Butchering the Hog

    Part I

    (Continued from page 1)

         My first thought was that a storm had come through allowing strong winds to whip it around until it broke, or a large branch from a nearby tree had broken off and came crashing down into the antenna elements. But we had not experienced a storm for a couple of weeks, and a quick glance to the ground did not reveal any large branches!

         With that theory disproved, I next imagined that a large bird had flown into it, tearing it up as it thrashed about, tangled in the wires. I looked for any evidence of a bird on the ground around the tower base, but there were no feathers nor other evidence of such fowl play.

         How could this have happened? The beam had only been up two years, so I did not think UV radiation had had enough time to cause deterioration of the fiberglass. There had to be another explanation! But, try as I might, no other idea came quickly to mind.

         It was only after eliminating all other possibilities that there was only one truly accurate explanation for what had happened: The antenna had been struck by a low-flying UFO! Of course! A UFO would leave no evidence behind that it had been there, and the lack of evidence confirmed this theory's veracity.

         But now what to do? First I checked my insurance policy and made sure there were no exclusions for damage caused by a UFO. Being satisfied in that manner, I then proceeded to take pictures of the crime scene for insurance purposes, and quickly sent off the required information.

         After having satisfied this priority, I walked over to the farm implement shed and opened the door to where my trusty New Holland T-55 tractor with the front end loader and the rear backhoe was stored. Anytime I had something important to do around the farm, I always headed toward this tractor. After all, what can't be done when you are in the seat of such mechanical power! I knew at this moment that it was just what I needed.

         Grabbing a special rolled up 50' hank of 3/8" steel cable, I threw it into the front end loader. This cable had large heavy duty hooks on each end with a catch on them so it would not fall off of whatever I hooked it to.

         I started up the diesel engine, let it idle for a few seconds and shifted the PTO into gear. Turning around, I leaned back and reached for the back hoe controls and lifted the back hoe bucket off the ground where it always came to rest after the hydraulics relaxed (and sometimes leaked) as the tractor sat in the shed. Once that was done, I pushed in the clutch, shifted the drive into low and the gear into second. I could usually start the tractor from 3rd or even 4th gear low, but my mind was occupied with the antenna this morning.

         Slowly driving the tractor out of the shed, I shifted into 3rd gear and headed for the back of the house. I drove the tractor up to the tower and allowed the front end loader to be within a couple of feet of one side of the tower. Raising the loader, I moved it higher and higher until it was about 12 feet off the ground. I then killed the engine and stepped on the brake while pulling on the parking lever. (
    Safety First is my motto!) Satisfied that the tractor was not going anywhere, I climbed on the engine hood and pulled myself up and into the front end loader bucket. This was not the easiest maneuver for me to accomplish, and I was painfully reminded of the age induced joint pains and lack of arm strength.

         "I can't continue doing this much longer," I thought to myself.

         But I persevered and rewardingly climbed into the bucket. Picking up the steel cable, I reached out to hook it onto the top of the tower. As luck would have it, I was about 6" too far away to reach the tower! So, I climbed out of the bucket, falling down on the tractor hood, and climbed back into the seat. Starting it up once again, I inched the tractor just a little closer. Then, with groans and pain, I once more climbed up into the tractor bucket. This time I could reach the tower, so I hooked the cable onto the tower, and then repeated my process of jumping down to the hood of the tractor and climbing back into the seat.

         Once I had started up the tractor and released the brake, I backed away from the tower and turned around. Then I backed up to within 15 feet of the tower, and once more shut off the engine and set the parking brake. Climbing down off the tractor, I went around to the back and grabbed the other end of the cable which was on the ground. Then, using the second hook on this end, I attached the cable around the stabilizing bar beneath the back hoe.

         Getting back in the driver's seat of the tractor, I started the engine, released the brake, and began to slowly inch my way forward until the cable lifted off the ground and arched its way between the top of the tower and the bottom of the tractor. I did not want it to be tight, so I left it somewhat loose, and once again turned off the tractor engine and set the parking brake.

