Thursday, November 16, 2017

Joy of Scrounging

Hams don't scrounge as much as they once did. I knew some incredibly successful scroungers when I was young (as most of us were), and at least one who turned it into a livelihood. Back then none of us had any money and we did what we could to find good deals on used and surplus equipment, sometimes from unconventional sources that might not know what they had and the value.

That is not the case today. The same hams are far older and have little reason to scrounge. It is said that the baby boom generation is the most affluent group in all of history. Indeed, many manufacturers and dealers have sprung up to help transfer some of that wealth into their products by offering high quality and expensive products and services to cater to them (us).

Not all are so well off. Besides which there is always the pleasure of the hunt, looking for and finding an elusive part or piece of equipment for a fraction of the new price. That is, the joy of scrounging. While I'm not as well off as some I am better off than most. I can afford to buy new most of the time yet I often prefer to scrounge. Finding a great deal can be as enjoyable as running across and working a new country (DXCC) or multiplier (contest).

Talking about coax and Heliax with one of the companies I have become familiar with brought about an opportunity recently. I have been busily testing and deploying Heliax and smaller coax and control cable to connect up those antennas I am rushing to get installed before CQ WW CW next weekend. As you may know Heliax and other high quality hard line is expensive and the connectors can be worse.

I have most of what I need for this fall though not what I need next year. Worse, the connectors I have already on the used Heliax or new in the box do not necessarily have a match. For example:
  • N connectors for LDF5-50A are mostly female yet I need male on some. The reverse is true of my stock of LDF4-50A! Gender adapters are in short supply in my junk box and good quality new ones are not cheap.
  • Andrew LDF has been out of production for 10 years. The cables and connectors are becoming harder to find, whether NOS (new old stock) or used and in good condition. N connectors are especially difficult to locate on the surplus market (new ones are still available), with most of what I'm finding being DIN 7-16. Surplus UHF are very rare. DIN is nice but connects to little that hams use. DIN connectors are only useful for splicing sections of Heliax.
  • Adapters between connector types -- UHF, N, DIN, etc. -- are expensive. I have exactly one DIN 7-16 to N adapter that I found at the Dayton flea market. I also find it difficult to know or predict which I'll need and of what gender. Often when I need a particular adapter I don't have one. The alternative is to prepare a short length of coax with a suitable connector on each end.
The outcome of that conversation came several days later when I drove home with a car full of coax, Heliax and used connectors.

It was not free, but the price paid was most attractive. I had to work for some of it when handed a hacksaw to saw connectors off cable ends.

In the picture are reel ends of LMR400 (Times Microwave) and equivalent cables from other manufacturers. There are several short rolls of LDF4-50A (with connectors) and a bunch of sawn off LDF5 and LDF4 connectors. Underneath the wooden spools is a box of other odds and ends. I also paid a good price for a handful of adapters and N connectors for LMR400.

I have some work to do before these Heliax connectors can be put to use. They must be removed from the cable ends and some require cleaning. Not all may be salvagable. To my surprise I even acquired a couple of Heliax UHF connectors, that most rare of items.

Tragically the cables the connectors came from were of no use. When a transmission line in commercial service is removed from a tower and equipment buildings it is not gently handled. That takes too much time and the used cable has little value to the companies involved. It is bent, folded and mutilated as it is cut down and thrown into trailers and transported for eventual disposal. Scroungers have to be nimble to receive any consideration. Since I'm not good at this I especially appreciate what I can find.

What I can't use I will likely gift to others. Not everyone buys new so I am sure I can pass around the joy.

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