A few weeks ago, I noted that I had been splitting my time between my long term, 1 by 1 engine project and “a big project that I have to wait on someone else to do their part before I can work on it.” The part that someone else had to do was the tree removal we had done last Wednesday. The big project was to make some repairs to my ham radio tower and antennas. The "Potential Tropical Cyclone" rain washed out doing it Friday and Saturday, so today was the day.
My tower is small by most peoples standards: 20 feet with a mast that extends five feet above that. It's an aluminum tower, so fairly lightweight, and from the first ideas of buying that tower back around 1990 (I've really lost track of exactly when), my goal was to have it tilt over at its base so that with nothing but a small ladder and hand tools, I could remove antennas for a storm. I did a major update to it back in February and March of '16, replacing the original steel pole that acted as the counterpoise that holds a pulley to direct the cable from a boat trailer winch to the attachment point on the tower, the winch and more. With the exception of that winch, everything was now either stainless steel or aluminum. Like millions of people, I've had aluminum boats before and spent time working on them. The two I had always used aluminum rivets or stainless steel fasteners.
Within a couple of years, it was obvious the galvanized steel winch was rusting. I had told myself to replace it, spent time finding a stainless winch that wouldn't break the bank and would support the load. While I was putting the 2016 upgrade together, I had done another couple of things I wanted to change, but the thing that made it urgent was something I inadvertently did early this year while upgrading my six meter antenna. I didn't tighten down something holding the cable for my HF antenna, and while rotating the antenna to the south, ripped the connection to the antenna apart. That meant I didn't have an antenna for some of the best HF bands: 20 to 10 meters.
I forgot to take a picture of the winch before I took it off the aluminum pipe, but it looked like this afterward:
The replacement winch is Chinesium and a winch that at least looks like it is sold widely. Changing that was literally removing two nuts, swapping the winches and putting back the two nuts.
The original winch was a boat trailer winch. In practice, that means that it only cranks in one direction: winding in the cable (pulling the boat up the trailer in use). If I disengage the ratchet to lower the tower, my arm is the only thing keeping it from rotating out of control and crashing everything into the ground. To make matters worse, the plastic handle became frozen in place (probably more corrosion on the handle locked it in place) so that holding the handle was more difficult. The new winch is a brake winch, meaning it has a brake mechanism so that if I stop cranking up or down the brake engages and the tower stops moving. Safer is good!
I spent a couple of hours in the morning, from pretty much 9 to 11, upgrading the winch and the way the cable attaches to the tower. I waited from 11AM to almost 2PM before I went out to fix the antenna connections. That's straightforward work but requires cleaning up the waterproofing compound I used, then dragging a soldering iron over to the feedpoint on the antenna. What I had been concerned about being a job that would go into two days ended up taking one, with a lot of getting out of the sun.
This evening, everything checked out, the antenna worked like it was supposed to, the rotator worked properly, and I'm back to having a fully functional station again. Hopefully the almost-tropical storm is the only one we'll have to face and I won't have to take this down again. It can't apply to repairs, but my saying for antenna upgrades and projects is those always begin with "when it cools off." There's still a few things to do, but they're cleanup-type things.