Father’s Day with a New Rig

I needed another rig like I needed a hole in the head, but I couldn’t resist. I’ve had my eye on the Penntek TR-35 for a while now, so I finally pulled the trigger and ordered one. I considered it a Father’s Day present to myself. Two days later, I had the TR-35 in my hands.

Lacking the patience and the close-up vision for serious kit building these days, I ordered a factory-built radio with the rotary encoder tuning option. Now, I have seen plenty of pictures and videos of the TR-35, but the small size of this rig really struck me when I opened the box. Its footprint is not much larger than a QSL card. It’s a perfect size for portable operating.

Here are some features that drew me to the TR-35:

  • It covers the bands I use most in the field (40/30/20/17)
  • Built-in iambic mode B keyer (my mode of choice)
  • Two CW memories. Perfect for POTA activations, QRP contests, etc.
  • Separate inputs for paddle and straight key. I sometimes get calls from fellow SKCC members, so it’s convenient to switch instantly to a straight key for those QSOs.
  • No complicated menu structures to navigate to get things set up. The TR-35 is super-simple to operate, and that’s just how I like it. 

The TR-35 doesn’t include a built-in tuner. No worries; I’m going to dust off my little Elecraft T1 ATU and show it some love. An SWR indicator would have been a nice feature to have, but I can get along fine without it. 

Taking It For a Spin

I didn’t have a chance to put my new TR-35 on the air until today. I drove over to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761 and KFF-0761) to try the new rig on a POTA activation. Doing an activation with a radio you’ve never used is a little like going camping with a tent you’ve never set up before. But, what the heck, I was a risk-taker today. Actually, I brought a backup rig along, but I never needed it. 

I set up the TR-35 in the cab of my truck, along with my T1 tuner. The antenna was my homebrew 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck. As soon as I powered up, I was greeted by lots of loud CW signals. That’s a good sign. I quickly programmed a “CQ POTA” message into one of the two CW memories and got on the air.

My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.
My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.

One of the first things I noticed is how loud the audio is. I was using earbuds, and I had to turn the volume almost all the way down. The sidetone seemed a bit loud for my liking, but not really much of a problem for me.

Once I got going, I had a lot of fun with this little rig. I easily made contacts on each of the four bands (40/30/20/17). The TR-35 is a joy to operate, and I really appreciate its simplicity. Tuning with the optional rotary encoder is smooth as silk.

After about an hour and a half, I had 24 contacts in the log, with five park-to-park QSOs. My stomach reminded me it was lunchtime, so I packed up and headed home. I left the park feeling very happy about my recent purchase. The TR-35 is going to see a lot of use in the field.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

73, Craig WB3GCK

7 thoughts on “Father’s Day with a New Rig”

    1. Hi Daniel:. The narrow CW filter is pretty good. The specs say it’s 350Hz followed by a 700Hz audio filter. I had no issues with selectivity. – Craig WB3GCK

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  1. Well Happy Fathers Day to yourself, I have seen this unit on a few blogs and all that have the rig are very happy with it. Was good to read that the radio is not menu-driven. I have had some small rigs and stand-alone keyers that required you to carry 3×5 cards with instructions on how to travel through the menus for a simple function.
    Happy Fathers Day and enjoy the new radio.
    73,
    Mike
    VE9KK

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    1. Thanks, Mike. I can’t tell you how many user manuals and cheatsheets I have stored on my phone. Not necessary for this rig. 73. Craig WB3GCK

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  2. Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the review! I’ve about decided to buy this rig, but economics and my own sense of adventure mandate I build it. As you know, there’s a new option in that optical encoder. (And an expensive one.) If you or anybody has info on how hard that is to install, I’d be interested. As I understand it, the leads on it are pretty darn close together.

    As for weakness people sometimes mention in this and other rigs, it’s good to remember you can add peripherals to bridge most shortcomings if they’er troublesome. A ZM-2 antenna tuner, an outboard filtre or audio amplifier, etc. I’m not aware of an easy stopgap for the dim display – common issue in little kit radios – but that can probably also be user-addressed somehow.

    Just a point I like to bring up from time to time. Puts us back in the driver’s seat.

    Thanks again,

    Rob
    KB7PWJ

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    1. Hi Rob:

      Since I didn’t build this rig, I can’t comment on the rotary encoder installation. I agree with you on the outboard accessories. I use my Elecraft T1 tuner with this rig and it works great. As for the display, there is a function provided that reverses the screen to make it easier to read in bright conditions. I haven’t tried that out yet, and, unfortunately, the TR-35 is currently packed up with my other gear for Field Day.

      73, Craig WB3GCK

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