After the recent replacement of the SpiderBeam Jason KS5TX just couldn’t resist to drive down to Uvalde and have some real fun in the Worked All Europe RTTY contest. “A bit late notice”, he said; but… I think he planned it as such to have the station all to himself. And good for him!
He got off to a bit of a slow start. Conditions on 15 and 20 meters weren’t really that good. Main reason though: someone had left the shack a mess the weekend before; so that cost him several hours…
But: once Jason hit 40 meters QSOs came rolling in at the speed of light! He got a truck load of contacts there, holding his own CQ frequency; and even logged some QTC. That, with all the noise on 40, is downright impressive!
So on he went, no doubt on a bit of a QSO rate high, working all the juicy DX and multipliers 🙂
Jason only had one day to play; and K5WW double-booked himself so he took over on Sunday. For 2 hours; his internal clock is still on summer time. Logged some more QSOs, mainly USA stations. Nothing big there.
It’s safe to say that 40 meter add-on works like a champ! With limited time available we didn’t work any new DXCCs; but looking at the DX cluster spots KN5S got spotted 3 times in 9 minutes on 40 meters.
Yes, with 100 Watts. Not too shabby!!
One of those spots was 2.1 kHz off; but that’s what you get with AFSK.
Thanks for spotting anyway, bud!
All in all: not too bad for a bit over 7 hours of playing. A total of 192 QSOs, score pending. And more QSOs on 40 than 15 and 20 combined, that’s promising!
So… that new Spiderbeam? Somebody had to test it. Properly! Only candidate: yours truly, rusty K5WW. Who absolutely hates RTTY contests 😉
But: as luck would have it, the weekend after the new Spiderbeam was installed was also the weekend of the annual Japan Amateur Radio Teleprinter Society’s (JARTS) contest.
It’s quite fun, actually. Operators exchange their ages, YLs get to obscure theirs by using “00” instead of their real age and multi-operator stations send “99”.
Time was a bit limited this weekend; but I put in about 6.5 hours of time, 3.5 on Saturday afternoon and 3 on Sunday afternoon:
In those 6.5 hours I made 253 (hopefully valid!) QSOs on 3 different bands: 15, 20 and 40.
At times things went quite fast!
I logged a total of 26 DXCCs, with the majority in the USA. Of course, this being a Japanese contest they were well-represented too, with 56 of them in the log:
As stated earlier: in this contest we send our ages in our report. The most common age this time was 67. Ouch, you old farts! Just kidding… 🙂
Congratulations to “old” friend Jerry W4UK (Flanders!), Mr. Wire Dipoles Only, who turned 87 years young this year, and to KE0NHQ who at 37 years “old” is the youngest in this KN5S log.
I only logged a few dozen stations on 40 meters, even though I wanted to test the 40 meter addon longer. That was due to time restrictions, not being able to test it properly after dark. The first conclusion was that the 40 meter dipole works quite well; but is a bit noisy. But that’s not all that surprising given it’s 60 feet above ground level.
The real test came later, after I got back home. I logged into the main station remotely, just to listen to 40 meters FT8. I saw 3DA0WW (no relation) pop up on 40, called them once, and immediately got a (good!) report back. Better yet: a few days later I discovered that the TS-590 was set to 25 Watts!
In short: everything works beautifully; and I can honestly say that the 40 meter dipole puts out a killer signal – compared to what we have been using in past years.
Let’s hope the weather goes easy on us for a few years 🙂
Way, way back in 2014 we installed our first HF beam antenna: the Heavy Duty 5 band version of the Spiderbeam designed by DF4SA – a guy with a wicked sense of humor. We picked the Spiderbeam because of it’s features, price and because it would be a great club project. And it was, after 3 weekends of hard work – and fun.
Right off the bat, and 60 feet in the air, it performed admirably. So much so that we – almost – threw away every wire and vertical antenna we ever used. You can find the report on the construction and installation of that beam antenna by clicking here. (it’s a fairly long post; so if you’re a member of the “tldr” club… there’s medication for that).
