Tag Archives: antenna

Top Five Modifications to our Airstream

We were talking yesterday about which modifications are our favorite. I asked Debbie, “Which three are the tops?” She readily replied, “all-around awnings, kitchen utensils drawer, and solar panels system.”

This morning I thought about it some more and decided to up it two more. I submit the lift and lay antenna roof mount and the catalytic heater.

Here’s the complete list:

  • 1. awnings
  • 2. kitchen drawer
  • 3. solar power system
  • 4. electric antenna roof mount
  • 5. catalytic heater
  • These are all significant improvements in the function of our trailer. They are very different from each other, are among the most useful of our mods, and happen to be pretty noticeable too.

    picture of added awnings

    Awnings all around are useful year-round

    1. We took our trailer, still in its warranty period, to the Airstream factory for the Zip-Dee awnings installation on rear and road side of the trailer. We use these nearly every week, depending upon sun exposure. The added awnings allow us to keep one or more windows open regardless of rainfall. And the long road side awning is a great sun shade, both for the two large windows and for the refrigerator outside wall.

    picture of added drawer

    Added kitchen drawer is indispensable

    2. The kitchen drawer was a slam dunk — we were so surprised Airstream Co had not installed the same thing. A perfect place for it, and probably the most useful change we’ve made to the trailer. Without this drawer, the utensils would be in a drawer behind a cabinet door. How much easier this is, to just open a drawer just below the counter top and reach all the table utensils.

    picture of rooftop solar panels

    added two solar panels

    3. Almost six years ago we installed solar panels atop the trailer and a solar charge controller inside. It was a little bit an experiment for us, not having installed or used these before. When next we needed batteries, we installed a pair of 6v golf cart batteries, and later replaced them with two pairs of 6v batteries. We have ample battery power, generally enough for at least four days without sun. There is no noise, no fumes, no labor involved in starting or stopping them (although we can tilt them to maximize solar collection). They cost nothing to operate.

    picture of antenna mount

    Tarheel antenna mount

    4. Initially the amateur radio HF (long distance) antenna was on the truck’s rear fender. Little more than two years later we found and installed a Tarheel Lift and Lay® roof mount for the HF antenna. Four years later we are very pleased with this antenna location and operation. We push an electric 12vdc switch inside and the antenna raises from prone, or storage position, to full vertical position in twelve seconds. Push the button again and the antenna lowers to storage position on the roof. Easy, quick, works great and has a very high cool factor.

    picture of heater

    Catalytic heater on hinge mount

    5. The catalytic heater is a boon for boon docking or dry-camping. It consumes no power from the batteries or shore power system. It uses propane from the trailer’s attached bottles, and it burns oxygen from our living space. Yes, that’s a bit of a negative as is the contribution of products of combustion from this unvented heater. So if you don’t have one, we do NOT recommend it for you. We use it guardedly, and never when napping or sleeping. We designed a hinged mount to allow secure storage for towing days and easy directional aiming of the heating pad. We joke the heater is designed to follow Debbie’s location in the trailer, to keep her warm.

    That’s it, our wrap-up of the top five modifications of our 25′ Airstream travel trailer. We made these and other changes to help make our trailer into a suitable house for year-round living and travels.

    Jim and Debbie
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    ©2013 Dreamstreamr

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    Hamcation 2010 with RV Service Net

    We spent last week at Orlando Amateur Radio Club’s annual hamfest, Hamcation. Our third year attending, we knew the ropes and easily relaxed into the experience. We didn’t know there would be record attendance by our group, the RV Service Net hams.

    The past couple of years RV Service Net has had around 25 to 30 RVs attending this large hamfest. This year we had at least 49 rigs — wow! We arrived at the gates before 1130 hours on Wednesday two days before the hamfest would begin. And we were easily 100 back in the RVers queue.

    In front of us were many tailgaters or flea market sales folks as well as vendors who find RV travel perfect for managing their work at the shows. We sympathize with the vendors who move from hamfest to hamfest, displaying and showing their products for two or three days at each whistlestop. They can sleep in their own bed every night only if they are RVers, whereas the hotel/motel crowd are in a different room and bed every week or two.

    The gates opened on time and parking was handled smoothly and expertly by our group’s own AA8Q Jack Mitchell. Again this year the RV Service Net folks had RV parking at Lake Lawne’s edge, a pretty site within 300 yards of the indoor sales areas but out of the main flow of traffic. Our group had so many rigs parked we established our own small community.

    This year, our third, we were less the newcomers. We have met many of these hams in our previous two visits to Hamcation or at Hamvention in Dayton last year. Some we only have met on the air, talking on the RV Service Net’s daily 40 meter morning nets. It was nice to meet them in person and have face-to-face conversations with everyone.

    You might wonder, why were we there? One compelling reason is for Jim to represent the Club’s leadership, as upcoming President. He has spent the past two years learning the ropes as 2nd, and 1st VP, and this summer he may become President. One of the primary duties is attendance at Hamcation and at the WBCCI (Airstream owners association) annual rally.

    But an even better reason for attending Hamcation is because this is a really fun hamfest for us. This is the largest hamfest in the southeast U.S. and enjoys a large number of new equipment vendors. There are typically over a hundred tailgaters outdoors selling a tremendous variety of gear, new and used, from their tables or trailers or tailgates.

    Best of all is the Orlando, Fl, weather and very enjoyable camaraderie of the RV Service Net’s members. This year we enjoyed the crowd a lot. The weather left a lot to be desired, it wasn’t warm at all. Cool weather seems hardly worth complaining about when every state in the Union was receiving snow. But heck, we’re in Florida and it’s supposed to be warm and sunny.

    It was cold and rainy all day Friday until sunset. Really cold and rainy. Friday was the opening day of the hamfest so a lot of us braved the rain and were in the buildings when the clouds just burst and poured down the rain. Stuck inside with our credit cards and all these great vendors selling ham radio gear and accessories. Darn, what are we going to do now?

    We made the best of it, of course. The vendors give away waterproof shopping bags, so we won’t need to worry with keeping our purchases dry. Our goal for the opening day, though, was scoping out which vendors were present and what parts of their product line they brought. They cannot bring everything to every show, so we browse and scheme what we’ll do without and what we need to buy.

    This decision process is crucial, a real challenge for us. Hamcation represents our one golden opportunity for the year to stimulate the economy and supply our electronics gear needs for the next year. Or at least until the next hamfest. Jim will have to make do awhile with whatever he can secure while we’re here. He stocks up on wire and connectors of several sizes, coax cable and ends, various small fittings for the radios or antennae, and sometimes solder, tape, and even rivets. We take the most time poring over the variety of new radios, antennae, software, and amplifiers.

    Deb browses cool electronics stuff at Hamcation

    This isn’t just for the vendors’ benefit, but is how we learn about so much of the equipment. We can look at pictures and read descriptions all year long. We can sometimes find a amateur radio store but not often. The hamfest gives us a great opportunity to browse, touch the gear, ask questions about this feature or that, and try to assimilate all this information into a shape we can remember.

    Ham station in our house

    We have enough amateur radio gear for our rolling house and our truck. We have long distance and middle distance and short range capabilities on the ham bands. We have a very nifty antenna mounted atop the Airstream that folds down electrically for travel or to avoid lightning or falling limbs. We have good antennae to allow one of us in the truck to call the other in the trailer when we are anywhere from a block away to up to 50 miles separated.

    HF antenna on our roof

    What else do we need? Well, it’s not so much need, is it? Do you need jewelry? Do you need a good looking truck? Of course not, it’s more about necessity! You may have heard before, “When all else fails, Ham Radio works”. This is more than a slogan, it represents a truth demonstrated many times every year across the continent. We are just a small couple of cogs in this wide network of ham radio operators who may, some day, provide essential relaying of communications into or out of an area stricken with loss of normal communications.

    So it’s our duty to keep on buying really cool radio gear and learning how to use it so we can help you. You see, it’s not really about us at all, it’s all about serving you. Wow, I’m getting into this, I think I should take a break and go browse a ham radio equipment catalog and see how much more I can help you.

    I guess I was getting a little sidetracked. Where was I? Oh yeah, the reason we go to hamfests. We check the new radios and antennas and think, “When we have a much bigger house (than our current 188 square feet) we could get this radio and that amplifier and this power supply and rig it to this really tall antenna on a huge tower and . . .

    A bunch of the best Net Controllers anywhere -- RV SVC NET

    But the best reason to attend the hamfest with the RV Service Net is the RV Service Net people. From anywhere we set up in North America we can reach friends on the RV Service Net at scheduled ham radio nets any day of the week. The daily nets are directed by volunteer net controllers from all over the U.S. and Canada. And a special treat for us was to meet so many of the net controllers face to face last week.

    We talk to these folks We enjoy visiting with them, talking with them, eating with them and, with many of them, traveling too. RV Service Net is a one of many many great groups of ham radio operators. We enjoy being able to reach one of our group’s nets from almost anywhere on the continent. And it is especially neat to spend the week in Orlando with so many hams from this group.

    You probably wonder what we purchased at this Hamcation? Jim bought wire, microswitches, grounding strap, and we bought a couple of microphones. Is this not a wonderful demonstration of our unselfish quest to better serve you in any communications failures?

    We’re making a little fun about what is really a very serious matter. For all the enjoyment we have, Jim especially, with ham radio the premise for the amateur radio licensing system is to promote advancement of emergency communications capability. And we do take this seriously and continue to carefully hone our skills and equipment for best radio communications.

    Jim and Debbie
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    Getting ready; GO TARHEELS!

