The Amateur Amateur: The "Calm" After the Storm

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
July 19, 2001

In this installment, we learn how the proverbial calm after the storm isn't always so calm, especially when it comes to restoring your antenna systems after they've been damaged.

A hailstorm left me antenna-less and off the air. My main multiband antenna (a six-band vertical) had a number of bent elements, whacks, dents, and loose parts. Elements were missing from my police scanner antennas. The whirly-gig gizmo from my wife's weather station was missing a whirly. Even the TV antenna was bent and bashed. During the week after the storm my wife periodically brought me amputated antenna parts that she had found in the yard. It was a sad situation.

After I got through Phase One (damage assessment) and Phase Two (crying) I coaxed my wife, Nancy, up onto the roof, and together we wrestled down the main antenna mast. The hailstorm had damaged a lot more than just antennas. Roofers would be coming in a week or two, and I wanted to get the main mast down before they arrived. The salesman from the roofing company assured me that the secondary masts, mounted on the eaves of the house, would not be in the way.

The roofers arrived much earlier than expected. I was gratified by their speed and happy to have a new roof put up before anticipated rains arrived--but they were not very gentle with my equipment. They pretty much ripped my tripod mount off of the roof and pitched it onto the ground. They kicked the electronic rain gauge over the side, where it dangled by its cord. And they, along with the rain gutter repairmen who followed, managed to stomp all over my partially dismantled vertical and bust it up even more.

I wasn't too upset by the rough treatment of the tripod. It was very rusty and had to be replaced anyway. I had bought it from a popular electronics store. I was amazed to find that a product intended for outdoor use was built entirely of parts that could not tolerate exposure to the elements. My Elmer--who is also my brother--gave me the names of a few vendors and I was able to find a good replacement tripod (a weatherproof tripod).

Once the dust had settled from repairs to the house itself, Nancy and I climbed onto our new roof and installed the new tripod. Drilling holes in a brand new roof was nerve-wracking. I used copious amounts of roofing tar. (If that new roof leaks, it won't be my fault.) We then carefully lowered one of the eave-mounted masts. It contained my police scanner antennas and Nancy's weather gizmo. I had just enough spare parts to repair the scanner antennas. The weather gizmo (an anemometer, I think) was beyond repair, but I had bought a new one. Off with the old, on with the new. That part was simple.

Routing the cable for the new anemometer was not simple. It involved scrunching my body up into the attic crawl space, feeding the cable down an already overcrowded conduit, trying desperately not to put my foot through the ceiling, and lots and lots of sweating. After I consumed several gallons of water and cooled off for an hour we remounted the eave mast. Fantastic! At least we had something fixed.

I'm no longer young and agile, so I waited a week before doing any more antenna work. At least the remaining stuff didn't involve climbing back into (shudder!) the attic.

Bilal Isotrons

Your columnist, Gary, KB0H, tries to make sense of it all while it's still on the ground.

The vertical was a mess. I was fairly sure that I could repair all of the hail and manmade damage, but I wasn't looking forward to it. I never had much luck making contacts with that antenna. It was my very first HF antenna and I had bought it because (1) it was cheap, and (2) it was much smaller than any other HF antenna I'd seen. Even so, Nancy and I had a lot of difficulties getting it up in the first place. I hated going through all that again.

I had one other HF antenna--a Bilal Isotron--an odd contraption that looked like a cross between a birdhouse and a cylindrical box of a well-known breakfast cereal. My brother claimed that it could not possibly work, but even he had to admit that he heard me much clearer when I used it. The strange antenna worked only on the 40-meter band.

I wondered if I might be better off putting up a mass of similar antennas rather than re-erecting the multiband vertical. I drew a sketch of my original setup and another sketch of my new idea. The second sketch looked very odd, indeed. I showed the sketches to my wife. She immediately noticed that the second version was ten feet shorter than the first, and hence a lot less unwieldy. "Do that one," she said.

I ordered several of the oddball antennas, one each for 80, 20, 15, and 10 meters. My original 40-meter version had survived a direct hit from a hail stone with nothing more than a slight dent. I assembled the unlikely array, and Nancy and I erected the mast with no trouble at all. I saved the tuning step for later.

Meanwhile, I pulled up the rain gauge, which was still dangling over the side of the roof. Hmmm. Busted. I really didn't want to buy a new one, as that would require routing yet more cable through the attic. So I painstakingly disassembled the whole thing on the roof, lying on my belly while I poked, prodded, fiddled, and somehow got the thing to work. Two small holes in the roof and several more pounds of roofing tar, and the job was done.

Tuning the new antennas proved that I really didn't know what I was doing--a truly amateur amateur operation. I grasped the idea of SWR, but apparently there were also many other factors involved. I had a very long conversation with my brother, hoping for enlightenment. What he told me was that my antennas were clustered too close together and that I really shouldn't try to run so many of them from a single piece of coaxial cable. That meant more feed line, and hence more trips into the attic. Oh noooooooooooo!!!

Well, as it turned out, I didn't climb into the attic again. I didn't run any more feed line. The adventure had gone on long enough, and I was tired. Oh, eventually, I'll separate the antennas. I'll straighten up the coaxial cables. I'll get everything tuned properly. Eventually.

Perhaps after the next hailstorm.

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name--"The Amateur Amateur"--suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers may contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2001 American Radio Relay League


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