Recent Updates

Wow, hard to believe I haven’t updated this blog in almost a year. Here’s a quick update…

The tower has been up for over a year now, and I’ve worked a lot of DX. Starting from scratch back in March of 2013 I’ve managed to work DXCC Mixed, Phone, and CW, and on three bands. All of this via LoTW. I haven’t filled out a single QSL card, nor do I miss the tedium. I’ll eventually have to bite the bullet and send cards to the DX I’ve worked that isn’t, and probably never will be, on LoTW, but I’m not looking forward it.

It’s the week after the Visalia DX Convention. I drove down early on Saturday morning and stayed the day before driving back up to the Bay Area in the evening. It’s about a 3-1/2 hour drive, but it beats staying in a motel. I met up with several DXers I met at last year’s convention and came home with a much lighter wallet as I ordered a Flex-6500 SDR rig from FlexRadio, who was exhibiting at the convention.

The new rig arrived this morning and I spent the evening rearranging the shack to make room for the 6500.


The rig itself arrived dual boxed and the gorillas at UPS didn’t manage to mangle it. The smaller box contains a FlexControl — a small box with a VFO knob and three buttons that Flex was offering as a show special.


Here’s what’s in the box–basically just the rig, a DC power cable, an Ethernet cable, a software CD, and a hand mic.



Here’s the rig sitting on the desk as I’m getting ready to hook it up. The DC power cable came with Anderson Power Pole connectors on one end and ring lugs on the other. I cut the ring lugs off and replaced them with 45A Power Poles to match the 30A switching supply I also picked up at the Visalia convention. After that bit of work, the rest was a simple matter of plugging cables in and installing SmartSDR-Windows on the PC.



Here’s a shot of everything setup and ready to go. The Flex is much smaller than the FTdx-5000 it displaced on the desk and weighs about 1/4 as much. You can see SmartSDR running on the monitor. I have two “slice” receivers open — one on 15M JT65 and the other on 10M SSB. I’m listening to SSB stations on 10M while simultaneously working JT-65. The Flex-6500 has the ability to open four slice receivers on any combinations of bands.

The box just in front of and to the right of the 6500 is the FlexControl. It interfaces to the PC running SmartSDR via a USB cable. The large knob is the VFO knob and the three buttons on top change the function of the large knob. With almost all aspects of the 6500 controlled via the SmartSDR application on the PC, FlexControl is a concession to those who miss knobs, especially that big, smooth VFO knob, on traditional rigs.

Working digital modes couldn’t be simpler. No cables or sound cards are required. SmartSDR includes an application called DAX which creates eight virtual sound cards on the PC and makes it easy to pipe receiver audio to digital apps such as Fldigi and WSJT-X. Total setup time to get these digital apps configured and running was about ten minutes.

It was time to head out for dinner after making a few digital contacts, but I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time this weekend trying other modes, especially CW. I’ve previously had a Flex-5000A in my shack, but it’s CW performance was less than stellar. I expect the 6500 to be much better. Stay tuned for updates…


Shack Remodel and Amplifier

It’s been a while since my last blog post because I’ve been enjoying using the new tower and antenna. Boy, what a difference a yagi on a tower makes! There’s just no comparison to my ground-mounted vertical. Signals that are barely there or inaudible on the vertical are armchair copy on the yagi. Working DX is much easier and I’ve been running up my DXCC totals and enjoying the experience.

Since getting the tower up, I’ve also concentrated on working all states and confirmed the last one I needed (West Virginia) a few weeks ago. No QSL cards traded hands for this — all confirmations were via LoTW. The postman delivered this last week:


So does that count as WAS in 30 days, or WAS in 33 years? Hmmm…

After operating for a month with the new setup, I started thinking about replacing my operating desk, which was too small to spread out the way I like to operate, with a legal pad for taking notes, paper logbook, keyboard, paddles, etc. all at arm’s reach. Since I was planning to add an amplifier to the mix, it was time to start looking for a new operating desk.

I started the search at local office supply stores, but nothing I found was deep enough at a reasonable price, so I started to consider alternatives. The local Ikea is near Ham Radio Outlet, and since I planned a trip to HRO to pick up an antenna switch, I stopped by to check out their desk offerings. Nothing seemed deep enough for my liking. Most desks seem to be a maximum of around 30″ deep unless you go to an expensive “executive” model. While strolling around, I spotted a dining room table that looked ideal. It was deep (39″) and wide enough to accommodate lots of equipment. I also picked up a small bookcase unit to use as an equipment riser and shelf on the desktop to help organize the equipment.

I’ve never owned an amplifier, and only used one at the W6BB club station while in school. I wanted something with at least a kilowatt of output, and started considering various Ameritron models, such as the AL-80B. As such things often go, I found myself thinking I should go right to the legal limit and started considering the available options. Once again, I looked at various Ameritron models, including the AL-82, AL-1200, and AL-1500. I was pretty much settled on the AL-82 when a trip to the Visalia DX Convention prompted me to look at other offerings. RF Concepts had a booth at Visalia with their 8410 and 9500 models on display. Alpha has always been considered one of the gold standards in amplifiers ever since I’ve been a ham. Who hasn’t seen their ads with the brick on the key in various ham mags? Although the 8410 was several kilo bucks more expensive than the Ameritrons, I thought, what the heck, go for the 8410, so I plunked down my plastic and three large boxes arrived on my doorstep four days later.

The 8410 is a legal-limit manual tune amp. It uses two 4CX1000A tetrodes to generate 1500 watts with plenty of headroom. It comes in two separate boxes: one containing the main power transformer and the other the main amplifier chassis. The transformer is shipped in a separate box because of its weight and potential to warp the chassis if it’s handed roughly in shipping. The third box contained two spare 4CX1000A tubes that RF Concepts was offering as a show special.

The amplifier itself was double boxed and the two boxes were firmly padded by foam between the boxes and inside the inner box. The gorillas at FedEx would have to try extra hard to damage this arrangement. The amp chassis itself is fairly light without the transformer.

AmpInBag-1200 Amplifier Main Unit

Installing the transformer required removing the top cover, which is secured with about a gazillion screws. Once the cover was off, one can easily see the build quality of this amp and why it commands the price it does.

Inside-1200 Under the Cover

The transformer is shipped in a smaller box, and, like the main unit, is double boxed and surrounded by several layers of foam.

XformBox-1200 Transformer Box

The transformer is bolted down to a piece of plywood to keep it from moving around in its box. Unlike more conventional transformers, this transformer is a toroid.

Xform-1200 Toroidal Main Transformer

The transformer mounts in the right side of the chassis and is secured via four bolts inserted from below the chassis. It’s not really possible to get to the bolt holes with the chassis laying flat on the tabletop, so the alternate approach is to tip the chassis up on its right side and slide the chassis around the transformer until the holes line up. This is easier said than done, and it’s really a two person job. Once the transformer is bolted in place, all that remains is to replace the top cover and the countless screws.

XformInstall-1200 Transformer Install

I next tackled the assembly of the new “desk”, which follows the usual Ikea pattern. This assembly went smoother than most with only one minor glitch. One of the 90 degree metal corner brackets had two holes mis-drilled. Five minutes at the drill press fixed that. The little bookshelf unit went together quickly, or it would have if I built it as intended. Since it’s designed as a bookshelf, there is no need for access to the back for cables and such. To accommodate the cables running to the various equipment on the shelves, I drilled two rows of four 2″ holes using a hole saw. Particle board is hard — my hole saw was literally smoking after each hole.

I picked up an MFJ cantenna dummy load on my trip to HRO as my previous load was only rated for 300 watts and would not handle the power generated by the new amp. This dummy load consists of a one gallon paint can filled with mineral oil and a 50 Ohm resistor immersed in the oil. It can handle legal limit long enough to tune the amp.

After putting everything back together, I was ready to go.

Shack-1200 New Operating Layout

Tuning the 8410 is a piece of cake. Mind you, the last time I used an amp was about thirty years ago, but the process is simple. I really don’t know why I hear so many guys tuning up on the air for literally minutes at a time. I can do it in about five seconds. The extra power is certainly noticeable when working big pileups. I’m getting through much faster than I did with 200 watts.

One of the nice features of the Alpha 8410, and one that ultimately sold me on this amp, is its ability to send telemetry to a computer over a USB port. Alpha uses this for factory test and to upload firmware, but full operating data is also available. The raw data is difficult to interpret, but Dan, AE9K, has written a spiffy Monitor application for Windows that retrieves the telemetry data from the amp and displays it as a series of bar graphs and numerical data. The amount of data that is displayed far exceeds what’s shown on the LEDs on the amp’s front panel. I’ll post a screenshot of this utility when I next update this blog.

That’s all for now. 73, and good DX. See you in the pileups.

Tower Install – Day 8 “Finishing Up”

I completed most of the outdoor work on Saturday night and all that was left for Sunday was to get the coax and control cables into the shack. In the past, I’ve drilled individual holes in the outer wall for each cable, but this time I drilled a 2″ hole to accommodate a 2″ piece of conduit. That should suffice for my requirements for the foreseeable future without any need for additional drilling.

Drilling the hole with a hole saw was easy, but the hole was slightly too small for the conduit, so I spent the next hour with a rat-tail file enlarging the hole while cursing the salesman at Home Depot who told me that I didn’t need a small drum sander attachment for my drill. After installing the conduit in the hole and caulking the outside joint, I cemented a 90 degree section on the outside with the bend directed toward the ground to keep rain water out (during storms, rainwater hits our house horizontally at times).

Next I cut a piece of coax to size and installed two UHF connectors and shoved one end through the wall and connected it to the Alpha Delta surge protector attached to the ground rod right outside the shack. After waterproofing the connectors with 3M Temflex 2155 ($2.48 for 22 feet at Home Depot as opposed to CoaxWrap at $5.99 for 10 feet at ham stores) and Scotch 33+ tape, I moved on to the rotator cable. Rather than connect the cable coming from the tower directly to the 4-pin connector that plugs into the controller, I used a barrier strip to join the two lines to give me the flexibility to swap the lines around as needed (e.g. if the antenna turns clockwise when I command it to turn anticlockwise).

After some cleanup, I unpacked all of the gear that had been in storage, arranged it on the operating desk, connected all of the cables, and was good to go. After verifying that the antenna turned in the expected direction, I fired up the rig. At first, I listened on 20M with the vertical I had been using previously, just to have some baseline of comparison. I could tell that 20M was open, but I wasn’t hearing too many stations and many of those were just above the noise.

Switching to the TH-7DX was like the difference between night and day. I was now hearing dozens of stations up and down the band and many of them were S9+20. Wow! I was too tired and hungry to spend much time at the radio, but I did work two new countries, one of which was in the middle east, a region I never heard on the vertical in almost two years of operating from this location.

I took a quick rest and dinner break and was back at the rig where the band was still hopping. On the vertical, 20M always closed about an hour after sunset. On the new antenna, it was still going strong at 11:00 pm, over four hours after sunset. I suspect that it’ll probably open a few hours earlier in the mornings too.

No pictures today — I’ll take some of the various pieces later and update this entry.

That’s all for now — I’m off to work Spratly.

Tower Install – Day 7 “Aluminium Overcast”

Today was a long, tiring, but very productive day. It started out with a mad dash to the local equipment rental place in Pleasant Hill to return the impact driver (see Day 6) before they charged me for a second day. Then a quick stop at a bagel place to get breakfast before heading home.

The first order of business was to do the final prep of the TH-7DX yagi before sending it up to the top of the tower. This mostly consisted of tightening all of the hardware again, attaching the coax pigtail to the balun, and riveting one element that wouldn’t remain in place no matter how tight I tightened the hose clamp.

