ShopTalk Sunday: Ham Field Day, Fire Risks

Ham Radio’s annual Field Day will wrap up today.

Rather than doing a “project in the shop” this weekend, there are some very important planning and prepping things to talk about.   Radio communication skills is one.  The other is reducing the risk of fire during hot weather.

If  the Web Goes Down…

As mentioned, I was on the air on the 20-meter Morse code segment for a couple of hours Saturday for ham radio “field day.”  It’s really amazing how many contacts you can make with a simple 100-watt ham radio if you know what you’re doing.

Helps to have antennas at least 50-feet high.  Which gets into a longish discussion of slings, slingshots, potato and antenna pneumatic launchers, and my new toy – the .22 caliber reworked hunting dog training device. (D.T. Systems Super-Pro Dog Training Dummy Launcher Kit , about $114 at Amazon.)

Radio Sport Planning

Ham radio ops tend to fall into two categories – often without considering why when it comes to “contesting.”

You’ve got people who spend a lot of time listening.  And the other group, those who spend most of their time calling (sending).

There’s a time and place for each, of course.  But it matters what band conditions are when you choose.  When band conditions are poor, then making repeated “CQ” (calling anyone) makes sense.  You don’t know where the bands are open.

Days like Saturday, with a reasonable antenna, there were simply too many stations on the bands.  Which meant listening in a semi-methodical way, was my choice.  To get the job done,  I chose the “Super Antenna IV” I designed last fall which isn’t too hard to build, but which requires a wide-ranging open wire or ladder line (and antenna tuner) to work.


In a competitive situation, computer-based logging would be a given (since it makes filing contest results so easy!) my Saturday adventure was logged on a yellow pad, though.  The columns are time (starting with 2:01 local) then station NC1CC was first, the “other guy’s mode” (‘CC was in 1E – meaning one op, at home, emergency power), frequency, then ARRL Section abbreviation.  So ‘CC was on 14,006 MHz and was Rhode Island section.  Next was Kentucky.  You can look up your “section” here.

Some counties (like ours, Anderson, Texas) are “on the line” so you’re guided by the data here.  Killing mains power to my office (to run on the solar/battery) made me AC7X 1E NTX in the Morse exchanges.

You’ll see at 2:47 a contact with OZ1JHM.  He’s in Denmark, wasn’t operating the contest.

Also note that in the “sniping” I was doing, I started at the low end of the band and worked my way to higher frequencies.  In the first half-hour of operating, I only moved 18 kilohertz.  That’s how spectrum-efficient Morse code is.

Disaster Planning

I often wonder what the world would be like in event of a massive attack on the Web.  How long before the ham radio National Traffic System would be able to gear up to move the kind of traffic (*messages) that a full-blow national communications disaster would imply?

I don’t think any other prepping and personal preparedness website has ever mentioned the NTS to you before.  Few “old-time telegraphers” (moi) are left.  That said, we do periodically reread the 484 page NTS MPG available online over here.  Short for National Traffic System – Methods and Practices Guidelines.

In the event of an “actual emergency” you shouldn’t need to look up terms like “QRV?” and how it’s used.

Shop Fire Prevention

Seattle and Portland are likely to set temperature records today and tomorrow as the heatwave smacks the West.

Some good news from the S-503 fire on Oregon’s Warm Spring Confederated Tribes land near Maupin:  The fire is now largely contained and firefighters (including son George II) are being scaled down.  Local (Oregon, Tribal, and local) firefighters will be phased in for the last of it.

Just a matter of time until the next one, though.  Steak dinner and sleep time for those coming off the lines.

Big fires give us reason to pause and cast “new eyes” on the shop to see where fire risks may lurk.

The “triangle of fire” hasn’t changed:  Fuel, air, and a source of ignition.

Spontaneous Trouble

Interesting risk – and a story told over here – about a near-miss with disaster from a linseed oil soaked cloth.  It was spread out to dry after being used in a shop setting.  The theory being that if spread out, there won’t be a sufficient build-up of heat, to set off a fire.


