Bracket for the GRA-7350TC Antenna

Regular readers of this blog know that my homebrew 19-ft vertical is my go-to antenna for “stationary-mobile” operations. I use a low-tech mounting system in the bed of my truck involving a plastic milk crate, a cargo bar, and some bungees. When we go on our annual vacation to North Carolina, unfortunately, I have to remove the crate to free up storage space. I plan to activate a park or two while on vacation this year, so I wanted to come up with an alternate antenna arrangement.

I bought the GRA-7350TC antenna with this specific scenario in mind. Previously, I tested this antenna with a magnetic mount that I had stashed away in the basement. Although a couple of successful POTA activations proved its viability, I wanted something better than my little mag mount. 

Browsing around on Amazon, I found a stainless steel bracket with an SO-239 to ⅜-24 mount. I was reluctant to drill holes in my truck, but I thought a couple of small holes in the truck’s bed wouldn’t be too bad. So, I placed an order.

The Sirio stainless steel antenna mounting bracket I found on Amazon
The Sirio M1 stainless steel antenna mounting bracket I found on Amazon

The bracket arrived the next day. It’s really heavy-duty and possibly overkill for my application. My local hardware store had an excellent selection of stainless steel hardware. I bought some #12 x 1-inch sheet metal screws and some star washers. 

The next step was figuring out exactly where to mount it. I had to make sure that I could still close the truck bed cover without hitting it. By dumb luck, I chose a spot where I could use one of the screws that fastens the truck’s bed liner. This placed the mount close to where I wanted it. Then, it was a quick task to drill pilot holes for the three additional screws. Mechanically, it felt solid, and an ohmmeter check confirmed continuity to the truck’s body. 

The bracket installed in the bed of my truck with the antenna installed. The black screw is an existing screw I took advantage of.
The bracket installed in the bed of my truck with the antenna installed. The black screw is an existing screw I took advantage of.

I gave the new mount a trial run at Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414, KFF-1414). It took me about a minute to get the antenna set up on the mount, and it was a perfect fit. I ran an 18-foot length of RG-8x coax (much longer than I really needed) to the Penntek TR-35 inside my truck.

Using an antenna analyzer, I first tuned it up on the 40M band. I couldn’t get the SWR down below 2:1. This also happened when using the antenna on a magnetic mount, too. I’m guessing a different length of coax or a counterpoise wire might help. In any event, I tuned the antenna to resonance and used a tuner to keep the rig happy. The first QSO was a station in Georgia who gave me a decent signal report. 

The Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna in use
The Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna in use

The SWR on 30M was a bit lower but still above 2:1. Again, I had no problems making contacts with the antenna. On 20M and 17M, the SWR was down to about 1.2:1 or thereabouts. 

Despite the time spent fiddling with the antenna, I logged 13 contacts, with three park-to-park QSOs. I also worked W1HNJ on 40M and 30M. As part of Museum Ship Weekend, they were operating the radio console from the hospital ship, SS Hope. The radio console is now part of the Chatham Marconi-RCA Wireless Museum on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

I still have some tinkering to do, but I think the mounting bracket will work just fine. I won’t be retiring my homebrew vertical anytime soon, but the GRA-7350TC gives me another option when the need arises. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Holiday Weekend Activities

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer here in the States. Although I had some family activities planned over the three-day weekend, I squeezed in some QRP-portable operations. 

POTA at Marsh Creek State Park

On Friday, I drove over to Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380, KFF-1380) for an activation. I figured it wouldn’t be too crowded on a Friday, but I was wrong. 

I wanted to operate from one of the picnic tables overlooking the lake. When I got there, folks getting a jump on their holiday picnics had already claimed them, so I ended up operating from the truck. I gave my newly acquired Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna another try, using the old magnetic mount I used last week. Like last week, I used my TR-35 transceiver at 5 watts.

My location at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380, KFF-1380). The GRA-7350TC is mounted on the roof of my truck with a magnetic mount.
My location at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380, KFF-1380). The GRA-7350TC is mounted on the roof of my truck with a magnetic mount.

Band conditions were less than stellar on the lower bands, but a mini pile-up promptly greeted me on 40M. After logging a few quick contacts, things slowed down considerably. I spent most of my time on 30M, where band conditions seemed a little better. I also did some hunting on 20M before packing up. I finished up with 20 QSOs in the log, including five park-to-park contacts.

