by Vince (VE6LK)
(As is Vince’s usual, this article has a bunch of links – click on as many as you wish for the full experience)
Before I go too far into this topic, I wish to first offer hearty congratulations to Thomas Witherspoon for having one thousand posts on QRPer.com! Woo-Hoo!
Do you pack a Radio Field First Aid kit?
On my recent trip to VE3-land I had a few opportunities to practice set-up with my gear–away from the safe place that is my truck–to ensure I’d brought everything for my trip to Hamvention and activations along the way. I did forget an audio cable, however a visit to a local dollar store solved that problem inexpensively.
So, unless you pack two of everything -because two is one and one is none– you should expect that something’s going to fail or break along the way. What you never know is when or how that’s going to happen. I wouldn’t be writing this story if it had not happened to me before.
This time it was on a Sunday outing to VE-1512, the McLaughlin Bay Reserve Wildlife Area in Oshawa Ontario and far away from the comforts of my shop at home. Tucked away not far off of the 401 Highway, this nature reserve is a calm and peaceful oasis just minutes from urban life. I saw kayakers, hikers and trail runners during my visit.
Setting up my Comet HFJ-350M, I added the jumper cable to set the antenna for 20m and then I started to push the antenna down into the ground onto the stake. And that’s when my hand slipped and I broke the jumper cable connector, busted off in the hole.
For the inquisitive among you, my inner potty mouth made a brief outward appearance, ahem.
Clearly every time hereafter, I will add the cable only when the antenna is in the ground.
Fortunately I had the foresight to pack some hand tools:
- Leatherman Squirt ES4, RadioShack branded
- Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Classic Alox edition
- Klein 32500 11 in 1 screwdriver
- Klein 32581 4 in 1 jeweler’s screwdriver
- 5″ curved nose hemostat forceps
- Compaq branded screwdriver with swappable torx bits
- Nebo NEB-FLT-1042 flashlight (rechargeable, magnetic, flat)
- RadioShack 22-802 multimeter (small, flat, versatile)
- 3M Scotch 700 electrical tape
- One pair of 16AWG 18″ jumper wires with alligator clips (one red, one black)
As I packed this kit my thinking was it would cover off all of my unexpected needs. For this particular unexpected repair, these tools were perfect. They all fit nicely in a zippered mesh pouch a bit larger than a pencil case.
You can see the damage in the photo above where the pin sheared off cleanly. Comet does sell replacement cables for those that go missing, but that won’t help the pin stuck deep in the hole. I was unable to remove the pin in the field, so I hatched a plan to re-appropriate one of the 16AWG jumper cables I brought along, chopped one end short, cut the end off the Comet cable, stripped back a bit of insulation and grafted the two wires together.
To solve the other half of this issue, I was able to push and cut back a bit of the insulation on the HFJ-350M so that I could attach the alligator clip to it as seen in this photo below. Thus this isn’t as much about a repair as a workaround – but still, it got me on the air and that is what matters most. Unceremoniously, I declared the quality level as officially good enough and went on with the activation.
This workaround lengthened the cable which affected tuning, but that’s easy enough to compensate the total length of the antenna by shortening the whip a tiny bit. That approach, or rely on the antenna analyzer to tell me which way to go 🙂 … speaking of antenna analyzers …
Once I verified the workaround functioned as intended, I was able to test out a pre-release/beta version of the N6ARA MiniSWR device, my purpose for this activation. Seen in the photo above on the antenna connector of my KX3, the MiniSWR will be a device for radios up to 5W and that sits in-line with your antenna and provides visual feedback on your antenna’s SWR via built-in LEDs. They show status up to 3:1, very helpful for many QRP radios that do not have a built-in SWR status.
This kit took me an hour to build. I believe it will be sold as a partly assembled kit with only the toroid to wind. My build time was about an hour and the build instructions are excellent quality. Mine shipped with a 3D printed case that does not completely cover the item. Needless to say RF burns are a thing and you should not handle the device while transmitting.
So on this day, save for a few visits from friends on the air, an unexpected repair and testing a to-be-released product, the activation was otherwise uneventful.
At the time of writing this post, the N6ARA MiniSWR has not yet been released to production, and the pin is still stuck in the hole for 20m. I’ll continue with a workaround until I can get back to my shop with better tools.
I’m always looking to improve my kit, so in the comments please let me know what’s in your Radio Field First Aid Kit.
First introduced to the magic of radio by a family member in 1969, Vince has been active in the hobby since 2002. He is an Accredited examiner in Canada and the USA, operates on almost all of the modes, and is continually working on making his CW proficiency suck less. He participates in public service events around Western Canada and is active on the air while glamping, mobile, at home or doing a POTA activation. You can hear him on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, follow him on Twitter @VE6LK, peek at his anemic YouTube presence (subscribe!), and view the projects and articles on his website.