While one is in the Ham Radio game using military radio equipment, it only makes sense to have a tactical vehicle filled with tactical military radio equipment…but I can’t afford a vintage military jeep. And I needed something better. The Tactical Bronco.
I’ve owned this ride since it was new in 1971. Known as an “Early Bronco” or “Classic Bronco” only 150,000 trucks in this body style were built between 1966 and 1977.
150,000 Toyota’s get reconverted back to scrap metal every DAY! But I digress….
Above: My virtually stock 1971 4X4 with the 302 V8 engine (not a “motor” – those are in Prius’s), Manual 3 speed transmission with Hurst floor shifter, 31×10.5 LT’s on STEEL wheels, disc brakes with Warn hubs on the front, rear fender flares, dual fuel tanks and a BIG 12V/24V DC and 120 V AC electrical systems. It includes an MSD ignition system with custom designed ignition noise suppression, shielding and filtering systems.
Thankfully (and by design) NOTHING is “automatic” (Fail-O-Matic) on this beast out in the boonies. Ever had a battery or related failure out on the trail and had to PUSH START an automatic? Not happening…No thanks..
Speaking of ignition: The neon Check Engine Light. If something DOES quit:
This is a simple way to verify that the ignition system is working when off road in the boonies and something stops. Just zip-tie an NE-51 neon pilot lamp to the HV wire between the coil and distributor cap. Solder a wire from the lamp tip and attach that to engine ground.
The electric field around that wire when the pulse occurs (coil fires) is sufficient to ionize the gas in the lamp producing an orange flash – with each ignition pulse. Simple, effective, works great. I also used these on dirt bike ignition systems for a quick operation verification. But I digress…
No “body lift”, great for cruising Burger King on a Saturday night but the last thing you want to have while driving cross-slope on a mountain trail. Center of Gravity Matters!
Those are Yakima racks for my 17′ Grumman canoe. WAY too much camping gear in the back!
Painted in standard US “MERDC” camo per US Army TC 5-200, in the pattern scaled from an M-715 Weapons Carrier. Using the 4 colors Field Drab, Sand, Earth Yellow and Black in a 45%, 45%, 5%, 5% proportion, it becomes the standard Desert camouflage. That is one of the 8 standard color schemes – you can change from any of the 8 colors schemes to any of the other 7 (seasonal or terrain considerations) by changing only one or (at most) 2 colors at a time. The patterns do not change. Well thought out, simple, versatile, effective.
The pattern design is from the US Army Countersurveillance Division, US Army Mobility Equipment Research and Development Center “Camouflage Pattern Painting Design Drawing Templates”, Appendix 1A, June 1973. Yes, it is official – for the era. I painted it in 1986 – it is well worn and touched-up now. This is no carport queen…….not designed for cruising past Burger King on Saturday nights!
Below is my Ford Bronco outfitted with the latest vintage radio gear, and embarrassingly, some foreign plastic rice box stuff too. Plastic rice boxes include VHF-UHF scanner, TM-261 50 Watt 2 meter FM transceiver, a CB rig for keeping the non-Ham buddies out of trouble and a TS-50 100 Watt CW/SSB/AM transceiver for HF. It also has an installed Garmin GPS Satellite Navigation receiver. The below photo shows a typical location for the “Tactical Operations Center” and Barracks. Remote, quiet, no neighbors and good spot for HF antenna rigging.
Current Mil equipment includes a GRC-9, VRC-7/RT-70, PRC-47/CV-2455 RATT (and dismountable PRC-6, PRC-25 and SCR-536/BC-611, GRC-109, HF Command Set, RS-6 and Type 12 system where required by the mission) Comm Antennas includes an HF MP-57/MS51-53 whip, a VHF AB-15/MS116-117 whip a 5/8 wave 2 meter whip a 1/4 wave VHF whip, a 102″ 10/11 meter whip, the GPS antenna radome and the AM/FM Good-Time radio antenna. Plus electronic countermeasures equipment, visual and infra-red Strobes and some other stuff.
But the Bronco commo suite was not always that “modern”. In the mid-1970’s I had installed a Motorola high band FM transceiver which I had converted from the original vibrator supply to a transistorized power supply strip. The radio had been converted in its previous lifetime to 5 kc deviation so it was ideal for early ham FM communications. So I installed crystals for operation on 146.940 mc simplex; repeaters were still in their infancy. 146.940 was the national simplex calling frequency before 146.520 was adopted later on.
The blue paint on the control head matched the then-blue paint job on the truck. I also had (still have) that H-23BAC portable – one watt on 146.940. The mobile radio has since been donated to the local railroad museum where it resides in a restored caboose – as the original car had one of these for railroad comms.
