside to turn it.
By the September VHF contest (1987) I had somehow got an old homebrew 220 MHz trasmitter and receiving converter running. Both used tubes and the transmitter was crystal controlled running less than 2 watts. Nevertheless, I put up a homebrew 13 element 220 yagi. In the contest I worked more stations than ever on 2 meters, several on 6 meters, and three whole stations on 220 MHz!! Wow! Best DX on 220 was W1JR in FN42. The 220 stuff really didn't work well, and I only made one or two contacts during contests the following year. I did listen on 220 during the good auroras but never heard anyone. I eventually gave up on that band, as well as 6m.
With my new long yagi I listened on moonrise and moonset during the ARRL EME Competition weekends in October and November. WOW!!! I heard several stations... W5UN, KB8RQ, HB9SV, YU3WV... Oh!! I had to get more power so I could work some of this stuff!! I still have the tapes I made of those first EME signals. I listen to them every so often just to relive the thrill.
I had all the parts for my amplifier now, and I was busy constructing it. Oh, the noise
I made cutting holes for meters and tube sockets with a hand drill and a file! I completed it in early December,
and what a difference 600 watts made! I was very successful in the Geminids that year, and that thing kicked butt on aurora!
Things Would Never be the Same Again
Up to this point I had worked 26 states on 2 meters (24 of them with my old 10 element yagi). Little did I know how things were about to change.
Now I had some power, and was ready to flex my muscles. So I boldly checked into the 2 Meter EME Net on 20 Meters and made a sked with W5UN. Lo and behold, I worked him!! I worked Dave! EME!! Texas on 2 meters!! No, things would never be the same again, and I knew it from the very moment I completed that contact. Everything was different now. Still, Dave had 32 long yagis, and I wasn't at all sure I'd be able to work anyone else "off the moon".
The very next day, back on the EME Net, I arranged a sked with Ed, N5BLZ. He had only 12 yagis, so I was certain it must be a waste of time. But I had nothing better to do, so why not? When I heard Ed's signal off the moon I was so excited I could hardly breath. I think I was afraid if I did breathe it would scare that signal away! Anyway, we completed the contact. And things would never be the same again. Never.
I bought an ARR GaAsFET preamp to improve my ability to hear very weak signals. I installed it in the receiver where I had always had the old MOSFET preamp.
There was a lot of aurora that winter, and I made hundreds of contacts now that I had high power. But what I really wanted was more EME. In late January, I worked K1WHS off the moon. It was tricky because we could hear each other on tropo... and then, a little over 2 seconds later, we could hear the weak moon echo come back, slightly higher in frequency due to the doppler shift. I worked W5UN again, but this time I answered his CQ -- no sked needed!
Then, in late February I worked SM7BAE and UA1ZCL on skeds. Both contacts were quite easy,
both had good 16 yagi stations. Europe on 2 meters! Things would never be the same again!
Good but it Could be Better
Over the next few months I continued running EME skeds on moonrise and moonset with my single yagi, and worked a number of stations in North America and Europe. The smallest station I worked was Peter, SM2CEW, with his 6 yagis! Amazing! But I discovered that some of the better 4-yagi stations could hear me... I just wasn't hearing them. I was starting to want a bigger antenna and more power.
In those early days I got the moon rise and set times from The Old Farmer's Almanac. Pretty soon I could tell what direction the moon would be in as it rose or set by calculating how many days before or after New (or Full) Moon and knowing the declination of the sun for a given time of year.
Lionel, VE7BQH, gave me some tips on how to get more power out of my amplifier, and I
got it up to nearly 1200 watts output. I moved my preamp from inside the transceiver to the top of the tower, and
it made a big difference. I was amazed at how much difference it made. After all, I already had hardline feeding
the antenna, so the losses weren't all the great. I had plans for a larger antenna, and full elevation control
so I wouldn't be limited to moonrise and moonset... but I had to work a 4-yagi station first. On July 31 I completed
with KI3W, a 4-yagi station, on EME. Now I could start working on a new antenna. I had worked 16 stations on EME
with the single 4218XL.
A Real EME Array
I had been corresponding with Ron, N4GJV, about his 2 meter EME array of sixteen 3 element quads. Similar arrays had been used some years earlier by K6YNB/KL7, SK5ID, Ron, and maybe one or two others with good results. Plus it was inexpensive to build and I could get the materials from the local lumber yard and hardware store. I wanted to have it up before the first weekend of the ARRL Competition in October (1988). The design used wood booms and spreaders, with #12 TW copper wire for elements. I modified it for 4 elements.
