June 27, 2009

Amateur Radio & Field Day!

Thanks to Kim's friend Jim, we have a beautiful "base camp" here in Duluth to locate the trailer. Since we'll be here for a few weeks, and there's plenty of room, for the first time I set up the new vertical antenna with all of it's "radial wires" for great performance. It's been a little over two years since I've gotten back into amateur radio, a hobby I've enjoyed on and off since I got my license to operate at age nine. Earlier this year while in Florida, I treated myself to this new antenna, and a "new" (actually slightly used) ham radio. It certainly has been a positive decision and experience. In these few short months, I've enjoyed talking to other "hams" all over the world! One of amateur radio's primary roles is to act as an emergency radio network in cases of national emergency or disaster. In fact, hams played a crucial role during Hurricane Katrina, being one of the only reliable communication systems that prevailed throughout and after the storm. In order to test the readiness of hams all over the country the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League http://www.wedothat-radio.org/ ) has a yearly event called "Field Day". The idea is to operate stations remotely, from a non-permanent location solely on emergency power (solar, battery, generator, etc). http://emergency-radio.org/

To make the event more interesting and challenging, the ARRL sponsors a contest for a 24-hour period during the yearly weekend. The goal is to make as many "contacts" with other stations as possible. Scores are assigned to each contact depending on the type of station used and it's location.

The Duluth Amateur Radio Club actively participates in Field Day every year. So, I decided to join in the fun up on top of Thompson Hill, a great high location for temporary antennas. It was a dismal and foggy morning as local club members set up two primary stations. This nice motorhome and 60 foot crankup tower array took the better part of the morning to get set up and operating.

At the same time, other club members were stringing up wire antennas in the parking lot, and the Club's emergency "RACES" trailer was commissioned across the lot. http://www.usraces.org/

I parked the Dodge between the two, and with the help of a couple of locals, strung a temporary wire between a light pole and a small tree behind the truck. With a few minutes, I was set up and operating, and although the contest had not officially started, made the first contacts of the morning with my little low power (5 watts) rig in the truck.

By 1PM (official contest start), the club was in action. Doug is shown here to the right, operating in the big motorhome, primarily operating CW Mode (morse code)...while a group of others man the RACES trailer on SSB (single sideband, voice mode).

I came back out the next day (Sunday) to see how things were going. The weather top the hill was much improved, and operators were still at it, having endured the night, working in shifts. The CW boys had a fantastic event, logging over 1600 contacts in the 24-hour contest period. I never found out what the final tally on the voice contacts were, but I'm sure close to a thousand! What a fun weekend, with a great groups of folks enjoying a wonderful hobby!

June 25, 2009

UPDATED! Trailer Repairs....

While parked for weeks in the Duluth area, I decided to take care of a few "trailer chores" that I'd put off for long enough. More than a few weeks ago, the slide out mechanism quit working. We could hear the DC drive motor running, and manually crank the slide out, so I suspected there was some sort of clutch between the motor & the gearbox that had failed.
I removed the gearbox easily enough, and once the box was open, the problem was obvious, there was metal residue in the grease, and the teeth on a drive gear were completely gone! It took about a week of research on the phone and internet to confirm that the 1998 Alpenlite used a mechanism manufactured by Barker. The Barker folks were great, shipping me the near gear assembly promptly at a very reasonable price, saving a few hundred dollars on a whole new mechanism and a dealer repair!

I also decided to check the brakes and repack the bearings on the trailer. Over the past couple of months, the brakes seem to have weakened, and anticipating the mountains of the southwest later this year, the timing was right.
The first couple of wheels proved my suspicions that the shoes were in bad shape, worn thin with cracking across the linings. Opening the second wheel I had a surprise---the cotter key used on the last brake job was one size too small, had broken off, and that tiny bit of weight wobbling around in the grease cap had caused it to fall off in the wheel hub cover and roll around in there for quite a while. So, impending disaster saved!

The big surprise was in the third wheel. When pulled off one of the brake shoe linings was riding inside the drum, the drum was badly scored, and the DC brake solenoid had grabbed the inner drum surface, bent it's retaining arm, and was badly worn at an angle across it's face. The local folks at Lakehead Brake and Clutch had all the parts, and were able to save the drum.

As I finished up the last wheel with new linings and fresh grease, I realized how lucky we were to have avoided a complete failure somewhere on the road!

