The beginning of the journey to convert an old light tower used for construction into a portable antenna mast for ham radio operations!

It started with a need…

So for those of you that are unfamiliar with Ham Radio, it is basically a hobby where a lot of us nerd out a bit too much about radio technologies. We’re allowed a wide range of non-commercial uses on a lot of radio spectrum for all kinds of fun stuff; sending data, voice, images, video anywhere from feet to thousands of miles, limitations are mostly your creativity and well – what the FCC allows us to do, pop into #ham if you’re interested it!

Part of my experience with ham radio has brought me to the need to get my antennas higher off the ground (as @sam and @mubiles likes to remind us – “HEIGHT IS MIGHT!”), I’ve been running mine indoors and on my lawn on top of tripods I used for VR, not exactly the best solutions or the height I need.

A glance around for what you can pay for a free-standing tower can easily run you a thousand dollars or more, if I want to dig one out of someone’s yard I can get a deep discount down to $250:

A very bent to hell tower What $250 gets you, a lot of pain.

And that’s not even including the cost of installing the tower.

My needs were fairly straight forward:

  • 30 feet minimum
  • Easy to work on, so something crank up would be ideal, I’ll be doing a lot of work on it so something I have to climb may be a problem
  • A semi-decent price, I can spend a decent amount but it has to be worth it….

An idea, a very weird one

One of the most fun parts of ham radio is the range of creativity you’re given on your projects, building bug-out boxes for emergencies, building battery banks and charge setups to use your radio equipment during storms and disasters, building your own components to save hundreds or even thousands on gear for your contest rig, using drones to drop your antennas between trees, using a kite to run an antenna, hand-build antennas that outperform commercial offerings and specifically turned to your needs – sky is the limit on this stuff.

So while pondering what I could use, I first pondered military surplus gear – makes sense, they run towers in the field – but the problems quickly stacked up, larger trailers (some made for large off-road vehicles), large generators, guy wired deployments, expensive – OK I wasn’t going to find anything useful there.

Then I eyeballed what other equipment was available…

It's perfect It’s perfect

A construction light tower! It makes perfect sense:

  • It’s portable, so I can use it for field use
  • It comes with a generator (wait no that’s dumb, more on that later)
  • It packs down into a small area so I can work on it easily
  • I can put more on the main mast and extend it, 30ft is only where I start
  • I can get these for cheap second hand, hundreds of dollars

A Goldmine of Towers

In my digging I stumbled across Iron Planet, which has a huge amount of used construction equipment, and an entire section for towers… and wow is there a lot of towers for sale, 20+ a week easily.

Home grown tower Nothing like a fresh home-grown tower to pick out of the field.

I stumbled across this one and it checks a lot of boxes:

  • Dead motor, so it’ll go for cheap
  • The frame looks clean, little bit of rust on a handful of parts
  • Looks like it can be towed

$375 later I was the proud owner of a light tower… some 650 miles away.

More on that, in part 2!