Friday, February 26, 2010

Insulator Post

With 30 years of glass making experience James Madison Brookfield left Pennsylvania and moved to Brooklyn NY in the early 1860's.  He was hired by a brewer named Martin Kalbfleisch who needed a manager for a glass factory he had purchased in 1864 called the Bushwick Glass Works.  James was successful and ended up buying the company in 1869.
As time went by the proliferation of the telegraph and telephone systems created a huge demand for glass insulators.  At some point James' son William came into the business and was most probably placed in charge of the insulator side of the operation.  By the 1880's most of the production at the Brookfield Co. shifted from bottles and jars and was now mainly glass insulators.
One day a carpenter named Louis A. Cauvet showed up at the Brookfield office to show off his invention of a threaded pin system to solve the problem of the insulators coming loose from smooth pins.  James and Martin had gone to lunch and left the chief clerk in charge.  The clerk dismissed the idea as foolish but when the Brookfields heard the story they realized what a good idea it was and sent for Mr. Cauvet right away.  Meanwhile Louis, uanable to be found by the Brookfields, spent a couple weeks trying to sell his invention to other insulator makers but nobody was interested.  Finally the Brookfields located Mr. Cauvet and promptly purchased the rights to his patent.  Cauvet's idea revolutionized the glass insulator and the Brookfield threaded glass insulator soon became the standard. 
Most glass insulators have some kind of embossing.  This is writing that is cut into the molds to display various information on the finished insulator.  These embossings often relate style or mold numbers, The manufacturer's name or even the company or utility that purchased the insulator.  Today these markings are of great use to historians and collectors because it helps to identify the use and to date different pieces.
My "Brookie" shown above has the following embossing:

FEB 22 1870
JAN 25 1870
JAN 14 1879

In the 57 years the Brookfield Company produced glass they made over 100 different kinds of insulators.  The only company that probably made more insulators than the Brookfields was Hemingray.  James Brookfield retired in 1880 and William carried on until his death in 1903. The books were officially closed on the company in Sept. 1922.  Think about that.  This was a factory in Brooklyn with coal fired furnaces with men making stuff.  One of many industries fueling a rapidly growing economy as information and people expanded to every corner of young America.  
Click on the picture and check out the bubbles on the lower part of the insulator- the skirt.  The embossed dates are just about visible on the dome.  I took this picture in direct sunlight.  It really makes them sparkle. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

News from Amateur Radio Station KD8JHJ

Lots of activity to report from KD8JHJ.  Saturday my ground man (my son Wyatt) and I hoisted up a 30 meter End Fed Half Wave wire antenna up 30 feet.  This antenna is resonant at 10.125MHz and allows me full band operation between 10.100MHz  to 10.150MHz with less than 2.0 SWR.  30 meters is one of my favorite ham bands.  30 meters is a digital data/CW only band with a 200 watt maximum power restriction.  30 Meters is one of three WARC bands open to ham radio use in the high frequency spectrum.  WARC stands for World Administrative Radio Conference.  In 1979 this group set up these bands for world wide amateur use.  Because the WARC bands are relatively narrow about 100 kHz or less there is a gentleman's agreement that the WARC bands not be used for contesting.  This is ideal when the big contests take over the other traditional bands leaving the WARC allocations as a haven for casual contacts and experimentation.
The Weather has been a bit warmer and calm compared to the recent blizzard conditions so I jumped at the chance to put up a new antenna.  We have a foot of snow on the ground and more to come in the forecast.  The EFHW antenna's feed point is up my TV tower about 28 feet just below the EFHW 40 meter antenna at 30 feet.  Both antennae are supported by the same tree branch about 70 feet from the tower.  The length of the 30 meter wire is 46 feet.   The spacing between the two antennas is about 3 1/2 feet.
Once back on terra firma I confirmed a low SWR on the feed line coax and antenna wire system using my MFJ 259B Antenna analyzer. I sealed up the ingress point of the feedline and connected up the cable to the alpha delta coax switch #3 position.  My first contact on 30 meters was W2JLB Joe in New York about 471 miles.  The mode was PSK-31.  First contacts on a new antenna, radio or telegraph key are always neat.  My second contact later that afternoon was a nice surprise.  While scanning slowly around the band I noticed the sound of an Olivia mode transmission barely above the noise.  The signal was not visible on the spectrum display of my software.  That is the cool part with some of the digital modes.  They will still provide solid transmission of data when you can't even see or hear the signal.  Once I got tuned in I caught the CQ call (CQ - "calling any station") and a call sign.  I answered the call and established contact with VE7NBQ  Peter in Vancouver B.C.  We had a nice chat for about 45 minutes. The distance between us was just over 2000 miles and  power out at my transmitter was about 15 watts.  This was the second contact between Peter and I.  We first worked back in October 2009.  Amateur Radio is the original "Facebook" and it is always nice to check in and catch up with hams already in the logbook "friend list".

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Radio Contesting

Reading back through some of my earlier ham radio journal entries I found the following account of my first foray into the world of radio contesting.  It's great how a journal can record our thoughts and feelings, preserving the small details of our experiences that would otherwise slowly fade from memory.  I think this entry makes a worthy blog post because it describes one of the many facets of the amateur radio hobby.

June 17, 2009

Sunday June 14, 2009 was the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon.  This is a monthly 24 hour operating event organized by the SKCC (Straight Key Century Club).  The SKCC encourages the use of straight keys, sideswipers and bugs (semi-automatic) keying devices with which the operator must manually generate the dots and dashes of  Morse Code.  That is one of the rules of the WES.  One must use one of these three types of manual keys.  By nature code sent by straight key is much slower than that generated by paddles and electronic keyers which produce exact length dashes and dots and properly space the elements of the individual characters.  This keyer and paddle set up allows very high speeds and great accuracy to be attained but the resulting code can sound machine like and cold.  Using a manual key one developes a personal style or "fist" as it has been called since the early days of telegraphy.  Years ago proffesional telegraph ops could recognize each other on the line by the distictive sound of the other ops fist.
The semi-automatic key, because of its all mechanical action and the fact that the operator has to manually control the length of the dash permits its inclusion in SKCC events.
In radio contesting the object of the game is to see how many different contacts one can accumulate in the allotted time frame.  A contact or "exchange" between stations during a contest is comprised  of several key pieces of information.  These are call sign, RST (Signal report- Readability, Signal strength and Tone), QTH (my location is), Name and SKCC member number.  This data must be successfully exchanged and copied by each op in order for the contact to be valid for scoring.
What makes the WES such a great event for the neophyte CW operator is that the speeds are usually a resonable 15 to 20 words per minute even amongst the serious contenders.  There is no set "speed limit" and one can make contacts at whatever speed he or she is comfortable with.  The whole purpose is to encourage new ops to try their hand at contesting in a more relaxed and less stressful environment.  And above all else simply have fun. 
I decided a few weeks prior that I was going to commit to participation in the Weekend Sprint and submit a score.  I practiced my copy skills as usual and practiced sending the exchange off air.  With growing nervous anticipation I waited for the Saturday evening start time to arrive.  Many hams have said the best way to improve your code speed and put contacts in your logbook is contesting.  Up to this time all my contacts have been on a quiet frequency with as many of the variables under my control as possible.  I was more than a little apprehensive about operating in the hectic atmosphere of a contest.  During my first months as an amateur operator I tuned into the various contests to listen.  Some of the large international events fill the whole CW portions of the ham bands with activity and everyone is sending code at 30 wpm or more.  On any frequency there could be two or three exchanges happening simultaneously, with the ops focusing in on the signal they are after by the slight differences in pitch of the CW tone.  No way was I jumping into that maelstrom.
The SKCC WES runs from 00:00 UTC to 24:00 UTC.  UTC means Coordinated Universal Time, A 24 hour time standard used by hams around the world so we can all accurately "be on the same page" without confusing time zones.  Here in Ohio 00:00 UTC means 8:00 PM Saturday.  I made sure I had a good dinner and made a pot of coffee.  I even warmed up before the start time with a suprise DX contact with a ham in Columbia.  (DX means distance or stations located in other countries or continents.)
During the next four hours I made a dozen successful contacts using my Nye Speed-X straight key and to my suprise I actually found myself enjoying the quick exchanges.  Much different from the half-hour relaxed QSOs I had grown accustomed to.  Around midnight I started making more errors in my sending and decided to call it a night.  I was mentally drained and went to bed looking forward to an early start the next morning.
Sunday about 7:00 AM found me back at the desk with a fresh cup of coffee. Bands were again full of activity.  I added to my log book until around noon and took a break for eggs and toast.  At this point I had been at the desk for about 9 hours total.  Five hours Saturday night and four hours Sunday morning and I could take no more.  I had learned my first lesson as a single op contest station.  The real challenge is not how many other stations you can work but how long you can sit on your rear in front of a radio.
I went outside and mowed the grass, and worked on a landscape project. Simply enjoyed the pleasant June afternoon outdoors.
At 6:00 PM I sat down at the radio and made a couple more contacts topping off my logbook page.  The event ended at 8:00.  In the past 24 hour period I had made 19 contacts in 14 states.  In my catagory (greater than 5 watts up to 100 watts) I ranked 42nd out of 77 submissions.  48th out of 98 total entries of all power catagories combined.
Here are my thoughts on the event after resting a couple of days.  I was never more happy to unplug the Speed-X and put the Vibrokeyer* back in line.  Straight keys are my first love in amateur radio but using one for long periods can sure get tedious.  I had a lot of fun participating and even worked the two top ranked ops.  I got some great practice operating with QRM (interference) from other close by stations.
I really need to bite the bullet and get a CW filter for my radio as it is still in stock configuration- barn door wide receive.  A CW filter narrows the receiver's passband allowing you to tune exactly on a desired signal while adjacent signals are blocked making it much easier to concentrate on copying the target transmission.
My ranking far exceeded my expectations and now the seed has been sown.  How much better could I have done if I found a way to stay at the radio the rest of Sunday afternoon?  The good thing is WES happens once each month.  Now I have a benchmark to aim at next time.

*The Vibrokeyer is a single lever paddle that runs an electronic keyer circuit in the radio.  I used this keyer in addition to my straight keys my first months as a ham because I felt I was not ready for a semi-automatic bug key. 
 At about the time of the one year anniversary of getting my amateur radio license I received a Vibroplex Original Bug as a birthday gift.  This key is pictured above.  Learning to use the bug was one of my original goals in ham radio.  I wanted to be able to use both straight keys and a semi-automatic bug for SKCC events.  As a side note the Vibroplex was first patented around 1904 and has been in continuous production by the American company Vibroplex for over 100 years.  Very cool to own and use this piece of communications history.  

Friday, February 12, 2010

Insulators in their natural habitat

I meant to post these images with my first insulator post to provide a visual example of how the glass insulator was utilized on telegraph lines.  I took these pictures on a brilliantly clear fall day while riding the Richland County B & O rail trail.  I estimate these poles to be around 40 or 50 years old and they have certainly seen better days.  These poles have the more modern steel pins that the insulators screws onto.  Older lines used threaded wooden pins while the very first teleghraph lines used smooth pins.  Early threadless insulators were glued to the pin with pine pitch.  In the northern parts of the country freezing temperatures would cause the pitch to contract and the insulator would pop loose from the pin requiring constant repair.

A threaded system of attachment was invented by Louis A. Cauvet and a patent was granted on July 25, 1865.  The Brookfield Company of New York liked this idea and bought the patent.  It is likely that the first insulators with internal threads were made by Brookfield.  The threaded system was a success and is still in use today 145 years later.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Insulator Post

When I was a kid in the 1970's my best friend Kevin and I would play in the railroad yard behind his house.  Lots of memories from that place.  At some point a train came through that was hauling some kind of ore.  This material was little balls around half an inch in diameter and purple in color.  At some point something must have gone wrong because these little balls spilled out of a hopper car and were scattered along the tracks for about a mile.  We soon realized these made excellent slingshot projectiles and hauled them home by the bagful.
In the winter time we would break ice on the many puddles and truck ruts that were all over the yard.  In the summer we rode our bikes to a place we called sawdust hill.  A nearby shop of some kind must have been dumping sawdust in this spot for quite a while because the pile was huge. 
Somewhere in the yard one day we stumbled upon some green glass insulators.  I took mine home and kept it for many years.  I don't know what ever happend to it and forgot all about that big chunk of green glass.

Now almost 30 years later while researching land line telegraphy I found a picture of an insulator and it brought back the memory from my childhood of that green insulator.  After furthur investigation I discovered that there is a healthy community of collectors all across America and even world wide who enjoy these relics from a bygone era.  Glass insulators were used from the mid 1800's when landline telegraph systems were first strung up along railroad right of ways and later used in electricity distrubution once that technology was developed.  Glass was used to make insulators for roughly 100 years until it was replaced by porcelain in the 1950's.  Glass insulators were made in many shapes and sizes for different applications.  What makes these pieces interesting is the fact that the glass houses that produced insulators would use scrap or recylced glass called "cullet" to produce runs of insulators.  This resulted in many different colors and shades.  Insulators can be found in many shades of green and blue. Aqua marine being very common to beer bottle brown, yellow and orange and even deep blues and purples like antique medicine bottles.  For whatever reason some colors like red are more rare and these insulators command higher prices on the collector market.

I am not really into collectibles but I feel that insulators are unique because they were designed for a strictly utilitarian purpose and today are regarded as historical pieces of art by collectors.  I am new to collecting and have a small group that sits on my windowsill where they can catch the afternoon sun.  To me it is facinating to hold one of these pretty hunks of glass and imagine all the morse code messages that zipped by on the wire held atop a pole somewhere by this piece of antique utility hardware.

The insulator pictured above is a more recent example from the 1930's or 40's made by the Hemingray Company which was located around Covington, KY just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.  This piece I picked up from the "FREE" table at the Springfield (OH) insulator show in 2009.  Proving that even today you can get something for nothing.  These insulators are pretty common and if you pay attention along rail tracks you can still somtimes spot green and clear ones up on poles.  I decided to use this insulator for my first post because it is similar to the one I found all those years ago in the railroad yard.  I call this part of my blog the insulator post and will occasionally showcase one of my pieces and a few words about it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Antenna Testing

Yesterday the 5th of February and into today a large winter storm passed across the eastern United States.  We received about 8 inches of snow with temperatures in the 20s.  Strong winds caused drifting 3 to 4 feet high.  Great weather for ham radio.  For two weeks I have been testing a new antenna at a location about 1 mile from my normal QTH. (QTH is the Q-signal for "My Location Is")*  The Antenna is an end fed half wave wire.  Its length is about 66 feet long with the feed point up 30 feet up.  The wire slopes to a tree in the back corner of the property and is oriented north-south.  The brunt of a transmitted signal radiates outward perpendicular from a horizontal wire antenna.  This set up yields even lobes of transmitted energy to the east and west.  The antenna's physical length make it resonant at 7 MHz or the 40 meter amateur band.  The 40 meter band is my favorite area of the radio spectrum to operate.  We say in ham radio that "40 meters is always open to somewhere".  During the daylight hours contacts can be made out to about 600 miles and at night signals easily travel 2000 miles or more.  My other antenna is a multi-band vertical and as such it is very sensitive to vertically polarized man made noise or static QRN.  (Q-signal for Static)*  The vertical antenna was my only antenna for the first 16 months that I have been a ham.  The first thing I noticed about the horizontal wire antenna was that the noise level or background static was much quieter than while using the vertical.  CW and digital signals seem much louder and with the noise floor lower it is much easier to copy weak signals.  I have only read about these differences in vertical and horizontal antennas and it is cool to validate these traits through my own testing.  Initial transmissions were done using my 5 watt 40 meter CW QRP transceiver feeding the antenna through 75 feet of RG-8X 50 Ohm coax cable.  My first three contacts were K2TPZ in Baltimore, MD 340 miles point to point distance.  K4LTY in Charlottesville, VA 240 miles point to point and KE5REJ in Cabot, AR 640 miles away.  After these sucessful QRP contacts I was looking forward to hooking up this antenna to my primary rig an Icom IC718 HF transceiver.  On the 1st of February with the Icom in line and output power at 37 watts I established contact with WA5OLT in Arlington, TX.  Will and I had a nice 25 minute chat in Morse Code, our signals easily traveling the  964 miles between us.  This morning I had a QSO (radio contact) with KC2UQA Ira in Medford NJ.  Using our straight keys we exchanged signal reports, descriptions of our station equipment and of course the weather conditions.  Ira reported that the winter storm was now full fury at his QTH. The end fed half wave antenna is working great for the casual operating that I prefer.  Once the weather warms up I plan to get the far end of the wire higher up in the tree. The antenna will be in more of a horizontal position and it will be interesting to see if this change will affect the performance.  

To facilitate antenna connections at my station I use an Alpha Delta 4 position coax switch pictured above.  This switch allows 4 different antennas to be connected and the rotary switch allows me to select any of the four positions.  Currently I only have the 40 meter end fed (right connector in picture) and a dummy load (left connector).  The middle connector is the jumper cable to the transceiver. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Think Spring

I was catching up at Fat Cyclist's blog and he mentioned how he was looking through some pictures that he had taken during the summer and noted how green everything was.  Currently at my latitude and longitute the predominant colors are brown and white and various shades of gray.  It is amazing how a few photos taken during a bike ride can take you back.

One of my favorite rail trails is the Kokosing Gap trail in north central Ohio.  The surface is paved and runs about 14 miles end to end.  Following the Kokosing river valley the route is mostly tree lined and shady.  A great place to get out of the hot summer sun.  Whenever railroad grades and river valleys mix you are sure to find a number of these iron behemoths.  The Kokosing Gap doesn't disappoint.

At the eastern end of the route begins another trail called the Mohican Valley Trail.  This is a 5 mile packed clay surface that is a multi-use trail.   The funniest thing I ever encountered on this stretch was an Amish horse and buggy driven by a lone teenage boy.  Not suprising as there is a large Amish population in this area.  What struck me as funny was the alternative rock music blaring from the buggy.   
If you look close at the large picture you can see the buggy coming towards me.  It is just a black speck in the distance.  At the end of the Mohican Valley trail is Ohio's longest covered bridge "The Bridge of Dreams."  If the ground is dry I will make this bridge my turn around point and complete a 38 mile ride by the time I make it back to the trailhead.  If the ground is damp I stay off the MV Trail.  It might be ok on a mountain bike but with my recumbent's 1" wide, 100 psi tires stability is called into question.  After the weather has been dry for a while the hard wagon wheels of the horse drawn carriages pack the clay down nice and I have been able to easily cruise along at 15 or 16 mph.
Note how the left side of the deck has a hard rubber matt.  I assume this is to protect the wood decking from equestrian hooves. 
I took about a 150 pictures that day on the trail.  Photography and bicycle touring go together great and lately I make a point to bring along my camera for those shots you can only find from the seat of a bike.  Now in the middle of winter I find it rewarding to peruse back through my collection of images of past rides.  A little inspiration to climb back on that damn trainer.