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

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