TH7DX TH-7DX Completed and Ready to Go Up

Steve then climbed the tower and attached a steel cable about half way up the mast. Steve attached the other end of the cable to the bumper of his truck parked on the other side of the garages and tightened it with a come-along. He attached two slings to the yagi on opposite sides of the mast clamp and attached the sling to a pulley. The pulley went onto the steel cable and was attached to a rope to pull the antenna up the cable. This technique is called a tram line and is a common way to get large yagis to the top of a tower.

TramLine Going Up the Tram Line

Steve waited at the top of the tower while Steve’s assistant and myself pulled on the rope attached to the pulley, which pulled the antenna up the cable towards the tower.

GettingThere Getting Close

Once the antenna was at the top of the tower, Steve grabbed it, wrestled it to the mast, and attached the mast clamp and securely bolted it to the tower. Once that was done, he attached the truss (used to reduce sag in the boom) and connected the coax and rotator control cables. While coming back down the tower, Steve fastened the coax and control cable to a tower leg. Once down, all that was left was to test the rotator to see if the antenna would rotate (it did), connect the antenna analyzer and verify the tuning of the antenna.

An antenna tuner is the best thing since sliced bread to a ham, because it’s a small, handheld device that lets you check an antenna’s SWR without a transmitter. It works by generating a low power signal (milliwatts) and analyzing the reflected power. Since the power is so low, it can even work outside the ham bands, useful if your antenna is resonating well outside one of the ham bands. The analyzer revealed that the tuning was spot on — close to 1:1 100 kHz up from the bottom edges of 20, 15, and 10 meters.

After cleaning up and gathering all his tools, Steve took his leave for the last time. It was a great pleasure to work with Steve throughout this project. His professionalism and skill made this project go smoothly.

A big yagi on a tower is a beautiful sight to any ham. I’m sure drivers on the local highway (about 1-1/2 miles from my QTH) will notice it.

Beautiful What a Sight!

The next step was getting coax and control cable to the shack. Last weekend I installed 160 feet of 2″ PVC conduit from the tower site to the wall outside the shack. This is mainly to prevent the wide variety of critters we share the land with from chewing through the cables. The first step in the process was to get a rope through the conduit that would be used to pull the coax and control cable. This was done by tying a plastic grocery bag to a spool of twine and shoving it into one end of the conduit. I then used a shop vac at the other end of the conduit to suck the bag and attached line through. The total transit time of the bag and line was about three seconds from end to end. I then used the twine to pull a larger 1/2″ poly line through the conduit. This larger line was needed to provide the strength needed to pull the cables themselves.

After attaching the coax, rotator control cable, and another piece of twine (to use in the future if any more cables needed to be pulled through the conduit) to the pull rope, I went to the other end of the conduit and pulled while Julie feed the cable bundle into the conduit on her end. Five minutes of pulling later, the cables emerged at my end. Piece of cake..

Cables W6JLG Feeding Cables into Conduit

Then it was just a matter of installing connectors, lightning arrestors, and plugging everything together. I finished all of the outside work this evening (with the aid of a clamp-on light), with the exception of drilling a hole in the wall of the shack and installing a piece of 2″ conduit to route the cables inside. That’ll have to wait until tomorrow as I’m zonked.

Then comes the real fun part — connecting the coax to the rig and firing it up. After 32 years of compromise antennas (ground-mounted verticals and low wire dipoles), this is an experience I’m really looking forward to. I hope the bands cooperate.


Tower Install – Day 6 “Erection”

After the concrete base had enough time to cure to the designed strength, the next step was to call in the crane and lift it into place on the base. We used a 95′ boom crane, and it barely make it up the hill, which is not for the faint of heart (or QRPers). We had to do some quick pruning to remove some overhanging branches that were blocking the driveway.

Pruning Pruning

Once the crane was in place, the operator lowered his outriggers (to give the crane greater stability) and had me sign a waiver in case the crane cracked the driveway. Steve connected two steel cables to the top of the tower and the driver started to lift.

ReadyToLift Ready to Lift

To the unpracticed eye, it looked like there was no way to lift the tower and clear all of the obstacles, but the crane operator made it look easy. He had the tower vertical and lifted over the garages and hanging over the tower base in less than a minute. Steve guided the tower down to the base where we connected the base to the first section of the tower using 1/2″ bolts and steel plates.

Touchdown Houston, Tranquility Base Here, the Eagle Has Landed

The next photo shows the overall view from the front of the house. 3900′ Mt. Diablo is the peak in the background on the right. In the right foreground is Mt. Wanda, named after Wanda Muir, the oldest daughter of John Muir, which is part of the John Muir National Historic Site. To the left of Mt. Wanda is Eastbay Regional Park land.

OverallView Overall View

Steve climbed the tower to detach the cables connecting it to the crane. I’m sure the view up there must be great!

DetachinCrane Detaching the Cables

The next step was the raising of the mast and inserting it through the thrust bearing at the top of the tower and connecting it to the AlfaSpid rotator sitting on the rotator bracket 8′ feet below the top of the tower. Steve rigged a sling around the mast, which the crane lifted while he waited at the top of the tower to receive it.

MastComingOver Mast on its Way

Once Steve wrestled the mast through the thrust bearing, which seemed like threading a needle to those of us on the ground, the rest was easy. With everything securely fastened, Steve removed the sling from the mast and climbed back down.

OverallViewMast Mischief Managed

By this point, the wind started to pick up and we decided to leave the raising of the TH-7DX antenna to tomorrow. I spent the rest of the evening assembling the major components of the antenna, which I had pre-built in the garage over the last month. Final assembly had to be done outside as the garage door wasn’t big enough to get it out. I also built the coax rotator loop and the section that comes down the tower. The DX Engineering cable prep tool certainly made this task easier, as did the crimp on connectors.

The last work done today was driving the ground rods. There are three 8′ ground rods at the base of the tower, one for each leg. There’s another rod right outside the shack where the coax and control cables enter the house. Although Northern California has one of the lowest frequencies of thunderstorms in the entire country, it’s still prudent to plan for the unexpected. When I’ve driven ground rods in the past, I’ve done it with a sledge hammer standing on a ladder. It’s hard work and the end of the rod usually ends up mushroomed. The solution is a rotary impact hammer with a ground rod bit, like the one shown below. This baby drives an 8′ ground rod home in about ten seconds with almost no effort and leaves the end nice and round.

Hammer Impact Hammer

Next update will be after we raise the antenna.

Tower Install – Day 5 “Concrete Pour”

Today was the day of the big pour. The weather was bright and sunny as it’s been for this entire project. This is somewhat unusual for Northern California in winter, as the weather is usually rainy or overcast.

The concrete was scheduled to arrive at noon, so the first order of business was to build the temporary wooden forms around the excavation. The only purpose of these forms is to make the above ground concrete pad look pretty. None of the form extends underground — the concrete is poured against undisturbed soil. Since the forms are temporary and will be removed when the concrete cures, they went together quickly and everything was ready for the arrival of the concrete crew and pumper crew.

Form Form Completed and Ready for Concrete

The tower foundation is quite large and measurements revealed that it would require around 25 cubic yards of concrete to fill. This is three full truck loads plus another partial load to top it off. That’s a lot of concrete — it weighs around 100,000 pounds. Our house is at the top of a steep, narrow private road with no room to turn around at the top, so the trucks had to back up the hill.

mixer First Cement Truck Arrives

The tower site has restricted access, so it wasn’t possible to back the trucks up to the hole for a straight pour so we had to hire a concrete pump to get the concrete to where it needed to be. The cement truck and pumper stayed out on the road and pumped the concrete through a 4″ rubber pipe that snaked through the fence and around the house to the tower.

pumper Cement Truck and Pumper

Once the concrete started flowing, one of the crew directed the flow to the bottom of the hole, while the others moved the concrete around with shovels and another used a “stinger” to vibrate the concrete to ensure it was free of voids. The whole process went quickly.

pouring Starting to Pour

pouring2 Halfway Done

Once the hole was filled, the crew used 2x4s to level the surface and floats to smooth it. This took some time as the crew had to wait until the concrete set enough so it would hold its shape. The nearly final result looks like this:

done Smoothing the Surface

Now comes the wait until the concrete cures enough to erect the tower. Then the real fun begins, but that’s a topic for another blog entry.

