The Antenna Story


All kinds of folks can be hams. From reclusive homebodies to adventurous outdoor types. But in general, you have to admit that radio is a good, safe indoor hobby. Sort of like Internet surfing maybe. It’s not one of those extreme sports. Except for one thing: At some point you have to venture outside and put up an antenna. Sometimes that venture becomes an ADventure, and that’s my story.

Maybe it started with a May thunderstorm. The wind tore a four-inch limb off a gum tree and blew it right through my tribander, breaking the boom neatly in two. That’s OK, I’d already decided that I wanted to upgrade all my stuff from the antenna on down. There was a nice antenna available, still in the box. An Arkansas ham had purchased it and it sat in his garage for two years. Then our own Mr. Schaefer acquired it and the box rested in his garage for a couple more years. Finally, it came to me at a bargain price and spent its last year and a half of dormancy in my own garage. Eventually the guilt I felt every time I saw that box fermented into determination. I spent the required forty hours in the garage, slapping at mosquitoes and puzzling over cryptic assembly drawings. The KT-34A at last emerged from its cocoon and become an antenna.

And what an antenna! The thing was enormous, much bigger than my old A3. It sat in my back yard on two sawhorses. All I had left to do was put it on the tower. The months went by. My son and I relocated it each time we mowed the lawn. Is this a good place to mention that I’m a little scared of heights? I stood and gazed out the back window of the house at the monster. It was mocking me. It looked like something out of a 1950’s horror movie—a giant aluminum arachnid. I twisted the mini-blinds shut.

The stalemate was finally broken when my wife and I negotiated a truce over my plan to cut down two large trees right next to the house. She thought the job required a professional. I didn’t want to shell out the money. Her proposal: "What if we hire a tree service, AND he can pick up you and your antenna in his bucket truck and lift you to the top of the tower?" Hey, that’s an appealing thought. With the tree removal AND antenna raising taken care of at once, the price didn’t seem so painful.

The deal was struck. I took a day of vacation and the crew showed up early on the morning of one of those incredibly hot days of August 2000. They made short work of the two trees. Huge logs fell from the sky and shook the earth with their impact. Then we talked about the antenna. I had envisioned riding up while holding the boom at the center of gravity, then dropping the mast through the top plate and into the rotor’s top fitting. A ten minute job. It’s never that easy. The bucket’s maximum height was just a couple of feet shy of allowing my scenario. But there was a boom with a winch that extended about six feet higher than the bucket. We’d have to hang the antenna from the boom.

We hooked the winch cable to the balance point and ran control lines from the elements for the tree service man’s helper and twelve year old daughter to use. The lead man and I squeezed into the bucket. We eased up slowly. The antenna cleared the ground by about fifteen feet or so and immediately flipped upside-down. It spun crazily as the ground crew tried in vain to stabilize it. We moved higher while formulating vague plans to right the antenna and salvage the project. My confidence was replaced by gnawing doubt and a strong sense of, "What the heck am I doing up here?" The antenna smashed into us and into the tower. I noticed that one element had been knocked seriously cockeyed. I fingered the fittings of my safety belt.

My companion in the bucket suggested that we further loosen the skewed element to spin free, so the antenna could be flipped upright without the element hitting the bucket. I endorsed the plan weakly while suggesting several times that forgetting the whole thing would be quite acceptable to me if he didn’t feel comfortable. The tree service man had turned out to be a good guy and we’d carried on a pleasant conversation throughout the job. As we pulled even with the top of the tower, he mentioned how his faith has given him peace of mind. "This tree removal thing can be a little dangerous," he told me, "but I’m fully ready to die at any time."

Now normally that would be a positive thing. But at that moment, as I looked at the ground from fifty feet up in the spindly-necked contraption, it seemed like less of an abstract and theoretical statement and more of a real possibility. I quickly tried to conjure up some homespun philosophy of my own and ad-libbed, "Yeah … yeah, that’s good," I began, "but you know you’ve got your wife and those two daughters and you want to hang around as long as you can." He conceded my point and we moved back to the task.

Anyway, thanks mainly to the determination of John the tree service guy, we got it up there at last. And when the bucket finally touched down again, I was weak kneed and dehydrated from sweating. But I did manage to refrain from kissing the ground. Most importantly though, the KT-34A was on the tower!

And that’s my antenna story. Thanks for listening.

73—Nick, WA5BDU

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