Here in Kansas

The pack out went as well as can be expected. Not the best I’ve had, but not the worst. The packers started last Tuesday (8 July) and continued on Wednesday and Thursday, although Wednesday was the only full day of packing. The moving trucked showed up Friday and loaded everything up – that took all day. We got to have dinner Friday night with Margot and Joel as well as their neighbors, Nan and Pat. I worked with Margot when I was at Fort Monroe, she has since retired. Margot and Joel looked after the XYL (Christa, KI4ODI) and Sarah while I was gone last year – having them over to dinner, babysitting Sarah (our 2 year old), and about a million other things. It was a wonderful dinner and Sarah got a bunch of presents for the road trip from her fan club (Margot and Nan). Friday night we spent on air mattresses – cat, dog, Sarah, Christa, and I all camped out by the fireplace.

Saturday morning came early – we had to load up the car and truck and do a final cleanup prior to the arrival of the landlord at 0800 for our final clearing of the Hampton house. Cleanup was quick (as the house was empty) and all the stuff we elected to take with us for the road trip fit either into the trunk of Christa’s car or into the bed of my truck. A quick breakfast at McDonald’s and we were off: Christa with Sarah and the constantly meowing cat (not at all enjoying the ride in his cat cage and somewhat drugged with kitty Valium and me with the dog riding in the front passenger side on the floor (without issue – the dog loves riding quietly on the floor).

Day One (Saturday): we had an nice drive to Charleston, West Virginia, arriving around 5pm. We lucked out with a bottom floor room near the side entrance. Our criteria for the hotels we stayed at on the road trip was that it had to allow pets and it had to have a pool (for Sarah). After a takeout dinner from the Texas Roadhouse (I had an appetizer of jalapeƱos stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon, with a touch of BBQ sauce – amazing!) we hit the pool. Sarah is becoming quite the swimmer. She’s not soloing yet, but she is making great progress.

Day Two (Sunday): a little bit of rain as we traveled west between West Virginia and Louisville, Kentucky. The weather cleared and we had a nice drive through Indiana and into Illinois. We stopped an hour east of St. Louis in western Illinois. This time it was a 2nd floor room, but we were able to use those wheeled baggage carriers to move are stuff upstairs (with Sarah riding aboard). We hit the pool after an early dinner and Sarah swam without her floaty vest, doing a few laps with some help.

Day Three (Monday): the truck driver told us that he’d arrive in Leavenworth between 0830 and 0930. Therefore I had to get up very early (0300) and hit the road with the dog. I was able to move quickly through St. Louis not getting tied up in commuter traffic, past the Arch , across the Missouri River and into Missouri. The local news on the radio was buzzing about the selling of Anheuser Busch (based in St. Louis) to InBev, a Belgium company. It was also the topic of conversation at the McDonald’s I stopped at for breakfast around 0530. A quick fill up of my gas tank ($87… ouch) and the dog and I continued west, passing through Kansas City around 0800. By now, Christa had rounded up the cat and Sarah – making her way through the St. Louis Monday morning commute. I arrived at our rental house in Leavenworth at 0845, wondering if I’d see a big truck out front. But our cul-de-sac was empty. The driver had had mechanical issues east of Kansas City and now would not arrive until noon.

The moving truck did finally show and the unloading commenced around 1230. Who’d ever thought we’d have so much stuff – box after box… it seemed like the boxes never stopped coming off the truck. Christa arrived with a bag full of hamburgers and Cokes for everyone. This was good because (1) we were hungry and (2) Christa could direct were the boxes went in the house instead of me (up to this point, I’d been funneling most of the boxes into either the basement or the master bedroom… I don’t really know why, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time). Problem: the dryer would not fit through the door into the laundry room. I set about disassembling the back in an attempt to get it through. Still wouldn’t fit. We were able to swap our fridge with the existing fridge (ours has a water dispenser) and put the existing fridge in the garage. We finished with the unpackers by around 7pm, exhausted.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: Unpacking, boxes, up and down stairs. The house here is two stories with an unfinished basement. Upstairs are three bedrooms (Sarah’s, guest bedroom, and Christa’s office). Downstairs is the master bedroom (big bath and walk in closet = happy XYL), dining room, family room, kitchen (bigger than our last), and laundry room (I did finally get the dryer in after the use of a hacksaw and some more disassembling… I still have a few extra bolts). There is a small deck off the kitchen and a small fenced yard up against the oldest cemetery in Kansas (…spooky!). The unfinished basement is huge and is where my ham radio and office stuff is. Lots of work down there to do.

Today – Sarah gets to visit her preschool, which she starts on Monday. We’re continuing the unpacking… even hope to get Christa’s car in the garage today. I have this next week off to continue getting the house in order before I need to show my face over at Fort Leavenworth. Saturday we’ll hit the local farmer’s market and head into the big city (Kansas City) for some shopping. Next week our new couch and Christa’s desk arrives. Lots more to do (like setting up the ham shack)… but I am looking forward to the arrival of the couch!

