30 September 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 7 *

29 September 2011, Santa Fe

We're close to heading for our winter hangout. We'll be staying at the SKP Saguaro Co-op a little South of Benson, AZ. Barring a calamity we should be on our way 1 October with a one-niter somewhere. We've been keeping ourselves busy fixing problems and creating more, but I think we'll be ready by Saturday.

Along with maintenance chores I've gotten busy installing our ham radio station. That's occupied nearly all my available time for a couple weeks now...

Radio Station
Installation of the radio station happened really quickly. So far I've:
  • installed a removable mast (1-1/4" thin wall conduit from Home Depot) supported by a FlagPoleBuddy.com mount (need something better),
  • installed the new Scorpion SA-680 screwdriver antenna,
  • routed cables and installed support items,
  • drilled holes in the side of the entertainment slide (*that* was a nerve wracking!),
  • mounted weather covers over the holes to feed the wiring inside and keep weather & bugs out,
  • installed an MFJ-1924 screwdriver-antenna controller (with memory... pretty cool!),
  • installed a monstrosity of a swing arm (RAM-Mount... *ugly*) to mount the radio when stopped,
  • installed my old Daiwa 505SS power supply,
  • installed my old West Mountain Radio RIGrunner 4010S power strip to distribute 12VDC power,
  • installed my old Heil ClearSpeech comm speaker (out of production),
  • wired everything, and
  • checked it out.
Scorpion SA-680 with just the 17m counterpoise
Installation of the hardware is (pretty much) complete and I'm reasonably happy except for the ugly swing arm and the support for the antenna mast. But the work is by no means finished. I still have to tune the length of each of the counterpoise antennas... a long and tedious job. There are 8 antenna arranged in opposing pairs covering 4-bands: 80m, 40m, 20m and 17m. No way to get the tuning done before leaving on 1 Oct, so that job will have to wait till we get to Benson.

I did take time to download and install the latest firmware for the Elecraft K3.. our radio was way behind. The K3 is a software defined radio and the designer (Wayne Burdick/N6KR) is forever improving its operation. Wayne seems to work a 26-hr day!

Getting the antenna set up is a big deal, so it'll only happen when I know we're going to be somewhere for awhile. The antenna weighs just under 20 lbs, but there's also the metal mast, an RF choke. All together there's probably 30#-35#. Not too heavy until you stand it up and lift it onto the base of the FlagPoleBuddy mount. Any breath of air and it's pretty much out of control. Then after the mast + antenna are up I can add the counterpoise antennas.

Pre-departure Maintenance
Sitting or moving, there's always something that needs attention. In this case it was the wheel bearings. Fortunately our Montana is fitted Zerk fittings on the axles. Lubing the bearings can be done with a grease gun filled with wheel bearing grease. The bearings are supposed to get attention every 5,000 miles and this seemed like a good time to get it done.

The debacle with the tires back in June/July, which left us with broken landing gear, taught me that I need to have the Montana connected to the truck, move the landing gear clear of the ground, jack the frame first, then lift the wheel off the ground with a jack under the single axle. That's what I did and it worked great. But the fussing around in order to get the bottle jacks positioned and everything blocked is a giant PITA. All together it took about 3 hours: 20 minutes lubing the bearing plus 2hr 40min screwing around with jacks. Humbug! The next rig will have leveling jacks!

Now the bearings are serviced plus I reinstalled the trim piece I'd left off one wheel during the tire change. Still have to drain the water from the fresh water tank, stow the antenna and take several hundred pounds of crap to the house. We leave Saturday morning... a week late thanks to the late delivery of prescriptions from MedCo (the company I love to hate!).

Trip Planning
Haven't had time to decide where to stay on the trip South. There's only one stop before Benson... Las Cruces? Lordsburg? Deming? Dunno yet. This is unlike me... I tend to over-plan and to make reservations too far ahead. But we've been too busy to do the usual.

This evening, however, I updated the GPS we use for RV travel (we have lifetime maps for all our Garmin GPSs). Took about 4 hrs and the file was 1.5 GB. Yikes! But the deed is done and I'm hoping they've fixed a few things in our nĂ¼vi 465T. The 465 is designed for use with commercial trucks and RVs and is height-restriction aware. So far so good, and hopefully it will continue to keep us out of trouble.

12 September 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 6

Santa Fe

I just added one more big chore to do before we leave. I'm way overdue to install our ham radio on the Montana (Celia is K5CMB and I'm NM5B). I may not finish everything before we leave for Benson, but I've got the radio sitting beside me and have have kluged the power line so I could at least see if it still operates after sitting for 2 years. Indeed it does and I've since downloaded 2 major revisions to the firmware.

Elecraft K3 hf transceiver (100 W)
Our radio is an Elecraft K3 100W hf (160m-6m) transceiver with all the early bells & whistles including the sub-receiver. Ours is #00136... part of the very early batch. Since we left to go play "RVers", Wayne/N6KR (he's a co-founder & head of technology) at Elecraft has added some really cool stuff like a panadapter and a 500W linear amp to name just 2.

The only thing we really need at the moment is an antenna. Several years ago I bought an Outbacker (mfd in Australia, but cut to US bands) portable/mobile antenna. We used this bullet-proof portable antenna in Santa Fe till I could install the larger 1/4 wave tunable-vertical from SteppIR Antennas. I used the SteppIR for several years on 40m-6m but always wished it covered the 80m band as well. When SteppIR came out with their Mk III vertical which could cover 80m-6m (basically added an optional loading coil), I switched to that newer model.

