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.
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.
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.
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.”
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,