Above: Nothing better for reliable back country travel and communications! Usal Beach Road, Lost Coast, Sinkyone Wilderness
Or alternatively – my buddy with his ride. “Damn, that’s gonna be expensive”.
The normal trail configuration for Toyotas…
“Hey! Did you see that cool Toyota at the classic truck show?”
Said no one.
Sorry (Flame Shields up!)
Above: The Driver / Radio Operator position. The HF TS-50 Ricebox, a CB for Trucker Intel (includes a PA for “external comms”), altimeter (7200 feet at this campsite), Red battle lights for General Quarters / night ops conditions, the RT-70 FM set with CW key for the HF radios on top, panel meter for monitoring the vehicle 12-24 volt battery systems, 120 VAC control and meter for inverter system, Wiley Coyote helping with navigation.
The Bronco is even equipped for Mid Air Refueling when necessary. Handy for long range missions. In this case siphoning some excess motorcycle fuel needed to get back to the FARP (Forward reArming and Refueling Point). Make sure you use a filter. A handy gutter clip makes it a hands-free operation. Don’t transmit.
Above: Nothing better in the snow than an early Bronco. Nice quiet mobile HF radio conditions up here except for the occasional falling snow static. Always carry chains.
Above: My homebrew Mobile Antenna Matching unit permanently mounted in the Bronco communications system. Basically a CLC “Tee” configuration with switch-selectable Inductance values. It can also be configured as an “L” network if necessary depending upon the antennas’ impedance. It includes knife switches (high voltages) that can select any of the three HF radios or HF antennas including an external connector for dipoles or other wire antennas while stationary. Many parts from a BC-223 transmitter tuning unit – salvaged in the 1960’s……
Above: An MP-57 HF whip antenna base used on WWII armored and communications vehicles. The antenna patch panel can select this externally-mounted SO-239 coax connector for use while stationary. The connector is shown here with a mechanical guard protector on top and a screw-on dust cover. The MP-57 whip mounting plate also includes a wing-nut ground connection for radial wires, ground stake etc.
Above: I had bolted my ceramic AB-15 antenna mount on the spare tire carrier for VRC-7 or GRC-9 mobile Ops. It is mounted on a “sugar scoop” bracket which is in turn bolted to the carrier via two pieces of angle iron and 4 U Bolts. This also makes a great mount for a temporary mast: I took a section of AB-85 aluminum mast and U-Bolted it to the angle iron as shown. There is a steel “S” strap on the bottom (not visible here) that takes the vertical weight. If you look closely, you can see the top of this mast section on the tire carrier in the above “snow” photo.
Above: Another view of the AB-85 mast section base bolted to the spare tire/fuel can carrier.
When at a fixed location, I can put over 20 feet of unguyed AB-85 mast sections on top of this mounted section to hold up dipoles, yagi’s ground planes, inverted “L” wires, AS-2259 antenna clones, a sun-shade parachute etc. It is very strong. Note the next mast section attached in the photo. I removed the 4 internal electrical contact “fingers” found inside the AB-85’s by punching out the steel roll-pin. Now I can easily rotate the entire mast by hand when using a directional antenna (a little grease helps). The orange stripe on the first removable section reminds me which of my mast sections is modified this way to be the bottom piece. When the truck is parked on a horizontal surface, the mast is vertical.
Above: With only 4 AB-85 mast sections inserted above the base the Yagi is at 15 feet AGL and quite sturdy. This is plenty of height for this particular application, a neighborhood RACES/CERT exercise from a local high spot. Additional sections could be added above the Yagi to support other antennas such as dipoles, diskcones or other wires.
Even beyond radio equipment it makes a pretty good mobile TOC (Tactical Operations Center) in the bush.
Below is the GRC-9 installed behind the passenger seat. It’s powered by a homebrew transistorized 12V/HV power supply under the passenger seat because I don’t have room for the DY-88 supply. The radios are connected to an HF antenna patch panel that can select the HF whip or external connectors for dipoles or wires and includes the antenna tuner to the left of the radio if needed. The alarm clock is essential to avoid missing your Comm Window (Skeds). In the event of a Time Warp and I find myself needing to jam the ChiCom primary HF circuit up on the Yalu River, the chainsaw does a great job.
This setup also makes it convenient for monitoring the Alert Net all night from the depths of my extreme cold weather sleeping bag. Or listening to Radio Australia after the temperature drops.
