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A Pictorial Thread of My Camper, Travel Trailer HF Antenna Project


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#1 george3

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 03:05 PM

How Can I Get A Decent Antenna on a Camper?

The following is a pictorial of my antenna construction project for my travel trailer that I will use in portable operation
while camping. This is a pictorial thread that will show the step-by-step design and installation process of how I installed
a new HF antenna on my travel trailer camper. This can also serve to give other camper-hams an idea of another type
of HF antenna to use on a Travel Trailer, Camper, Motor Home or RV.


I invite the smarter heads on this forum to offer suggestions and advice during this installation process as it goes along.
(thanks)



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BTW, the antenna shown on the roof of the travel trailer is the OEM Terrestrial TV antenna.

So, subscribe to this thread, stay tuned and feel free to chime in ! Posted Image

There will be more pictures to follow.

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Antenna for Camping:

For simplicity sake, I wanted an HF antenna that I wouldn't have to spend time deploying, like the dipole I did last year.
Preferably, it should already be mounted to the travel trailer, so it's just about ready to go with not much fuss.

I previously used a shortened 40M - 10M dipole with mixed results and wanted to see if I could improve on my skyhook
for this years' camping season. As most may agree, dipoles are not always the best solution for use while camping.
Sometimes there are no trees to tie up a wire antenna or the wire just can't be hung high enough.

Trying to hang a dipole by throwing a fishing line or nylon string through trees with a lead weight is particularly tricky
with the tiny campsites we have here in the northeast. The proximity of neighboring campsites makes this a rather risky
proposition . . .

If you "missed" with your lead weight and hit your neighbor's Camper or RV on the campsite next door, this would no doubt
invite the neighbor to come over to introduce himself and have a discussion with you about what just happened. :unsure:


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Edited by george3, 18 June 2012 - 05:25 AM.

George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#2 george3

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 03:33 PM

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Antenna Choices:

So, what are my choices for an HF antenna for a travel trailer? Some of the designs that immediately come to mind are:

- Tuned Mobile mono-band antenna, like a Hustler and others
- Mobile Whip
- Swinging a Dipole into the trees, or into camper next door.... Not !
- Portable Antenna
- Compact Free-Standing style antenna
- Or, Screwdriver Antenna


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For many reasons, none of the above suited my needs. I made the decision to use a vertical type of antenna for
the HF bands and something that was already mounted to the camper somehow. That would be especially convenient,
because there would be no antenna to deploy or setup needed.

There's already a lot to do when you pull in and unhook. I don't want a lot of fuss with the ham radio antenna.

.

Edited by george3, 18 June 2012 - 05:28 AM.

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#3 george3

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 03:45 PM

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My Antenna Selection:

After a lot of research and for reasons personal to me, I chose a vertical monopole antenna as definitely the more practical
antenna style for my situation. And rather than going with an extending fiberglass pole with a wire in inside, I decided on
a vertical monopole as the practical antenna solution… more particularly the Shakespeare Model 393 SSB Marine Antenna.

This is not a base loaded antenna design and it has no traps or loading coils. It would act as a monopole and although it is
not collapsible like the telescoping fiberglass extending pole option, it has 3 sections which screw together. And, it would
work nicely together with my Icom 706MKII radio and Icom AH-4 antenna tuner.

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The Shakespeare antenna stands 23' tall and breaks down into three (3) sections, each approximately 8' in length and each
section screws together. It made sense for me to permanently mount the base section of the 393 Shakespeare antenna to
the rear bumper of the travel trailer on a swivel type of ratchet mount. That would allow me to tilt down the antenna to
screw-in the top two (2) antenna sections. Then tilt it back up and lock it in place in the vertical position.


However, tilting up a 23' tall HF Vertical Antenna in a wooded campsite can have its challenges if there are low hanging tree
branches that don't allow enough clearance to swing the antenna upright. That's why I like this antenna design. With the base
section permanently mounted on the rear bumper, I can also get up on a ladder and screw-in the top two sections without the
need to tilt the entire antenna down.




Edited by george3, 18 June 2012 - 05:30 AM.

George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#4 george3

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 03:53 PM

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Here are some pictures of the base section of the Shakespeare antenna mounted on the rear bumper of my travel trailer. . .


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When not in use, I place a 1" white rubber leg tip that I purchased at the home center onto the thread of
the top of the of the base section to protect the threads when not attached to the other antenna sections.

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Edited by george3, 18 June 2012 - 05:33 AM.

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#5 Mike Council

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 08:06 AM

George, great install. Looks like it will be easy to set up and not be in the way. I used the same antenna on our 5th wheel by mounting it on the pin box with the base of the antenna about 4 ft off the ground. I never was able to solve the ground plane issues satisfactorily (my problem not the antennas) so I've gone a different direction. I will interested in how yours works and how you handle the radial issues.
73
Mike, WU0G

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#6 george3

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 09:12 AM

George, great install. Looks like it will be easy to set up and not be in the way. I used the same antenna on our 5th wheel by mounting it on the pin box with the base of the antenna about 4 ft off the ground. I never was able to solve the ground plane issues satisfactorily (my problem not the antennas) so I've gone a different direction. I will interested in how yours works and how you handle the radial issues.
73
Mike, WU0G



Hi Mike,

I've done quite a bit of research on the matter and have wrestled with another antenna design since last season;
besides the dipole I was previously using.

It's a work in progress, but I'm just about finished and think I have that radial issue resolved... for now.

Stay tuned... much more interesting reading to follow! B)

George
WA3MOJ
George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#7 george3

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 12:08 PM

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Next, For The Logistics of the Installation.



To begin on the antenna tuner installation, I temporarily removed the spare tire from the rear bumper to make
installation easier. Also, I prepared all my tools ready for the installation. You can never prepare for everything,
so getting up and going back and forth to the garage gave me a "lot" of exercise (!) .




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As mentioned earlier, I'll be using this vertical monopole antenna along with an Icom AH-4 Antenna Tuner.
The tuner is already designed within a weatherproof enclosure, however, I decided to mount the AH-4 tuner
inside a metal cash box that I bought from a discount department store. The tuner fits perfectly. The bumper
mounted location puts the feedpoint of the antenna approximately 3' off the ground.




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Inside View of the Enclosure

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Notice I installed cable outlets with built-in rubber grommets to protect the tuner's control cable and hot side
of the antenna. Because the metal enclosure is grounded to the system, I further protected the hot side of the
antenna input by slipping a nylon ferrule over the #12 wire coming from the base of the antenna and through
the cable outlet.



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George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#8 george3

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 12:10 PM

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The wiring is brought into the metal enclosure and then the Icom AH-4 antenna tuner is mounted inside
the enclosure and the wiring connections are made.


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From there the cables were routed under the carriage of the trailer and pulled up through the floor near
the operating position inside the trailer. In this case, that is the dinette area. J


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Edited by george3, 18 June 2012 - 12:11 PM.

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#9 george3

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 05:15 PM

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Here are some closer views of the nylon ferrule sleeve (white) protecting the hot side of the antenna wire.
It was slipped over the #12 antenna feed wire and pushed through the rubber grommet of the cable outlet.

With the amount of vibration encountered during travel, I didn't want to risk the insulation of the antenna
wire to rub off and short to the grounded metal enclosure.



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George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#10 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 04:41 AM



Last year, I had a lot of RFI issues inside the camper when using my shortened dipole. The on-board radio inside
the camper would go crazy, turning "ON" and "OFF" during transmissions, and it even burned out the light bulb in
the range hood above the cooktop! (hi)


In order to try and prevent (or minimize) that this time, I ran coax from the AH-4 into a Choke Balun to help prevent
common mode and RFI from traveling back into the shack. I chose the dual core choke balun from Balun Designs with
coax connectors attached:


http://www.balundesi....olation/Detail

Then, I used an FT240-31 ferrite toroid for the tuner control cable. I wound about 7 turns of the control cable on the
ferrite toroid. Hopefully this will help.


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George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#11 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 04:43 AM




The 23' Shakespeare 393 antenna is made of fiberglass, it is sturdy, quite attractive and at $167 new . . .
is very reasonable compared to all those fancy screwdriver antennas.


However, it only serves as one-half of the antenna. I still needed the other half of the antenna to make it complete,
and a simple water pipe ground or chassis ground connection would not make a good RF ground.


I really don't subscribe to the theory of a "no ground radial" vertical antenna. Even if it was designed to act as such.
I've heard all the marketing hype, but I've also read some of the more objective and educated reviews and research.
A ground radial system would be required.


I drilled a hole for a stud coming out of the bottom of the enclosure box onto which I could connect ground radial wires
with solder lugs. This stud would connect to the ground connection of the AH-4 tuner at the top, then pass through the
bottom of the enclosure to become the attachment point for the radial wires. They would be easily connected and easily
disconnected with a wing nut.



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Then on the underside of the metal enclosure, I grounded everything to the chassis of the travel trailer with a short
grounding braid. This was attached to an area of the frame where the paint was sanded off for better bonding. I'll apply
Noalox Anti Oxidant Compound later when the project is completed.



Posted Image


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George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#12 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 05:21 AM



Antenna hot side feed wire secured under trailer.

I added a few more clamps since the picture was taken.


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Exterior wiring on the underside of the trailer for the control wire and coax dressed with split tubing.

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Wiring inside the camper adjoining the operating position is also dressed with split tubing.


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..
George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#13 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 11:14 AM

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The Antenna Is Up.

Following are pictures of the Shakespeare antenna system installed and mounted on the travel trailer
with all 3 sections attached. This installation was done at home in my driveway. Since I didn't have
room to swing the base section down in tilt fashion to install the top 2 sections from the ground, I
screwed-in the top 2 section from the ground standing on a ladder with the base section attached
vertically on the trailer. Surprisingly, it went in rather easily.



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The spare tire was re-installed back on the bumper.

Next, I'll be discussing the most important aspect of this entire installation . . . the ground radial system.


George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#14 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 11:15 AM

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The Ground Radial System.



And now to discuss possibly the single most important element of this entire antenna project . . . The ground radial system.

The operation & efficiency of any ground mounted vertical antenna is heavily dependent on the adequacy of a sufficient RF ground
system. This project with a 23' Shakespeare monopole antenna is no exception. . . the ground radial system is the "other half" of
the antenna and without an adequate amount of ground radial wires the antenna's performance will be diminished.


In this situation, convenience and circumstance often dictate what you can do. The problem with campgrounds are the sites are so
small that there's not much room to run an extensive ground radial system. . . let alone room to park your rig, tow vehicle and still
have room for a picnic table, a couple chairs and campfire area.


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Conventional wisdom suggests that an effective ground mounted vertical antenna requires approximately 60 – 120 ground radials
for a base station installation. Since this is a portable operation, there is no feasible way to safely populate the ground with an
outrageous number of radial wires. So, there need to be some 'realistic' compromises made for this portable installation.

It's double edged sword of simplicity & convenience vs. antenna efficiency.

More to follow on how the ground radials are managed.

.


George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#15 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:25 PM



The Ground Radial System, cont'd.

So here's what I came up with for the ground radial wire system.

I wanted something that would be easy to unroll and easy to roll back up when leaving the campsite. I purchased
a dozen (12) camping style laundry reels that would operate to un-wind the ground radial wires in a wind-up spool.

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First, I pulled out all of the nylon string from the laundry reels and replaced it with #18 AWG stranded insulated wire.
I was just about able to feed about 33 feet of wire on each reel. Two (2) radial wire reels shared an attached solder lug
for easy installation on to the grounding stud at the bottom of the metal tuner enclosure. Wing nuts would provide the
quick-connect and quick-disconnect at the grounding stud at the bottom of the metal enclosure. The laundry reels are
about $4 each and a 500' spool of #18 AWG wire was purchased online for $12 shipped.



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Make sure there are no cold solder joints.

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Once the wire is inside the reels, just pull them out when deploying the ground radial system. Then when packing up the
campsite, just crank them back in with the built-in crank mechanism. This radial system design is simple to use, convenient
to store and deploy, eliminates tangled wires and is easily connected with the solder lugs to the grounding terminal.


If it rains… no big deal. These crank-up reels are all plastic construction with no parts to rust. Or, you could always slip a
plastic sandwich bag or zip lock bag over them for protection.


.


George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#16 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:26 PM

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Practical Theory.

Don't bother cutting each ground radial wire to a specific length for each band of operation, that's not necessary. Ground radial
wires are detuned when placed on the ground anyway. I made the lengths of the laundry radial reel all ~ 33' long. But only because
that's all that would fit inside the laundry radial reel with #18 AWG insulated wire. Conveniently, this is a ¼ ʎ resonant length for the
40M band. So if an elevated antenna installation were used, this would work out nicely.


Please note, elevated vertical antenna installations do require that the radial wires must be cut to the length for the specific frequency
of operation. They act as a ground plane.


The full 33' reel of wire can be fully extended if that much space at the campsite permits. If not, I only unwind whatever I can to fit
on the campsite. And remember, the ground radial wires do not necessarily have to be layed out in straight lines. Bending the lengths
of the wires around obstacles is acceptable.



.


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#17 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:28 PM



Preparing For On Air Testing.


The travel trailer camper is sitting in my driveway I connected 6 ground radial wires to the grounding stud of the
tuner box. That should be sufficient for testing and to get me on the air. I want to test the antenna here at home
before we leave for our first camping trip outing this weekend. But I'm not sure how much testing I'll be able to do
with the new antenna setup, since it's Field Day weekend. So, I need to give it a go here at home just to make sure
nothing goes up in smoke. J



The wiring inside the shack has been cleaned up and the access panel re-installed.

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The rig is set up, just need to get a ground wire from the radio to the trailer frame.
Or, with the ground inside the fuse box (?).

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The ferrite beads are clipped on the the wiring at the rear of the radio and power supply.
Hmmm, looks like I'm short one for the tuner control cable.

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Even though only 6 radial wires were connected for testing, I'm equipped to have a total of 15 ground radials for my
trip, if space permits at the campsite. I think that should work out pretty well for a portable setup.


Now it's time to put all of the thought and hard work that went in to this project to the test. Yikes! Now I'm nervous.
I was worried something wouldn't work out, so I triple checked all the fittings, connections, continuity, etc. Everything
seems to be in order and the moment of truth will arrive soon enough.


Here we go . . . time to call CQ.


.
George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
2012 Aerolite 272RBSS
2012 Dodge Ram 1500

#18 Darryl&Rita

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:32 PM

George, this is a really good write-up. It's technical enough to make me curious, without overwhelming me with tech. While I have enough irons on the go right now, radio has always piqued my curiosity from an early age. I blame it on AM radio from thousands of miles away, skipping off the ionosphere.

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#19 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:56 PM

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On The Air.

I was able to make a couple of quick contacts on the air for testing and the results are good.

First on 40 Meters:
Got Virginia about 250-300 miles away.
He gave me a fair signal report, then reported he had to QRT.
Not great, but not bad. Hopefully just propagation or band conditions.

Jumped up to 15 Meters:
Answered a call from a Papa Uniform in Brazil, he gave me a 5-7.
We had a nice short chat. Nice. Then on to 10M.

10 Meters:
Answered a CQ-DX call from an Echo Alpha in Spain.
He gave me a 5-5 with good audio report.

Well, I'm smiling. The signal is getting out and with some tweaking and more radials,
it's sure to be an adequate portable antenna to use while camping.


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I'll update with a more detailed report when I return from the camping trip

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Edited by george3, 21 June 2012 - 06:44 AM.

George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
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#20 george3

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:16 PM

George, this is a really good write-up. It's technical enough to make me curious, without overwhelming me with tech. While I have enough irons on the go right now, radio has always piqued my curiosity from an early age. I blame it on AM radio from thousands of miles away, skipping off the ionosphere.



Darryl,

If you don't have your ham radio license yet, you should get one. They are easy, get you on the air fast,
there is no morse code required for the first few levels and the equipment is not that expensive when purchased
on the used market. Above all... it's a LOT of Fun! Not only the listening and talking part, but the experimenting
and antenna building. It's a great feeling of self satisfaction. I can't wait to get this rig on the road and put
my new antenna on the air. From the few tests that I've done, I know it will do great.

George
George & Susan . . . . . . . . . . Allentown, PA USA
2012 Aerolite 272RBSS
2012 Dodge Ram 1500