Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Big Stick (Part 2)

I wasn’t really bothered by not having the big 40m yagi up. The sun was blasting the ionosphere throughout 2013/2014/2015 as we enjoyed the “second peak” of the solar cycle. The high bands were in great shape and the DX was rolling in. I finally managed to put contest plaques on the wall here for my two favorite contests (ARRL DX and Sweepstakes), earned DXCC on 10 meters, and pushed my total number of DXCC entities confirmed past 300. However, as the sands of time through the hourglass, I knew the good times were running out. This had been my first time being active through a solar maximum but it was going to be my third minimum coming up so I knew what we were in for. I wasn’t about to do it with a 40m yagi lying on the ground beside the house. Since 2013 I had slowly been parlaying an initial nest egg by buying and selling things here and there and was one sale away from turning it into $5000. Not enough for the whole project yet but getting there.

One day in late 2015 I happened to come across an ad on Kijiji (Canada’s version of Craig’s List) from a guy in Saskatchewan selling a lightly-used 96-foot Titan tower for about a third the cost of a new one. I knew that leaving off the top two sections would be the same as Trylon’s heaviest-duty 80-foot Titan and we exchanged several emails over the course of a few months while I tried to figure out how I could get it here. It was the dead of winter and the tower was still partially assembled in pairs of sections which greatly complicated having it shipped. I was talking to several trucking companies and the seller, trying to put together a package that I could be fairly certain would get the tower here at a reasonable price without any surprises. In the end, though, I couldn’t make it happen. It was going to require a huge effort just to get it ready to ship and, owing to the 16-foot long pieces, the shipping itself was going to be well over $2000 and could even balloon higher than that if something went wrong. I was almost ready to tell the guy I had to pass but at the last minute I decided to offer him a small deposit to hang on to it for me until the new year and maybe we’d figure something out then.

Over the holidays that year I had found a buyer for my latest project (
a 6kW diesel generator) so with $5000 soon to be in the “tower fund” I took a closer look at what could be done. In my earlier dealings with the trucking companies I had remarked in frustration that for the price they were asking I could drive down there and pick it up myself. The more I thought about that the more it seemed like a better idea. We had been planning a bathroom renovation at the same time and were running into the same issues with shipping large items (a big tub and one-piece shower). If I drove down with my truck and trailer I could bring back the bathroom fixtures, a couple of new appliances, and the tower, all for the same amount as shipping the tower would cost. As an added bonus, I could bring the XYL along and we could visit our relatives in Saskatchewan to turn it into a bit of a mini-holiday. I closed the deal on the tower and told the seller I’d be down to get it at the beginning of June.

We hit the road as soon as the summer ferry service started on the river crossings just south of here. It's a 10-day round trip from here to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (via Calgary, Alberta) with the first (and last) 750km on a gravel road through the Arctic wilderness. I had spent the previous couple of weeks making sure the truck and the trailer were ready to go and, thankfully, the entire drive was uneventful. After stopping in Calgary to visit with family and arrange for all our supplies, we dropped the trailer and set off for Saskatchewan, visiting long-lost relatives on the way. I arrived in Saskatoon and picked up the tower without incident but I was sure glad I didn’t try to have it shipped. Paying people to try and dig it all out of the snow and take it apart in the winter would have been a calamity! As it was, it took an hour in the warm summer sunshine but only because someone with extensive Titan tower experience was helping (he could tell just by looking at it which sections were which and which pieces nested together) and especially due to the timely assistance of a helpful onlooker who ran and grabbed his battery-powered impact wrench which removed the remaining bolts in a flash. One of these was immediately added to my Christmas wish list!

I was sure I'd be able to fit the whole tower in the back of my pickup but I was still pretty relieved once it was all in and the tailgate was latched.
Living way North of the middle-of-nowhere means you don’t often get the opportunity to go shopping without paying a huge premium for shipping costs. Maybe, if you’re travelling by air, you have to worry about how much stuff you can fit in your suitcase. When we got back to Calgary and picked up the trailer, after all the bathroom reno materials and some new appliances were loaded, we still had plenty of room left over. We gleefully filled the remaining space with everything from sacks of flour to pails of motor oil. We even wound up with a pair of patio loungers strapped to the tower in the back of the truck! The trip home was grueling but we made it safe and sound. It took a lot of work and planning but there it was: I finally had my tower sitting in the driveway. All-up, including a substantial contribution out of my tower fund towards the fuel expenses, it had cost me only $3000. Now I just had to figure out how to get it to stand at attention…

9000 kilometers and 1800 litres of diesel later I was very happy to be home!

On to Part 3

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