The 27" Shack

Welcome to W4THU at Sandbridge Beach

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Sunset on Back Bay.

Sandbridge is a lovely place, especially on lazy summer days. There's lots to do here with the Atlantic ocean just a few hundred yards to the east and Back Bay just outside the door. Daytime is occupied with the beach, the pools or maybe a ride in a neighbor's boat. Sometimes it's just fun to sit out on the dock and watch the water. That's especially nice at night. The sunsets are gorgeous. Back Bay sparkles in the moonlight like a giant gem and the night breeze off the water is energizing. About the time everyone heads for bed, I head for the hamshack. If you have a moment let me show you around.

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Equipment Chosen for this station -

TS-930S transceiver
Heath SB 6040 tuner
Heath SB 614 monitor scope
Collins 30L-1 linear
Heil Headset + HC-5 Mic.
MFJ-490 keyer, not in this picture
Hustler 6-BTV vertical antenna, see photos on next page

Planned Changes -

A smaller transmatch
Improved lighting

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Equipment Critique


This is an excellent transceiver, and on the used market, it is very cost-effective.

It's a CW operator's transceiver offering many excellent and well executed features every CW op will want.. Among the most notable features are variable bandwidth which is adjustable from 2.4 KHz to about 100 Hz using dual i.f. filters (if you have the dual CW filters installed), a variable pitch BFO that doesn't change the operating frequency, an adjustable audio filter and the very convenient "T-F Set" button. This button is critically placed so that when you grip the main tuning knob, you can use your little finger to depress the "T-F Set" button. When operating split, by just depressing your little finger, you can quickly switch between the receiver and transmitter frequencies. This is very handy for finding the DX station's listening frequency. Other rigs should have included this feature and ergonomic location of the control.

When operating SSB, you have an excellent (clean sounding) RF speech processor, variable bandwidth with independent "high cut" and "low cut" filter slope tuning, and an effective i.f. notch filter. There lots more, but these are the highlights.

In my opinion, the TS-930S will be a solid-state classic. I make this claim for several reasons. First are the ergonomics. This radio is simply a pleasure to use. The knobs are the right size and in the right location. Second, is the unusually excellent audio on both transmit and receive. Even with the speech processor on, the rig sounds good. Third, the TS-930S was one of the first transceivers to accommodate the CW operator with the features needed for serious CW DX'ing.

Overall, you have to give extra points for a noise blanker that really works, a fairly good automatic antenna tuner, and an easy to adjust speech processor.

There are a few negatives, but most of these can be forgiven when you consider the age of the radio and the features its peers offered. The problems? Quickly, these include, poor workmanship in the output module of the transmitter. These modules failed often in early TS-930's. A transmitter incremental tuning (XIT) feature did not accompany the RIT and the "memory in" and "memory read" buttons are right next to one another with not special markings to prevent accidently erasing a frequency in memory.

Heath SB-6040 Tuner
This is a high quality transmatch with a roller inductor and a real differential capacitor. With both a roller and a differential capacitor, matching anything is a breeze. On the negative side, the SB-6040 tuner doesn't have built-in in/out switching, although this unit has be modified to include that feature.

Collins 30L-1 Linear

This is one of ham radio's best kept secrets. In my opinion, the 30L-1 is simply the best small, tabletop linear ever made. It uses four inexpensive 811 to produce an easy 500 to 700 watts output depending on the AC line voltage. The amp will run accommodate 120 VAC or 240 VAC lines and the capacitor bank is rated well beyond the B+ voltage developed by the power supply.

Just opening the cabinet top top reveals the quality of Collins gear. All important circuits are metered and there is a special "tune" position where samples the input and output signals are compared. If the amplifier's drive and loading are correct and the amplifier is generating minimum distortion products the meter reads "zero," an accurate indication that all is well. When combined with a KWM-2 or an S-Line, distortion products are down over 40 dB. I don't know of any other rig + amplifier combination that can beat those specs.

MFJ-490 Keyer

There are keyers with more features, but this one includes just about everything I need. I wish it had more memories, but other than that, it's a very convenient keyer to use. The built-in paddle is more useful than I though it would be.

The Shack

Originally, this closet was intended to house a washer and dryer, but I think it looks much better and is far more useful when filled with ham gear. It's a real challenge to build a conventional or "Classic" hamshack in a 27" wide RV closet. Obviously, with today's miniature equipment the problem is simplified, in fact, it not a challenge at all, but as you can tell from my other ham shacks, I have a passion for Classic, Vintage, and Nostalgia radio equipment. So, miniature gear was out of the question for this hamshack.

Originally, I had planned to use a Collins S-Line, but there just wasn't enough space so I was forced to accept some compromises in equipment selection. Ultimately, the feature rich and totally practical Kenwood TS-930S ended up with the honors. I have not totally given up on a Classic station, and may move back one generation and install a Drake C-Line. It will fit into the space available, but the C-Line, while an excellent rig, is not old enough to be considered truly Classic or Vintage and it certainly doesn't have some of the features of the TS-930S. So, we'll see how things ultimately end up. I may compromise on the desk space and install a complete Collins S-Line.

CW is the main operating mode at the Sandbridge station. There are two major reasons for this: First, I like CW. Second, space is very limited within an RV, even one that's 40 feet long. I have to be very quite at night, and that's when I like to operate, or I will disturb my XYL. And, as the old saying goes, "if the XYL ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." So, CW is the mode of choice if quiet is to be preserved.

I really put a lot of thought into the layout of the station. While there isn't much spare room inside an RV, the hamshack had to be comfortable or it wouldn't get much use. As it is, I open the doors to the closet and actually sit in the hallway. The passage is blocked, but since I operate mostly at night, so this is not a problem.

Not only is the width of the closet limited, so is the depth. The biggest problem was the desk surface. If the gear sat at desktop level, there would only be a few inches left for writing paper, the keyer paddle, and other accessories. I decided to elevate the transceiver which then provided a nice sized desktop. The trade-off was having the linear amplifier higher in the stack of gear than I would have preferred. I may be able to solve that problem in the future by using a smaller tuner.

The gear was selected for various reasons. The TS-930S was chosen because it had the right combination of features and convenience. The Heath tuner was used simply because it was available. The linear was a different matter. I had to have an amplifier that would run off of 120 VAC. The Collins 30L-1 is one of my favorite amps and it was perfect in this application. It's self contained, runs a easy 600 watts output and it's special "tune" meter makes tuning for minimum distortion an easy task. You might think that running a KW from an RV park where all the trailers are packed close together isn't a good idea. Actually, that is not the case at this location. I had always planned to mount a vertical antenna of some sort on the boat dock. This puts the antenna about 24 feet out over brackish water. It's about 100 feet from the antenna to the nearest neighbor. Also, we have cable TV and all the TV, telephone and electrical cables are under ground. So far, I haven't had any problems. I'll knock on some drift-wood just for luck.

Well, back to the station. You see a Heath SB-614 scope sitting on its side. If I have the choice, I always use a monitor scope for tuning up and to keep an eye on my signal. Even in the cramped quarters of the trailer, I was able to include the scope.

I am using an MFJ-490 memory keyer with a built-in Bencher paddle. It's not shown in the station photo. This a very handy keyer with lots of features and it doesn't take up much desk space.

Last, you see a Heil Pro headset with an HC-5 microphone sitting on the desktop. Personally, I find these headsets to be fairly comfortable and the headphone audio quality is good. They handle noise crashes without a lot of overshoot and ringing and they do an adequate job keeping out distracting noises. The boom mic is a necessary convenience in these cramped quarters.

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How it all went together

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The risers for the shelves are attached to the walls. The problem here is that in an RV the walls are very thin. The trick is to find the wall supports and use them to bear a vertical load. I added further support by selecting a heavy wooden "molding" that was stained to match the paneling in the trailer. The match is so good that you can't tell that it is not part of the closet's interior. The added supports run from the floor to the bottom of the slides of the desktop. While only 3/8" thick, their compression strength is high as you can tell from the photo in the right-hand column. Without these extra vertical supports, the thin walls and supports in the trailer could never support my son's weight as is demonstrated in the photo.Since I lean on the desktop, it had to be strong. If you look closely, at the photo on the left, you can see the coax and ground wires emerging from the wooden box on the floor under the table. This is a utility access where the electrical, Cable TV, and telephone lines enter the trailer. It was a convenient way to route the coax and grounds out of the trailer. I installed an extra run of coax just in case the first cable fails. That's entirely possible because the coax runs under water for several feet.

The white wire, seen at the right side of the photo, is for a self-contained florescent light mounted at the top of the closet. The light is projected from behind my head, to prevent glare. It worked very well, but there is too much light for nighttime use.

The power outlets are not at the most convenient location but special right-angle plugs where found and this solved the problem of heavy AC plugs and wires sticking out into the limited operating area. The two faucets are flush with the wall and are out of the way.
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The sliding desktop was a very important feature. Since the hallway is narrow and I'm not, I had to make the desktop movable so that I could slide it in when I'm getting into my chair, and slide it back out once I'm seated.
Those slides are actually extruded, solid-metal shelf supports which are strong enough to hold a shelf only from the back. These heavy-duty support fixtures were perfect for this application.
The desktop is now pulled out. If the gear had been installed, I'd be ready to get on the air in comfort. (See the photo of the finished station at the top of this page) The size of the desktop gives a good indication of the depth of the closet, as well as its width. It's not much space for a full power conventional station. But, with a little ingenuity the job was done.
I'll be on the air a lot next summer. (1998) I hope to hear you on 40 or 20 CW.

Well that's about it for the ham shack at Sand Bridge Beach, VA. You're welcome to mosey around and enjoy the view if you'd like. Stay as long as you want. You're always welcome.

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Antenna System