The Amateur Amateur: Little Lost TinyTrak

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
September 2019

Trunk mounted transceiver
The transceiver after it had been re-secured

It was with great sadness that I did not renew the Amateur Radio license plates on my wife's car, but she had passed away and her call sign was no longer valid. But doing so reminded of something more urgent that I needed to do, should have done much sooner. Her car had an APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) device in the trunk, and it was still transmitting her defunct call sign. I needed to either change the call sign or just turn off the tracker.

Well, I procrastinated for a while, because I knew that I would first have to clean out the trunk. Besides whatever my wife had put in there, I had included all manner of emergency gear, tools, and whatnot. (She never needed any of it, thankfully.) When my conscience told me I had better get on with it, I finally opened up the trunk and started hauling out stuff.

Back when the Corolla was new, I'd installed a dual-band mobile transceiver in it (see Don't Hurt My Car!). As with the APRS tracker, the main part of the dual-bander was located in the trunk. When I had finally cleared the trunk of the stored items, I was confronted with an unpleasant sight.

Two two unpleasant sights, in fact.

First, the screws holding the dual band transceiver in place had come loose, and the unit was just dangling there. One good sneeze and it would've collapsed.

Second, I knew that the APRS device I'd placed in the Corolla was a Bionics TinyTrak. But when I looked in the trunk, I didn't see it. All of the TinyTraks that I'd handled in the past were in blue translucent plastic cases. There was nothing like that in the trunk. But the car was still sending out APRS pulses, so, where was the TinyTrak?

I started following various wires and wound up finding a solid black case, apparently screwed to back wall of the trunk. I knew that must be the TinyTrak I'd installed, because it was the right size and was connected to a power regulator, a GPS device, and a two meter antenna.

Bionics TinyTrak
The Bionics TinyTrak hiding in plain sight

Whoa! This was beginning to look like a much more complicated task than I'd been expecting. So, I temporarily disconnected the APRS tracker from the power regulator and started working on securing the dual-band transceiver instead.

Working in the trunk of a car has never been easy for me. It's really a job for a smart robot. But all of the ones I found on Amazon or ebay were either more fragile or dumber than I was, so it was up to me. I sighed and started to climb inside. I'd done that several times in the past and it was never a pleasant task.

Well, a lot had changed since I'd last gone trunk-diving. First, I was nowhere near as bulky as I used to be. But, I was also no longer as nimble. I had to move very slowly and very carefully. It would've been very easy for me to break something, and I'm not talking about the car or radio equipment.

Re-securing the transceiver consisted of completely removing it, tightening the metal screws holding the mounting bracket, and then replacing the transceiver itself. The few positions that I could manage to get into could only be described as “awkward”, but at least fate didn't play any nasty tricks on me. The batteries on my light did not die. No screws went skittering off into never-never-land. And I did not skewer myself with a screwdriver. Other than finishing up in a position no yogi master would ever attempt, the transceiver portion of the trunk tasks went fairly well.

I turned my attention (and my body) to the TinyTrak. Staring at it, I couldn't figure how I had ever managed to screw it to the back wall of the trunk. Four tiny screws seemed to be holding it in place, meaning I must have used a correspondingly tiny screwdriver. But, how had I gotten around the assorted trunk parts that were in the way? And even more puzzling, how had I applied enough torque to drive the screws through metal using just two fingers?

Sticky tape
Sticky tape, amazingly resilient

It took a lot of experimenting, but I eventually found a screwdriver that would fit the tiny screws, and which, if strategically placed, would circumvent the trunk's rods, brackets and so forth. Very slowly, I began to remove the screws. When they were all out, I found that all I had succeeded in doing was to remove the cover of the TinyTrak. What was securing the unit to the trunk wall?

You're not going to believes this, but it was double-sided sticky tape. All I really needed to do was yank it free.

Well, that had been both embarrassing and a huge waste of time. But I went ahead and finished disconnecting the device from its external connections, and then set about the next difficult task.

Climbing out of the trunk.

After several false starts and a lot of twisting and turning, I emerged (fell out, actually) and closed the trunk. I put away my tools, then went to the bathroom to tend my various wounds.

The TinyTrak is sitting in my shack right now, waiting for me to reprogram it. As I recall, however, changing the settings in those little beasts is a major project in itself.

Maybe some other day.

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