Putting the QRP Camper to Bed

It’s been a rough year for camping. With my physical issues, our camper has seen little action this year. Since we need to winterize the camper soon, my (far) better half and I took the camper up to nearby French Creek State Park for the weekend. We planned to use this last trip to clean out the trailer and get it ready for storage. Of course, I got on the radio over the weekend, too.

I set up my 29.5-foot vertical and KX3 after we arrived on Friday, but I didn’t get on the air until later that evening (around 0100Z). I started calling CQ POTA on 80M and soon had some chasers. Since the cell coverage is spotty in this campground, I entered my planned activation on the POTA website. The POTA system automatically spotted me, and seven chasers came calling. 

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania

I jumped on 40M the next morning, while the coffee was perking. In less than an hour, I had ten more in the log. That qualified me for a late-shift activation. Thanks to all the nightowls and early risers for calling. I spent most of the day relaxing and doing some work on the camper.

By late Saturday afternoon, some heavy rain moved in, forcing us to hunker down in the camper for the rest of the day. I got on the radio again and worked some more POTA chasers and picked off a few New York QSO Party stations. I shut down around 7:30 P.M. (2330Z) with 35 QSOs in my log.

Back on the air Sunday morning (0800 local, 1200Z), I intended to make a few casual Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts. I called CQ SKCC a few times and soon had a mini pileup. I had forgotten that the POTA spotting website would automatically spot me. So I quickly switched out my straight key for my paddles and proceeded with an impromptu POTA activation. After eleven quick POTA contacts, things slowed down, and I shut down to pack up. 

I ended the weekend with 46 QSOs, including two park-to-park contacts. Not too shabby for five watts, I guess.

So, that wraps up another camping season, albeit a short one. Now it’s time to finish winterizing the trailer and putting it to bed for the next five months. Hopefully, the QRP Camper will see more action next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rich Arland K7SZ (SK)

It saddened me to learn over the weekend of the recent passing of Rich Arland K7SZ. Rich was an avid QRPer and author of several books and many articles on the subject. Years back, he was the author of the QRP Power column in QST Magazine. Rich was a 2002 inductee in the QRP Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor.

I first met Rich when we were both members of the (now defunct) Eastern Pennsylvania QRP Club. He and his wife, Patty, attended a Field Day or two with the club in French Creek State Park. His keen sense of humor always made for a fun weekend. 

Rich Arland K7SZ at the Eastern Pennsylvania QRP Club (EPA-QRP) Field Day in 2005.
Rich Arland K7SZ at the Eastern Pennsylvania QRP Club (EPA-QRP) Field Day in 2005.

During one of our club gatherings, he admired an alkaline battery pack I built into a small military surplus container. I had an extra container, which I mailed to him along with a small circuit breaker/switch. Rich wrote about his completed battery pack in the March 2002 edition of QST (pages 82-83). He gave me a little shout-out, too.

When I bought my Yaesu FT-817, Rich sent me a nice little 12 volt power supply to go with it. That was about 18 years ago, and that power supply is still in regular use today. 

Rest in peace, Rich. I’ll think of you every time I power up my old FT-817.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Nolde Forest

I activated a new (for me) park this morning. Although Nolde Forest State Park (K/KFF-4362) is only a 45 minute drive for me, I had never been there.

The Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center is located south of Reading, Pennsylvania. It’s a 725 acre park with numerous trails and diverse habitats.

I first pulled into the Sawmill parking area, which is a trailhead for some of the hiking trails. The parking lot was small and crowded, so I drove down the road to the main entrance. There, I found the gate partially closed with a sign that said parking was only for an event. Back to the Sawmill area I went.

Bulletin board in the Sawmill parking area at Nolde Forest Evironment State Park
Bulletin board in the Sawmill parking area at Nolde Forest Evironment State Park

I found a parking spot and got the KX3 and homebrew vertical set up. The area is in a low spot, so I wasn’t expecting much. Not long after I spotted myself, 40M came alive with callers. I made my first ten contacts in about 9 minutes. I stayed on 40M about 30 minutes until the hunters thinned out.

My parking spot in Nolde Forest State Park. The parking lot was crowded, but I managed to get a spot on the end.
My parking spot in Nolde Forest State Park. The parking lot was crowded, but I managed to get a spot on the end.

