The Amateur Amateur: Going Mobile
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
I traded in my
old car and got a newer one. My old car was bright red and had lots
of antennas. My neighbors probably thought that I was the fire chief.
I was fond of my old car; it was my Amateur Radio training ground. I
learned more about radio from that car than from any other source.
Cars don't live forever, though, so I had to get a new one.
August 15, 2001
My new car was
wonderful to drive, but it had one glaring omission: It had no ham
radio. I'd saved the dualband ham radio from my old car, but I knew
that installing it would be a daunting task. Step 1 was to get power
from somewhere. The mobile radio's instructions were very specific:
- Do not plug your transceiver into the cigarette lighter.
- Do not connect your transceiver to your vehicle's fuse box.
- Do not tap into any of your vehicle's power cables.
- Do not pass GO; do not collect $200.
The control head
prior to the installation of the "variable-tension multi-strand filament
The instructions only approved of one power source--a direct connection
to the car's battery. That meant the power cable would have to go
through the car's firewall. I had visions of drilling and destroying
something vital, severing the brake line, rupturing the fuel line. I
suppressed a shudder. There was no way that I was going to do it
myself. I needed professional help.
I'd been down
this road before. I'd found a friendly mechanic to route the power
cables on my old car, but he had moved. I looked around for a new
mechanic, but kept finding only un
friendly ones. Basically, if
the mechanic could not find a code for the job in his computer, then
he wasn't going to do it. I eventually found a mechanic who was
willing to route the power cable for me for a simple labor fee (he
had no computer).
The mechanic was
somewhat hygienically challenged, but he did an excellent job. He ran
power cables to both the passenger compartment and the trunk. Without
being asked, he also put ring terminals on the engine compartment end
of the cables, making it easier to connect them to the battery. He
earned a warm place in my heart.
My mobile unit
had a removable front end, or "control head." That's where
all the knobs, buttons, and "fiddley" things were. Control
heads are for those of us who live in big cities. We hide the radio
in the trunk and leave only a snap-on control head in the passenger
compartment. Mounting the radio in the trunk was easy, since it was
dark back there, and no one would notice the big, ugly drill holes
Inside the trunk: a spaghetti mid-Western.
radio was mounted. All I had to do was to connect the power cable and
go get a beer, right? Not quite. The fun had just begun.
control head? I needed to mount it in the passenger compartment.
Otherwise, I'd have to operate out of the trunk.
I found a route
for the control cable, and with only a few skinned knuckles managed
to run it from the trunk to the dashboard. I connected the cable at
both ends with teeny-tiny screws. I worked very slowly and very
carefully and used a magnetic screwdriver. This
microscopic screws did not escape and fall into inaccessible
crevices. (As I said, I'd done this before.)
I then spent an
hour staring at the dashboard trying to figure out which part of it I
was willing to mutilate. My options were limited. I had to be able to
reach the control head, but I couldn't put it where it would be in
the way or covering up something essential--like the heating/air
conditioning vents, fuel gauge, clock or CD player.
approximately zero places.
I am good with
jig-saw puzzles, however, so I eventually found a spot for it. Hands
trembling, I drilled a couple of holes in the dashboard and mounted
the control head.
The speakers were next. My radio operated on two bands and had
separate speakers for each. In my old car, these had been mounted on
the rear deck. It had taken a lot of effort to install them, and I'd
made nasty holes during the process. I didn't want to repeat that
many spaces on the rear deck of my new car, though, and looking at
the underside of the deck, not many places where I could run bolts.
Three curious hook-like objects occupied the best spots. Even more
curious, each of those strange hooks sat right over a bolt. I checked
the owner's manual to see what they might be. Aha! They were
hooks, indeed, and designed to secure a child's safety seat in place.
Perfect! I had no children, so I could safely remove the hooks and
replace them with speakers!
Well, that didn't
work. I could not loosen the nuts and bolts securing the hooks. I
should have remembered Gary's First Law, which states "It takes
a special tool." I suspect that in this case the special tool
must be an atomic wrench. Eventually I used Velcro to secure the
speakers. (Don't laugh, it worked!)
The next item on
the checklist was to plug in an antenna, which was no big deal. The
radio was in the trunk, and I was using a magnetic-mount antenna on
the trunk lid. Very convenient. The most difficult part of that
operation was deciding where to stash the excess coaxial cable.
Your columnist in the trunk--but can he get out if the lid slams shut?
the power cable to the radio. I spent a lot of time wrapping up all
of the cables (there seemed to be a lot of them) and finding places
to tie them. This was, after all, the trunk. A lot of junk would
eventually find its way in there, and I didn't want any of it to snag
a loose wire and rip it out of the radio. Last of all, I opened the
hood and connected the power cable to the battery.
I climbed into
the passenger compartment and admired my work. I pressed the ON
button, and voila! My radio came to life!
detail remained. The control head cable was flopping around loose and
occasionally got in the way. My wife Nancy provided a couple of
variable-tension multi-strand filament immobilizers,*
and I used them to secure the cable to the dashboard.
And how well did the radio work? Well, that's a story for another time.
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 at [email protected].
© 2001 American Radio Relay League