The back story…

These are the two tower trailers I purchased at auction in mid-June 2020, one named Peanut Butter and the other named Jelly. Light tower trailers are the perfect fit for Amateur Radio applications. They are portable, offer sturdy tower heights of just under 30 feet, and they typically have Solar power generation (some models) or diesel generators. The tilt-over design means no climbing towers to make changes. Also, most of the manual hoist versions are on a rotatable pivot point – so there is not a need for a separate rotator. Did I mention as registered trailers they are regulated as a motor vehicle trailers and thus may not be subject to the same restrictions that might exist on a permanent home. All good stuff.

Solar power is useful to power radio equipment. Local Amateur radio operators in Minnesota have built a fleet of tower trailers that can be used independently or together to help served agencies. The tower trailers are public service tested and we have a signed MOU with Minnesota VOAD. We are up to 11 of these towers now and counting. Our QR code also directs people to this web page to learn about ham radio and what our towers might be used for.

These pieces of equipment are an adventure in the making. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • Decide what you want. If you want a generator that works; best that you get one that runs off the bat (repairs can be expensive).
  • The state of MN doesn’t license these (so they don’t use license plates, like other states), but they do register them and give you a sticker for the trailer tongue. What that means is, if you buy one make sure to get a sighed bill of sale from the auction provider so that it can be properly registered. Note, if the auction provider notarizes the bill of sale, make sure there are two signatures – one for the notary and one for the seller. Don’t ask us how much time it took to figure that out. 🙂 The DMV may not recognize a bill of sale that only has a notary’s signature. Don’t plan to be “in and out” at the DMV, these construction tower trailers aren’t frequently registered trailer types for residents. It will take a while for them to work their magic. There is a clause in MN for “special equipment” that does not need to be registered.
  • Be aware that power lifts often require the power provided by the generator – and it may not be 110v (one local ham found one that was 200V DC – yikes). Unless your generator is known to work, manual cranks might be more versatile. Shore power can be provided to a given trailer.
  • Construction auction sites are among the best places to look for these trailers. The market (www.ironplanet.com is a favorite site) isn’t so hot and the broken ones can be had for cheap. (< 500 with solar or just broken and ~600-1500 with a working generator)
  • We are working with some local mesh stuff; both http://www.arednmesh.org and some home grown part 15. Our statewide standard we’re officially suggesting for 5GHZ is Channel 180, 10MHZ width. If you’re on 2GHZ, -2 10MHZ width. We use the standard AREDN SSID on aredn nodes.
  • Bring a magnetic set of trailer lights to your “pickup” day – the lights actually working on these things are about a 50/50 chance. (often it’s just a bad ground)

Follow along in the blog for some of the customization we’ve done or considered to maximize usefulness with the ham radio hobby.

Below: Local hams test out mesh & setup at a local park.

Caravan of four tower trailers departing in convoy