Monday, July 11, 2016

Bike Inner Tube Fire Starter

A couple weeks ago I came home from REI with a shopping bag full of old bicycle inner tubes. The bike department's manager gave them to me for free when I told him I'd like some to make ranger bands (heavy duty rubber bands). And recently, I read on the Hill People Gear website that their preferred fire starter in the field is a 1.5" square of inner tube ignited with a lighter.

Tonight, my 12 year old daughter and I were hanging out when the idea to give the Hill brothers' method a try. So we rounded up a Bic lighter and a piece of inner tube about 1.5 to 2" square, and went out to our back patio where we have a fire pit.

I had the kiddo try it out. After a few seconds of exposure to the Bic's flame the piece of rubber ignited and burned with a hot flame for several minutes. We had no problems starting a fire with this and some small twigs.

I'm going to add a few ranger bands to my fire kit now. When cut as bands the pieces of rubber are multipurpose. They weigh next to nothing and being made from rubber are waterproof.

Scraps from an old bike inner tube may not be a bushcrafty fire starter, but they are a good addition to your emergency fire kit.

I'll have to do a video on this. Stay tuned....

Sunday, July 10, 2016

New Version of the Harbor Freight 3-In-1 Power Pack

A couple years ago I posted about the Cen-Tech (Harbor Freight) 3-in-1 power pack for portable power. The one I have has served me well on camping trips to power radios and charge cell phones.

The old model looks like it's been discontinued and replaced with an improved version. Improvements include replacing the incandescent work light with an LED, two 12V ports instead of one, and adds a 2.1A USB port for charging cell phones, etc. I'm not going to rush out and replace my old model, but if you're looking for an additional or new portable power source, this looks like a good one.

Friday, July 08, 2016

The $9 Expedient Tritium Night Sight

Over on Arfcom we find this example of out-of-the-box thinking:

The OP, "EXPY37," took the tritium vial from a bivy marker sold on eBay and installed it in a hole drilled in the front sight of his pistol. This gives him the equivalent of Trijicon night sight for about $9 plus his time. In contrast, a Trijicon front night sight will run you over $60 from Brownells.

Unfortunately, the tritium bivy markers are not legal to sell in the US, but can be procured from overseas vendors on eBay.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

More on Cycling as a Fitness Prep

In my last post I mentioned how I've gotten back into cycling to improve my fitness. I noticed improved stamina after only one week. It's continued to get better as time goes on.

One improvement I made to my 1999 Trek 820 mountain bike yesterday was to replace the old, knobby off road tires with a set of Bontrager H2 semi-slicks, which are better suited to the kind of riding that I'm doing now. I.e., pavement and packed gravel.

Bicycle tires with an aggressive tread pattern are better for off road use on dirt, grass, loose gravel, or similar surfaces. In contrast, smooth tires offer better traction with less rolling resistance on pavement or hard packed gravel, even when it's wet.

This morning I took the bike for a short ride with the new tires. I did 6.13 miles* along Forbidden Drive in the Valley Green section of Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. These have noticeably less rolling resistance than the knobbies, so much so that I found myself riding one or two gears higher and improved my average speed by a couple MPH, compared with previous rides on the same trail. The improved rolling speed in my case is due not only to the smooth tread but also that these are 1.5" wide, vs. the 1.95" width of my old tires.

I'm also able to run these at higher pressure, between 60 to 90 PSI, vs. 65 PSI max for the old rubber. Since a lot of my riding is on gravel I have them inflated at about 65 to 70 PSI, to provide a little cushioning. Were I to take a long ride on pavement I'd pump them up to 90 PSI.

If you have an old mountain bike laying around or pick one up cheap from a yard sale or Craigslist, you can greatly improve its rideability on hard surfaces merely by swapping out the old tubes and tires for something like the Bontragers. If you envision mixed use, there are a variety of hybrid tires available with a smooth center flanked by more aggressive knobbies that will bite when you take it off road. If you're setting up a bike as a bugout vehicle, then such hybrid tires make a lot of sense.

Another option (and one I'm still considering) is getting a second set of wheels. Most mountain bikes from good manufacturers made in the past 25 years have quick-detach wheels. So, you could have a bike setup for dirt use, and another setup for road and packed gravel riding.

* I wanted to do at least 8 miles today but it was humid and hot as balls. That just sucks the energy right out of you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cycling as a Prep

In my last post on this blog I mentioned my recent purchase of a hitch-mount bike rack, and over on Blog O'Stuff, I have several posts about my renewed interest in cycling. My current bike is a late-90s vintage Trek 820 mountain bike on which I've recently added a few accessories.

Aside from replacing the original hand grips, which were deteriorating, I added the rack, trunk, kickstand, front and rear LED lights, and a RAM mount to hold my Garmin 62 GPS.  For a prepper there are several things attractive about an older steel mountain bike like my Trek:

  • They can frequently be obtained at low cost. I paid over $300 for it in the late 90s, but nowadays you may be able to find a similar bike in good condition for $75 to $100.
  • The lack of a front suspension means the bike is mechanically simpler and easier to maintain.
  • The steel frame absorbs vibrations and shock from the road better than an aluminum frame.
  • Many of these older bikes have threaded eyelets for mounting racks.
Mountain bikes in general tend to be more rugged than road bikes, especially the wheels. They are a lot more versatile, allowing you to ride on pavement, dirt, or gravel. Everything else being equal, mountain bike tires are more resistant to flats than high pressure road bike tires.

For preppers, bicycles offer low cost transportation that doesn't require fuel and can help you get and stay fit. Cycling on a bike that fits you is great, low impact cardio exercise. The "rails to trails" movement is converting many old rail beds to multi-purpose trails, all across the US. These trail networks not only provide a place to ride without having to deal with distracted drivers, they may also create less-used paths for cyclists and pedestrians to bugout in an emergency. Getting a bike now and exploring them is a useful way to combine recon with recreation.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Trailer Hitch and Accessories

Last summer I bought a Curt Class III receiver hitch for my 2007 Nissan Xterra. With the help of a friend with a garage and air tools, installation was easy. The primary reason for the hitch wasn't for towing anything. Rather, I wanted to be able to expand the carrying capacity of the truck by using a hitch mount cargo carrier.

The cargo carrier I got was this one from Harbor Freight. If you catch it during one of their sales and use a 20% coupon, you can probably snag it for about $70 - $80. I found it to be pretty well designed but at some point I might replace the screws holding it together with stainless steel screws. Assembly was pretty straightforward with a screwdriver and nutdriver.

As a compact/mid-sized SUV, the Xterra has enough room for a long weekend camping for two people. When I bring both kids, though, I need to leave the back seats up and lose about half my cargo capacity. Before I got the external cargo carrier I used a bag strapped to my roof rack. This is OK for duffle bags but is a major pain to access and kills gas mileage. In contrast, the hitch mount carrier is easy to mount and has enough space to hold a cooler, Rubbermaid Action Packer box full of stuff, a Coleman stove, and a roll up aluminum table from REI.

The major downside of the hitch mount carriers is that if you leave them unattended whatever is on them is vulnerable to theft. Also, you don't want to overload them because doing so will change the balance of your vehicle, affecting its handling.

The secondary reason for the hitch was for a bike rack. I finally ordered one this week. My girls have been after me to get one so I can take them to local trails for cycling. Now that they are beyond the little kid stage they'll be able to bike for long enough to make such trips worthwhile. I used to be into cycling but it's been years since I did more than a couple laps around my subdivision. It's a good, low impact way to get some exercise.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Camping Trip AAR

This weekend a couple friends and I went on a camping trip to Tioga County, PA. The main activity this time was ham radio. We went up on Friday and came home today.

I had to work on Friday but was able to cut out a little early. By the time I got on the road it was rush hour, so it took me a full four hours to get to my friend's land. By the time I arrived it was 9:30 PM. Before I got there, he'd put up an 80M dipole antenna made from aluminum welding wire, electric fence insulators, and some electric fence posts from Tractor Supply. The feed line was the welding wire, formed into an open ladder line held apart with pink duct tape.

This dipole worked well and pulling in signals on 20M, 40M, and 80M. A number of the calls we logged were from within Pennsylvania, demonstrating the viability of NVIS communications.

We're fans of the digital modes. He has an Icom 718 with which he uses a Donner Digital Interface at home. Since he's not going to schlepp a desktop PC with him, he used PSKdroid running on an LG Android tablet, using audio coupling. I also setup my Apple iPad Mini 2 running PSKer to try and pull some signals from the aether.

We were able to copy quite a few transmissions even without a digital interface between the tablets and the rig. We probably would've copied some more, but for the bourbon. ;)

On Saturday I setup my portable vertical antenna, Yaesu FT-817ND, and iPad.

As you can see, we setup inside his 16' x 24' pavilion, which was a godsend this weekend due to the weather. It rained on and off all weekend. There was little to no wind, so the open ends weren't a problem. We even setup my tent underneath the roof so it stayed mostly dry.

As you can see, I have my antenna feedline connected via the FT-817ND's front, BNC connector. As I understand it, using this instead of the SO-239 on the back reduces power consumption.  Also note that the feedline is connected straight to the rig, with no tuner. The vertical is resonant on 20M. Using a resonant antenna instead of one connected through a tuner increases your effective radiated power, and when operating QRP, every little bit helps.

The iPad is connected to the rig with one of KF5INZ's Easy Digi interfaces.

Pic of my vertical antenna:

The objects to the right of the antenna are steel gong targets set out at about 25 yards.

I mostly operated PSK31 and using the antenna above was able to reach the west coast.

I grabbed the above from using my iPhone. Later, my signal was also reported in Washington state, but I forgot to get a screen shot.

After doing PSK31 for awhile I changed over to WSPR, using iWSPR. This was my first time trying this digital mode and it's amazing. The signal reports below are after transmitting for awhile on 5 watts.

Numerous hits in Great Britain, Western Europe, and Germany. WSPR basically acts like a beacon, transmitting your callsign so that other hams with Internet-connected rigs can upload signal reports. With some creativity I think it could have other applications.

We took time off from the radio to have a nice lunch of venison sausage and onions, sauteed in a red wine reduction. Yeah, we eat good when we go camping.

Saturday night's dinner was venison chili washed down with Yuengling Lager or Guiness Stout.

I also took a break from radio in the afternoon to do a little shooting. I first shot my Cowboy Pimp Gun, AKA a Ruger Single Six in .32 H&R Magnum which has a color case hardened frame and faux ivory grips. It's a fun little blaster but needs a trigger job. I put a bunch of Prvi Partizan .32 S&W Longs through it, which made a nice little tink when they hit our steel gongs.

I also put 70 rounds of .44-40 through my Cimarron 1873 Sporting Rifle.

Fifty of those were black powder loads with 35 grains of Goex 3Fg under a bullet cast in my Accurate Molds 43-215C bullet mold, and they really smacked the gongs around. If you click on the picture to view the full sized version, you can see some smoke coming out of the rifle's ejection port. I was doing an 1870s-style mag dump. Off to the left, you can also see the gong that I just shot swinging from the impact.

After I finished shooting my other friend put up about 500 feet of aluminum welding wire in a loop, all around our campsite. We got back to radio after nightfall and the loop turned out to work well for receiving 80M and 160M, and they both wound up getting 160M phone QSOs. Because the antenna height ranged from only a couple feet to a max of 5 feet, they were NVIS to other hams in northern PA and southern NY.

Finally, I took this picture of my iPad which looked like it was detecting Space Invaders on the waterfall.

Even though the weather this weekend was crappy we had a great trip. We got some good field radio practice in, plus a bit of fun shooting.