Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Land Hunting

Canada is the world's second largest country by land area with a middling population. This makes for a low population density. Visitors from Europe and east Asia in particular are often attracted to and amazed by the wide open spaces we have. It can be fun to experience their observations firsthand. If your interest is in the great outdoors the vast spaces and wilderness are an undeniable attraction.

When you live here the experience is different. Because we're so spread out the cost of travel and transportation is a consideration, and the taxes to pay for and maintain infrastructure such as electrical transmission lines and roads. Not to mention the rapid wear on that infrastructure from our extreme weather.

For hams with dreams of antenna farms the opportunities for acquiring land are good. That must be tempered by availability of utilities and roads and proximity to services and communities. If you are not retired be prepared for long commutes, or use the internet to work remotely if you can. The simple act of shopping for groceries can be a challenge.

As I reiterated at the beginning of this year I have aspirations for an antenna farm now that my enthusiasm for the hobby and contests has been rekindled. I am on the edge of retirement and what little work I do is short term consulting. I am free to move. As intimated in my previous article I am exercising that freedom.

Before I talk about the new property let's back up a few months to when I hired a realtor and they began to search out properties that met my criteria. Realtors can only help so much since this kind of hunt is typically far outside their experience and outside the search features of the listing services. Be prepared to take an active role in winnowing the choices they present you. Expect to spend time finding candidates yourself, which you then submit to the realtor so they can research them further.

The hunt was fraught with many challenges. In this article I'll describe some important ones that I encountered, both to entertain you and to provide food for thought should you contemplate doing something similar. Leave yourself lots of time to shop around. Expect frustration along the way. After endless searching out and visiting promising properties I began to worry that I'd never succeed, or that I'd have to settle for second best, or even worse.


Canada is a first-world country with all the government, laws and regulations that go along with that. There really is no escape; you cannot simply buy some land in an isolated area and start erecting towers. Well, you can but sooner or later you will be caught and come to grief. Those in authority take their responsibilities seriously and will come after you, because if they don't they will come to grief for failing in their duties.

The first problem is that of cities. Many provincial governments in Canada have over the past decades aggressively pushed amalgamation of municipalities, both urban and rural, to reduce the cost of government and simplify oversight. It hasn't gone well in many cases, but I'll skip over that subject because...politics.

What it has done is created cities of enormous land area, incorporating large rural municipalities. Since the populations of these forced marriages are majority urban the city councils tend to apply city rules to the rural areas. That this causes many absurdities has slowed the trend very little.

For me that meant escaping Ottawa. That is difficult since the city has grown so large in area: ~80 km east-west and ~50 km north-south. There is lots of suitable rural property within the Ottawa boundaries but with difficult rules regarding towers I must look further out.

All municipalities, urban and rural, have permitting requirements, though they are often far less strict in rural areas with low population density. I know many hams in rural areas that are simply told to go ahead without a permit. But not always. Make appropriate inquiries before breaking ground.

On the federal level one must get approval for especially tall towers, in particular over 30 meters, with Transport Canada and NavCan. These are for aircraft safety. In most cases they simply add your tower to navigation charts and thank you for taking the time to let them know. However if you are near an airfield, even a small one, or if you exceed 60 meters height expect some challenges.

Suitable house and suitable land

One of the great challenges in the land hunt is to find a property that is both suitable to both ham radio and for living. This is no less true if you are alone than if you have a family. This difficulty is not too surprising since getting either one right is a challenge, so passing both sets of criteria with one property is less probable.

Here are some of the solutions of hams I have known:
  • Purchase the land and build the house to your spec, including radio needs.
  • If the land is good but not the house, renovate the house, perhaps extensively.
  • Use the property only for ham radio while living elsewhere. The station is only used for contests or operated remotely.
  • Accept less than ideal house or land and live with the consequences.
Since suitable property is almost always rural it is necessary to consider proximity to shopping, services, friends and work. In bad weather (winter storms) accessibility may be slow due to long driveways and road clearing. If power lines come down rural residents are the last to be restored.

In short, be prepared to compromise. You will also have to sell your family on the positive aspects of rural life.

