The Amateur Amateur: The Box in the Attic
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
The Box in the Attic
The Box in the attic is a SGC-237
Smartuner antenna coupler. It functions somewhat like an antenna
tuner, but sits at the antenna end of the coaxial cable rather than
at the transceiver end. Both sides of my wire antenna connect
directly to it.
My earlier columns frequently
mentioned the difficulties I've had trying to get a half-decent HF
antenna system put up at my no-towers, no-trees, not-in-the-yard,
forget-about-the-chain-link-fence suburban home. The most success I
ever had was when I put a SGC-230 on a mast and attached a wire
antenna to it. Call that one Box-prime. It worked very nicely. And
though I wasn't on the HF bands very often, I did make contact with
Cuba, Argentina, and Spain. Not too shabby for someone who wasn't
Box-prime's days were numbered,
however, as the mast it was mounted on came down during a severe
thunderstorm. Once I had retrieved it, I noticed that it made a
sloshing sound when I shook it. I opened it, and sure enough, it was
full of water. I shipped it to SGC and asked if it was fixable. No,
they said. Box-prime had moved on to antenna coupler heaven.
I eventually bought the current
Box (SGC-237), but was very leery of putting it on a mast, where (1)
it might get rained on, and (2) the sun might shine on it.
So I mounted it in my attic crawl
space, connected the two wire antenna halves, and ran them out the
attic vent to go hither and yon, wherever I could string them around
Not optimal. In fact, hardly
useful at all. Oh, I could pick up stations, but I could barely get
out to anyone. About the only operator who could hear me consistently
was Christian, K0STH, who lives just a few miles north of me. But as
I wasn't a big HF user anyway, I just ignored the situation.
Until I had lunch with Steve, KC0QMU one day. Steve is the Emergency
Coordinator of St.
Louis Metro ARES.
I'm his second banana, the Assistant Emergency Coodinator –
Operations. Among the many things we discussed, we lamented our lack
of any kind of structured HF plan. Knowing that we needed one, and
knowing it would require a hard-driving, no-nonsense project leader
(or at least a very obsessive-compulsive one), I volunteered to take
on the job. (I fit into one of those categories.)
Well, gosh. I do manage to talk
myself into some difficult situations. Here I had just agreed to take
on the task of coming up with a HF strategy, and I barely had any HF
capabilities myself. But I went ahead and polled our ARES membership
to find out who else used the HF bands, and then formed a committee
to experiment with various ideas.
We learned a lot (the main thing being that nobody but Christian could
hear me). We still experiment. I still come up with crackpot ideas.
Everyone dutifully tries them. But now more than ever, I need to get
antenna system up and running. I did try a few hamsticks as an
alternative, but they proved to be no more effective than my
Okay. Time to get serious.
The Box in a box after removal from the attic
I'd had success with Box-prime, I figured I might have similar
success if I moved the current Box out of the attic and put it up on
a mast (shudder!). My reticence wasn't because I thought my newer
masts would come down in some future storm. They're shorter, lighter,
and have much studier bases. And though I was somewhat
concerned about protecting the Box from the elements, my main
worry was how much effort it would take.
No, it's not that I'm lazy. It's
that crawling around in the attic space is a lot more difficult for
me now that it was years ago when I first installed the Box up there.
It would also require at least one and probably two trips to the roof
for which I would need to find a partner. It might even require a
long-ladder climb up the side of the house. My muscles started aching
just thinking about it.
But I made plans anyway.
Something I could do right away
was to figure out how to protect the Box from the elements once it
was up on the mast. It wasn't just a whim on my part. The SGC-237
manual recommends doing this. And having already seen what happened
to Box-prime when it was flooded, I didn't need any more persuasion.
So, what would I need? First, a
container. Second, mounting hardware. Okay, I started looking for
sturdy plastic containers. What size did I need?
just what were
the Box's dimensions, anyway? I could look in the manual....
Or, I could climb in the attic
and measure it. Foolish choice, really, but I would eventually have
to make that trip anyway to remove the Box from the attic.
I would go ahead and do the attic-climb. To be totally honest, it was
to ensure that I didn't procrastinate any further. Once the Box was
down, I would have
to get on with the rest of the project.
knew this would be tough. I exercise, but just can't seem to build up
muscle mass (fat,
on the other hand, is easy). I'm older and more fragile. I break
easily. So, I put on work clothes that covered as much of myself as
possible. I donned work gloves. I put on knee pads and elbow pads.
And to cap it off, I put on a helmet.
Access to the attic crawl space
is via an opening in the ceiling of the hallway. The opening just has
a slab of plasterboard covering it. I have to supply my own ladder.
And the only one that (1) fit into the tight nook of hallway where
the attic opening is located, and (2) is sturdy enough and will hold
my weight, doesn't quite reach the opening itself. I have to climb
up, move the plasterboard aside, then go as far up the ladder as I
can. That will get my upper body into the attic. After that, I have
to rely on my arms to hoist the rest of myself up.
An electrical box for the Box. It was delivered in two layers of boxes, literally a box in a box in a box.
to work. I didn't have quite as much luck this time though. It took
me several tries before my arms realized that, yes, I really was
serious. And boy, they let me know for days afterward just how
unhappy they had been about it.
As soon as my entire body was in
the crawl space I was glad that I'd decided to wear a helmet. It
saved my head about a dozen times while I was up there. Scalp wounds
are no fun.
around up there was pretty difficult as well. Parts of my body just
weren't getting the message that all
of me was supposed to be moving. So, with all my personal
impediments, it was gratifying that the hardware itself gave me no
trouble at all. I was able to disconnect and remove the Box fairly
Once down (and rested), I
examined the Box and realized that I could modify part of my plan.
Instead of feeding the coax from the transceiver and the Box's
control and power wires through the attic vent to the outside, the
Box's own coax and control wires were long enough to reach back
through the vent and reconnect. It would save wrapping a lot of
weather-proofing tape around the outside connections.
But it will require another trip
to the attic.
Nevertheless, Part One was done.
The Box was down.
I spent a while on the Internet
finding and ordering a plastic electrical box (small 'b') that would
hold the Box. I also ordered brackets to connect the box (small 'b')
to the antenna mast. It helps when you know the dimensions of
That's where the project stands
right now. The next step: Getting the Box into the box.
E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman