My New Toy

I keep saying that I need another rig like I need a hold in the head. I guess I have a hole in my head, because I recently bought another QRP rig. 

The rig I purchased was a (tr)uSDX transceiver. I had been thinking about getting one of these little rigs for several months before finally giving in and buying one. I placed an order with roWaves in Romania, and, to my surprise, I had it in my hands five days later. 

My new (tr)uSDX transceiver on the air for the first time
My new (tr)uSDX transceiver on the air for the first time

This rig is only about the size of a pack of cigarettes, but it sure packs a lot of functionality in there. I won’t go through all the specs and functions, but it puts out about 5 watts (give or take) and covers 80/60/40/30/20m. It supports CW/LSB/USB/FM/AM, and you can set it up for digital modes, too. 

There are three controls (two push-buttons and a rotary encoder), and they each have multiple functions. So, it’ll take some practice getting this old dog used to the menus and functions. 

I set it up on the bench to fire it up for the first time. I connected it to my Elecraft T1 tuner, which was connected to my rainspout antenna. During this initial session, I logged contacts on 40, 30, and 20M. One of those was a very nice chat on 30M with a fellow SKCC member up in Massachusetts. This little rig held up well in my noisy environment.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to take the (tr)uSDX out in the field over the weekend and give it a whirl. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Public Service Weekend

I haven’t been very active on the HF bands lately. Family functions and other obligations have been keeping me busy. This weekend, however, I was able to take part in two different ARESRACES events.

On Saturday morning, our local ARES-RACES group conducted a Simulated Emergency Test (SET). Because of the heavy rains forecasted, most operators participated from home. During the brief exercise, I sent an NBEMS message and a Winlink peer-to-peer message to the county Emergency Operations Center over local 2M simplex frequencies. I used my little Evolve laptop, and it performed great.

On Sunday, our ARES-RACES group provided emergency communications for the Marshalton Triathlon. This annual, family-friendly event combines cycling, canoeing, and speed walking. This year I was once again stationed at “Canoe Out,” which is the terminus of the 2.3 mile canoe run on the Brandywine River.

  • A water-logged WB3GCK at the Marshalton Triathlon
  • A crew was on hand to help participants disembark safely
  • The boat handlers did a great job in some very muddy conditions

This year’s triathlon was a wet one. It rained steadily for most of the five hours I was onsite. Despite the lousy weather, the participants seemed to have a good time. After the last canoe arrived, I was able to head home and dry out. 

Hopefully, I’ll get back to doing some QRP-portable operating this week.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Evolve III Maestro E-Book

You’ve most likely heard hams talking about the Evolve III laptop over the past few months. I had been hearing about these little laptops being snapped up at prices as low as $60. Several ARES-RACES colleagues have been happy with them, and there’s even one running 24 x 7 as a VARA FM digipeater in our Emergency Operations Center. So, I had to buy one and judge for myself.

So, what is attracting hams to this laptop? Of course the low price is attractive to frugal hams. It’s also small (11.6-inch display) and light, making it useful for portable operation. Speaking of portable operations, you can charge the Evolve III from a 12-volt DC source. Out in the field, you can charge this laptop from the same type of 12-volt battery used to power your rig. 

Evolve III Maestro E-Book
Evolve III Maestro E-Book

Despite its low cost and small size, it’s a capable little machine. It runs the Windows 10 Pro Education operating system, and has two USB ports and a micro SD memory card slot. A 1.1 GHz Celeron processor runs the laptop, and it has 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of data storage. 

Micro Center stores have been selling them for $59.99 with a limit of five per customer. When I checked my local store, they were out of stock, so I bought one on Amazon for about $89. (Still a bargain, I think.) These laptops are obviously clearance items, since the Evolve website shows newer models running Window 11.

My plan for this little laptop is to use it for logging during QRP-portable operations, especially Field Day and Winter Field Day. I also want to use it for digital communications during ARES-RACES exercises and deployments. 

Getting started with the Evolve III was the same as any other Windows 10 device I’ve owned. The initial Windows setup didn’t take long, and I was ready to install some software. I started by installing the software I use for logging, e.g., N3FJP ACLog, SKCC logger, HamRS, N3FJP Field Day Logger, etc. Everything ran without issues. 

Next I installed the software I need for ARES-RACES. First up was Winlink Express, along with VaraFM and SoundModem. Then, I installed the Narrowband Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS) software, i.e., fldigi, flmsg, and flamp. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been making solid connections to a local Winlink node on 2M using VARA FM. The NBEMS software has also been working great during our local ARES-RACES digital nets.

After using the Evolve III daily for the past few weeks, I really like it. The keyboard has a good feel to it, and the display looks good. I used it outdoors in the shade and the display was still readable. You might need to crank up the brightness, though. 

Is it the fastest laptop? No way. Is it fast enough? Absolutely. I’ve heard of hams running FT8 on these things with no issues. You would think the 64GB of storage would be a limitation. However, after installing the ham radio applications I use, I still had about 24GB left. Just in case, I took advantage of the Micro SD card slot and added an extra 128 GB of storage.

I’m really impressed with the battery life. Depending on what I’m doing, I get more than eight hours of operation on a charge. 

Lately, it seems like my house is where computers go to die. I’ve had a laptop and a desktop go belly-up in recent months. Given what I paid for the Evolve III, if it dies, I won’t feel a tremendous loss. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable WES

I took advantage of the decent weather yesterday and went for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail and the Perkiomen Trail. Along the way, I stopped in a local park to make a few contacts in the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

When I arrived at the trailhead, it was nearly full. Fortunately, I grabbed one of the last remaining parking spaces. After loading up my radio gear, I hopped on the bike and took off down the trail. As the trailhead parking situation would suggest, the trail was getting lots of use from walkers and cyclists. 

After a few miles of riding, I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I found a picnic table away from the trail and set up my TR-35 transceiver. I also set up my 19-foot vertical using my homebrew ground mount

WB3GCK taking a radio break along the Perkiomen Trail
WB3GCK taking a radio break along the Perkiomen Trail

I didn’t hear much contest activity, but I seemed to have a pipeline to Prince Edward Island in Canada. I made SKCC contacts with the special event station, VC3Y/VY2, on both 40M and 20M. I also worked VA3DXQ/VY2 who was doing a POTA activation. KS9KCC was booming in from Indiana, but they didn’t seem to hear my five-watt signal. (Later in the day, I logged KS9KCC from home on 40M.) After making seven contacts, I packed up and continued on my ride.

My homebrew 19-foot vertical and ground mount
My homebrew 19-foot vertical and ground mount

It’s a good thing I went for my ride yesterday. The weather today is raining and dismal.

Also, on the 21st anniversary of the 9/11, please take time to remember those lost in that tragedy.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Giving My Rig the Royal Treatment

Over the years I have accumulated a stash of the bags that Crown Royal whiskey comes in. I don’t drink much hard liquor myself, but I have a relative who enjoys a nip now and then. She knows I have a thing for bags and containers, so she passes them along to me. I graciously accept them, figuring someday I’ll find a good use for them. 

When I take my Penntek TR-35 on the road, I use a repurposed insulated lunch box to carry the radio, an Elecraft T1 tuner, along with a variety of accessories. Pending a better solution to protect the TR-35 from bouncing around, I wrap some bubble wrap around it before placing it in the box.  Decidedly low-tech, but effective.

The Crown Royal bag, along with my TR-35 transceiver
The Crown Royal bag, along with my TR-35 transceiver

The lunch box works great, but it’s a little bulky for my sling pack. So, for hiking, I usually pack the TR-35 loose in the pack, with a rubber band around the bubble wrap. 

The bubble-wrapped TR-35 going in the bag
The bubble-wrapped TR-35 going in the bag

I found that a Crown Royal bag provides a more elegant solution for packing the TR-35 (or other small QRP rig). I just wrap the bubble wrap around the radio and place it in the bag. There’s no longer a need for the rubber band. Plus, there’s enough room in the bag to accommodate the T1 tuner. 

The Crown Royal bag with my TR-35 tucked away inside
The Crown Royal bag with my TR-35 tucked away inside

These bags don’t offer any real protection from the weather, but they look cool. My collection of bags includes a variety of colors, so I can change them to match my mood (just kidding—let’s not get carried away here).

So, there’s a crazy little hack for you to ponder. If you’re a Crown Royal drinker, save the bags. Your radio just might fit in there.

Bottoms up!

73, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2022

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

After a long drive home from North Carolina yesterday, we were still unpacking from our vacation and getting caught up on things today. I couldn’t pass up the annual Skeeter Hunt QRP contest, so I snuck out to make a few contacts. Besides, I was issued a single-digit skeeter number (#7) this year, so I couldn’t let that go to waste.

I drove a few miles over to Valley Forge National Historical Park, hoping to catch enough skeeters for a valid POTA activation (K-0761). The area I was in was busy with folks enjoying their picnics, so I parked my truck well away from them. 

I didn’t plan to stay long, so I operated from the truck. I used my Penntek TR-35 and my trusty homebrew vertical. That turned out to be a wise move, since the truck provided some shade and an occasional cross-breeze through the windows. 

Yours truly operating in the 2022 Skeeter Hunt QRP contest
Yours truly operating in the 2022 Skeeter Hunt QRP contest

When I turned on the rig, the 40M band was buzzing with QRP skeeters, and I made most of my contacts there. Conditions, at times, seemed pretty good; I worked stations in WI, MO, and GA on 40M from here in southeastern PA. After running out of new ones on 40M, I moved up to 20M and picked up a few there. 

At the end of my 1.5 hour session, I had worked 16 skeeters, one non-skeeter QRPer. There were other skeeters operating from POTA entities; I had at least four park-to-park contacts I know of. 

The Skeeter Hunt is always a good time. I’m glad I could take part, even if just for a part of the contest. A big shout-out to Larry W2LJ for organizing this fun event. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2022

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Time for our annual family vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

We arrived on Saturday, after a long drive from southeastern Pennsylvania. After unloading and getting organized in the house we rented in Corolla for the week, I went outside and set up an antenna.

Currituck Sound, as seen from my antenna.
Currituck Sound, as seen from my antenna.

For the past two years at this house, I used a 29-foot vertical fed through a 9:1 unun. During both trips, I struggled with noise issues. I had a couple of antenna options I wanted to try this year. 

This time around, I went with a Rybakov-type antenna. I strapped a 28-foot Jackite pole to the railing of the 3rd floor deck. I used a 26-foot vertical wire fed through my recently built weather-resistant 4:1 unun. My 26-foot counterpoise wire ran out to the side of the antenna and down the side of the deck stairs. It was a weird configuration, for sure. I ran 25 feet of RG-8X coax down to the second floor, where I could operate in the shade—in the morning, at least. 

My Rybakov vertical configuration. The red line shows how I ran the counterpoise wire. Despite this weird-looking setup, it worked pretty well.
My Rybakov vertical configuration. The red line shows how I ran the counterpoise wire. Despite this weird-looking setup, it worked pretty well.

I didn’t test the antenna until early Sunday morning, and my KX3’s tuner matched it on every band from 40M through 10M. The noise levels on 40M and 20M were down around S2, a dramatic improvement over previous years and completely workable. The higher bands were dead quiet.

My antenna feedpoint. I used my weather-resistant 4:1 to create a Rybakov-type vertical.
My antenna feedpoint. I used my weather-resistant 4:1 to create a Rybakov-type vertical.

My first contact was an interesting one. Fellow Boschveldt members, Glen NK1N and Rob KE3TI, were on an overnight backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. I sent Glen NK1N a text message to let him know I was on the air, and we connected on 40M. We chatted for a bit and exchanged SKCC numbers. Conditions were rough in the beginning but, towards the end of our contact, our signals improved. 

Before quitting, I logged 10 SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts. There were bonus points for using a homebrew key, so I used a straight key I cobbled together a few years ago. I also worked Greg WA3GM, who was doing a POTA activation at a park near to my home in Pennsylvania. So, my jury-rigged Rybakov seemed to get out OK.

The homebrew straight key I used during the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).
The homebrew straight key I used during the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).

Monday morning, I got set up on the deck to make a few contacts. I noticed the antenna was acting up a bit on the 40M band. The KX3’s tuner showed it found a 1:1 match, but the SWR went up when I transmitted. I had no issues with the other bands, just 40M. It seemed like I was getting some RF on the coax shield, so I added a common mode choke at the transceiver and changed to a shorter length of coax. That cleared up the issue. I’m guessing there was some interaction between the antenna’s counterpoise and the coax on 40M. Even before I resolved the antenna issue, I logged a half-dozen contacts.

My radio setup on the 2nd story deck of the rental house.
My radio setup on the 2nd story deck of the rental house.

With six adults, four grand-kids, and two grand-dogs, there was always something going on in the house. However, I managed to get on the air for about an hour each morning after breakfast to make a few contacts.

Thursday evening was busy. I kept track of Winlink check-ins for an ARES-RACES net back home. Using DMR, I checked into another ARES-RACES net in Pennsylvania. When I’m down here, I always like to check into the Outer Banks Area Wide Net. Then, it was out to the dock to join my grand-kids for some crabbing.

As I was finishing up breakfast on Friday, I got a text message from my friend, Frank N3FLL, asking if I was on the air. I quickly moved my radio out to the deck and had a nice QSO with him. I also worked a few POTA activators including Greg WA3GM. I worked Greg on the first day, so it was only fitting that I work him on the last day, too. After that, it was time to take down the antenna and pack up the radios.

I didn’t spend as much time on the air as in previous years, but I worked some fellow SKCC members, chased a few POTA activators, and had a couple of nice ragchews. All in all, it was a great vacation with excellent weather. I’m already looking forward to next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Portable 4:1 UNUN

I recently came across a product on Etsy that caught my eye. It’s a 3D printed project box with an integrated antenna wire winder. I couldn’t resist, so I ordered one.

The Etsy vendor is 3dPrintedSolution, and they list the product as “EFHW End Fed Half Wave Antenna Radio Box.” While its name suggests they designed it with EFHW antennas in mind, I had a slightly different plan for it. 

The box will accommodate a T-130 toroid, and the snap-on lid comes with a gasket. There is a pre-drilled hole for a BNC-F panel mount connector, and there are marks to guide drilling for the output and ground connectors of your choice. You can choose from two colors: orange or green. The vendor states that it is “UV and weather resistant.”

I like the idea of having a box to enclose the balun or transformer. My preference for portable antennas is to avoid exposed components or circuit boards. 

I used mine to build a 4:1 unun for portable use in a Rybakov configuration. The unun consists of 19 bifilar turns of #24 solid hookup wire on a T130-2 toroid. You can find plans for winding the unun here and other places on the Internet. For the output and ground connections, I used #10-24×3/4″ stainless steel machine screws, along with some nuts, flat washers, and lock washers. 

Inside view of the 4:1 unun. I used double-sided foam mounting tape to secure the toroid. I also use a small piece of packing foam (not shown) between the lid and the toroid for added stability.
Inside view of the 4:1 unun. I used double-sided foam mounting tape to secure the toroid. I also use a small piece of packing foam (not shown) between the lid and the toroid for added stability.

To go along with the completed unun, I prepared two 26-foot wires; one for the radiator and one for a counterpoise. I finished up by attaching a length of 2.5mm bungee cord. This cord keeps everything together for travel. I have also used it to secure the box to a vertical support, e.g., fiberglass mast, fence post, etc. 

The 4:1 unun deployed in a Rybakov vertical configuration with a 26-foot radiator and a 26-foot counterpoise
The 4:1 unun deployed in a Rybakov vertical configuration with a 26-foot radiator and a 26-foot counterpoise

In the field, this Rybakov antenna worked as well as others I have built over the years. I tested it using my Penntek TR-35 and Elecraft T1 tuner with 18 feet of coax. It tuned up easily on 40, 30, 20, and 17 meters, and I made a couple of QSOs while testing. The integrated winder made it easy to deploy and take down. 

The 4:1 unun packed up for travel
The 4:1 unun packed up for travel

I have a feeling another one of these boxes is in my future. Maybe a 9:1 unun next time?

73, Craig WB3GCK

So Close

I logged into the POTA.app site this morning and noticed that I had 99 park-to-park QSOs, just one away from the next award level. With my vacation coming up, I probably won’t be able to activate a park for another couple of weeks. My obsessive nature couldn’t take looking at that 99 number all that time, so I set out today to rectify that.

I started the day just one away from the next POTA Park-to-Park award. Of course, I had to go out and get a few more.
I started the day just one away from the next POTA Park-to-Park award. Of course, I had to go out and get a few more.

I drove down to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761) this morning for a quick activation. We’re still under a heat advisory, so I got there early to avoid the worst of it. On arrival, I found a shady spot and parked my truck. 

I set up a camping chair and small table in the shade and used my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck. My rig today was my Penntek TR-35 at 5 watts. 

My setup behind my truck at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761)
My setup behind my truck at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761)

The CW hunters were out in force early today. It took all of 15 minutes to make my first ten contacts. Operating for exactly an hour, I finished with 25 QSOs in my log. Best of all, five were park-to-park QSOs, so I had more than enough to put me over the top. 

