Battery Boxes

I built a battery box out of a case from Harbor Freight. I had seen a similar box sold by Powerwerx for $259.99. Given the availability of these boxes at a much lower price ($34.99) and the cost of the parts involved ($140.78, with a bigger battery), I thought I’d be better off building a box at a reduced cost (~$176). I would also have the advantage of adding more PowerPole connectors instead of a cigarette lighter socket. If I ever need to plug into such a socket, I have a PowerPole to cigarette lighter socket adaptor that I made from spare parts.

While I did not compute labor costs in the box construction, I included all the parts (except the wiring, which I had lying around the shack). I find building little things like this relaxing. So, the labor costs aren’t really an issue for me. I didn’t even time how long it took me. If you find this laborious, You may want to just buy a box from Powerwerx.

Box Construction

To build this box, I had to drill 3 holes in the side that were big enough for the panel mounts. The three panel mounts I decided to include were a combination USB A/USB C/Voltmeter, and two mounts that house two PowerPole connections each for a total of 4 PowerPole connections.

I figured I could run a radio, an antenna tuner, and a light, which would use up three PowerPole plugs. I could use the fourth plug to simultaneously charge the battery if I’m somewhere with access to electricity or if I want to use a portable solar panel.

To drill these holes, I found that a stepped drill bit helped me select the right-sized hole for the size of the panel mounts. While not all panel mounts require the same size hole, they’re similar. This bit will help you step your way toward the right size so that the threads fit through but not the collar of the panel mount.

Once the holes are drilled, take the nut off the panel mount, slide the mount through the hole, and tighten the nut back on the panel mount until the collar of the panel mount is secure against the side of the box.


Wiring is fairly simple. The USB charger comes with its own wire that has a ring on one end for the battery terminal and clips that fit into the back of the panel mount. It’s important to make sure that you get the polarity correct. A ‘+’ for positive (the red wire) and a ‘-‘ for negative (the black wire) is etched in the plastic. If you have trouble seeing them, a flashlight from a cellphone helps a lot.

When it comes to the PowerPoles, you have to be a little more attentive.

Make sure you use the right gauge of wire for the power you want to pull. I probably overdid it with 10 AWG wires, which kept me from putting multiple wires in a ring connector. With four think ring connectors, I barely got the battery screws to hold them down. However, I wanted to be able to pull enough amps to run my 100W radio and didn’t want to worry about which PowerPoles could handle which current. Having the 10 AWG wires on all of them makes that possible.

It is a best practice to use red for positive and black for negative. Doing so will make it less likely that you will attach the wires to the battery incorrectly.

Make sure that the wires are long enough to reach from the battery terminals to the PowerPoles. Put the rings on one wire end and PowerPole inserts on the other. Place the inserts into the PowerPole housings. Then, attach the rings to the terminals of the battery. Red to the positive screw and black to the negative screw.

Preventing Rattling

Once this is done, you’ll want to secure the battery. This step will keep the battery from rattling around when carrying the box by its handle. Fortunately, the box came with a bunch of foam rubber that can easily be separated to match the shape of whatever is being stored in the box. Carefully tear the rubber (along the perforations) to match the large area between the battery and the panel mounts. Then, use the scraps to fill in the area between the battery and the front of the case.

Testing the Battery

At this point, you’re ready to test the battery.

A button on the USB panel turns on the connectors and the voltmeter. Press the button and verify that the battery is charged. The full charge will be somewhere around 13.8V. If the voltmeter doesn’t show anything, the wiring polarity is likely incorrect. The battery probably needs to be charged (see below) if the voltage is too low.

Plug a USB cable into each port and verify that it charges your phone. This is probably what you’ll use it for. In my case, I use it to power a Raspberry Pi. If you want to do this, you’ll need a USB C port labeled PD.

Once the USB system works correctly, check the polarity of the PowerPole ports with a voltmeter. If the voltage is negative with the red lead connected to the red side and the black lead connected to the black side, you’ve wired it backward. If they are all positive, plug a device into each port and verify it has power. If so, you’re good to go.

Charging the Battery

To charge the battery, simply hook a charger to one of the PowerPole ports. I use NOCO chargers. I take the adaptor that comes with the charger and convert it PowerPoles to make this easier. For a battery this size, I use the 1 amp model. Be sure to set the charger’s battery type to the type of battery you put in the box. I use LiFePO4 batteries, so I set the charger to 12V Lithium.

Parts List

Here are the parts other than wires and connectors that I purchased to build this box.

Ok. So We Bought a Bus…

The Beachcomber


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.


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.

