Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It has the tools, will do the job

Talk about versatility -- this Land Rover even has a ham radio

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His rugged vehicle can handle all corners of the Earth, but Selkirk resident and longtime Land Rover enthusiast David Place prefers to reach out to his friends around the globe utilizing another of his hobbies -- his ham radio.

Place, 66, has been tinkering with Land Rovers and ham radio since the 1960s. His current Land Rover, a 1974 Series III 88-inch Station Wagon model, spent the majority of its life in sunny California and has undergone a total restoration. Place recently shipped it to Manitoba and added his own personal touches, including a radio that allows him to reach out to other amateur radio buffs here at home and as far away as Russia.

"My vehicle is fitted with both VHF and HF ham-radio gear and is capable of communicating with other base and mobile stations around the world," said Place, who also has a well-equipped ham-radio station in his basement that would rival many commercial stations.

With a master's degree in psychology, Place developed an interest in Land Rovers and ham radio while working with Red Cross relief mission around the world as a counselor,

"The Land Rover is known as the most versatile off-road vehicle in the world," said Place, who has owned eight different models over the years. "I wanted something that was easy to work on. With a few wrenches, you can do repairs on these machines yourself."

There are many Land Rover body styles in use by NATO forces throughout the world, he added, including the full-length 109-inch canvas-hood model, hardtop, truck cab and even bulletproof models. Other optional features include a hovercraft attachment, flanged wheels for rail use and radio models with sound skirts to muffle generator noise.

Place's Series III model is among the most popular and was produced from 1971 to 1985. There were 440,000 series III models built. In 1976, the one-millionth Land Rover rolled off the production line. Back in 1992, Land Rover estimated that more than 70 per cent of the vehicles it manufactured were still in use.

After checking out this rugged beast, it's easy to see why.

Under the hood is a 2.25-litre, four-cylinder gasoline engine. The body is made totally of Bermabright, a type of aircraft aluminum that stands up to a lot of abuse and produced a vehicle that weighs only 1,526 kilograms yet can pull an 3,990-kilogram trailer. There's a distinctive, large, round hole in the rear cross-member that allows owners to run the driveshaft to a trailer that offers six-wheel-drive capability.

According to Place, from the factory his Land Rover could handle a 54-per-cent grade-climbing capability in the low-range first gear. It will also handle a side grade of 45 per cent.

Every Land Rover came with an extension-tube gas-filling port fitted with fine screens so gas could be poured from a jerry can without a spout and without having to screen it before use, even in the most hostile locations.

Another interesting feature of this vehicle is its wading capability. Each Land Rover is equipped with a flywheel plug that is installed before crossing deep water, allowing it to wade through water all the way up to the wheel arches. The vehicle also has front, rear and middle power takeoff points that are used to run all manner of things, such as front and rear winches, hydraulic man hoists and firefighting pumps.

"One negative aspect of owning a Land Rover in our climate is it was made for desert work, with a very large copper-and-brass radiator that allows the vehicle to be worked very heavily or used as a stationary engine without overheating," Place said.

"It's difficult to generate any cabin heat in the winter. After a long drive, you can actually touch the radiator and block."

Place's model is fitted with an overdrive and will go as fast as 100 km/h, but he admits that 90 km/h is all he's prepared to try. This model has an 8:1 compression ration. Earlier models used a 7:1 compression ratio and could burn fuel down to 75 octane without problems -- handy in areas of Africa where fuel was less refined possible. It also uses a huge oil-filter cartridge similar to that on a farm tractor.

Most Land Rovers of this vintage have 16-inch wheels. Place's Land Rover is fitted with the more sedate 15-inch wheels and tires, but it still has a very high ground clearance. "Climbing into the vehicle with 16-inch tires is hard for an old fart like me," he chuckled.

Other cool and utilitarian features include a roof rack with a canopy that extends from the side, allowing Place to set up camp wherever he likes.

His ham radio call sign, VE4PN, is known around the world, and after turning a plethora of dials that would look at home on the space shuttle, we were soon talking with a gentleman in Colorado about the weather. Moments later, what sounded like a weather report from Russia was dialled in.

Due to the Internet and cellphones, ham radio isn't as popular as it once was, but there are still many enthusiasts around the world. To qualify as a ham-radio operator, Place had to take an intensive training course -- he's fluent in Morse code and rattles off the NATO phonetic code with ease.

It was really enlightening to witness Place conversing with folks from around the world, but this technology isn't all fun and games. It's still used globally and is considered the most reliable mode of communication in disaster-relief efforts.

Combined with his rugged Land Rover, there really is no place on Earth that David Place can't reach.

willy@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2012 F6

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