It worked great, it really did. It even survived the lightning strike that destroyed the repeater antenna and the rotator and its controller in 2019. (not as long, no need to reach for your meds).
Unfortunately not too long after that we ran into another problem. Sky-high SWR on every band. We thought it was another lightning related issue (destroyed balun, maybe?); but it turns out that the problem was purely mechanical. After years of good service PL-259s can (and will) go bad. See this post from back in April of this year. And things worked beautiful again!
For about 3 days…
Because: mother nature – at least the Texas version of her – has a wicked sense of humor too. As in: she loves destroying things, on occasion. Yes, barely 3 days after we fixed the problem a severe thunderstorm rolled through town and pretty much took the Spiderbeam apart. One of the fiberglass spreaders cracked at the joint as it got whipped around by the wind; then the whole thing sprung back like an old mattress spring and threw just about every antenna element on top of the repeater antenna’s radials. Nice, not 🙁
And when that happens, things look like this:
No, it’s not supposed to look like that…
Hot Spiderbeam mess, anyone?
Don’t click on the photos. They’ll get larger. And it’s horrendous, to be honest. It shouldn’t look like this.
After a lengthy discussion between Jason KS5TX and someone he calls The Director it was decided to not simply fix the antenna by replacing a few parts; but instead to replace it all with a brand new one. A wise decision, for sure, given the condition of the 7 year old fiberglass tubes and the extra weight the 40 meter dipole add-on would create.
And so it was written, so it was done. Always-generous Jason bought a new Spiderbeam kit, paid for the optional wire/rope assembly service, and yet another lift. So he arrived on Saturday with some interestingly familiar looking parts:
Awe crap. That stuff again???
Yeah… that stuff again…
Jason even got us an amazing helper in the form of an old/new friend, who goes by the name of Jeff.
Jason’s initial idea was to crank up the tower a few feet, disconnect the coaxes, loosen the rotator and trust bearing bolts, then lower the tower again while he held on to the antenna assembly so the whole thing would just slip out of the tower, secure it to the lift cage, and he’d be able to maneuver both antennas and the mast into the center of the marvelously level parking lot.
Good idea; but it didn’t work out that way. The 10 foot mast weights more than both antennas combined; and due to it being a bit of a windy day it was impossible (and a wee bit dangerous!) to go that route.
But: luckily someone parked a nice Clark forklift around the corner! With it, once again Jason was able to tilt over the tower, hold it in place; and with the help of Reno’s lift slide the mast and antennas out of the tower, then lower it to the ground for us to work on. Or… dispose of, if you will.
That thing is down! Taking a break in the shade.
Let’s ditch this stuff.
Yup, we ditched that stuff. After looking at the whole thing up close we discovered that the fiberglass spreaders clearly suffered a lot in the always “sunny” Texas weather. UV light can be a b1tch, especially to spreaders that are painted black.
UV damage to the spreaders.
New parking lot surface could use some help too…
Hey, Spiderbeam guys? Maybe next time make white spreaders? Just saying.
On the other hand: it’s amazing how much of the original materials survived just fine. The rubber O-rings, the rubber strips underneath the hose clamps, and the hose clamps themselves all looked brand-new, as if they were installed yesterday. There were no signs of (solar) wear on the antenna wires, the monofil wires, nor the stainless steel hardware. German engineering at its best!
We started building the new Spiderbeam soon after taking care of the old guy. That went quite good, thanks to Jason buying the “plug and play” version this time.
Done assembling the new beam. Shadows getting longer.
At this time we checked the antenna’s SWR with the analyzer. Everything looked good; but due to the proximity to the ground and all the metal vehicles in the parking lot the SWR was a bit high on all bands, especially on 40 meters.
Just to double check we fastened the antenna and mast to the lift’s operator cage, raised it as far as we could, and checked again. SWRs improved greatly on all bands.
Fully assembled, raising it for a “dry run”.
Quite a big larger, with the 40 meter dipole added.
Yup, it’s quite big with the 40 meter addition!
But we were satisfied with the results. So much so that the guys doing the heavy lifting were ready to stab it back onto the tower. But that director guy advised against it; because it was getting close to dark and didn’t want to risk anything (or anyone) whilst working in the dark. So: Sunday, tower raising day.
That Director guy. Always taking a break. Comes with the chronic back pain, he said.
Sunday morning Jason triple-checked every nut, bolt, crimp and rope to make sure everything was secure, tight and straight. And before we put it back on the tower we made sure to put our name on it with the version number:
Or is it version 3.0 by now?
“KN5S 1.2” was born in April; but died 3 days later.
This is a close-up of 1 of 2 loading coils for the 40 meter dipole:
40 meter loading coil.
The Spiderbeam, now with its 40 meter addition, is quite a hefty beast. Even with the forklift and Reno’s lift it would be challenging to mount it back to the tower. Luckily Jason had yet another genius idea. He used an old HF vertical antenna, strapped it to the beam; and with the help of it Jason and Jeff were able to insert the mast back into the tower, trust bearing and rotator.
New Spiderbeam mounted. Repeater antenna is next…
Jason KS5TX mounting the repeater antenna again.
Repeater antenna back in place.
And with that we were ready to move the tower back into its “preferred position”: vertical!
I just love making videos of that. As they say in the “labor” department: one. more. push!
And another 10 minutes later, with Jeff doing a real workout on his biceps (that guy can swing!), our new and improved hotness was back up in the air!
HD 5 band Spiderbeam with 40 meter addon, ready to rock’n’roll. And boldly go where no one has ever gone before!
A quick test confirmed that the SWR was good on all bands and that we are once again ready to make some long haul QSOs. A few hundred digital QSOs later K5WW was able to confirm that even more. And it has survived the tail-end of depressed tropical storm Pamela already. You suck, Pam! 😉
Our sincere thanks to the Uvalde Memorial Hospital crew for not throwing away Jason’s custom-made forklift extensions! And our equally sincere thanks to Jeff; without him we couldn’t have done this in barely 2 afternoons!
Also: our even more-sincere apologies to James WW5XX, who – from now on – will have to use the attenuator buttons on his radios again. Sorry, bud. 🙂
And: our apologies as well to the winged creature that decided to build a nest in the tower while it was fully… nested. We hope to see you again.
Poor bird. We’re sorry…
Last but not least: our apologies as well to the Club President, who just bought a new truck, and we didn’t realize that would prevent him from helping us out.
Here’s to another half decade of killer signals! 😉
We did it! We finally did it!! After the beam not functioning – at all – for over a year and all the restrictions during the Coronavirus pandemic we finally got together to fix it – once and for all!
The fix was probably not going to be that hard or too time-consuming: a loose connector, a loose bolt at the balun, maybe (maybe) a fault in the balun itself. It couldn’t be more than that. We also had a bit of tightening to do at the rotator end; because for the past month or two the antenna was spinning in the wind a bit. And: after all this time we’d be able to install that 40 meter add-on that Jason ordered in pre-pandemic days. Woohoo!
So Jason KS5TX came down to Uvalde on Friday April 23 and rented a scissor lift. Not the 8-legged monster lift we got two years ago; but this one worked just as well, if not better.
Jason had some other work to do before we got started on the tower. He’d ordered a whole new set of batteries for our battery powered backup system and installed those first:
Saturday afternoon the whole crew came together: Jason KS5TX, Erik K5WW and Jack Skye. Overwatchers were Arnold and Joe. President Jimi AB5JK came and had a look as well.
