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QSL: Prefer LoTW but will respond to all cards received. No bureau.

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KE5FN / Portable 5, near the towns of Frelsburg and New Ulm, Texas.  Grid - EL19su.  

Please call me "Jim".  Only the FCC calls me James.

All HF contacts starting October 1, 2011 are from my portable station in northern Colorado county (about 70 miles west of Houston).  My official "FCC" license mailing address is still Houston, however I have no station there, only a working mailbox.

My portable station is currently an "almost vintage" Kenwood TS 440S, Ameritron AL-811H, Palstar 500 tuner and an Alpha Delta 10-160m multi band inverted-V dipole with the apex at 17m in a cedar tree.  Typical output from the amplifier is 400 - 700W PEP on SSB.  I run up to 160W FM on 2m with a very old Mirage B3016 amp.

November 2014 Update:  Added a 70' Universal Tower HD 21-70, Mosley TA-53 @ 22m (yagi with 3 active elements on 10, 12, 15, 17, 20m), and Cushcraft 13B2 (2m FM) @ 23m.  I've been very happy with the performance of the TA-53.  As heavily advertised, the front to back ratio is awful, but that's a very small price to pay for a significantly smaller size 5 band HF antenna.  I've been very pleased with the forward gain and front to side ratio.  It's nice to have 3 active elements on 12 and 17m.

January 2016 Update:  I finally took my Extra class exam after being one of those grandfathered Advanced class operators for the past few decades.  I've been getting back into CW lately and those pesky Extra class allocations at the bottom of the bands were getting annoying.  Problem solved!

QSL info:  I don't chase cards, awards, counties and/or countries, but I enthusiastically support those that do.  If you send me a paper QSL direct, I will respond in kind.  I don't participate in the bureau.  I don't upload my logs to LoTW, but if it is important to you, please mention it during our QSO or send me an email, and I will gladly enter our QSO information into LoTW manually.

Universal Tower #HD 21-70 Project:

I benefited greatly from the information that others shared regarding their tower projects, so I hope to return the favor here.  Every project is different, so I hope that perhaps my comments will trigger a good idea for your project.  This was my first "real" tower rodeo, so the following will be very basic to those with extensive experience.


"Dry run" before dig to test the concept and pre-cut the temporary guy wires.

Best $200 I ever spent!  Thanks, Randy!!  He digs a great hole completely blind from his operating position.

Randy in the hole.

Form and tower leveled, ready for concrete.  I can't say enough about having an assortment of shims available throughout the project. Shipping plastic left on tower to protect it from concrete splash during pour.

Rigging to raise tower

Towing strap, 3/4" Manila rope, 10" pulley up 25' in an oak tree and 56 HP tractor raised the tower with absolute ease. 

The tower is obviously off camera to the left in the picture above.  The rope is attached at the 40' level of the tower.

I stopped the tractor for the final 10 degrees and then easily and slowly pulled the tower into final position by hand after that.  I threw another rope over the rope between the tractor and the pulley shown above.  I manually pulled down on this new rope to finish pulling the tower plumb allowing the insertion of the bottom bolts.  I found out the hard way that you can easily overshoot, and it's a bit of a chore to get the tower back plumb once you've done that.  Easy does it.

The three "bubbles" on each tower leg didn't move at all during the concrete pour.  The temporary guys were critical.

Additional project costs above and beyond the tower, antennas, rotor, coax: 

$200 – Hired a backhoe for the 5x5x6’ hole.  Best $200 I ever spent.

$670 – 7 cu. yds. of 3000 PSI “standard driveway” concrete.  I only needed six, but better to have too much than too little.  Hopefully your cost will be lower.  I’m in a very remote location.

~$100 – Rope, towing strap, 10 3/4” Peerless well wheel pulley (from Grainger), cast eye bolt, carpenter levels (3)

Other stuff:  I already had T-posts, guy wire, wire clamps, turnbuckles, scrap lumber, etc. on hand.  A large wooden block and a sledge hammer were required to fit the tower sections together.

Pleasant surprises:

