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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham! (Part VI)

November 28th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Lookie who got their “Tech” license last weekend!  :)

Wayne Ringer, thats who!  :)  Hes now a licensed ham, or he will be as soon as his call sign shows up on the FCC database! Oh, FCC, dont keep us waiting!

Why it's Wayne Ringer, that's who! :) He's now a licensed ham, or he will be as soon as his call sign shows up on the FCC database! Oh, FCC, don't keep us waiting! Before long, he'll be joining me on two meters!

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And hell have the incredible opportunity to be one of the only licensed Amateur Radio operators to enjoy the hobby in a pink room adorned with Hello Kitty lights!

And he'll be one of two licensed Amateur Radio operators in the country to enjoy the hobby in a pink room adorned with Hello Kitty lights!

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To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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WLS Radio and Sears Roebuck

October 21st, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

What is the connection between the famed Chicago radio station - WLS - and Sears Roebuck?

In 1924, WLS began life as a promotional tool for Sears. In fact, WLS stands for “World’s Largest Store.”

On April 9, 1924, Sears own radio station signed on with 500 watts, with offices on the 11th floor of the Sears 14-story “skyscraper” at Homan and Arthington Street in downtown Chicago.

In 1925, the front pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog promised that, “WLS was conceived in your interests, is operated in your behalf and is dedicated to your service.”

It was a short-lived experiment for Sears. Four years after its creation, WLS was sold to the Prairie Farmer Magazine. The studios were moved to the Prairie Farmer Building  (also in downtown Chicago).  In 1960, WLS was sold to the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

Click here to learn more about the history of WLS.

Hey, is that a Sears House? Click here to learn more about identifying kit homes.

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In 1925, Sears published its first employee newsletter, known simply as "WLS" (World's Largest Store). Inside the newsletter was a detailed account of The Kelly Family buying and building their own kit home.

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To read more about the Kelly’s kit home, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part IV)

October 18th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

About five weeks ago, I passed my “General” (Ham Radio) test which gave me operating privileges on the HF (High Frequency) bands.

VHF and UHF frequencies are principally line of sight, but on HF, short radio waves can skip thousands of miles, reflecting (and bouncing) between the mirror-like ionosphere and the earth’s surface. Radios producing as little as five watts (which is very, very low power) take advantage of this “propagation” (as it’s called) and can send signals from Norfolk to England, Australia (and more!).

Pretty exciting!

A few days after obtaining my General license, I purchased an HF radio (Yaesu 450D), and then last week, my Comet CHA-250BX antenna arrived.

And now, both antenna and radio are together.

Getting the antenna installed was a bit challenging - physically. It required snaking wires through the walls and climbing on the roof (over and over and over) and crawling around in the attic, out toward the eaves where there is very little headroom and no flooring. It was a real adventure!

According to the manufacturer, the 23-foot-tall Comet CHA-250BX needs to be at least 20′ off the ground. After much consideration, we decided to mount it on the chimney of our brick ranch.

To accomplish this, we had to buy a chimney mount.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s, most of the houses in our neighborhood had an antenna on the roof. With the advent of cable TV and satellite, it’s getting harder and harder to find the necessary hardware for mounting antennas outside.

Thanks to Amazon.com, I was able to find a chimney mount that was designed for extra chubby chimneys, like ours.

Scroll on down to see photos of the installation process.

To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V of this series.

Updated! I’m now an “Extra”!

To learn about the Sears Homes in Norfolk, click here.

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worst part was

The worst part of this project was the kneecap pain. I had to crawl out to the attic's hinterlands to drop the RG-8X down the wall (between the studs) with the hope that it would (eventually) end up near my sun porch. While standing upright in my spacious sunporch, "deciding" on the perfect spot for this coax, I neglected to factor in the low clearance between the roof and floor joists out at the edges of our attic.

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ouch

Saturday morning, I spent about 20 minutes with my knees precariously balanced on these joists, drilling holes in these plates, looking for the "sweet spot" where I could drop the coax cable down into the den/sunporch. Years ago, I purchased a set of fiberglass rods that are used for pulling wire through wall cavities. They worked like a charm.

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The sunporch was originally a screened-porch, so we had to penetrate a brick (exterior) wall to get the coax out there.

The sunporch was originally a screened-in porch, so I had to penetrate a brick (exterior) wall to get the coax out there. While hubby was away at work, I put a "smallish" hole through the 5/16" thick paneling in the den, and also through the exterior sheathing. I tried drilling through the brick with a $25 masonry bit but that went nowhere fast. That 1960s brick is tough stuff. My friend David Strickland came by and used his hammer-drill to get through the brick. He drilled from the sunporch side toward the den, because (as he explained) the hammer drill had a tendency to "explode" the back side of the brick. He was right.

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Fme

The hammer drill did create a messy exit wound on the back of the brick. I placed a small piece of plywood across the backside of the brick wall, so that the nylon washer and metal nut would have a good tight fit. The "through-the-wall" fitting is an 8-inch bulkhead connector, with a 90-degree elbow attached.

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other side

The other side came out real pretty.

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A three gang

A three-gang, no-device blank wall plate provided a nice and tidy cover-up on the den side of this wall. Plus, the connection points for the coax are still easily accessible. My husband suggested that I take a black magic marker and write "Ham Radio Antenna Access" on the plate. I was headed for the markers when he said, "No, don't do that. I'm only kidding."

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When the antenna arrived, Teddy the Wonder Dog had to give an inspection of the unit. The Comet CHA205BX did pass the sniff test.

When the antenna arrived, Teddy the Wonder Dog had to inspect the unit. The Comet CHA-205BX successfully passed "the sniff test."

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Mike Neal (President of RASON) and Jim Silverstorf (Treasurer of RASON) came by to help with the assembly of the new antenna.

Mike Neal and Jim Silverstorf (both members of RASON) came by to help with the assembly of the Comet CHA-250BX antenna. Jim brought an SWR meter to check the performance of the new antenna. By the way, I highly recommend that everyone in Hampton Roads join RASON (Radio Amateur Society of Norfolk). It's not the biggest group in the area, but the people are first-class and they are VERY kind to 53-year-old women who ask the really tough questions like, "Where's the volume button on this thing?"

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After

After it was assembled, we had to stand it up and give it a test run. Teddy is on guard, waiting for the radio waves that'll soon come charging into *her* yard.

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Maybe

Yes, that's a bungie cord and nylon ties holding it secure against the deck railing. Mike said that all we needed now was an old couch and a cooler of beer to complete the ambiance.

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The instructions that came with the chimney mounting kit were as clear as mud. We were not sure what they were trying to tell us.

The instructions that came with the chimney mounting kit were as clear as mud. We were not sure what they were trying to tell us. A few more words would have been helpful.

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Ultimately, we figured it out. Took some time though.

Ultimately, we figured it out. Took some time though.

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Roofie

We placed a brick at the bottom of the steel mast, because the chimney mounts aren't really intended to support weight, as much as prevent lateral movement of the mast. And the brick also protects the 17-year-old roofing shingles from additional damage. Unfortunately, I seem to have grabbed the most crooked brick in America.

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mast

Another view from the top. When it was time to heft that antenna up to the roof, another member of RASON (Milton Crum) graciously came by and offered to help. While Wayne and I had expended some mental energy in figuring out how to get this 23' whip antenna up to the roof, Milton had a better way. While I was verbally reviewing the different ways of getting the antenna to the roof, Milt took hold of the antenna and just walked right up the ladder with it. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of this part of our adventure.

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gloves

The antenna mount is a "Channel Master CM 9067," which cost about $30 (from Amazon). It took eight days to arrive, which seemed like a long time, but it does seem to be well made. The bands are 3/4" wide stainless steel and 18' long. The brackets seem sturdy and strong, and provide a 4" offset (which we needed, due to the flare in the brick courses).