I don’t think the GRA-7350TC performs as well as my homebrew vertical, but it sure is easy to set up. Although I can set up my homebrew vertical in under three minutes, the Gabil antenna goes up even faster. 

By the time I left, the parking lot was nearly full. I guess people were eager to get their long weekend started. 

Bike-Portable in the Park

On Saturday, I went for a short bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail. This was my first time on the bike since my latest round of knee issues sidelined me back in March. Before heading out, I threw in my TR-35, Elecraft AX1, and bike mount

I started off from a trailhead parking lot close to Towpath Park—I didn’t want to overdo it with my knee. A mile and a half later, I was in the park setting up the radio. I set up the radio on a park bench near the remnants of the Schuylkill Canal and mounted my AX1 on the bike’s handlebars.

My park bench setup in Towpath Park
My park bench setup in Towpath Park

I planned to do some POTA hunting on 20M, but I found the band was wall-to-wall with contesters. I worked one contester in Wisconsin on 20M, but I had no success beyond that. My 5 watts and 40-inch whip was no match for the high-power contest stations in pile-ups. I checked 17M, but I didn’t hear much of anything there.

My view of the old Schuylkill Canal in Towpath Park
My view of the old Schuylkill Canal in Towpath Park

With one meager QSO in my log, I packed up and continued on my ride. It sure felt great to be back on the bike again. While I didn’t do so hot on the radio, my knee held up great on my short three-mile ride. I’m looking forward to longer rides.  

Valley Forge POTA Activation

On Monday, I headed out early to get in a quick POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761). I rolled into one of the picnic areas and found a nice shady parking spot.

My shady parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)
My shady parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)

As I was setting up, a gentleman walked up to ask about my antenna on the back of my truck. I gave him a quick explanation of ham radio and Parks on the Air. Normally, passersby would just thank me and move on. This fellow, however, tried to engage me in one of the most bizarre conversations I’ve ever heard. After a few minutes, I politely disengaged myself from his rambling and got on with my activation.

Today, I used my TR-35 and my 19-foot homebrew vertical. It took about 10 minutes to log my first 10 contacts on 40M. In a little more than an hour, I logged 23 contacts on 40M, 30M, and 20M. There were lots of activators out and about this morning; I made seven park-to-park contacts I know of. 

All in all, I had a good weekend, and the weather was spectacular. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend as well and took some time to remember those who gave their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA with a New Antenna

I looked at my log the other day and saw that I had only made a measly two HF contacts this month. Between the grandkids’ school functions, soccer games, horseback riding competitions, and my knee issues; I haven’t had much time for my QRP-portable activities. I set out to change that this morning with a drive to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761).

A few weeks ago, while nursing my injured knee, I made an impulse purchase. After watching some YouTube videos, I went on Amazon and bought a Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna. The last thing I needed was another antenna—I blame YouTube and Amazon. Actually, it wasn’t a totally frivolous purchase; I have plans to use it during a trip later this summer.

I also bought the matching GRA-ULT01 MK3 tripod for the antenna, which I planned to try out today. I put together some radials to use with the tripod setup. 

As I headed out the door this morning, I grabbed an old magnetic mount base I had from an 2M/440 antenna. Since I bought the GRA-7350TC with the ⅜-24 stud mount, the antenna was a perfect fit for the mag mount. I figured I’d give that a try, while I was trying out the antenna.

It was raining when I got to the park this morning, so I kept things simple and tried out the mag mount. In doing so, I learned something about my six-year-old truck: The hood isn’t made of steel. The rest of the truck is, but not the hood. Who knew? (Probably every Chevy Silverado owner but me, I guess.) I ended up putting the antenna on the roof where I could easily reach it. Inside the truck, I used my Penntek TR-35 (5 watts).

The Gabil GRA-7350TC on a magnetic mount from an old 2M/440 antenna.
The Gabil GRA-7350TC on a magnetic mount from an old 2M/440 antenna.

The sliding coil adjustment made tuning up a snap. Using my old MFJ-226 antenna analyzer, it only took a minute or two to get the antenna tuned up on 40M. I’m not a big fan of having to take an antenna analyzer out in the field, but this was relatively painless. Band changes only took about a minute. Most of that time was setting up the antenna analyzer for the band of interest. 

I used the new antenna on 40M, 30M, and 20M with decent results. In the end, I had 16 contacts, including five park-to-park QSOs. I’m sure my little magnetic mount wasn’t providing the best ground in the world, but at least I know it’s usable in a pinch.

Hopefully, June will provide more opportunities to get out portable. Since my old knee has been feeling a little better recently, I’m hoping to get back on the bike again at some point. I already have some ideas for a bike mount for the GRA-7350TC. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Northbrook Canoe Challenge 2023

Yesterday, my local ARES-RACES group provided communications support for the Northbrook Canoe Challenge. This fun event benefits the Cerebral Palsy Association of Chester County (PA). Despite some equipment issues on my part, the event went off without a hitch.

Like last year, I was located near a dam along the Brandywine River with my ARES-RACES colleague, Tim KB3FCJ. I once again served as the net control operator for the event. 

I initially set up my trusty old Icom IC-207H dual band mobile rig, and it seemed to work fine. However, I ran into an issue where it wouldn’t un-key when I released the push-to-talk button. Fortunately, Tim had his rig nearby, and we were back on the air in short order. (I have some troubleshooting to do this week.)

  • My old Icom 207H. It was replaced shortly after taking this picture, due to an issue with the push-to-talk button.
  • The dam on the Brandywine River. Members of a water rescue team were in the water directing canoeists around the dam.
  • The water rescue team directing a canoeist around the dam

The perfect weather made for a great day to sit along the river, watching the canoes and observing the wildlife in the area. We had a water rescue team on hand in the river to make sure canoeists avoided the dam and portaged safely around it. 

After the final “sweep canoe” or “drag boat” passed our location, I packed up and relocated to the finish line at the Northbrook Canoe Company to run the rest of the net. I met up with Rich KE3HG, who served as our liaison with the canoe company. After the drag boat had passed all of our locations along the river, I closed the net. Rich and I stayed on site until the drag boat arrived at the finish line. 

There were plenty of emergency personnel on hand, but (thankfully) there weren’t any safety issues. It was just a beautiful day out on the Brandywine River.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rare Weekday Activations

Because of family obligations, my QRP-portable operations are usually limited to weekends. A change in plans this week freed up Tuesday through Friday mornings for some POTA activations. I needed to stop by my daughter’s house each day, and she lives about 10 minutes away from several POTA/WWFF entities.

French Creek State Park

I haven’t been up to French Creek State Park (K-1355, KFF-1355) in a while, so I thought it would be a good place to kick off the week. I operated near the Hopewell Lake boat launch, which is a busy place on weekends. On a Tuesday morning, however, there were very few people there.

The WB3GCK "QRP-mobile" near Hopewell Lake at French Creek State Park
The WB3GCK “QRP-mobile” near Hopewell Lake at French Creek State Park

Using my usual TR-35 (5 watts) and homebrew vertical, I logged 25 contacts. All but two were on 40M; I didn’t have much luck on 20M this time out. I also ended up with four park-to-park contacts.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

On Wednesday, I made a return trip to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (K-0834, KFF-0834). I last activated this site back in October of last year. I parked my truck in a parking lot on the top of a hill. This would have been a great day for operating from a picnic table, but there were no tables to be found.

Parked among the blossoms at Hopewell Furnance National Historic Site (K-0834, KFF-0834)
Parked among the blossoms at Hopewell Furnance National Historic Site (K-0834, KFF-0834)

Using the same setup as yesterday, I worked 36 stations. On 20M, I worked Germany, Finland, and France in rapid succession. There was also an Italian station calling, but other stations kept stepping on him. Unfortunately, I could only pick out part of the callsign. I also had one park-to-park contact (that I know of).

William Penn State Forest and Back to French Creek

William Penn State Forest (K-5481, KFF-4914) is another entity overdue for a re-visit. My destination today was the Hopewell Fire Tower, which is next to French Creek State Park. Although I’ve operated there many times over the years, this would only be my second POTA/WWFF activation. 

I’ve always had good luck operating from Hopewell Fire Tower. As you would expect, this area has good elevation. Unlike some of the other adjacent POTA/WWFF entities, this location has great cell coverage.

Heading up the hil towards the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest
Heading up the hil towards the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest

To keep things simple, I went with my Elecraft AX1 antenna and window mount. Since I used my TR-35, I was limited to 20M and 17M with the AX1. 

Using my window mount and AX1 antenna near the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest
Using my window mount and AX1 antenna near the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest

The band conditions weren’t great, so I thought the 10th POTA contact would never come. I had never been “skunked” before with the AX1, so I pressed on. After what seemed like an eternity, I finished up with 15 contacts, with three park-to-park contacts.

