The K0MBT Mini-Mini Key

OK, I admit it. I have a fascination with tiny straight keys and paddles. With the proliferation of 3D printers, there are a lot of neat, innovative products available these days. This unusual little key from Dave Balfour KØMBT is a good example.

Dave got started in 3D printing as a hobby a few years ago. A while back, he started sharing his straight key designs with his fellow SKCC members on the SKCC mailing list. That generated some interest and, before long, Dave was offering his keys for sale. As of this writing, Dave is offering straight keys in two sizes and a single lever paddle that can be used as a sideswiper (aka cootie) key.

I ordered the smaller of Dave’s straight keys, which he calls the “Mini-Mini.” Dave promptly shipped one and I had it a few days later. When I opened the box, I was immediately intrigued by this little key.

K0MBT "Mini-Mini" Key
K0MBT “Mini-Mini” Key

When I say “little,” I mean “little.” Overall, it measures approximately 2-1/4″ L x 1″ W x 3/4″ H and weighs in at a minuscule 0.7 oz. (19g). Instead of a traditional knob, Dave uses a novel indentation on the keying lever. The other unique thing is the switch he uses instead of the contacts. A little computer mouse switch provides both the contact closure as well as the return spring. As a result, there are no adjustments for contact spacing or tension. It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

On the rear of the key, there are two terminals for connecting the wires of your choice. There are holes on each side of the key, that meet at the two terminals. You can route your wires in from the side, providing a little strain relief.

Rear view of the K0MBT "Mini-Mini" key
Rear view of the K0MBT “Mini-Mini” key

When I first grasped the key, my forefinger instinctively went into the indentation and it felt very natural. Despite the lack of adjustments, the key has a nice feel to it. With it just sitting on my desk, I can send code without the key sliding around too much. With the cable I’m using, though, it can sometimes feel like “the tail wagging the dog.” It’s not a huge issue, as long as I’m careful.

Kudos to Dave KØMBT for this unique and fun little key. If you’d like more information on Dave’s keys, look him up on QRZ.com or download Dave’s PDF file describing his offerings.

73, Craig WB3GCK

[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this product whatsoever.]

WES at Frances Slocum State Park

My (far) better half and I hitched up the “QRP camper” and headed north to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Our destination for the weekend was Frances Slocum State Park. It was our first visit there and we had a great time. As a bonus, our trip coincided with the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

Frances Slocum State Park, located north of Wilkes-Barre, covers 1,035 acres. The centerpiece of the park is Frances Slocum Lake. The campground is relatively small and very quiet. Ours was one of the larger sites available and was nicely secluded.

Frances Slocum Lake
Frances Slocum Lake

After getting the camper situated, I went about setting up my antenna. I had a bit of trouble driving in my Jackite pole ground mount. The ground was very rocky and it took 5 or 6 tries to find a spot to drive it in. I wound up putting it at the edge of our site near a large stand of pine trees.

My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.
My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.

I got on the air Saturday morning just as the WES contest was starting. In general, it seemed like my 5-watt signal was getting into the southern states with good signal reports but reaching New England was a problem at times. I’m guessing that the mountainous terrain surrounding the park was a factor.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park

After operating on and off on Saturday (and a little bit early Sunday morning), I ended up with 20 WES contacts in 12 SPCs. Not too bad, considering the time I spent on the air. I also worked KX0R out in Colorado. This was the second camping trip in a row where I worked George during one of his SOTA activations.

All in all, it was a very nice weekend. The weather was great and the radio wasn’t too bad.

72, Craig WB3GCK

W3Z Special Event Station

I received an email from my friend, Walt KB3SBC, last week. His group needed a CW operator for a special event station they were going to run at a local college. I volunteered to come out to work a few hours of CW for them and had a fun morning.

The event was the 150th anniversary of the founding of Ursinus College. Ursinus is a liberal arts college located in nearby Collegeville, PA.

Walt’s group, the Education Alliance for Amateur Radio (EAAR) is a non-profit corporation established in 2016 that promotes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education through youth and community education and collaboration with other Amateur Radio organizations. The group obtained the callsign, W3Z, for the event at Ursinus College.

QSL card for the W3Z special event station
QSL card for the W3Z special event station

I arrived at Ursinus yesterday morning, as the group was unloading and setting up two outdoor stations near the festivities. The antennas included a fan dipole for 40M & 20M and Walt’s 32-foot military vertical.

Special event station, W3Z, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of Ursinus College. Walt KB3SBC (left) is operating FT8, while Bill KA3RMM is operating SSB.
Special event station, W3Z, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of Ursinus College. Walt KB3SBC (left) is operating FT8, while Bill KA3RMM is operating SSB.

I had the honor of leading off the event, operating CW. We were in the midst of a G2 geomagnetic storm, so it was rough going at times. After a couple of hours, we managed to put more than a dozen stations in the log, including Germany and two Belgian stations. (This was the first time I operated at 100 watts in more than 20 years!) Walt then took over and started making contacts with FT8, while the other station operated SSB.

I wasn’t able to stay for the whole event, so I don’t know what the final tally was. However, if you worked W3Z yesterday, see QRZ.com for QSL information.

I’d like to thank EAAR for the opportunity to be a part of the event. Be sure to visit the EEAR website and follow them on Facebook to find out more about their important work promoting STEM education.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable in the Park

We finally got a break from the incessant heat yesterday, so it was a great day to take the bike out for a ride.

I headed back to the Schuylkill River Trail near Oaks, Pennsylvania; one of my favorite places to ride. I rode for a couple of miles before turning onto the Perkiomen Trail. Along the way, I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park for a little radio.

Bicycle-portable in Lower Schuylkill Valley Park
Bicycle-portable in Lower Schuylkill Valley Park

I mounted my Alexloop to a picnic table and fired up my trusty KX3. Things got off to a slow start but I eventually connected with fellow SKCCer, K9FW, on 30M. Al always puts out a great signal from Indiana. The 40M band was tied up with Ohio QSO Party stations. I worked a few of them before loading up the bike to continue my ride.

There was nothing earth-shattering, radio-wise, but it was a beautiful day to be out cruising on my bike. I’ll take those mid-70s temperatures any day.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2019

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

I was still recovering from a long drive home yesterday but I wanted to get out for this year’s Skeeter Hunt contest. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I managed to catch part of it.

Like last year, the Skeeter Hunt fell on the day after the trip home from my annual Outer Banks family vacation. I took some time off from unpacking and putting things away and headed out to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a bit.

I found a parking spot near a picnic table in an almost deserted area of the Park. The temperature was in the 90s today, so I made sure to pick a table under a shady tree. I mounted my 19-foot homebrew vertical on the truck and ran a coax cable over to the picnic table. I fired up my KX3 just after the contest started.

My set up in Valley Forge Park for the 2019 Skeeter Hunt. The table was well-shaded and close enough to the truck for 18-feet of coax to reach the antenna.
My set up in Valley Forge Park for the 2019 Skeeter Hunt. The table was well-shaded and close enough to the truck for 18-feet of coax to reach the antenna.

There was quite a bit of activity on 40M, so I spent most of my time there. When things started to thin out on 40M, I changed bands and picked up 3 more skeeters on 20M.

WB3GCK hunting skeeters in Valley Forge National Historical Park
WB3GCK hunting skeeters in Valley Forge National Historical Park

I packed up after an hour and a half but it was a fun time. I ended up with 22 QSOs in the log, including 19 skeeters and 14 SPCs. As always, it was nice to work some familiar callsigns.

Thanks to Larry W2LJ and the NJ QRP Club for sponsoring this contest. It continues to be one of my favorite QRP events of the year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2019

Once again, my family made our annual vacation trip to North Carolina. We rented a house in Corolla on the Outer Banks for the week. Of course, in between the usual vacation activities, there was some ham radio involved.

For various logistical and traffic reasons, it took us longer than usual to get there. It wasn’t until the next day (Sunday), that I was able to get an antenna up. This year, I went with my trusty “Up & Outer” antenna.

