Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Connected To The Planet

Clang! Clang! The sledge rings against a black-iron pipe cap and the copperclad steel rod sinks another quarter-inch. There's a trick to it, just letting the hammer fall; if you hit too hard, the rod bends instead of being driven. If you don't strike squarely, the force mostly just wiggles the rod. The project is best begun shortly after a rain...

I've heard all my life that tech-geeks like me aren't "in touch with the Earth," that we have no "connection to Nature." It is, of course, utter bilge and what I am doing now smacks not at all faintly of some pagan ritual from the mists of Time -- the iron, the hammer, the copper and water, the TOCK! of hammerblows in groups of 16 (about what I can manage in a steady rhythm, then change hands and start over) slowly changing pitch as the rod sinks home. The iron pipe cap saves the end of the rod from getting too mushroomed while giving me a bigger target for hammering.

It isn't a rite of Fall -- or if it is, only by the wildest happenstance. Nor have I daubed myself in cabalistic[1] symbols with blue mud.[2] I'm literally connecting to the Earth and to earth as well, setting an eight-foot ground rod for my amateur radio station. Some hams use shorter ones but that's countin' on damp soil or possibly magic. A lot of folks don't bond to the Power & Light ground, either, which is both wishful thinking and unapproved by the National Electrical Code. Me, I'll find where the electricians connected to the plumbing and link up there: good enough for them, good enough for me. (YMMV -- ask an expert).

What one does in establishing a ground is both wonderful and mundane: establishing an equal-potential surface, or as close to it as can be practically managed, one of very much the same potential as the vast majority of other things -- not, as it happens, lightning strikes or the "hot" side of wall-socket juice. It's important to make sure one's own little puddle of groundedness has a whole lot in common with the one set up for the electrical system! Nor is ground some infinite great sink or sewer that will suck down all noise and wickedness, down, down, down to a nepenthe of darkness and oblivion; sometimes electronics hobbyists and EE students alike think perhaps it might be, but most eventually learn better. That's the mundane side and it's important.

But the wonderful portion, now... Picture a vast, mirror-still pool of salt water. That -- in rather dilute form -- is what that 8-foot ground rod is seeking. It's everywhere, invisible, under the surface. It reflects an image of my antenna above and together like the two wings of a bird, they loft my signal to far-distant lands. Or some guy down the block; as may be. Another way to look at what's happening is to picture ripples in that silv'ry pool, tiny ripples, spreading, widening to embrace the Earth, to tickle other ears a huge distance away: I've chatted with a Cuban hobbyist with 4 Watts into the antenna at my end and not much more at his, each of us using transmitters cobbled together from obsolete vacuum tubes and scrap; past our common humanity, all we had in common was this strange miracle of electrons and nothingness, of brass and the brazen nerve to challenge the Universe with barely enough power to light up the pages of book -- but it was more than adequate to illuminate our shared language of abbreviations and radio slang.

Yeah, it's a hobby for indoor geeks, for shut-ins, for nobodies; people with no connection to other folks, no feel for nature. Sure it is.

I've got the rod about two-thirds driven and it's gone dark. I started on a stepladder and now I'm standing on the ground. Time to put my tools away in anticipation of another dawn. Time to treat the blister forming at the heel of my hand. Below in the basement, my ham gear waits, sleeping. Dreaming. Remembering the vast and friendly darkness, alive with piping signals, words from other souls, other places, other dawns....
1. Spellcheck options, since it's never heard tell of no cabalistic: "ballistic, cannibalistic, journalistic, Bialystok." Hunh? Helloooo? Bialystok? Max Bialystok?

2. It's called eye line-er. And not that much of it, not really.


Carteach said...



phlegmfatale said...

You're so cool!

Alan said...

I use a hammer drill motor on my ground rods. Open up the chuck all the way so the rod fits in loosely, and let it rip.

Try it, it works great. Puts a 8 foot rod all the way into the ground in just a few minutes.

-73, KD5FJK

Roberta X said...

Yeah, I really should do it that way, Alan; Handsome Dave has a hammer-drill that can be set to hammer-only and he even has a ground rod driver adaptor.

On the other hand, me and a hammer, well, I own the hammer; I'm not beholden to anyone and when I have the dang rod set, it was me that did it. In some goofy way (my hobby's as much art as tech and the things I build are sculpture that reaches out) it feels better to have done it with gravity and muscle.