Below is a photo of the PRC-47 with the CV-2455 RATT converter mounted behind the drivers seat. It’s a temporary mount so I can remove it easily for ground ops. The blue box is the Loop-TTL-Loop converter that interfaces the CV-2455 to the notebook computer running the RATT software. The drop down table makes it easy for the radio operator and the lantern is the emergency Battle Lantern. The system runs 850 CPS shift, 60 WPM in the “USB” AFSK mode to make it compatible with US Mil RATT systems. The blower permits 100% duty cycle ops at 100 Watts output until the batteries die or I run out of gas. The antenna is a mobile MP-57/MS whip about 9 feet long or a dipole / inverted L via a tuner mounted to the left of the GRC-9 for fixed location ops.
Below is the AN/VRC-7 / RT-70 VHF FM radio set for 6 meters. It runs off the vehicle battery 12 volts and drives an AB-15/MS116-117 antenna on the vehicle rear. The CW key is for the PRC-47, GRC-9 or an HF TS-50 ricebox also included. Also shown is the Type 12 VHF AM Aircraft set temporarily on the passenger seat for 2 meters AM tests we were running. It drives a 5/8 wavelength whip on the roof. See the Radio News posts for details on experiments with that radio from Mt Diablo.
There’s something about HF radio and proximity to salt water! Here’s the Bronco at Usal Beach, Lost Coast California. Had great comms on all HF bands when the fish weren’t biting, easily working Hawaii, Australia and Japan on 10 meters. The antenna in use here is an MP-57 base with MS 51-52 and 53 sections. A TBX ground insulator is installed above the MS -53 to break the antenna for insertion of a loading coil. The black object on the roof above the steering wheel is the GPS antenna radome.
The GPS antenna radome is made from PVC drain pipe parts. It protects the antenna from the weather as well as low hanging branches in the boonies.
It is connected to an ancient but reliable Garmin 45 XL receiver mounted on the steering column. These older portable units allowed for an externally mounted antenna via BNC coax connectors, perfect for this mobile application. It is powered by the Bronco 12 Volt battery.
Below is a photo of the Bronco (pre-Camo) on the top of White Mountain near the California-Nevada border around 1982. We made a DX-pedition up there for the September ARRL VHF event after securing permission from the US Forest Service – they generally don’t want people up there. However they granted us access to perform some radio propagation experiments which included VHF and UHF ducting experiments towards southern CA and the Bay Area. We also tried some HF ground wave and NVIS tests with a station in Walnut Creek on various HF frequencies.
I carried up some tower sections and various VHF/UHF radios and antennas. That’s the VHF-UHF log-periodic antenna standing next to the building door. White Mountain is 14,251 feet AMSL and only 254 feet shorter than Mt Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48) , just across the Owens Valley from here. Pikes Peak is 136 feet “lower” than White Mountain haha.
That place where I am parked, next to the rock shelter (built in 1951) is the highest place you can drive a “car” to in the lower 48 US States. The Bronco carburetor was sucking wind but it made it without missing a beat. No repeaters up here either – they would never survive the weather, lightning strikes, cold or snow plus it is very difficult to get to.
The University of California now controls access to the summit and these days privately owned vehicles are understandably prohibited past (above) the Barcroft base station.
This was an interesting Op. After an hour on the summit it became clear that some weather was moving in – our hair was standing straight up! Not a place to be, next to a big antenna with all that electrical activity going on. The top of this mountain was obviously blasted continuously by lightning as witnessed by the conditions of the lightning rods and ground system around the building – mostly vaporized.
We headed down to about 12,500 feet near the University of California Barcroft high altitude research station on the mountain and operated near there. I got pretty severe altitude sickness the first day and we all suffered from hypoxia which lead to some interesting errors in judgement while trying to work without becoming fully acclimated to the altitude. That took a few days. But Man! Whatta view! Now I know what the moon looks like close-up.
Campers do not live by beer alone….This is more like it !
“WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, THERE’S HAM RADIO”
WHEN HAM RADIO FAILS – THERE”S THIS:
Above: Got Comms? On a mountain top running the VRC-10 / RT-70 on 6 meters, HF on 5357 KC with the PRC-47 (or TS-50 Ricebox) off the slant wire, 3885 KC AM with the GRC-9 off the HF whip, plus monitoring distant 2 meter VHF repeaters, CB Channel 9, FRS channels and the Forest Service nets while getting solid GPS Nav fixes via the rooftop antenna/Radome. The GRC-109 CW set was dismounted and running on 40 meters off generator power. Fun. The simple life of a camper….
Running some mountain top comms. The Bronco will get us there and get us home.
FOB Shangri La. Lots of iron in the soil around here – makes for a good ground! LOL
Speaking of home – Home Sweet Home, wherever you are. I’ve been snowed on in the Sierra’s every month of the year except August. Helps keep the food in the cooler, well, cooler…..
On the way home from another camp trip on the Stanislaus River in California.
I wish I had a Beemer – NOT !!