I wonder if my current antenna, a vertical dipole, knows its days are numbered? It’s served me well on 20M for the past several years but will soon be relegated to a back up 40M antenna.

dipole N6BT Vertical Dipole

Tower Install – Day 4 “Final Assembly and Inspection”

We finished up the last remaining tasks on the tower assembly today, including drilling the rotator plate and top plate and mounting the rotator adapter and Rohn thrust bearing. We also installed the climbing bolts, which are used to climb the tower. Climbing without them would be difficult due to the layout of the diagonal braces.

After that, we tightened all of the tower bolts while pulling the tower sections together with a come-along to ensure everything was straight and true.

The County inspector arrived in the afternoon to inspect the foundation excavation and rebar work. He consulted the plans and measured the hole to verify compliance with the design and then signed off.

The next step is pouring the concrete, which should happen next week, followed by waiting for it to cure.

No pictures today.

Tower Install – Day 3 “Rebar and Tower Assembly”

The tower installation continued today after a three week hiatus. We made up for it, however, getting the rebar work completed and about 95% of the tower assembled.

The large size of the foundation (11′ x 11′ x 5′) necessitated quite a large rebar cage be built and installed in the excavation. This in turn required rebar of several different sizes.

Rebar Rebar Awaiting Installation

The three man rebar crew cut, bent, and wired the cage together in record time and by the end of the day everything was finished.

FirstLayer First Layer of Rebar in Place

RebarComplete Rebar Work Completed

While the rebar work was underway at the site of the tower foundation, Steve, his two helpers, and I assembled the tower itself. The tower consists of six separate 10′ sections that bolt together to form the 60′ height. Each section consists of three vertical members along with cross bracing. Both the vertical members and cross bracing are formed from sheet steel, so assembling the sections is perfectly analogous to the erector sets we had as kids. The pieces bolt together in a horizontal position and we did the work in the driveway in front of the garages.

Section1 First Tower Section Assembled

The first section took almost 1-1/2 hours to assemble, and much of that was reading the instructions and interpreting some of the more subtle aspects of the process. Once we completed the first section, we progressed much faster. The last two sections were assembled in just an hour. Steve and I marked and drilled the rotator plate and top plate while the last section was being assembled. These nestle inside the last section and are secured by beefy bolts. These plates are 1/4″ steel and massive overkill for their intended function.

TowerComplete Tower Assembly Nearly Complete

We didn’t complete the top plate drilling as our cordless drill batteries gave out. We’ll finish up assembly tomorrow, when we complete the installation of the drilled top plate and then tighten up all of the fasteners (all of the tower bolts are just finger tight at this point) while making sure everything is nice and straight.

Another big milestone happening tomorrow is the first inspection. The County inspector will inspect the rebar work and sign off, giving us the go-ahead for the next step, which is pouring the concrete. This will probably happen sometime next week — stay tuned. Then comes the really exciting part: grabbing the tower with a crane, lifting it over the garages, and bolting it to the base embedded in concrete.

Tower Install – Day 2 “Base Section”

With most of the foundation excavation completed yesterday, Steve and his helpers concentrated on squaring up and finishing the hole and placing the tower base section. Most of this was done by hand with shovels, with the backhoe assisting as needed to move large rocks and move large quantities of soil.

The next step was moving the base section, which had previously been assembled in the garage, out to the edge of the hole and lowered in place.

Base Base Section

Rather than trying to muscle the base, which weights around 180 pounds, into the hole manually, Steve looped two straps through the cross braces and used the backhoe to lower the base into place at the bottom of the hole.

LoweringBase Lowering the base

This took all of ten seconds and I barely had time to snap a few photos before the operation was done. After the base was in the hole, Steve used pieces of patio pavers and wooden stakes to set the base at the proper height (9″ of the top of the section will be above the level of the concrete) and leveling it so the tower will stand straight. The result looks kind of flimsy, but the entire base (minus the top 9″) will be embedded in 22 yards of concrete, so looks are deceiving.

