Life En Route - Our journey on the road

Ham Go Box

I never had any intention to invest in ham radio outside of the truck, but that changed once I realized how much time I’ve spent idling in the driveway. I decided to build a portable setup that could be moved from house to RV with me, and even used outside. A lot of people seem to love, and a lot of people seem to hate the Icom IC-7100 radio, but it is the only radio on the market that meets all of my requirements for this project, so I decided to give it a chance. I’ve been told that it has display issues and that parts can be hard to find, but ultimately I decided to take the chance based on reviews I read online and the availability of an extended warranty from Giga-Parts (which I didn’t buy, but am thinking about). The reason this radio fits my requirements so nicely is that it is a HF/VHF/UHF rig in one, which is rare in itself, but allows for split operation with only a single RJ45 cable between the head and base. I can mount the base, antenna tuner, and power supply in a box and use a single 50′ shielded cable to access all bands.

The antenna I chose is designed for portable operation, and is perfect for camping. The Alpha Antenna kit covers 80m-6m and they have a jaw mount clamp to add an additional VHF/UHF antenna. With the heavy duty tripod upgrade it will weigh in at around 15lb and fit into a cylindrical bag just over 3′ long. Extended it can be used as a 21′ (ish) vertical antenna or have elements configured a few different ways for other types. They offer an element upgrade to hit 160m that I did not buy. I bought two 50′ RG58 cables to run from the HF and the VHF/UHF antennas back to the radio. Even though it claims not to require a tuner, I’m going to run a LDG IT-100 with it to ensure safe operation on all bands.

The box design is heavily based off of this idea, but for my needs will house an internal AC to DC power supply since between an extension cord, antenna cables, and the head unit cable, I can sit 100′ away from electric or the antenna. Plenty far for use in the home or RV. In the field it can run off of the RV’s inverter, generator, shore power, or my truck’s inverter, a portable generator, or a solar box I’ll eventually build. Instead of a toolbox, I’ll be mounting it all in a MCM box.

30M APRS, HF Radio Updates

I previously posted about how my 30M APRS beacons were working, but seemed to be causing major RFI with the truck. I’ve done everything I know to do to track that down: add ferrite chokes, ground straps, etc, but have not found a solution. During my research, I kept finding myself back on this page. Unfortunately, when I ran the initial feed, which runs through a difficult to access port in the back of the cab to between the cab and bed (almost as difficult to access), I used a LMR400 cable just long enough to reach. The recommended method to choke the RF on that site will not work for me without replacing that cable, and even if I replaced the cable I couldn’t fit that assembly back there without removing the toolboxes, hitch, and bed from the truck for the install. Instead, I found this feedline isolation balun that exceeds the specs of the loop the site recommends building. It’s in a 4″ x 4″ x 2″ box that I will mount on the top rail of the truck bed behind the tonneau cover, and run the current feed into, and run another 1′ LMR400 feed to the antenna. All of this company’s baluns and isolation feeds have excellent (5.0/5) reviews on, including the one I bought. I also picked up eight Fair-Rite 18mm ID type 31 chokes to wrap the power leads in.

30M APRS works, but it almost breaks the truck!

I installed the 30M APRS system today and APRS works great. I saw it gate at in both Brownsville, TX (300mi away) and Sugraland Run, VA (1290mi away, as the crow flies!). I was playing with TX power between 30w and 150w, so I’m not sure how far it travels with how much power. Of course I think that’s subject to a lot of conditions other than power.

Where this went wrong is shortly after installing it and getting it working properly, my truck began intermittently losing power. After a little while longer, several alarms popped up including ABS, StabiliTrak, Park Assist and Trailer Brake Controller malfunctions. I thought it was the radio, but after turning it off, pulling codes (none found), and clearing them anyway, the lights remained. It also seemed to have come on right after hitting a bump at 35mph, so I thought maybe something pulled loose. I spent a couple hours under the vehicle double checking all of the connections that seemed as if they could be related to those specific errors, but all were fine. I started the truck again and the lights were still on. After a while of idling while I searched online for potential fixes, the light went off.

With the light off, I began experimenting with the radio configuration. My findings were:

  • 10.147.60USB (APRS freq), 30w transmit, no noticeable changes
  • 10.147.60USB (APRS freq), 50w transmit, noticeable dip in truck power only when beaconing, no lights or warnings
  • 10.147.60USB (APRS freq), 150w transmit, lights/alarms come on after approximately 3 beacons
  • Keying up manually on 10.147.60USB does not seem to cause issues, but testing here was limited because it is data only
  • Transmitting, even at full power, on 14.213USB does not cause issues
  • Unplugging only the DATA port of the TS-480HX (TT4 connection to radio) ceases issues
  • Several (unmeasured) minutes of idling clears the alarms

Since I don’t need HF APRS most of the time, I decided to leave it unplugged unless needed. I’m not really sure where to troubleshoot from here or how to fix this, aside from the several RF chokes I already tried (improved, not fixed the issue, and I don’t think chokes are the issue at this point.) When I do transmit, it seems 30w is going to be the practical limit unless I can find ways to eliminate the interference. I ordered some more RF chokes and ground straps to try.

Ham Go Station

by James 0 Comments

As I’ve actually become quite interested in ham radio for more than APRS, I’ve been trying to find a good way to create a portable HF/VHF/UHF setup that can be moved from house, to RV, to outside, and loaned out to people I am trying to time-and-money-sink into my new hobby.

I found this setup which I really love, and wanted to post it here to keep for future reference:


The Android tablet has proven to be impractical. While great in theory, the battery overheats and the OS prevents charging. Since it is ignition switched, and doesn’t charge half the time I’m in transit (until the AC cools down the truck quite a bit) it’s dead most of the time I need it. Additionally, the alerts Android produces are really invasive and make the tablet almost unusable when hot, even with a charge. If it is acting this way in October, it won’t survive a summer, and the cold of the winter will probably yield similar results.

I decided to abandon the tablet and go to a full fledged CarPC. It’ll have several benefits and be a lot more tightly integrated into the truck. I built my own CarPCs – a few of them – several years ago using 7″ Lilliput touchscreens and PCs located in the trunks of the vehicles with pretty good results. This time around I wanted something that would both look and integrate better with the vehicle, so I shopped around.

A company called E3IO produces a 2DIN CarPC SE Pro, which is roughly the standard 2DIN size at 4″ x 7″ x 6-3/4″. It has several options, but I outfitted it with a 7″ 1080p 10-point capacitive touchscreen, Intel i5-2410M, 8GB RAM, 240GB SSD, 4x50w amp, FM module, bluetooth and wireless, GPS, steering wheel control module, OBDII scan tool, and Windows 10. The PC is wired in such a way that it integrates with a Metra wiring harness (which I ordered for my specific truck, as well as the other integration components including bezel, etc) so it will install like a standard aftermarket head unit.

I will be using it with CentraFuse software, and convert the CoPilot Truck for Android I purchased to the PC version. Having the PC will have several other benefits including the ability to use software to program the radios on the fly (TM-D710G repeaters using CHIRP), and more software options. I’ll be trading out the tablet for a USB 4G/LTE modem with Verizon, and it’ll reduce the footprint of devices on my dash to just the two radios. I’ll also be using USB sound adapters for each of the four radios to play their output over the vehicle speakers, getting rid of the external ones mounted throughout the vehicle. Steering wheel controls and bluetooth phone functionality will be kept as well.

Hitch and Storage

by James 0 Comments

We added a hitch for a bike rack, and a BAL spare tire carrier this week under the RV to hold the portable waste tank. We wanted to hold the spare tire for the truck on the carrier since there is no longer room in the factory location, but it is too wide to fit. This works out great too, though, because after cleaning out our basement storage it is almost empty.


The hitch and carrier hang down pretty far under the RV, but there is still plenty of clearance.

The bike rack we ordered (Swagman XTC2) is way too wobbly back there so we found a stronger one (Swagman Dispatch) made of 2″ stock instead of 1.25″ and advertised for RV use. I would have bought it initially, but didn’t know it existed. Unfortunately our initial rack was out of the return window, so it will be going on Craigslist.

Paintless Dent Repair

by James 0 Comments

We caused major dents in each of our vehicles over the last week, so I bought a cheap ($50) paintless dent repair kit off Amazon. It consists of a bar/puller, a bunch of glue-on pads, a large hot glue gun, some glue sticks, spatulas, and a little bottle that you fill with rubbing alcohol. This was my first time using one of these kits.

The first dent can be seen in this photo. It was from a runaway rolling spare tire that Kelly tried to pick and move, but let go of. It rolled into the rear passenger door of her Frontier:


This took two pulls with the pad to get out, but you can’t really see it at all anymore.


She also had a door ding on the other side that I pulled out with similar results.

On my truck, I crushed in part of the cab with the trailer while seeing how sharp I could turn a few days ago. I didn’t take any before photos, but it was substantially caved in. It doesn’t look perfect, but after about five pulls I was able to get it almost back to normal. With more work it could be even better, but I was working on this in full sun on a 90° afternoon, and decided enough was enough.


Overall I’d say that the kit does a very good job and I’m satisfied with the results. I’ll probably go back and work on my truck some more but believe me when I say it is an substantial improvement. On another note, you can see in the photos that I bought a new CB antenna and a “matching” scanner antenna, to put on the opposite side. I think they will look a lot better than the Firestiks, even if they’re a foot shorter and do take away from range. I was able to achieve a perfect SWR with the new CB antenna.

KG5PTC – APRS Configured

by James 0 Comments

I received my call sign today, kilo golf five papa tango charlie. I configured APRS on my TM-D710G and it quickly showed up on I then moved to configure it on my TH-D72A, which did not show up. After a bit of messing with it, I decided it had to be due to a signal issue and tried to get my TM-D710G to repeat the signal. That’s one of the goals of having the TM-D710G on a standalone switch in the truck – so I can enable it to act as a repeater if we’re out hiking and want to broadcast our location.

I configured everything as I believed I needed to in the TM-D710G, but it still wasn’t working. I took a break from it to work on the RO system for the RV (which is installed, but incidentally the parts I did *not* build are all leaky, so I’m going to have to rebuild the manifold which was shipped to me as “professionally assembled” before I can use it) and went back to the APRS system after a few hours. I pulled the manual again and found that you need to set the alias for menu 618 to WIDE1-1 in order to fully enable the digipeater. Five seconds later my TH-D72A registered on

Speaking of the TH-D72A, I offered someone on with an “open box” one that included some accessories a couple hundred less than the retail price. He didn’t immediately accept the offer, but eventually the deal came to pass. The radio arrived in perfect condition and looks brand new. I performed a factory reset on it and ordered a couple spare batteries and a quick charger with some Ebay bucks I needed to spend.

The TH-D72A is using sign KG5PTC-7, where the -7 is usually used for HT. The TM-D710G is using KG5PTC-9, which is standard for a mobile rig, and my APRSDroid uses KG5PTC-10, standard for a non-radio.

Mobilinkd, APRSDroid, TorquePro

I’m still working on the Torque Pro screen, mostly the trans temp – I need to find the proper sensor for it. This is what I have so far. Also the compass doesn’t seem to be working, so I’ll probably just replace that with something else.


In much more exciting news, APRSDroid is working properly now that I have my callsign and Mobilinkd setup: