The Amateur Amateur: Little Lost TinyTrak
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
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was no longer valid.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
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
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
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
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
wither 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, 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.
(Email = [email protected])