Once Jack and Jason were in place Jason discovered this, as soon as he removed the PL-259 from the antenna balun:
Things don’t work like that, generally speaking. That obviously came apart, after many years of heavy use. So, the coax was brought down, into the shack, stripped a few feet shorter until it looked good; and then a brand new PL-259 was soldered to it. Hoisted back up, connected to the balun: perfectly good SWR. Great, problem fixed!
Next we tackled the bolts on the rotator. That was an easy fix; they’re just bolts after all. But the antenna needed to be pointed north again; and the coax needed to have a good loop in it so it wouldn’t snag the tower.
All of that took a while, with several full antenna rotations. And all of a sudden the SWR was sky-high again!
So the second “possible reason for failure” came to mind: broken center conductor inside the coax. We brought it down again, hooked up the analyzer and shook it around as hard as possible (after doing that on top of the tower!). The results of all that shaking weren’t conclusive; we might as well have stirred it too. So we decided to replace the whole coax run. Brand new cable. Connectors. All of it.
We ran that back up to the tower and it worked fine. For a while. Because once again, after starting to rotate the big gun, the SWR went nuts. Ugh…
Third possible fault: the balun itself. The thing is rated for 1 kW; but that doesn’t mean it can handle 600 W PEP from an FT8 signal. Hours and hours of it. Which your rusty old Secretary is quite guilty of. So we replaced the balun, which luckily we had a brand new spare of, courtesy of Jason’s always planning ahead.
But: that didn’t fix the issue either. In fact, the 7 year old balun looked quite new on the inside:
It’s at this time that K5WW started to doubt his soldering skills. All antenna wires were properly connected, we had a brand new coax run and balun in place… what else could have been wrong?
Yep, the new PL-259 on the new coax run! There was a short in it somewhere, as we discovered during another wiggling session. I guess that’s what can happen under pressure, in a bit of a rush to get things done before time runs out. Mea (K5WW’s) culpa.
One new PL-259 later and another run up into the tower we had a perfectly good SWR, after several rotations and even more coax rattling sessions. Success, finally!!!
And with that Murphy had been chased out of the building. For the time being.
We finished up fastening the coaxes to the building a bit after dark. The 40 meter dipole add-on would have to wait until next time. But at least our fabulous contest station was back on the air!
Until 3 days later, on Wednesday, a heck of an ice storm rolled through the area, from the Mexican border all the way into and beyond San Antonio. Much of the area got hit by 4 or 5 rounds of large hail, strong winds and even a tornado in a matter of 7 hours.
When I (K5WW) finally managed to get on the road to clean up the club shack (it was a mess when we left it on Sunday) I wasn’t expecting any damage outside. Our friend James WW5XX right around the corner hadn’t reported any hail.
But… they’d had pretty strong winds. And that’s an understatement. What I found, after pulling into the parking lot, is not pretty:
They did have strong winds out there. And it looks like they just pulled apart one of the spreaders and laid it on top of the rest of the antenna.
Back to square one. Or minus 1, maybe…
(any guns for hire out there: we have a hefty reward for whoever takes out Murphy – permanently).
View from a Bridge. I hope you can take some more.
Long time club member and friend Gary K5QOW passed away July 24, 2020. He was 77 years young. Many of us will remember him for his big smile and amazing stories, his many visits to the club meetings – often accompanied by his XYL Carolyn – and certainly the fantastic Field Day held on their property in Reagan Wells way back when the Coyote Amateur Radio Club was still in its infancy. It was a super hot day; but Gary and Carolyn did all they could to keep everyone cool and hydrated so we could have fun!
Please make sure to read his radio biography on QRZ.com here. He updated it just a month before he passed away; it is as complete as it gets.
Also, there are many more photos of Gary (and his family) at various ages on the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary website, rolled into a video; click here. After that click on the video underneath the obituary.
I visited with Carolyn today; and she wanted me to let everyone know that she is doing OK.
Thanks for the good times, Gary!
(and thank you Jason KS5TX for letting me/us know)