Amateur Radio Station WFØGM
My Tower Installation
(Page 1 of 4 | Photos on pages 2-4)
The following is the
story of the installation of an amateur radio antenna tower at the QTH of WFØGM.
This page is dedicated to helping other hams who may be thinking about building a tower. Please contact me via e-mail if I can answer any questions for you as you endeavor to build your own tower.
Hopefully my experiences will help someone else pull off this major event in any ham radio operator's station upgrade...
I'll start in July of 2006. Having recently moved from a small city lot onto a 5 acre plot of land, I finally had the opportunity to put up my first ever tower! But there just was not enough time to do it this year. And to add to the frustration, I only had enough time to get a 75/40 meter dipole up on a telescoping mast before winter hit. It worked great on those bands, but 20 meter DX was nearly impossible. (I could tune it up on 20 meters, but not many stations could hear me.) So, during the winter of 2006/2007 I began seriously looking for a tower to support my HF beam antenna. I really had no idea of how to go at it, but imagine, a tower! After 20 years at my old QTH with wire antennas up a max of 35 feet, and a 3 element beam up at 32 feet (on a roof mounted tripod surrounded by very large oak trees) I now had the space and the resources to put up a tower.
So as I dreamed about that tower, I had a few requirements that I wanted it to meet:
Self supporting without guy wires.
I wanted a model I would not have to climb to install my antennas.
It had to be at least 50 feet high.
My most excellent $500 Yaesu G-1000DXA rotor had to fit on the top of the tower.
With this in mind I decided to inquire about my first choice: A US Tower model TX-455 galvanized steel, 55 foot crank-up self-supporting tower. This tower was rated to handle 18 sq. ft. antenna load at 50 mph wind speeds. My antenna (a Cushcraft A3) is only rated at 4.36 sq. ft. wind load so I figured this tower would be just fine for now and in the future. The size of the foundation hole looked a little intimidating, (5' W x 5' L x 6' Deep) but I figured I would just have to dig for a week and that was it. The price was within my budget. Even with the tilt-over raising fixture, thrust bearing, and coax stand-offs added. The motorized crank really looked nice but has to be installed at the factory. It is not an option that you can field retrofit. However that option would have put me out of my price range, so I decided to go with the manual crank.
Next I needed to know if my rotor would fit. Looking at their specs, it looked as if my rotor would be physically too large to fit inside the top section. Well I asked the question via email and was told that it should fit OK if I mounted the rotor so that the control cable connector was oriented the correct way. OK, I figured I was over that hurdle. But now I needed to find out how to get it shipped from their factory in Lincoln, KS to my QTH 45 miles north of downtown Minneapolis, MN. I figured the most difficult thing would be to unload the unit from the truck when it arrived. The TX-455 is shipped assembled with the sections nested and its shipping weight is 670 pounds. The raising fixture weighs another 120 pounds. That's a lot of weight! I thought I could possibly borrow my friend's tractor to unload it, but I wasn't sure if I would be able to get the tractor when I needed it. I would have to be home to accept the delivery, and I thought that it would be nearly impossible to get a few guys to take the day off of work to help me unload it.
Then the deciding factor against purchasing this otherwise very fine looking tower hit me: the shipping cost was $900.00. I nearly fell out of my chair when the person on the other end of the land line told me that! That put me right out of my price range again. I was a little discouraged, but I began looking around for another solution. I knew one thing, I was not getting any younger, and at the age of 45, I really could not see myself climbing a tower in another 10 years or so. I had to find something that I would not have to climb.
Now to find a 50 foot self supporting tower that I felt I could handle without heavy equipment just wasn't found, so I started thinking differently about guy wires. After all, I live on 5 acres. I should have the room for a few guy wires right? Well yes, plenty of room. So I started looking at guyed towers. But I was not confident that I could erect a tower myself. I had never been involved in helping someone put up a tower let alone build one myself. I wasn't sure if this was something I could do without a knowledgeable contractor. But I also knew that I could never afford to pay someone else to do the work. I would have to put that good old ham ingenuity to work and figure it out on my own...
Then I remembered an advertisement I had seen years ago from Glen Martin Engineering (GME) about a thing they call the Hazer. It is basically a tram system that rides up and down the outside of the tower. You could buy one of these things and put it on your Rohn 25G tower, and raise/lower your antenna from the ground with a hand crank. So I started thinking Rohn 25G just may fit the bill.
So I visited GME's web site. Here I discovered that they also manufacture and sell tower packages with a Hazer, the base, and all the hardware included. Hmm... A tower package. Well if these guys sell the Hazer, why not buy a tower from them as well? I found out that they offered two different face sizes: 13 inch and 18 inch. I did not think a 13 inch tower would be sturdy enough, so I became interested in the 18 inch package; model M-1850A. This is a 50-foot tower with only three guy wires and a Hazer. A little further investigation revealed that the cost of shipping one of these to my QTH was about $200. Also, they said that one person could open and then unload the crate piece by piece, with the heaviest part being only 35 pounds. That took care of the shipping and unloading problem!
But what about the specs? How strong was it? What was the wind speed and antenna load ratings? Well the model M-1850A is rated at 16 sq. foot antenna load at 87 mph wind speeds. That should cover anything I decided to put on that tower at my QTH. I thought the little extra strength could be useful in the winter time too. I also thought that an aluminum tower should look nice for years to come.
OK, at this point I know which tower I want. Before I purchased my property, I had already checked the covenants in my area for antenna restrictions. I would not have bought that piece of property if there were restrictions on antennas! So I went up to the county government center and asked them what I needed to do to get a permit. They told me that I needed a site plan, and the plans for the tower. I obtained a copy of the lots plotted in my addition from the land office, and using a copy machine, I blew up my 5 acre lot so that it fit on an 11 x 17 sheet of paper. Once I had that, I measured out the setbacks. I was required to be 120' from the centerline of the road, 30' from the neighbor's yard on the side, and 40' to the back. The location I had selected was well within the limits.
But I had a new hurdle. I knew that there was an electric cable buried near my chosen location that went out to my barn. I called a nearby electrician whom I knew had the tracing equipment. I had seen him use it when I hired him to upgrade my electrical panel from 100 to 200 amps, to run a 50 amp circuit out to my pole building, and to run 240V and 120V dedicated circuits to my radio operating room. Since I was a former customer, he was happy to come over and trace the buried cable for me for nothing. Fortunately, the cable was out of the way of my selected foundation location. But while he was there, he asked me why I needed the cable traced. When I explained that I was going to dig a hole and put up a tower, he offered his services to dig the hole. He had just obtained a backhoe attachment for his tractor, and for $125 would be happy to dig my hole for me. I didn't have to think too long on that one. But I still had not obtained the permit, so I told him I'd get back to him.
Continued on Page 2 (Tower Photos)
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