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.
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.
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.
I spent the weekend with my grandkids out near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My XYL and I watched the kids while my daughter and son-in-law took a little anniversary get-away. Of course, there was some time for ham radio, too.
By the time I got around to setting up an antenna on Friday, it was dark and the temperature was well below freezing. Oh yeah, there was about 4 inches of snow in the backyard to boot. So, I was in need of a real quick and dirty antenna.
I decided to toss a 29.5-foot wire out of a 2nd-floor window. I then went out to the backyard to secure the other end of the wire. I used some shock cord to tie it off to the top of a 6-foot wooden fence. My total time outside in the cold and dark was about a minute.
Back inside, I fed the wire through a homebrew 9:1 UNUN with 18 feet of RG-8X coax. This particular wire and UNUN served me well as a vertical during many National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activations. I commandeered one end of the dining room table for my KX3 and powered up for a test. The KX3 was able to get a match on 80M through 10M. Then, I went back to hanging out with the kids.
By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “slippery” part of the this post’s title comes in. Well, the next morning I looked out the window and saw that some ice had accumulated on the wire. The wire was dragged through the snow during installation and it froze overnight. The KX3 didn’t mind at all; the internal tuner loaded up the frozen wire without problems.
I got on the air for a bit on Saturday afternoon. On the air, my impromptu antenna far exceeded my low expectations. I started off working N2CX on 40M. Joe was activating a park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I followed that up with a nice two-way QRP chat with WK2J in North Carolina.
I worked a couple of QRPers in the FYBO contest sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions. I also worked some Minnesota and Vermont QSO Party contesters. An assortment of SKCC, POTA, and SOTA stations also made it into my log over the weekend. The best “DX” of the weekend was VE7ST in the British Columbia QSO Party on 20M.
I didn’t expect much from this quickie antenna configuration but I was happy with the way it got out. Plus, set up/tear-down was easy and only took a few minutes. This sloper will likely be my go-to antenna for future visits to see the Harrisburg grandkids.
Some recent Internet discussion got me thinking about the Rybakov 806 Vertical antenna. This easy-to-build antenna has served me well over the years. So, I went back and revisited some of the ways I’ve used it.
What the heck is a Rybakov anyway?
The Rybakov 806 Vertical appears to be the brainchild of Enrico IV3SBE from Italy (now 5Z4ES in Kenya). The term, Rybakov, is Russian for “fisherman.” That’s right… It’s an antenna with a Russian name designed by an Italian who lives in Africa — truly an international creation. From what I could glean from exhaustive Internet searches, this design dates back to the mid to late 2000s. I found numerous references to it from 2009.
The classic Rybakov configuration is a 7.6m or 8m (~25 or 26 feet) wire fed through a 4:1 UNUN. The length isn’t critical, as long as you avoid resonance on the bands of interest. It’s often supported by a telescopic fishing pole (hence, the name, “Rybakov”). Being a non-resonant antenna, you need to use an antenna tuner to make it work. You also need to use radials or some other type of ground.
The antenna can cover 80M through 6M (the “806” part of its name, I suppose). The band coverage depends on the wire length used and the capabilities of your tuner. With a 7.6M wire, you can cover 40M and up without problems. For 80M coverage, plan on using a longer radiator.
The only thing you need to build is the 4:1 UNUN. The IW7EHC website provides detailed instructions for building one. Beyond that, you just need to cut some wire to length for the radiator and radials. Easy peasy!
My experience with the Rybakov
I had been using this type of antenna before I even knew it had a name. Rick KC8AON had a version of this type of antenna he called, “The Untenna.” That’s where I found it.
My first experiment with it was in a “stationary mobile” setup. I rigged up a 26-foot vertical wire and grounded the UNUN to the body of my truck. My Z-817 tuner was able to load it up with no difficulty. I had no problem making contacts and I liked the multi-band coverage.
I next used the Rybakov at a Boschveldt QRP Club Field Day. I set up a 26-foot ground-mounted vertical and used about six 16-foot radials with it. Again, the performance seemed decent and I remember doing well on 10M that year. The only shortcoming was that it wouldn’t load up on 80M.
The next year, I solved the 80M problem by using a 50-foot wire in an inverted L configuration. For the ground, I used six 16-foot radials and two 33-foot radials. This configuration gave me full coverage from 80M to 10M and it worked great. This antenna configuration became my “go to” Field Day for several years. In later years, I used a 53-foot radiator.
I used another version of the Rybakov with the pop-up camper that I used to own. I strapped a 31-foot Jackite pole to the camper and used it to support a 27-foot wire. I grounded the UNUN to the body of the camper. This antenna worked great on 40M to 6M and, best of all, I didn’t need to go outside at night to change bands. I used this antenna with good results for several years until I sold the camper.
I also built a Rybakov that I use as a backup antenna in the field. I built a small 4:1 UNUN that I use with a 26.5-foot radiator and a 26.5-foot radial. The antenna, along with a short length of coax, is easy to carry in my pack.
The bottom line (for me, at least)
I’ve had good luck with the Rybakov Vertical over the years. Is it the best antenna? Nope. Purists will argue about UNUN, ground, and coax mismatch losses. Yep, there are those. Yet, its simplicity and “no gap” band coverage are hard to beat. It’s easy to deploy in the field and it really does work.
If you’re in the market for a simple portable antenna project, the Rybakov 806 is an easy one.
[Update 4/3/2019: I’ve always wondered about the rationale behind the 25-foot radiator often used with the Rybakov antenna. An article in QST  by Joe Reisert W1JR shed some light on that for me. Joe’s article discusses the 3/8-wave vertical antenna. According to the article, the 3/8-wave antenna has a low take-off angle and its 200-ohm feedpoint is easily matched with a 4:1 transformer. Its higher radiation impedance provides good performance with just four 1/4-wave radials. For 20M, a 3/8-wave radiator is about 25-ft. Similarly, for 40M, it would be 50-feet. So, my guess is that’s the concept behind the Rybakov design.]
My XYL has accused me of being obsessed with bags, backpacks, and storage containers of all sorts. She’s an excellent judge of character. This one, fortunately, wasn’t very expensive.
A few years ago I bought a backpack with ham radio in mind. I wanted one big enough to carry my Alexloop antenna, along with my QRP rig, battery, and, assorted emergency and survival-type gear. (I could survive a zombie apocalypse with all the stuff I put in that pack.) Although it continues to serve me well, at 35 liters it’s a bit overkill when I don’t need to carry all that stuff. I wanted something a bit smaller and lighter for short hikes and casual outings.
After looking at a dizzying array of small packs, I settled on the Rambler sling pack from Red Rock Outdoor Gear. It’s a bit larger than most other sling packs but I needed one that would accommodate my essential radio gear. It measures about 10 inches x 16 inches x 4 inches and has lots of compartments and MOLLE webbing.
The main compartment comfortably accommodates the box that holds my KX3 and accessories. I also carry a LiFePO4 battery and my antenna wires in this compartment. I use one of the outer compartments to hold safety and comfort items, e.g., first aid kit, sunblock, insect repellent, emergency poncho, etc. In the remaining outer pocket, I keep a headlamp, emergency whistle, compass, a copy of my Amateur Radio license and a notepad and pencil. There’s a compartment on the back of the pack that’s perfect for carrying a folding sit pad and a large contractor garbage bag that I use as a ground cloth. With the water bottle pouch on the side of the pack, I don’t have to use up space inside the pack to carry water.
The Red Rock Sling Pack also does double-duty for public service events with my local ARES-RACES group. I just remove the QRP gear from the main compartment and replace it with my HTs, spare batteries, emergency vest, etc. Oh, did I mention snacks? Yeah, lots of snacks.
With all the MOLLE webbing on the pack, I couldn’t resist adding a few things. On the back of the pack, I added a pouch for my HT. I added a cell phone holder in the front on the shoulder strap. I use the webbing on one side of the pack to carry my telescopic fiberglass pole, which I fasten with some adjustable bungee cords. And just for the heck of it, I added some molle-compatible velcro strips for attaching a morale patch.
In use, I find it very comfortable. The padded strap is non-reversible and goes over my left shoulder. That’s my preference anyway. The zippers on this bag have all worked smoothly without a lick of trouble. (Nothing frustrates me more than balky zippers!)
After nine months of use, the sling pack is holding up well and has fit my needs exactly. It provides a handy and comfortable way of carrying my radio stuff out into the field. There certainly are more expensive packs available but, for less than $50.00 USD, the Red Rock Sling Pack has been money well spent.
Now, all I need is to find some time to get back out into the field for some QRP fun.
72, Craig WB3GCK
[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in Amazon or any these products. I’m just a satisfied customer.]
I’ve seen a lot of discussion on the Internet lately about the FT-817’s less-than-robust DC power connector. Its miniature coaxial power connector has long been recognized as a failure waiting to happen. I thought I’d chime in with my crude, little hack.
Over the years, users have come up with a variety of ways of dealing with the FT-817’s power connector. If you’re brave enough, you can just hard-wire the power cord directly to the FT-817’s main circuit board and eliminate the connector altogether. You can also buy a really slick adapter that gives you an Anderson Powerpole connector on your FT-817.
When I bought my FT-817 almost 15 years ago, I was immediately leary of the little 4.0 x 1.7 mm power connector; there was no way it was going to hold up in the field. I didn’t know of any commercial options at the time, so I raided my junk box to come up with a solution, albeit a crude one.
I merely attached a small right angle lug to the FT-817’s ground screw. Then, I used a couple of small nylon cable ties to secure the power cable to the lug and provide some strain relief. I installed Powerpole connectors on the other end of the cable. It’s not pretty but it served the purpose.
Although my FT-817 doesn’t see as much field use as it used to, my stupid-simple hack is still going strong after 15 years. While this approach doesn’t eliminate the FT-817’s little DC connector, it has (so far) survived many years of portable use in the field.
I made an impulse buy this week. After reading an old Elecraft mailing list post from Wayne Burdick N6KR where he made a strong recommendation, I ordered an MFJ-1820T whip antenna. I need another portable antenna like I need a hole in the head but I figured it might be fun to give this little whip antenna a try.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the MFJ-1820T is a 4-foot, telescopic, loaded whip for the 20M band. It collapses down to a tiny 10-inches. It will handle 25 watts but my whip will never see that much power. It sells for around $30 (U.S.). Wayne recommended using at least one 13-foot radial with it. I went with two 13-foot radials made from some cheap speaker wire I had on hand.
This morning, while operating from a local park, I connected the whip to my KX3 with a BNC right angle adapter. I connected my radials to one of the knurled nuts on the KX3 with an alligator clip. To keep the whip from swiveling, I used a small, plastic spring clamp.
The KX3’s internal tuner loaded up the whip with no problems. I heard W8SVC calling CQ from Michigan and gave him a call with 5 watts. He got my callsign on the first call but he wasn’t sure he had copied it correctly. I upped my power to 10 watts (gasp!) and called again. He gave me a 559 and we exchanged our basic information. Unfortunately, I lost him when the band faded.
Moving up to the 20M QRP calling frequency, I called CQ a couple of times. AA8WQ (QRP at 5W) responded from Ohio and gave me a 569 report. Again, we were able to exchange our basic info before I lost him completely.
Frankly, I wasn’t really expected much from a 4-foot whip but I was surprised that I was able to make two contacts this morning. It certainly isn’t the best antenna for 20M but, when the band is in good shape and you need something that sets up in an instant, the MFJ-1820T is certainly a usable antenna. I’ll probably be carrying the MFJ-1820T in the field as a backup antenna.
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.
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.
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)
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!