During this time it hit me that I was going to need a way of calculating both azimuth and elevation of the moon once I put up a real EME array. Most folks used computers for that, but all I had was a Radio Shack PC3 pocket computer that I had received as a Christmas present a year or two earlier. It would have to do, and somehow I would have to write a program for it! I found a program intended to run on a programmable calculator in the ARRL Handbook, converted it into PC3 BASIC, and made some improvements. It was terribly slow, but it worked. I would let the program run, carefully writing down the results of each run in 15 minute increments. It would take about an hour to calculate the moon position for one day.
Construction of the new antenna started in late September, exactly four weeks before the contest weekend. Getting this ready in time would be a challenge. I bought wide boards because they were cheap, and used a circular saw with a home made guide to cut them into narrow strips for booms, element spreaders, and much of the supporting frame to hold the 16 antennas; coated all the wood with two coats of spar varnish; assembled the antennas; made phasing lines using Belden 8238 and 8241 75-ohm coax; built the support frame, azimuth and elevation rotators; all in a little over three weeks. I used a single Alliance U-100 rotator with a 4:1 homebrew bicycle chain drive for azimuth and a pair of U-100's with the main horizontal boom running straight through them for elevation. A 10-turn pot was used for an azimuth position sensor, and a normal 3/4 turn pot with a weighted pendulum attached served as an elevation sensor. The whole array cost about $200 to build.
So the thing was in the air a week before the contest. For the first time I heard my own
signal echoes return from the moon! I had finally arrived! I was a real EME'er! The remaining week before the contest
was spent working out several bugs in the system. The new array gave a good account of itself in the contest and
many new stations were worked.ed.
WAS Or Die
Now that I was doing well on EME, I decided my goal would be Worked All States on 2 meters. I chased the states at every opportunity. Naturally, I also worked every station I possibly could on EME, whether it was a new state or not! New states were easy to come by for a while. Getting up to about 40 was easy. After that, things slowed almost to a stop. There just weren't any EME stations in those remaining states.
New states might be getting difficult to find, but there was plenty to be worked on EME. The total of stations worked (EME initials) kept going up, and so did the number of DXCC countries worked. I never bothered to count grid squares. It just wasn't my thing.
Throughout the EME years, I was a regular on the 2 Meter EME Net, skillfully handled by
Lionel, VE7BQH and Larry K1MNS. I hardly ever missed a session of the net. Eventually, I was asked to fill in if
either of the regular net controllers was away on a trip or otherwise unavailable. I suppose they figured if I
was going to hang around I might as well earn my keep. Just kidding!! It was fun.
A New Interest
A friend (Brian, KA1GBB, who now lived in Michigan) gave me a used Tandy Color Computer 2, and right away I set out to write a moon tracking program for it. I shamelessly borrowed code from a BASIC program written for the IBM PC by Lance, WA1JXN. Soon I had a program that would not only make moon position printouts but also could track the moon in real time, making and displaying a new calculation every 5 minutes. Not only that, but it gave other information, such as the sky temperature (noise) in the vicinity of the moon, and distance between Earth and the moon (which varies somewhat). Over the next couple of years there would be several versions of that program, and at one point half a dozen other stations used it too.
KL7WE had made a presentation about Faraday rotation and spatial polarization offset at
the Central States VHF Conference a year or two earlier. Eventually I incorporated polarization calculations into
the program. In theory, stations with rotatable polarization on their antenna could experimentally determine the
best polarization for receiving the other station and enter this into the program which would then calculate the
optimum transmit polarization. I found working on the computer program almost as much fun as working DX.
Best of the Best Terrestrial DX
1989 was to be the best year of all for terrestrial (non-EME) VHF DX. I have memories of two openings that year that will be with me for a lifetime. Soem things you just can not forget.
Solar cycle 22 was nearing its peak. In March there was a sudden violent outburst of activity, several major flares and a huge Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). This captivated me, since by this time my fascination with solar activity and propagation was almost equal to the thrill of working VHF DX. But the excitement didn't end there! The auroras that followed will never be forgotten by any VHFer who witnessed the event.
There was aurora almost continuously from March 8 through March 20, peaking on the 13th and 14th when there was continuous auroral propagation on 2 meters for almost 48 hours. Page after page of aurora contacts went in the log. Then suddenly, around 2330 on the 13th, the aurora suddenly became auroral E with crystal clear signals booming in form the midwest at unbelievable strength! Although I don't personally lay claim to the honor, the December 1989 QST article on the Great Aurora credits WD9AHJ and N1BUG with the first 144 MHz auroral E contact in North America. All I can say is this was the most fantastic 2 Meter DX opening I had ever seen, and we may all be waiting a long, long time for another aurora like that! There were a lot of very tired VHFers by the time that one was over! The aurora was so intense it caused failures in electrical power distribution systems. There were majour outages in some areas, especially parts of Quebec Province.
