Albert WA7FXB called inquiring about getting rid of a ladder that he felt he should not use as a visually handicapped person. He was giving it to the club. In the course of the conversation, he also mentioned that his braille machine had stopped working. This is a typewriter device that is portable and has a “screen” consisting of a series of bumps that raise or lower in a pattern that indicates the letters. It has all his contact information, notes and other documents on it so a loss of this machine also represents a real hardship. I also knew of several people that had offered to get an antenna set up for him to get on the air as he has been out of the high frequency radio world for quite a while. His last antenna had been struck by lightening. Nothing had happened for over a year (for many other reasons) so when I asked about it, he demurred and stated that someone would eventually help. I called my “antenna man” David K1KK and asked if he would help out and see what we could do.
Arriving at his apartment Saturday morning, we cased out where an antenna could be placed. Looking at our options it was decided to use the broken poles and masts he had in the back yard and assemble two poles strapped to the back fence. One on 40 meters and the other on 20 meters. The 20 meter antenna was easy to make as it was simple interconnected poles tied to the wooden fence. The plan was to have one feed line to connect to two resident antennas. Returning to my man-cave, we cut the wires and soldered the connections making the components of the antenna system.
The biggest pole was the anodized aluminum telescopic flag pole of about 30 feet in length, not quite long enough for 40 meters. We clamped an extension on to the top to get the right length. Next problem was that the anodized aluminum is a poor conductor and the plastic cam device in the junctions of the pole and were better insulators. A little brain storming produced the idea to have three 14 ga wires coming down the pole, 120 degrees apart and bypass the pole as a conductor. The extension pole at the top would be connected to the top of the three wires making one continuous element on 40m. Hose clamps secured the sections of the pole from moving and tape secured the wires in position.
Ground wires were cut for 20 & 40 meters and attached to the inside of the fence. Once a rather nasty thunderstorm passed by with 60 mph winds (the antennas held up fine) we then went out with the Nano VNA and trimmed the ground wires until resonance was achieved. We then went up to where the radio was located and tested it with the radio on. The SWR was jumping around from a low of 1.5 to a high of about 2.5 and back again. Was the feed line at fault or something else? Thinking about it we decided on two faults: 1: the wet wood now acted as a conductor and needed to be insulated from the poles. We put electrical tape around the pole under where the stainless steel clamps were located to provide more insulation, and 2: One of the sections of the 20 meter pole was slid into the other pole but the clamp was not tightening it enough to make a solid connection. This was remedied. Voila! Good SWR of 1.1 to 1.5 across the entire 40 meter band was achieved. 20 meters was 1.8 to 2.2 and 15 meters was 2.5 (needs to use the installed tuner in the radio on 15). Only one feed line was needed to get three working bands at a rather good resonance. Signals from Europe were heard well on 20. The band was dead on 40 at that time so more testing will need to be done to get the final performance figures.
The funny part of the testing was that while David was tuning the radio, Albert could not help himself and in his excitement, had his fingers all over the face of the radio pushing buttons that were not needed at the moment. Remember, for a blind person, feeling things is “seeing with his fingers” trying to find out what is going on. That may not be helpful in the moment but was fun as we could see his excitement of getting the radio back on the air. This alone made the two day affair worth while.
The braille machine had dirty contacts and were cleaned. It sprung back into life making Albert a very happy man. The ladder was carted off to remove temptation of climbing it.
A couple of lessons were learned in the two days of antenna building and problem solving and they were the following:
– Wood is an insulator but when it is soaking wet, it may conduct RF affecting your SWR.
– Tune the lower frequency antenna and ground radials first then do the next higher band.
– Do not throw away good aluminum tubing as it may be used for another antenna.
– Just about the time you are tired, hungry and fed up with the project, do what it takes to finish it now as the person you are helping is relying on you to finish it.
And the biggest lesson is:
– If you offer to help someone in need, commit to it and do it soon. The act of offering help will make others that could help, put the need on the “back burner” and wait for you to do it. If you do not do it, others have gone on and the person in need is left in the lurch, not getting the help. In this case, I heard that others were going to help so I did nothing and did not ask as I thought this would be taken care of. This person waited a long time and was not going to ask again.
So, identify the need, offer to help, commit to getting it done and see it through! Now that is real help that is needed the world over in many areas. Lesson learned!