I will start this post off by saying, if you have read much of my blog, that my previous truck met an untimely demise. It took a while to get back up over that and start over but I do have to say that in the process of my installation and, unfortunate, un-installation I was able to start the new one with a fresh head and have a few tricks up my sleeve to make use of.
This write-up is three parts. Scroll down to the second part for the final (as of 3/24/12) install. Part 1 is my quick, thrown together install for my trip home with the truck. Part 3 has some of my comments regarding the operability of this mobile station.
The new truck is a 2011 F-350 crew cab long bed with the 6.7L diesel (all in-house FORD this time!!!) and it has the King Ranch package. What I was after is a diesel Super Duty that had Navigation and NO MOON ROOF. For those that know the story you can guess as to the reasoning behind not wanting a moon roof… The way Ford packages the Navigation systems starting off in 2011 for the new generation is it is included in their Lariat Ultimate package. The moon roof, and a few other goodies, are also part of that package. In this part of the country dealers do not order trucks with navigation without the Lariat Ultimate package. I looked all over the place, I even had dealers trying to locate one for me, and couldn’t find one that was close enough to what I was looking for. As a result, I was going to order one the way I wanted it but at the time I was going to place my order the 2011 model year was all run out of Navigation systems. The Navigation system is key feature that I wanted as I had it in my 2010.
Long story short, I had to find one already built with the options I was after (and without the ones I didn’t want). I found the truck I have at a dealer in Texas. I jumped on an airplane and flew down, stayed with a great friend that moved down there several years back, got the truck, and drove 1300 miles home with it. It may have been a bit more of a wild adventure than I was after but I’m glad I did it. I took off Friday night and left with the truck shortly after noon (central) Saturday, then pretty much drove straight until I had to stop and rest. I made it back home Sunday evening and managed to get to work at 8AM Monday morning! Well, I was there physically…
On to the radio install.
I had made a custom switch panel for my 2010 truck. This was built out of the stock coin holder panel. I cut out the coin holder part and put a flat plate across the front with switches and jacks on it. The new truck came with the Upfitter switch option. Luckily, the dash hasn’t changed enough to make my panel unusable and it fit right in the same spot as the Upfitter switches. This panel is the base for much of the new installation as so much is wired up through it.
I will throw out there that I packed all of my radio gear and tools in to a big Pelican case and flew it down to Texas with me. My intent was to get the main wiring in to the truck for the road trip home. It ended up working, sort of…
Before I left for the trip I made a wiring harness with all the key cables for my FT-857D. These include: power, remote face plate, mic extension, and audio. I wrapped them all up in a split loom and sectioned them off so they were all laid out nice. The hard part about this was I just guessed at it. I figured once I got the truck I could adjust it. My intent was also to lay this harness in the factory wiring channel right next to the door opening on the floor.
This was too much work when I was down South (and, mind you, the temperature was pushing 100 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky). So I just laid the harness in the cab and did away with the hard install.
My HF antenna for the trip home was a whip and an LDG Z-11Pro tuner. I had some extra wire with me and was able to rig it up to work. I grounded the tuner to one of the tie down hooks in the rear of the bed. However, the whip didn’t work real well overall – I was getting a good bit of noise in the radio.
The dual band antenna was going to be a Commet SBB-5 on a heavy duty lip mount on the hood. However, I forgot a tool and wasn’t able to get the mount to work. Luckily I threw in my spare Commet M-24M antenna and magnet mount. So I put it on the roof and used that for the whole trip.
The radio install for the trip home wasn’t very effective on HF. I listened to the radio the whole time as I was getting RF back in the mic and had some noise issues. I was able to listen to the CB band also, that helped a bunch as I found myself in several traffic jams.
Part 2 – full installation
Again, I used what I learned in installing and uninstalling my radio setup in my 2010 truck. The raw 2011 cab is the same, just with a few styling changes. The wiring channels and pass-throughs are the same.
The first of the changes I made is that I ran my power wires and coax through rubber plugs/grommets the right way, and sealed them. In my 2010 truck I used the boot around the main wiring harness that goes between the engine compartment and the cab (under the steering wheel). I ran the wire through the “side”, not actually “through”. This time around I pulled up the drivers side carpet and that allowed access to a few plugs/grommets to use.
This is what I decided to use – the plug over the access hole for the body/frame bolt:
Note that the hole I cut in the plug and ran the wires through is sealed with CoaxSeal and electrical tape (3M Super 33+, the only kind of tape to use for this stuff).
The bigger black wire is the coax going to the VHF/UHF antenna on the hood. The orange wire/fuse holder and small black wire is the supply for my dash panel.
The split loom the wire all passes through is only through the engine compartment and where you see it here. It is too thick to run along the wiring channel so it is just the bare wires from where you see it stop there through to the back of the cab.
The remote wires for the face plate and mic also pass through the wiring channels. The mic line runs up the passenger side through to the dash and the faceplate line runs up the drivers side, then crosses under the drivers seat to the console. The only place that the wire is exposed is under the right side of the drivers seat between the floor vent and right frame:
To hide that wire under the carpet the whole way would have required removal of the seat. I’m not going to worry about it that much.
The next topic is the coax for the HF antenna. This will exit the rear of the cab. The initial installation was LMR-240 UltraFlex, but it has since been replaced with Heliax LDF1-50A – a bit bigger diameter but it has a solid shield and better performance than LMR-400, though smaller.
There are a couple grommets/plugs in the rear of the cab towards the bottom. You can see them from under the truck looking at the back of the cab:
To get access to the inside of that hole you have to pull back the rear liner panel.
The hole in the cab is JUST big enough to pass a PL-259 through without the grommet in there.
I cut an X pattern in the grommet and stretched it over the PL-259.
After I slid the grommet down the cable I positioned it where I needed it and sealed it. Again, CoaxSeal and 3M Super 33+ tape.
In the past, actually going back to about 10 years, I’ve been using a Tarheel model 200 screwdriver antenna. The screwdriver antennas work very well, from a useability standpoint. The reason being is you can remotely tune them and they are multi-band. I will throw out there that the efficiency once you get to the lower bands starts dropping off pretty quick but I do think that having a tunable antenna is more of a convenience than is the loss in efficiency. My model 200 antenna was going to make its way back on to the new truck but I decided to replace it with a new model 400. I backed in to a tree while landscaping and broke the model 200 off one of my previous trucks so I was going to have to do some repairs before I could get it to mount up to the new truck. I will save that project for making an attic antenna for base use.
I went through a couple mounts for the Tarheel Model 400, but they are the same idea. Here is the final product:
The doughnut looking thing is a choke – 5 wraps of coax. Whether it is warranted or not I used it. I do this with my whip/tuner antennas to keep RF off the coax. I’ve had issues with that in the past – stray RF likes to do weird things in the cab (dashboard, radio flickering, RF in the mic, etc). The screwdriver antenna is a (mostly) resonant antenna so in theory the choke isn’t needed.
Also note the coax is in split loom and everything is sealed up well (even the ground braid to keep it from corroding).
This mount is one of the coolest things about this install. For the many years I had my Silverado I used this same style mount, but the hitch receiver had a round tube on the side. I used a pin to hold the antenna mount in so I could disconnect it pretty easy (never mind the ground, coax, and control cables – that was another issue). What I disliked about that mount was it was always “loose”. The antenna would rattle a bit and the mount would shake when I hit a pot hole or speed bump.
So this time around I took a different approach. The mount is bolted to the side of the receiver, but what makes it unique is the bolts only pass through one side and there is no nut to worry about holding a tool on. The mount is so strong that the whole rear end of the truck (a 1 ton truck) will move around before any of the antenna mount remotely starts to flex.
The trick? Weld nuts to the inside of the mount:
Note that the nuts are a bit oval – these are lock nuts. I didn’t want to have to worry about split washers or star washers, so I used some nice lock nuts. I also didn’t weld the whole nut, just a bit as I didn’t want to get them too hot. When they were tacked in place I had a bolt in there and tightened down. The tight bolt kept the nut firm on the plate (wouldn’t warp as the temperature changed) and the extra metal helped to sink the heat.
Before the plate was welded back in place I chamfered the edges with a grinder. The blade I cut the plate out with is about 3/32″, so there was that much kerf plus the chamfer to fill when I welded it. This worked out perfect – I got full penetration through the whole plate.
Note that the round bar passes through both the top and bottom of the square tube. I used a hole saw to make the holes then welded the tube in on the top and bottom.
Once I got the mount fabricated I took it to a local powder coat company, Performance Powdercoat. They did a real nice job:
I decided to cap off the tube because it would have been too difficult to get paint through there.
How does this set up work? Pretty good! It is definitely the nicest HF mobile installation I’ve ever done. The only change I would make (and will at some point) is to re-work my face plate mount so it is a hard install, not the cup holder thingy. Although, on my long hauls having the cup holder mount is nice because I can move it anywhere I want when I’m not driving – throw my headphones on, tune out, and work HF – even in the back seat.
The Tarheel Model 400 is a real nice antenna. I wasn’t too thrilled with the narrow bandwidth and fast tuning at first. The Pittman motor is faster than the old Model 200 I have. The catch to the Model 400 is that it covers all the way through 160 meters. This means the coil is a lot “tighter”. Combine the tight coil with the fast motor and the tuning is MUCH faster than the 200. In reality, the fast tuning is nice because I can navigate from working DX on 17 meters down to the MIDCARS net on 40, and back the other way in seconds. Navigating band edges is as easy as clicking the switch up or down to nudge the SWR dip where I need it.
The switch on my dash panel to the left of the mic and key jacks (middle of the panel) is a momentary DPDT switch for tuning the antenna. This works out real nice! The antenna came with a switch box, but I wanted everything to be together there on the dash – switches and jacks. I have been real happy with this set up.
Noise level -
The noise level is really quite manageable. There is more noise picked up from power lines and other things than what the truck creates. I did bond the bed and cab together, as well as the exhaust pipe to the frame (across the last hanger mount in the rear). Grounding like this is very important to any mobile HF installation.
Switch panel -
The 4 switches on the left on the panel are all 12v accessory switches. I have 3 of them in use. One is for lights in the bed, another one is an accessory line run to the bed (low amp – for a beacon light or light 12v use), and the third is the on/off switch for an air compressor that runs my shocks (not load-leveler type air springs, the Rancho MyRide system). The fourth switch has yet to find a use, but its there when I do find one.
My next installation:
Cheap inverters don’t run service monitors. This Xantrex Prowatt SW 1000 isn’t top of the line either, but so far its made my service monitor pretty happy. I need to take a noise floor reading with the spectrum analyzer on the inverter and commercial power. Stay tuned, it may not be real soon but when I get a chance I’ll do another write-up.