Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 7 – A good Road Test and update as at July 2013

Out on the Road

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Finally everything came together.  The truck was taxed, insured, plated, legal and I had leave. I bundled some emergency stuff in the back of the car ready to set off after my early shift. Overnight with a friend in London and collect a Yaesu transceiver then up to Bedford early Saturday morning. The plan was fairly straightforward – go up to Grantham on the Saturday morning and collect the truck, then to somewhere outside Spalding to collect a Sankey Widetrack that I had bought on eBay and back to Bedford.  At Tony’s we would have a climb around underneath to make sure that there was nothing seriously amiss and that all the oil levels were about right.  I had heard horror stories of the universal joints on the propshafts and steering being neglected and snapping so they were a priority.  We also had a camping stove, tea bags and the means to make a brew so as far as I could see we were sorted.

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Technology Let Down…Usual Summer Hazard

The first problem came about ten minutes after I left work. I had updated my satnav the night before so that we could be sure of avoiding any delays on the way down and for some reason it had got itself into a loop.  It would not get past the opening screen so it was almost as if I was driving blind.  In terms of navigation on the Friday it wasn’t a problem, so I carried on.  When I joined the end of a queue that stretched from Ilminster to Stonehenge I realised that it was going to be one of those journeys.  I do not really mind traffic, there is not much you can do and provided that I have some decent music to listen to I can be quite chilled.  On dual carriageways I tried to spread the love by winding my window down and sharing the music, but there did not seem to be many who appreciated my taste.

Whereas I would normally expect to reach London by about half past six, it was half past eight before I arrived.  The Yaesu seemed to be in reasonable condition so it was wrapped up and placed in the back of the car.  The following morning I left early and was in Bedford for about nine.  We went to Grantham and had tea with John from Grantham Truck Services.  If I could put in a plug for these guys here, they were terrific all the way through the process and are genuinely nice to deal with.  It was then on to Spalding.  According to the chap from eBay it was about twenty miles from Grantham and dead easy to find. Not without a satnav it wasn’t.  I know nothing abut that part of the world and the names and directions mean nothing.  I was driving a very strange vehicle with marginal visibility behind which all added to the stress.

The Drive

The RB44 is a funny vehicle.  You sit very high up but the controls are pretty much the same as a Dodge 50.  The first thing I noticed was that the speedometer did not work so it was difficult to assess my true speed.  The second was that the gear gate is backwards, so reverse is where first normally is located.  This became a bit of a theme for the next couple of hours.  The brakes, despite all the adverse publicity, are not bad for a truck.  It rattles and bumps and judders but the weirdest thing is that the power steering is very much engine speed dependent.  If you take your foot off the throttle the steering gets heavier, which catches you out on roundabouts.

So, bimbling along the road towards Spalding at about fifty was actually quite relaxing.  The gearchanging was almost impossible until you get to fourth and fifth, but one, two and three was like stirring gritty porridge.  This was livened up for those behind me by random reversing at traffic lights.  We managed to find the trailer out in the middle of nowhere and it went straight on.  We didn’t have the correct electrical connector so there were no lights, but otherwise the brakes worked and it went fine.  To a certain extent you did not notice that it was attached until you caught a glimpse in the rear mirror. Where you did notice it was trying to do a three point turn in between Lincolnshire ditches when we got lost. Boy did we get lost!  After two and a half hours driving we were back at Grantham but heading North rather than South.

Finally we made Bedford. Once we had had a brew we looked as closely as we could over the truck.  Apart from a few strokes with the grease gun it needed very little in the way of preventative maintenance.  All the lights worked as they should, there were no major oil leaks so we felt that we were ready for the following day.

And Back…

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The trip down to Cornwall was remarkably uneventful.  We went down the slower roads at about fifty and watched the world go past.  The engine did not miss a beat and I gradually became better at the gearbox.  The trailer followed along without an incident and apart from a few comfort stops we made steady progress.  All in all by the time that I got to Cornwall I was quite convinced that I had made the right decision about the truck and that it would be exactly what I had hoped.

More to follow…

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 8 – SITREP as at August 2013

SITREP as at August 2013

the truck has been at home for two months. It has been fun so far – I have spent the time getting bits and pieces done, both radio and mechanical, and putting some time in to building a shed for it.

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Reaching Mechanical Stability

After a looking over, very few jobs really need doing. There are a few small oil leaks, although these look more like porous gaskets between mating faces rather than seals. One seal that is weeping is the rear nearside axle oil seal, so this is on the list for replacement. My view generally is that at least when you can see a drip you know there is oil in there. I will need to change the filters and oils, and have pencilled in some time in September to do this.

The heater in the pod is not working and will need some investigation. It runs off the diesel tank but I have not had time as yet to get into the detail of how they work. It is made by a well known form so there should not be a problem. Apart that is from the cost of spares – a replacement controller is in excess of three hundred pounds.

Radio Power Supply Concerns

My biggest concern so far is the signals batteries. There are four fairly large capacity gel mat units that connect to give 24 volts. These are charged either by a separate generator on the vehicle or an external petrol unit. The vehicle charger is working and surprisingly gives a good charge at tickover. The problem seems to be that the batteries are not building up to full charge. I am working on a number of solutions – I tried to charge the pack as a single unit but that did not give the result I wanted. I have given each unit a charge and this has again produced a patchy result so I have now obtained a fairly powerful pulse charger and am bringing them up individually. I have one unit that is showing green and two others which are getting up to 10-11v in stages so I hope that with this and a bit of work, they will recondition.

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Restoring the Paint Work and other Household Chores

IMG_2886There is a little bit of rust in places, mainly on the surface, so I am rubbing that down and painting it. The paintwork is very faded, which is a problem with the infra red reflective green that the Army used at the time. I am using a similar colour without the reflective element, so in future the question of fading should not arise.

 

The major job on the bodywork so far has been cleaning it. I assume that because of the IMG_2891electronic in the back that it was not possible to get into the nooks and crannies, but it was absolutely filthy. I have used about five buckets of a Flash/Dettol mix and each one has ended up looking like a brown pond. On the other hand the whole thing now smells cleaner and is much nicer to sit in.

Getting on Air

IMG_2859The radio side is also coming along. My first task has been to get some form of communication going with the VRC 321. I was lucky in that there was a mounting which took the set, but it was surrounded by a frame which did not allow the Tuning Unit to clamp on the top. This became a problem later. I managed to get power from the distribution board to the set, and connected the set to the Tuner.  I replaced the seals in the mast pump so that I could raise the mast pneumatically, and obtained a junction unit to connect together the two arms of a dipole as well as a 20m coaxial to connect the Tuner Unit to the dipole junction.

Field Trials – Commencing Mobile and Portable Operations from the New Station

IMG_0151One sunny morning a friend and I decided that we ought to go out and see whether we could raise anything on the set, so we drove up on to the Moor. Caradon Hill is about 1200 feet above sea level and apart from the height, the view on a clear day is spectacular. You can see Bodmin Moor, the sea at Looe as well as the northern part of Dartmoor and if line of sight is the key, the propagation should be terrific.

IMG_0116We arrived and set up the antenna in an inverted V centring on the 14MHz band. The mast went up to about 25 feet, and all looked good until we came to look inside at the radio. During the trip up the Tuning Unit had fallen off and managed to break the coaxial connection between the transceiver and the tuner. Normally I have a couple of spare bits in the truck but not on that occasion. All we could do was to pack up and go home slightly disappointed.

Expensive Little Fuse Problem

IMG_2840Getting the 321 to work was not as easy as all that. I remade a connection cable and fitted that, but even having done that it did not seem to want to know. The first problem was that a fuse in the front of the set kept blowing. The set showed that there was 28v getting there but as soon as the tuning unit kicked in the fuse blew. Looking at the fuse it was an original 1 amp NATO fuse, so I tried to find another. I did find a supplier, but at a cost of over five pounds each. Given that I did not know the source of the problem, I thought that this would probably be an expensive diagnosis so I bought some cheaper 1 and 2 amp car fuses. A friend suggested that it may be that the relays and capacitors in the set may be stuck through lack of use, so I connected the set to a 12 volt battery overnight. The following day I tried the same with exactly the same result. After about five or six fuses, I realised that I was really getting nowhere. At this point I contacted Stuart who put me straight with regard to the actual fuse rating. Success! The set burst into life and once it had warmed up I was able to receive a transmission from France. That was a really great feeling, as I was beginning to wonder whether I had bought a heap of junk.

Further Exploits

A couple of weeks later I tried again to receive from the top of Caradon and this time it worked very well. I tuned into VMARS and managed very good reception, better in some cases than the net controller. I did try to get on to the net but did not manage to do so.

Fitting the 2xVHF Sets

vhftuningunitThe next stage was to try to fit the VHF sets, but this has proved to be tricky because of the racking already installed. I have not been able to get a mounting plate on the radio table and I do not have any cables that are long enough to get from the set to the units. On the positive side I have managed to fit the TUUAM properly as well as the ARFAT to pre-existing mountings. I have also managed to get the special rubber mountings for the TUUAM. The antenna base fitted onto the outside fittings, and running the cable from the base to the TUUAM was very easy. Because of the problems with the cables I have not managed to fire the set up yet, but a dry run outside the vehicle suggests that there should be no problems once they are properly connected. I have now managed to salvage some cables from within the vehicle which I can use to create the links and this is what I will be doing over the next couple of weeks.

Removing “Surplus” Racking

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I have also stripped out much of the racking and fittings that I will not be using. This revealed the radio tray which I have found is pre-drilled for four radio mountings. I have managed to clean and paint this and am having the base plates to take the shock mounts made. Until then I have bolted the carriers straight to the table to make sure that the radios do not come adrift and to give me the distances to run the cables.

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I have had one disaster. I bought a Sankey trailer at the same time and it is in reasonable condition. These are very heavy, and have an over-run braking system that is controlled by the movement of the towing eye against a cam which activates the brakes. In order to reverse you have to lock the towing eye so that the brakes are not activated. Guess who forgot to do this? The problem is that the truck has so much power that you just do not notice the resistance of the trailer and I managed to jack knife the whole unit. Unfortunately this pushed the trailer up against the bodywork and the result was a rather large dent in the tub. I am irritated by this as the trailer itself was pretty straight and now I have to work out how to get the dent out. Luckily the body of the truck was not damaged.

Armed Forces Day – Plymouth Hoe

I have also had one outing. We were invited to Armed Forces Day on Plymouth Hoe as part of a small group of vehicles organised by the MVT. I set up the HF set and mast to receive the VOLMETS broadcast from the RAF. This sounded vaguely military and created something going on. At the same time I tested the transmission using the PRC 320 and found that the 321 was not transmitting. Trial and error identified the problem to the handset as swapping the handsets between the 320 and 321 also swapped the problem. I’ve since obtained another couple of handsets.

On Display…

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Success on Air

My final triumph happened a couple of weeks ago. A friend from the radio class has been badgering me to transmit. I have problems with the Yaesu set up and although you can hear it the range seems very limited. To keep him quiet we agreed a time and frequency and I set the 321 up. Imagine my surprise when I managed to get a contact – admittedly only over about 20 miles, but a contact none the less. Given that the antenna was only roughly to size and we are down in a dip using very low power I thought that it was an achievement. At least I have one contact to boast about.

Amateur Licence Upgraded – Successfully

In terms of the radio licence I have now completed the intermediate course and will take the test on Monday. I passed the mock, although the technical questions were a bit of a mare, so with a bit of revision and a following wind I should be 2E0 and able to wind the 321 up to 25 Watts.

Summary of Progress So Far

So two months on there has been progress across a number of fronts. The radio fit is coming on, the mechanical side is under control and the painting has begun. There is a vehicle meeting locally in a couple of weeks which I hope to attend and will take some photos. I have a friend in the area who is also in to military radio so I might be able to set up a net between his Larkspur Rover FFR and the Clansman RB44. That would be fun.

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 9 – Clansman Installation Designs – August 2013

The end of a Busy Month by Richard Taylor – 2E0TUH

It’s now the end of August and looking back I am surprised how much I have achieved.  I did pass the Intermediate exam and am now 2E0TUH – thanks to Bob, Chris and Sheila from Plymouth Radio Club for their patience.  This means that I can use all the sets at their maximum power, although whether this will make a difference is moot.

On the truck I am working towards a plan.  I have looked carefully at the construction of the pod, and worked out how it goes together.  It is basically a double walled aluminium box, which was predictable, but all of the fittings are supported by a spreader plate riveted to the wall, with rivet nuts in the plate spaced to take the fitting.  This makes it less adaptable than for instance a Land Rover which has Dexion Racking and can take almost anything.  Having said that, there is nothing to stop me copying the spreader plate idea and using it to fit additional pieces.

IMG_2993The plan I am working to is fairly similar to the Clansman fitting seen in most land Rovers.  I have one 321 set and two 353’s mounted across the front radio table. At the moment I have it set up as 353, 321, 353 – the reason being that there are plates on the right and left of the front wall for the TUAM/ARFAT combination.

 

These link through to the two antenna bases on the front outside of the pod.  I only have one of the 353 sets linked up properly (the RHS one) as the plates on the LHS have been used to mount a filter unit and I need to work out how I can remove this without spoiling the feed to the distribution box. The 321 is connected to the power, but at present I run the antenna from the large co-axial out of the back door of the pod to the junction fitting which is raised to the top of the mast at the rear. I can then run the two arms of the dipole from the junction out to the ground in an inverted V.

Operating in a Sealed Environment

My aim is to be able to run the complete set up with the door closed.  Mainly because winter is approaching and as I found out last January, Caradon in the snow can be a bitter experience.  In order to do this I have decided that I will run cable around the inside of the pod to connectors that allow me to connect the inside to the outside. I already have some BNC connectors in a panel which sits under a canvas flap in the LHS.

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Fitting New BNC\C Type Coaxial Feed Throughs

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My first task has been to fit a BNC/C type connector in to this panel.  I have chosen this combination because most of the external antenna coaxial is fitted with C type plugs and most of the radio output is fitted with BNC. (Apart from the TURF that is).  As I am trying to use as much original cabling as possible, this seemed the answer.

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Using these two connectors I will have the choice of feeding either HF or VHF out on the LHS to a mast set up outside.  The HF can be set up in any way and the VHF can use the pineapple (Elevated Wide Band Antenna) or the ground mounted monopole.  Both do not need the TUAM/ARFAT to operate so a direct cable out will suffice.

Having an exit that way will also help with the HF antenna in that it will enable me to use the length of the truck to take up some of the antenna length and that will give me a smaller overall footprint, which is something that can matter at shows.   I will also fit up the same at the rear of the truck, so that the rear mast can be used with the door shut, although I am not sure yet whether I will enable VHF this way.

I already have the map board, and by chance picked up a military map of the Dartmoor training area from eBay.  Whilst we do not feature on it, it is sufficiently local to make it interesting and as it is the real deal should look the part.  I am now looking for a thin clear cover to go over it to allow me to scribble signs and things without spoiling it.  I have also picked up two field telephones (surprisingly cheaper than one!) and will fit one to its place next to the board.  There is pre-existing cabling going from there to two connectors outside on the rear which accept Don 10.

Planning the Final Mounting for the the HF Sets

I will probably mount the PRC320 towards the rear right of the pod, with an additional TURF which will be connected to the HF whip.  My problem is that unless I do it this way I cannot get the run from the TURF to the whip short enough.  It would either be that or have the TURF a long way from the set.  I am not sure of this at present, as not only do I need to mount the 320, I would also need the DCCU mounted as well.

I still have to fit in the rugged laptop and its data handler and possible a DMU to make it look the part. I would like to be able to carry out rebroadcast as well as having some facility to charge the portable batteries.  I think that there is space, I just need to get some of the remaining racking out.

Meanwhile Back on the Moors and fault finding the 321…

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That apart, I have tried to speak to VMARS from Caradon using the VRC321 again.  Once again without success, but at least I found out why.  I thought this time I would approach the matter more scientifically and not only would I be more accurate with the dipole length, but I would take up a GPS to work out the bearing between me and the VMARS controller so that I could align the antenna for best effect.  That went quickly to rats when I realised I did not know how to put another co-ordinate in to the handset and I had not manual with me.  Not only that I did not know how to switch the thing off, so ended up taking the batteries out.  I made a quick guess on the location of Stoke on Trent and banged the pegs in.

Despite my best efforts I could not get it to receive anything.  It seemed to be tuning fine, but all I could get was mush.  I did not think that this would be down to atmospherics as it seemed a glorious morning, so I fiddled with the cabling and it burst into life.  The problem was fairly simple.  Since the last time I had tried the set I had fitted the SURF above it.  Having been told that this stood for Small Useless Radio Fitting (except see here, – ed.) and as I only had one set in use, I by-passed it and connected the 321 straight to the TURF. This seems to have put a strain on the cable and it was not making a good contact. When I held it together the reception was excellent, but transmitting made it fail completely. So, another cable to make.

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That afternoon I took the Yaesu over to a friend and we set about seeing why it was not receiving properly.  Two hours of logical investigation showed that the attenuator switch was sticking on (sorted by switch cleaner) and the reject filter knob had been fitted out of alignment so that it was full on when it showed off.  Now it receives very well and I have heard transmissions very clearly.

 

 

 

Moving on…

September promises to be an expensive month, so I doubt whether there will be any great additions, but I plan to use the cables and fittings I have assembled to make the installation a little less bodged and a little neater.

OFCOM Allocates More Space On 5 MHz

The UK independent regulator of telecommunications has allocated more space for Amateur Use on 5 MHz from January 1st 2013. To visualise what the new band will look like in the absence of any published UK band plan, the change is summarised in the attached document.  An update on the applications process for the 5MHz NOV is expected and NOV holders are expected to renew via RSGB.  See OFCOMs website for more information.

5mhz Allocation From Jan 13 updated 151212

RSGB News

As at 26th Dec no guidelines for operating specific to this band have emerged. See also

5MHz Newsletter

G4IYK

With thanks to John Mullin, G0TEV for the “heads up”.