Coping: Tree-Casting & Wire-Fishing

My friend Robin Landry is now really a ham radio operator.

To be sure, he was before we got up to visit with him this weekend, but there is a certain initiation that goes with ham radio that most people don’t think about.  The common perception in ham radio is a sit-and-talk hobby and nothing could be farther from the truth.  Sure, you use your brain a lot – there is some head-work to it, sure.

But the real fun part of ham radio is that there are so many different physicality’s to the hobby that you can specialize in whichever one really allows you to use your favorite crafts or skills in damn near any field you can think of.  For example, some hams are great woodworkers.  (Who would have thought?)  As a result, they turn out some of the finest one-off custom equipment desks and cabinets you’ll find this side of the Museum of Fine Art.

(Continues below)

 

In order to fully be into ham radio, outdoors figures in a good bit, too.

There is Field Day (last weekend in June each year) where many of us take to the woods and see if we can maintain around-the-world coms while munching on camp food and tossing antennas up into trees, and so forth.

Which gets us to the matter of this weekend’s trip up to visit Robin Landry and his wife.

Robin didn’t have an HF (high frequency) station prior to this weekend; now he does.

I had an old radio, power supply, and antenna turner for him.  A Yaesu 757-GX II with the matching auto-tuner (to tune the antenna) and the power supply/speaker.  That left us with the antenna problem.

HF antennas generally work best if they are a high and in-the-clear as possible.  Since Robin has a gazebo with a high roof peak, and the radio gear lives inside that, the center support at 20-25 feet was easily done.

But that left us with the two ends to put up.

Enter the Art of Tree-Casting

There are several ways to approach the problem of getting an antenna end up into some trees.

First, you need trees, though.  In Robin’s back yard there was a  good-sized pine (40-feet, or so to the top) set ideally.  It was about 55-feet from the gazebo center.

Going the other direction, though, the tree that came closest to ideal was a very tall cypress.

The technique we used was simple enough:  Take a casting rod and put a one-ounce weight on it, and cast it up, into, and hopefully over the tree.  If you don’t have a casting rod for the grandkids handy, something like the Shakespeare USSP662M/35CBO Ugly Stik GX2 2-Piece Fishing Rod and Spinning Reel Combo, 6 Feet 6 Inch, Medium Power for $37 is likely overkill, but why not?

Our first “fish” was over the pine tree.

It took 3-4 casts, but Landry’s luck was good and we got it over a limb about 30-feet up.  Once there, I hooked up some parachute cord and eased it out as Robin reeled it back up and over to the top of the bank.

There, attached to an antenna insulator, it was a simple matter to pull the antenna back up and into the tree.

A single 16d galvanized nail into the tree later and the antenna was done.  The extra paracord was coiled and secured on the backside of the tree so as not to be a visual distraction from the deck – good and done.

That left the other end of the antenna and the cypress tree.

It was a lot more difficult – we lost one of the 1-ounce weights and had 8-12 casts before “catching” the right limb.  Cypress trees are a problem in that they have very dense foliage and seed pods and such.  So it takes a fair number of casts.

Eventually, though, we got it up into the tree and all was set.

I should mention, all three of the antenna supports are along the top of the bank to a seasonal creek that runs through his back yard.  There is nothing more holy in ham radio to than a perfect ground system.  I’d brought a T-post hammer, so Robin sank an 8-foot ground rod into the low part of the bank where it will no doubt provide a nearly perfect ground.

Next problem was getting the antenna lead-in into the gazebo.  Two items here.  First, Robin went with good quality coax cable (MPD Digital 50 ft Ham / CB Radio Antenna Coax LMR-400 50 ohm Coaxial Cable Antenna Transmission Line PL-259 Connectors MADE IN THE USA) which was about $77.

He could have gone with a smaller diameter cable (like the $21 RadioShack 50-Ft, RG-58 Coax Cable Assembly) but the drawback to this cable is that generally, the smaller the cable diameter, the higher the loss on the cable.

To be sure, there are lots of other techniques that could have been used to get the wire “up in the trees where it belongs.”  As you’ll recall, for our Monster Antenna (the 746-foot off-center-fed ‘dipole’) here at the ranch, the major and I rented a 36-foot 4-wheel drive scissor lift.

Jeff, in the local ham radio club – who is famous for his entries in the old annual Strange Antenna Contest – like a pop bottle (filled with water) and then going up directly with the paracord.  Picture David taking on a goliath tree.  (My favorite “strange antenna” Jeff has done was loading up a military tank at the local Armory and using that as his antenna.)

Another couple of “launchers” to consider?

DX-Engineering offers the EZ-Hang Hyper shot kit – which is really cool, but no change from a $100-bill.

Another approach involves using a sprinkler switch and compressed air.  This has been turned into a high art over at http://www.antennalaunchers.com/antlaunching.html.  I’ve actually got one of their kits sitting in our “emergency prep stash” but I didn’t have time to get it hauled out, assembled, tested and besides, I don’t think Robin has a big compressor.  Besides, Tree Casting is a basic art that all hams worthy of the HF Field Antenna Merit Badge need to master.

Hams or Arborists?

Ham radio antennas going up in trees will change your view of Nature.

Once upon a time, Ure’s truly would look at a forest and marvel as the wildlife habitat it provided, appreciate how it prevents soil erosion, and provides a renewable source of lumber and oxygen processing.

No more.

Since about age 13 – back when the major and I were (competitive) kids in ham radio – trees have become little more than antenna supports waiting for the right situation to arise.

Out here in East Textus (sic) the trees tower 100+ feet up.  And one of these days, I will get one of my ultimate antennas hung over the tippy-top of them.  Crazy as it sounds, I knew some well-to-do hams who have used things like helicopters to drop lines down among tall Doug firsts up in the PNW.

The typical tree down here (in our stand of old growth) is “can’t get your arms but halfway around it” big but being female there are no real limbs until you get up 40-feet, or so.

The trees to look for at the males locally referred to as “bull pines” and they have big limbs (bigger around than your arm) starting about 15-feet up, or so.

Along about here – if you’re not a ham radio fanatic – you’re maybe asking “what does this have to do with Urban Survival?”

A fair question.

Comes down to building the “outdoor engineering” part of your brain.

Say there was a terrible storm and you needed to get some rope up into a 30-foot high tree.  How would you do it?

I can assure you that around here, it would likely be Jeff’s “David vs. the goliath Tree” and  once the paracord was over the tree, the back-haul would be 5/8th’s Dacron line.  Then, with enough distance between supports, a 20X 30 tarp would be used to create a shelter for anything you need.

Flexibility and practice.

I’m sure Robin will be pleased with his Tree-Casting Merit Badge and I sure had fun, too.

Especially the first contact on 20-meters on the new antenna.  Only from near OK City down to Austin, TX (20-meters was really short Sunday afternoon), but I did get a call back from  OE2DIA in Vienna (though not enough for a contact) on 20 a bit later on.

Confidence in this antenna is high.

Oh, should mention the antenna and line isolator used was the Maxcon OCF-3K80 ($80) and their 3 kw isolator here.

The only thing we’d change about this weekend?  Antenna work is best done in cooler weather.  95F and humid and mid afternoon sweated a few pounds off both of us.

In any hobby, though, you can’t succeed in comfort.  the old Ure family saying “You can’t catch fish in comfort” applies to tree-casting, as well.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a friend hook a 90-foot cypress and play it for 10-minutes trying to get the one ounce lead to drop through the foliage.   The 40-foot oak on the far side of the creek?

That’s the “one that got away.”

Google Routing

Our return trip to the Outback was through rural parts of Oklahoma we’d only previously flown over.

If you ever get the time, there’s quite an Amish enclave from Tupelo (OK, not MS) down to Durant, or so.

Lots of “Horse Drawn Vehicles on Roadway” signs.

More to the point, I don’t think there was one “redneck collection of dead cars” visible the whole trip.  You’ll see those as you get south of Durant.

OK, welcome to Monday – time to “hit and git.”

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

Comments

Coping: Tree-Casting & Wire-Fishing — 18 Comments

  1. Down at the ranch I used my Crossbow, without a broadhead attached to the bolt of course, to launch one end of my 80m dipole up to about 75 feet. Problem was the bolt went about maybe 200 feet before it reached terminal altitude and returned to earth. 1st bad thing was I lost sight of the bolt and decided to take cover under the pickup until it landed. Spent more time reeling up the slack and untangling the 40lb fishing line that I switched to my old standby launcher, my good ole wrist rocket slingshot using 2oz teardrop sinkers for ammo. Sometimes it’s wise to take cover when one of those bad boys return to earth too.

  2. Personally, I prefer a fisherman’s knot, which I can tie faster than most Boy Scouts can tie a square knot.

    Given a terrible storm and the need to rope a tree (that’d be: “The remaining trees,” around hereabouts) I should probably mention I started holing arrow shafts for braided casting line, so I could pull longwire antennas into trees, before I hit double digits, and that I’ve never not owned a bow of some kind, since I was eight. In the ’60s, I used a pointless shaft, ‘cuz I was a child and that was the obvious solution. Today, I’d use a “wadcutter” tip filled with lead (‘might actually have one o’ these laying around) and a fletch-less shaft (and a spinning reel to manage the line.) This is something any woodsman can throw together in 10 minutes, if (s)he can find a couple pieces of straight wood and has a ball of string and a knife handy. ‘Doesn’t have to be a longbow that’ll drop an elk, just one that’ll toss a line a few feet in a constrained space…

  3. George. – Perhaps I missed it in your story, but how do you allow for movement of the trees without breaking the antenna? Also, isn’t a long wire more sensitive to signals perpendicular to its direction. Just curious as I’m thinking of taking up ham radio as a useful hobby. – Ed

    • That is a book-length treatment, Ed.