But the VHF excitment of 1989 was not to end there. There was a spectacular, almost unbelievable week of intense sporadic E propagation (yes, on 2 meters!) in early July. It took place on the 4th, 5th, 7th, and 9th of July. On the 5th, one contact with WB4MJE, EL94 (1575 miles) stands out. Not only was this my best 2 meter terrestrial DX ever, but available evidence strongly suggests it was double-hop. Most spectacular of all was the opening on July 9. It started at 1400 UT to the deep south, and continued until nearly 1700 UT by which time it had moved slowly around to the west. You just couldn't work stations fast enough. It sounded like 20 meters during a major contest! One contact stands out on that day as well -- not because of distance, for there were many contacts over greater distances that day -- but because the station at the other end, WB4EFZ in EM94, was running an ICOM 202 portable, with just 2 watts into the built-in whip antenna indoors! His signal was S9 here in Maine! And to think some say it takes a lot of power and big yagi antennas to work VHF DX!
Somehow everything else pales in comparison to the great VHF DX openings of that Spring
and Summer. There were a lot of good auroras in the years that followed, and on rare occasions a tropo good enough
to work a couple of stations in the fourth call area. Sporadic E, however, all but completely went away after that
New Array and a Goal Reached
By the summer of 1991 I had worked 200 stations on EME. It was time for a new, larger array. It was expanded to 24 of the four-element quads, with phasing lines upgraded to hardline. This required a complete rebuild of the support, framework, and rotators. When the work was completed it was the most expensive single project in all of my experience with ham radio -- nearly $800 for an upgrade that added only 2 dB. Scary, considering that the original 16 quad array cost only one quarter as much. About this same time, a Microwave Modules transverter in conjunction with the TS-820S replaced the aging Multi-2700 transceiver.
It is nothing short of amazing what 2 dB will buy you on EME, though. With the new array I was able to work W2RS and other single yagi stations who were running less than 200 watts. The smallest of them all, by a narrow margin, was KM0A with a single CushCraft 3219 and 140 watts. Working the small stations became a special thrill, and I chased them whenever possible. Being able to work these small stations also allowed me to start increasing the state total again.
I had also experimented with a new amplifier that year, running three of the 4CX250B tubes. That project was a failure. I could never get it stable enough for reliable operation. About the same time I gave up on that one, I got an old 4CX1000 RF deck from WB5LBT. That became my amplifier from then on, putting out 1500 watts for as long as I wanted. A new power supply was constructed to handle the higher power. Parts for that were scrounged, including the two heavy duty "pole pig" transformers.
The last few states were hard to come by, but on April 12, 1992, a contact with W5RCI
in Mississippi completed 2 meter Worked All States. It was a dream come true.
In 1991 I had aquired an IBM PC XT compatible computer. The EME scheduling, once done by hand, had been flourishing under a new program developed specifically for that purpose by Mike, AF9Y and Vern, W9HLY. With my fill-in role on the EME Net, I needed a way to run the program. When my efforts to build a computer failed (miserably I might add), I received the gift of the XT from the gang (and I use that term affectionately!). It ran the EME scheduling program fine, and I became more effective as a standby net controller.
Naturally, the first thing I did when I got the new computer was start programming on it! For a few months I worked in Turbo BASIC, but Mike suggested I try Turbo Pascal. I did, and once I got the hang of it I liked it much better than BASIC. I wrote some simple utilities at first, then I converted my moon tracking program from Extended Color BASIC to Pascal (adding many new features of course). Much to my surprise there were requests to buy (WHAT??!) a copy of the program, and as a result of that, MM Software Systems was eventually born. But that is a story not worth telling. Programming was fun, though!
I spent untold hundreds (thousands would be more accurate) of hours programming and chatting
with the guys on the EME Net/VHF Net frequency. This may seem strange, but after a while it almost got to the point
where I couldn't program unless I was also listening to the VHF Net or chatting with whoever was on there, or setting
up skeds for someone.
End of an Era
I continued to work EME, meteor scatter, aurora, and whatever other DX I could find on 2 meters until the Summer of 1994, when operations from Milo came to an end. The station was dismantled and sold, all except for the EME array, to raise money for a planned move. Throughout the VHF years, there was a continued operation on HF, but the focus was on 2 meters. My final 2 meter totals were 500 different stations on EME, completed WAS, worked 74 DXCC countries and over 400 grids.
I moved a year later, to an apartment where there was no possibility of antennas for any
band. In 1996, two years after ceasing operation, the EME array was finally dismantled by a scrap dealer. That
was to me a sad occasion, but I had offered it to several hams, and none wanted it. My parents were about to move,
and the antenna had to come down.
On The Air Again
In late 1996, when it became obvious that another move was going to be necessary, I decided it was time to also try getting back on the air. I wasn't sure what I would be able to do about antennas, but was prepared to suffer with indoor antennas if necessary. I still had some odds and ends of parts on hand, and a QRP rig that I had picked up at a local yard sale for $5 because the owner had no idea what it was. I sold all that stuff, and with the money I bought a used ICOM 720A. I chose this rig because it had general coverage receive and transmit at a price I could afford at the time. I was already thinking of using it with VHF transverters in the future, and figured it might not hurt to be able to use any I.F. below 30 MHz.
As it turned out, I moved twice that Fall, finally ending up in Brownville Junction, just 9 miles from the original QTH in Milo. The apartment I selected had no restriction against antennas in the lease, and I didn't plan to ask permission. It was a difficult place to rent, and I figured as long as you don't destroy the place you can get away with a lot. I moved in a week before Christmas, and by New Year's Day I had installed a Hustler 5BTV HF vertical on the fire escape outside my second story apartment. I also managed to put up a 5 element beam for 2m FM.
This new start was so much like the first time around it was frightening. I settled in
on one of the 80 meter Worked All States type nets and proceeded to work all 50 states on that band that winter.
But it was too easy, and I hadn't figured out any way of putting up a 160m antenna.
Something Completely Different
Meanwhile, in February 1997, something unexpected happened that suddenly brought to life an old but long dormant project. For several years I had wanted to build a VHF repeater. Partly for the technical challenge, and partly because I live in an area where there still exist some holes where reliable repeater coverage does not exist. I had never had the money to persue the project on my own. In 1994, when the Piscataquis ARC was founded, the idea of putting up a club repeater was discussed and turned down. However, several of us who were interested in the project continued to discuss it among ourselves. One big problem was that we wanted wide coverage of a very mountainous region. This would require placing the repeater on one of the higher mountain summits and running solar power. We could design low power consumption receiver and transmitter strips, but the controller was a sticking point. An article describing the NHRC-2 repeater controller in February QST changed all that. A meeting was called immediately, and the Deepwoods Repeater Group was born.
As the group's technician, I started construction of the repeater. It was operational
by June, and was tested at various locations that summer (1997). The DRG had political problems from the start,
and ended up falling apart later that year. That is a story that is best not told at all. I had (foolishly) borrowed
money for the duplexer and other equipment, so the reapeater itself was still privately owned and remained in service
at our temporary test location in Brownville after the group disbanded. However, it was running on battery power
with no means of on-site charging, and as the weather turned cold battery failures forced the system to shut down.
A 5 year site lease was signed for the Brownville location, atop Stickney Hill, in late 1997. During the winter
of '97/'98 I reworked the repeater to allow running nearly 100 watts and a GaAsFET preamp. Commercial power was
installed at the site in July, 1998, thanks to the help of Gearge Dean, WA1JMM, who did much of the legwork. The
repeater is currently operational... 145.110, offset -600 kHz, requiring a 100 Hz CTCSS tone for access.
Back To VHF DX
Meanwhile, in the Spring of 1997, my friend Larry, K1LPS, (who had been instrumental in solving some last minute technical problems with the repeater project) offered a deal on an old Swan TV2 2-meter transverter. I still had a CushCraft 13B2 yagi, so the addition of the TV2 would get me back on 2m SSB/CW with about 100 watts! The new VHF station was up and running in June. A GaAsFET preamp was scrounged, and hardline installed later in the summer. DX was not great from the Brownville Junction QTH. It was once again near the solar minimum, so auroras were few and far between. A few stations were worked on meteor scatter. There is a hill to the southwest that blocks everyday tropo signals, so little is heard unless there is some kind of ionospheric opening.
I had operated the September 1997 VHF contest from the repeater site. On Sunday afternoon I happened to notice the moon rising and on a whim I pointed the antenna toward it and heard F3VS with no preamp! That really got the blood pumping! I attempted to listen from that site during the first weekend of the EME Competition in October, using a hand operated and very crude az/el mount, but the weather was miserable -- cold, rain, wind and fog. After two hours and only hearing I2FAK I headed for home. For the November weekend I rigged up the same crude mount at my apartment and heard several stations, still without a proper preamp. The antenna took a dive off the mount, falling 40 feet to the ground, and was substantially damaged. Oh well...
Repairs were made to the antenna, and a TenTec 1208 6m transverter was aquired (this actually
was a Christmas present). By the time the Januaary contest rolled around, a 3 element yagi for 6m, the 13B2, and
the 5 element 2m FM yagi were all in place on a new mast, and with a rotator (I had been turning things by hand).
A few contacts were made, but very few due to the surrounding terrain. Improvements were planned, and with help
from Dave, K2LME, construction of a new 4CX1000A for 2 meters had already begun.
The Great Return
Well, maybe not so great...
By October, 1998 I had added a GaAsFET preamp to the 2m lineup, and a modified Comtron (Gonset) 971A amp running about 300 watts out. My appetite for VHF DX had been whetted while I was operating with W1XR during the VHF contest in September. Using Jim's FO-12 yagi I had worked SM5FRH on moonrise with my little amplifier! Now, if I could just make an EME contact from my home station, I would consider myself a VHF'er once again.
When the first weekend of the ARRL International EME Competition rolled around, I was ready. Sort of. I had 250 watts of reliable power, which I could push to 300 if I was brave. I didn't have narrow filtering in the receiver, and I was having keying problems (the 0.6V drop across the keying transistor causes the IC720A to have problems and unperedictable power output on CW). Moonrise the first night, I heard and called several stations without success. Then, on my FIRST CALL to SM5FRH, an EME contact went in the log!! I was a real VHF'er again!!!!!! I heard several more stations that first weekend, but FRH was the only one who answered my feeble calls.
Having made an EME contact had me thinking about bigger
antennas, wondering how I might cram a little more gain into the limited space
available at my apartment. There was only so much I could do on that fire escape.
But, little did I know life was about to take another unexpected twist!
Life at the apartment in Brownville Junction wasn't working out all that well, and in the Spring of 1999 a unique opportunity presented itself. My parents had moved into a housing development, and I could rent the old house in Milo from them if I wanted to. This would be a much better living situation, but it wouldn't be all fun and games. The house needed major repair and renovation. The rent money that I paid would be used for materials, and I would do the work. It was a good deal all the way around and I would be able to put up bigger antennas again!
I moved in early May and had to get right to work digging up part
of the foundation to repair it. But I managed to sneak in a few minutes here and there to
dig a hole for a tower base! Besides... any excuse to dig holes!
(however, in the years that followed -- 1999 through 2002 -- I dug out approximately
100 yards of dirt from around the perimeter of the house, and some 40 yards of dirt from underneath
the center of the house... the latter by means of a shovel and bucket to carry the dirt out
with... and for some odd reason I became a bit less amused with digging during this period)
By June I had a Rohn
HBX32 tower standing in that spot with several antennas on it... 5 elements on 6 meters,
the 13B2 for 2 meters, and the 5 element beam for 2 meter FM. My mind was already
years ahead of this setup as I was already thinking about another EME array.
Toward the end of that first summer I restored and modified an old Hallicrafters transverter
that had been previously converted from 2 meters to 222 MHz. Thanks to K0XP for help with the
receive portion of it! To this I added an AM-912 amplifier
which would do approximately 400 watts on 222, and put an 11 element yagi on the little tower.
I was really getting back into the VHF DX game now!
Still Got the Talent
With my return to VHF DXing came a re-affirmation that I still had my talent for blowing things up. Actually I don't know if I can take credit for this one, since I never found the cause. But it sure was exciting!
I have a rack that, at the time, had three amplifiers in it: one each for 50, 144, and 222 MHz. They all used one 4CX250 or variant thereof, and all were run from a single homebrew power supply mounted at the bottom of the rack. There is a control and metering panel at the top of the rack. When the supply is powered up the filament, DC control, and bias voltages come up right away. Then there is a one minute delay before the screen and plate voltage switches on. So, one evening I strolled into the shack and threw on the power switch to allow things to warm up while I finished something I was doing at the computer in the living room. I flipped the switch and walked back to the computer in the other room.
Just as I sat down at the computer, the high voltage came up and all hell broke loose! There was a very loud snap and a flash of light that could clearly be seen even though I was in the next room with my back toward the ham shack! Immediately thereafter, even though my teeth were chattering and my knees knocking, I heard a reasonably loud, peircing shreak or whistle or... well I'm not really sure how to describe it as I have never heard a sound quite like it in my life. And if I never hear such a sound again it will be too soon. Meanwhile there were several more loud snaps and bright flashes. As I ran back toward all that chaos in the shack, I remember wondering why the hell the fuse didn't just blow already!? And all this chaos from 2500 volts? That's not even what I call high voltage! I got it switched off and collapsed into a chair to contemplate my narrow escape from the grim reaper. All right, so my nerves aren't what they used to be!
The cause was never determined, but there was some repair to be done. The screen regulator tubes (a string of three 0A2's in series) were completely blown away. The bases, complete with pins, were still in the sockets, but all I found otherwise was several shards of glass and bits of metal strewed about inside the power supply. The HV rectifiers were shorted. The relay that switches on the HV after the one minute delay was destroyed. The steatite (??) HV feedthrough insulator on the 6 meter deck was badly charred and partly melted, and the wire was burned off of it. The tube in the 222 amplifier later proved to be bad, and when taken out, rattled rather nicely when shaken. Perhaps a catastrophic HV flash within that tube started the meltdown, but I will never know for sure. The 222 amplifier was prone to various failures for nearly three years thereafter, having finally (er... I think?) been fixed satisfactorily in late 2002. By the way... the damn fuse was blown upon inspection after the incident, but it must have blown just at the instant I was shutting the thing down, because it certainly hadn't stopped all this nonsense up to that point! Confounded thing!
I Need an Antenna -- Quick!
Just as I was (sort of) nearing the end of my work on the house for that first summer, I learned there would be not one, not two, but five 2 meter EME DXpeditions coming up within the next several weeks. All of these would be new countries for me! I had been thinking that I wanted to get back on and complete 2 meter DXCC, and I just couldn't miss 5 new ones! By now I had made more modifications to the old Comtron and could get almost 500 watts out of it if I really needed it. That might be enough power, but I needed a much larger antenna and I needed it immediately! What on Earth was I going to do? I didn't have time to build anything resembling a proper array, and I figured I needed at least 19 dBd gain to have a reasonable chance of success with these expeditions.
I was aware that VE7BQH had designed a 98 foot long yagi that was intended to be built with a rope boom and hung between two supports. It had just about 19 dBd gain, and being a single yagi it wouldn't need a complicated set of phasing lines. The problem was, I needed to be able to point to several areas of the sky if I was going to chase these DXpeditions. Hanging something between trees was not an option! I got all my bits of tubing out of storage. Aluminum, steel, PVC... whatever, if it was tubing it got dragged out! My plan was to build a rotatable version of the VE7BQH monster yagi. Yeah, I know, that's crazy! I'm afraid the best defense is to plead temporary insanity! The thought of possibly missing all that DX action would be enough to drive any EME'r over the brink!
So the back yard, the side yard, the front yard, and the driveway were littered with pieces of tubing. I tried various configurations of tubing with many overhead support lines from the center mast, and finally arrived at a 100 foot boom that I thought might hold together for a few weeks. A few weeks would be all I needed! I proceeded to make 43 elements out of some heavy guage aluminum wire, and fabricated a very, very long yagi. Now all I had to do was get it installed... somewhere... somehow. Soon I had a 30 foot mast attached to one of the storage buildings in the back yard and rigged some ropes to pull The YagiBeast up into place. I had rigged a crude hand actuated azimuth and elevation mount that would allow me to cover a reasonable area of sky with this thing.
This was actually going to work. I just knew it was! And it might have, were it not for an unexpected increase in wind while I was pulling it up. The back of that very, very long yagi swung around and lodged in a tree about 25 feet above ground! Now what? In my desperate attempts to free it, the boom failed in several places simultaneously. It might have been an amusing thing to watch, if it were not happening to my new EME antenna! There were several jokes about antenna-eating trees and Jurassic Park! Mind you I don't say they were undeserved!
The YagiBeast had been damaged beyond repair, and to be honest I was no longer able to convince myself it would have been viable even for short term duty (temporary insanity is, after all, temporary). But I still needed an antenna, and I now had less than two weeks to build one! It seemed hopeless, but I was not going to admit defeat. How was I going to design and build a 19 dBd array in two weeks?
It took about 48 hours of continuous thinking to devise
a suitable plan. From my previous work with quads and quagis I knew that eight 8 element
quagis would give me the 19 dBd gain that I wanted, and I thought I could throw them together
in time and within my very limited budget. I quickly found that I could build the booms
out of PVC tubing and the elements of wire. There was an old pile of half rotted wood
on hand. I was fairly certain I could make a support structure for the array out of that.
I also had enough steel tubing salvageable from The Beast, along with some other scraps,
to build a stacking frame for the quagis, and was able to obtain enough CATV hardline for
phasing from W1XR.
Rotation would have to be via the "armstrong" method, and there would be several design
problems to be worked out during actual construction. The array was finished on time and
no doubt was one of the worst looking contraptions ever devised by desperate ham.
