This page documents how I built a "Go Box" portable amateur radio station. It's my hope that this will give you some ideas to build your own Go Box. Note this is a long page with a lot of pictures, and may take a while to load!
My main objectives in this project were to put together a portable HF station. I plan to use this station for fun (contesting, field day, vacation use, etc.), as well as have it available to support emergency services should the need arise. My design goals included the following:
Some things that were NOT important to me (but may be very important to you when you build yours!) included:
The first thing I did was to order an orange ammo box. The box I used was an MTM Case-Gard "SPUD7" which I ordered from AmmoBoxes.com for about $35. You can find smaller ones at local sporting goods stores, but the SPUD7 is big and nicely constructed.
My plan was to build a shelf inside the box to hold the gear.
The box is not totally square (it's narrower at the bottom), so I used cardboard to cut a template that fit inside the box where I planned to put the shelf (that was much easier than trying to jam a ruler inside to take measurements).
I bought a piece of shelving from Lowe's for about $10 and used the template to mark the cut lines. The shelving I used has one edge that is finished for a nicer appearance, but a cheaper piece of wood, pressboard, or scrap wood could also be used to save a few dollars.
Here's a quick test to make sure the shelf fits properly. Note the shelf is not quite as deep as the box; this actually works out well. Although you can't tell from this picture, the back of the shelf is actually about 1" away from the back of the box to leave room for cables.
Next I drilled some holes along the sides and used screws to connect some legs to the shelf.
To make the legs more stable, I added some small brackets.
The legs were sized to cause the shelf to sit at roughly the middle of the box.
Note that I could also have simply screwed the shelf directly into the box and not used the legs. I chose to make the shelf this way because it makes it very easy to slide the shelf in and out of the box, which makes it very easy to work on the gear that will be attached to the shelf. Also, although the plastic on the box is heavy duty, it may not be strong enough to hold a lot of heavy gear for long periods of time.
The first thing I mounted to the shelf was the HF rig itself. I marked off holes using the mounting bracket as a template. Note I positioned it to the side to leave room for other accessories later.
I'm not one of those guys who can rattle off drill bit and screw sizes, so I used an Ace hardware drill bit gauge to match them up.
Before mounting the radio's bracket, I used double-sided tape to attach a tiny sound card interface to it.
The interface I chose is the microHAM USB II. This interface will allow me to easily use a laptop computer to work digital modes like RTTY and PSK31. Its very small size makes it a great choice for a Go Box. Other small interfaces that could be used include the Rascal, Rigblaster, etc., or you could build your own.
Note that the microHAM USB II uses jumpers to match to specific radios, so I had to open it up and change them before finishing the mounting.
Here is the radio mounted to the shelf. Note the squeezed-in MicroHam USB Interface II sound card interface between the rig and the shelf.
I chose a Yaesu FT-897D for the rig. It's a great choice for a portable radio but there are plenty of others that could be used in this type of setup - for example, an Icom 706. The '897 will cover VHF and UHF also, but that is not my primary purpose.
Next I added an MFJ-281 external speaker. I feel that having a front-firing speaker is important, especially if the station ends up being used in a noisy Emcomm environment.
Station grounding is an important but often overlooked item in many portable setups. I decided to add a grounding bus, which will make it very easy to ground components if I make changes in the future (and as every ham knows, we are always changing our stations!)
Note that for this picture I removed the radio temporarily.
I plan to use this radio with various antennas, so a tuner was a must. Although the '897 can accommodate an accessory autotuner, I prefer a manual tuner that allows me to manage the settings myself. Also, very small tuning units are available but my preference is a slightly larger tuner that provides multiple options.
I chose the MFJ-941E, which I bought for $75 at the Dayton hamfest. This tuner has overlapping forward and reflected wattmeters, something I consider a real plus; it also has multiple inputs including balanced line. The only downside is that it's large; if I had used a smaller tuner, I might have been able to fit a separate VHF/UHF FM transceiver in the same box.
Note that the tuner does not have a mounting bracket, so I devised my own out of some aluminum strip that I had from some other project. You could leave things loose in the box, but I like to have them locked down for transport.
I prepared ground straps for the radio and the tuner. I may try to ground the other components eventually.
This is what the backside looked like at this point. Note the mess of cables- the largest cable is for the sound card interface (I think the cables are bigger than the unit itself!).
Sharp-eyed viewers may notice that the backside of the legs seems to have grown a bit. I added a couple of strips of wood to create a gap between the shelf unit and the back of the box, to avoid cable crunching during transport. In hindsight it would have been better to have cut the wood that way in the first place!
My next step was to add a power distribution panel. I chose to use a RIGrunner 4005 from West Mountain Radio. This block uses Anderson PowerPole connectors and will allow me to transfer power to up to 5 devices, and I especially like the simple fusing system. Of course a simpler and/or cheaper method could be devised, but since PowerPoles are the emcomm standard and are easy to use I decided to go with this system.
The RIGrunner 4005 can take its input from a battery, or from a 13.8Vdc power supply.
Since manufactures don't provide power cables with pre-installed PowerPole connectors, I had to cut the '897's power cord and put the PowerPoles on. Note that since my distribution panel is very close to the radio, I cut the cable very short.
A crimping tool is not mandatory, but if you're going to do a lot of PowerPoles, I highly recommend it.
I'm hoping to really pound out the QSO's with this station, which will generate some heat. Note that the shelf can be slid out of the box, or the station can remain in the box while operational (I've cut a hole in the bottom of the box for antenna feedline and power).
However, I decided that additional cooling would be desirable, so I purchased a 12V fan from SWS Electronics for about $5 and mounted it to the back side of the shelf. I added PowerPoles so it can run from the distribution panel. I suppose one could get fancy and add a switch to turn it on and off, or even add a temperature sensor for automatic turn on when it starts to get hot. I consider the fan to be cheap equipment insurance.
Don't pay attention to the ugly homemade aluminum mounting strips...
The SPUD7 box has a small compartment on the lid that can be used to bring along some accessories.
And here is the "Final" product (at least until I decide to change something).
The station can be operated in this position, or the whole shelf can slide out and the system operated independently from the box.
The whole thing does weigh quite a bit, but it can easily be carried by the handle on the lid of the box without risk of damage.
I will probably mount a dual clock (local/UTC). The MFJ clock shown in this picture obviously is not keeping time correctly so it will likely be replaced.
My next project may very well be setting up a VHF/UHF Go Box, which will probably be in a smaller container.
I would really like to hear from others who have built, or are considering building, their own Go Box. There are plenty of great ideas out there that we can experiment with.