The 20M band was a different story, though. I only made two contacts up there, but one of them gave me a 559 from Nevada. Not too shabby for 5 watts in a gully, I guess. I tried 30M, but I only found one taker there. I went back to 40M and picked up a few more before wrapping up.

At one point, a young man walked up to my passenger-side window and asked what I was doing. I gave him my elevator speech about Amateur Radio and Parks on the Air (POTA). He gave me two thumbs up and said that was “rad.” I assume I suitably impressed him.

After an hour and fifteen minutes, I had 25 contacts in my log. No park-to-park QSOs this time, though.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see much of the park beyond the parking lot. My doctor hasn’t cleared me for hiking (or biking) just yet. I need to go back again sometime when I can do some exploring. Maybe some operating on top of the hill that was behind me.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at William Penn State Forest

We had some beautiful Fall weather here in southeastern Pennsylvania today. It was a great day for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. This time I drove up to William Penn State Forest’s Hopewell Tract near Elverson, PA.

I have operated here many times over the years. However, this was my first POTA activation from here. The area around the Hopewell Fire Tower has good elevation, and I have always had good luck there.

The Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest, Hopewell Tract (POTA K-5481)
The Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest, Hopewell Tract (POTA K-5481)

The parking lot was empty when I arrived. Except for some occasional hikers passing through, I had the place to myself. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab. I ran my usual 5 watts.

I spotted myself and started calling CQ. It took me about 20 minutes on 40M to make the required ten contacts. I logged 19 contacts on 40M, including three park-to-park QSOs.

I had mixed results on 20M. I got very few Reverse Beacon Network spots, but I worked two Oregon stations and one in Nevada. I had no more takers after that. I moved down to 30M and picked up five more there.

I packed up after an hour and a half. In all, I made 27 contacts in about 13 states and two Canadian provinces.

Before heading out, I walked back to the Fire Tower to get a picture. Years ago, you could climb the tower, but it’s been closed now for some time. I’m not big on heights, so it’s not a big loss for me.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks Round 2

I was back down in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a few days this week. Since I was there for a family function, there wasn’t much time for ham radio. I did, however, get on the air for a bit one morning with a haphazard antenna.

We were staying with family in a rental house just down the road from the one we were in last month. Like the previous house, it had a beautiful view of Currituck Sound.

One morning, everyone went over to the beach for some surf fishing. Since I’m still dealing with my knee issues, I stayed behind and broke out the radio.

I took my KX3 out to a small, 3rd story deck and broke out two 25-foot pieces of speaker wire for an antenna. I wrapped one around the deck railing for the radiator. For a counterpose, I tossed the other wire off the deck. I used a BNC-to-binding post adapter to connect up to the KX3.

Operating from the deck in Corolla, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks
Operating from the deck in Corolla, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks

Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much from this antenna with 5 watts. When I turned on the rig, though, I heard some very loud signals on the 40M band. After calling CQ a few times, I saw a dozen spots on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

Over the next forty-five minutes, I had a couple of rag chews with stations in New York and New Jersey. I also logged a Parks of the Air (POTA) station in Connecticut.

My KX3 out on the deck. You can see the two pieces of speaker I used for an antenna.
My KX3 out on the deck. You can see the two pieces of speaker wire I used for an antenna.

Before packing up, I moved up to 20M and heard a French station calling CQ. I threw out my call and heard, “WB3?.” My 5 watts and the thrown-together antenna made it to France. Unfortunately, a loud, low-pitched version of my CW was coming from somewhere down below. As it turns out, the wire hanging off the deck was right next to an outdoor speaker. I didn’t complete the contact for fear of creating too much of a racket.

By this time, I was losing my shade anyway, and it was getting hot out there. So, I took down my makeshift antenna and packed up the radio. This brief—but fun—session was the only opportunity I had on this trip for ham radio.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with 5 watts and a couple of pieces of wire.

72, Craig WB3GCK

September Weekend Sprintathon

I haven’t made too many Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts lately, so I took some time today to participate in the Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I drove up to my daughter’s property and operated from one of the fields.

To keep things simple, I used my usual 19-ft vertical mounted on the truck. I took advantage of the beautiful weather and set up a table and chair under a shady tree. I used my KX3 at 5 watts, along with my little MS2 straight key.

My operating location for the September 2021 Weekend Sprintathon (WES)
My operating location for the September 2021 Weekend Sprintathon (WES)

I started on 40M and only heard a few WES stations to work. I called CQ for a while and bagged a few more contacts. Based on my Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spots, the band was in good shape. Before changing bands, I found two Parks on the Air (POTA) activators and worked them. 

I switched to 20M and found that the two loudest stations were from France. I had back-to-back WES contacts with Bob F6EJN and Bert F6HKA. Bob and Bert gave me RSTs of 559 and 569, respectively. I tried a few stateside stations, but I wasn’t getting through—go figure. I did log two more POTA stations, though. 

My KX3 and MS2 straight key
My KX3 and MS2 straight key

I gave 40M another try and found WA3GM doing a POTA activation in the next county over. Greg gave me a 339, but he was able to pull me out. After working three more WES stations, I started packing up.

I ended up with a dozen WES contacts and five POTA stations. Regardless of the number of QSOs, it was a great day to take the radio outside.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at PA State Game Lands 234

I did another brief Parks on the Air (POTA) activation today. My target this time was PA State Game Lands 234 (K-8931). This one was close by, as a section of it is only 15 minutes from home. It was certainly quieter than my last activation.

The parking area is right across the street from a residential area. Also, there were powerlines directly across from me. There was a steady stream of hunters coming and going, so the parking area was crowded. It’s dove season here in Pennsylvania.

Entrance to PA State Game Lands 234 near Royersford, PA.
Entrance to PA State Game Lands 234 near Royersford, PA.

With all the hunting going on, I didn’t venture into the gated area. Instead, I operated from the parking area. I used my usual setup—my 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and my KX3 (5 watts) inside.

I started off on 40M with a park-to-park (P2P) contact with VE2VIA in Quebec. After spotting myself, things picked up. I soon had my required ten contacts. After 30 minutes, the 40M activity began to slow down. I moved up to 20M and had 4 QSOs, including a P2P contact with KØBWR in Idaho. Despite some powerline noise, the 30M band produced another ten QSOs.

On four occasions, I stopped to answer questions from curious hunters. They were fascinated with my antenna and the fact that I was using Morse Code to communicate. I’m always happy to stop and give ham radio a plug.

I packed up after an hour and fifteen minutes. I ended with 29 QSOs, including the two P2P contacts. Thanks to WD9IGY, who worked me on both 20M and 30M.

This outing was a fitting wrap-up for a long holiday weekend here in the U.S. I hope my fellow U.S. hams had a safe and happy Labor Day.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Different Kind of QRM

I did a brief Parks on the Air (POTA) activation today. My destination was Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (K-8742) in Elverson, PA. While it was successful, I ran into something I hadn’t encountered before: loud gunfire.

Before heading out, I took a look at the area using Google Earth. I found a public shooting range in the Game Lands with a large parking lot. It looked like an easy place to set up. As it turns out, it was not without some challenges.

Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (POTA K-8742) entrance
Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (POTA K-8742) entrance

When I got there, the parking lot was bustling with shooters out for some target practice. I parked away from the shooting range and set up my antenna on the truck. My rig was my trusty KX3 at 5 watts running CW.

The cell coverage wasn’t great, but I managed to spot myself on 40M. Almost immediately, I got a call from WA8ERJ, who gave me a park-to-park contact. I had a bit of a pile-up and logged ten contacts in the first twelve minutes. I logged a park-to-park contact with K8DRT before changing bands.

My setup in the public shooting range parking lot in Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043
My setup in the public shooting range parking lot in Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043

Up on the 20M band, the activity was somewhat sparse, and there was some noise from nearby powerlines. I managed to log two contacts before moving down to 30M. The 30M band was more productive, producing eight more for the log. 

The whole time I was operating, there was quite a bit of audio frequency QRM from the shooting range. My earbuds don’t provide much sound isolation. For the most part, though, the noise was intermittent and manageable. When necessary, I turned the volume up on the rig and rolled up the window.

The last contact was a bit difficult. The signal was weak and hard to hear over the noise from the range. He had to repeat his callsign five or six times before I got the whole thing. My apologies to that operator.

After an hour, I packed up and headed home. I ended up with 22 contacts, including the two park-to-park QSOs. Also, K9IS worked me on both 40M and 30M from Wisconsin. 

According to the POTA website, I was only the second person to activate this entity. It was also the first time I had to deal with loud gunfire during an activation. Of course, I was the one who picked this location. I should have anticipated the noise and brought some over-the-ear headphones.

