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The Amateur Amateur: Tipping the Mast, Topping the Hill

06/03/2008

Last August I wrote a column about looking for a new antenna mast ("The Amateur Amateur: Towering Prices"). I needed something to put on the roof that would allow my antenna to get signals over the hill to the south of my house. The column ended with me ordering a mast that I hoped would do the job.

The mast I ordered was a Penninger Tipper. I ordered it because the mast can tip over, making it easier to raise and lower than my current tripod-mounted mast. The bottom of the new mast connects to a base which allows it to swivel up and down.

When the Tipper arrived, the first thing that I noticed was that it was heavy. Everything was made out of aluminum but it was all very solid. The joints which connected the mast sections had loads of nuts and bolts on them and looked like they were made to hold large airplanes together. The base itself resembled a lunar lander module.

The first thing I do when I receive something that large is to check to make sure all the parts are present. Then I look over the instructions to get a feel for how it fits together.

The next thing that I do is to procrastinate, especially if whatever I've bought has to go on the roof. Going up there is always a nerve-wracking event. It's not that I'm afraid of heights. No, I'm more afraid of damaging my roof. Also, my Safety Officer (my wife Nancy) normally takes a look at whatever I've bought and gives it her Frown of Disapproval. I usually wait a few weeks for the Frown to mellow a bit, just as a precautionary measure, you understand.

Insert Tab A into Slot B…

When I did start the installation the base of the Tipper went up fairly easily. Each mast section got a bit more unwieldy as I added it to the previous sections, but I didn't have any significant problems. I may have given the impression that Nancy barely tolerates my Amateur Radio activities (especially those on the roof), but she really is supportive. She had bought me a portable drill for Christmas that really helped during the installation. Moreover, she was quite happy that I was able to put up the whole thing without requiring her to get on the roof.

Once assembled, the Tipper looked like the battleship of antenna masts. It was solid. It was big. And, something I hadn't anticipated, it was shiny. You could see it all over the neighborhood. It reflected sunlight like a giant mirror.

Seeing the Forest (Green Antenna) through the Trees

There are no restrictive covenants where I live, and none of my neighbors has ever said anything about the appearance of my antennas, but I prefer not to draw attention to them. My other masts were all a dull green that visually merged with the trees behind them. The Tipper, on the other hand, fairly screamed, "Hey! One of those radio guys lives here! Come over and complain!"

I went to the hardware store and bought a can of forest green paint. I took down the mast sections and spent a weekend painting them. Once they had dried and I had re-erected them, I decided to paint the base of the Tipper as well. It wasn't a perfect job of camouflage by any means, as the trees in the background weren't really forest green. But at least it was now harder to see the mast, and it didn't attract as much attention to itself.

Okay, Now What?

Okay, the mast was now erected. The question, though, was whether or not it had been worth the effort. I was trying to solve two problems. The first was to get my VHF/UHF antenna "over the hump," high enough to at least peek over the hill to my south. The second was to get my HF wire antenna up away from the roof line. It was located relatively close to the roof and bathed the inside of my house with RFI every time I transmitted.

I can report partial success. My VHF/UHF antenna did peek over the hill just enough for me to get signals to and from the south. Cliff Rozar, KC0SDV, commented on my improved signal before I even mentioned the new mast. He said that I even sounded better on the repeater. Further experiments showed that I did not have crystal clear communications with the rest of the county as I'd hoped. But at least I'd made some progress.

I've yet to put my HF wire on the new mast so I don't know whether the added height will alleviate the interference problem. Putting up the wire requires routing new feed line and such. It will take a nice weekend, and so far the Missouri weather and I keep having scheduling conflicts.

So, height is an important factor. I think I've got that part handled.

Now I'm worrying about weight.

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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