The Amateur Amateur: Two Retirees on the Roof
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Target: The mast on the left
I'd wanted for some time to get on the roof of my house and start
improving the antenna situation up there (see my earlier column
Nibbling at the Master Plan).
As I wrote in that column, three things held me back:
It was much too cold to climb up there.
I had very little strength and virtually no stamina.
I did not have anyone to help me.
A month or so ago I'd found that everything had changed.
It was no longer too cold. If anything, the temperature and humidity
were tad high. (Hey, it's the Midwest. There's rarely any middle
ground here temperature-wise.)
My health had improved to the point where I had some
strength and some
stamina. I wouldn't be running any marathons, but I was pretty sure
that I could now handle getting up and down a ladder.
I'd found someone to help me.
Dremel tool to the rescue
That third element was the key. Bob, a long-time friend of mine, had
retired recently and found himself looking for things to do. Over
lunch one day, I'd floated the idea of him helping me with my antenna
projects, and much to my surprise he agreed. The reason I was
surprised was because Bob is not an Amateur Radio operator, and hence
had no particular affinity for antennas or messing around on
rooftops. He just wanted to help out a friend. What a nice guy!
Referring back to
Nibbling at the Master Plan,
the task we were going to undertake was some simple preliminary
antenna mast maintenance. The more complicated work would be done at
a later date.
When I say that the job would be simple
I do not mean to imply easy.
In fact, I was pretty sure that the task we were trying to do would
be difficult, and that our first attempt might not succeed.
Basically, what we had to do was to replace six sets of nuts and bolts that
were securing an antenna mast to a roof-mounted tripod. The existing nuts
and bolts were extremely rusty, and I planned to replace them with
new bronze ones. I'd already discovered that no amount of lubricant
or torque would budge the rusty ones. The only way to remove them
would be by cutting them off. Having already tried that many months
earlier, I wasn't even sure that I had any tools capable of doing the job.
While conferring by phone with Bob, he said that he had a Dremel tool with
metal cutting disks. I replied that I had the same thing, but had
found the disks to be fragile and ineffective. Bob insisted that his
worked fine. After each of us described what we had, we determined
that we were talking about completely different cutting disks. Ever
hopeful, I told Bob to go ahead and bring his Dremel and disks when
he came. In the meantime, I looked up the disks he described and
ordered a set myself.
A little persuasion from a Vice Grip
Anyway, we selected a date and time, and hoped that it wouldn't be raining
that day. (It's been crazy in St. Louis, with rain every single week
for months now. The favorite activities here have become repairing
levees and building arks.)
As the date we had chosen approached, I kept a close watch on the
weather forecast. I'm not sure why, because it had become wildly
inaccurate of late. I don't really blame the National Weather
Service, though, as it's almost like gremlins or UFOs or something
have taken control of the local weather.
The day finally arrived, and it didn't look like it was going to rain on
us. We were going to start at 9:30 AM, and I figured we'd finish no
later that 11:00 AM. The temperature was already in the lower 90s,
but there was a slight breeze, and the part of the roof where we
planned to work was in the shade. In other words, conditions weren't
ideal, but they were livable.
Bob was right on time. I took him down to my basement to show him my
shack, and to shut off the transceivers running my APRS home station
and Winlink Remote Mail Server. I would've been a very poor host if
Bob had gotten brain cancer while working near antennas that were
Finishing up in the basement, we went to my garage and pulled out my old
fold-up metal ladder. It's quite sturdy, but really difficult to
unfold. It's joints are as old and cranky as my own, and just as
painful to operate. I suppose I should try to loosen them up with
lubricant next time. About four or five gallons of 3-in-1 Oil ought
to do it.
Once the ladder was in place and unlikely to move, Bob and I crept up it
(like I said, we're both retirees) and began hauling our gear onto
the roof. I'd brought everything I could think of, but I knew from
experience that there are always two or three items that I'd need to
go back down the ladder to find. With both of us being compulsive
over-preparers, though, it turned out that the only thing we'd
forgotten was a can of lubricant. I quickly remedied that omission.
The rusty hardware finally removed
We surveyed the rusty bolt situation and decided that we should work on
one nut/bolt set at a time. We'd remove the rusty set and replace it
with a bronze set before moving on to the next one. The main problem
was that the parts of the nuts and bolts that we most needed to
access were out of reach to tools and cutting disks. We could jam out
fingers in there, but there was not way we could get much of a grip,
let alone unscrew recalcitrant nuts. We did eventually locate one
bolt that protruded further than the rest, and presented us an
opportunity to chop off its head.
I held the mast steady and Bob went at the bolt with his Dremel tool. I
was quite surprised by how effective it was, lopping off the head of
the bolt in less than a minute. Bob got the entire rusty set out and
carefully inserted the bronze set. I made sure that the mast didn't
crush his fingers.
Once cut, some nuts and bolts obligingly fell out by themselves, while
others required some physical persuasion. In all, it took two
Dremels, two cutting disks, a variety of wrenches (some doubling as
hammers), and a trusty can of oil.
One bronze nut managed to escape and skitter down the roof and into the
garden, never to be seen again. I had anticipated that and had plenty
of spares. One wrench tried to follow it, but was quickly recaptured.
None of the rusty parts even tried. They opted to have us haul them
To be truthful, I wasn't sure that I had enough stamina to last through
the entire job. As little as six months earlier, I had practically no
endurance whatsoever. It wasn't my age, it was the medications I was
taking. I knew that since I'd been allowed to stop taking them, my
strength had increased. I'd regained some musculature by exercising
daily, but I didn't know how long I could go before my stamina gave
One hour, as it turned out. That was much
better than the one or two minutes I would've lasted a year ago. Our
work on the roof took a little over an hour, and I did need to take a
break near then end, but I was back on the roof fairly quickly. That,
plus the job Bob and I had just done made me quite happy that day. We
brought down all of our equipment, folded up Cranky the Ladder, and
headed out for a celebratory lunch.
The rest of the Master Plan can wait until another day.
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