By Brian Ginn-KC7UQD
I’ve had a mobile/portable “go box” in mind for quite a while, as my radios are currently mounted in a wooden shelf that’s bolted to the desk and wall. The current mounting scenario makes it inconvenient to take a radio somewhere else (maybe camping).
I’ve watched several YouTube videos, and they all make it look easy. I liked the looks of the Gator case style more than the “ammo box” style or the Pelican case style. Some of the hams with the Gator case, have commented on how heavy a “6U” box can get.
These Gator cases, built for audio gear, are somewhat standard in size, matching the 19-inch width of computer server racks. There are various shelves, drawers, line conditioners, lamps, etc. that can be mounted in these. Each “U” adds 1.75 inches to the height. So, a 3U box is 5.25 inches high, and a 6U box is 10.5 inches high.
Gator makes “Shallow” boxes that have a 14.25″ rack depth, which is 12.25 inches from the front mounting rail to the rear mounting rail (inside the case). These “shallow” boxes are shorter than the “standard” 19-inch depth that they also carry.
I didn’t want a heavy go box, so I planned for a smaller box with the minimum for HF and 2M (just add antennas, cable, and maybe solar panels and a laptop). If that works well, I can add more “optional” Gator cases with more radio gear as needed (a 120v power supply being the first option I can think of). If I end up needing 6U, that will be in two 3U cases. Or maybe a 3U and a 4U.
I played around with cardboard cutouts the size of various radios, tuners, SignaLinks, speakers, etc. I had a design in mind that would fit what I wanted into a 3U sized case, so I ordered a Gator GR3S case and two shelves. Then, I changed my mind about the tuner, and wanted a larger manual tuner, with SWR meter, rather than a smaller auto tuner. I may change my mind about that again a few times.
The GR3S and shelves arrived, and I placed radio gear in the front. With the larger tuner, It almost fits. I turned to the back of the unit, where I planned for a solar charger, 16Ah battery, and a RIGrunner. Everything fits there, however the shelf I bought is only 10 inches deep, and the GR3S has about 12 1/4 inch depth. I wanted a better platform for the battery, so I figured I’d buy a cheaper shelf, and cut most of it away, so the two shelves, mounted front and back, would make a complete shelf.
The cheaper shelf came in, and WOW, it’s much sturdier than the more expensive shelf. This one, though, has a lip at the back, pointing up, so if I use that as the deeper shelf (because it’s sturdier), the lip is in the way. If I were to go that route, I’d have to cut the lip off (which I may end up doing).
In the meantime, I found a 12-inch-deep shelf, so I ordered that. This one is sturdy, and has both front and back lips, this time pointing down. So, out of three brands of shelf, none have the same lip configuration and the most expensive is the flimsiest. This new shelf, when placed at the bottom of the GR3S, doesn’t line up with the lower set of GR3S screw holes. Apparently, this shelf is made more for the server rack scenario than the enclosed audio rack scenario. I could skip the bottom hole, and move it up, but in that case, I’d lose valuable space intended for radios. Also, the tabs with the screw holes are larger than the other shelves and hit the rounded corners of the GR3S. I plan to mount a top shelf “upside down” to hang things from, but again, as I’ve got the three different shelf types to choose from, there likely will be some experimentation there.
So, as it turns out, “standard” isn’t. If anyone here knows of a rack shelf that “just fits” the “shallow” size Gator cases, I’d love to know about it. Right now, I am leaning towards using the 12-inch shelf, cutting off the excess part of the tabs, and drilling new holes for the screws. My #2 choice is to cut the lip off the 10-inch shelf and cut the flimsy shelf down to two inches deep. As it happens, the GR3S that I received has an aluminum joint that has a sharp edge, in a spot that would be dangerous whether in front or back. My initial thought was that I could dremel/saw/file that off and maybe cover it with tape as an added precaution. That was optimistic me, thinking I would be done in a weekend. The shelf issues have allowed me to change my mind. A replacement GR3S is on the way. I should have the replacement GR3S in a week.
The SignaLink for the IC-2100 needs to use the speaker out connection, so if I put all that in, that radio will need a speaker and a switch. I’m not sure yet whether all of that will fit well (the speakers I have are too large), so that SignaLink might have to wait a while. If newer radios are smarter about digital and audio connections, an upgrade might make that easier, though I originally wanted to use my existing radios. The 706 has 2 meters, so the SignaLink for the IC-2100 is optional and will be done last if at all.
I’ve already started planning the second case, probably a 3U again; this time with a power supply. I may want to make some custom mounting brackets. If anyone knows how to do that, please get in touch! I really would like to learn how to bend sheet metal, so I can make a smaller bracket for the 2-meter radio. I’ve seen some sheet metal bending tools that don’t appear to work with a thick enough gauge that I think would be necessary.