On the drive out, I found another parking area further down the road from the shooting range. Next time, I’ll give that a shot—no pun intended.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Ridley Creek State Park

I did another impromptu Parks on the Air (POTA) activation this morning. This time I drove down to Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County, Pennsylvania (POTA K-1414). 

Although it’s only about a 30-minute drive from home, this was my first visit to Ridley Creek. Before I left, I did some quick aerial reconnaissance using Google Earth. I picked out a spot near a trailhead that looked promising and happened to have restrooms. 

On arrival, I found a parking spot near some trees away from other visitors and vehicles. I used my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab. As usual, I kept my power to 5 watts and ran CW only. 

My parking spot at Ridely Creek State Park.
My parking spot at Ridely Creek State Park.

I spotted myself on the POTA website and started calling CQ on 40M. Within a minute, I began receiving calls. It took less than ten minutes to make the required ten contacts. After 40M slowed down, I moved to 20M for a while, later finishing up on 30M.

After 90 minutes—the apparent limit of my attention span—, I had 34 contacts, including three park-to-park QSOs. I worked KØBWR out in Kansas on all three bands. Thanks, Steve!  VA2NB (aka VE3WMB), my QRP friend to the north, worked me on 40M and 20M from Quebec. Thanks, Michael!

The equestrian facility located within Ridley Creek State Park
The equestrian facility located within Ridley Creek State Park

With that, I packed up for the drive home. Before I left, I drove around the park to do some exploring. On my way out, I stopped near a horse farm within the park to take a picture.

It was a fun morning at Ridley Creek. I’m sure I’ll be back to activate it again. 

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2021

Yep, it’s that time of year again. My extended family and I headed down to Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our annual vacation. Of course, I spent some of that time on the radio. 

On Friday August 14th, after a long drive and a bunch of unpacking, I went about setting up an antenna. We had rented this house before, so I was familiar with the layout. 

I considered other antenna options, but in the end, I went with my trusty 29.5-foot vertical wire and 9:1 unun. With my limited mobility right now, it was a quick and easy option. Like last year, I mounted the 31-foot Jackite pole on the 3rd story deck and set up my radio in the shade on the 2nd story deck overlooking Currituck Sound. 

After breakfast on Sunday morning, I set up the radio to test the antenna. I made three quick POTA contacts to verify that things were working. 

Later that day, I participated in the New Jersey QRP Club’s Skeeter Hunt contest. Storms in the area made for some rough conditions, and the static crashes were horrendous at times. After an hour and a half, I saw some lightning across Currituck Sound from a storm cell headed my way. With 8 QSOs in the log, I decided to pull the plug and head indoors.

WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Club's Skeeter Hunt contest from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This was also my "shack" for the remainder of the week.
WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Club’s Skeeter Hunt contest from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This was also my “shack” for the remainder of the week.

For the rest of the week, I got on the air each day after breakfast for an hour or so. I made a handful of CW contacts each day, primarily chasing POTA activators. There was no shortage of activators to hunt, and I worked a couple of ATNOs (all-time new ones). These are parks activated for the very first time.

My antenna set up on the 3rd story deck of the house we rented for the week.
My antenna set up on the 3rd story deck of the house we rented for the week.

Like last year, I had intermittent noise on 40M, presumably, from something inside the house. That’s not unusual, as I generally run into some degree of noise issues in these rental houses. I still managed to make contacts, but it was a real challenge at times. I’ll probably try a different antenna next year. My Up & Outer worked well here in 2019, so I’ll probably go that route again next time.

The forecast for Friday—our last full day—was calling for rain and thunderstorms most of the day. So, I decided to take the antenna down a day early. Despite the noise and weather, I ended up with 37 CW QSOs in the log for the week.

I also like to check into the Thursday night net on the local repeater system when I’m here. The Outer Banks Repeater Association maintains linked repeaters that cover the entire area. Last night they were running a hurricane exercise and passing simulated emergency traffic. Being involved in EmComm myself, I enjoyed listening in on their emergency operations.

Man, this week went by fast. It seemed like I turned around, and it was time to pack up for the long drive home. We’re already looking ahead to next year, though, and we’ll probably rent the same house again. So, I have a year to think about next year’s antenna. 

73, Craig WB3GCK