Since I had to pass through French Creek State Park to get to my daughter’s house, I stopped for a quick activation—or so I thought. This time I went with my 19-ft vertical. I thought, with the larger antenna, I could knock off ten contacts in no time flat. Ha!

Normally, 40M is my bread and butter band with the homebrew vertical. Not this time. I only made one contact on 40M (W6WU running QRP in Maryland), with the rest on 30M and 20M. It took so long to make my tenth contact, I really thought I was going to have a busted activation. Eventually, I logged number ten and called it a day. 

I had two park-to-park contacts from French Creek and a nice contact with fellow Polar Bear VE3WMB. Michael was out portable in Ontario using an Alexloop and his brand new Xiegu 6100. His new rig sounded great in Pennsylvania. 

Evansburg State Park

On Friday, I wrapped up my series of weekday activations with a visit to Evansburg State Park (K-1351, KFF-1351). The weather forecast was calling for heavy rain and gusting winds later in the day, so I hoped I could squeeze an activation in before it started. Ha!

When I got to the park, the skies were overcast, but there was no rain. I set up the 19-ft vertical and the TR-35. As soon as I got on the air it started drizzling. I got to work, hoping to beat the heavy rain. Ha!

It was another slow day for me on the air. I only made one contact each on 40M and 30M. Both were with WB8DTT in Michigan. There was more activity up on 20M, although several minutes passed between contacts. 

The rain started coming down heavier, so I used a plastic shopping bag to protect the antenna from the rain. About 20 minutes later, I went out in the rain to tear down the antenna. I finished up with 15 contacts in the log, including a contact with a SOTA activator in Arkansas. I had one park-to-park contact today, but that station was operating from two parks.

My homebrew vertical wearing its raincoat at Evansburg State Park
My homebrew vertical wearing its raincoat at Evansburg State Park

So that wraps up my string of weekday activations. It’s not often that I get to go out during the week, so I enjoyed avoiding the weekend crowds in some parks. Although there seems to be a lot more hunters on the weekends.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Windy Morning in Valley Forge

I’ve been slowly sneaking up on a POTA Repeat Offender Activator award for Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761), so I headed over there this morning for another activation. Now that the picnic areas and restrooms are open for the season, I drove to Varnum’s Picnic Area, one of my usual spots.

I was originally thinking of operating from a picnic table today, but the wind changed my mind. Instead, I parked in a remote corner of the parking lot and operated from the truck. My rig today was my trusty Penntek TR-35, along with my homebrew vertical.

I started on 40M and quickly made my first 10 contacts. I operated for about an hour, ending up with 28 QSOs in the log. Among those were four park-to-park contacts.

My location today at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761). The dead tree in the background was really starting to sway in the wind.
My location today at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761). The dead tree in the background was really starting to sway in the wind.

As I got out of the truck to change bands on the antenna one last time, I heard a loud creaking noise coming from the wooded area behind me. It was a large, dead tree (aka a “widow maker”) swaying in the wind. Although it wasn’t directly behind me, I was certainly within striking distance if it fell to the side. Yep, it was time to take the antenna down and head home.

As I write this, we have some severe thunderstorms headed our way later. Time to batten down the hatches.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Back in Action Again

I have been mostly off the air for the past few weeks, dealing with more knee issues. The bum knee felt a little better this morning, so I headed out for some long-overdue QRP-portable operation.

I drove over to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761) for a short activation this morning. There was a picnic table close to where I parked, so I didn’t have to haul my gear very far. (My knee thanked me.)

It was a great day for portable operations in Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761).
It was a great day for portable operations in Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761).

This morning, I used my KX3 (5 watts) and my AX1 antenna. I started out with the AX1 on a little tripod on the picnic table, but the KX3’s tuner seemed to struggle to find a match on 20M. I swapped out the 3-foot coax I was using for a 6-foot length I had on hand. That didn’t help. Next, I connected the AX1 directly to the KX3 and used the AXB1 bipod to stabilize it. After rearranging the radials a few times (I used three today), the KX3 eventually found a 1:1 match on 20M.

My picnic table operating position.
My picnic table operating position.

Once on the air, a station in Nevada kicked things off. After a few more, things slowed down. It seemed like I was stuck at eight QSOs for the longest time. Fortunately, things eventually picked up again, and I made enough contacts to qualify the activation. 

My backpack. My activation today was a good decision.
My backpack. My activation today was a good decision.

The picnic table I was using was out in the open with no shade. The sun felt great; but when the wind kicked up, that was a different story. I decided to pack up and head home for lunch. My log for today had 14 contacts, with two park-to-park. My best “DX” today was a park-to-park contact with California on 15M.

It was nothing earth-shattering today, but it sure felt good to be back out there again. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Something Good in the Mail

Along with the usual junk mail yesterday, the mailman brought a couple of envelopes from the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) QSL Bureau. Among the QSL cards I received, were two special ones.

First was a QSL card confirming contacts I made with K3Y stations during the annual Straight Key Month (SKM) event. SKM is held each January with event stations operating around the world. I didn’t have my best year in the event, but I worked K3Y stations in eight of the ten call areas in the continental U. S. I also worked SKM stations in Puerto Rico and Portugal this year. 

K3Y Straight Key Month QSL card for 2023
K3Y Straight Key Month QSL card for 2023

Each year SKCC members submit designs for the K3Y QSL card, and members vote to select the final design. I always try to work some of the K3Y stations each year to ensure I receive a QSL card. 

Another card I received was for the VC3Y Canadian Operating Event. Taking place during the month of September, this is an annual SKCC event that promotes the club’s many Canadian members. This year, I worked VC3Y/VY2 (Prince Edward Island) on 40M and 20M. I remember those particular QSOs because I was out bicycle-portable in a local park at the time. 

VC3Y QSL card for the 2022 Canadian Operating Event
VC3Y QSL card for the 2022 Canadian Operating Event

Sadly, when the mailman came by today, it was back to the usual junk mail. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA with the MFJ-1820T

I made a quick run down to Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414) for an early morning POTA activation. For a few minutes, though, I thought I might fall short of the 10 contacts needed to complete the activation.

I dusted off my old MFJ-1820T 20M whip antenna and thought I’d try it out on my window mount. Inside the truck, my Elecraft T1 tuner loaded it right up. After calling CQ a few times, I checked the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). The first spot I received was from Costa Rica. So, the antenna seemed to get out OK. I was running about five watts from my TR-35.

The MFJ-1820T 20M whip on my old window mount
The MFJ-1820T 20M whip on my old window mount

Things got off to a good start on 20M. I had a steady stream of callers for the first several minutes, and I was getting strong RBN spots to the west of me. Then, things slowed down. It was five minutes before the next QSO. Then another six minutes after that. I was beginning to consider the prospect of a busted activation when activity picked up again. I suspect it was just a bit too early on a Sunday morning. 

After I had 11 contacts in the log, I switched to the Elecraft AX1 to give 17M a try. I didn’t hear much activity there, and the RBN wasn’t seeing me at all. I stayed with the AX1 and went back to 20M. 

The activity on 20M started picking up this time around. When I wrapped things up, I had 20 contacts in the log, with two park-to-park QSOs. I didn’t have any DX contacts today, but I did work two Idaho stations.

I continue to be amazed at what you can do with five watts and one of these little whip antennas.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Short But Sweet Activation

Pressed for time this weekend, I drove down the road to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761) to get in a quick activation. I was only on the air for about 40 minutes, but it was a very productive outing. 

The weather this morning was chilly but sunny and clear. The crowded trailhead parking lot I pulled into reflected that. I had the good fortune to find a spot where I could set up and not be in the way. 

To keep things simple, I used my Elecraft AX1 and window mount, along with my KX3. It took me all of a minute to set up the antenna. I really like that about the AX1.

My location in the crowded trailhead parking lot. It's hard to see, but the AX1 is mounted on the passenger-side window with two counterpoise wires.
My location in the crowded trailhead parking lot. It’s hard to see, but the AX1 is mounted on the passenger-side window with two counterpoise wires.

Starting out on 20M, the calls came fast and furious for the first 10 minutes or so. The second station to call was F4ILH. Given my 5 watts and little antenna, I was thrilled with that. Later on I worked IK4IDF up on 17M. The little AX1 never ceases to amaze me. 

At the end of my brief activation, I had 18 contacts in the log. Along with the two DX contacts today, I had one park-to-park QSO. 

Not too bad for an early morning, spur-of-the-moment activation, I suppose.

72, Craig WB3GCK