When we bought the truck last fall in Portland, the previous owner had passed along a brand new US Brake "D'Celerator" exhaust brake for the Cummings diesel. Another case of procrastination, I had put off this job too long also. So, since the brakes were done, I headed over to Bill's Muffler Shop, and Bill himself did a masterful job of cutting a section of the 4" stainless exhaust pipe out, and installing the new brake mechanism. A little wiring when I got back "home" (the trailer), and we now have a diesel exhaust brake like the big 18-wheelers!
so, if you here that bla-bla-bla big truck noise, it just may be us coming to pay a visit...

July 13th - just got in and installed the new Xantrex C60 Charge Controller which has more capability (up to 60amps) and has equalization for the batteries. The install took the better part of a day, largely due to having to snake larger solar array panel wires through the side of the trailer, and take apart most of the kitchen cabinets to run the small cable for the remote display.

While I was at it, I made the tilt brackets for the solar panels and even this early in the morning here in Duluth, the charging output went from 6 amps to 7 amps, just from tiliting the panels about 18 degrees!

June 22, 2009

Yes, We're In DULUTH!

We apologize for disappearing for a while. We've been pretty busy for the past 3 weeks getting up here to MN, and then with Kim's folks after arriving. Our Verizon (aircard modem) signal is pretty lousey where we are staying, but we found a laundromat nearby that has a hi-speed free wi-fi.
Lake Superior is as beautiful as we remember,
and we've really been enjoying the evening hikes with Kim's Mom, Lois and her neighbor, Sarah. They live in a nice apartment complex located right on the shores of Superior, which ties into a network of trails running along the lake and into the downtown area of Duluth.
For Father's Day, we drive north along the lake. First stop is Gooseberry State Park. As Kim pauses to relax at the falls, the kids confirm that summer is here. No relaxing for them, just having a blast in the cooling cascades!

We meet Kim's folks at Ken's favorite resturant located just north of Two Harbors, where we have a great dinner followed by their Father's Day specialty below...YUM!

June 19, 2009

Midwest Energy Fair - Stevens Point, WI

In case you haven't picked up on it yet, Kim and I are very interested in energy efficient home construction techniques, along with individual resources that yield energy independence. While in Bayfield, I went to Oly's Barber Shop and Oly is very interested in building an "off the grid" home. While discussing some ideas for construction, he explained that the nations premier energy education event, the Midwest Energy Fair, was being held this weekend. http://www.the-mrea.org/energy_fair.php

It didn't take much discussion for us to decide to make the 280 mile drive down for the weekend. We left the trailer in Duluth, opting to rough it at the fair. We beat the crowd entering the makeshift (but nice) campground on Thursday eve. Our tent site was in a thick pine forest, next to a large field.

A short hike through the "back woods" made easy access to the fairgrounds. The owners of the property had done an outstanding job of preparing for the large crowd of campers that arrived Friday!

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association headquarters and test facility is right there on the grounds.

The site has several installations of both solar and wind devices, with demonstration areas that house all of the control systems that feed the building.

By 9 a.m. Friday morning a large crowd stood ready to enter the gates, beyond which were several rows of large tents, each color-coded for certain workshops throughout the 3-day event.

Just past these tents are three large barn-like structures, in which over 270 vendors of energy related equipment, services and supplies stood ready with their wares. If you were not quite ready to take the plunge on equipment, there were hundreds of books and DVDs available on just about any energy related topic of interest.

We spent most of the two days in workshops. My favorite was the series given by Rob Roy on various types low-cost, owner-built construction, which included talks on earthen covered, cordwood masonry and timber framing. We were so impressed with Rob and his concepts, we signed up for his 5-day workshop in Colorado this September. http://www.cordwoodmasonry.com/

In addition there was a demo area where workshop hosts actually constructed small examples of the techniques. One of the most interesting was an area devoted to whole tree construction. http://www.wholetreesarchitecture.com/

There was lots of good food to choose from, including ethnic varieties and meals cooked in solar ovens right at the fair!

Another interesting concept in building the "Edge" employs unique architectural design and features with European-style machined woods. This modular home of some 400 sq ft can be custom ordered with various options, and assembled on site in less than a week! http://www.revarch.com/pages/Pages/pages/Concept%20Home.htm

Throughout the day Friday & Saturday, and both evenings we were treated to live music at one of three stages, the big tent hosting a rock band and dance each evening - what a party!

No renwable energy fair would be complete without a focus on transportation. Although no major car manufacturers were there, several do-it-your-selfers had some interesting "plug and play" concepts on hand. My favorites were the solar-powered bicycles,

along with this hefty surprise.....yes it works and does about 50mph! True to the farming area the event is hosted in, a local fellow had an old diesel engine powered by bio diesel turn a 5KW generator!