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Getting from the roof to the attic took a little thought. I didnt want 50 feet of coax cable draped across my roof, and I also didnt want it coming over my new aluminum gutters.

Getting from the roof to the attic took a little thought. I didn't want 30+ feet of coax cable draped across my roof, and I also didn't want it cascading down over my new aluminum gutters. I also wasn't too fond of the idea of cutting holes in my soffit or facia. This pipe vent served as an ideal solution. It's 1-1/2" PVC pipe with a traditional pipe collar (where it enters the roof). To prevent rain intrusion, I put a 90-degree elbow on the top.

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Inside

Inside the 1-1/2" PVC pipe is a small stub of 3/4" pipe, with 1/2" round weather stripping wrapped around it. I visited four hardware stores, looking for a 1-1/2" to 3/4" reducer, but couldn't find such a thing, so this was the next best choice. Ultimately, I'll put a little more of that 1/2" round weather stripping in the 3/4" pipe to close up the hole.

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My Ham Radio friends tel me this iis the first time theyve seen such a conduit as this, but it realy worked out well.

My Ham Radio friends tel me this is the first time they've seen such a "conduit" as this, but it really worked out well. We spaced it out about two feet from the chimney so we'd stay far from the chimney flashing. From the ground, it looks like just another bathroom vent.

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The ground wire (10 gage stranded) is connected to

The ground wire (10 gage stranded) is connected to the fiberglass mast (at the roof's edge) and continues down the mast to connect to a grounding rod below. The fiberglass mast supports my Diamond X-200A (dual band) antenna.

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Back in the attic

Back in the attic, the PVC pipe provides a nice clean conduit for my RG-8X coax.

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end

And here's the other end of that coax, poking out through the brick wall. The whole affair (and a lot of wires) are well hidden by this antique oak table.

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Annd I bet Im the only Ham Radio operator in Tidewater with Hello Kitty decor!

And I bet I'm the only Ham Radio operator in Tidewater with a pink radio room with Hello Kitty decor!

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What radio room is complete without Hello Kitty lights?

What radio room is complete without Hello Kitty lights?

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The antenna

The Comet CHA-250BX is on the left, standing at about 45 feet at the tippy top.

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front

From the front of the house, it's really not *that* noticeable.

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What a thing of beauty!

What a thing of beauty!

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To learn about RASON, click here.

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

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Who Are These Old Ham Radio Guys?

October 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

While doing some research on Norfolk’s historic architecture, my friend Bill at the Sergeant Memorial Room (Norfolk Public Library) found this old booklet (dated 1951) for me, promoting Norfolk’s public schools. One of the pictures showed three boys working on what appears to be an old Ham Radio set.

It sure would be fun to figure out who these boys are, and if they remained interested in Ham Radio through the decades.

Do you recognize them?

Who

Who are these guys? This picture appeared in a 1951 promotional brochure for Norfolk Public Schools. No name or photo credit was given. I'm not even sure which high schools were in existence in Norfolk in 1951. If they were juniors or seniors in 1951, they'd be 79 or 80 years old today.

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This

Someone must know who this young fellow is!

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More

This is the cover of the brochure which featured the young men shown above.

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On a more modern note, Teddy the Wonder Dog examines the new Comet CHA-250Bx antenna that arrived Friday afternoon. Shes puzzled by the size of the resistor at the end of this 23 vertical antenna.

On a more modern note, Teddy the Wonder Dog examines the new Comet CHA-250Bx antenna that arrived Friday afternoon. She's puzzled by the size of the resistor at the end of this 23' vertical antenna.

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If those boys above could look into the future and see Ham Radio today, theyd be shocked to know that in 21st Century America, Japanese-made radio products are considered to be top notch.

If those boys above could look into the future and see Ham Radio today, they'd be shocked to know that in 21st Century America, Japanese-made radio products are considered to be top notch.

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To learn more about Ham Radio in Norfolk, click here.

Want to read more about the Sears Homes in Norfolk? Click here.

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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part III)

September 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

This weekend (September 15/16) there was a big Ham Fest (for Ham Radio enthusiasts) at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. This morning, I was one of about 40 people who gathered in an upper room sitting for a Ham Radio licensing test.

The majority of those 40 people were taking a test for the Technician License, which is the first of the three licenses in Ham Radio. (The three levels are, “Tech, General and Extra.”)

In March 2011, I obtained my Technician’s License.

Today, I successfully passed a 35-question test and I’m now the proud owner of my “General License.”

And better yet, of the 35 questions on the test, I got 34 right!!   :)

It’s been a happy day.

With this new license, I’m now legally empowered to fiddle around on HF frequencies, which opens up a whole new world.

VHF and UHF frequencies are principally line of sight, but on HF, short radio waves can skip thousands of miles, reflecting (and bouncing) between the mirror-like ionosphere and the earth’s surface. Radios producing as little as five watts (which is very, very low power) take advantage of this “propagation” (as it’s called) and can send signals from Norfolk to London (and beyond!).

Now, with my Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) in hand, I’m free to cruise the radio bands of HF. There’s just one last little obstacle:  Lucre.

After the test today, I descended to the main hall of the Convention Center and attended the Ham Fest, which is a massive display of vendors of radio equipment. Based on what I’ve learned, I’ll need to gather up several hundred dollars to buy a new radio that complements my new radio privileges.

Until then, I’m still having a lot of fun playing around on what’s known as the “2-meter band” (VHF). Thanks to my beautiful eight-foot Diamond X-200A, a dual-band vertical antenna (standing at about 30′ high outside my brick ranch), I’ve successfully tuned in stations up to 158 miles from my home in Norfolk.

Who knew Ham Radio could be so much fun?

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To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V of this series.

Click here to take a look at the General Test. As someone with no background in electrical components, I found it a bit challenging!

My ham radio station is pretty modest.

My ham radio station is pretty modest. That's a hand-held five-watt, dual band Wouxun on the table, sitting next to a Radio Shack 10/45-watt HTX-212. A J-pole antenna hangs from the ceiling. This device (hand-crafted by Mike Neal) is a little marvel. Using only this antenna, I can pick up a strong signal in Kilmarnock, about 75 miles from my house.

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The first Radio Shack two-meter radio I used was loaned to me by the RASON Ham Radio group here in Norfolk. I was so enamored of its many charms, that I went looking on eBay for one of my very own.

The first Radio Shack two-meter radio I used was generously loaned to me by the RASON Ham Radio group here in Norfolk. I was so enamored of its countless charms and ease of use, that I went looking on eBay for one of my very own. The one I found is an HTX-242, which is (as far as I can tell) identical to the 212, but maybe a little tiny bit newer. The HTX-242 is sitting atop an MFJ 28-amp power supply. A list showing the two-meter repeaters in the Hampton Roads area sits to the right.

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Ebay - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The first lesson to learn about Ham Radio is it can be an expensive habit! Thanks to eBay, I found an HTX-242 new in box (which is pretty cool, considering how old this radio probably is).

Ebay - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The first thing I learned about Ham Radio is it can be an expensive habit! Thanks to eBay, I found an affordably priced HTX-242 "new in box" (which is pretty cool, considering how old this radio probably is). It is a dandy! I'm guessing it's about 15 years old, but I don't really know. It's a throwback to the days when Radio Shack sold stuff that had to do with radios. Imagine!

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My friends at RASON tell me that part of the reason my signal is so good here is proximity to the water. We live on a finger of Lake Whitehurst.

My friends at RASON tell me that part of the reason my signal is so good here is proximity to the water. We live on a finger of Lake Whitehurst.

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And this helps with the good reception, too!

And this helps with the good reception, too! Since this photo was taken, we've raised the antenna another four feet!

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Now I ask you, did you ever see a prettier antenna?  :)

Now I ask you, did you ever see a prettier antenna? :)

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To learn about RASON, click here.

To read Part I of this blog, click here.

To read Part II, click here.

To learn about the many pretty Sears Homes here in Norfolk, click here.

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Hams and Christmas

December 20th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In 1983,  Hollywood released of the scariest movies ever created. The movie was Testament (starring Jane Alexander and William Devane).

Set in the fictitious town of Hamlin (near San Francisco), the movie starts out happy. The children are flopped around the 1980s “television as furniture” console, watching an afternoon show and waiting for Dad to get home so they can eat dinner. In the next moment, Mom and the kids perk up when they see an emergency message pop up on the TV, warning of an impending nuclear attack. There’s a flash of blinding light through the living room window, and then the electricity and phone go dead.

“Testament” is a remarkable movie because there are no fireballs and no mushroom clouds in Hamlin. Neither people nor houses are damaged by the blast. Terrified neighbors pour out of their stately homes and into the street, trying to figure out what has just happened. The people of Hamlin are cut off from the world, knowing nothing, except that a nuclear device has been detonated - somewhere far away.

Before the sun sets on that first awful, post-nuclear day, the real hero of the story emerges. It’s the old man down the street, Henry Abhart, who has both a Ham radio and a small generator. In the gloaming, neighbors in the upper-middle class burg gather at Henry’s house. As they walk up the steps to his magnificent bungalow, we hear Henry in the background.

“CQ, CQ, CQ,” he says with in a voice that’s steady but urgent. “This is Whiskey Six Delta November calling. No, there’s no damage here, except all our transformers are knocked out.”

After a little more time at his Ham radio, Henry walks into his commodious living room to give a full report to his anxious neighbors, who have gathered there.

Looking pensive, he reports, “Well, folks, so far I can’t raise Seattle, Portland, Sacramento or Southern California. San Francisco is silent. The entire Bay Area. North of us, now, they’re okay.”

“What about Chicago?” someone asks.

With great solemnity in his voice he replies, “So far, I can’t raise anything east of Keokuk, lowa.”

After a few more comments he adds, “We may be crippled, but we’re not cut off and we’re not dead.”

I’ve always remembered that scene. Thanks to an old man ensconced in a homemade Ham Shack in the corner of a California bungalow, people are not cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a powerful image.

The take-away message I gleaned from this powerful scene is this: Ham Radio Operators are the helpers. They’re the ones that have both the skills and the tools to keep us going when all the more modern and more complex (and more delicate) systems have failed. I believe that - in my lifetime - our country probably won’t suffer a nuclear event, but we may face natural disasters and severe storms and other communications-interrupting events. And when we do, the ability to communicate (which has the same root as the word “community”) will be an urgent need.

In February 2010, I sat for my “Technician’s” Ham Radio license, and to my delight (and incredulity), I passed the test, getting 33 out of 35 answers right.

It feels good to accomplish a long-cherished dream. It feels wonderful to learn a new skill. I look forward to learning how to “play” with a new-fangled, 21st Century Ham Radio. But it also feels mighty good to know that if there ever were an urgent need in my neck of the woods, I’m equipped and empowered to be “one of the helpers.”

Now, I just have to raise a little dough and give myself a Ham-flavored Christmas present!

To learn about Ham Radio in Hampton Roads, click here.

To learn more about Ham Radio, click here.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

The best of both worlds: Large antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois

The best of both worlds: Ham radio antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois. Nice house, too.

Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale

Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale

Apparently, Sears Homes and Ham Radio go together pretty well.

Apparently, Sears Homes and Ham Radio go together pretty well. Note the large Ham Radio antennae rising over the Osborn's roofline.

The Sears Osborn, as it appeared in the 1919 catalog.

The Sears Osborn, as it appeared in the 1919 catalog.

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