Making an Emergency Power Lamp

A DC Powerd Lamp

A lot of people have lanterns, Flashlights, and candles for lighting when a power outage occurs. I’ve started building my lamps into my radio power supply so that they’re independent of power mains. In essence, my shack works the same way whether the power is out or not. In this article, I’ll go through my solution and touch on the drawbacks that I was trying to avoid.

The first drawback was battery power lost in converting DC to AC. I could just run a normal lamp plugged into an inverter that is attached to my LiFePO battery bank. This wastes power that is lost in the conversion from DC coming out of the batteries to AC going into the lamp. In order to avoid this loss, I want to keep the entire system on DC power.

The second drawback is the form factor. I want normal lighting without figuring out where to place the lantern or how to hold the flashlight correctly. Lamps are nice because they’re positioned for optimal lighting and can stay there.

To address both of these concerns, I found some 12 volt DC-powered light bulbs. I can put them in the lamp and run the lamp on my battery. I could accomplish this with a simple lamp plug to power poles converter, which would run totally on DC, but would also let me use the lamp with AC power and an AC bulb. However, this raises more concerns.

The third concern is that an AC bulb should not be plugged into DC and a DC bulb should never be plugged into AC. While it is unlikely that I would make this mistake, someone else in my household that doesn’t understand how this system works might make this mistake.

To add a bit of Poka-yoke (mistake proofing) to my solution, I cut off the plug. This ensures that the lamp will never be plugged into AC again. I put power poles on the wire coming out of the lamp. It is important to get the polarity right when wiring this up. When the light manufacturers make the light, they don’t have a standard for which wire goes to the lightbulb case and which goes to the lightbulb tip. You can find this out by using a multimeter to test the continuity between each of the wires and the center connector in the socket. Whichever wire goes to the center connector, that’s your red power pole, the other is your black power pole. If neither of them connects to it, you most likely have the lamp switch in the off position.

The fourth concern is that lamps are not as simple as they used to be. When selecting a lamp be sure to pick one that is just a lamp. If you select one with a USB charger or AC outlet built-in, your conversion from AC to DC would also be sending DC to these circuits, which could have undesirable outcomes ranging from higher current draw to fire. Be sure to select a simple lamp that doesn’t have other features that rely on the AC input. I chose a desk lamp so that I’d always have lighting for my radio desk.

All that’s left to do is to plug it into a battery supply. Obviously, that supply has to have power poles coming out of it in order to plug into it. I have my batteries going into a power pole distribution box, into which I plug in my lamps. I’ll have another blog entry detailing the battery box that I’ve constructed to make the light portable enough to be moved around the house.

My UHF/VHF Setup on the Island

I was on a simplex net tonight on Bainbridge Island. I was explaining what equipment I have and promised to email the net members with more details.

Once I wrote it, I thought it might be nice to post here.

My 25W base station radio is the Leixen VV-898E. I don’t like it because it doesn’t work with Chirp. The lower power VV-898 works with Chirp. It frustrates me to no end that one works where the other doesn’t. It scrambles the radio programming info on the 25W. I mainly bought these so that I could recommend low-cost solutions to new hams if they worked out. Now that I know about the Chirp problem, I’d probably recommend the BTECH 25×4 mobile for a high-power solution. 

My antenna is this one. I bought it to get me over the hill behind my house so that I could check into the 9 O’clock Net. It did not disappoint. I also have a Arrow Antennas OSJ 146/440 that I just bought. I haven’t tried that out yet, but have high hopes. I’m planning to use it on my bus with my 25-foot mast that I use for Field Day dipoles.

My mast is something like this. I did not pay as much as Amazon is asking. I found it in a Boise Army Navy store for a much lower price.

Ok. So We Bought a Bus…

The Beachcomber

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A day before my 50th birthday, I saw an ad for a “party bus” on Craigslist. I sent a message to my wife that read, “Wanna get me a bus for my birthday?” Surprisingly, she agreed. We looked at it on the weekend after my birthday. We liked it. On my way back from Provo on the following Saturday, we picked it up.

The bus is a former school bus. I can tell from the yellow paint on the inside of the doors and the label that says “Vehicle Type: School Bus” on the driver side door. It has a 7.1L Deisel Engine, just like the Ford E350 that from which the bus was built. It can tow carry 9000 lbs and tow 7500lbs.  It originally came with 5 bus seats and 4 captain’s chairs.

Why?

I’ve liked the idea of doing some sort of conversion for a while. My biggest reason for wanting to do a project like this is to customize the buildout for my ham radio installation. I want to be able to put an antenna on it for when I’m rolling down the road and for when it is parked for a short period of time. However, when I camp, I want to raise up an antenna mast and work HF. I want to load it up with batteries that have enough charge to last a week and solar panels so that I won’t need to worry about how much power I’ve consumed.

In the beginning, the camping build-out will be a small effort. I’ll add a bed and a toilet to get started, then add other conveniences later. Most power will be DC off of the ham radio batteries or LCD lights running off of AA or AAA batteries. I will have some room for appliances that I’ll plugin when I have hookups at a campground. Otherwise, it’s DC and camp cooking.

A Mast

I had the mast up on the camper today. The camper came with a TV that runs off of a power inverter which pulls from the bus’ batteries. I hooked the TV antenna jack to an HDTV antenna that my mom sent me for my birthday a few years ago. I put that antenna on my masting solution for my old truck. My auto-scan for channels picked up 16 digital channels.

That solution was basically a trailer hitch mounted bicycle rack to which an affix a piece of fiberglass masting. On top of that piece, I place the rest of the masting, as one fits inside of the next. The masting, itself was used to hold up camo nets over fighter jets so that they would not be seen by aircraft flying above. I removed the net spreaders from the kit, and Just use the interlocking poles as my antenna mast.

 

I intend to use this mast for supporting a dipole HF antenna and possibly a VHF/UHF antenna at the same time that it is supporting a TV antenna.

The Name

When I was a kid, I spent a number of summers at my grandmother’s marina. I remember a free weekly newspaper called “The Beachcomber.” A number of years later, when I got my ham license, KC7NJB, my friend asked me what “NJB” would stand for. I replied, “New Jersey Beachcomber.” So, when it came time to name a bus / mobile ham shack that is going to be staying at campgrounds all around the Puget Sound, many of which are on the beach, “The Beachcomber” seemed like an appropriate name.

Next Steps

The next steps are to remove the carpeting and replace the flooring. Once that is done. I’d like to re-mount the captain’s chairs so that they are more firmly attached to the floor and can swivel around towards the back. After that, I want to install a twin bed and a closet that will hold the toilet.

I’ll update with more later.