      Depends on the trees, prevailing winds, and so forth.

      In Robin’s case, the limbs are fairly flexible and you can leave some “droop” to the wire.

      I would refer you to the Jim Creek Naval Radio Station info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Creek_Naval_Radio_Station and notice how yes, their wire droops, too.

      Robin, be an old submariner, knows about this stuff and when the wind blow, I expect he will loosen the support lines according to how much actual tree bend there is.

      In the past, I have used pulleys (2″ or larger is better for wire wear) and 5=pound bucks with a hanger wire cast into half a bucket of concrete. Other people I know swear by Bungee cord…but it’s all a matter of personal taste, trees, and more.

      If your antenna breaks, you get out the soldering iron and learn “Say, that was too tight!”

  4. George,

    Back in the stone age of U.S. Army communications when I was just a pup, we would often tie a small rope or line to the loop in the hand of the medium sized crescent wrench that came in the vehicle tool kit. Then we would ‘cast’ the wrench up and over a tree limb and then hoist the antenna. If we needed a bi-directional type antenna we would repeat the process on another tree and then cut the antenna length required. However, this is back when we trained to fight the Soviets in areas that actually had trees. As the enemy changed and so did the foliage. Ergo, the crescent wrench antenna hoist method has been lost to time.

    • We still carry a crescent wrench to throw at the Enemy trees, though….painted red. Easier to see in the trees.

      • In the Navy when Marlinspike Seamanship was on its last legs back in the early 80s they taught us a few interesting knots. One was the old “monkey fist” for throwing lines. It had its limits, though, with what one wrapped the line around and how good your throwing arm was.

        I’m sure you know a lot about that George.

      • The problem with the monkey’s fist knot isn’t that it doesn’t make a fine heaving line (terrible out of date here) but the problem is really one of the modern materials.

        The paracord line, for example, weighs next to nothing since it has *often* a Dacron core. Buddle up 50 feet of that stuff and you’re at 2 oz. On the other hand, if you make a ball out of well broken-in half inch hemp (or larger) especially if soaked in oil, now you have some heft.

        A 2 1/2 Inch monkey’s fist on a piece of Dacron line is a beautiful solution, but it will take a) old hemp, heavy with oil and b) the same Dacron paracord and c) an hour to figure out how to wind up a moneky’s fist. Instructions are here…bring your own 3/4 hemp https://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+tie+a+monkey%27s+fist+knot

      • Thanks George. Like I said it was the tail end of that aspect of U.S. Navy seamanship. About the only ones that carried that tradition forward were the Boatswain Mates, naturally, and there were getting to be fewer and fewer of them as their rate was evolving elsewhere to newer equipment. Sad to see it end, if it has, as it took some talent to master those things. I can certainly see it continuing as an indispensable craft in the smaller boats and ships, though.

      • And at the rate hemp sales are screaming in Wa, Co, and Nv we should have no end of cheap alternative line for practice…

      • Bring it on! It’s probably the only thing this brown-thumbed rancher could grow – naturally occurring weeds. The only instrument it takes to tend it after you get the irrigation in is a shotgun.

      • I’m partial to the weed burner aND a fresh 20 pounder of propane..l.

  5. How bout a cheap drone and some light weight fishing line to get things started over those tall pines?

    • Not sure about their lifting capacity – but Jeff’s paracord and water bottle is…ummm/…near enough free.

      Priced high-lift drones lately?

  6. Bwhahahaha! Fine! I will be quiet, my other comment didnt post. Probably because i mentioned some “family” names.

    Im too damn busy grinding anyway. Tis the season.

    See ya around george.

    • If i find the “time” this week, i will try to subscribe to peoplenomics. Although i strongly disagree with your crash this year. Not for 2 more years. The nos just kicked on and the economy is going up fast and furiously.

      As was stated money talks and bull sh!t walks. You kniw me, been around these parts for thr better of 12 years now. Just didnt day anything for 2 years.. i go through ‘periods’ of not saying anything.

      Most of these comments are quite laughable. What do i know. Ha ha ha

      By hook or crook.

      Ha ha ha ha ha.

    • Not all comments post. Every few weeks, there is a log jam and they go in, but they don’t come out. Has happened to me heaps, especially on my best comments that used up mucho artistic brain cells!