With my mission accomplished, I can stop fixating on that pesky “99.” 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Puppy Sitting and POTA

My daughter and her family went on a road trip to Michigan for my grandson’s hockey tournament. They needed someone to stay with their dog, Cooper, who is recovering from recent leg surgery. I volunteered to stay at their house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while they were gone and spend some one-on-one time with my “grand-dog.” Of course, I took some radio gear along with me. 

Cooper is recovering nicely from his surgery, but he still needs to restrict his activity. He’s OK on his own for a few hours, so I planned to squeeze in a couple of short radio-related outings while out there.

Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area (K/KFF-4356)

After feeding and walking the grand-dog on Thursday morning, I headed out for a quick POTA activation. The Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area—now that’s a mouthful—is only about 25 minutes away, so I could get an activation in without leaving the dog alone for too long. 

The parking area, on a hill, was vacant when I pulled in. I passed a huge high tension tower near the park entrance, but, fortunately, the power lines didn’t run anywhere near the parking lot. I set up the TR-35 in the cab and mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of the truck. 

Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area entrance. You can see one leg of a huge high tension tower behind it. Fortunately, the powerlines didn't run near the parking lot.
Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area entrance. You can see one leg of a huge high tension tower behind it. Fortunately, the powerlines didn’t run near the parking lot.

I started out on 40M, and the band was in excellent shape. Despite being sandwiched in between some mountains, my five-watt signal was getting out fine. I was getting some very strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network. I logged my first ten contacts in less than 15 minutes. 

My parking spot at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. The woods were behind me, out of the shot.
My parking spot at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. The woods were behind me, out of the shot.

After making 20 contacts on 40M, I moved up to 20M. There, I logged another 10 contacts, including SM0NSJ in Sweden. After about 50 minutes on the air, I started packing up to make my way back to the house.

The final tally was 30 contacts, with one park-to-park, and one DX QSO. Looking at the POTA website, it looks like this was the first CW activation at this park in more than two years.

I didn’t see much of the park, but what I saw looks beautiful. I will definitely need to go back there to do some hiking on the trails.

PA State Game Land 246 (K-8941)

My original plan for Friday morning was to take a bike ride on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and operate from somewhere along the trail. I’ve been wanting to ride this trail since I did some portable operating from the trailhead about 4 years ago. Unfortunately, as I was putting the bike on the rack for the trip out here, I found that the rear brake was locked up. I didn’t have time to deal with it; so, sadly, I left the bike at home. Another time, I guess.

With the bike out of the question, I instead drove a few miles down the road to PA State Game Land 246 for another POTA activation. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, and he left about 15 minutes later. 

All alone in the parking lot for Pennsylvania State Game Lands 246 in Middletown, PA
All alone in the parking lot for Pennsylvania State Game Lands 246 in Middletown, PA

Band conditions seemed in great shape; it didn’t take long to make my first ten contacts. One of my first contacts was with fellow QRPer, W1PID, in New Hampshire. I hadn’t worked Jim in a while, so it was good to hear him calling. 

I had a few stations that worked me on multiple bands. W6OUL in California heard my five-watt signal on 30 and 20 meter bands. Those were my longest contacts of the day. Meanwhile, K9VIC in Illinois reached me on all three bands used today (40M, 30M, and 20M). 

I was on the air for exactly one hour, ending up with 34 QSOs with one park-to-park contact. After that, I packed up for the short drive back to the house to hang out with the grand-dog.

Backyard Bust

On Saturday, I stayed around the house and planned to do some casual operating from the backyard. It’s been a couple of years since I last operated from here, and it has always been somewhat of a challenge. It’s in a low spot, and surrounded by houses, but I thought I’d give it a go today.

I started with my trusty 19-foot vertical on my homebrew ground mount. The receiver noise was horrendous. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) showed I was getting out with double-digit signal-to-noise readings. I just couldn’t hear anything. I figured the vertical was just the wrong choice for this environment.

Next, I went with the Alexloop, figuring that it would be better in this noisy environment. Like the vertical, I was getting decent SNR readings on RBN, but it was receiving only slightly better. Not great, but a little better. 

Although I got skunked, I got some practice using the Alexloop with the TR-35. I used a resistive SWR bridge between the TR-35 and the loop, and I figured out the output power settings that work best on each band to get the bridge’s LED to extinguish at resonance. I also got to test a little battery pack I put together with three 18650 Li-ion cells. 

So, this little mis-adventure wraps up my operations from here in south-central Pennsylvania, and I’m heading back home tomorrow (Sunday). At least I got in a couple of fun POTA activations while I was here. 

73, Craig WB3GCK