...On the gripping hand, if it starts givin' me trouble tomorrow, I will so totally ring up Dave: "Bro, you still got the big drill? The one that drives ground rods...?" 'Cos even the Muses wink.

Mark said...

That was beautiful.

Thank you. :)

JohnMXL said...


Make a small hole where you want the rod. Pour a little water in the hole. Poke the rod into the mud as far as it will go, then pull it back.

Repeat the butter churning motion, occasionally pulling all the way back to add water to the hole.

Unless you are working in really rocky soil you'll embed the ground rod quickly without a hammer.

Comes time to remove the ground rod latch on with a big vise-grip pliers and rotate back and forth to break the bond, then pull up as you rotate back and forth more.

Somerled said...

Roberta, I'm glad you don't have bedrock about two to three feet down like a lot of places here. The Broad Ripplians don't seem to be the type to tolerate blasting by home hobbyists.

My son received his technican's license about a month ago.

Anonymous said...

Darn, both Alan and John beat me to my suggestions. Oh well. Here's another one - if you must hammer it in, get or make a post driver. Makes it alot easier than swinging a sledge hammer.

Carteach said...

There are many ways to plant a ground rod. My own personal favorite.. hand a large hammer to as son and tell him his supper will be ready when it's in.

Many ways to do the task, but this post planted a soul in the job...
Well done Bobbi.


Turk Turon said...

My ground rod has been in since I moved in here about three years ago. Eight feet of copper-clad steel, driven in by hand, over near the outside water faucet, after I got the utilities marked. But your use of the pipe-cap is excellent! I had to put my connector on the rod before driving it, in anticipation of the mushrooming.

P.S. You mean Max Bialystok, King of Broadway? "Look at me now! I'm wearing a cardboard belt!"
That Max Bialystok?

Turk Turon said...

P.P.S. "It is, of course, utter bilge and what I am doing now smacks not at all faintly of some pagan ritual from the mists of Time -- the iron, the hammer, the copper and water, the TOCK! of hammerblows in groups of 16 (about what I can manage in a steady rhythm, then change hands and start over) slowly changing pitch as the rod sinks home."

Wonderful stuff!

staghounds said...

The last ground rod I sank, for a pasture fence in NY, was something that was surplus from Electric boat- a six foot octagonal rod, an inch and a half in diameter, machined and polished like something from Colt's back in the 'thirties.

I hated to bury it in the ground forever. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

"Max Bialystok," like many of the names in the Brooks comedies, is an in-joke.

"Bialystok" -> Yiddish "Bialystoker," originally a person from the city of Bialystok, Poland, also "a flat breakfast roll tha has a depressed center and is usu. covered with onion flakes" (Webster's New Collegiate, 9th edition) affectionately called a "bialy".

There's a Bialystoker Synagogue on Manhattan's lower east side (naturally!).

This Thursday trivia lesson brought to you by the letters "Q" and "Z."

BobG said...

It's been years since I had to plant one of those things. Around here you sometimes have to hammer in a steel rod to get through the hardpan in places; it is literally impossible to hammer anything else without breaking through it first.

Drang said...

When I was in Korea, the accepted alternative to driving your grounding rod all the way into the ground, just to try and pull it out in two days--especially if you didn't have any privates around, which we often didn't in MI--was to dig a foot deep trench, a foot longer than the grounding rod, lay it down in the trench, and then bury it. It was even in the little comic book pamphlet on grounding techniques. (Not sure if Will Eisner did that as well as the M16 TM.) (It was highly recommended that you soak the ground with water for maximum performance.)

OTOH, an acquaintance of mine once spent a day having his platoon drive grounding rods through the tarmac in the motor pool next all of his systems, so that they could do weekly PM on them without moving.
He spent the next day removing the, on pain of Article 15.
The first one, he wrapped a tow strap around it and hooked it up to the towing pintle. Gave it the gun, the rod came out, and described a perfect arc over the vehicle and right into the windshield.
Fortunately, he was driving, and was wearing glasses...

Tam said...

"Bombs falling from the skies again,
Deutschland is on the rise again!

Funniest scene in any. movie. evar.

Tam said...



Turk Turon said...

"We're marching to a faster pace.
Look out, here comes the Master Race!"

One of the funniest movies ever made.

Turk Turon said...

P.S. Catpcha word: huemaw