The Amateur Amateur: Up, Up, and On the Air!

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
August 2021

Ladder against side of house
Getting ready to fling wires onto the roof
Mounting the SG-237
Mounting the SG-237 in its weatherproof box
Mounting standoff extender
Putting up PVC pipe to get the antenna wire around this mast
Bob cutting branches
Bob cutting branches in preparation for running an antenna wire to the tree
PVC wire lifter
(far right of image) PVC pipe to give the antenna wire a little lift on its way to the tree
antenna wire going to tree
Antenna wire coming into the tree. (It doesn't quite reach, that's a rope knotted to it in the center of the image.)

The Old News
I've owned a HF transceiver for about fifteen years now, but only used it a handful of times. It's not that I've been disinterested, I've just been plagued with antenna problems.... namely, getting one that works. Look back at my previous columns and you'll find story after story about failed attempts to get on the lower bands.

There was a brief period when I had something that worked. It was a SG-230 antenna coupler located on a mast atop the roof of my house. One wire stretched from the north end of my house to the south end (about 40 feet), and the other just draped down into a bed of ivy. Not elegant, but hey, I made contacts, some of them overseas. I especially enjoyed running PSK31 and SSTV.

And then a storm hit and brought down my admittedly precarious mast (see Mastless in Missouri) and I went without HF for quite a while. The SG-230 turned out to be waterlogged and unrepairable, and I eventually bought a replacement SG-237. To prevent it from suffering the same fate, I installed it in my attic rather than up on a mast.

That didn't work to well.

Neither did my efforts using hamsticks.

After years of procrastinating, I finally decided to get serious about getting back on the HF bands. There were several impediments, but I went ahead and drafted a plan. It involved moving the SG-237 antenna coupler out of the attic and up onto a more stable mast, and then restringing the antenna wires much as they had been before (see The Box in the Attic). That configuration had worked before, and I hoped that it would work again.

Of necessity, I had to break up the project into multiple parts. They needed to be performed one step at a time over a period of months. The first two tasks were -

  1. Retrieve the SG-237 from the attic
  2. Find a nice weatherproof box in which to place it

- which I had accomplish the last time I wrote about the project.

The New News
Continuing, the next steps were to -

  1. Move the antenna wires out of the attic and onto the roof
  2. Move the end of the coaxial cable out of the attic and onto the roof
  3. Extend the SG-237's control wires so that they could reach the roof

The coaxial cable already had enough slack so that it could reach where I wanted it to go, but the control wires didn't. I had to build an extension, which was made easier by the fact that I was already using Anderson Powerpoles to connect the wires to the SG-237. Once everything was ready, I fed the coax, the control wires, and the loose ends of the antenna wires out through the attic vent and let them hang down the side of the house. To get everything up onto the roof, however, meant getting out my long ladder and running it up the side of the house.

Oh, that was a real barrel of laughs.

Wind immediately blew the ladder over and sent it crashing down onto my air conditioner. Fortunately, both were very sturdy and suffered no damage. I reseated the ladder base and made the climb up, my pockets laden with tools.

I truly hope that no one was watching, and that there are no photos floating around the Internet showing me clutching the ladder with one had while trying to keep my pants from falling down with the other. It was not my most dignified moment. In the end all I could do was coil up the various wires and blindly fling them over the eave of the roof, then hope they wouldn't slide off and bash me on the head.

Somehow I survived the whole thing, and all of the randomly thrown wires and coax stayed on the roof.

Phew!

I managed to do these steps on my own, despite muscle weakness and creaky joints. Time for a shower, a lot of painkiller and a very long nap.

On to the next steps -

  1. Removing unused antennas from the mast I was going to use
  2. Mounting the SG-237 (in its weatherproof box) onto the mast

This required getting on the roof, which meant getting help. I have a friend, Bob (no call sign, he's not a ham) who is always willing to climb up there and give me a hand. We have to schedule the work well in advance and then hope that the weather is reasonable on that day, so the timeline for the project kept getting stretched.

The two unused antennas, a pair of dual-band J-poles, were attached to a homemade standoff located at about head-height on the mast. That's where I want to put the SG-237, so the antennas and the standoff had to come down. There was the usual monkeying around looking for the right sized wrenches and trying to get them into impossible spaces, but there were no injuries during the process (amazing) and the only damage was that the PL-259 connector on one cable broke. I wrapped the connectors at the end of the two superfluous coaxial cables in plastic bags and sealed them against the weather. I left them lying on the roof in case they are needed for a future project.

I had drilled holes in the weatherproof box for the mounting hardware and the various cables and wires. We got the box situated and mounted on the mast. (We only had to start all over again once. That's as close to perfection as I've ever come.) All the cables and wires easily slipped into the provided holes, and with just a little futzing around, connected to the SG-237.

I closed the box and put weather sealant over the holes.

Steps #6 and #7 had been completed.

Bob and I went to lunch.

Weeks later, we moved on to the final phase -

  1. Raising the antenna wires

I should note that although we had already connected the antenna wires to the SG-237, we had left them lying on the roof. It had been very hot that day, and given our respective ages, Bob and I often put a time limit on how long we stay up there. I usually call for at least one break long before we reach that limit, my body demands it.

In any case, I wanted to think about exactly how I wanted to string the antenna wires this time. When the SG-237 had been in the attic, I had one wire running almost straight north-to-south along the roof line. It had to make a slight detour to get around another antenna mast, and had been dangling about six inches below another standoff. I wondered if I could get it a little further away from that mast.

The other wire had run 90 degrees away, heading east down the slope of the roof. Just before reaching the edge, it bent back, running south and paralleling the other wire. For most of its trip it just lay flat on the roof. So, the whole antenna array had made a boxy U-shape, with one wire about five feet above the roof line and the other primarily lying on the roof. I kept wracking my brain, trying to think of a way to get it airborne.

The solution I came up with for improving the main north-south wire was to get a piece of PVC pipe, attach it to the metal standoff of the secondary mast, and use it to guide the wire further away from that mast as it detoured around it.

As for the other wire, I originally decided to keep the U-shaped configuration I'd used before, but raise the wire up off of the roof using two five foot long sections of PVC pipe glued to concrete pavers.

I bought the PVC pipes and drilled notches in them to guide the wires, as well as holes to mount one of them to the metal standoff.

At the last moment I decided that although my wire antenna would finally be entirely in the air, I really disliked the U-shaped configuration. I eventually elected to run the secondary wire to a tree in my backyard instead. Rather than a boxy U-shape, the antenna would have a V-shape with the wires diverging at about 45 degrees. Not optimal, but I concluded that it would be much better than anything I'd had before.

Bob and I got together and made it happen. The most laborious part was working in the tree, but at least we were in the shade rather than on the hot roof.

So, did it work? Am I back on HF?

Partially.

Reception is definitely much better all across the HF bands, there's no doubt about that. But I've only made a few attempts to transmit and have received no replies as yet. I need to brush up on HF etiquette, contest rules, what the various sub-bands are used for and so forth. This time around, however, I am fairly confident that my transmissions will get out into the ether, and not just be warming the roof of my house.



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