"Old skool"

Waking early this morning and seeing the clear sky with the sun just rising I felt I needed to be out on a SOTA summit somewhere. For a while now I have been looking for yet another novel way of reactivating a few of my local hills. I have done each one several times. Earlier this year I finished the Welsh Borders summits with a home built transceiver (I’m quite pleased I had built a radio that was reliable) and required a different excuse to revisit previously activated summits.

While at the Blackpool rally I mentioned to a couple of people that I had another Idea for a fresh (to me at least) excuse for getting out locally again by going “old skool”.

I had wondered what SOTA would’ve been like if it had started in the 90s. What equipment would’ve been available that was appropriate for portable SOTA operations. Of much more importance, I had two items from the early 1990s that would’ve been suitable; A Yaesu FT-290 mk1 and a Tokyo Hy-Power HX-240, VHF to HF transverter. The only concession I would make to this “going back in time” would be by using modern Li-Fe batteries; apart from Lead-acid batteries of the time being very heavy I doubt that any that are 30 years old are still efficient. My excuse anyway

Yaesu FT-290 mk1 and Tokyo Hy-Power HX-240

The promising clear skies quickly clouded over as I left home heading towards my nearest SOTA summit, Walton Hill (G/CE-002). But I really wanted to be out in the fresh air so as long as it didn’t rain I would continue to the hill.

I had been using the Yaesu/transverter combination from home to see if it was still reliable so was confident that, along with my trusty vertical, a few contacts should be made. After all I went out with QRP kit and qualified summits 40W from the transverter should be more than adiquate!

The parking for Walton Hill is not far from the summit with only around a 500m walk with barely 50m of assent. A nice easy one to get started with and a quick one to escape from if it did rain. The summit has a wide path along its ridge leading to the summit Trig-point and just beyond there is an area of grass with plenty of room for an antenna.

Summit of Walton Hill (G/CE-002) looking south towards the Malvern Hills

There was a cold breeze blowing from the south and the clouds had a hint that they could drop rain without too much provocation. The antenna was quickly deployed (easy with lots of practice), I self-spotted and after I wrapped up warm I settled down to an activation with a new (old) set-up.

Contacts came in waves on 40m. The first batch headed by Ed (DD5LP) all gave me nice signal reports but there were periods of CQ-ing with no replies. After 40 minutes I had 16 sporadic contacts in the log. I then thought I would try 20m. Not so good. The band had not yet woken and only 3 contacts made my log before returning to 40m. Another 23 stations were logged including 2 summits-to-summits before I needed to leave the summit. I had been there a couple of hours and it was activated on a whim and I had an appointment to keep before lunch time. Contacts had been slow but enjoyable.

So a successful outing with vintage equipment that had been collecting dust on my shelves. Now all I have to do is activate the rest of the CE region with it. But before that I have one issue to resolve, find out which unit is slightly off frequency.

Carolyn (G6WRW)


FT 290 MK1 :+1:
HX 240 :+1:
SLAB :-1:

Nearly a full house there Carolyn. I sold my HX-240 a while back on eBay for £30 more than I paid after owning for 10years!

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All my early activations were powered by SLABs…… not carrying them again :slightly_smiling_face:

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Well you certainly put out a strong signal on 40m this morning Carolyn! One of the strongest portable signals I’ve ever heard out of the UK. I hadn’t realised that there are transverters to go from 2 metres to HF. The other way around used to be very common.

73 Ed.

The HX640 was the 6m version that went from 6m to HF.

Tokyo HyPower are a much missed company.

I have a great affection for the old FT-290R1, many times in the early 1980’s I took it up mountains along with a small beam and a 20-foot aluminium mast, I didn’t get a plethora of contacts but each one was treasured as something different! I even lugged it up a few rock climbs, but sold it in the early 1990’s. A couple of years ago I saw one in the local club’s junk sale and got it for £5. It was badly battered having apparently been dropped and landing on its pull-out antenna which was snapped off leaving a hole in the front panel, plus the lugs that held the front panel to the main chassis were snapped off. I fitted a BNC socket in place of the antenna as I had a BNC terminated quarter wave whip, found the rig still worked and tuned the output to match the new antenna. The rig is sitting waiting for inspiration on how to replace the lugs, then I intend to give it a new lease of life as a SOTA rig. Long live “Old Skool!”

Hi Carolyn,

I was lucky to catch you today and I remember my feeling was that your audio was really pleasant! What a surprise now that I see your vintage rigs.

Agree witih your displaced freq (about 130Hz up I think), you will compensate it with ease.

73 88 and hear you soon again on G/CE-xxx

Your signals were very good too Ed

The HX-240 was a popular addition to the very popular FT-290 mk1 for the people who had just gained their class A qualification and wanted quick access to HF. It was a relatively cheap(er) option than purchasing some of the HF transceivers of the day (very early 90’s).

I have affection for them too even though I didn’t have one when I was first licenced, I have two 290s, one with the Mutek pre-amp/front-end fitted. Mine still have the original telescopic whips.

I was nice to have a relaxed chat with you for a change.

As much as I love my new rigs I still like the feel of “old skool” analog.

I think the audio is helped by the lack of processing and sharpness that some modern rigs can have. I hadn’t really noticed the frequency discrepancy till the activation. I will endeavour to resolve and realign the transverter before its next outing.

Hopefully I will catch you on the next G/CE I do.

I found the receipt for my 290 Mk1 bought in second hand in 1995… £225. It had a Mutek preamp which I removed and sold for a nice profit as I bought the 290 to drive transverters. Strangely, it’s seen almost as much use as a portable radio as a transverter pump. Still has the box, packing, books and leaflets, accessories, case and the whip is in fine condition. The bulb has failed and I can see yours is working. I’m not sure I have the patience to strip mine to stick a white LED inside. The Step button on mine is a bit soft compared to the others as well.

For a while the prices dropped and you couldn’t sell them even for £25. Now people are asking stupid prices for them on eBay irrespective of whether they are tatty or mint. But the newest ones must 25 if not 30 years old now. Old father time just keeps marching on. I do hanker for a 290MkII still. There were so many fewer MkIIs sold and if, like me, you think MkI prices are unjustified, MkII prices are outrageous.

You’ll be suitable equipped for the next Electronic Handbag Event :slight_smile:

Another way to add yet more new life to the venerable old FT290 is to fit one of my ctcss boards so it can work through modern repeaters, see:


The one in the picture is the “tattiest” and still on the original bulb. It was given to me a very long time ago. The other is almost mint, I bought it along with a Microwave-Modules amplifier, way before the prices went silly on the well know auction site.

I think I’ve missed the previous Electronic Handbag Events so will look out for the next one.

A while ago I did look at fitting ctcss to one of the 290s but as I have many rigs that can do repeaters, (and that I don’t really use them apart from the geo-sky one) I didn’t pursue it.

Yours looks a very neat solution though.

I installed a battery clip for the button cell (which backs up the memory) in my 290 r1. The original battery had solder lugs and when it died I could not find any replacements, but I did find a clip which allowed ordinary batteries to be used, ie. plain CR2025s or 2032s (whichever it uses). Shortly after doing all that someone wanted one and I moved to an 817 for my transverter drivers.

I think the HX240 transverter was designed to extend the ft290 to HF, it is slightly counter-intuitive to convert back from 2m to HF bands, but it was a way of re-using the investment in an all mode 2m rig. I don’t think those were ever sold in VK, but a few crept in over the years.

So sad that a competent company like THP has closed the doors. I’ve had a lot of their gear and still have some, mostly moderate power amplifiers. I remember their extremely impressive stand at Dayton in 2010.

The other old skool radio you don’t hear much of any more is the IC202. SSB/CW only of course, and a VXO driven range of only 200 khz on each band position. Big advantage though was a pure local oscillator signal from that crystal, a big deal compared with the early synth rigs like the 290.

I have a Heathkit 2m AM rig somewhere, but it hasn’t been turned on since I got it.

Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH

Ahem, what about the pole? Surely a 90’s station would include swaged aluminium poles. When I started with SOTA I carried a set of five poles each a metre long up many hills… along with my FT-290R Mk1 with Mutek preamp, Microwave Modules 25w 2m linear and reduced Tonna (5 elements), plus the 12AH SLAB of course. I seem to recall my first backpack was a Eurocamp hand out from the 90’s. It were hard in them days!

An excellent concept, brilliantly executed and a cracking report. I must take my TS-130V up a hill sometime… :grinning:

73, Gerald

The only items I have had to replace are the batteries in both rigs, I do try to not give them any abuse.

THP HF amplifiers were so well made, I have two of them also

Originally for SOTA. The HL-45B goes out when I’ve played on Top Band.

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Bet you thought you’d caught me out :grinning:

But I use a vertical antenna and I’m sure fiberglass “fishing-poles” would’ve been available :slightly_smiling_face:

A few years ago at a rally I saw one with the matching linear in working condition but tatty and going for £20. I should have grabbed it!

Was that a “Benton Harbor Lunchbox” - Heathkit CB-1? IIRC they had a super-regenerative receiver, which is probably why they couldn’t receive FM. They are a collectors item now!

It has a funny looking tube in the final, with 11 pins, or something like that. And it includes a power supply that can run on mains or on 12 volts depending on how the power connector is wired. Ie. if you put mains on say pins 1 and 6 it runs on mains but if you put 12v dc on pins 3 and 9, it runs an inverter and generates the HT etc from that. It is a transceiver from memory, xtal locked tx and a tunable receiver which I think is a superhet, not a regen. So it is probably 1960s AM standard.
But most importantly, it is green.