Hidden hazards

Large rural lots can hide a lot of things you'd rather avoid. I always walk the property to look for things the sellers would rather you didn't know about. Here are a few things I've personally encountered:
  • Garbage: Too often I've discovered garbage dumped somewhere. Their contents ranged from everyday household refuse to material from building demolition to business waste. Sometimes the garbage has been burned and left an ugly and toxic scar. People can be lazy and view their large properties as a way to dispose of material cheaply and easily and without paying for legal disposal.
  • Skull and crossbones: One one property I found a large but low concrete structure with a heavily secured cover. On it could be found the words "poison gas". What the poison gas was I never did learn although my agent did ask. Many months later the property is still on the market, at a much lower price and a new listing agent.
  • Easements: It is not uncommon for electrical lines to cross rural properties. Since population density is low this is a way to reduce infrastructure costs for the utility, and therefore (in theory at least) lower rates. In Canada and the US these rural lines are typically 14.4 kV (7.2 kV is more typical in cities). Be certain those lines do not impede your plans for towers and antennas. Also consider that easements allow utility workers to cross your property to get to those facilities, which might pose a hazard. Other easements are less common but can be significant problems. For example, pipelines.
  • Outbuildings: Barns, stables, sheds and shelters are not uncommon on rural properties. Many of these used to be working farms, horse ranches or sites for the owner's business. Sometimes they add to the tax levy. These buildings have potential uses for hams. The problem in many cases is that they are little more than safety hazards that ought to be avoided or (better) removed. One such building I found garnered this answer to our query: "take a match to it and have a jolly bonfire!" Well, no. Try that and you'll have the authorities on top of you in no time at all. This is for good reason since these burns are dangerous and release toxic gasses and particulates into the air. Further, these buildings may contain septic systems and fuel tanks. Abandoned fuel tanks may contain fuel (really!). Outbuildings can be expensive liabilities, so look them over carefully.
The lesson is that things you really want to know about are often not mentioned in the real estate listing. Indeed the seller's real estate agent may not know about it because the seller chose not to disclose. Caveat emptor! Do your due diligence. It's well worth the time it takes. No one else will do it for you.

Putting down roots
Extracted from Google Maps

Study the satellite view of a section of a large property that caught my interest. There are several large open fields separated by some trees and bounded to the north by rough bush. When I visited the fields were overgrown and the bush areas were difficult to navigate. The reality on the ground is not so tidy as seen by the satellite.

Less visible is what lurks below ground. We care about that for two reasons:
  • Ground quality for vertical, low-band antennas
  • Excavation for tower bases and guy anchors
The geology in this part of Canada is shield rock (billions of years old) overlain with newer rock, such as shale, and then soil over that. The native vegetation is forest and thin bush where rock is prevalent. Soil depth to the underlying bedrock can vary a lot over a short distance. Think of it as ancient eroded mountains buried by newer sediments and organic detritus.

When you dig a hole you may hit bedrock that is close to the surface (ancient hilltop) or it may be soil or other loose material to a great depth (ancient valley or watercourse). Bedrock is a problem. It can be removed with heavy equipment that will add thousands of dollars to your tower budget. I've been through this several times over the years, including for towers and my present house. I want to avoid bedrock removal if at all possible.

The thin rough bush to the north is a sign that there is little soil over the bedrock. In this case as in others I've investigated the soil cover may only be centimeters deep and rock may in fact be at the surface. Trees have difficulty putting down roots which is why the vegetation cover is sparse.

The ground can be tested with simple tools and some ingenuity. One is a metal probe. It is a thin, hardened steel tube with a pointed end and large handles to facilitate pushing it down up to 1 meter depth. That's about the best you can do with a hand tool. Going deeper requires a drill or a backhoe. A backhoe cannot be used on property you don't own. Even a hand probe may be looked upon with suspicion.

A less intrusive test is to take a rough level off the septic system drainage field. Modern leaching beds in Ontario must have 4' of granular sand and 1' of soil above that. Thus the surface will be at least 5' above bedrock or other native soil. If the house and leaching bed are raised well above the surrounding land that is strong evidence of rock below. Knowing your own height and standing on the undisturbed surface face the house and bed and estimate the grade difference.

For the property above I measured a grade difference of 4' implying only 1' of soil above the native bedrock. Not only that, the house dates to 1860 and has a crawl space rather than a proper basement. The crawl space is another clue. Go down there and check for bedrock. It's worth getting a little dirty.

For this and other reasons I rejected the above property. However if you would instead choose to proceed you must add excavation costs to your budget.

Draw a circle

We want to maximize the land area within a given radius of the shack so that we can reduce the length of cables to reduce loss and reduce the cost. Let's say we want to keep the towers within 75 meters of the shack (or another radius of your choice). Use the adjacent diagram as our reference.

If the lots boundaries are outside this circle you're doing well! The only problems might be plowing your driveway in the winter and ever seeing passers by. But you'll always have your radio.

Should the house be near a boundary, whether a road or neighbouring lot, half or more of the circle is inaccessible. You will also be closer to noise sources, such as neighbourhood electronics and faulty power lines.

Working farms often have houses that are close to a boundary so as to maximize productivity. On some large farms the house and outbuildings are centrally located, which is good for radio and bad for accessibility.

If there's an easement for electric distribution or other utility wiring across your property use that as the boundary rather than the conventional boundary line since it limits the available land in the same manner.

The worst case is where the house is nestled in a corner of the lot. The available area is no more than a quarter of what's possible, or < 90° of the circle.

It is certainly possible to compensate when the lot is large enough by extending the radius. The cost of transmission lines and control cables can be a barrier if your objective is to have no greater transmission loss than within the smaller radius. Consider this when you encounter an otherwise attractive property.


I am plagued with noise here in the city. This is a common complaint and one without good solutions except to move. A rural property is not just for big towers and antennas but also for hearing well. Local noise is one reason I stuck with QRP contesting the past few years since it was the only way I could be sure I could hear the stations that called me.

I studied the number, distance and direction of neighbours for every property that I considered. I set 100 meters as the absolute minimum to be reasonably assured of quiet reception. The greater the distance the better. Although one needs less than 10 acres to build a world class antenna farm more land serves as buffer for receiving. More than that, it makes the towers less noticable and that is never a bad idea; all it takes is one antagonistic neighbour to make your life unpleasant. Apart from visibility the other advantage of a buffer is less risk of EMI when running two 1 kilowatt stations non-stop for 48 hours.

Of course that isolation can impede community interaction which matters to quality of life for you and your family. This is one more area where you may need to compromise to keep peace in the family.

Seriously noisy neighbours

Neighbours can include more than people. There are numerous noise sources that ought to be avoided. Not just today, but for the future as well. You do not want to move into your ideal noise-free property and only months later have a commercial wind farm or solar farm appear next door. This is not merely an academic concern (PDF); hams I know have to deal with this threat. I am all for green energy but...NIMBY. They can be very strong noise sources due to numerous and high-power DC-to-AC inverters and generators.

Search out these facilities and try to stay at least a few kilometers away. If you're not sure drive by the area with a receiver. Even a car AM radio can be sufficient. Tune to the edges of the band (~530 and 1,700 kHz) at least 20 kHz from a broadcast station, and not while underneath a power line or near a utility pole. What you hear at MF is a harbinger of what you'll hear on 160 meters and perhaps throughout HF and 6 meters.
Extracted from Google Maps

Be especially inquisitive when you spot one isolated wind generator. They tend to multiply, and often throughout the area since it is proven to be attractive to a commercial operator and local authorities have given approval. Scour local news sites for stories about planned facilities in the area: they are often the target of vocal opposition and the resulting news stories are easier to find than official government documents.

Use a satellite map service to look for suspicious infrastructure. Solar farms are easy to spot, as seen in the adjacent satellite image. You'll have to peer more closely to spot residential solar panels but they are visible. The larger residential solar installations can be noise sources though not always. Go there and listen.

One thing I've learned to be less concerned with is high voltage electrical transmission. There are many hams near these transmission corridors, including contesters, and problems are uncommon and moderate when they do occur. Even so I want a separation of at least 2 to 3 km.

Ground truth

Earlier in this article I highlighted the value of walking the land to discover undisclosed hazards. This is necessary even when there are no hazards. Make the effort. Just 10 minutes of your time is enough to evaluate the ground truth over as much as 10 acres. Wear hardy footwear and watch for holes hiding in the vegetation!

I always study the satellite view of the property and immediate area on one of the popular internet map services. Take note of any questionable features and inspect them on the ground. Do not accept the satellite view as indicative of what you'll find: the overhead perspective can be misleading, just as it can be from an aircraft. A good example is a few acres on my new property that I am considering for a future 160 meter array. I put the satellite view alongside the picture I took on the ground, facing south from approximately the spot indicated on the satellite view.

Left: Extracted from Google Maps; Right: photo taken by me
I have yet to discover the reason this area has reverted to bush. It isn't dense bush and should be easy to clear. I would think the local farmer taking a hay crop off this land would have liked to use it.

Notice what appears to be a small hill in the southwest corner, both in the satellite view and the photograph. I waded through the bush to investigate. To my surprise it's an untended berry patch gone wild. At its highest it is ~4 to 5 meters tall, with a big tree in the centre. I was relieved to discover it wasn't an outcrop of the bedrock.

There is evidence of old paths throughout this field. Otherwise it is no different than the surrounding fields. Perhaps disinterest or a change of ownership resulted in the field reverting to its natural state. It can be used for an antenna as it is, if one is willing to wade through the vegetation. That would be difficult and unpleasant.

More criteria?

I am sure there is more that can be added to my list of criteria. You could use mine as a foundation for your own list, based on your individual needs. There is nothing definitive about what I've written. You're the one that has to live there, not me, so do what works for you.

My new property

Up to now I've said little about my new property other than the photo above. The details will come in a future article on how I propose to use the land. For the moment I will say that is just under 50 acres (20 hectares), is located in FN24 and is pretty well set up to allow numerous towers and low band antennas without excessively long cable runs. The house is a bit of a fixer-upper, and that is monopolizing my immediate attention.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tear Down and Review

As the closing date for my house came ever closer I could no longer delay removal of my antennas and towers. About 3 weeks before the deadline the first antenna came down. I then proceeded in stages until all was down, packed and their imprint removed from the lawn and house. My objective was to leave only footsteps behind, and that is just what I accomplished.

There was no need to simply pull the big switch and go QRT immediately. I planned the removal process so that I would be on the air for as long as possible, even if with lesser capability. My reasons were to remain active, since I enjoy being on the air, and to work a few of the current crop of DXpeditions. There will of course be other DXpeditions to these same countries but why wait if it isn't strictly necessary.

The order in which antennas and supports came down was dictated by operating priorities and dependencies; for example, the yagi must come down before the tower (obvious, I hope). As always I also try to learn something from what I built so that I can do better in future. That's the real purpose of this article.

80 meters

This 80 meter tower vertical was the easiest antenna to remove since all the components but one were at ground level. The radials were difficult to locate since the sod effectively covered and hid them in just one year. I rolled up the radials, cut them at the tower end and then removed the L-network box. Apart from the one previously severed radial everything was in good condition. The coax connector was pristine inside once the weatherproofing was removed.

The 3" galvanized framing nails that pinned the radial ends to the soil had substantial surface rust. The lifetime of buried galvanized steel has a varies with climate and soil chemistry. It can last less than a year or for a generation or more. The acidic soil around here is clearly unfriendly at least to the light galvanizing on these nails. But then they are designed for framing not burial.

With the antenna removed I cut the coax from the overhead cable bundle. This was easy since it was the last installed and therefore the other cables remained as a bundle when the tape and tie wraps were removed. The freed coax was pulled out of the shack and carefully rolled up. It is now ready for its next adventure. The L-network may be reused in a different configuration for a future antenna. I save everything.

Later when I was stripping the tower I removed the "insurance" jumper between the mast and tower. There was significant corrosion. The combination of three different metals -- galvanized steel, copper and stainless steel -- made for some interesting chemistry. I expected something like this but didn't worry about it since I knew the antenna would likely be up only one year. For a permanent installation attention must be paid to dissimilar metal corrosion.

Tower cabling

Removing the cabling was a one climb process. I planned it that way. Here's how I did it.
  • Carry a rope up the tower.
  • Starting from the bottom cut the tape and tie wraps securing the cable bundle to the tower.
  • Stop near the top. Wrap the rope around the cable bundle in a coil about 4 to 6" (10 to 15 cm) long. While tempting the rope coil should not butt up against any connectors. This length of wrapping prevents kinks and pinches. Temporary tie the rope higher on the tower, being sure the rope is reasonably taut between the tie off and the cable bundle.
  • Disconnect the coax runs from the antennas, cutting or removing the weatherproofing as needed. Inspect the connectors to confirm there has been no water damage (there wasn't). Do the same for the rotator cable. I use connectors so that the terminal strip on the bottom of the Ham-M rotator does not need to be accessed and should in any case have been coated in a protective goop of some kind. The connector allows the rotator can be removed later, not now when it is holding a mast and yagis.
  • Cut the remaining tape and ties on the cables. The rope will now take the weight of the cables. Unless your tower is extremely tall the cables are perfectly capable of supporting their own weight.
  • Untie the rope and lower the cables to the ground. Take care that they don't tangle in the tower and guys.
  • Climb down and roll everything up
The only problem I discovered was that the bracket with an SO239 I had made up for the Explorer 14 feed point slipped out of the tie wraps holding it to insulating block and boom. I need to come up with a better bracket. Note that I do not use the BN86 voltage balun that comes with the antenna. Instead I used a coax coil as a common mode (current) choke.

Before climbing I had untied one end of the 40 meter inverted vee so that it could be lifted over the guy wires; I needed both legs to be dangling on the same side of the tower to avoid snagging the guys when lowered. The vee was untied and without a care was dropped to the ground, including feed point and coax coil choke. It survived the 14 meter fall just fine, as I expected. Any damage would have been easy to repair and I didn't want to deal with a second rope for this antenna, or have to do an additional climb.

The aluminum tube and clamps that support the vee and off set it from the tower were removed and also dropped to the ground.


The Explorer 14 yagi was the only step in the dismantling process that caused me grief. What I expected to be a one hour job took 3 times as long. This is one more time that gravity was not my friend.

I installed the same rigging I used for raising the yagi. This time I discovered that the slightest snag on a tree limb, guy or even the rope tram caused major midair hangups. The Explorer 14 has lots of plates and clamps that will easily snag. Gravity makes it worse due to the yagi's weight (45 lb or 20 kg).

Since the rope truss holding the boom is designed to rotate (to make it easier to manually orient the yagi as each step of ascent and descent) these multiple snag events would rotate the yagi and make the problem worse. Tree snagging was particularly bad since they had grown over the intervening two years.

In the end I could not get the antenna to ground in one piece, or at least not before sunset. The alternative was to remove elements or pieces of element when I could reach them from the ground or on a step ladder. With many contortions and tower climbs, I eventually got it all down.

As I disassembled the antenna I grouped together the pieces for each element and for the boom. I only endeavoured for lengths that would reduce reassembly time yet make the package short enough to transport by small vehicle. I taped together the pieces of each element to, again, ease reassembly and then wrapped the entire package with duct tape. I was able to keep the 10 meter coupled resonator assembly mostly assembled, which was a boon.

Rotator and mast

With the yagi down I removed the pulley that I had temporarily attached to the mast. The schedule 40 pipe mast was dropped to the ground after loosening the bearing and rotator hardware. Although the hardware seemed to be gripping the mast quite well sometime this past winter a wind storm caused slippage. The 15° direction error was just enough to be annoying. Rather than climb the tower to fix it I mentally calculated the antenna heading. I knew it would soon be coming down.

Another problem that appeared in the past year was that the rotator did not turn the antenna smoothly. There were heading where rotation would slightly slow. I assumed this was due to the old worn bearing I had refurbished. Yet when I had it all down on the ground the bearing was fine. I can only assume trouble with my ancient Ham M. I will disassemble and service the rotator before it goes up again.

DMX tower

I considered removing the upper sections of the tower without a gin pole. I've done this before. The trick is to lift the unbolted section and smoothly rotate it while lowering it to chest level. When done properly the section doesn't spin out of control and smash against you or the tower. It instead comes to a soft landing across one side of my body and harness.

In the end I decided to resurrect the gin pole I built for raising the tower since I didn't deem the risk worth the time saved. Luckily I had all the parts in storage and was able to ready it in less than an hour.

Unlike the raising I handled the rope while up the tower. Once the gin pole was secured to the section below and the roped attached I removed the splice bolts. With one hand on the rope and one on the loose section I would lift it out of the tower, push it to one side and lower it to the ground. This worked so well I may try this when next raising this tower, if it is again a one man job.

Before removing the top section I disconnected the guy wires at the anchor. I then climbed the tower just once to disconnect the guys from the top guy station and remove the top section. The guys were thrown to the ground. They survived the fall just fine, as I expected, even the ceramic insulators. They're tough.

Before removing the lower guys I attached temporary rope guys to the top of the second section (DMX5). Guy removal was done the same as for the top guys.

With just the lower two sections remaining I removed the bolts holding the legs brackets to the floating platform and then the ropes. By hand I tilted over the remaining 16' of tower in the reverse of how I put them up. However this time it was more difficult. I expected and planned for this. That's why I wore a hard hat and boots.

The sudden increase of weight on my outstretched arms made a safe controlled descent difficult . When I reached that point I moved out from under the tower and only endeavoured to slow, not stop its fall. This was easier and safer than the alternative and the slow speed impact with the sod caused no damage.

The sections were stacked on the deck as shown in an earlier article. All the tower hardware went into a large plastic container. I now have a nice and neat package ready to be carried to the new QTH.

Inverted vee & Golden Nugget tower

The last to go was the first antenna: the multi-band inverted vee. Since it is an easy one to remove I left it up to the last minute so that I could keep operating. When the DMX came down I moved the leg anchored from the tower to a fence post. The impedance changed on most bands but was still perfectly usable. Unfortunately this wasn't enough antenna to work the A5 DXpedition on a difficult polar path under poor propagation. With nothing else of immediate interest it was time to permanently shut down operation from this QTH.

The toughness of the antenna continues to impress as I lowered it and bundled it up for storage and transport. The lighter colours of THHN stranded copper wire I used showed some fading due to UV damage. The black insulation appears to have fared better. There were no other visible issues. All the connections were free of moisture and the spreaders didn't slip. This may become the first antenna at the new QTH, just to get on the air with something before the towers can be raised.

I opted for "speedy" dispatching of the house bracketed tower, at some small risk to the tower itself. After removing the two 10' (3 m) sections of mast projecting out the top of the tower (again, thrown to the ground without damage) I set up ladders and proceeded to disconnect the brackets. This is a light tower (75 lb or 35 kg) so a strong bungee cord holding it to the eaves trough easily held it vertical.

With the bracket removed (and thrown to the ground) I wired the bottom of the tower to two temporary wooden stakes so that the tower wouldn't kick back and damage the house siding. Back on the roof I tied a long rope at the 25' level, then removed the bungee cord and gave the tower a nudge in the direction I wanted it to fall. Unfortunately the tower had a different idea. I pulled it back when it headed towards the deck. This action caused the tower to swing and put a dent in the aluminum eaves trough.

My second attempt was more successful. This goes to show why side stays are strongly recommended for this type of operation, which is equivalent to a reverse of the falling derrick method of erecting light duty masts and towers. I thought of doing that except for the fact there were no suitable places where I could the ropes could be anchored.

When the tension on the rope grew large as the tower passed the point of no return I let the rope play out with only the friction of leather gloves to slow its descent. (Please note that this is dangerous! The tower can easily pull you off the roof if you foolishly believe you can manhandle or withstand the force of a leaning tower. Leave the job to gravity. Towers are cheaper than your life.) With a light thump on the ground it was done. There was no damage. The sections easily came apart since I had greased the bolts and was careful not to over-tighten the bolts during construction.


The wood platforms for the two towers were pulled out of the ground. For now I've kept them intact in case I decide to use them again. I might instead use materials that will last 20 years rather than the 5 to 10 years the preserved wood can be expected to survive in this application.

September is an ideal time of year to plant grass seed. I found enough organic material and soil to fill the holes in the ground, which I then raked and planted seed. As I write this article the new grass is sprouting nicely. In another two weeks it'll look very good indeed. The reseeded area is more than just the platform areas since all the work damaged more of the lawn closer to the house where the cables terminated and the house guy anchor was located.

The holes in the house walls left by the removed brackets for the Golden Nugget tower were filled. They are now ready for staining so that those areas match the surrounding cedar siding. The dented eaves trough from the botched lowering of the tower was repaired enough to make for an acceptable appearance.

Since I didn't have a milled board long enough to replace the one where the pipe pierced the house wall I used a round plug from a scrap board left over from the original construction. I made it a snug fit and sanded the area to remove ridges. I had asked the buyers of the house if this was acceptable and they approved. The hole through the house was filled with expanding foam, then the vapour barrier was stapled back in place, restoring its original condition.

As I stated in the earlier article my intention is to leave only footprints. Very soon the signs of a ham station will have been completely erased.

Lessons learned

Despite a few glitches, in general towers and antennas come down easier than they go up. There is nothing to measure, buy, build or test, all of this having been done during erection. However this can be deceptive in that we can inadvertently stray into danger. Respect gravity: it's stronger than you are.

I've gotten better at weatherproofing connections. There was no evidence of water incursion or corrosion inside any coax or cable splices and terminations.

Greasing of the tower nuts and bolts worked out quite well, as it should. Once the hold of the lock washers was broken with wrenches the nuts on all bolts spun off without resistance. There was little evidence of new rust.

Stainless steel hardware is typically not high strength! It doesn't rust but can be easily damaged with excess torque or omitting lubrication to prevent galling. I could have done better when I rebuilt the Explorer 14. I was in a rush at the time so I explicitly chose to take the risk. Some of the stainless steel hardware will need to be replace. I recommend taking the time to do it right.

Last minute reprieve

I could have waited had I only known. As a result of some frantic and difficult last minute negotiations among all the parties, and with one of my banks, the closing was delayed a few weeks. No matter. The tear down of the station had to be done and now I have an additional incentive to get cracking on the new station.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


In days of yore an interregnum is the period between the death of the king and the coronation of the new king. That is, the interlude between the end of one realm and the start of another. It is thus a suitable description of the situation at VE3VN. You can get an idea of what I mean by the following picture.

All my antennas are down, as are the towers, and I am QRT for a little while. The reason is that I have taken the most concrete steps of all in my long term plan: I sold my house in the city and purchased a rural property. There is a substantial acreage to accommodate my antenna plans.

This is a big change in my life. Don't be surprised by the relative dearth of articles on this blog! As I write this I am uncertain about when I will be in a position to return to the air. I may get a small antenna raised just so I can operate a little, but that remains to be seen. Even though I was QRT for 20 years before my return to the air in 2013 I am now uninterested in a delay of even 20 days. Being in a position to operate the major autumn contests is an entirely other matter.

I intend several follow-up articles to talk about the new QTH and how I chose it, and how I went about the winding down of activities here in Ottawa. So, yes, I am moving out of Ottawa. That is pretty much necessary for regulatory reasons since city rules are not easily compatible with tall or numerous towers. But with politically driven amalgamation of municipalities it requires travelling quite a distance to escape the city.

Although I have not written about it there have been additions to my store of hardware, including the pieces of a Trylon tower you can see in the picture above. More about this later as well.


Looking back on the previous 44 months of operating there are several achievements that stand out for me. Not surprisingly these involve my two main operating interests: DX and contests. There is also station construction, including antenna design and construction, and towers.

First there's QRP. Hams who have only known me recently (since my return to the hobby after 20 years being away from it) think of me as a QRPer. Yet until I got back on the air after purchasing a KX3 I had never operated QRP. I was always a QRO operator, limited only by my budget and environment (neighborhood EMI). For this reason the contesting I did from my own station was done with the amplifier turned off.

Luckily I got back on the air as this most recent solar cycle was arriving at its peak, low as it was. I was able to work 226 countries mostly using 10 watts (not true QRP, except when running 5 watts in contests) and small antennas. Indeed my first 100 countries were worked using the house eaves troughs as my antenna. Eventually I surpassed 100 countries on all bands from 40 to 10 meters, excepting 12 meters.

With 100 watts starting in early 2015 and a tri-banders a few months earlier my DX totals climbed. With my station now dismantled my worked and confirmed (LoTW) totals are summarized in the adjacent chart. As you can see I've done reasonably well. Countries that I've missed include those with no recent activity or in areas of the world that are particularly challenging from VE3 with my limited power and antennas.

The one DX contact that most comes to mind when I think of what gave me the most pleasure was working VK0EK on 80 meters. With QRP it would perhaps be FT5ZM on 40 meters.

Operating QRP in contests went surprisingly well. I achieved two consecutive world #1 plaques in CQ WW SSB and as high as #2 in CQ WW CW. I also compared favourably with the top US and Canadian QRP contesters in the ARRL DX contests, where the scoring allows better comparison. My best placing there was a #2 on CW. With those and many other QRP contests under my belt I look back on this period with fondness. However I am moving on and plan to primarily operate QRO in future contests; QRP is likely to make an appearance from time to time.

The towers and other supports I've built are not remarkable. Even so I was pleased to be able to put into practice my experience and knowledge that allowed me to do all the work myself. Although I would not advise anyone to do tower work solo the opportunity allowed me to devise tools and practices to make it work and to be able to do so on my own schedule and not inconvenience my now smaller circle of local ham acquaintances. Most of those I used to do tower work with have moved, passed away, left the hobby or are too elderly to undertake the work.

Dismantling was also a one-man job, but easier. However gravity is not always your friend when taking things down. But I'll leave that for a future article.

Designing small, effective antennas for a small city lot can be more challenging than doing so for large towers on a large rural property. Eking performance out of a small package can be daunting. My approach to computer modelling is much improved, as are the tools. Whereas 25 years ago I wrote my own software to do SDC (stepped diameter correction) for yagis it is now a feature included with most modelling software based on the ubiquitous NEC2.

Although I'd been out of the hobby for 20 years my improved knowledge of the underlying physics and practical approaches to getting things done paid dividends. Just living life and solving technical and business problems throughout my career does help in ham radio tasks. Age brings a few advantages.

Nothing but footprints

I set a goal to leave nothing behind at my city property. No concrete for towers meant that I had only to dig out my floating wood platforms that I used as tower bases and refill the shallow holes with dirt and plant grass seed.

Nothing but footprints

The guy anchor that is attached to the house has been repaired leaving only a circular wood patch where the pipe pierced the wall. The holes for the bracketed tower have been filled and covered by wood stain. Without a careful inspection of the property and house you'd be hard pressed to know that a ham had ever lived here.

Perhaps the only lingering marks are the rings around the trees that served as guy anchors. I did not follow best practices for this, which would require an adjustable bolt through the tree. Since I intended to use the trees for only up to 2 years I was willing to risk using a cable girdle around the tree trunks. The trees have already begun their task of growing around the invading cables. That process takes more than 2 years. The static load on the trees from guy wire pre-load tension was light enough to not cause serious damage to the bark. In short, the trees are perfectly okay and should quickly heal from the damage I caused.

Considering the dismay that some potential buyers expressed at the towers, antennas and masses of cables I think the new owners should be pleased with the remediation I've done. My realtor was amused that there was one potential buyer who expressed an interest in keeping the towers if they were to buy the house! I don't know if he was a ham, CBer or interested in OTA television.

Now as I leave the house I built 23 years ago and where I first built a station 32 years ago there is some sadness. Surprisingly many of my neighbours are the same ones I had in 1984. They have been especially tolerant of my reentry to the hobby and the requisite towers and antennas. With the yard cleared of all trace of an amateur radio station it seems quite sterile to my eyes. But life moves ever onward.

Steps forward

Possession date for the new property is only a few days hence. While the house is basically sound and of modern construction and amenities it has serious shortcomings. Those must be dealt with before I move in full time. I will commute while renovation is being done and for on-site planning of the new station. For the past weeks I could only work with the site plan and satellite images.

The antenna farm will include several towers. How much I can accomplish before winter wallops us here in the Great White North is to be seen. The important thing is to prioritize the towers and then fit in whatever antennas I can. Since a high inverted vee will outperform a low yagi for DXing you should be able to appreciate my priorities. Some antenna work will be possible over the winter months.

I will write more on the topic as time and energy allow. I have much to say but little opportunity at present for writing. Eventually it will all come out. I hope that readers will enjoy reading about my forthcoming adventure.