New Beverage project

From Guam, there are two primary directions for radio: NW for Europe and NE for North America. I have two long (~1000ft) single wire Beverage receive antennas, one toward each population area. My European (NW) Beverage hears incredibly well, as there are no noise sources for 1500 miles in that direction, only jungle and ocean. Unfortunately, I suffer some noise in the North American direction on 160m, usually hovering about S2. This noise only affects Top Band for some reason, and the source is line noise from civilization about 1 mile distant in that direction. At times, the noise has made it difficult to copy the next layer down of NA stations calling on 160. I’ve decided to try to mitigate the noise by laying out a new Beverage for NA.

Existing NA Beverage

The existing wire is just over 1000ft long and is pointed at 046 degrees – the center of the continental United States. It has served me well, allowing me to complete 160m WAS, but it is still noisier than I would like. This antenna is already version 2.0 of my NA receive wire, located further west (deeper in the jungle) from the original version 1.0 which was even noisier but closer to the road and power lines.

The new route is significantly further west and deeper in the jungle. The feed point is about 1300 feet from my house, and will be fed by quad-shielded RG-6. Over the past week, I have taken time to mark out the route, clearing a path along the way.

New NA Beverage route

I brought my new Nexus 7 tablet which comes with a GPS receiver and was able to plot my track with Google Earth.

The new route is just under 1000ft in length, and pointed just about 030. I did this on purpose, as this direction is oblique to the noise source which is centered more in a 060 heading. I hope this helps null the QRN significantly. This is also the direct heading for W1/2/3, the most difficult region of NA to work from here.

When working in the jungle, I keep covered up from head to toe. This is to keep the spiders, spider webs, mosquitoes, and sharp leaves off my skin. Bug repellent barely works, and after 5 minutes, sweat has washed it off and the mosquitoes are clouding around me again. An old T-shirt covering my head keeps them at bay.

Jungle wear

I wear a white, heavy duty long sleeve shirt with gloves. The white is for visibility because I know a couple people who do hunt in an area adjacent to where my antennas are located. I wear an old pair of USCG ODU pants which protect me from stickers and other things that scratch. The head-to-toe covering helps protect me from wasps as well.

Can you spot the hornet nest?

The smaller “boonie wasps” are very aggressive and painful, but at least for me, their sting wears off after about an hour. The larger hornets, on the other hand, are less aggressive but pack a powerful punch. A sting from one of these is like getting hit by a line drive baseball, and it hurts for well over a week. They also have a habit of building nests in ferns, about 1-2ft above the ground where they are impossible to see until it is too late. Today I ran into one of those nests, but fortunately did not get stung. I beat the brush ahead of me with a 6ft piece of aluminum tubing to try to give myself some advance warning instead of stepping right into them.

Close up of the hornet nest. These guys are not aggressive but have a very powerful sting if their nest is disturbed


Beverage antenna maintenance

Last week, I walked my North American Beverage RX antenna with my son, taking him hiking in the jungle for the first time. He is always fearful of wasps, so I was gentle with him and only went where I knew we would find none, and also showed him some of the World War 2 stuff I’ve found over previous months. I did take a peek at the other antennas, and all looked fine.

A few days later, 7Q7GM came on the band, but I only was able to hear them for one CQ cycle right at my sunrise – something didn’t seem right – so I went back into the jungle to check. I happened to find two problems that ended up taking three of my four Beverages out of commission.

My four Beverages cross in three places – the EU wire crosses my NA and AF wires, and my AF wire crosses over the SA wire. At all junctions, I ensure the wires are separated by at least one foot, and cross at as close a 90 degree angle as possible to eliminate interaction. One problem was apparently immediately – my South American antenna broke, and the bare copper clad wire had laid across my African antenna, making contact. This was disheartening since my SA antenna passes through very dense foliage and I’ve had lots of bad wasp experiences there. In fact, since I installed the antenna last year, I’d not been through the area once, not really caring if it got overgrown. Now, I would have no choice!