OK, But is This Thing Going to Work?
The Incredibly Ugly Array was up, but did it work? I was able to hear echoes occasionally with 400 to 500 watts, so it did work to some extent. Things did not go well trying to work the J6MB expedition. That is a very difficult part of the world to work from Maine as we are cross polarized with that area most of the time (meaning that whatever polarization worked for receiving, the opposite polarization would be needed on transmit). J6MB had switchable vertical/horizontal polarization but I didn't and I knew that was going to complicate things. After several failed skeds and many hours stalking them on random, it was obvious I was in trouble. I was able to mount another high voltage transformer outside my power supply and by running wires all over the shack (wires carrying high voltage, no less!) I increased the plate voltage on my poor Comtron amplifier and got over 700 watts out of it. Caution: I don't recommend running 700 watts with a single 4CX250B, but it is possible.
However, things started to look better by the first weekend of the EME Competition. R1MVZ, another expedition on my hit list, was working random. To my complete amazement, I got "QRZ?" from Alex in return to my very first call, and he got me on the second call! Wow! Rarely have I ever worked an expedition that easily! I probably could have made several more contacts that night had I not been too busy celebrating this major victory to care!
I ended up working 3 of the 5 new countries that were available in those first few weeks. Not great, but not bad either! There were dozens of other EME contacts, and I continued to be quite active throughout the following winter. Before the weather turned really cold I was able to install crude azimuth and elevation rotators. This was an improvement over armstrong rotation, but there were frequent problems with the azimuth drive chain slipping off the sprockets, especially in windy weather. It was, by all accounts, a crude setup. But it worked!
I Need Power
Give me power or give me... never mind, just give me power! RF power that is, and lots of it! By the following summer (2000) I had grown tired of running 400 watts on EME. The 700 watt arrangement was too dangerous to run all the time. K2LME was kind enough to loan me an 8877 RF deck to work another expedition that summer, and I rushed to complete the big power supply I had been building. Work on the 4CX1500B was slowly progressing, but it still had a long way to go.
The loan of that amplifier kicked the 4CX1500B project into overdrive.
I now remembered what a difference it makes to have lots of what we EME'rs call
"goo". My preferred method of EME operation is random, and you need power for that.
I can't fully explain it, but there is something about being able to call CQ on EME and
get answers that is positively intoxicating... and addictive! But I digress (however if you
have read this far you should be used to that by now). Later that year I did get the
4CX1500B deck finished. Now I could blast away at the moon with confidence!
Some time back I had aquired a KLM Echo 70 from N1RWY. Now the Echo 70 is about the most basic 70cm SSB/CW transceiver you could imagine, and they really don't work all that well. They do, however, work well enough to get me hooked on another band. W1XR and I used that rig for one of our contest efforts from the hill, and that did it for me... I was hooked. I bought a 432 transverter, and aquired an AM-1178 amplifier from K0XP. The AM-1178 is a neat little cavity originally employing a 4X150D. Replacing the tube with a 4CX250R makes for a neat little 70cm amplifier that will do 400 watts easily. It'll do nearly 600 watts if you want to push it. I was also lucky enough to get a 22 element K1FO yagi from N1RWY, so the little family of yagis on the tower grew again.
Of course you realize getting on 432 meant starting to think about EME on that band. Why can I never be satisfied with terrestrial DX modes? Anyway, I tried listening on moonrise during the EME Competition and heard a few stations! Wow, here we go again! This was every bit as exciting as those first EME signals heard on 2 meters back in the 80's. But, I wasn't able to work anybody. The best I could get was "QRZ?" from OH2PO, who got most of my callsign but couldn't quite put it together. During the 2000/2001 winter I made some skeds and did work a few stations on 432 EME! But I had two problems: the receive performance was poor due to operating on the horizon only (at 432 the Earth is very noisy compared to the sky) and the preamp was too far from the yagi. It was at the top of the tower, but there was a dB or so of loss between there and the FO-22's driven element.
By March I just couldn't stand it any more, so... despite having
3 feet of snow on the ground... I pulled everything off the tower and rebuilt the whole system.
The 6 meter yagi was eliminated, as I hadn't been using it anyway. The other yagis were
mounted on a small H frame complete with azimuth and elevation rotators (I used the
older model Radio Shack rotors that the mast goes all the way through, and built my own
az/el control box for them). The 432 preamp and relay were moved up to the yagi boom and mounted
close to the driven element. There is no way to adequately describe the difference
this made. Signals that were in the noise before were now Q5 copy. I worked stations on sked,
I worked stations on random. I was having fun with 432 EME. I even exchanged 559 signal
reports both ways on a random QSO with DL9KR! Incredible!
What Has This Got to do With it?
Absolutely nothing, that's what. This doesn't fit into this story at all, but it's here anyway.
By the Spring of 2001 I was entering a particularly stressful period of my life and I decided to take a break from ongoing repairs to the house. Radio activity also diminished considerably, as I spent as much time as possible hiking during that summer. After doing all of the "local" mountains several times over, I decided to set a goal of hiking all the Maine "4000 footers" that year. Enough of that here. If you want to see pictures from the hiking that summer, they are in the hiking section of the web site.
Oh... wait... I lied. Some part of this is relevant! I've been trying to block out this memory but now that it has come back to haunt me again I might as well put it here. Remember that Echo 70? Well, it seems I had this brainstorm to take that rig on some of my hiking trips. So I broke down a 21 element yagi that I had laying around so that I could strap it to my backpack. The pieces were still 4 feet long, and I can assure you they managed to grab every branch overhanging the trails! I announced that I was going up Whitecap Mountain with this setup and had several stations standing by to try to work me. I left home Friday afternoon and drove for 2 hours to get to the trailhead. I then made two trips to a suitable campsite about a mile up the trail. With the tent, backpack, food, antenna, rig, etc. I couldn't carry it all in one trip. The next morning I packed up only what I needed for my mini expedition and headed for the summit, approximately 2 miles from the campsite. Lest anyone get the idea this campsite was a civilized place, let me explain that it was just a small opening alongside the trail... a grassy area just big enough to set up a tent. The advantage of camping here was only that it would cut a mile off my ascent the following day.
Having somehow arrived at the summit ahead of schedule despite considerable tree interference (they really do love that antenna), I had plenty of time to set up. I worked W1XR just to be sure everything was OK. And that's when the battery failed. The rig would receive OK, but on transmit the battery voltage fell from 13 volts to less than 8 volts. This caused the poor old Echo 70 to put out about 100 milliwatts instead of 10 to 12 watts like it should! So I had a very nice afternoon listening to stations from all over calling me but being unable to work them! Aaarrgghhh!!! This was very educational though, as I had never before tried operating from such a high point. Whitecap is 3644 feet, which in this area is about the highest thing around. And it makes an unbelievable difference!
Naturally I got a nasty sunburn spending the afternoon in the blistering summer sun
on that exposed mountain summit. This made for an exceptionally fun trip down the mountain
that evening. Not only did I have all the overhead branches ripping at the antenna, but I also had
all the low bushes ripping at my sunburned body! Oh yeah, this expediton stuff is fun!
However... if you think I learned a lesson from this experience, I'm afraid you will be disappointed! I have been thinking
about trying it again!
On the evening of September 3, 2001 we had a real nice thunderstorm. Yep, a real doozy as we say. I blissfully slept through it like I always do. But, the next morning when I jumped in the car and turned on the 2 meter Freaky Mode rig, I discovered the repeater was down. Hmm, and it has battery backup... Upon driving to the site, I discovered that the transmitter was locked on, the amplifier was totally fried, and there was smoke damage all over the place. Closer inspection revealed most of the damage was confined to power supplies and the amplifier. Several components were completely blown away with only their wire leads remaining. One power transformer was incinerated right down to the iron core. Apparently this is where most of the smoke came from as its copper windings and paper insulation slowly burned away.
I was able to get the repeater running again within a few days, but it would later become apparent that subtle damage had occurred to several other parts of the system. For several months I was constantly repairing this, that and the other thing. By the time I got the other thing running, this or that would quit again! Finally the controller threw a fit and gave up even trying to hang in there. Fortunatly the PARC 147.39 portable repeater was available to put on Stickney Hill while I was rebuilding!
During summer 2002, an intense summer working on my house, I managed
to completely build a new repeater, amplifier, etc. With help from PARC, a new (larger!)
repeater shack was built and the system was once again working nicely by November. There are
some pictures and other repeater nonsense on the web site.
Here an Element, There an Element
What was that thing the lawnmower just threw at the house? It looked like PVC! Ah, well, then it was probably a piece of a quagi boom. Where did this gear come from? Well, let's see... my guess would be it fell out of the azimuth rotator (but, if not, then it's something that fell off the lawnmower when it hit that PVC). The EME array that was engineered to stay up for a few weeks survived almost 3 years. But by the spring of 2002 it was beginning to drop debris around the yard. Worse yet, the main wooden structural support was now almost completely rotted and in danger of collapse. So it was taken down. Much material has been obtained toward the construction of my "dream" array for 2 meter EME, but there remains much work to be done as of January, 2003....
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