Field Day 2014

The Gregson Field Day Team
The Gregson Field Day Team

I was planning to have an awesome adventure for ARRL Field Day. I bought a new radio, had it set up, but also had other plans. My wife had a conference in LA, and my daughter, Sunny (who I’d wanted to do Field Day with), wanted to go camping. So, the plan became go camping and have Field Day at the campsite. As the date for Field Day approached, my daughter started telling me that she wanted to do things other than radio on the camping trip (play soccer, go fishing, make s’mores, etc.). So, this became a camping trip with Field Day as a side story, rather than Field Day with a camping backdrop.

A little history

I began amateur radio when I was an Engineer at HP. The HP Boise site had a  Field Day event every year. Most years, there were a lot of participants from the HP Boise Amateur Radio Club (HPBARC). This gave us a lot of radio knowledge and skill in one place. I tended to be the cook a lot, and worked a radio here and there. When I left HP in 2005, I moved to the Seattle area, and did Field day with KB7YWE (who had also moved from Boise) for a couple of years. When I moved to California in 2009, I did field day from my apartment (which my neighbors hated) for a couple of years. I usually worked 10m – 20m because a 40m dipole in an apartment complex was really awkward.  All told, the fewer people we had, the harder Field Day was. I don’t recall getting more than a handful of contacts in any Field Day since the HPBARC days.


This year, I had a mobile rig ready to go, and a really cool antenna. Now I could tune the antenna (without leaving the truck) for any band 6m – 40m. I also had 100w of power, where my older radio had 50w of output. And, of course, if my antenna were in a poor spot, I could always start the truck and move to a better spot.

This worked very well, as I didn’t need to move the truck at all. I found that I had better range going west than I did going east. This is unfortunate since there are people to the east and water to the west.

The Camping

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Our campsite was rather normal. We had a tent, a fire ring, a gas grill, gas stove and a picnic table that was cluttered with stuff. We had what we needed to enjoy the trip. We ate steaks both nights, and s’mores both nights. For lunch on Saturday, Sunny made a fruit salad while I worked the radio.

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When I was doing my dry runs with the radio, I was using QRZ on my Chromebook to look people up and log my contacts. Being in my driveway, I could use my home wifi for internet service. Once I was at a campsite, this option went out the window. So, I used paper logs and typed in the contacts when I got back to the house. It was only after I typed all the results into QRZ that I realized that I can’t download them back out as a summary for the contest logs, without paying for the XML downloads.

Improvement for next year: Boot the Chromebook into Linux and run radio logging software on it.

Time Spent on the Radio

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time on the radio. I did hop on at the beginning of the event. I worked a few stations and then Sunny got into the truck to see what I was doing. She noticed that I was keeping track of everything on paper. And, just as she did with the shopping list when we got the food for the trip, she wanted work the clipboard. I thought that would be kinda cool; I could work the radio while she could participate in the way she wanted to. I told her what to write and where on the log sheet to write it, and she picked it up pretty fast.

We heard a station, KH6LC, identify itself as a Pacific section station. This meant that they were on an island in the pacific, usually Hawaii. Plus, the operator was saying, “Aloha,” a lot, a pretty bold clue. I said to Sunny that I really wanted to get this one. I tried calling a few times and sure enough, they answered. It took a little bit of patience on their side (which I really appreciated), but after a few attempts, we had exchanged information and completed the contact.

After the Hawaii contact, I told Sunny that I’d like to try a couple more, and then we’d do something “fun.” She said back, “That’s ok, I’m kinda having fun with this.” I really like that she said that.

A little while later, Sunny wanted to try working the mic. Like any first timer, she was a bit timid, and afraid that she wouldn’t know what to say. Soon, she was calling out my callsign, and after 6 attempts to contact other stations, WB6QND, from Los Angeles made contact with her. She was so happy, she did a little dance in her seat. That was her first QSO.

After a while we went off and did some other camping activities, played soccer and cooked dinner. At the end of our second campfire, Sunny went to sleep and I hoped in the truck to make more QSOs, making my last one at 11:45pm. I went to sleep. I ventured onto 40m which was challenging, because there were so many stations on 40m that you could here the adjacent stations while trying to make contact.

I woke up the next morning, with the sun. While Sunny slept, I make a few more QSOs. Once Sunny woke up, Field Day ended for me, as I cooked breakfast, broke down camp, and headed back home.


All-in-all, we made 27 QSO’s the best total since I participated with HPBARC. Also of note, I put less time into this Field Day than any other that I’ve participated in. I look forward to next year, when I can put more time into making contacts and improve on this total.