First, I walked my European antenna, and quickly found that a large branch had fallen out of the jungle canopy, pinning the wire to the ground. This was an easy repair. All my Beverages “float” and are not pinned at the insulators. The copper clad steel is very strong also. The branch removed, the antenna bounced back into its original position, unbroken.

Home made Beverage insulators, fabricated from PVC pipe. They work well for my purpose, except that some trees grow very quickly requiring me to replace some after a year to keep the tree from growing around the insulator and wire.
Wild taro growing through a rusted barrel left from the war – this was about 10ft from my European Beverage but I never saw it until today due to the thick growth

With my European antenna fixed, it was time to do the inevitable – clear my South American wire and repair the break, wherever it was. Armed with my machete and wasp spray, I was off.

Very dense growth
The trees are almost impenetrable. The vines seen in the photo grow quickly, several feet in a week, and can only be cut with trimmers. The machete won’t slice them through! They make quite a tripping hazard also.
The trail is completely gone – I have to follow the fallen wire to see where to go

I found the break, which of course was very close to the termination. It looks like I allowed the wire to get kinked during installation, causing a weak point. Fortunately – no wasps! All antennas now are working – for now – and will hopefully stay up through the CQWW DX CW contest weekend. It turns out that I was never able to copy 7Q7GM, nor could he hear me – this would have been a new zone for me on 160m. I suspect the higher SFI is causing a lot of absorption on Top Band, especially along the equator. I’ve been able to work Scandinavia most mornings, so I suspect this absorption is worse on the southern paths. This may make my remaining zones on 160m more difficult to work.

NA Beverage repaired

Well it took all week and seven trips to the jungle after work, but I finally figured out the problem with the NA Beverage.

It was not the switch box after all – it was working just fine even though it was flooded with water. Since then, I left the cover off, placed it on an old wire spool to get it off the ground, covered with a plastic bin and set a rock on top of it to try to keep it in place. This way, its out of the weather but open to breathe so water can’t gather.

It turns out that the problem was the ground wire coming off the transformer secondary. Once again, the pigs chewed it. I didn’t see it at first because the bare copper wire is brown and mostly invisible against the dirt. This simple problem cost me many hours of troubleshooting and about 24dB of signal. Yesterday I repaired the ground properly, and added a few ground radials to try to improve performance and reliability.

I also discovered why the feedline was kinked. No one tripped over the cable. I found a bite mark about 50ft from the feed point. A pig had bit the cable and tried pulling on it. The covering did not appear to be damaged, but I wrapped it in tape just in case.

I’m very happy now that this antenna is repaired. I should only have to walk three of the four Beverages once again before CQWW DX SSB. The fourth, my SA antenna, is completely overgrown but still seems to work OK. I don’t like walking that one because of all the wasps I found when installing it last year. I was stung a bunch of times, and I’m trying to avoid a repeat experience!

NA Beverage troubleshooting

Last weekend I noticed that my NA Beverage seemed very deaf. The noise floor was very low, much lower than the other Beverages, and it didn’t seem to hear anything well.

Yesterday after work I had an opportunity to walk the antenna. It was overcast and very lightly raining when I left the house, perfect weather for walking the jungle because it wouldn’t be hot and the wasps would be mostly dormant (they seem to be inactive in wet weather). What a mistake this turned out to be.

By the time I got into the jungle, the sky had darkened considerably, and the rain started to come down heavier. The darkness along with the heavy sound of rain in the leaves made the whole experience quite spooky. Add the sound of coconuts and branches falling, and my subconscious started to get the best of me.

Anyway, to the task at hand. The feed point looked fine, with no damage to the transformer. I had coiled up some extra RG6 at the feed point, and I could tell that something had tripped over the cable because one loop had been pulled into a near kink. This is odd; animals have not touched the cable in the year its been there, and how could a hooved animal trip over a cable that is laying flat on the ground? A human could have done it, but the area is very heavily overgrown and as far as I know, I’m the only one who visits this area (no human signs seen such as cut trees or foot prints).

Anyway, I started walking the Beverage wire, clearing some branches and vines that had grown over it.