I mounted a 28-foot pole on the 3rd story deck for the vertical element. I strapped a smaller pole to a fence to support the horizontal element. I put a BNC-to-binding post adapter on my KX3 and fed the 300-ohm twin-lead directly. It loaded up fine from 60M through 10M. Surprisingly, the ambient noise levels were low. Man-made noise is usually a challenge in these rental houses.

Poles supporting my "Up & Outer" antenna. The pole on the left is supporting the vertical wire. The pole on the right is the end support for the horizontal wire.
Poles supporting my “Up & Outer” antenna. The pole on the left is supporting the vertical wire. The pole on the right is the end support for the horizontal wire.

I operated from a 2nd-floor deck on the rear of the house. This spot provided some nice shade for most of the day and gave a great view of Currituck Sound.

My outdoor shack for the week. The chair was particularly comfortable and the view of Currituck Sound was great.
My outdoor shack for the week. The chair was particularly comfortable and the view of Currituck Sound was great.

I managed to catch a few hours of the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. Running 10 watts, I worked 20 stations and added 8 more new contacts to my quest for the Senator Award. For good measure, I also worked DP6A in Germany who was participating in another contest. So, the antenna set-up appeared to be working fine.

The view of Currituck Sound from my antenna
The view of Currituck Sound from my antenna.

For the rest of the week, I fell into a pattern of casual QRP operating for a bit in the late mornings. The rest of the time was spent swimming, crabbing, and riding bikes with my grandkids. I still managed to make a handful of contacts each day and enjoyed some nice rag-chews.

Mid-week, we had some unsettled weather. I had a “Plan B” for inclement weather, though. I planned to move my radio gear into an unused sitting area not far from my outdoor location. I was going to use a small piece of pipe insulation to route the twin-lead in through a sliding door and keep it from touching the metal door jamb. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and “Plan B” never came into play.

As usual, the week went by too fast. On our last day, I made two more contacts before it was time to pack up the radio and tear down my antenna.

This was another fun vacation, radio-wise. I made 40 contacts, including some very nice early morning CW chats. I also worked a couple of stations who were also operating portable while on vacation and made a couple of DX contacts to boot. Plus, I continued my slow-but-steady progress towards my SKCC Senator Award, adding 16 new ones this week.

It was nice to be using a decent antenna in a low-noise environment — a welcomed change of pace from my home station!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Codorus State Park 2019

We’re in the midst of a busy camping season. Over the past weekend, we took our little “QRP” camper to Codorus State Park. I didn’t spend too much time on the radio this weekend but I did have some fun on 30M.

Codorus State Park, in southern York County, is one of our favorites. We try to get out there at least once a year. It’s a large, scenic park and includes and encompasses 1,275 acre Lake Marburg. Our site this time was large and wooded, with no neighbors on one side.

It was getting towards dark when I finally got around to putting up an antenna. I had a nice contact with W2IFB on 40M who was putting out a great 3-watt signal from New York. Assured that everything was in order, I headed out to join my (far) better half at the campfire.

The next morning, I made a few more contacts on 40M and 80M. Among those was N2KMF who was operating portable from Crandall Park near Glen Falls, New York.

WB3GCK operating at Codorus State Park near Hanover, Pennsylvania
WB3GCK operating at Codorus State Park near Hanover, Pennsylvania

For the rest of the weekend, I stayed on 30M, which provided lots of activity. The 30M band has always been one of my favorites and there was ample activity there. There weren’t any exotic contacts but I had fun working stations up and down the East Coast and out to the mid-West.

There was some deep fading on 30M on Saturday but Sunday was a different story. I got on around mid-day briefly before heading out for the trip back home. I was met with a mini pile-up and the signals were all solid. I quickly worked four stations before packing up the radio and tearing down the antenna.

Scenic Lake Marburg in Codorus State Park
Scenic Lake Marburg in Codorus State Park

The good news is that I made some more progress towards my SKCC Senator award. The bad news, though, is that I had to miss this year’s running of the Flight of the Bumblebees. The QRP contest coincided with our drive home. I hope all of the bumblebees had fun and I hope to be able to join in the fun next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK