Portable Antenna Ground Mount

Here’s yet another quick little hack. I raided my junk box to cobble together a ground mount for my portable vertical. While this solved a couple of specific issues I had, it might only be of interest to a few of you folks out there.

I often support my 19-foot vertical with one of those inexpensive fishing poles from eBay. (I paid around $10 USD for my 7.2M pole.) I had been using a simple method for ground mounting. I shove a screwdriver in the ground, take the bottom cap off of the pole, and place the pole over the screwdriver. Voila!

While the screwdriver technique is a useful way to support my vertical, there are two issues with it. First, the screwdriver method places the bottom of the pole in direct contact with the dirt. This can gunk up the threads on the bottom of the pole. (Ask me how I know.) Next, since my homebrew 19-foot vertical takes up the entire length of the pole, the matchbox ends up too close to the ground for my liking. I made a simple little gizmo that addresses both of these issues.

Antenna ground mount in use with my 19-foot vertical
Antenna ground mount in use with my 19-foot vertical

From some scraps and junk I had on hand, I used the following:

  • 5 inches of 1/2-inch PVC pipe
  • Approx 6 inches of 3/4-inch PVC pipe
  • 3/4″ x 1/2″ PVC reducer
  • (2) 3/4″ PVC end caps (with flat ends)
  • Stainless steel toilet float rod (1/4″ diameter x 10″ long. 1/4-20 threads on each end of the rod)
  • (2) 1/4-20 nuts
  • 1/4″ lock washer
  • Duct tape (optional, for a better fit between the 1/2-inch PVC and the bottom of the pole)
  • A dab of Lock-Tite thread locker

[Note: The PVC pipe I used works with the particular pole I use. If the bottom of your pole has a different inside diameter, you might need to use a different size pipe.]

I joined the two pieces of PVC pipe together with the PVC reducer. Then I glued the two end caps together, back-to-back. Next, I drilled a 1/4-inch hole through the center of the two end caps. I fastened the stainless steel rod with two nuts and a lock washer. I also used a dab of thread locker for good measure. I had to do some sanding on the 3/4-inch pipe to allow the end caps to slide on and off easier. At this point, you might want to put a layer or two of duct tape on the 1/2-inch pipe for a snug fit inside the pole.

The two main assemblies of the antenna ground mount
The two main assemblies of the antenna ground mount
Stainless steel rod bolted through the two back-to-back PVC end caps
Stainless steel rod bolted through the two back-to-back PVC end caps

In the field, I place the end cap assembly on the 3/4-inch pipe and shove the rod into the ground. The pole goes over the 1/2-inch PVC pipe, of course. This places the bottom of the pole about 8 inches above the ground. With lightweight poles, guying is unnecessary. For travel, I flip the end cap assembly around so that the bolt stores inside the pipe. This prevents poking holes in my backpack or bicycle pannier bags.

Antenna ground mount assembled for use
Antenna ground mount assembled for use
Antenna ground mount configured for travel. The stainless steel rod is stored safely inside the PVC pipe assembly.
Antenna ground mount configured for travel. The stainless steel rod is stored safely inside the PVC pipe assembly.

The threads on the end of the stainless steel rod pick up some dirt in use. It’s not a major problem but I might cut the rod off just above the threads. I haven’t decided yet.

That’s all there is to it. I’m hoping the accompanying pictures clarify how I built it.

72, Craig WB3GCK

175 Years of Morse Code

No, not me personally! But, today is actually the 175th anniversary of the first telegraph transmission from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. on May 24, 1844. Here’s an excellent article on the history of the Morse Code:

Simply elegant, Morse code marks 175 years and counting

It’s remarkable that Morse Code is still being used today. Bravo, Mr. Morse! It’s been a part of my life ever since I went through Navy Radioman School in 1970. It’s still my favorite ham radio mode and I’m proud to help keep the tradition alive.

My trusty J-38 straight key - wb3gck.com
My trusty J-38 straight key – wb3gck.com

So, get on the air today and make a CW contact or two.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Basin Trail Hike

I’ve been making it a point to get out and visit some new (to me, at least) local trails. Even in this suburban area, we are blessed with a myriad of trails to explore. I was long overdue for some hiking and, with today’s excellent weather, I packed up my gear and headed out.

My target today was the Basin Trail outside of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. This out-and-back trail runs between Black Rock Sanctuary and a public boat launch on the Schuylkill River. It’s only about .75 miles each way but it is an interesting trail. This area was an industrial silt basin that was converted into a wetland habitat for waterfowl. The Basin Trail gives some great views of the wetlands area.

Wetlands along the Basin Trail
Wetlands along the Basin Trail

I’ve been having some knee issues, so this trail was a good length to start off with. The hike to the Schuylkill River was flat for the most part. The wetlands are on one side of the trail and there’s some dense woods on the other side. It was an easy hike, except for a couple of very muddy, low-lying spots. There was no option except to trudge forward through the mud.

Historic silt basin water control weir on the Basin Trail
Historic silt basin water control weir on the Basin Trail

Near the Schuylkill River end of the trail, I found a bit of a clearing and opted to operate from there. I set up my KX3 along the trail and put up my 19-foot vertical a little further back. As I was getting ready to operate, I was warmly greeted by a swarm of bugs. I sure was glad I had some insect repellent in my pack.

WB3GCK operating from the Basin Trail
WB3GCK operating from the Basin Trail

On the air, I wasn’t hearing much activity. I was getting lots of hits on the Reverse Beacon Network on 40 meters but no takers. I checked 30 and 20 meters with no luck.

I headed back to 40 meters to give it one last try before packing up. This time, I received a very loud call from fellow SKCC member, AB8EL in Ohio. Thanks to Don for keeping me from getting skunked. I then tuned down the band and heard Randy KB4QQJ in North Carolina operating in the “Bug Roundup” event. I was using a straight key but I went ahead and gave him a call anyway.

After I finished, I packed up for the hike back. I did a little better negotiating the muddy spots this time.

This wasn’t my best outing, radio-wise, but it was good to loosen up my knees and spend some time out in the woods.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The Passing of a QRP Legend

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I was sad to learn of Joe Everhart’s passing. If you are at all involved with QRP or Parks on the Air, Joe’s callsign, N2CX, should be very familiar to you.

I first met Joe back in the early 90s, while we were both employed by the same company. With our common interest in QRP, we continued to cross paths through the years.

Joe was a talented engineer and freely shared his extensive technical knowledge with his fellow hams. Joe’s articles appeared in a variety ham radio publications. I particularly enjoyed his ongoing series of “Technical Quickies” in each issue of QRP Quarterly. The next issue of QRP Quarterly will contain his 109th and final “Quickie.” Joe was a tireless tinkerer and we all benefited from his experiments.

Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an "eyeball QSO" with Joe in April 2016.
Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an “eyeball QSO” with Joe in April 2016.

As an activator in Parks on the Air (POTA) and World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF), Joe was a machine. He traveled all over, activating countless parks at a dizzying pace. As of this writing, Joe was number 3 on the POTA list of Top Activators of All Time. I always enjoyed reading the recaps of Joe’s activations on Facebook or the QRP-L mailing list. He was a natural story teller with a great sense of humor.

So, thank you, Joe, for the advice and guidance you provided to me and others over the years. Looking back at our many QSOs in my log, it’s sad to think there won’t be any more. It was an honor to know you and you will be missed.

Rest in peace, my friend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The “QRP” Camper Rides Again

It seemed like an eternity since our little travel trailer went into storage for the Winter. This past weekend we were finally able to take it out for a weekend of camping. Of course, ham radio was a part of that.

My (far) better half and I went to nearby French Creek State Park for our inaugural trip of the 2019 season. We arrived on Friday night ahead of a line of severe thunderstorms. We had just enough time to get the trailer parked and leveled before the storms rolled in. My antenna would have to wait.

After the storms passed through, I was able to set the antenna up before it got too dark. I went with my trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical and 9:1 UNUN. It was too wet for a campfire so I got on the radio instead. There was a fair amount of SKCC activity on 30M. I made several QSO there before calling it quits for the night.

The WB3GCK QRP Camper at French Creek State Park. If you look closely, you can see my vertical antenna back along the tree line.
The WB3GCK QRP Camper at French Creek State Park. If you look closely, you can see my vertical antenna back along the tree line.

Saturday brought clear blue skies but also gusting winds and chilly temperatures. Two of our grandkids were visiting for the day, so my radio time was sporadic. During the course of the day, I made a variety of QSOs. Here are some of the highlights:

  • I ran into an old Polar Bear QRP friend, Mark NK8Q, on 60M CW. Mark was doing a SOTA activation in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.
  • I worked a special event station, WA1WCC, on Cape Cod. WA1WCC was commemorating International Marconi Day and the Centennial of RCA. This was the third time I’ve worked WA1WCC while camping at French Creek.
  • I worked a special event station, KM0RSE/8, commemorating Samuel Morse’s birthday. The operator was fellow SKCC and FISTS member, Larry KA8HFN.
  • Some of my Boschveldt QRP buddies were on an overnight hike on the Appalachian Trail. They were camping at a shelter on Peters Mountain in central Pennsylvania. Glen NK1N texted me to let me know he was on the air. I met Glen on 60M CW for an SKCC QSO. Shortly afterward, I worked both Glen and Ron WA8YIH on 60M SSB. It sounded like they were having a great time up there.

Fortunately, the winds eventually calmed down later in the day. After cooking some burgers and hanging out at the campfire with the grandkids, I made one more SKCC QSO before calling it a day.

On Sunday, we awoke to a somewhat rainy and dreary day. We usually do our cooking outdoors but today we opted for a leisurely breakfast in the camper. After breakfast, I made a few more QSOs before packing up for the drive home.

After a long Winter, it felt great to be back out in my little “QRP” camper. I’m looking forward to the next trip in a couple of weeks.

72, Craig WB3GCK

(Almost) Gone with the Wind

I was long overdue for some outside QRP-portable operating. Although we had some heavy rain overnight, it looked like it would be gone by mid-day. So, yesterday I headed out to nearby Towpath Park to take advantage of some milder temperatures.

I had a couple of objectives for today. First, I was hoping to make some QRP to the Field (QTTF) contest QSOs. I also wanted to test a new ground mount I put together for my cheap eBay telescopic pole.

When I got to the park, the rain had stopped. Unfortunately, last night’s heavy rains left the park a bit on the swampy side. That, coupled with some gusting winds, would make for an interesting test of my new ground mount. I was a bit leary but went ahead and set up the antenna anyway.

As I was setting up, a Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission officer got out of his car and walked up the path towards me. While it’s true that I was using a fishing rod (for my antenna), I was about 50 yards away from the river! As he approached, I told him that I was a ham radio operator. He said, “I know.” As it turns out, he was also a ham and had spotted my callsign on my license plate. He was just stopping by to say hello. As we talked a bit, we also found out that we also had some former employers and co-workers in common. Small world!

WB3GCK at Towpath Park
WB3GCK at Towpath Park

As we were chatting, the gusting wind blew my antenna over to a 45-degree angle. The ground was too soggy to hold my antenna mount. It never fell over, so I gave my antenna mount a passing grade for this extreme test. Unfortunately, in my rush to straighten out the antenna, I never took a picture. Pity. It put that tower in Pisa to shame. I moved the antenna a few feet to a somewhat drier spot and that did the trick. I’ll show a closer look at my ground mount in a future post.

My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.
My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.

When I finally got on the air, I found the bands dominated by Michigan and Ontario QSO Party stations. I didn’t hear any QTTF stations at all. So, I spent some time handing out points to some of the QSO Party stations.

After a while, I had had enough of the wind and packed up my gear. As I was packing up, the sun came out and the wind subsided. Go figure!

72, Craig WB3GCK

My Quest for SKCC Tribune x 8

I haven’t been posting much lately but I have been on the air a fair amount. I’ve been focusing my operating time on reaching a milestone in the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) award hierarchy.

I’ve been working on reaching the Tribune x 8 (Tx8) level on my way to reaching the Senator level. I needed to work 400 unique SKCC members (in increments of 50) who are Centurians, Tribunes, or Senators.

I began this weekend a mere 4 QSOs away from the Tx8 level. I had family coming for the weekend, so there wasn’t much time for radio. Despite that, I set a personal goal of finishing up the last 4 this weekend.

I got on the air on Friday night for about an hour and was on a roll. I worked 3 qualifying QSOs in a row, leaving me just 1 QSO away from my goal. A piece of cake or so I thought.

On Saturday morning I got on for a bit. I had several stations offer to help me give me that last QSO but we couldn’t complete the contacts. Between unsettled geomagnetic conditions and static from storms down South, I came away empty-handed.

Part of the reason for the noisey band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.
Part of the reason for the noisy band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.

I had about an hour and a half before my family arrived, so I drove out to a nearby park to try some portable operating. With the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) going on, I figured it would be easy to pick up the last QSO. Plus, using a decent antenna sure wouldn’t hurt, either.

Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.
Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.

Using my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck, I got busy trying to bag some WES QSOs. Band conditions had perked up a little. Surely, I would find that last qualifying QSO.

I worked several stations on 40M and one on 20M. Unfortunately, they were familiar callsigns already in my log. I was feeling a bit disappointed as I rushed to make one last contact before I had to pack up and head home.

When I got home, I entered my contacts into the SKCCLogger software. Guess what! That last contact turned out to be a new one, giving me that elusive 400th Tribune QSO! Thanks to Len KD8FKD for being the one that got me there.

It’s been a long, slow climb for me. I started working on the Tribune levels about 3 years ago. (I took a break from SKCC for a while.) I made the vast majority of my SKCC contacts running 5 watts (with a few at 10 watts). I was either out portable or at home using my rainspout antenna. I have enjoyed the challenge, though. I find the SKCC events to be a whole lot of fun and somewhat addicting.

So, what’s next? My application for the Tx8 award is in the queue for processing. Once it’s approved, I’ll start working on the Senator Award, the highest award in the hierarchy. For that, I’ll need to work 200 unique SKCC members who are Tribunes or Senators. I’m hoping to get there sometime this year.

Wish me luck…

73/72, Craig WB3GCK