Rain and overcast skies made everything soaking wet and dark

About half way along the wire, I came to an area where a large tree had fallen during a previous typhoon. It is a very cramped area, with lots of growth, and the Beverage wire passes right through. While in this area, I had the scare of my life. The rain was falling very heavily, to the point it made seeing difficult with rain falling in my eyes. I was cutting a vine when immediately behind me in the brush I heard a loud buzzing sound. It really sounded like a big arcing transformer. It was very loud and I instantly ran. What the heck? My first thought was that I had stepped on a bare HV power cable, but of course this is impossible. My second thought was that an electrical charge had built up on the wire, meaning a lightning strike nearby was likely. I never figured out what it was – but it truly scared me. As an afterthought, it may have been a large rhinoceros beetle that took off right next to my ear, because they can make a buzzing sound when flying, but I still get nervous even now writing this from my desk.

Anyway, I forced myself to continue. After all, the Oceania DX CW contest is this weekend and I would want the Beverage working. I made it all the way to the end, finding nothing definitive. I did, however, find that pigs had chewed through the wire leading from the termination resistor to the ground rod/radials. This essentially had made the antenna bidirectional. I fixed this, and headed home soaking wet.

Very heavy rain flooded the ground and made walking difficult

Last night I made a few QSOs into NA on 40 and 80m. It was apparent that I had not fixed the antenna. I struggled with copying the callers, and knew I had not solved the problem yet.

Today, the sun was out so I headed back into the jungle. The first thing I checked was the only thing I didn’t check yesterday – the remote coax switch box. I had discounted this yesterday because I keep the box in a well drained area, well covered. Regardless, I found the enclosure about 1/3 full of water. This must have been caused by long term condensation. This was one of the boxes I tried sealing before learning that on Guam, it is impossible to keep water out of things. I rewalked the antenna while leaving the box open to dry.

Water had flooded the remote switch box, and it looked like the NA Beverage connector had been covered with water, shorting it. Fortunately I used a sealed relay, and surprisingly the 12V did not short out.

When walking past the location where I had heard the buzzing sound last night, I discovered nothing. As I gave up and started walking away, I heard a loud rustle in the brush. I immediately yelled “piggy piggy” as I do when I come across pigs (thinking that if I don’t startle them, they will stay away from me). Turns out it wasn’t a pig at all, but a very large monitor lizard.

This is a big monitor lizard, about 4ft long
After I unintentially scared him up the tree, he gave me the stink eye

I suppose it is possible that yesterday I stumbled across a nest, and this lizard is what made the noise, but I don’t think I will ever know for sure.

I really hope that the flooded relay box was the problem, but I won’t really be able to tell until tonight. While walking the wire, the rain had uncovered a pottery shard. I dug around and found some pieces of broken plates. I brought them back, cleaned them up, and found a stamp on one. The logo states “Imperial Ironstone China” and “N.K. Porcelain Co.” There are some Google hits and the NK apparently stands for “Nippon Koshitsu”. It is likely that these are WW2 era as I found them in the same general area as the ammunition and Japanese beer bottles found previously. I can’t prove it, but as far as I know, the area has been largely abandoned since the immediate post war era.

Unfortunately, nothing whole was found. I’ll have to keep looking!


African Beverage repairs

After a week of bad weather, we had two nice days over the weekend with low humidity. Perfect to go out and repair my African Beverage.

All my Beverage receive antennas are located in the jungle, on government property just on the other side of the fence from my housing area. Getting to them isn’t very easy – I have to ride my bike, carrying everything I need, about 1.5 miles to get to the feed points. I can’t climb the fence (topped with barbed wire), so I have to go out the front gate and ride around the fence line. It is a small sacrifice to make to have great ears on the low bands.

Because of the distance, I have to check and double check that I didn’t forget anything.

Items needed for today’s work

Today, I packed pliers, torch, solder, wire cutters, hammer, nails, homemade insulators, electrical tape, and 700 feet of #18 copper clad steel wire. This is along with the items I always need: long sleeve coveralls, gloves, sweat rags, bottled water, sneakers, branch cutters (for cutting vines), machete, and bug spray. This all gets shoved into a backpack. I need the sneakers since my bikes all have clipless (not platform) pedals that require special shoes.

Out in the jungle

Once in the jungle, I have to change my shoes, put on the coveralls (long sleeve to protect me from sharp leaves and bugs, and douse myself with bug spray because the mosquitoes are really bad.

When I originally put up my African Beverage, I didn’t have any of the copper clad steel wire I normally use, which has held up with no problems. Instead, I used what I had: #18 stranded copper wire with white insulation. The problem is that the wire sagged, and where it did, the pigs chewed it up. The black insulated RG6 coax gets ignored, but the white wire gets chewed to pieces. I suspect it looks a lot like the pig’s primary food source: grubs.

Lots of evidence of pigs – matted down grass and animal trails.
This pig wallow is under my European Beverage. This antenna is strung with Cu clad wire that hasn’t given me any trouble.
Here you can see the white wire has come down, and the growth I need to cut through to run the new wire.

I also had to replace some of the insulators, since the trees have grown in the six months I’ve had the antenna up. Stuff grows really fast here!

In 6 months, this tree has already grown around my homemade insulator. The sharp barbs on the leaves are why I wear coveralls.

Now, I have four working Beverages again. I’m ready to try to work the last zones I need on 160m – almost all are in Africa. It is not a difficult path, however European and Japanese pileups make QSOs with this region very difficult.

These monitor lizards live on Guam and are very territorial. This guy is checking me out from a safe height in a tree.
This one is about average size – 2ft long. They get much larger.

Back into the jungle

It has been a number of months since I walked my Beverage antennas. The weather this year has been unusual in that there has been no dry season per say. We’ve received a lot of rain in the normally dry spring months, enough that there have been no big grass fires normal for this time of year. Today was another rainy day, not too hot and perfect to walk the Beverage antennas.

Fortunately, everything looked better than I expected. As wet as it has been, I expected to find everything heavily overgrown. This was the case in some areas, but for the most part, it was pretty easy going.

Beverage wire overgrown with vines

In the above photo, you can see the Beverage wire in the top right of the photo. It has been heavily overgrown with vines. Some say this is not a big problem, however my experience has shown that this overgrowth attenuates the signal on the receiving end. Essentially, the always-wet growth grounds the antenna wire.

There is not much I can do in these cases but pull off the vines periodically. They grow back every month or so. I suppose I could use insulated wire, however the copper clad steel is cheap, and this area is frequented by hunters. My only Beverage made of insulated wire – the African antenna – is down and chewed to pieces by the pigs. The copper clad steel antenna wire is almost invisible, and it is not all that difficult to spend a couple hours a month clearing off the growth.

I was able to clear off the North American and European antennas. The South American wire is 1/2 cleared off – the far end transits wasp territory and I have no real urge to venture there. The African antenna is down – I will need to replace it before the ST0 DXpedition in a few weeks. I really would like to work them on 160m for a new zone, however I do not have my hopes up since the European pileups will be chaos.

The pigs ate my antenna (really!)

About a week after putting up a new 500ft Beverage for Africa, I noticed a significant drop in performance. Today I finally was able to get back out into the jungle to check it out.

I found the last 200ft of wire, the section that traverses a field of very tall cane grass, to be completely destroyed. There were no sections of wire longer than 10ft remaining. This entire length looked like it had been chewed to pieces!
Of course this was because of pigs. This long section spanned an area without supports, but I figured it would be fine because of the wire’s insulation. My other three Beverages are made of copper clad steel, however I used what I had laying around – a 500ft spool of white insulated wire.

Why would the pigs attack this wire and leave everything else alone? I have long runs of black RG-6 coaxial cable laying on the ground, and I have never had any problem with animal damage (the snakes keep the rodent population almost to extinction). Why did they attack this white insulated wire? Here is my guess: Pigs eat grubs. Grubs are mostly white. Pigs see the white wire and think – dinner!

I’ll have to replace this antenna with copper clad or black insulated wire, otherwise I’ll have to come up with some supports to keep the wire out of the reach of pigs!

Great 160m conditions this morning

Conditions were excellent to Europe this morning. Strong signals and no thunder crashes. I worked two stations in the UK, a very difficult path from here. Once I realized how special the conditions were, I recorded about 12 minutes of my run. The following MP3 will give you an idea of what it sounds from my end.

I am listening on a 900ft long Beverage pointed at Europe. There are no noise sources in this direction, so the only QRN is DX, not local.

Fourth Beverage RX antenna installed

My “Beverage farm” is complete with the addition of a fourth RX antenna. This final wire is 500ft long and pointed toward 260 degrees, which covers most of Africa and Southeast Asia. The antenna is shorted than my other three, however it hears well into these directions, and definitely will earn its keep. I still need most of the African zones on 160m, and while the primary difficulty is breaking the European pileups from here, hearing them better while somewhat nulling the EU “frequency police” and jammers is helpful.

I how have four receive antennas:

110 degrees, 700ft for zones 10, 11, 12, 13, 31, and 32.

045 degrees, 1080ft for zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

330 degrees, 900ft for zones 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 33, 34, and 40

260 degrees, 500ft for zones 22, 26, 28, 29, 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39

Beverage Antenna over a Beverage graveyard?

When installing my new NA Beverage, I found a couple bottles along the way. The area where my RX antennas are located has been mostly untouched since the 2nd World War. A 1953 topographic map shows no roads or residences in the area. When I first enter the jungle, the stuff I find first is recent: trash cans, roofing materials, outdoor light fixture pieces. These are all remnants from Typhoon Pongsona which in 2002 heavily damaged my housing area with 140+ MPH winds. Deeper in the woods, however, I seem to find lots of bottles lying around. Most are nondescript American beer bottles from the war time era. These bottles can be dated to 1943-1945 from the markings on the bottom.

Today, I walked my NA Beverage and poked around further in the area where I found some bottles when installing the antenna. Everywhere I looked, I found more and more. I placed my finds in an old concrete sink I found in the area which was apparently used as a dumping ground.

Also found were fragments of a ceramic bowl, which quite possibly could have been left behind by the occupying Japanese forces. I would hesitate to say this, however some of the bottles I found were quite interesting as I should explain further. Yes – at the top right of the photo is a live round. It is a .30 caliber bullet for a M1 Carbine, one of the rifles used by American troops during the liberation of Guam. I found it while digging around under the leaves and moss.

I am still attempting to identify the large bottle in the photo above. As far as I can tell, it has no markings aside from a manufacturers mark on the bottom which consists of a triangle with a dot in the middle. [December 2020 update:  I later learned that these large, green glass unmarked bottles once held Japanese sake.]

I brought several bottles home for cleaning. It was only when I cleaned them up did I realize what I had found.

The two smaller Coca Cola bottles are “Wartime Cokes”. These are clear bottles, without a city mark on the bottom, but with an Owens-Corning mark dating them to 1944. These were manufactured for the American troops during the 2nd World War. The bottles aren’t green because of a shortage of copper used in the manufacturing process.

More interesting was the green bottle located in the bottom right of the top photo. Once I cleaned it up, I discovered Japanese script. It turns out that this is a Dai Nippon beer bottle, and was most certainly brought here by the Japanese occupying forces during WW2. This is the very first Japanese war relic I have found on Guam. Everything else I have found in the past was American. Additionally, I was able to piece together some bottle fragments to determine it too was a Japanese beer bottle.

Two wartime coke bottles and a green Dai Nippon beer bottle. The brown glass fragments belong to a second Dai Nippon bottle. This company was only in business until 1949. Following the war, Japan was in no condition to export anything. These beer bottles were certainly brought here by the occupying forces.

How did these Japanese bottles come to be found sitting next to American coke bottles? I suspect that American troops found a Japanese cache of beer during the liberation and enjoyed a brew or two. These bottles were found in a slight rise in the terrain, which was likely used as an American encampment during and immediately following the liberation when patrols were sent out to locate the thousands of hiding Japanese scattered throughout the island.