Of Blind Squirrels and QRP Contests

There’s an old saying that goes: “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.” I think that was the case for me 23 years ago.

As I was submitting my meager entry for last week’s QRP to the Field (QTTF) Contest, it made me think back to the very first QTTF contest in April of 1995. I’ve never considered myself a serious contester; not by a long stretch. Somehow, though, I actually placed 1st overall in the NorCal QRP Club’s inaugural QTTF.  I actually did it with a most unlikely setup, too.

My 1st place certificate from the first-ever running of the QRP to the Field Contest in 1995
My 1st place certificate from the first-ever running of the QRP to the Field Contest in 1995

A local ham, Rolf N3LA (SK), graciously allowed me to operate my modest QRP station from his rural property. I operated from my truck with my antenna supported by one of Rolf’s trees.

My antenna was simply a 40M inverted vee that I made from #22 stranded hook-up wire. I fed it with about 30-feet of RG-174 coax. The center of the antenna was only about 12 to 15 feet high. One end was tied off to a bush about 4 feet off the ground. The other end ran into a fenced-in area that was home to a ram with a bad attitude.  I had to wait until the ram was otherwise pre-occupied to tie-off that end of the antenna. That end was only a foot or two off the ground.

My rig was a Small Wonder Labs SW-40 running 950mW. This was from the first batch of kits offered by Dave Benson’s (K3SWL) former company. I was also using a keyer built from an old NorCal kit, which used the classic Curtis keyer chip. I used a set of paddles that I had cobbled together from stuff in my junk box. The whole station was powered by a 7 A-H gel cell battery that was almost as big as the rest of the equipment combined.

Some of the equipment I used for the QTTF Contest in 1995. The SW-40 and NorCal Keyer are packaged in LMB enclosures. My "Junkbox Paddles" are on the right. I made a lot of QSOs with this setup in years past.
Some of the equipment I used for the QTTF Contest in 1995. The SW-40 and NorCal Keyer are packaged in LMB enclosures. My “Junkbox Paddles” are on the right. I made a lot of QSOs with this setup in years past.

Over the course the afternoon, I worked a steady stream of QRPers. I was in QRP heaven. Even Rolf, who was monitoring from inside his house, was amazed at the number of contacts I was producing with less than a watt.

QRP to the Field 1995 - WB3GCK (950mW)
40M CW
-----
1615 K4XY VA
1641 WA9MTO MD
1646 KG8FL OH
1653 KI2L MA
1655 VE3VAW ONT
1659 W2RPH NJ 1W
1701 K2SJB NY
1706 VY2MP PEI
1710 N1OZL MA
1715 VY2MP PEI (DUPE)
1723 WQ1T NH
1728 VE3FRF ONT
1740 KC1FB CT
1743 W3TS PA 1W
1745 AC4WC VA 4W
1749 K1PUG CT 1W
1807 WK8S MI
1810 WA8IBT OH
1827 N7ANT VA
1836 W3EEK PA
1840 W2TFL NY
1841 VE3UWL ONT
1844 KB8GAE OH
1848 AA3GN PA
1851 K2MV NJ
1855 WA0JTL MI
1858 WB8EEL MA
1903 N4JEO VA
1905 NO1E NH
1913 AA2PF NY
1915 K4XY VA (DUPE)
1917 N2CX NJ
1929 AA2NL NJ
1930 AA4YZ/8 OH
2038 W2QUV NY 5W
2048 KD4PUP VA
2050 KT3A PA <1W
2054 KA4GVA VA
2056 W03B MD 250mW
2101 W8MVN OH 4W
2117 AA2WJ NY
2129 KZ4D VA 2W
2137 WA8LCZ MI
2139 AA1EX NH
2141 WQ1F VT 4W
2144 KC1FB CT (DUPE)
2146 K2JT NJ
2204 K0JPL MO
2209 KA3WTF PA 5W

I specifically remember a couple of the contacts.  I worked Joe N2CX, who was testing a new antenna over in New Jersey.  Joe later mentioned that QSO in an article about his antenna in QRP Quarterly. I also remember working Ernie W8MVN (SK) in Ohio. Back in the day, Ernie ran a pair of phased, full-wave 40M delta loops on top of a 60-foot tower. He called me with an ear-splitting QRP signal that had me scrambling for the RF gain control on my rig. I think my ears are still ringing from his incredibly loud signal.

Even though I only operated on one band with my 950mW rig, I managed to log 46 contacts (plus a few dupes) that day. With my QRPp multiplier, I ended up in first place out of a field of 50 stations.

I haven’t done that well in a QRP field contest since.  (I did, however, place 2nd in the New England QRP Club’s QRP Afield contest using the same equipment later that year.) Rather than skill or prowess as a contester, I have always attributed my win to a combination of great propagation and lots of plain old dumb luck.

If your callsign is in the log above, thank you for helping this blind squirrel find a nut!

72, Craig WB3GCK

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