Our Outreach 500 and Outpost tripod
SteppIR verticals are great antennas but they're pretty big (33') and inappropriate for our use on an RV as they don't disassemble easily for thransport when we're moving the rig. However, our old Outbacker antenna (Outreach 500 model) stows easily in 2-pieces in its 4' bag. When I bought the Outbacker in 2003, I also bought an Outpost tripod (made by Alpha Delta) which was designed for Outbacker antennas and works quite well (useable on other mobile or portable antennas too). In the photo, the 2 pieces of the antenna (black) are each about 4', though the assembled length of the Outreach is about 11' 5" with the stinger extended.

Outpost with Outreach antenna
The odd looking aluminum contraption in the photo is the Outpost tripod which ends up unfolding a la a child's "transformer". Not exactly human-engineered when it comes to deployment, but once everything is properly extended and a couple spikes are driven through the holes in the 3' long feet, it's a very stable platform that usually negates the need for added radials.

So that's what will get us started. But the rules in most RV parks require any ham gear be attached to the RV and the Outbacker/Outpost don't meet that criteria. So our long term solution will be to use a mobile antenna (a screwdriver design) mounted on the rear of the Montana. I have a Scorpion SA-680 coming from Ron Douglass/NI7J. I ordered his Home Package version which includes n adapter plus a set of 8 radials in matching pairs for 40m, 20m, 17m and 10m. If that works as I expect, I'll replace the 8-port adapter with a 16 port and add 4 more bands (80m, 60m, 15m and 12m).

Anyway, that's the plan. The biggest issue is committing to putting a hole in the Montana!

A Couple Repairs

No matter whether you're traveling or parked, things on an RV break. This time 2 things happened at the same time: the water valve on the Thetford toilet started leaking, and the drive belt on the Splendide dryer both broke. Again. Splendide got the belt here in 2 days, but Thetford sent the replacement valve to a place only they know about.

Repairs on our rig are generally Blue jobs (along with vacuuming and washing dishes), but I'd never have been able to get it done without help from the Pink team. The dryer weighs less than Splendide says it does (it's less than the 67# Splendide states), but it's impossible to reconnect the dryer exhaust hose while holding the dryer. Lots of expletives, but now the dryer is repaired: an hour to replace the belt, then 2 hours of frustration getting the dryer back in place atop the washer.

If the water valve ever gets here we'll have a properly working toilet again. I think it would have been better to have bought the Thetford parts from PPL or someplace similar.

11 September 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 5

Santa Fe

Must be getting close to time to head for Arizona cuz my beloved asked today if I'd checked the pressure in all the tires. Sheesh! I buy a new compressor and right away the Admiral thinks I ought to use it.

There's a reason for her concern since the new trailer tires are under-inflated at the moment. Discount Tire has a large industrial compressor which, as it turns out, is set at 80 psi max. Probably a shop safety issue so no one accidentally over-inflates a new tire enough to damage the tire or hurt someone. That's all well-and-good, but our new Load Range G tires need 115 psi for our load. In cases where 80 psi isn't enough, the shop has a small portable compressor that dribbles enough air to get tires to 100 psi. And that's still short of the 115 psi we need. Our old low-profile, lightweight 'pancake' compressor has an non-adjustable cut-off switch on the compressor that trips at 100 psi. And it has no regulator, so it's really the wrong thing to use.

Out with the BLUE, in with the RED
So I went to Home Depot where I found a compressor (Husky... the store brand) with adjustable output regulator. It pumps the tank to 155 psi, and the regulator allows setting any pressure up to the maximum tank pressure. Best news is that it has a substantially higher flow rate (3x-5x more) than the old $70US Campbell-Hausfield. Not bad for about $130US. Home Depot was out of stock, but a couple days later I brought home the new (and sadly 15# heavier) compressor, did the 20 minute break-in, tested it at full pressure... and put it away. It took several days and a rush-delivery internet order to get the pieces you see here which can all handle the higher pressure the tires require.

The old yellow Slinky went away with the old compressor
Once I had the new old fashioned rubber air hose, an air chuck with a lock, a proper tie gauge, and a proper angled double-chuck (for the duals), I connected to the new compressor and checked the air pressure. Shoulda' known... the Discount Tire tech inflated the tires to 80 psi and didn't use their backup compressor to get to 100 psi. Nice guys at DT, but everything they do has to be double-checked. Aarrgh!!

Garcia Tires

Now that all the drama is over I learned I probably could have had the tires changed right here in the park. Last week I heard a large compressor pumping away. When I walked the dogs I discovered Garcia Tire of Santa Fe had a mobile service truck busy at the park. They were mounting new tires on a Cougar 5th wheel right at the trailer-owners camp site. I've never dealt with Garcia Tires and I'm sure there's a surcharge to do it, but it's pretty cool to get new shoes on the rig without driving into town! A couple days later their service truck was back and the driver was repairing a tire on a big motorhome.

Spring At Last

The park has a very nice patio which turns into a camp site
Balloon Fiesta!)
It's 6 months late, but it's finally spring in Santa Fe. Every living plant has turned green and has (or was) flowering. Just in time for us to bail out for SE Arizona. What a change from the persistent hot days we've had this summer. We did have the incessant spring winds. And initially they masked the heat which was to become the theme for summer 2011. We didn't like it, but what Santa Fe had was trivial compared to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, et al. We're glad to see the end of this chapter and look forward to what comes next.

LOTS of sunflowers in New Mexico
Even this metal tree seems alive!

Shadows on the patio