  • It all worked!
  • The temporary guy wires to keep the tower plumb were essential.  I did a “dry run” with the bottom tower section before the hole was dug, so my T-posts were already set, the guy wires were pre-cut, turnbuckles in place, etc. so that they were easy to quickly re-attach after the hole was dug and the concrete truck was on the way.  The bubbles on the three carpenter levels didn’t move one iota during the concrete pour.
  • Having a large assortment of shims made leveling the tower a snap.  The temporary guy wires kept it that way.
  • I worried tremendously about the final step, pulling the tower up.  That ended up being the easiest part of the project.  I attached a towing strap at the 40’ level of the tower, then through a pulley 25’ up in a large oak tree, then down to the roll bar of a 56 HP tractor.  Using the "Granny gear", I left the parking brake engaged and let out the clutch.  I never touched the throttle.  The tower glided right up without a fuss.  Everything I used in the hoisting process had a rated breaking strength of at least 2000 lbs., so I had plenty of safety margin.  Not everyone has a tree and a tractor conveniently at their disposal, but in my situation, pulling the tower up was a breeze.  Nonetheless, I still chuckle at the picture in the Universal instruction manual of a single person “walking” the tower up unassisted.  That’s what the instructions actually say to do.  Wow. 
  • There are plenty of aluminum tower detractors out there.  This debate seems second only to the balanced / unbalanced feed line discussion and maybe the horizontal loop cloud warmer topic.  Time will tell if aluminum was a wise choice, but I can dispel at least one myth:  This tower with a Mosley TA-53 and a Cushcraft 2m Boomer at 72 and 76 feet respectively does not “wiggle like a mobile whip” in a strong wind (a comment I heard recently on the air).  In 30 MPH wind gusts I didn’t detect any movement in the tower at all.  I'm sure that it helps that I only have about 12 sq ft of wind load on a tower rated for 21. That was by design and I intend to keep it that way.
  • The hole for the tower base didn’t collapse.  I have dry sandy soil, so this was one of my biggest concerns.  Therefore I lined up the concrete truck to come immediately after the hole was dug.  This was unnecessary; the hole showed no signs of collapsing.  If I could have a do-over, I would have scheduled the concrete truck to come the next day.  I would have preferred to have had more time to level the form, level the tower, etc. 
  • Like any big project, having a detailed checklist was very much worth doing.  Something simple and obvious like remembering to set the rotor direction bearing prior to mounting the antennas can be easily forgotten in the rush of activities on project day.

“Other” surprises:

  • Aluminum tower sections are so light, I got a bit over confident in my ability to position the base into the hole.  (I didn’t have a crew… it was just me assembling the tower).  The bottom 10' tower section when attached to the (heavy!) steel base section is very awkward to deal with.  I ended up lowering it into the hole with the towing strap and the bucket on my tractor.
  • The tower is solid and well made, but more difficult to assemble that I had presumed.  Maybe your tower sections will easily and simply slide together, but mine required a lot of encouragement via the sledge hammer (not directly of course, that’s that the large wooden block was for).
  • The tower bolts were “snug” to say the least.  In a few cases the pre-drilled holes were visually less than perfectly aligned, therefore the bolts would not go in at all.  I talked to the tower company owner and he said to “pound them in like you would a nail”.  That technique worked, but in two cases the threads were (unsurprisingly) so stripped that I could not put a nut on the bolt.  The stripped bolts were replaced at no charge.

Just one gripe:

  • The Universal tower and the Mosley antenna are not new products.  They are certainly not cheap.  IMO, they are both extremely well engineered and well made.  So, what's with the less than cartoon quality instruction manuals??  Seriously guys!!! The Mosley documentation wisely recommends that you check the finished dimensions as a final sanity check before mounting the antenna, but the dimensions are wrong by up to 2 inches on each element!  In the RF world, 2 inches is a lot. Even their tech support guy complained that he had been trying to get them to change the instructions "for years".  It's fairly intuitive, but just try actually following the instructions for assembling the phasing lines if you have never seen the final result before.  There are several typographical errors in addition to the horrible quality graphics. And then there's that stick figure walking up the Universal tower all by himself.  Really?  C'mon guys, pay an offshore tech writer a few hundred bucks and put out some correct, quality documentation that matches the quality of your products! Whew... glad to get that off my chest.

The six temporary guy wires kept the tower absolutely plumb during the concrete pour.  Scrap lumber and shims were very helpful in getting the tower level.  I used three carpenter levels tie wrapped to each tower leg to obtain and maintain zero degrees vertical.  

The bottom section is now tilted over for tower assembly.  I noted the exact angle that the third tower leg exited the sleeve when I tilted it over and loosely tightened it down in that position.  Since I was a crew of one, this was one less thing to worry about when time to raise the tower.  It's a very tight fit, but the third leg of the tower slipped right back into the sleeve while I was manually pulling the tower the final 10 degrees to vertical.

Time to add the HF and VHF beams.  The tower is resting on the ladder of an old Rainbow "Play System" (fancy name for a swingset).

The towing strap is an attempt to distribute the stress of raising the tower as much as possible.  I read one or two stories of others popping the welds when raising their towers, so I wanted to do everything possible to avoid this.  It would have been easier just to tie the rope off to the one tower leg facing the pulley, but this would have put 100% of the stress on the closest weld.


Mosley TA-53 and Cushcraft 13AB attached.  Tower ready for vertical!


By starlight!

Let me know if I can help with your project in any way.  I have loaded my email address into QRZ.com .

Good luck and 73,


PS... here's a picture of the cabin.

It's constructed (studs, beams, joists, siding in & out) of true cut cedar harvested from the property and milled about 10 miles away.  Constructed in 1997.

7041535 Last modified: 2016-01-28 04:34:00, 13724 bytes

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