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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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:
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.
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!
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.
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! 😉
Oh, and yes: this time we did have fun building!