Packing…. boxes, boxes, boxes

I don’t think it is possible to make moving a pleasant experience. I have been in the Army since 1991 and this is my 10th major move. Today is the last of three days of packing and tomorrow everything gets loaded in the moving van.

Thursday is our weekly trash pickup, so last night we gathered up every bit of what we didn’t want and hauled it out to the curb. All kinds of stuff. Stuff that didn’t sell at the yard sale and we hadn’t given to the Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store. Old, deteriorating particle board shelving from the garage. A wobbly desk that had been cobbled together from two desk sets long ago. The wood dowel connections had been reinforced over the years with L brackets. A really old plywood shelf that came from my Mom’s house that was made probably before I was born. Those popup shelters everyone uses (especially on Field Day) with the one support that snapped when trying to open or close it. Tons of trash… empty Sears laundry detergent box, frozen food from the fridge (to include the bag of Gino’s Pizza Roles that I impulsively bought just two weeks ago at the store, thinking that it was something that I had been deprived of during my last year in Iraq and that I must, must have but never even was opened), old and expired medicine (some unused and never opened… once it was all piled together in the bag I felt like a hypochondriac), extra coffee mugs that I’ve carted around for almost two decades that never get used. The particle board 2-drawer filing cabinet that’s missing one of four casters and top drawer that never closed correctly (and it went with another desk set that got tossed about two moves ago). An MFJ HF balcony/window antenna (used once or twice). Lots of pieces and parts for various ham projects that never quite got off the ground (the attempt to make a 2M/70cm beam for satellite ops), painter poles (plural) used in various implementations for field operations to raise up wire antennas. But before we went to bed last night, a good portion of all the stuff we hauled out to the curb had been picked through and hauled off by some of the locals, prowling the neighborhood trash piles for good finds. More power to them. I wish I knew who they were ahead of time, so I could of handed the stuff directly to them… maybe even nicely boxed. What wasn’t hauled off by those folks was picked up this morning by the huge trash truck with the large iron claw. I love those guys!

I will say there is kind of a cleansing-baptismal-rejuvenational feeling of purging yourself of all that “stuff” that for some reason or another you just kept hanging onto. I guess that is one reason I enjoy the Army, the frequent moving. Although I’m not crazy about the actual process, I think the end result is a good thing. And I always catch myself making the same promises and resolutions every move – this new place will be different: I will stay better organized, I will clean more often, I will not accumulate junk. But this time I mean it. Really.

A New Beginning – Goals For The Kansas Radio Shack

One advantage of the move to Kansas will be the opportunity to redesign and implement a new shack layout. I don’t have a clear picture of what I want it to look like, so I am going to start with making a list of what I want to be able to accomplish in the shack. This will be a basement shack… a big basement. I’ve never lived in a house that had a basement and I’m looking forward to the possibilities.

What I want to accomplish in the Kansas Shack:
– HF phone and CW operation; 80m-10m
– HF digital modes (PSK-31, RTTY, PACTOR III)
– Computer logging
– 2m FM base station
– APRS weather station, interfaced with a dedicated 2m transceiver
– Online weather page, showing current weather conditions
– Separate, organized workbench

There are a number of tall trees to the north of the house that will support some different wire antenna options. My plan is to start out with a RadioWavz 246′ End Fed Zep. We’ll see how that works. Maybe try a loop before winter comes. Another challenge will be getting the feedline into the basement.

Mini-Hamfest (a.k.a. – our Moving Sale)

Although yesterday (5 July) was not strategically the best day for a yard sale, the XYL and I were running out of time as the movers are due to show this coming week. We’ve have a lot of extra “stuff” and tried to strictly enforce the rule that if it hadn’t been used/touched/worn/opened/looked at since the last move in 2005 it was time to get rid of it. I’d also acquired an amazing amount of ham stuff (the XYL has a different terminology for it). I could sell it on eBay, but I didn’t want to invest the time or energy… nor the trips to the Post Office. Here’s what was up for sale:

Heathkit SB-220 amplifier
MFJ Versa Tuner V, MFJ-989C
Astatic D-104 microphone
ICOM AT-180, HF+50MHz Automatic Antenna Tuner (in original box, very good condition)
MFJ 6 Meter SSB Transceiver, MFJ-9406 (includes AC power supply)
MFJ 6 Meter Tuner, MFJ-906
Cushcraft 6 Meter 3 element beam (well weathered)
Ten Tec RX320 (with manual)
ICOM IC-PCR1000, Communications Receiver For Computer (with manual)
Kantronics KPC-9612 Plus (with manual)
Pakratt-232, Model PK-232 MBX (with manual)
MFJ Multi-Mode Data Controller, MFJ-1278 (with manual)
MFJ TNC 2 Packet Radio, MFJ-1274
MFJ Deluxe Code Practice Oscillator, MFJ-557
MFJ Electric Keyer Paddle with Memory, MFJ-442
Dymek DA100E, Active Receiver Antenna, 50kHz-30MHz (with manual)
Radio Shack Amplified Base Station Microphone, CAT NO 21-1173
Radio Shack SWR/Power Meter, CAT NO 21-534
MFJ-8128 VHF 114-220 MHz SWR/Wattmeter
MARS Model LE-2 Hybrid Phone Patch
Heathkit Hybrid Phone Patch, Model HD-15 (with manual)
Quad magnetic mount for antenna
Various Hamsticks and Hustler single band mobile antennas
Various amateur radio books

We did have quite a few hams show up and my prices were incredibly reasonable if not down right ludicrous. The MFJ 6 Meter SSB rig went quick, but I’m surprised no one grabbed the 3-element beam. All the three of the phone patches sold (I had two Heathkits) – that surprised me. What all surprised me was why I had three phone patches. All the Hamsticks and Hustlers went. Some of the books. Bottom line – I was able to find new homes for a lot of gear I wasn’t using and got a bit of reimbursement in the process.

Anybody need an MFJ Deluxe Code Practice Oscillator?

What’s amazing is the amount of gear I still have that I’m unwilling to part with and is coming with me to Kansas.

On The Road Again!

It was good to get back behind the wheel of my 2005 Toyota Tundra – although can’t say I am excited about paying to fuel it up. I’ve attempted to get a good HF install for mobile operations before experiencing limited success… with perhaps my biggest rookie mistake being an attempt to use the ICOM AT-180 autotuner along with my IC-706MKIIG.

I used Hamsticks and Hustler mono band resonators – it worked pretty well but I got tired of having to exit the vehicle every time I wanted to change bands.

My answer was to install a screwdriver antenna. I’d been planning this mobile install for some time, using lessons from my trials in the Spring of 2007 as well as a significant amount of reading and research (eHam, WorldRadio, CQ Magazine, websites). I decided on basing my mobile install around the Tarheel Model 75 “Stubby” providing continuous coverage from 3.7 to 34 MHz. The folks at Tarheel worked with me to get me going – responsive to my emails and questions.

The radio for this mobile install: my ICOM IC-706MKIIG. I’d originally purchased this radio when I arrived in Hampton back in the early Summer of 2005. The purchase was in part to motivate me to upgrade from Tech to General – which it did. That Summer I passed the written exam (Element 3) at a nearby hamfest for General. But I was not yet ready for the Morse (Element 1). It wasn’t until later that Fall that I was ready for the Morse… and barely passed too. I’ve been very pleased with the IC-706MKIIG; it is a great radio for a beginner, easy to operate, solid performance, flexible to use either in the radio shack, portable, or mobile.

To mount the antenna to my Toyota Tundra, I really did not want to permanently mar the exterior of the truck. I’d admired K4GUN’s install and thought his implementation of using the Geotool stake pocket on the bed of the truck was brilliant. I wrote Steve, K4GUN, concerning his install and he provided some great additional information concerning the challenges of the stake pocket mount. After working with Rick, WA6JKH, to ensure I was ordering the proper mount, I placed my order and Rick gave me a nice active duty military discount.

I decided to get N2VZ’s Turbo Tuner for ease of operation. Operating HF while driving is already complicated enough and I wanted to make tuning the antenna as easy as possible. Bill was very responsive and also provided a military discount.

I had ordered all the equipment while in Iraq, so everything was waiting for me when I arrived home.

The install took two days. Perhaps the hardest part was mounting the IC-706MKIIG under the passenger’s seat. Already installed under the seat was my ICOM IC-208H – my trusty VHF/UHF rig. I’d originally installed this rig during my circumnavigation of the continental US back in 2005. During that install, I only partially removed the passenger’s seat. This time I pulled the seat completely out of the truck which greatly helped me successfully position both the IC-208H and the IC-706MKIIG in the limited space.

Routing the feedline from the rig to the stake pocket mount was fairly easy, making use of the rubber grommet directly under the passenger’s seat and zip ties along the feedline’s path to the rear of the truck. Soldering the connections to the stake pocket mount was straight forward but it was a bit tricky feeding the line up through the bottom of the stake pocket.

Setup of the Turbo Tuner was a snap; I followed the provided instructions step-by-step, making sure I had the DIP switches positioned properly.

Mounting the antenna onto the Geotool stake pocket mount was made easier by using the HI-Q’s Giant Quick Disconnect. Payment was via PayPal and Charlie, W6HIQ, had it on my doorstep within the week. Thanks Charlie!

How does it work? So far, so good. More reports from the road are coming… and maybe a picture or two.