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Roof, Attic and Basement (Repeat)

07/02/2008

Even when it started raining on Saturday morning, there were forecasts of sunshine all day. I had gone to bed Friday night with visions of finally, finally getting my HF antenna up on my new mast. But when I awoke on Saturday, I found myself in an alternate reality, one in which the new, revised, up-to-date weather forecast was for three more dismal, dank, dark days of drizzle.

Even the mold was starting to grow mold. Man, this was getting old.

My HF station had been off the air since last fall when I discovered that I was pumping more radio energy into my house than into the air. I had purchased and erected a taller mast, but had not had an opportunity to put my HF antenna on it. There was more to do than just hoist the antenna, which was a simple wire. There was also a SGC antenna coupler to mount, control wires to the antenna coupler to install and route as well as a longer batch of coaxial cable to run. It was a multi-part project consisting of working on the roof, working in the attic and working down in the basement.

I knew those lyrics well. The chorus went Roof, Attic, Basement (repeat). Do something on the roof, run the cables and such into the attic then down a conduit into the basement and then route everything around the basement until it all reached my shack. Oh yes, this was a familiar song indeed. That's why I'd been hoping for a nice three-day weekend.

After I got over the shock of the revised forecast I decided to go ahead and do at least some small part of the project. It wasn't supposed to rain all day every day. I should be able to sneak in a little work between the cloudbursts. And though I was sure I wouldn't get much done, at least the project would have been started.

I filled my "roof bag" with tools, parts, tape and everything else I thought I might need. Sometimes I felt like an astronaut while working up there. If I forgot to take something with me, well, scooting back to the shack for the missing item wasn't so easy.

The mast on which I wanted to mount my antenna coupler was a Penninger Tipper. As you might have guessed from the name, it tips over. I slipped an old TV dinner tray under the mast to prevent it from tipping all the way down to the roof. There was, after all, a VHF/UHF antenna already mounted at the top of the mast. If I lowered it all the way, the antenna would get squashed. I know that would make for a great future column, but it would've made me very unhappy.

One thing I discovered about the Penninger Tipper was that a lot of things I had didn't fit around its 2 inch diameter. Fortunately, I'd already made that discovery some time earlier and had obtained new U-bolts, drilled new holes and done everything necessary to get my SGC antenna coupler ready for installation.

I really had only one concern: The spot on the roof where I was working was very near a plumbing vent pipe. I'd already had a lot of bad luck with nuts, bolts, tools and rolls of tape getting away from me and rolling down the slope of the roof. Occasionally, I was able to retrieve things that had scampered away, but if something fell down that vent pipe, it was well and truly gone.

Nothing fell down the pipe -- or slid off the roof, for that matter. I felt very fortunate. I should've known that the laughing sky-god Iono was setting me up for a much more spectacular disaster. More about that later.

Anyway, I got the SGC antenna coupler installed. I got the control wires and coaxial cable connected to it. I got everything strapped to the mast with tie-wraps. I hadn't yet connected an antenna wire, but I wasn't planning to do everything that day. Primarily, I wanted to get the rooftop-portion of the control wire and coax routing done before the not-in-the-forecast rains arrived. I stuffed the remaining wire and coax through the attic vent and the roof work was done for the day.

I took some Motrin, hit the shower and spent the rest of the day in my La-Z-Boy.

The next day I squeezed my bulk into the attic crawl space. My knees were constantly in my belly, either crushed against wooden planks or in danger of going right through the ceiling. (As a child, I remember my dad doing exactly that, putting a foot in the wrong place while in the attic. It made an incredible mess in the living room. I did not want to reprise that event.) Forty-five percent of my time in the attic was spent unknotting the wires and cable I'd stuffed through the vent. Another 45 percent was spent trying to shove the wires and coax down conduit that led to the basement. The remaining 10 percent was equally divided between sweating, cursing and grunting. I did, however, get the wires down to the basement.

It was time for more Motrin, a longer shower, and a really long nap in the La-Z-Boy.

By the third day of the three-day weekend, I realized that, rain or not, I might actually finish the whole project. I started routing the wires and coax around the basement and before I knew it, I'd completed that part of the task. Hooray! With the sublime confidence of a man unaware that a disaster is about to befall him, I hustled up to the roof.

I set up my TV dinner tray and slowly lowered the mast. It was almost down when I heard an awful sound.

Rrrrrriiiiipppppp!

I knew right away that I was in trouble. I finished lowering the mast and, hands already sweating, went looking for the problem.

It didn't take long to discover that something bad had happened to either the SGC antenna coupler control wires or its coaxial cable. There was a nasty bulge in the weather sealant tape surrounding their connectors. It did, however, take a long time to get the sticky tape off so I could see exactly what the damage was. I expected that one or both of the control wires had popped loose from their wire nuts.

It was much worse than that: The PL-259 connector on the SGC antenna coupler had ripped loose from its coax.

When I had carefully tie-wrapped the coax to the mast, I had completely forgotten that it tipped. I failed to leave enough slack for the coax to bend as the mast tilted over. Something had to give, and what gave was one of the PL-259 connectors. And it was the connector I didn't think I could replace.

You see, soldering is not one of my best skills. I have managed to solder a few PL-259 connectors to coaxial cables, but only because they were oversized and designed to be manipulated by children who had not yet developed motor skills.

The damaged coax wasn't that kind. It was meant to be handled by delicate robots or perhaps by tiny fairies with very dexterous hands.

Amazingly, against all odds, I found just the right connector in my parts box. With no real hope of making it work, I took it and my gas-powered soldering iron up to the roof.

I guess that Iono must have figured he'd had enough fun with me and moved on to some other hapless amateur amateur, because my first field (well, rooftop) soldering job was a success.

I still can't believe that it worked.

I got the new PL-259 installed, tested it, put new weather sealant on everything, connected the wire antenna, sloooooowly raised the mast to its upright position then got the heck off the roof before anything else happened.

So, was it worth all the cramps, tears, and Motrin? Well, the ending was a mixed bag. The RFI into my house was greatly reduced, but didn't go away entirely. And unfortunately, my wire antenna doesn't get out nearly as good a signal as it did before.

It looks like it's going to be another chorus: Roof, Attic, and Basement (repeat).

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail.

Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor



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