It birthed after putting in hours on the Hurricane Net as Superstorm Sandy clobbered the nation’s east coast. There should be some system of
providing aid to the Ham Radio operators in major undertakings. In Canned Ham, we had the facility, the repeater, and some of the creature comforts
that might allow for such service, but I honestly was afraid to tow the thing a great distance. Age is, after all, something to be considered. (Soon I
was to learn the meaning of the phrase, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!”) So it became time to launch Canned Ham II. I wanted a newer
trailer which would be capable of service anywhere. I want to try to fit into the FEMA “Typing” of resources, even though they do not specify Amateur
Radio equipment or resources specifically. So off I went.
As can be the case in buying used, I purchased someone else’s nightmare. It didn’t start out that way. The sales person immediately grasped the
concept, and had a used unit that fit the bill. The 2001 trailer appeared to be in excellent condition, was the length I wanted, and had the
arrangement inside that fit our purposes. It is 23 feet, long enough for some space inside yet of the size that can be backed into a parking lot space
for public service activities. The Coachmen unit has a full bathroom, two bunks in the rear, a spacious dinette and kitchen area. It has a walled off
room at the front that contained a queen bed. The bed, easily removed, would allow for a radio room that would actually be separated from any other
activity in the trailer. My goal was to be completely self-sufficient in an emergency, and this would allow us to sleep, feed and bathe a crew of at least
three. I plan to move over the radio equipment, portable repeater and antennas from the original unit. One downside was the lack of a front window
(harder to find in today’s newer RV trailers) which significantly reduces the view from the operating position. It was to have been an easy
conversion for our Canned Ham Engineer, Tim Smith, K8TBN. Just pull the bed, put in the operating counter and off we go! What an optimist.
The first inkling of trouble was the brown goo that stuck to some of the screws as we removed the bedframe. Tim wasn’t pleased, and wanted to
look deeper. As we pulled wall board and rolled back the linoleum, there is was: a stinky, moldy mess of rotten wood under the flooring. The
wood framing of the trailer was rotting away. Curses.
I must say that this condition wasn’t something that a dealer could have seen- we had to pull the wood flooring to find it underneath. The fact
that the flooring had already been partially replaced indicated the prior owner had attempted to repair the problem, but failed. Back to the dealer
I went. The sales rep, service manager and owner all spent a lengthy period of time with me looking over the situation. They were professional,
helpful and understood my plight. Though sold “As-Is”, they agreed to replace the floor framing and bolster the underpinnings to make the trailer
One extra benefit has shown up. When we tore off the front wall, we discovered that the framing for the front actually was prepared for a window! All we
had to do was trim off the front skin, and we were in! EBay, here I come…and a suitable window was soon delivered. I was also able to find a window
cover from an RV recycler in Wisconsin, so I think we should be able to create a safe view through the front!
Now- it’s back to replacing floor and walls and getting the trailer ready to operate.
I am very pleased to report that the original Canned Ham has a lot of life left, and will continue in the public service as I transfer it to Marion County’s
ARES organization. I am thrilled that they will be able to use it as intended!
The Surprise.. that is, the GOOD surprise
Well, this has certainly gone way past my “Hey Tim, build a desk and we’re in!” concept! The upside was still that there was room for a front window.
That is, until I called the RV window place- which gave me a quote of $575 for -just- the window. Didn’t want one that badly. But trust the Internet- I
found a new window, frame and cover from Wisconsin for $25. Really. There will soon be a front view after all!
So we have dry-erase walls and front wall. Floor is in. Window is ready to be cut in. We have the material for the operating desk, and we've been
tossing around ideas for its configuration. Actually, Tim’s setup in Canned 1 worked so well, that’s probably going to be how we roll. A lower shelf will
hold power supplies, an Inverter (new addition) and the guts to the 100-watt Motorola rig for working further out than normal.
There will be a third operating position with power (AC/12V) and antenna at the dinette table, which will come in handy for a larger-scale event. It might
also be a great place for Safety Services to work if we do a joint incidcent (missing person, etc.). The radio room
will be furnished with brand new gray carpet to hold down the echo and noise. Rigs may vary once we’re working
them in, but we will have the following:
440 portable repeater
Yaesu 8800 with digital interface
Icom 880 with D-rats interface
Icom 706 with auto-tuner for DC-light, also digital
Older Kenwood 2-meter only
Some type of commercial VHF (probably Vertex or Ritron or both) programmed up for 2-meters, the county backup VHF repeaters, and perhaps any
remaining VHF channels for surrounding county public safety agencies (with their permission).
I think I’m going to move away from the big desktop PC’s- didn’t really used them at all (required a generator, and most of our activities are completed
using internal battery). Instead, I’ll be relying on laptops.
We will still have two military masts for easy-up antennas (I have a newer fiberglass VHF stick to replace the G7) and 6 dual-band mobile antennas
mounted around the roof. I’ll still be carrying three HF antennas and several larger coax runs.
There isn’t quite as much storage space, so I think the upper bunk in the rear might be carrying some stuff. I’ll also be using those plastic storage
bins/cabinets where I can fit them in. I’ll still be able to roll my generator inside if needed for longer activities.
The front room of the trailer has really come out nicely! We have dry-erase walls across the front and sides of the operating desk. A new front window
allows us to watch outside events. A sturdy shelf across the upper reaches, and now with radios mounted and ready! A hidden gem: LED lighting! The
440 repeater cabinet is nestled in the corner. The repeater (built by the talented Ken, W8SMK) is a “last mile” function- for those times when we’re in
operation after all local repeaters have been taken off the air, or in some type of remote area where repeater coverage is needed. Now, the cabinet is
also occupied by my high-power Motorola VHF rig, also designed to be “last mile” for times when I need 100 watts to reach someone. These will run
with AC power so as not to draw down the battery.
A major work was completed with Tim’s creation of antenna rails for
each side of the trailer’s roof. This both minimized the number of holes
(any of which might leak!) and take advantage of the metal roof’s
ground-plane potential. Aluminum rails were mounted with antennas
attached. Feedlines were brought in through PVC pipe arranged to
allow easy access to the inside, yet keep it dry. The coax runs drop
through an interior cabinet, and will be routed to the proper radio. I
intend to add an HF antenna, and a wifi remote antenna in case we get
into the MESH configuration.
To be truly flexible, we have to have easy access to the inside and lots of antennas! Canned Ham II has six dual-band antennas spread across the two
mounting rails shown at left. (The collapsed antenna is the RV’s TV antenna.) We continue the flexibility by having the low cargo storage doors
available to access coax or power leads from either side of the trailer.
After some thought, we decided to mount the radios below the upper shelf. They should be within an easy arm’s reach for the operator, yet be up and
out of the way of the operating desk. That will allow for a laptop operating, or even an additional temporary rig.
Computing will be done completly by laptop- I am abandoning the large desktop computers because we really didn’t use them. We can successfully
score Field Day on a laptop, and there will be plenty available. What’s more they will not consume nearly as much power.
We’ve changed our approach to power for the radios. We’re running the rigs straight from the battery (through a power distribution box conveniently
within reach). In Canned 1, we could switch between AC power and DC. In 2, we’re going to rely on the battery. When AC power is attached to the
trailer, the on-board conditioner and charger will keep the battery charged, and supply 12 volts through the battery. We have added an AC inverter,
which will take 12 volts up to 110 AC in order to support laptop power supplies.
AC power shouldn’t be a problem- we have a new 3500/400 watt generator which will be mounted on a cargo rack off the rear bumper- always available
at the push of a start button to supply power for the really important stuff, like the A/C and coffee maker!!