Westclox Canadian Military Key

While puttering around the shack this morning, I came across an old key I had all but forgotten. It’s a Westclox Canadian military key that I acquired back when I was first licensed. It has been tucked away in the back of my desk drawer for most of the past 44 years. I can’t remember ever using it on the air, so I figured it’s time to give it a fresh look.

Westclox Canadian military key. According to the original box, it was manufactured in May 1949.
Westclox Canadian military key. According to the original box, it was manufactured in May 1949.

It seems like I’ve had this Westclox key forever. I remember buying it from a mail-order military surplus house around 1975. It was in excellent condition and appeared to be unused. The label on the box reads: Z1 ZA/CAN 0977. The box also shows a manufacturing date of May 1949. An identical key is shown on the W1TP website. The PA3EGH website also shows some similar keys.

Original box for the Westclox Canadian military key. The label reads Z-1 ZA/CAN 0977 and shows a date of May 1949.
Original box for the Westclox Canadian military key.

I don’t remember what I paid for it, but it wasn’t very expensive. I took a quick look at eBay this morning and I saw these keys listed anywhere from $80 to an outrageous $750.

One of the reasons it hasn’t seen much use is its “feel.” Unlike the J-38 style keys I used in the Navy, the contacts on the Westclox key are behind the fulcrum. This results in a “feel” that was a bit unusual to my taste.

The other issue with this key is that it’s somewhat loud. At one time I considered using it for portable operating while camping. However, I don’t think it would be a good choice for early morning operating when others are still sleeping.

Having said all that, there’s still something about this key that fascinates me. I spent some time re-adjusting it and it now feels better than I remembered. I also mounted it on a wooden base for some additional stability.

Frankly, I don’t think I gave this key a fair shake back when I bought it. So, I think I’m going to put this 70-year-old key on the air this week. If it really was new/unused when I bought it, this will be the first operational use in its 70-year existence.

73, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Cunningham Falls State Park

My (far) better half and I took our little camper to one of our favorite campgrounds for the weekend. Our destination was Cunningham Falls State Park in north-central Maryland. Our trip coincided with the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES). So, I spent most of my ham radio time operating in the contest.

Our site was wooded and nicely shaded but not large enough for the larger antenna I planned to use. Instead, I strapped my Jackite pole to a lantern post and used my trusty 29.5-foot wire and 9:1 unun.

I got on the air on Saturday at 1200Z when the contest started. The noise from my trailer was very low (for reasons unknown) and I heard some strong signals on 40M. Things got off to a good start but got a bit more challenging as the day went on.

I worked the contest on and off over the weekend with mixed results. I was able to easily make some contacts while others were difficult, if not impossible. Cunningham Falls is located in a very mountainous area. That, coupled with some sketchy band conditions, made it an interesting weekend.

I’ve been working towards my SKCC Senator award but I’ve been in a bit of a slump the past few weeks. I decided to increase my KX3’s power to a whopping 10W to improve my odds. This was the first time I haven’t been in the QRP category for a WES contest.

WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland
WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland

Despite the terrain and propagation issues, my casual operating resulted in 28 contacts in my log. Most were on 40M with a couple on 80M.

Here are the highlights:

  • I managed to add 12 more QSOs toward my Senator award. I only have 65 more to go.
  • On Saturday evening, I heard R7DA calling “CQ WES” from Russia on 40M. I gave him a call and got a “WB3? AGN.” It took quite a few tries before he had my full callsign and we were able to complete the QSO. Alex deserves major props for his patience and persistence in pulling my puny 10W signal out of the noise.
  • On Sunday morning, I got on the radio for a few final contacts before packing up. As I was tuning around looking for WES stations, I found N4ZN doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in New York. I gave him a call and had a park-to-park QSO. After that, I pulled the plug and started packing up for the long drive home.

Despite the occasional frustrations, it was an enjoyable weekend of camping and ham radio.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Amazing GOOP for Ham Radio

You have probably seen Amazing GOOP® in your local hardware store. This product with the funny-sounding name has been around for decades. I’ve been using it for ham radio applications for the past 25 years or so.

I recently did some extensive research on Amazing GOOP. (Full disclosure: OK. I lied. My “extensive research” merely consisted of a quick Google search and reading a Wikipedia article.) Back in 1972, a senior executive in the aerospace industry created a product called “Shoe GOO®.” Shoe GOO was intended to repair rubber-soled shoes. In fact, I first used it many years ago to repair a pair of rubber fishing waders. The original Shoe GOO is still produced by Eclectic Products. They also produce a wide variety of waterproof, flexible adhesives for a host of applications and environments. The Amazing GOOP® product line is what I’ve been using for ham radio applications.

Here are some of the uses I’ve found for it:

Sealing portable antenna connections. This was my original use for Amazing GOOP. After soldering the connections between the feedline and dipole elements, I seal them up with Amazing GOOP. I’ve never had any corrosion problems like you can run into with RTV.

This is the center connector of the doublet that I use for my "Up and Outer" antenna. I used Amazing GOOP to seal the soldered connections and help anchor the wires in place. This particular antenna was built about 15 years ago and is still holding up well.
This is the center connector of the doublet that I use for my “Up and Outer” antenna. I used Amazing GOOP to seal the soldered connections and help anchor the wires in place. This particular antenna was built about 15 years ago and is still holding up well.

Wire end loops. Instead of end insulators for my portable wire antennas, I just form small loops. I twist the wire to form a loop and use Amazing GOOP to hold the wire twists in place. (This works very well for my lightweight portable wire antennas but I would use end insulators for permanent antennas.)

End loop on one of my (many) wire antennas for portable use. I attach my throwing line directly to the loop, foregoing an insulator. With smaller diameter wire, I sometimes put some shrink wrap over the GOOP.
End loop on one of my (many) wire antennas for portable use. I attach my throwing line directly to the loop, foregoing an insulator. With smaller diameter wire, I sometimes put some shrink wrap over the GOOP.

Powerpole® connectors. I’m a “belt and suspenders” kind of guy. So, I crimp and solder my Powerpole connectors. After I assemble and test them, I apply some Amazing GOOP where the wires enter the connector housing. This provides strain relief and makes them very rugged. I also place a dab of GOOP on both ends of the roll pin. This keeps them from popping out in the field.

Miniature audio connectors. I’m hard on the little 1/8″ audio plugs I use on my CW keys. So, after soldering and testing them, I put some GOOP on the connections before screwing on the plastic housing. Then, I put some GOOP on the wires where they enter the connector to add strain relief. I also apply GOOP to spade/ring lugs after they are crimped and soldered.

A 3.5mm plug and Anderson Powerpole connector after I have applied GOOP as a strain relief. Sure, they look a bit ugly but these connectors are pretty much bomb-proof. These items have seen heavy use in the field over the past 3 or 4 years.
A 3.5mm plug and Anderson Powerpole connector after I have applied GOOP as a strain relief. Sure, they look a bit ugly but these connectors are pretty much bomb-proof. These items have seen heavy use in the field over the past 3 or 4 years.

My CW Clipboard. I used GOOP to attach the steel washers to the clipboards I use in the field. The washers are how I attach the magnetic bases of my portable paddles and straight key to the clipboard.

I used GOOP to attach the steel washers to the clipboards I use in the field. The washers are used to attach the magnet bases of my portable paddles and straight key.
I used GOOP to attach the steel washers to the clipboards I use in the field. The washers are used to attach the magnetic bases of my portable paddles and straight key.

My rainspout antenna. I use a liberal amount of GOOP to seal the connection to my trusty rainspout antenna. GOOP holds up well to the continuous exposure to the elements.

Hopefully, the pictures will clarify my descriptions.

If I can find it, I use one of the GOOP varieties intended for outdoor use for my rainspout and portable wire antennas. Right now, I’m using Amazing GOOP Max. Regular old household variety of Amazing GOOP is fine for most uses, though. For all applications, I like to let the GOOP cure overnight before use.

A few disclaimers are in order:

  • This stuff is permanent. Be sure whatever you’re using it on works before sealing it up with GOOP.
  • This stuff works for me, as described. I don’t know what you’re using it for or how you’re using it, so your results may vary.
  • I have absolutely no financial interests in this product. I’m just a satisfied consumer.

So, that’s it. I hope you found it useful.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Reference Links:

Tough Weekend of Camping

I spent the weekend camping in one of the most scenic campsites we’ve encountered in a while. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great weekend for weather-wise and radio-wise.

The park in question was Elk Neck State Park in northeastern Maryland. Our site was wooded, shady, and had a beautiful view of the Elk River.

We rolled in on Friday evening just before dark. We went about setting up the camper and I set up my usual 29.5-foot vertical. I checked to make sure the radio was working and headed out to join my (far) better half at the campfire.

The next morning was another hot and humid day, with temperatures headed towards the 90s. We’ve had a bunch of those lately. I set up the KX3 in a shady spot and checked around on 40M for some SKCC contacts. I worked a station in Georgia but it was a bit of a struggle. Although the propagation forecasts looked pretty decent, there was some deep fading and lots of static crashes.

WB3GCK operating outside the camper at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland
WB3GCK operating outside the camper at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland

After breakfast, I tried again. After going unheard by several stations, I finally got through to a station in New Hampshire. Again, it was a struggle to complete the contact (mostly for the other guy, I suppose).

Around this time, it started raining. A spotty but severe thunderstorm was headed right towards us. We quickly stashed our outdoor gear and retreated into the trailer. It poured buckets. After the storm passed, I found my coax submerged in a puddle. (Note to Self: Test that coax to make sure it’s OK.)

The aftermath of one of the storms that rolled through Elk Neck State Park. My coax cable resembled the Transaltlantic Cable.
The aftermath of one of the storms that rolled through Elk Neck State Park. My coax cable resembled the Transaltlantic Cable.

It rained on and off for much of the afternoon. With thunder and lightning in the area, I stayed off the radio. Fortunately, the rain stopped long enough for us to make dinner outdoors and enjoy another campfire. After we turned in for the night, yet another storm came through. This one featured lots of thunder and lightning.

This morning, I set up the radio outside again. It was another hot and humid day. The biting flies were out in full force, too. Despite all that, I fired up the radio. I made one last contact with another station in New Hampshire. As you might guess, the op on the other struggle to get my information. His QRO signal was fading, so I can image what I must have sounded like on his end. After that, we decided to pack up the camper and head home.

The view of Elk River in Maryland. There were some great sunrises over the river but, unfortunately, I couldn't capture a decent picture.
The view of Elk River in Maryland. There were some great sunrises over the river but, unfortunately, I couldn’t capture a decent picture.

I was a little disappointed that I was only able to squeeze out 3 contacts over the weekend. I would much rather write a post a making a bazillion contacts to far-flung places. I know these are tough times for QRP but still…

Elk Neck is one of my favorite campgrounds, so I’d like to get back down there in the Fall. Hopefully, the weather, propagation, and bugs will be better then.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Boschveldt QRP Field Day 2019

Well, another Boschveldt QRP Club Field Day is in the books. We had a much smaller crew this year but a good time was had by all.

Once again, we were graciously hosted by a local businessman who allowed us to use his private property. Pennsylvania has had a lot of rain lately, so parts of our Field Day site were soggy, to say the least. (My poor truck needs a bath!) We adapted nicely, keeping our equipment on the higher parts of the property.

This year, we ran 2A (QRP and battery-powered) in the Eastern Pennsylvania section. We used the club’s callsign, W3BQC. A few of our regular attendees had other obligations this year. So, this was a scaled-back Field Day for us. The main participants were Ed K3YTR, Ed WA3WSJ and me. On Saturday, Paul KB3ZOH and Diane KC3AOA stopped by for a visit.

I operated CW on 40M and below from my tent. I was running my KX3 at 5 watts with a 53-foot inverted L antenna fed through a 9:1 unun. I used a tree to secure the far end of the horizontal part of the antenna. It only took me 3 tries to hit my target branch. That’s pretty good for me.

WB3GCK - running CW from my tent
WB3GCK – running CW from my tent

WA3WSJ operated CW on 20M and above using a minimalist set up under an umbrella. He was running his KX2 into a 50-foot inverted L. He also camped out in his hammock under a tarp.

WA3WSJ operating CW with his minimalist setup
WA3WSJ operating CW with his minimalist setup

K3YTR worked SSB on 6M, 2M and 440 from his car and slept in a slick little teardrop camper. We used the trailer’s rear kitchen for our cooking.

The kitchen area of K3YTR's teardrop camper
The kitchen area of K3YTR’s teardrop camper

On the air, the bands were up and down. WA3WSJ and I both noted some deep fading on the HF bands. Nonetheless, we had no trouble making contacts. I had good luck on 40M, working stations all over the East Coast and out to the mid-West. WA3WSJ was working stations coast-to-coast, including the U.S. Virgin Islands. K3YTR, unfortunately, was plagued with equipment problems, so he didn’t have much luck on the VHF/UHF bands.

K3YTR setting up his VHF/UHF antennas
K3YTR setting up his VHF/UHF antennas

As always, the Boschveldt crew takes a lot of breaks for food and socializing. After dark, we gather around the campfire to roast marshmallow Peeps® and swap tall tales. We definitely are not hardcore contesters.

As always, no records were broken over the weekend. Still, it’s always a good time when our little band of QRPers gets together.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Father’s Day Camping in Maryland

I spent Father’s Day camping in Maryland. My (far) better half and I took our little camper down to Susquehanna State Park (POTA/WWFF K/KFF-1601). It was a beautiful weekend and our first time camping this year without rain.

Susquehanna State Park is relatively small but it’s one of my favorites. Our campsite this time was large, heavily-wooded, and secluded. It was just what we needed after a busy weekend — a peaceful place to relax.

When I wasn’t just goofing off, I was on the radio. My original plan was to put up an inverted L but there were just too many trees (and I was too lazy). So I stayed with my usual 29.5-foot vertical and 9:1 unun.

A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.
A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.

Instead of doing a formal POTA/WWFF activation, I focused on making SKCC contacts towards my “Senator” award. The bands were up and down but at times they were pretty good. Since we were “dry camping” without hookups, I didn’t have to contend with a bunch of noise from the trailer.

Breakfast time at the "QRP Camper" in Susquehanna State Park (MD).
Breakfast time at the “QRP Camper” in Susquehanna State Park (MD).

One of my first contacts on Friday was Florida on 40M. So, that was a good sign. On Saturday morning, there was some good SKCC activity on 30M. I worked several mid-West stations, including AK9A in Wisconsin. Bob was running 1 watt and putting out a great signal. Later in the day, I caught a good opening on 20M, netting me 579 reports from Louisiana and Manitoba, Canda. At the end of the weekend, my casual operating netted me 19 contacts. Six of them counted towards my SKCC “S Quest.”

Other than that, we caught up on much-needed sleep and ate lots of good food. Now, it’s back to the real world.

Life is good...
Life is good…

I’ll be busy this weekend getting stuff together for Field Day next weekend. I’ll be operating with the Boschveldt QRP Club (W3BQC). Give us a shout if you hear us!

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES Portable in Valley Forge

This weekend is the SKCC‘s monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. When I can, I like to go out and operate portable for at least part of the contest. I headed to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a couple of hours to take advantage of the great weather.

On arrival, I headed for a shady spot that I’ve used a few times before. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up a small table behind my truck. I fired up my KX3 and got on the air.

My set up in Valley Forge
My set up in Valley Forge

In short order, I logged several stations on 40M, including a POTA park-to-park QSO. (Valley Forge is POTA/WWFF K/KFF-0761.) Moving up to 20M, I made a few more contacts.

I decided to check 15M and I’m glad I did. I found several very strong stations who easily heard my meager 5-watt signal. I called CQ for a while and picked up a few more stations. I seemed to have a pipeline to Indiana and Illinois. It was great to hear some WES activity on 15M.

After a couple of hours, I started to run out of shade. I was getting hot and so was the KX3. I decided to pack up for the day. Besides, I had to do some preparations for a public service event early the next morning.

It was a great day for portable operating and I added a few more QSOs towards my SKCC Senator award.

72, Craig WB3GCK