A Public Service Weekend

I haven’t been very active on the HF bands lately. Family functions and other obligations have been keeping me busy. This weekend, however, I was able to take part in two different ARESRACES events.

On Saturday morning, our local ARES-RACES group conducted a Simulated Emergency Test (SET). Because of the heavy rains forecasted, most operators participated from home. During the brief exercise, I sent an NBEMS message and a Winlink peer-to-peer message to the county Emergency Operations Center over local 2M simplex frequencies. I used my little Evolve laptop, and it performed great.

On Sunday, our ARES-RACES group provided emergency communications for the Marshalton Triathlon. This annual, family-friendly event combines cycling, canoeing, and speed walking. This year I was once again stationed at “Canoe Out,” which is the terminus of the 2.3 mile canoe run on the Brandywine River.

  • A water-logged WB3GCK at the Marshalton Triathlon
  • A crew was on hand to help participants disembark safely
  • The boat handlers did a great job in some very muddy conditions

This year’s triathlon was a wet one. It rained steadily for most of the five hours I was onsite. Despite the lousy weather, the participants seemed to have a good time. After the last canoe arrived, I was able to head home and dry out. 

Hopefully, I’ll get back to doing some QRP-portable operating this week.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable WES

I took advantage of the decent weather yesterday and went for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail and the Perkiomen Trail. Along the way, I stopped in a local park to make a few contacts in the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

When I arrived at the trailhead, it was nearly full. Fortunately, I grabbed one of the last remaining parking spaces. After loading up my radio gear, I hopped on the bike and took off down the trail. As the trailhead parking situation would suggest, the trail was getting lots of use from walkers and cyclists. 

After a few miles of riding, I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I found a picnic table away from the trail and set up my TR-35 transceiver. I also set up my 19-foot vertical using my homebrew ground mount

WB3GCK taking a radio break along the Perkiomen Trail
WB3GCK taking a radio break along the Perkiomen Trail

I didn’t hear much contest activity, but I seemed to have a pipeline to Prince Edward Island in Canada. I made SKCC contacts with the special event station, VC3Y/VY2, on both 40M and 20M. I also worked VA3DXQ/VY2 who was doing a POTA activation. KS9KCC was booming in from Indiana, but they didn’t seem to hear my five-watt signal. (Later in the day, I logged KS9KCC from home on 40M.) After making seven contacts, I packed up and continued on my ride.

My homebrew 19-foot vertical and ground mount
My homebrew 19-foot vertical and ground mount

It’s a good thing I went for my ride yesterday. The weather today is raining and dismal.

Also, on the 21st anniversary of the 9/11, please take time to remember those lost in that tragedy.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2022

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

After a long drive home from North Carolina yesterday, we were still unpacking from our vacation and getting caught up on things today. I couldn’t pass up the annual Skeeter Hunt QRP contest, so I snuck out to make a few contacts. Besides, I was issued a single-digit skeeter number (#7) this year, so I couldn’t let that go to waste.

I drove a few miles over to Valley Forge National Historical Park, hoping to catch enough skeeters for a valid POTA activation (K-0761). The area I was in was busy with folks enjoying their picnics, so I parked my truck well away from them. 

I didn’t plan to stay long, so I operated from the truck. I used my Penntek TR-35 and my trusty homebrew vertical. That turned out to be a wise move, since the truck provided some shade and an occasional cross-breeze through the windows. 

Yours truly operating in the 2022 Skeeter Hunt QRP contest
Yours truly operating in the 2022 Skeeter Hunt QRP contest

When I turned on the rig, the 40M band was buzzing with QRP skeeters, and I made most of my contacts there. Conditions, at times, seemed pretty good; I worked stations in WI, MO, and GA on 40M from here in southeastern PA. After running out of new ones on 40M, I moved up to 20M and picked up a few there. 

At the end of my 1.5 hour session, I had worked 16 skeeters, one non-skeeter QRPer. There were other skeeters operating from POTA entities; I had at least four park-to-park contacts I know of. 

The Skeeter Hunt is always a good time. I’m glad I could take part, even if just for a part of the contest. A big shout-out to Larry W2LJ for organizing this fun event. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2022

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Time for our annual family vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

We arrived on Saturday, after a long drive from southeastern Pennsylvania. After unloading and getting organized in the house we rented in Corolla for the week, I went outside and set up an antenna.

Currituck Sound, as seen from my antenna.
Currituck Sound, as seen from my antenna.

For the past two years at this house, I used a 29-foot vertical fed through a 9:1 unun. During both trips, I struggled with noise issues. I had a couple of antenna options I wanted to try this year. 

This time around, I went with a Rybakov-type antenna. I strapped a 28-foot Jackite pole to the railing of the 3rd floor deck. I used a 26-foot vertical wire fed through my recently built weather-resistant 4:1 unun. My 26-foot counterpoise wire ran out to the side of the antenna and down the side of the deck stairs. It was a weird configuration, for sure. I ran 25 feet of RG-8X coax down to the second floor, where I could operate in the shade—in the morning, at least. 

My Rybakov vertical configuration. The red line shows how I ran the counterpoise wire. Despite this weird-looking setup, it worked pretty well.
My Rybakov vertical configuration. The red line shows how I ran the counterpoise wire. Despite this weird-looking setup, it worked pretty well.

I didn’t test the antenna until early Sunday morning, and my KX3’s tuner matched it on every band from 40M through 10M. The noise levels on 40M and 20M were down around S2, a dramatic improvement over previous years and completely workable. The higher bands were dead quiet.

My antenna feedpoint. I used my weather-resistant 4:1 to create a Rybakov-type vertical.
My antenna feedpoint. I used my weather-resistant 4:1 to create a Rybakov-type vertical.

My first contact was an interesting one. Fellow Boschveldt members, Glen NK1N and Rob KE3TI, were on an overnight backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. I sent Glen NK1N a text message to let him know I was on the air, and we connected on 40M. We chatted for a bit and exchanged SKCC numbers. Conditions were rough in the beginning but, towards the end of our contact, our signals improved. 

Before quitting, I logged 10 SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts. There were bonus points for using a homebrew key, so I used a straight key I cobbled together a few years ago. I also worked Greg WA3GM, who was doing a POTA activation at a park near to my home in Pennsylvania. So, my jury-rigged Rybakov seemed to get out OK.

The homebrew straight key I used during the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).
The homebrew straight key I used during the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).

Monday morning, I got set up on the deck to make a few contacts. I noticed the antenna was acting up a bit on the 40M band. The KX3’s tuner showed it found a 1:1 match, but the SWR went up when I transmitted. I had no issues with the other bands, just 40M. It seemed like I was getting some RF on the coax shield, so I added a common mode choke at the transceiver and changed to a shorter length of coax. That cleared up the issue. I’m guessing there was some interaction between the antenna’s counterpoise and the coax on 40M. Even before I resolved the antenna issue, I logged a half-dozen contacts.

My radio setup on the 2nd story deck of the rental house.
My radio setup on the 2nd story deck of the rental house.

With six adults, four grand-kids, and two grand-dogs, there was always something going on in the house. However, I managed to get on the air for about an hour each morning after breakfast to make a few contacts.

Thursday evening was busy. I kept track of Winlink check-ins for an ARES-RACES net back home. Using DMR, I checked into another ARES-RACES net in Pennsylvania. When I’m down here, I always like to check into the Outer Banks Area Wide Net. Then, it was out to the dock to join my grand-kids for some crabbing.

As I was finishing up breakfast on Friday, I got a text message from my friend, Frank N3FLL, asking if I was on the air. I quickly moved my radio out to the deck and had a nice QSO with him. I also worked a few POTA activators including Greg WA3GM. I worked Greg on the first day, so it was only fitting that I work him on the last day, too. After that, it was time to take down the antenna and pack up the radios.

I didn’t spend as much time on the air as in previous years, but I worked some fellow SKCC members, chased a few POTA activators, and had a couple of nice ragchews. All in all, it was a great vacation with excellent weather. I’m already looking forward to next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

So Close

I logged into the POTA.app site this morning and noticed that I had 99 park-to-park QSOs, just one away from the next award level. With my vacation coming up, I probably won’t be able to activate a park for another couple of weeks. My obsessive nature couldn’t take looking at that 99 number all that time, so I set out today to rectify that.

I started the day just one away from the next POTA Park-to-Park award. Of course, I had to go out and get a few more.
I started the day just one away from the next POTA Park-to-Park award. Of course, I had to go out and get a few more.

I drove down to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761) this morning for a quick activation. We’re still under a heat advisory, so I got there early to avoid the worst of it. On arrival, I found a shady spot and parked my truck. 

I set up a camping chair and small table in the shade and used my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck. My rig today was my Penntek TR-35 at 5 watts. 

