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Chase Vehicle Mods Part 1: Communications

Outfitting the new chase ride has begun. First priority: communication equipment!

When I start making changes to get a chase vehicle ready, usually among the first items is communications. This season I’m not planning to add any equipment, in fact I will actually be taking some out.

Here’s what the dash of the Suburban looked like after the install back in 2015:

Top to bottom of the radio column:

  • AM/FM Radio
  • Uniden Bearcat BCD-996XT scanner. This is programmed to track my location and only enable the talk groups pertinent to my current place. I mainly put this in to monitor the Kansas Statewide 800 Mhz system, but it’s also programmed with Amateur and Public Service repeaters in each region. Right now I’m having a hard time coming up with a place for this scanner in the Tahoe, so it’s likely this will not be part of the package when it’s all over with.
  • My amateur radio. This and the scanner made it into my custom center console in the van but I never got power and antennas fully wired to them. The ham radio will be among the first things to get placed. In fact, I already have a mounting scheme figured out for the control head (what you see here). The radio itself will be either in the back of the truck or under a seat up front.

In the Suburban, there was a whole shelf in the back which housed all the radio and mobile Internet gear.

Left to Right:

  • Power failover device. Connected to vehicle power and the standby battery to the right. Same this is at the right hand end. One was dedicated to radio equipment, the other to computer/internet equipment.
  • I had intended to put a small PC in the open space, to be used for recording several external cameras and so I could switch cameras on the live stream. That plan has gone by the wayside.
  • To the right of the first backup battery, power distribution for the “computer” part of the system…my laptop up front and the Cradlepoint router that’s next to the right.
  • The Cradlepoint router. This provided not only mobile Internet but GPS positioning over the internal wi-fi. It’s how both I and you knew where I was at. The GPS delivery was spotty last year, so I’m going back to a USB puck attached to the laptop unless I can get the GPS signal from my new MiFi. The Cradlepoint isn’t going into the Tahoe.
  • Next item (the blue box for those keeping score at home) is a 3G/4G signal booster. Jury is out whether it will make it into the Tahoe — I’d say better than a 50/50 chance. It doesn’t boost the data channels, but given the number of times we’re on the edge of a signal I think I want to keep the boost for our phones.
  • The next item is the chassis of the amateur radio. Of course, it will be making it to the Tahoe…
  • Then another power distribution point and backup battery/cutover switch.

Most of that stuff will not make it into the Tahoe. It just isn’t needed anymore due to technology advances. That means fewer to no roof-mount antennas (or drilling holes through the roof). Here’s a photo of the roof of the van:

I don’t expect to have more than the antenna for my ham radio and maybe one of those antennas on the outside of the Tahoe. I’ll likely go with a magnetic mount antenna if I use the cell booster. My 5G MiFi device does not have antenna ports for technical reasons, but I’m not really concerned about data signal loss because I drove halfway across the county in November and was able to stream music more than 95% of the time, a lot of it when I was in places more rural than western Kansas!

So far, here’s the piece I have done:

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That’s the amateur radio remote head. It’s clipped into its mount, which is tied with zip-ties to a RAM ball mount. That will let me put it either in a fixed location or on a suction cup. When the Tahoe gets back from the shop (couple small things noted during the test drive), I’ll determine where to put it.

…and my new decals came today. They’re a bit bigger than the old ones:

Comparative Size, new logo vs old

Funny how taking the shield from 4″ to 5″ tall made that much difference! I know they’ll fit on the Tahoe, I measured that before I confirmed the order. Hopefully I can get them mounted today while it’s still warm!

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Outlook

Good chances of rain begin in southwest Kansas this morning and spread north and east throughout the day. Some thunderstorm activity with small hail is possible, but severe weather is not expected. Widespread rainfall totals of 1/4 to 3/4 inch are possible in western Kansas.

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