The article goes on to explain spontaneous fires this way:

“Rags and towels soaked with oils, including cooking oils; hot laundry left in piles; large compost, mulch, manure, and leaf piles; and moist baled hay can spontaneously combust in the right conditions. Avoid this type of fire by following a few simple and proven tips:

  • Store piles of hay, compost, mulch, manure, and leaves away from buildings, in case a fire occurs, and keep the piles small to allow for the circulation of air and the dissipation of heat.
  • Work groups or businesses using large quantities of oily rags should dispose of those rags in an OSHA-approved container to await pickup by an industrial cleaning company.
  • If you’re working on a project at home, spread the soiled rags in a single layer on concrete to prevent the buildup of heat and allow the rags to become hard and brittle. Place the rags out of direct sunlight and secure the corners to prevent movement by wind.
  • Hay should be completely dry before baling and moving to a storage facility. Ensure that the facility is well ventilated.”

Spark Sources

Just about any shop worth entering has a grinder – and more likely several sources of metal sparks.  While it seems to be a small risk of fire, it really depends on how clean your shop is kept.  If everything is spotless down to the finish, you might be lucky.  Even of eighth of an inch of sawdust, though, and now the risk goes through the roof.

That’s why all of our ferrous metals cut-off work (chop saw and grinder) are done outside.  Under that lean-to I showed you some months back.

If your grinder is attached to a bench, at least install a sheet-metal guard so that sparks don’t drop out of sight.

Here’s a “spark catcher” made from a hunk of 2X4 and a couple of old license plates bent into shape.

Also, don’t forget to wear an N-100 mask when grinding on anything since silicosis is not your friend.

Fire Season and Yard Work

Nope, no fun at all.  But even here, I’ve got a ton of yard work on the docket for this fall and next spring to make shop time more relaxing.

  • Tall Grass:  If you can’t mow it, it shouldn’t be within 100 feet (or more) of the house or building.  That’s because fires easily “jump” with flying sparks.
  • Trees Get Limbed-Up:  I’ve spent enough time in wildland fires to understand they burn in two modes.  In the “ground mode” a fire will burn all the vegetation up to about 6-feet in height.  The super-dangerous mode is called a Crowning fire.  This is where the fire jumps from one tree to another via interlocking leaves or needles way up the tree.  Easiest way to reduce your risk of a “crowning fire” is to make sure your trees are “limbed-up” *(no low-lying branches) for at least 10-12 feet up.  No path for the fire to climb. Elaine hates to see me go after trees like this, but in the summer it lets cool air in the shade move around and you see a lot more wildlife.
  • Burn Barrels:  Not so much in the city, but out here in the woods, lots of burn barrel use occurs.  Well mowed, but also used mainly after (or during) rainfall.  And if there’s no rain, at least burn when the dew is still on.  Keeping a charged hose makes sense, too.  One with a nozzle so you can get 30-feet of stream if you need it.  Attacking a grass fire, go high and work your way back.  If you attack the closest flames, you can actually push a fire out of reach.

Fire Extinguisher Service

We’re about due for new 5-pound dry-chem extinguishers here.  Main thing with dry-chem is to take them off their hangars once a year, turn them upside down, and bang the bottom silly with a rubber mallet.  Heavier the better.

What happens is the chemicals in this type of extinguisher settle and “cake” over time.  That’s why (when we lived on our sailboat) we never complained about the annual required USCG fire extinguisher inspections.

On shore, you can do the same thing:  Replace every 7-years, or so and service ’em annually (banging ’em and check their pressure is still good).

ATR:  Summer Meals

Elaine and I ventured inside a grocery store for the first time since November of 2019 yesterday.  It was like going to a strange planet!

Gone was the “small town feel” of the place. The Deli section was much larger and the number of pre-made meal options had exploded.  Looked to us like the item count was down, too.
Another thing was shelves weren’t stocked as deep.  There was only just enough of breads and such.  Computers and inventory optimizations are fine, I suppose.

To me, however, it was another example of how “anti-fragility” can bite.  If inventories are kept on minimum, the odds of a “run on something” increase because “scarcity builds demand.” People panic.

Either that, or this is how the merger of Capitalism and the Sovietization of America will work out:  Less choice, fewer options, and all because “inventory is cash at rest.”  Yikes.

Number of projects in play this morning and then a summer dinner  this afternoon will be Reuben Sandwiches made from a fresh corned beef that will be in the crock pot in a few minutes.

Married with a small tossed salad and a healthy helping of well browned fries from the air fryer – with sandwiches made with metabisulfite-free sauerkraut – and a glass of wine or three… the 70’s ain’t so bad, after all.

Hard to top the BBQ ribs and potato salad (and Rolling Rocks) from last night, but we’ll try.

Write when you get rich,

21 thoughts on “ShopTalk Sunday: Ham Field Day, Fire Risks”

  1. “hot laundry left in piles”. I experienced that as a teen. Luckily Mom and I were just across the street visiting a neighbor. Only the living room was damaged. But the smoke damage was so bad that the black phone on a yellow wall was almost invisible.

    • Lint buildup… the biggest dryer fire issue ever.. and except for the speed queen that kept the cleanout the way it was.. two screws and you can clean around the drum one screw and you can cleanout the hose blower…
      I totally will order one.. at my age and the cost of finding an appliance repair man.. I want something I can do basic daddy maintenance. We had bought the best and most expensive electrolux front end washer. Right at a year old I had a screw or coin in my pocket it jammed the pump impeller… the cost to get the repairman out ( nope cant do it yourself the whole machine has to be disassembled) was more than buying a new machine..I through iut an expensive machine that there wasn’t anything wrong with it except a plugged pump..
      The washer we have now works but needs the drum springs replaced its constantly off center. A simple slip them on and it’s fixed. Cant be done by a homeowner.. the whole machine has to be disassembled..
      I keep telling the kids to learn how then advertise.. daddy chores.. sort of like the gas ignition hole cleanout.. its four hundred to get someone to take the burner off and clean it out and they won’t tell you what socket it takes lol… (4.5 mm)

      • You make the best case for learning to Do-It-Yourself. My washer springs went flat after two years. Learned on YouTube how to replace them. Yes, it was a pain to drag the washer out, tip it over, unscrew panels, and replace the springs. But I’ve been a maintenance repairman of big and little things my whole life.

      • Buy used pre-Nafta washer/dryers, especially Maytag, you will be able to fix them yourself.

      • “Buy used pre-Nafta ”

        I know when stuff was still made in the USA…. everything had an access panel on it.. you could change everything at home…
        my first experience was with a television.. took it in to the tv repair place and he said.. they put a chip on the main circuit board..after the designated hours it shuts off.. and the cost is more than a television.. they do that with AED batteries to.. there is a count down chip on the battery.. it is made so you have to buy new batteries..and every four years they change the case a slight bit and the size of the battery a slight bit so you have to buy a new AED… every school hospital fire dept etc.. has to buy the new equipment.. I have asked the people that I send the batteries back to if they make them that don’t have it.. they can’t its the law..

      • A drill and angle grinder are your friends! When you need access, cut a hole and make a panel to fit. If you paint it nicely it will look OK. Devices from the factory are built for their needs, not yours. I put paint on radios and other devices that are black plastic with black plastic buttons so I can find the correct ones quickly and easily in subdued light. Ergonomics has become a lost art, and DIY everything is the only way to succeed going forward. There are very rare instances when hiring a “professional” is helpful, and often involve impressing a third party. Otherwise, DIY is really the only way to fly. I’m using a washer from the 70’s and a dryer from the ’60’s, though I have a much newer dryer waiting in storage(free from the street) that works. I just don’t have time or inclination to bother changing it.

        We are living in a land of plenty if we just look for it. The real impediments to happy living are forced services(municipal garbage, water, schools, etc). These things are out of your control and if you don’t pay for them, in many cases you can be deprived of the “right” to live in your own house. Of course, food is one of those items rapidly escalating in cost that is required for survival.

  2. “I often wonder what the world would be like in event of a massive attack on the Web. ”

    In five months.. our internet and cable costs will be well over four hundred a month.. and that isn’t including the scheduled increase for this year.. needless to say.. it won’t take a massive attack on the web.. not that long ago.. you could have it all for under a hundred and fifty dollars a month.. as they raise prices.. the average hourly wage earner won’t be able to afford the services.. most use the vast majority of their utilities at work.. but when you have to use them all at home you see the they increase the cost of services and the local economies can’t afford to keep up with the pace people will be forced to downgrade.. they won’t want to and will do everything to keep it the way they have it.. but there comes a time.. do you have shelter or cell phone and cabel.. it won’t matter how convenient it all is.. or what is going to be dependent on it.. a homeless man as an example doesn’t have cable or internet they don’t have a cell phone charge a hundred dollars is almost like manna from heaven.. and as technology prices itself above what the market can afford, people will be forced to downsize.. I already know we won’t be able to afford it and it is all out the door in five months.. I have our budget so close I have to juggle to maintain where we are right now.. the same goes for insurance.. where do you cut.. if it continues.
    It is like the one doctor I had ten minutes with him.. and the bill four grand..what could I have with four grand.. a cruise for two.. a couple of college cuties rubbing my temple saying poor baby or better yet.. well you get the picture.. . I will have to take my chances on not having insurance.. utilities.. they are planning on an increase and possible penalties for having solar and a hybrid car during a time when none of the employers are giving out wage increases…. so what is the option left…. shut everything off.. vampire power.. do away with all the phone chargers etc.. there won’t be a need to have the computer on or the modem etc.. I will be forced to shut down everything except basic essentials.. the balance is being disrupted.. like it or not.. the choices people will have to make that will be hard is coming.. especially now with the lumber prices.. and home building.. when that starts to shoot through the roof in rent.. you will see a major drop unless there is an equalized increase in spending capital placed in the average wage earners pockets…. JMHO

    • Those rates are just crazy high. Have you looked at Sling TV or another discount streaming service? Are there other ISP’s besides cable in your area? I get internet off microwave, because I am too far out for cable or DSL. It is slower than cable, but I don’t have any problem streaming Sling. I’ve looked into satellite, but my current set-up is cheaper. I get the remaining major networks off-air.

      • “Have you looked at Sling TV”

        Yes I have… and yes it is cheaper.. that will be the way I am going.. I actually have sling now and was considering youtube tv… the price is way under a hundred dollars plus internet.. the big issue is my wife and inlaws..they don’t know how to use the remote and I had initially made that move a couple years ago when I had to cut ten grand from the budget a year.. It was biblical.. wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth stuff.. the inlaws clutched the remote as if it was a hand grenade … screaming into it.. it was not good.. I even had to go and have the cable company search through the garbage to find the exact same remote because they tossed it away.. it was not good.. I caught it from all angles.. well this years budget juggle may be even worse…. prices are scheduled to increase on all fronts.. supposedly they have a price break on services for those on set incomes.. what I am seeing and hearing is.. all utilities are going up.. cable is going up, insurance just sent a letter saying there will be a rate increase as well.. food is going up.. I know what food is doing and I do keep a good watch on it.. so we shall see.. not sure how many thousands I will have to cut.. but my guess is it is going to be substantial..

      • Low end local eateries are raising prices.
        I tried cutting more on the comm budget earlier this year after price increases, and realized that I really need most of my basic set-up for business reasons. I did get a new phone, but I went low end, and I am happy with it. The phone I replaced was no longer supported.
        Have one of the kids train the spouse and in-laws on the electronics. They will be too embarrassed to whine.

