Aiken, SC…where character counts

There are lots of signposts in Aiken with that little homily on them. And in some sense of the phrase, that defines our most recent job or work there, at N2ZZ’s QTH. Dr. Jim has, literally, no room in his backyard. It’s a veritable garden, with considerable landscaping features defining the space.

So it was with some serious foreboding that I tackled the job of replacing his fallen 25G tower (70 feet, unguyed!) a couple years back. I went up with 60 feet of 55G, mostly for the extra strength, considering I’d be using guys this time, once of which would be “short,” and at only 108-degrees spacing, not the standard 120-degrees. All of them going up and through trees, et cetera. Then, of course, nothing could be trammed into place; everything would have to be built in situ, or on the tower. I elected to use the PVRC mount, hoping for the best. Critical with 432, 2M and 6M beams above the HF beam. I wasn’t able to talk him out of the SteppIR. Two years in, he asked me to replace it with the new-new Force 12 model XR-5T.

So the past two days have been occupied with that work. Getting the SteppIR down turned out to be mostly a non-issue, as the mount allowed me to turn and maneuver the Yagi quickly and easily, letting me unhook the boots holding the fiberglass elements in place.  I simply lowered the boom straight down the tower.  It was then time to remove the three sidemounted antennas so there be no obstructions to climb around or work around with the new beam.

Having built a few hundred antennas in my 51 years of ham radio adventures, I was pretty confident the XR-5 would be easy to assemble. (I’ve built four of the original model.) And it was, mostly. Although the new big rivets holding the large elements together couldn’t be popped in place by hand. The only solution was to buy a pneumatic rivet tool. Luckily I found a new one on craig’s list for $30; it’s terrific and will henceforth always be used with pop rivets!  But I digress….I was simply unsure where the feedpoint should be on this beam. The new-new F-12 believes cutting down on paperwork to be a good idea, so the only directions are yours to download. And sparse, information-wise, they are. ONE overall layout drawing. Yet, all the old F-12 pictures are there regarding installing and removing the little element rivets. And I hate to sound harsh, but almost anyone can figure that out, or already knows the information or details. But details on feeding the beam (there are five driven elements, connected by 3/4-inch solid aluminum square rods), overall balance and so forth…all that info is absent.  And…not enough of the large rivets were included, as well as one set of phasing tube connection hardware. Not a big deal, as I could walk over to the truck and retrieve what’s needed, but not everyone has what I carry with me on hand…so a total parts invent0ry list would be a welcome addition.

We assembled the beam on the ground, carefully sliding the elements in, around, through, up and over the vegetation (flowers, vegetables, and so forth), using the ginpole mast to lift the beam just enough to provide a check for the balance point, which turned out to be very close to the factory marking. With the proximity to ground and touching so many objects, it didn’t seem worth it to put an analyzer on it. So we disassembled it to re-build again on the tower. While my original thinking (or planning, although, as it turned out, the plan failed) was that we could assemble everything “in between” the guy stations (luckily the boom is only 12 feet long), and then turn the beam and corkscrew the elements around the guys, the element spacing on the boom did not allow me enough room to do that. So ended up taking off top guy, allowing me space to make the turns. (Of course, with elements touching the tower, there was again no realistic way to test the antenna at this point.)

Then it was an easy enough lift to get the beam up and on to the PVRC mount. (I WAS thinking ahead at this point, knowing the mount would allow me to tilt the beam in the air and make possibly-needed element tip changes.) A quick check on the CA-500 showed the beam to be a “phone antenna,” with resonances higher in the band than we liked. We’ll see what happens at the end of the Heliax run to the shack. The primary goal was to get Jim back on the air as quickly as possible, fighting all the afore-mentioned obstacles. And in that regard, we were successful.

So, upon reflection, I am not sure anyone else would have attempted this job. It remains one of my hardest installations ever, certainly within the top two or three. Yet it sounds simple: a small tower, a small Yagi–what’s the big problem, amigo? Considering the historical neighborhood, the small yard, the myriad of obstacles involved, character definitely counts in Aiken~!

stay tuned…

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