Everyone has had their first “ big antenna project.” Some are carefully planned out, some are haphazard and some turn into great adventures. My first “B.A P” came when I was thirteen years old. I had been a shortwave listener for a few years, had obtained my Novice Amateur Radio License and had taken my General Class exam and passed.
While waiting for the General Class License to appear, I began thinking about new antenna possibilities. The antennnas up in our yard consisted of two longwires suspended between twenty-foot-high masts made of 2X4's. The wires were seventy feet long and supported by three foot long hardwood spreaders, running parallel between the masts, one for transmit and one for receive.
I knew that the twin longwires I had would work at least passibly. I had used them for shortwave listening and had made numerous contacts in the Novice Bands, including a fair amount of DX. But I had also been reading that antennas needed to be up higher to get a lower angle of radiation. At the same time I knew that my dad had mandated “ no guy wires in the yard” and the yard had to be uncluttered.
A tower was out of the question cost-wise. Masts would require guy wires. So what was I to do?
The answer came a few days later after an accident down the street resulted in a utility pole being broken. The Texas Power and Light Company crew came and replaced the pole, but left the old one that had been broken off at ground level lying in the ditch.
My dad and I got the idea about the same time. If that pole were left lying there for very long, it might just get a new home! After a week, he called a friend of his with TP&L and asked if the pole was going to be picked up and he was told they would when they could, but that if it were to “disappear” it would save them the trouble of disposing of it.
The problem was getting it home. It was about three or four blocks away down Harrison Street where we lived at the time in a suburb on the east side of Waco in Central Texas. My dad was not one to be deterred once he got an idea. It was fairly late on a Monday night when he told me to get in the station wagon and take a ride with him.
At that time he was driving a '57 Chevy station wagon for a work car. He loaded a long, heavy chain in the back and off we went. He turned around in the street and backed up to where the pole was in the ditch. The two of us managed to lift one end of the pole off the ground and propped it up on a concrete block he also had brought. He looped the chain around the pole a few times and hooked the free end into a link. He then ran the other end of the chain under the back of the station wagon and hooked it to the frame of the car.
My eyes were getting a little big about this time. We were actually going to drag the thing home? At 10:30 at night, there was virtually no traffic on our semi-rural street. He told me to ride in the back and watch to make sure nothing was coming lose and he cranked up the Chevy and eased forward.
The chain tightened and the loop snugged up around the pole. There was much groaning and vibrating of the chain as the load came on it. With great care and a little slipping of the clutch he then slowly got the Chevy rolling with the pole dragging behind us. He managed to get into second gear and we were soon going up the street at about ten miles per hour with the pole dragging behind us. Once or twice he had to slow down or stop when the lower end of th4e pole started swaying back and forth across the road a bit. The heavy end of the pole dragging on the street made quite a noise and I could just imagine they residents of the street coming out to see what was going on and maybe calling the police! After what seemed like an eternity and much gnashing of teeth it appeared we would make it to our house without incident. Luckily we did not meet any cars coming toward us as my dad was driving in the middle of the road, trying to keep the end of the pole from swinging into a ditch or hanging on a culvert or mailbox. Somehow, things went ok and we got home without a crash..
Instead of pulling into the drive, he parked alongside the yard on the street and got a dolly and a
small wagon. We unhooked the chain and lifted the small end of the pole onto the wagon and tied it firmly in place with a short piece of rope. He then got the dolly under the large end and we began the slow process of getting the pole off the street and into the back yard.
He already had in mind where he wanted to put it in the back, right corner of the yard. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the bottom or larger end of the pole into the right spot. The pole did not want to stay in place on the wagon and at one point during the turning and backing process we gave that up and just lifted it by hand and moved it a foot or two at a time. ( it was HEAVY!!) Sometimes it was more lift and roll than carry. There was a lot of sliding and rolling of this thing because it was not only heavy but over 40 feet long. We got it into the back yard before we realized we had to reverse ends with it to get the large end in the corner. That meant making a sharp bend to miss clothesline poles and a fence. It was about an hour long job to get it in place.
We got it in place parallel to the side fence with the bottom about ten feet from the back fence when it occurred to me that I didn't know how we were going to get something back there to dig the hole. My dad said we were going to have to dig the hole by hand. He wanted about eight feet of the forty-five foot long pole in the ground and it would be my job to do most of the digging! If I wanted a DX Pole, I would have to do the work!
After all the work it took to get it in place, I found myself full of doubts and questions. How would we ever be able to lift the heavy pole into a vertical position when we could barely move it into the back yard? How would we get a hole dug for it when there was not a way to get a tractor with an auger into the back yard? We certainly could not afford to pay anyone to do it! Most importantly, how would I ever get any antennas on it after it was up because there were no climbing steps on the pole. They had apparently been removed by the power company after they cut it down.
As usual, my dad already had a plan. He probably had it all worked out before we even drove down the street to drag the thing home. He was a carpenter and had come from a farm background and was expert at working out ways to do things in a way that would substitute manual labor and ingenuity for expense in getting a job done.
The “manual labor” would be mine. The ingenuity would be his.
I would dig the hole. We would start with our regular manual post hole digger. This was basically a small auger with a four foot stem and wooden handle. You made it work by putting the auger end down and turning the handle round and round. It would eventually “bite” into the ground but it required not only turning, but downward pressure.
It would not dig a hole nearly big enough around to accommodate the pole. It would cut a hole only about ten inches in diameter and the bottom of the pole was was almost two feet across. But my dad said that “would not be a problem.” I would use a heavy chiseling pole and a sharpshooter shovel to cave the sides in once the hole was started, then use the post hole digger to haul out the lose dirt. I could see a lot of work in my young future!
It was not long before I would learn just how big a job this would be.. The first afternoon, I got the hole down about three and a half feet. His plan worked well. Dig down with the auger, pull out the loose dirt. Cave in the sides, dig out the loose dirt. Then cave the sides in some more and lift out the loose dirt. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
When he got home from work that next day, my dad told me I needed to round out the hole even more to make sure the pole would not only fit in it, but slide down without problems. He also noted that the hole was not nearly deep enough, even though at the depth it now was, the handles of the post hole digger were just about scraping the ground. It turns out he already had a plan for that.
With a pipe wrench, he unscrewed the handle off the pipe stem of the post hole digger and with a heavy coupling, put a five foot extension of heavy duty water pipe on the shaft and then screwed the handle back on the top of that. It would mean I would have to stand on top of a small platform to be able to turn it until the hole was deeper, but “ that should not be a problem for you”.
The next morning I got up early and started digging. It took all day of climbing on top of the platform, dropping the post hole digger down into the hole, turning it until it filled up, then lifting it out hand-over-hand to dump it out. Then there was the caving off of the hole and removing the loose dirt. I don't know how many times I actually dug and redug that hole before it appeared to be ready!
But there was till the question of how we were going to lift the pole and how I was going to get the antennas on it. That question was partially answered when my dad got home from work that day to inspect and pass on the hole.
He had brought with him a couple of lengths of used water pipe salvaged off a remodel job he was working on. He had somewhere obtained a couple dozen large, 18-inch long lag bolts and rummaged through his massive collection of used hardware and dug out a couple dozen large washers.
He figured that about nine inches of lag bolt going into the side of the pole would be enough to support our weight. My job for the next day would be to cut the water pipe into six-inch-long pieces. The large washers would be put under the heads of the lag bolts, the pipe slipped over the bolts to provide foot rests and the lag bolts screwed into the side of the pole. Instant climbers! Actual climbing steps such as appeared on regular utility poles would have cost a small fortune. I am sure that even the lag bolts were probably not cheap, but I am betting he bought them at a used and salvaged materials store in town where he often bought lumber for projects and I am sure he got a good deal on them!
He set me up with a pipe vise and a couple of saw horses to use in cutting the pipe and left me with a hack saw and some spare blades. The next day was spent cutting, assembling and screwing the lag bolts into the pole at intervals of about 18 inches.
The attaching was not as easy as one might imagine. I had to drill a small pilot hole to get started, then get the large lag bolts screwed in. The wood in the pole was creosote treated, aged and tough. Of course this was a good thing, because it meant that the bolts would be well anchored and not be liable to slip out or loosen when one's weight was applied. This would be a good thing when one is over thirty feet in the air! There was more than a little bruising of knuckles using a large crescent wrench for the final tightening. The washers on the ends were to provide a stop to prevent the climber's foot from slipping off the ends of the climbers.
The question of raising the pole was still open. That day after work my dad came home and we moved the bottom of the pole away from the pole a couple of feet. This confused me a moment until the shovels once again came out and we began digging a small ditch just a bit bigger than the width of the pole along its length. The ditch went from a depth of about 18 inches at the edge of the hole and sloped up to ground level over about five feet. This resulted in a little loose dirt once again falling into the hole and more digging of it out.
While I was doing this, my dad was cutting up some two by fours and two by sixes of different lengths and nailing them into “x” shapes of varying lengths. We got the pole moved back over with the bottom extending over the top of the hole and lying in the freshly dug ditch.
Part of the plan became evident in a few minutes when one of my uncles and a neighbor showed up. We began by lifting the small end of the pole up and slipping the smallest of the “x's” under the end. The pole would be lifted a little and the “x” scooted up a little more, raising the end of the pole about a foot off the ground. Then a slightly larger “x” was placed under the end and both scooted up. This continued until there were four or five braces under the pole. Two ropes were tied to the pole about two-thirds of the way up and a long heavy chain attached a little higher.
My dad then cranked up his station wagon and drove down to the neighbor's place whose field backed up to our house. The houses on our street lay in a single line with a large open field behind them all where the one neighbor ran cattle and horses.
My dad drove out into the field and backed up to the fence. The plan soon became clear. The chain was hooked to the frame of the car, my uncle and the neighbor got on the ends of the two other ropes, stretching them out in opposite directions at right angles to the pole. I was told to “ stay out of the way”.
As he slowly began to drive forward, the chain tightened. The pole began to lift. The bottom hit the back of the hole and could not slide forward any more. The chain tightened more and began to vibrate, the pole lifted and the x-braces fell away. There was no turning back now. The two men on the ropes pulled against one another keeping the pole straight while the lift-chain stretched and creaked. The pole lifted to about 45 degrees, then seemed not to want to go farther. My dad gunned the engine in the station wagon, the rear wheels began to spin and for a moment I thought it wasn't going to make it.
The pole moved up and as it came to near vertical, the two men on the ropes both moved back toward the house to pull against the rise a bit, I am assuming to keep it from going over and falling onto the station wagon. The pole reached vertical and stood there. It wiggled . It did not drop into the hole. The neighbor and my uncle yanked on the ropes and my dad worked the clutch in the station wagon, working the pole back and forth and finally with a loud “thunk” it sank into the hole.
Never to leave anything to less than perfection, my dad came back to supervise the filling in of the dirt, holding a level to the pole in several places to make sure it was plumb. Slight adjustments were made by filling in dirt more on one side or the other and jamming the heavy chisel pole as a tamping tool along the sides. Then as more dirt was filled in, the garden hose was brought in and the hole was soaked while more tamping and filling went on.
The tools were picked up, everything cleaned up and the men took a Pearl Beer break. I even got a small glass.
The directions for the next day were to continue to soak the hole and as the dirt settled to tamp more on top. No climbing was to be attempted for a week until everything settled. The job was done in a way that I am sure some government safety organization would have had a hissy fit over. ( OSHA did not exist in those days!!)
The DX pole was up. The planning of the first project for my expanding “antenna farm” was underway.