My setup behind my truck at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761)
My setup behind my truck at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761)

The CW hunters were out in force early today. It took all of 15 minutes to make my first ten contacts. Operating for exactly an hour, I finished with 25 QSOs in my log. Best of all, five were park-to-park QSOs, so I had more than enough to put me over the top. 

With my mission accomplished, I can stop fixating on that pesky “99.” 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Puppy Sitting and POTA

My daughter and her family went on a road trip to Michigan for my grandson’s hockey tournament. They needed someone to stay with their dog, Cooper, who is recovering from recent leg surgery. I volunteered to stay at their house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while they were gone and spend some one-on-one time with my “grand-dog.” Of course, I took some radio gear along with me. 

Cooper is recovering nicely from his surgery, but he still needs to restrict his activity. He’s OK on his own for a few hours, so I planned to squeeze in a couple of short radio-related outings while out there.

Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area (K/KFF-4356)

After feeding and walking the grand-dog on Thursday morning, I headed out for a quick POTA activation. The Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area—now that’s a mouthful—is only about 25 minutes away, so I could get an activation in without leaving the dog alone for too long. 

The parking area, on a hill, was vacant when I pulled in. I passed a huge high tension tower near the park entrance, but, fortunately, the power lines didn’t run anywhere near the parking lot. I set up the TR-35 in the cab and mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of the truck. 

Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area entrance. You can see one leg of a huge high tension tower behind it. Fortunately, the powerlines didn't run near the parking lot.
Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area entrance. You can see one leg of a huge high tension tower behind it. Fortunately, the powerlines didn’t run near the parking lot.

I started out on 40M, and the band was in excellent shape. Despite being sandwiched in between some mountains, my five-watt signal was getting out fine. I was getting some very strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network. I logged my first ten contacts in less than 15 minutes. 

My parking spot at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. The woods were behind me, out of the shot.
My parking spot at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. The woods were behind me, out of the shot.

After making 20 contacts on 40M, I moved up to 20M. There, I logged another 10 contacts, including SM0NSJ in Sweden. After about 50 minutes on the air, I started packing up to make my way back to the house.

The final tally was 30 contacts, with one park-to-park, and one DX QSO. Looking at the POTA website, it looks like this was the first CW activation at this park in more than two years.

I didn’t see much of the park, but what I saw looks beautiful. I will definitely need to go back there to do some hiking on the trails.

PA State Game Land 246 (K-8941)

My original plan for Friday morning was to take a bike ride on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and operate from somewhere along the trail. I’ve been wanting to ride this trail since I did some portable operating from the trailhead about 4 years ago. Unfortunately, as I was putting the bike on the rack for the trip out here, I found that the rear brake was locked up. I didn’t have time to deal with it; so, sadly, I left the bike at home. Another time, I guess.

With the bike out of the question, I instead drove a few miles down the road to PA State Game Land 246 for another POTA activation. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, and he left about 15 minutes later. 

All alone in the parking lot for Pennsylvania State Game Lands 246 in Middletown, PA
All alone in the parking lot for Pennsylvania State Game Lands 246 in Middletown, PA

Band conditions seemed in great shape; it didn’t take long to make my first ten contacts. One of my first contacts was with fellow QRPer, W1PID, in New Hampshire. I hadn’t worked Jim in a while, so it was good to hear him calling. 

I had a few stations that worked me on multiple bands. W6OUL in California heard my five-watt signal on 30 and 20 meter bands. Those were my longest contacts of the day. Meanwhile, K9VIC in Illinois reached me on all three bands used today (40M, 30M, and 20M). 

I was on the air for exactly one hour, ending up with 34 QSOs with one park-to-park contact. After that, I packed up for the short drive back to the house to hang out with the grand-dog.

Backyard Bust

On Saturday, I stayed around the house and planned to do some casual operating from the backyard. It’s been a couple of years since I last operated from here, and it has always been somewhat of a challenge. It’s in a low spot, and surrounded by houses, but I thought I’d give it a go today.

I started with my trusty 19-foot vertical on my homebrew ground mount. The receiver noise was horrendous. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) showed I was getting out with double-digit signal-to-noise readings. I just couldn’t hear anything. I figured the vertical was just the wrong choice for this environment.

Next, I went with the Alexloop, figuring that it would be better in this noisy environment. Like the vertical, I was getting decent SNR readings on RBN, but it was receiving only slightly better. Not great, but a little better. 

Although I got skunked, I got some practice using the Alexloop with the TR-35. I used a resistive SWR bridge between the TR-35 and the loop, and I figured out the output power settings that work best on each band to get the bridge’s LED to extinguish at resonance. I also got to test a little battery pack I put together with three 18650 Li-ion cells. 

So, this little mis-adventure wraps up my operations from here in south-central Pennsylvania, and I’m heading back home tomorrow (Sunday). At least I got in a couple of fun POTA activations while I was here. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Support Your Parks – Summer 2022

This weekend was a Parks on the Air (POTA) Support Your Parks weekend. There are four seasonal events with the chance for activators and hunters to earn plaques. Even though I stand little to no chance of getting a plaque, I figured this would be a good weekend to activate a couple of parks.

Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380)

On Saturday, I headed over to the western boat launch area in Marsh Creek State Park. I’ve operated from this spot twice in the past year, and it’s not usually busy. Not today, though. The parking lots were jam-packed, with a steady stream of boaters coming in. I drove around to the other side of the lake to check out the picnic area. 

When I arrived mid-morning, the picnic area parking lot was fairly empty. I figured the place would get pretty busy towards lunchtime, so I found a shady parking spot and operated from the truck. I used my Penntek TR-35 (5 watts) and my usual 19-foot vertical.

I forgot to take pictures of Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380), but I did take this picture in the cab of my truck.
I forgot to take pictures of Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380), but I did take this picture in the cab of my truck.

My first contact was with my friend and fellow ARES-RACES member, N3FLL. Frank said he was doing some POTA hunting today, so I was happy to give him a park. 

After I had logged 26 CW contacts (with three park-to-park QSOs), the inside of the truck was getting pretty warm. Plus the great smells from all the surrounding barbeques reminded me it was lunchtime. By the time I left, the park was getting crowded with folks taking advantage of the summer weather, so my timing was perfect.

Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761)

I wanted to get a bike ride in, so Sunday morning I rode from the Pawlings Road trailhead into Valley Forge Park. It was a little over two miles to the Betzwood Picnic Area. I operated from this location once before six years ago. The elevation isn’t very good, but I gave it a shot, anyway. 

I found a picnic table in a shady spot back along some trees. I had a hill right behind me, but the shade was more important today. On this trip, my rig was the TR-35 and my Alexloop. 

  • The Schuylkill River Trail entering Valley Forge National Historical Park from the west.
  • One of my favorite stretches along the Schuylkill River Trail. This section is in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
  • Once again, I neglected to take pictures of my setup, but here's a picture I took while packing up to head back.
  • Even if you don't qualify for a plaque, activitors and hunters participating in the Support Your Parks event get a certificate.
  • Hunters also received certificates for working parks during the Support Your Parks Weekend. My park-to-park contacts earned me this one.

My first contact was with W3DET on 30M. This was my first QSO with Dave in a while, so it was good to hear him again. I made four more contacts before giving 20M a try. I picked up one contact on 20M, so I moved down to 40M, which is the least efficient band for the Alexloop. However, the 40M band produced four park-to-park contacts.

Since it was so hot and humid, I packed up after making the required ten contacts and headed back to the trailhead. There was nothing extraordinary today, radio-wise, but I had an enjoyable bike ride.

When I got home and logged into the POTA website, I found I had received a certificate for activating during the Support Your Parks weekend. There sure were a ton of stations on the air this weekend, so I hope all the activators and hunters had fun. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable at Towpath Park

I had a couple of hours this morning, so I loaded up the bike and headed out for another ride. Since the SKCC’s Weekend Sprintathon is running this weekend, I took the radio gear along for the ride. 

I rode the new section of the Schuylkill River Trail that I mentioned in my last post. I headed west from the new trailhead and rode out to Towpath Park. Towpath Park is a small community park that I have operated from many times over the years. Today was the first time I got there by bike.

After a nice three-mile ride, I arrived at the park. I headed to a small pavilion and set up the radio. I used my TR-35 and my homebrew 19-foot vertical. I have to say that I have really been enjoying my little TR-35. It’s a great rig for portable operations like this.

My bike-portable setup at Towpath Park along the Schuylkill River.
My bike-portable setup at Towpath Park along the Schuylkill River.

I didn’t hear much contest activity, but I still managed to log four contacts in short order on 40M (NH, MI, OH, MA) and one on 20M (WI). After my radio-based pit stop, I loaded up the bike and started back down the trail. On the way back, I stopped to snap a picture of what’s left of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name.

A short stretch of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name. The bright sunlight caused a strange rainbow effect in the picture.
A short stretch of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name. The bright sunlight caused a strange rainbow effect in the picture.

