The Amateur Amateur: Ode to Spring

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
March 2014

Are you as sick of winter as I am? I suspect that most of you are. Here in St. Louis it has been snow, more snow, yet another layer of snow, ad nauseam. When I was a youth in Savannah, Georgia I always thought that snow was light and fluffy stuff. What I didn't realize was that all that cotton-like substance I saw in pictures wasn't really so nice. In reality, it's cold. And moreover, it doesn't stay fluffy. It rapidly turns into ice. You can't make snowmen out of ice. You can't walk on ice. You can't shovel ice off of your driveway. And you can't get out and do anything while it's still in its snow phase if it's coming at you sideways in a gale force wind. All you can do is stay indoors and pray that the power doesn't fail. Not so much fun after all.

Oh spring. I long for spring. I can hardly wait until spring sprongs and we can get out and do all those springy things we are dreaming of doing.

“Now, wait a minute,” you are thinking. “You're a ham radio operator. Can't that keep you occupied during the shut-in months of winter?”

SG-237, coax, wire

The replacement HF gear. All I really need now is tha agility of a monkey.

You might think so, but this year so many of my Amateur Radio activities are tied to spring.

Let's start with HF. Basically, I'm out of luck. Admittedly I've done very little with HF in the past, but I did have a transceiver and a wire antenna on my roof. All that, and most of the rest of my antennas, came crashing down during a storm last May. So of course, now that I can't operate on HF, I really want to. Virtually every day some interesting HF station or event is making its presence known. Also, the ARRL Centennial seems like an opportunity that simply cannot be missed. There's HF activity everywhere and I'm dying to be part of it. Oh yes, I'm itching to fire up my transceiver, dial through the static, and land on some amazing discovery.

If only I had an HF antenna.

Okay, reality check. As much as I'd love to put up some fabulous vertical HF antenna, I can't. The high winds that took down everything last May, plus the howling winds that we've had this winter have convinced me that I absolutely must keep a low profile antenna-wise.

I've already put up more modest VHF and UHF antennas. What prevented me from doing the same with a HF wire was that I had used a SG-230 antenna coupler. Unfortunately that SGC box got flipped upside down during the storm and became waterlogged. I sent it back to the company for evaluation and they reported that, sadly, it could not be rehabilitated. I ordered a SG-237 to replace it, but it took a very long time to arrive, and by the time it did the weather had already turned. There was no opportunity to get it up onto the roof.

So now I'm waiting for spring. I have the new antenna coupler. I have the wire. I have the coax. All I need is decent weather (and, ah, to lose a few pounds before I try to crawl around in the attic space).

County banner

St. Louis County provided this banner, so I guess that makes the merger official.

When I do finally get back onto the roof I'll also need to check the antennas that are already up there. I hear some buzzing and such on the VHF nets that I monitor, and when I attempt to transmit on the 6 meter band using my discone antenna I get a high SWR. Looks like I'm going to have to take down some masts so I can examine the antennas, connections, and coax.

I really don't remember anybody mentioning this stuff all those years ago when they were telling me what a great hobby Amateur Radio was.

And while I'm up on the roof, I have two weather station that should also be inspected. The whirlygigs (anemometers) have been spinning madly for almost two months straight, so I'd better make sure that they're not about to launch themselves into space. Both stations are solar powered, but one of them also has backup batteries, so I'd better look at those as well.

When spring finally arrives it seems that I'm going to be spending a lot of quality time on the roof.

Spring also means other kinds of severe weather, especially here in the Midwest. And if you're an Amateur Radio operator, there's a reasonable chance that you've taken weather spotter classes and know all about SKYWARN nets.

Yes, my wife Nancy and I are weather spotters. Not storm chasers, mind you. No need to go running around looking for them. If you live in this area, the storms will always manage to find you.

author hibernating

Until spring arrives, I'm hibernating.

This year, however, there is a new element to it all. Our Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) group is merging with the St. Louis County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) and SKYWARN groups. The policies, manuals, net scripts and everything else need to be examined and rewritten, and.. Oh! We just happen to have a writer in the group!

Okay, I'll be honest. I did volunteer. The works needs to be done and I want to be part of it. The pressure to get it all done quickly, however, is intense, so in this case I'm not all that anxious for spring to arrive. (Keep an eye out for, which is one aspect of the project on which I'm working.)

Actually, our ARES group is scrambling on several fronts. Besides the changes the mergers will bring about, we also need to work out the details for the exercises we want to hold this year. We've gotten a little behind, in no small part because it's hard to schedule meetings when there's a blizzard every weekend. We'll need to rush to catch up... if the parking lot glaciers ever melt, that is.

One last note about ARES. Having virtually no funds, publicity has always been a problem for us. We do set up displays at hamfests and on Field Day, but the people who see us at those events already know about us. This year, however, there are indications that we may be able to set up displays at much more visible spots, including the most prominent spot in the entire region (fingers crossed). If any of this pans out, we'll need to have a lot of brochures, business cards, and (sigh) buttons to hand out.

I make the buttons, of course. (Alright, alright. I did volunteer...)

Today, however, it's only eleven degrees outside. Sleet is making ticky-tick sounds against the window panes, and the furnace is laboring to keep the cold at bay. So just call me when spring has finally sprung with a resounding “sproing!”. Until then, I'll just crawl back under the covers and continue to hibernate.

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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