    We caught this cow snacking at Hazeliefs Grove

    We caught this cow snacking at Hazeliefs Grove

    Our time in Okeechobee is drawing to a close. We’ve been here three months and will leave very soon. But first a few things before we go. Today has been a fantastic prep day. We filled the truck and safety can with gas, drove up to Hazeliefs grove and bought 1/2 bushels each of tangerines, navel oranges, and grapefruits. While we were at Hazeliefs we enjoyed watching this cow for a few minutes.
    Cleaned it out to reorganize everything

    Cleaned it out to reorganize everything

    I emptied, swept, and reloaded the truck bed; added distilled water to the batteries and windshield cleaner to the truck’s washer tank; checked tire pressure on all four axles; checked torque on the Airstream’s four wheels; retorqued the hitch-head bolts and the anti-sway bolts, and checked tightness on the tow ball; and cleaned and regreased the tow ball with Wally blueball grease. Thanks for the can of grease, Wally!

    Old weatherstripping was difficult to remove

    Old weatherstripping was difficult to remove

    While Debbie worked inside, I replaced the foam weather-stripping on our screen door. It was ugly work because the old stuff was well-stuck. This picture shows the foam strip partly removed. The job didn’t take too long and the result is just right. Debbie cleaned the interior thoroughly, including vacuuming the upholstery, sweeping and vacuuming the floors, and cleaning the bathroom. Debbie washed, air-dried, and rehung the flags, and did three more loads of laundry. The linens are clean and our bed looks inviting.

    Folding the roof-top antennas, reefing the awning, stowing a couple of chairs into the truck bed, and securing a few small interior things, and disconnecting from site utilities are the only remaining items before we can tow out of here. We’re ready to go!

    But first, let’s go to the swimming pool a little while before we watch Michigan State’s game at 1800 hours and our Tarheels at 2030 hours. We are really excited about the games, and cheering for both these teams.

    QSOs from Okeechobee FL

    A picture of the QSL card I send to hams I've contacted

    A picture of the QSL card I send to hams I've contacted

    Okeechobee is the first location where I have been able to operate my new roof-mounted amateur radio antenna. I enjoyed installing it a few months ago while we were visiting Debbie’s parents in NC. We didn’t have very much time for operating the radio and were getting ready for southbound travels. This picture is of our Airstream with the rooftop antenna raised. It electrically folds down for travel.

    For the past three months, in Okeechobee, I have spent a little time every few days listening and answering calls on the radio. The antenna and radio have worked out better than I could have hoped. Previously our ham radio antenna was beside the truck’s fender, mounted to the frame. It worked, but not very well. On top of the trailer, with almost twenty-three feet by eight feet of aluminum roof as counterpoise, the antenna works beautifully.

    Contacts I've made from Okeechobee FL

    Contacts I've made from Okeechobee FL

    I have made contacts with hams in ten countries on 20 meters, eight on 40 meters, and have worked four islands (Azores, Bahamas, Bonaire, and Galveston Island). This is pretty modest by amateur radio standards. Some operators make more contacts in a weekend than I’ve ever made. I am having fun reaching as many countries as I can. This map picture displays the contacts I’ve made in the past ninety days.

    QSL card from CU2JT, a Portugal operator

    QSL card from CU2JT, a Portugal operator

    All my contacts are catalogued and sorted, and I have exchanged QSL cards already on some. Some hams post their received QSL cards on the walls of their radio room, or “shack”. Debbie and I haven’t discussed this (and won’t unless/until I have a room). I am receiving the cards electronically from some hams and in the mail from others. The snail mail cards I scan and save in the electronic folder with the emailed ones. This really nice looking card from CU2JT, while he was in the Azores, came to me through email.

    I operate only intermittently. Most of my time I am golfing, playing tennis, shuffleboarding, swimming, reading, sleeping or just sitting around. Sometimes, for an hour or two, I enjoy listening and talking on the ham radio. And I will, each week at least, check into the RV Service Net to update our location, listen to weather and road conditions throughout the east and midwest, and hear how other members are doing.

    I am using 100 watts, less than one-tenth the power of some operators who use amplifiers. Some radio operators, from clear across the country, sound like they are next door. They have so much amplifier power and it just about completely covers up my signal. Whenever I hear a pile-up on a frequency I have a relatively slim chance of making the contact compared to the big stations. Sometimes, through persistence and patience, I make it through.

    And while very good, my antenna is nothing compared to some permanent stations. Many seem to have high gain directional antennas, and I hear a few of them so clearly from California, British Columbia, Lithuania, and Portugal. Our present site conditions seem far less than optimal. We are sitting in a low site, are eight feet from an metal-roofed park model, and our vertical motorized antenna just peaks out above the park model’s roof ridge. Still, I have made contacts in all these and more countries from our spot in this resort.

    We’ll leave this resort site in a few days. I’ll miss the connectivity I’ve had from here because I’m accustomed to it. And I am very interested in seeing how my ham radio system will work from other (and hopefully more favorable) site conditions.