This is a great ride for bike-portable operation. I’ll definitely be doing this again in the future.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Back on the Bike

The beginning of this week was a real bummer. A couple of days after Field Day, my trusty laptop gave up the ghost. Fortunately, it waited to die until after Field Day. However, this weekend I rode my bike for the first time since my knee surgery. So I put that one in the “Win” column. 

On Saturday, I loaded up the bike and headed out to a section of the Schuylkill River Trail that opened recently. I took along my AnyTone AT-D878UV, Bluetooth ear piece, and Bluetooth push-to-talk button. I planned to operate bicycle-mobile into our local repeater. 

This recently completed section of the Schuylill River Trail is nicely paved.
This recently completed section of the Schuylill River Trail is nicely paved.

Before hopping on the bike, I sat in the truck and paired the Bluetooth devices to the radio, and everything seemed to work—until I got on the bike. I think the battery in the PTT button died, so I put the radio stuff back in the truck and headed off down the trail. 

I’m happy to report that the new knee performed flawlessly—no pain or tightness at all. The bike was none the worse for sitting idle in the garage for more than a year. I didn’t want to push it, so I kept my ride to three miles round-trip. Plus, the humidity was brutal this morning, so I declared victory and headed home.

This morning I went on a longer ride on a different section of the Schuylkill River Trail, eventually connecting with the Perkiomen Trail. I’ve ridden on these trails countless times over years. My ride today was about six miles out and back, and I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to take a pit stop and get on the radio.

I set up my recently acquired TR-35 at a picnic table and used my homebrew 19-foot vertical, which was ground-mounted with four 12-foot radials. I tuned up on 40M and immediately came across K2J in North Carolina, one of the 13 Colonies stations. After logging that one, I got on my straight key and called “CQ SKCC” a few times. KK8X in Ohio came back to me. We exchanged SKCC numbers and had a brief chat. I moved up to 20M and found NA4A doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in Alabama.

My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park on the Fourth of July. My antenna is out of the shot but about 10 feet away from the picnic table.
My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park on the Fourth of July. My antenna is out of the shot but about 10 feet away from the picnic table.

After signing with NA4A, I packed up and loaded up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead. Once again, the new knee did great. I had a little fatigue but no pain to speak of, as I continue to regain my leg strength.

I want to wish my fellow American hams a happy 4th of July. Also, a belated happy Canada Day to my friends to the north.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Boschveldt Field Day 2022

Our new W3BQC banner (Photo credit: NK1N)

Another fun Field Day with the Boschveldt QRP Club is in the books. As in recent years, we spent the weekend camping on private property as the guests of a gracious local business owner. We had four members in attendance this year: Ed K3YTR, Glen NK1N, Ed WA3WSJ, and me. 

When I arrived Friday afternoon, NK1N was already onsite. As I was setting up my tent, the others rolled in and got settled in for the weekend. Later, we headed out to a local restaurant for dinner and finished off the night around the campfire.

After breakfast, I set up my antenna and radio equipment. We had three HF stations this year, all running CW. I operated on 40 meters, NK1N covered 20 and 80 meters, while WA3WSJ took care of the higher bands. K3YTR operated phone on 6 and 2 meters. We operated in Category 3A, running QRP on battery power and using our club callsign, W3BQC. Our three HF stations all used inverted L antennas, our weapon of choice for Field Day. 

  • Yours truly operating CW from my tent (Photo credit: NK1N)
  • As in previous years, I slept and operated in my tent.
  • WA3WSJ operating on 15M
  • NK1N operating under his new canopy
  • NK1N generated most of our points this year (Photo credit: NK1N)
  • K3YTR operating 6 and 2 meters from his car

This year we tried networking our logging computers together. Glen set up a small battery-powered Wi-Fi access point and used his laptop as the server. It was a simple task to configure the N3FJP logging software on the other laptops, and the network worked great.

After a dinner of brats and hotdogs, we again convened around the campfire. Before turning in, Glen jumped on 80M and I got back on 40M to make a few more contacts. 

Glen was our most productive point generator this year. Besides making the most contacts, he also copied the Field Day bulletin, transmitted our radiogram to the Section manager, and filled in as the Boschveldt Safety Officer this year. 

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we got back on our radios for a few more hours before packing up. By mid-day, we had all cleared out and headed home.

Although we don’t run the most serious Field Day operation, we always have a good time getting together. Besides our annual winter outing, we talked about doing another camping trip sometime this summer. 

I hope everyone who took part had a fun and safe Field Day weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK