I haven’t been able to get out to do any portable operating in while. I had a few hours this morning before we headed out of town to spend the weekend with family, so I thought I do a quick trip to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The forecast was calling for rain, so my original plan was to operate from my truck with my antenna mounted on my bicycle rack.
When I arrived at the park, it was a mild 55 degrees (
) with no wind and no rain. I figured there won’t be many more days like this for a while, so I decided to head further into the park and operate from a picnic table next to the Schuylkill River. My antenna was a 30-foot vertical wire fed through a 9:1 unun. I used some nylon cable ties to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to a sign post. My rig was my trusty YouKits HB-1B.
I started out on 20 meters. The band was jam packed with stations working the CQ DX Contest. I’m not a big fan of the quick contest-type exchanges so, after working PJ2T, I moved down to the more peaceful 30 meter band.
W9ZN was booming into Pennsylvania so I gave him a call. I’ve worked Bill several times before from a variety of portable locations and it was nice to work him again. We had a nice chat until the band started fading.
Next, I moved down to 40 meters and called CQ. W2ZRA gave me a call from Eastern Long Island. We had a nice rag chew. Kevin was running 50 watts and I gave him a 589 signal report. During the QSO, he reduced his power to 5 watts and was still about 569.
After that, I needed to pack up and head home. My timing was impeccable; it started raining a few minutes after I got home.
It was a very brief but enjoyable morning to be operating outdoors by the river.
In my 40+ years in Amateur Radio, the AlexLoop Walkham was the first commercially-made HF antenna I ever bought. I wanted something for those spur-of-the-moment QRP outings when I want to get on the air quickly and not have to deal with putting wires into trees. The AlexLoop fit the bill nicely. There’s probably nothing novel or new here but here’s how I mount the AlexLoop for operation.
Tripod Mounting. While I was waiting for the AlexLoop to arrive from Brazil, I ordered a Vivitar VPT-1250 tripod from a vendor on eBay for less than $20. The VPT-1250 is super lightweight and stores nicely in the AlexLoop’s carrying bag. It’s a decent tripod for casual use but for something like a SOTA activation under windy conditions, you’d be better off with something more robust.
To use the VPT-1250, I removed the pan/tilt head. I cut a 4-inch piece of 1/2-inch PVC pipe, which I slide over the center post of the tripod. I added a bit of electrical tape to both the tripod post and the PVC pipe to give a slight friction fit. The base of the AlexLoop slides onto the PVC pipe.
Picnic Table Mounting. This is an idea I got from AK4LP’s QRZ page. For mounting to a table, I take the same piece of PVC pipe and insert it into a 1/2-inch PVC elbow fitting. I sanded the end of the PVC pipe so it was easier to remove from the elbow fitting.
I just use a 2-inch C-clamp to secure the pipe and elbow fitting to the side of the table. Again, the base of the AlexLoop just slides over the pipe. I store the PVC parts and the C-clamp in the tripod’s nylon carrying bag. When a picnic table is available, this mount goes to together faster than setting up the tripod.
If anyone knows the ham who came up with the picnic table mounting idea, let me know in the comments and I’ll make sure he gets credit for it.
UPDATE (11/16/2015): I remember now where I got the idea for the picnic table mount and have updated the post accordingly. Many thanks to Bob AK4LP for coming up with this simple and novel idea! Be sure to check out his page on QRZ.com for pictures of his picnic table portable setup. I had the pleasure of working him at that Smith Mountain Lake location back in 2013 while I was camping in Maryland.
One of my favorite portable antennas is a 30-ft wire fed through a 9:1 unun. This type of antenna generally the uses coax feeder as a counterpoise, since the 9:1 unun configuration provides no line isolation. Most of the time, this has worked well for me with no issues with stray RF getting back into the equipment.
On a couple of occasions, my Elecraft T1 auto tuner began to act up, refusing to load up on one or more bands. (Running through the T1’s diagnostic mode always seems to restore operation to normal.) I’ve also had one of my keyers behave erratically once or twice. Since this has only happened when using the 9:1 unun, my suspicion is that common-mode RF currents on the coax shield are the culprit.
My proposed solution for this is to use a line isolator between the tuner and the coax feeder. (Note: Using a line isolator at the antenna end of the coax would defeat the purpose in using the coax as a counterpoise.) A quick survey of my junk box stash of parts showed I had everything I need to build a line isolator from scratch.
RG-174/U coax (approximately 24 inches)
FT-140-43 ferrite core
(2) BNC-F chassis mount connectors
Hammond Manufacturing 1591MSBK Enclosure (2.2 x 3.3 x 0.8 inches)
This is a very simple project. You can build one in well under an hour.
The RG-174 coax is wound on the FT-140-43 core for a total of 10 turns. Take note of how the 5th turn goes across the core. This makes installation in the case a little easier. I used a couple of small nylon tie-wraps to hold the windings in place.
Drill the holes for each of the BNC connectors and wired up the choke, as shown. I used a 5/64-inch drill bit and had to use a reamer to get the holes to the right size for the BNC connectors I used.
Solder the coax to the BNC connectors.
To mechanically secure the core, I used a piece of two-sided foam mounting tape to mount the choke to the bottom of the case. As an additional precaution, I put a piece of packing foam on top of the choke before attaching the lid. This foam provides a slight downward pressure on the choke to prevent it from shaking loose in the case during handling.
I don’t have access to the equipment necessary to do any type of exhaustive testing of the line isolator. In lieu of that, I hooked it up to a 50-ohm dummy load and checked the SWR. It was basically flat from 160M through 6M. While that tells me nothing about how effective it is in reducing common-mode currents, I at least know I didn’t make any serious screw-ups in building it.
Well, this part will have to wait until I have a chance to get out for some portable operating. I want to make sure that the line isolator doesn’t affect the T1’s ability to tune my antenna. Since the initial problems were very intermittent, only time will tell if I solved those problems or not. I’ll be sure to update this post with any new insights I gain.
Since this article seems to get a lot of traffic, I figured it was time for a long-overdue update. Not long after this post was published, I tested this 1:1 unun in line with the coax to my 30-foot wire and 9:1 unun. As I suspected it might, it affected the tuning of the antenna. One or two bands wouldn’t load up properly. This made sense to me, since this antenna configuration relies on the shield of the coax for the counterpoise. So, there’s some RF on the coax shield by design. This device obviously is blocking some RF, as it should. I haven’t pursued it further and I still have done any measurements to determine its effectiveness. With a change of connectors on the output side, it could definitely be useful as a 1:1 balun, I suppose.
This is another one of those projects that took longer to write up than to build.
The top facing controls on “trail-friendly” radios like the YouKits HB-1B and others are very convenient when you’re sitting on the ground out in the middle of nowhere. When operating “picnic-table-portable,” however, the display can sometimes be a little hard to read. For those situations, I came up with a little tilt stand using some stuff I had on hand.
The tilt stand I came up with has a grand total of two parts. First is a steel inside corner brace. You can find these at any hardware store. The one I used is 3/4-inch on each side and 1.5 inches long. You can use whatever size gives you the amount of tilt you’re looking for. The other item is a small but powerful magnet. The one I used is about the size of a nickel. I secured it to the corner brace using some Goop adhesive. To use the tilt stand, just use the magnet to put it on the bottom of the HB-1B, as shown in the pictures.
This tilt stand works best when you have rubber feet on the bottom of the radio, as I have on mine. In fact, I added those the first time I used the radio, to keep it from sliding around on my desk.
This little gizmo will a permanent part of my HB-1B portable station for those “picnic-table-portable” operations.
I purchased a set of Palm Mini paddles for portable operating a while back. I love the magnet base, which attaches nicely to the side of my little YouKits HB-1B transceiver. However, in some situations — like sitting on the ground or operating from inside my truck — that isn’t always the most convenient arrangement for me. Here’s a little hack I came up with to solve that problem.
I purchased an inexpensive 6-inch by 9-inch, acrylic clipboard at my local office supply store. I used some GOOP adhesive to attach two steel washers to the clipboard, as shown in Figure 1. I made sure that the washers lined up with the magnets on the base of the paddles. Figure 2 shows the paddles attached to the clipboard. Figure 3 shows the clipboard in use during a recent outing. For transport, the little clipboard fits in the small plastic container I use for the HB-1B and accessories.
For less than $2.00, this little accessory makes portable operating a bit more convenient.
I’m a big fan of the Jackite fiberglass poles for portable antenna supports. I have two of them have have seen a lot of use over the years. Here are a couple of quick and simple hacks that improve (in my opinion) on an already great product.
Keeping the Cap From Falling Off
While the overall quality of Jackite’s products is excellent, there is one thing that I find annoying — the caps have a tendency to fall off when transporting the pole. To overcome this, I attached a velcro strap to the cap (Figure 1). The Velcro is something I had on hand in my junkbox. It’s about 8 inches long by 1 inch wide. I used a #4 machine screw with some flat washers, a lock washer and a nut (Figure 2). I used an awl and a small phillips screw driver to make the hole in the cap. I then attached two Velcro strips (the fuzzy part) on either side of the pole (Figure 3). When transporting the pole, just secure the Velcro straps (Figure 4) and you’re good-to-go.
This quick mod might seem kinda pointless to some users. In fact, I hesitated about writing it up. Anyway, you be the judge:
In cases when I need to bungee or strap the pole to a fixed support, I would first need to extend the top-most section first. This is because the top section sits down inside the other sections when collapsed. What I did was attach a key ring (aka split ring) to the eyelet on the top section (Figure 5). The ring I used is approximately 7/8-inch in diameter. So, I can strap the collapsed pole to a support, remove the cap, reach in and use the ring to pull the top section out (Figure 6).
Again, you might not see the value in this one, but I find it helpful.
Here’s a neat idea I “borrowed” from my QRP buddy, Ed Breneiser WA3WSJ. When I need my Jackite pole to be self-supporting and I don’t have to carry stuff very far, I usually opt for my Jackite ground mount stake. It’s quick and effective but too heavy to carry on a hike. Not to mention the need for a hammer (or large rock) to drive it into the ground. So, in situations where the ground mount is impractical, I use a set of guy lines to hold the pole up. Here’s a simple way that Ed came up with for securing the guy lines to a 31-foot Jackite pole.
It’s pretty simple to build one of these…
Pick up a 2-inch, Schedule 40, PVC end-cap at your local hardware store. You’ll also need some nylon line. I used some 1/8-inch braided nylon rope from my local Walmart store.
Drill a 1.75-inch hole in the top, using a hole saw attached to your drill. When slid over the Jackite pole, the guy ring should rest on top of the bottom (largest) section of the pole.
Drill three evenly spaced holes around the outside of the end cap. Use a drill size just large enough to accept the size of line you are using.
Drill a second hole about 0.5 inch to the left of each of the three original holes. So, you should wind up with 3 pairs of holes around the end cap.
Cut three pieces of line. I made each of mine about 9 feet long.
Thread the line through the end cap holes, as shown in the pictures, and secure the end with a knot.
For the other end of each line, I tied a taut line hitch. This allows you to adjust the tension on each guy line.
My completed guying kit consists of the guy ring with the lines attached and four small plastic tent stakes. Everything fits nicely in a zip-lock bag. (I sometimes throw a lightweight, plastic mallet/stake puller in my backpack to drive in the stakes.) To use it, I drive in one of the tent stakes where the pole will go and three equally spaced tent stakes around it. Put these three tent stakes about 5 or 6 feet away from the center stake. Take the bottom cap off of your pole and place the pole over the center tent stake. The center tent stake should prevent the bottom of the pole from kicking out. Attach the guy lines to the three outer tent stakes and adjust the taut line hitches for the proper tension. That’s all there is to it.
I also built one of these for my 28-foot Jackite pole. For this pole, I used a 1.5-inch end cap. I used a 1.5-inch hole saw to make the large hole. The hole was a bit too small, so I did some filing on it to get the proper fit. The final hole size is approximately 1.6 inches. Again, the guy ring should rest on top of the bottom section. Everything else is the same as for the 31-foot pole.
Thanks again to WA3WSJ for sharing this idea with me.