System History by Ben KB5ITS
The repeaters located in the mountains of Silverton was a joint effort of Ben McGaha( KB5ITS), Harley Murray (KC5CHM now N0AJO) and Larry Miller (KB5ITT) to provide radio communications for the Hardrock hundred endurance race. There were many other amateur radio operators from all over the 4 corners region and beyond who supported the race from working at headquarters, aid stations to parking on mountain tops to relay or crossband the radio traffic from the aid stations to headquarters. This was done during rain, snow, sleet and even during electrical storms. They would also have to move from one location to another as the runners came around the mountain to continue the communications links back to Silverton even in the pitch of darkness.
Harley would talk about being up at 13,000 ft. elevation with lightening lighting up his location and hearing the buzz of the electrical energy around him. The weather could then go from a nice warm day to snow quite quickly. After a few years of doing this Ben and Harley then decided it was time to start placing fixed repeaters somewhere in the mountains and begin using portable crossband repeaters to keep operators from having to park on the mountains. Harley was able to secure a location on Hazelton Mt. and in the summer of 95 the first 2 meter repeater was put in place which was 147.270. Larry and Ben then built the repeater from a GE Exec ll mobile and scrounged the necessary housing and parts. With the help of other amateur operators and their wives the equipment, antenna and box was hauled up the loose rocky mountain and put in place.
Although this site was not enough to cover the complete area it was a start and the primary repeater from a large portion of the race and a hub for the crossband's. It was still necessary to have an operator park up high to relay for some of the aid stations.
In 1997 Harley again, with his knowledge of the area was able to secure a location on top of Kendal Mt., at over 13,000 ft. for the next fixed repeater. This is the 147.375 repeater. Harley was able to convince a couple guys to help him and Ben with hauling the necessary equipment, shelter, solar panes etc. up the mountain after a 45 minute drive to the parking spot below the peak. Harley, having a Jeep with special lockers, lift kit etc. decided to drive a little higher past the normal parking spot in order the shorten the climb distance to the top with the equipment. Ben bailed out and became a spotter not wanting to be a participant in the driving. After dropping the equipment off along the road about 50 yards up Harley now had to back down to the parking spot.
The install of this equipment took 2 days and more than 10 trips up and down to retrieve parts. The hike is at least 200 yards with very steep incline and loose footing. The repeater was completed in the summer of 1997 and became and essential part of the communications for the race as well as for other hams in the area who would visit or stay in Silverton for the summer.
As time went on we still did not have the ability to cover all areas so again the decision was made to expand and find another location for a new repeater. Harley was again able to find the owner with private land on top of Engineer Mt. In 1999 he and Larry drove up the mountain and during a strong storm placed the tower sections in place. In the summer of 2000 Ben, Larry, Chris Depuy (WB0ITG) and othesr drove to the mountain and completed the install. The 147.270 repeater was re-coordinated to that location and a link between it and Kendal was put in place. Hazelton then became a UHF repeater/hub providing a link location to the necessary crossbands that would be used.
With the difficulty of having to put crossbands up, usually with an abundance of snow on the area mountains it was then necessary to find another location to fill in the gap to cover the back side of Kendal including Pole Creek all the way towards Lake City. Harley was again able to secure the owner and land on Buffalo Boy Mt. With the help of othesr including Mike McQueen (N0ZSN) the install was completed. This became the link hub on UHF for all three VHF repeaters due to its central location and elevation between each. The frequency of 145.325 is currently in use.
With Telluride a good distance from Silverton and with no reliable communications from any of the repeaters Harley, Ben, Mike and later Brent Hite (KB7TRA,) who came into the group, would drive to Imogene Pass and place a crossband repeater up and relay it back through the UHF repeater on Hazelton. This lasted for about 5 years when it was decided the drive and effort was too much. Brent had come across an internet linking device call the “catlink” and it was the “cats-meow” as it kept us off the pass. We would then link the stations from Telluride in via internet and have reliable communications until Brent discovered the Astericks system. This is now the means of linking a permanent site in Telluride to the other repeaters on the system.
The original system in Silverton was known as the “Silverton Connection” until the decision was made to include all the other repeaters that Ben had along with Brents in the 4 corners area. The system was then renamed the “San Juan Connection” to include all the area’s of the San Juan Mountain area. The system is currently linked via UHF links and internet. A new repeater was put in place on Hill 71 above Lake City in the fall of 2015 and it is linked via the internet. The group which is self funded plans to return to Hill 71 this (2016) to finish the work necessary and look at the possibility to implement other sites in that area. We also have internet links into Ajo Arizona where Harley now resides and plans to connect to Texas.
The system is an open system and all users are welcome to use the system.