    (Continued on Part 2)

    Part 2

    (Continued from Part 1)

    Climbing down the tractor, I walked over to my tool shed and hunted for two large box end wrenches. After finding them, I went back to the tower and began to take out the bolt on the tower leg facing the tractor. The tower, I should mention was a steel, crank up, tilt-over version, and weighed about 300 pounds — too much for my weakened arms to handle any longer. I should also mention that I had broken my left arm a couple of years previously while driving the tractor into a large, unseen ditch on my farm. This was also the arm which I had opened to the muscle while using a chain saw one day from up a tree (that's a story in itself — it required about 100 stitches and I will NOT tell it it now) In addition, I had, while working in my shop, amputated two fingers off my left hand only a year before this. So you may understand why my arm strength was not what it used to be. (Remember my motto?)

    Anyway, I removed the one bolt and loosened the other two leg-bolts on the tower. With the one bolt removed, the tower fell in that direction a couple of inches. Of course this was toward the tractor. But I figured that it could only fall a couple of inches before the tower leg would hit the concrete and stop! And that is exactly what happened. (I'll bet you thought it was going to fall on the tractor! - That's another story when I had taken down the tower once before — But it didn't fall on the tractor — It just fell towards me after I had loosened up the bottom bolts of the tower. Thank goodness back then I could move fast! So the tower simply hit the ground. Of course the yagi beam didn't fare too well when that happened. That's how I learned to take the tower down properly and now had a Hex Beam antenna!)

    Next I had to force the tower to fall in the opposite direction, so I stood up and pushed on it to first move it upright and then to begin falling in the opposite direction. The cable, which had been slack, became tight and stopped the falling when it had traveled about 5 degrees from vertical.

    Then I got back on the tractor, started the engine, and very slowly backed up the tractor, allowing the tower to tilt over on the two legs still loosely fastened to the base. When it had tilted enough that the antenna was almost to the ground, I stopped the tractor once more and searched for a wooden, long legged saw-horse-like contraption I had built the last time I took the tower down. I placed it between the tilting tower and the ground, and then, getting back on the tractor, lowered the tower until it was resting on the sawhorse. The antenna could now be taken off of the tower and replaced while I had my feet firmly on the ground.

    And remove the antenna from the mast was exactly what I did! Without incident, if you can believe it!

    To make a long story even longer, after I had removed the antenna and analyzed the damage, I looked up on the internet just how much this was going to put me back. Well, a replacement set of fiberglass poles did not cost as much as the antenna, so I ordered a complete set of just the poles. When they arrived, I got to thinking and decided that, just to be safe, I would paint the poles so any other UFOs would see them first and not run into them.

    My Image

    I purchased some enamel, UV protection paint (Dark blue in color) and started to paint the new poles. Just in case you ever need to know, enamel paint does not stick well to new fiberglass poles! But with perseverance and blue fingers, I finally succeeded in painting the poles. I might have gotten the paint on a little thick in places, but that would just assure me that they would not deteriorate in the sunlight! Since I really didn't have the place to paint them (it was now winter time) except in the basement, I could only paint 3 or 4 at a time. (Note to self: enamel paint takes a week to dry at 45 degrees F ). Given that there were about 18 poles to paint, each being about 5 feet long, it was Spring by the time they were dry enough to touch.

    It was at this juncture in time that I knew my wife and I were going to move to a new location soon, so I decided not to put the antenna up. In fact, I decided to sell the tower, antenna, and my K3 radio. I would still have the KX3, which was almost as good. — And much smaller to move! But the problems were just beginning.

    (Continued on part 3)

    Part 3

    (Continued from Part 2)

    We moved from central Kentucky to the Pacific Northwest — the Olympic Peninsula! Not only is the climate much milder, but the area we moved to receives LESS rain than we were used to in Kentucky (can you believe it!) Not as hot, not as cold, summers of sunny weather, hiking trails galore, mountaintop and ocean side within 20 minutes drive from each other. (Even though it seems backwards to me with the mountains in the south and the ocean to the north!) But, we have found paradise!

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    That is, until I tried setting up my KX3 with a small vertical antenna in the back yard. I only had one place I could put the vertical because the electric wire to the house went diagonally across the back yard. So I set it up between the house and the garage (a 20' stretch of dry, rocky dirt), ran the coax, and hooked it to my radio. At first, when I turned it on, I got lots of hiss and noise, but no signals. Yes, it was the middle of the day and I was listening to 80 meters, so I figured the band was closed. I switched over to 40. Tuned throughout the band and heard no one - just a lot of noise. Mmmmm… Guess I'll try 20 because that is always open.. On 20, the noise was higher, and again no signals except the noise.

    Maybe the antenna was not connected well. I tightened the connectors and tried again. Same results. Maybe the coax was bad. I replaced that coax with another piece. No change. Was my vertical antenna not working? It was new to me, and it was small and used radials elevated a few feet from the ground. Maybe it was a dud of a purchase. I guess I would have to wait until I could put up a horizontal antenna.

    After about 7 weeks, during which I occasionally would turn on the radio and listen to the noise with no Amateur signals, I was able to string a wire from one end of the attic, out a vent and over to the garage and to the other end of that garage. Some of it had to be doubled back (it was for 80 meters, after all) on each end, but at least it was a wire. I hooked it to the radio and turned it on. Now the noise was a good S8 — but still no signals.

    It was several weeks later that I heard my first ham signals on 80. They were in the noise, but I could almost make them out. I thought I would give them a call and keyed the radio. Did you know that 100 watts of power within a few feet of electrical wires in the house can be made to come into every electrical appliance in that house? I reduced the power until there was no interference and looked at the wattmeter: 7 watts output. Sigh… at least I was not interfering with the QSO which had just finished on frequency.

    With the rainy season upon us (November-January) I could not do much with the antenna. (By the way, what they call "rain" here we called "a drizzle" in Kentucky. Even if you walked in the rain you would rarely get wet.) Even though the rain was slight and gentle, it was an every day occurrence during those few months. (Even though the sun shone for several hours each day, also.)

    We then discovered that all the water that fell on the roof ended up on our dining area table. It seems that previous owners had insulated and drywalled the roof rafters to create a small room in the attic. But they either had forgotten or ignored the wisdom of allowing the underside of the roof to "breathe" and allow condensation to be removed. The insulation had collected moisture during the summer from the heat condensing the cooler inside air. So the insulation was already saturated when it began raining. I had to tear all the insulation and drywall out of the attic and arrange for roofers to come and put on a new roof. My "shack" had been in the attic at first, so all my equipment had to be removed, as well as my access to my attic dipole.

    (Continued on Part 4)

    Part 4

    (Continued from Part 3)

    Being the rainy season, the roofers were booked up for 6 months. So, with no access to an antenna, I was unable to try operating with my 7 watts.

    By the time the roofers got around to replacing the roof, I had built an "office" in the back of the garage to give me access to the space between the garage and the house, with the intention of putting a multi-band dipole on a 45' push-up pole and running the ends of the antenna to the far ends of the garage and the house. It was then that I realized my proximity to the local "international" airport. ( I think it was international because a plane from Canada - about 8 air miles away - had once landed there.) I got Google maps out, zoomed in close and measured the distance from my house to the end of the runway. I then looked up the regulations, plugged in the distance and calculated that I could put my antenna 34 feet in the air. — Oh well, that was still better than in the attic.

    My Image

    On the day the roofers finished, I had the push-up pole in place and the dipole in the air (sort of, anyway). It was evening when I went into the new "office" (or shack, or man-cave, or recording studio or hideaway, or whatever you want to call it) and hooked up the KX3. This time I actually heard some signals! They were all in the noise, and too faint to be deciphered, but there were signals! And, I could raise my power all the way to 75 watts before it began to intrude upon the appliances in the house! (My wife though there was a ghost duck in the microwave when I was using over that amount of power).

    I ended up selling my 600 watt amp and tuner since it was evident I was not going to use them. But when I got the panadapter hooked up to the KX3, I realized the extent of the noise. Every band had at least an S5 noise level, with broad peaks up to 10 over S9 every 35 to 55 KHz. No wonder I could not hear anyone. Of course the high tension electrical wires running over the house, with regular 220 lines running on all four sides of the house, and cable TV wires on three sides of the house, and city wide wifi, and plasma TVs from neighbors, and two electrical substations within 3 blocks of the house had nothing to do with the noise!

    Just to compare apples to apples I found a screenshot of some RFI from ethernet signals which I was investigating back in Kentucky. Here is that screen shot:

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    Notice that the interfering signals were spread out over a 3.5 KHz range and were about 35 dB above the noise floor of -142 dBm. (The noise floor was equal to about 2 1/2 S units BELOW S0 — That was quiet in the country!)

    I attempted to reproduce the setting at my home here in the Pacific Northwest, with the result being seen below:

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    The same group of interfering signals are seen (at slightly different frequencies of course) and range about the same signal strength above the noise floor. But look at the noise floor reading. Instead of -142 dBm, the noise floor is at -102 dBm : a 40 dB difference! That means there is approximately 10,000 times the power of noise reaching my receiver here than in Kentucky! (The noise was at its lowest, equal to an S4 reading or 6 1/2 S units higher than in Kentucky) When I set up the pan adapter to be just like the picture from Kentucky, here is the result:

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    As you can clearly see, the noise completely covers up any weak, medium and some strong signals which may be on 20 Meters. In fact, if the same interfering signals in Kentucky were located here, the peak signal strength of those signals (-112 dBm - a little more than S2) would still be 10 dB BELOW the noise here in Washington! And to make matters worse, the above pictures were taken in mid-day when the noise here is relatively quiet. The noise floor has been viewed to be as high as -75 dBm (approximately S9) later in the evening. (SEE ADDENDUM for more analysis of noise)

    So now you understand why Ham radio is no longer enjoyable for this ham!

    When I realized the true situation, I hooked up the two meter radio and found the local repeater and occasionally talk to those found there. And I talk back to Kentucky over Echolink. I realize that the mountains running South of me from the East to the West, block low angle radiated signals from coming in from the rest of the continental United States, and the thinly populated area diminishes the number of Hams. If the upper bands were open, I could easily talk over the pole, or maybe to China or the Japan. But we're at the minimum of the cycle right now, and the MUF is too low for those bands.

    Those factors have slaughtered and butchered this Ham. Amateur Radio, which has helped define who I have been for the past 50 years, no longer is a factor in my life. I will keep the few toys I still have, but will not add to them nor make use of them I once did. I have gone on and started a new life filled with writing and contemplation, meditation and speaking. Thank you, Ham Radio for where you have brought me. I will remember you gently in my new life.

    The End

    P.S., check out the
    items I have for sell (after I get their pictures on the website)! At least someone should get some use out of them!


    More Noise Analysis

    Some of you reading this would probably think that no location, even in the country has a noise floor of -145dBm. So, to those who do not believe the picture in Part 4 of my noise in Kentucky, here's a comparison with the noise I hear now:

    First, let's look again at the noise floor in Kentucky:

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    Now, some would question whether or not I had the antenna attached, because the noise is just too low! So, I made a picture of the noise floor here without the antenna attached:

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    This was taken mid day and without the antenna attached. The noise floor is about -122 dBm, 23 dB above that in Kentucky. While not as bad, it shows that the ambient noise on 20 meters is at least 23 dB above what it was in Kentucky This is equal to almost an S1 noise level WITHOUT an antenna. The power line, and general radiated power is more than 100 times stronger than in Kentucky (IF the original picture was taken without the antenna attached). That would seem more likely, some may imagine. But when I connect the antenna, look what happens:

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    The noise jumps up to about -105 dBm (almost an S4). Mmmm… a quiet day in my new neighborhood! You can almost see the lower parts of the noise signals in the above picture. If I scale it down a little so you can see the peaks of the noise and set it to show the peaks over time (blue line), it looks like this:

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    Now you can see that the peaks of the white noise at my location reaches as high as -80dBm (S8), and the average peak is closer to -97 dBm (S5) rather than S4. This frequency is one of the quiet spots on 20 Meters. When I zoom out and look at a 100KHz segment, here is what I see:

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    On this picture I coincendently captured the first strong signal I have heard on 20!: 14.253 KHz. All the rest is noise. Notice the broad hump of noise just above the center frequency. That noise peaks at about -67 dBm (S9 + 5) and is about 15 KHz wide. I need strong signals like that one shown on 14.253 if I am to operate on 20.