BaseInHole Base leveled and plumbed

That’s it for today. The next step is building the rebar cage in the hole followed by the concrete pour. Both of those will take place next week sometime, so check back then for the next installment  in this saga.

BackhoeLeaving Bidding adieu to the backhoe

With the tower work done for the day, I retreated to my lab/shack to test the AlfaSpid RAK rotator before it goes up on the tower. Most of this work consisted of soldering the control cable to the 4-pin mic connector. Since two of the four rotator control wires carry motor current, they have to be 14 gauge, which makes soldering them to the small connector tabs difficult. The only thing I hate more than soldering 4-pin mic connectors is soldering 8-pin mic connectors or 8-pin or 13-pin DIN connectors (I think you have to be a Swiss watchmaker to tackle one of those 13-pin horrors.)

After plugging everything in, with the rotator sitting on my workbench, everything came to life when I powered up the controller. The controller itself is a low-profile unit with a single line of 7-segment LED displays. The display normally shows the heading in one degree increments, but also is used for set-up and calibration. The RAK does not have any hard stops — it can rotate a total of 720 degrees and can be calibrated so that any position can be defined as true north (0 degrees).

Another unique feature of the RAK is the modified mouse that’s included as an additional way to control the rotator. It looks like a standard PC mouse, but it’s been modified so that the left and right buttons act as left/right controls, and there are six additional buttons for preset headings. The RAK also has a serial port to allow computer control.

That’s all for now. I’m finally starting to see light at the end of the tunnel and hope that soon I’ll be on the air cracking DX pileups.


Tower Install – Day 1 “The Big Dig”

This blog will chronicle the installation of my ham radio tower. After operating for 30 years with makeshift wire and vertical antennas, often hidden to avoid the wrath of home owner’s associations, I’m finally free to install a tower and beams. I’m primarily a DXer and I’m looking forward to my transition from little pistol to medium gun on the bands.

After many months of waiting for building permits, equipment, and logistics to be straightened out, installation of my tower finally got underway today. The tower is a 60′ AN Wireless free-standing tower. It will initially have a Hy-Gain TH-7DX tri-band yagi at around 65′. I plan to install several other antennas in the future, but the TH-7DX will be a good start.

The tower was delivered a few weeks ago and has been sitting in my garage awaiting assembly and installation. Steve, K7LXC, came out a few weekends ago to look over the site and gave it the thumbs up. I’ve been accumulating the rest of the materials needed for the install (coax, rotator, antenna, connectors, control cables, thrust bearing, etc.). UPS has been making almost daily deliveries for the past week or two!

TowerPallet Tower sections on delivery pallet

Stockpile Some of the various parts for the project

The major work today is excavation of the 11′ x 11′ x 6′ deep hole for the tower foundation. That’s almost 27 cubic yards of dirt to remove. The work was done using a backhoe–I don’t even want to think how long it would take digging it out by hand. The weather couldn’t have been any better, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid 50s.

Backhoe1 The backhoe arrives with K7LXC at the controls

The backhoe arrived on a trailer, but since our house sits at the top of a steep hill with a few tight switchbacks and no room to turn around at the top, Steve unloaded the backhoe at the base of the hill and drove it up. It was a tight fit around the corner of the house to the site of the tower, but he made it with an inch or two to spare (after removing a fence that blocked access.)

BreakingGround Breaking ground

The dig went quickly with not major issues, except for the “discovery” of the electric wiring to the hot tub you can see in the background. In a battle between a PVC conduit and a few wires, a backhoe will win every time. Just another thing that will need to be fixed some other day.

AlmostDone Almost done

The hole for the tower foundation is about 90% done. All that remains is a little cleanup work to square up the sides and bottom, and then the work of putting the five foot tower base section down in the hole and the building of the rebar cage can begin. Speaking of the base section, it looks like this:

Base1 Base section sitting on its side in the garage

That’s all for today. More to come as the project progresses.