      • “They’re watching way too much teevee already by sounds of it….”

        I totally agree George… they actually only watch three channels LOL LOL LOL… which is frustrating as hell.. the way the cable company has it figured they put each of the channels they watch in a different group LOL… then on top of it.. the cable box.. what is it thirty bucks a month.. they have one that is six but that doesn’t have a clock on it LOL I bought a big digital clock thinking that would help.. and in the room there is two cable boxes one for one one for the other LOL LOL LOL… grr.. just so they can each watch a separate show at the same time…..

  3. Once upon a time I worked at the big strategic communications facility at Fort Detrick, Md. I was in the 1110th Signal Battalion, to be precise.

    One of the things I did was work in the MARS (military affiliate radio system) station there. It’s basically a military ham radio site. They had some awesome Harris HF systems, transmitters and a big antenna farm that was off-site. We could control the antennas remotely from the MARS building. There was a MARS Net that was opened every night at 0001hrs by whoever was on duty. The call sign was/is AAAUSA. I loved doing that stuff. We did some other cool things like a MARS news letter that was transmitted by Morse code every Monday and Tuesday night. It went out in 10, 15 and 25 WPM. The most interesting part for me was getting the transmitters and antennas to work together on certain frequencies. Some combos just wouldn’t work and not everybody could get things to work at all. Some people just didn’t Gee Haw.

    Anyway, one year they let a bunch of HAM operators come and use our setup on HAM field day. Those guys broke the world record for the number of single radio contacts in a single day. It was somewhere around 1200. I received an award for my help and I’ve got it in a frame…somewhere. I’ll see if I can find it.

    So, the next year after I had moved on those guys came in again for field day and broke the record again! Alas, that was the end of my run in the Guinness Book of World Records. Lol

    • I was looking at my half hour rate: Even now if I felt like doing a solid 24, and doing 30 contacts an hour x 24 =- s0 720 contacts and a couple of multipliers, but still 2,000 points or whatever is barely on the boards for real radio sports andmore. Envy your Harris/collins experiences. I was KL7USA for a while which I was a 19-yo O4/equiv up north. Wow…what a life back then

      • Working there was definitely interesting times and I wasn’t much older than 19 in those days, myself!

  4. George, R?T NTS Co. has in place on a state level as part of Home Land Security an organization called Auxx Comm. with groups in all counties operating under the county Emergency Manager. The preferred transmission type is voice or computer, and unfortunately there is no motivation to use CW (a BIG mistake in my opinion) Opp freq for voice and code 80m 40m 30m and 60m SSB NIVIS. as to national traffic (CONUS) I am not aware if that exists on the state level but I know that here in dog batch we are only concerned with getting info to and from State. Generally voice does as well or better than compoooter as compoooter has more components involved and as you know the more complicated a system the more likely it is to FU. The beauty of CW (and I admit I am no good at it, something practice would cure,)is that it will cut through the ETHER when other modes just wont make it. SO keep pounding the key OM, 73’s and God Bless, your lovely bride and what remains of my country. K0JJJ

  5. I was at a Field Day camp one year with an island hopping medic who was a contest fanatic. Computer logging and sending, copying pileups by ear. Living on Pepsi and cigarettes all night long. “Iron Mike” went 20 hours before collapsing on the cot, with 1130 CW contacts logged. Awesome to watch. You didn’t want to break his concentration.

    • I figure if I really focuses, I might hit 40-contacts per hour, still that’s only 960 and dyed in the wool contesters would scoff as such a small number.
      Like Golf, ham radio ought to begin a handicapping system for over 65’ers…just saying

  6. And agin !! Wacking the USD . George as if I am gunna listen to any sheet from treasonland . Yada yada yada farking yada . Reset ass and shove gold and sheetcon in mouth

  7. And agin !! You with us or aginst us !! Great words from the great resetter George dubya bush . He blow up Farken buildings he do anythin for the masters . The dark side baby

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