[CQ-Contest] A Squirrelly Story

Hal Offutt 104306.451 at compuserve.com
Thu Apr 1 09:01:01 EST 1999

Hello Everyone,

Many of you have commented on the improved signals emminating from W1NN
lately.  The fact is, I have found a way to get my antennas a lot further
up in the trees than before.  I am now ready to share my secret with my
fellow contesters.

Like most lots in New England, mine is covered with large oaks and maples,
some as tall as 100 feet.  I have always longed to see my antennas in the
very tops of these trees, but conventional methods (climbing, rock
throwing, wrist rockets, bow & arrow, etc.) just wouldn't hack it.  The
basic problem was that the trees are too dense and it's just impossible to
get a wire (especially a long wire for 160) to rest straight and true in
the very tops of the trees.  This problem has vexed me since moving here in
1983.  But two years ago a potential solution came into view.

The solution to my problem hit me in a very improbable way.  In the summer
of 1997, I visited a boat show in the neighboring town of Norwalk, CT.  As
a crowd-pleasing attraction, the show was presenting the performance of a
water-skiing squirrel.  What a wacky thing, I thought.  Who would be
interested in such nonsense?  But when I saw this talented little rodent
actually water-skiing in front of large crowds, I was really impressed.  I
hadn't realized that squirrels were so smart!  

I should explain that my lot is simply covered with grey squirrels.  I had
always admired these busy little critters and envied their ability to climb
to the very tops of the trees in search of food, but I must admit that I
had never given them much thought.  But after I saw that water-skiing
squirrel (I'm sorry but I can't remember his name), I just couldn't look at
my squirrels the same any more.  If these creatures were smart enough to
water ski, could they be trained to do other things?  Like carry a string
up to the top of a tree? You can probably see where I'm going with this.

The next six months were filled with excitement and adventure as I
researched squirrels and started seeing what I could do with the residents
of my own back yard.  It's amazing what a squirrel will do to get a nut or
a seed.  Any of you who have every had bird feeders surely know this. 
Those guys will stand on their heads, flip over, dangle from a thin branch,
and go through all sorts of contortions to get food.  They're actually a
lot smarter than your average Toys-R-Us cashier.  

I began to see whether I could make friends with my squirrels.  I laid in a
selection of expensive nuts and seeds and began coaxing them to the window.
 I found that it was quite easy to befriend these fellows and before long
they were sitting in my right hand and eating seeds and nuts that  I would
offer from my left.  Two squirrels in particular seemed to be smart and
friendly.  I named these above-average squirrels Scratchy and Shirley and I
gave them little collars so I could identify  them.  (After a while I could
dispense with the collars because I found I could easily recognize them. 
Not all squirrels look the same, you know.)  They really seemed to enjoy it
when I began to show them around the shack.  I had trouble pulling Shirley
away from the W1AW code practice sessions; she really seems to have a thing
for high-speed Morse.  

There followed a long, sometimes frustrating period of months of training
Scratchy and Shirley to carry a thin string up to the top of the trees. 
Some days they were very cooperative and other days they just didn't seem
to care.  I quickly learned not to over feed them.  They seemed to become
especially hard to deal with when they were given too many walnuts.  On the
other hand, they would do just about anything for a cashiew.  This turned
out to be my best motivator.  My nut bill soared.  

My plan was to have them carry a thin string up, over the trees, and back
to ground.  I would use this to pull a thicker rope and then use the rope
to pull my wire up into the tree.  (I decided early on that the squirrels
did not have the strength to pull a #14 wire  through the trees, smart as
they might be.)  Later I substituted a fishing line for the string, because
it offers much less friction.  Actually, it was quite easy to get my little
friends to take the fish line up the tree; the problem was in getting them
to bring it back to the ground on the other side.  

But patience conquers all and in time the guys began to understand exactly
what I wanted them to do.  While my ultimate goal was to have them pull a 
fish line long enough for a half-wave on 160, I began with 15 Meters and
gradually built them up to the longer lengths.  They graduated up to 40
Meters without much trouble but the step to 80 was a bear.  After failing
with 80 Meters for several weeks, I  gave in and tried 75 Meters (not that
I would ever use the band), and they were able to manage this.  After this,
it was easy to step them up to 80.  Surprisingly, the jump to 160 was
surprisingly easy.  

Today, all I have to do was give Scratchy (he is by far the better of the
two) a fish line which he will grasp in his teeth.  Then I point to the
tree I want and he will scamper all the way up to the top in a jiffy!  I
then point in the direction I wanted him to carry the line, and he merrily
skips across the tops of the trees in the right direction.  I merely stand
on the ground holding a fishing reel to let the line out as he goes.  I
then walk to where I want him to come down to the ground and call him, and
he brings the fish line right down to my waiting hand!  Good boy, Scratchy!
 My outstanding performance in this year's CQWW 160 CW contest (keep your
eye on the results) is almost entirely due to the extra 40 feet of antenna
height I managed to gain this year. 

Scratchy and Shirley eventually moved into our guest bedroom and they have
become part of the family.  Last summer we were blessed with a litter of
the cutest little baby squirrels you ever saw.  The new generation is
completely used to living with us (after some hesitation my XYL really
warmed up to the project; our kids are all practically grown up and the
squirrels are very good company) and I have big things in mind for them
when they get a little older.  Scratchy has shown some interest in
computers and I'm hopeful that Scratchy Junior might just become good
enough to help me with multi-single operations.  I am also considering the
viability of renting these fellows out to help local hams with their
antennas (but please do not take this as a commercial advertisement,).

Those of you interested in duplicating this feat, begin by taking a look at
a great home page on squirrels at
http://www.geocities.com/yosemite/rapids/4362/grysqrls.html.   You can find
pictures of my bunch and other information on my experience at
http://www.asquirrellystory.com.  Of course, I'll be happy to answer your
(serious) questions.


Hal  W1NN

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