Warm November Outing

With temperatures up in the 70s and clear blue skies, we had a beautiful Fall day here today in southeastern Pennsylvania. When you get a day like this, you have to take advantage of it. For me, that meant getting outside for some QRP-portable operating. The SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) is happening this weekend, so that’s where I focused my attention.

I drove out to the small farm that my daughter and her husband purchased earlier this year. The fields have tall grasses growing on them for later harvesting for hay. So, I drove my truck out into a clearing and set up my radio gear. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and set up a small table for my KX3.

My setup for the November SKCC WES contest
My setup for the November SKCC WES contest

There was a fair amount of activity on 40M, so I spent most of my time there. The band was dead quiet, and the signals were strong. That’s a refreshing change of pace from the RF noise I have to deal with at home.

I moved up to 20M for a bit and worked F6HKA. Bert always has great ears. He gave my 5-watt signal a 579 report, so I was happy about that. Coincidently, I was at this location when I last worked him back in March.

WB3GCK operating in the November WES on a beautiful Fall day
WB3GCK operating in the November WES on a beautiful Fall day

My operating was mostly casual, with a couple of breaks to walk around the property. I also stopped by to take a look at the farmhouse being renovated and chatted with the contractor.

I ended up with 15 QSOs in the log. Best of all, I got to enjoy this beautiful Fall day and play some radio, too.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Zombie Shuffle 2020

WB3GCK QRP Zombie credentials

Last night was the 23rd annual Zombie Shuffle QRP Contest. It’s 2020, and we’ve seen a lot of scary stuff. Why not throw in some zombies, too?  

This year, I operated from home, using my KX3 and rainspout antenna. I didn’t start until after dark, so I headed first to 40M. My local noise level on 40M was somewhat higher than normal, so I came away empty-handed. I spent the rest of my time on 80M, which is the best band for the rainspout anyway. 

There was a fair amount of activity on 80M, and I heard some familiar callsigns and some old friends. It was good to hear my friend, Dan KA3D, and my Boschveldt QRP buddy, Glen NK1N. Glen was one of the bonus stations this year.

Speaking of the Boschveldt QRP Club… Ed WA3WSJ was operating as a bonus station using our club’s callsign, W3BQC. Sadly, I didn’t hear Ed at all this year. I think we’re located a little too close to each other.

I operated for about 90 minutes and ended up with 11 zombies in my log. That’s two more than last year and a tie with my personal best in this contest. 

My thanks go out to Paul NA5N and Jan N0QT for organizing this fun contest. It was one of the bright spots in an otherwise crazy year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Camping in Gifford Pinchot State Park

With just two more trips left, our camping season is quickly winding down. For our penultimate camping trip, we spent a beautiful Fall weekend in Gifford Pinchot State Park (POTA K-1356, WWFF KFF-1356) in south-central Pennsylvania.

We arrived Friday afternoon, and it didn’t take us long to get things set up. So, my next task was to get my antenna set up. I tried several times to drive my Jackite pole ground mount in, but the ground was just too hard. I ended up strapping the pole to a steel lantern post. 

Leary about having my antenna wire so close to the metal pole, I took care to make sure the wire stayed at least two inches away from it. I used some extra straps and lightweight bungee cords to make sure the wire stayed in place.

This weekend was a busy one for ham radio. The SKCC WES contest, the Pennsylvania QSO Party, and a couple of others were all going on. I opted to do some casual operating in the SKCC contest. 

My daughter lives about 30 minutes away from the Park, so she brought my grand-kids down for a visit. So, I spent Saturday afternoon hanging out with the kids. Along with hotdogs cooked over the campfire, the kids enjoyed making s’mores.

I still found time for the contest. I operated on 40M during daylight hours and 80M at night and early in the morning. There was enough WES activity on those bands, so I never ventured up to 20M.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania

The metal lantern pole didn’t seem to affect my 29-foot vertical wire at all. Running 5 watts, I was getting some strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network on 40M. Even with a compromise antenna on 80M, I was able to work stations from Canada to Georgia and several stations in Indiana and Illinois. 

My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.
My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.

I finished out the trip with an even 30 SKCC QSOs in my log. I didn’t do a formal Parks on the Air activation this weekend, but I submitted my log to both POTA and WWFF. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. I enjoy camping in the Fall, with the cooler temperatures and the beautiful Fall colors. We have one last trip with the camper before it’s time to get it ready for storage over the Winter.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rainy Camping is Better Than No Camping

We’ve had a lot of great weather for our camping trips this year. We were bound to have a rainy weekend eventually, and I guess this weekend was it.

We headed back to nearby French Creek State Park (POTA K-1355/WWFF KFF-1355) near Elverson, Pennsylvania. We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and got everything set up, including my 30-foot wire vertical. After dinner, my (far) better half and I enjoyed a campfire while listening to a ballgame on the radio. Before turning in for the night, I gave my KX3 and quick test to make sure everything was working.

I woke up Saturday to the sound of rain hitting the roof of our little trailer. It kept raining most of the day, with some heavy downpours at times. Outdoor activities were out, so we spent much of the day staying dry inside the trailer.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.

To help pass the time, I turned on the KX3 in search of some contacts. I found wall-to-wall RTTY signals across the 40-meter band. I eventually found an open spot on 40M and decided to do an impromptu POTA activation.

The cell service was flakey, but I was eventually able to spot myself. Not long after that, stations started responding to my CQs. I was running 10 watts and seemed to be getting out fine. I operated for about an hour and a half and ended up with around 25 contacts. Among those were seven park-to-park contacts.

The rain let up around dinner time on Saturday, and a heavy fog rolled in. We managed to make dinner outside and got a campfire going. Unfortunately, as soon as I got a decent fire going, it started raining again. We wound up sitting under the trailer’s awning about 25 feet away from the fire. Talk about social distancing! When the heavy rain started up again, we packed it in for the night.

This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.
This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.

The rain stopped at some point during the night, so Sunday morning was damp, dreary, and muddy. I got back on the radio to see if anyone was up as early as me. After spotting myself, I got on 80M. About eight early risers gave me a call. I picked up a couple more on 40M, but the band didn’t seem as strong as the day before. I ended up with 35 contacts in my log for the weekend.

It wasn’t the most pleasant weather this weekend, but I’ll still take a rainy camping trip over not camping at all. Besides, my (far) better half and I needed a little downtime after the busy week we had.

Thanks to everyone who pulled me out of the noise this weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Heads Up – QRP Afield

If you haven’t heard, the annual running of the QRP Afield contest is Saturday, September 19, 2020. This contest, sponsored by the QRP Club of New England, has been around for decades, and it’s been one of my favorites. 

The contest runs from 1500Z – 2100Z. You can get all of the details from the QRP Club of New England’s website

QRP Afield is one of the contests I always add to my calendar each year. Unfortunately, family obligations will probably prevent me from participating this year. However, if you are so inclined, head out to the field and give it a go!

72, Craig WB3GCK

If at First You Don’t Succeed

Given my epic fail the other day, I needed a win. I went on the same bike ride this morning, but this time I was more careful while packing my radio gear.

I rode on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails, stopping off again at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. I set up my 19-ft vertical by mounting it to the picnic table bench. For the rig, I used my little YouKits HB-1B, which puts out somewhere between 4 and 5 watts.

My set-up in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I even remember to bring the antenna this time!
My set-up in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I even remember to bring the antenna this time!

I heard WB8JAY in Ohio calling CQ on 40M. I gave him a call, and we exchanged SKCC numbers. As we were signing off, a couple rode up on their bikes. They spotted my antenna from the trail and came by to say hello. Craig KC3MVF is a relatively new ham and is interested in doing some portable operating. It was nice chatting with Craig and his wife, Erin. 

After they rode off, I tuned around for another contact. Despite getting some decent RBN spots, it just wasn’t happening. I needed to get back home anyway, so I loaded up the bike and headed back down the trail. I only had one QSO today, but at least I got on the air this time!

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend here in southeastern Pennsylvania. I hope you all had a great weekend as well.

73, Craig WB3GCK

For the Want of a Nail

You might have heard the old proverb: For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lostIt means that even the smallest of details can prevent a successful outcome. That was true for me today.

I went out into the garage this morning and noticed that my bike had cobwebs on it. I guess the spiders were trying to tell me that I was overdue for a ride. I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a ride to blow the cobwebs off of the bike—literally.

Of course, I planned to do some portable operating during my ride. After some thought as to what I needed to bring, I gathered everything up and started stuffing the radio gear into my pannier bags. I put everything into the truck, loaded up the bike, and off I went.

I went to one of my favorite trails, the Schuylkill River Trail, and rode a couple of miles up to Lower Perkiomen Park. I found a bench away from the trail and proceeded to unpack my radio stuff. 

Radio—check!

Battery—check!

Cables, paddles, and earbuds—check!

Antenna pole and ground mount—check!

Antenna bag containing my 19-foot vertical parts—oops!

I frantically searched through my pannier bags only to conclude that I must have left my antenna bag at home. A phone call to my (far) better half confirmed that my bag of antenna parts was indeed at home. Although I used a checklist, I made the fatal mistake of checking off the antenna bag before actually packing it in the pannier bags. Doh!

My bike loaded up with everything I need for operating QRP in the park—except for my antenna!
My bike loaded up with everything I need for operating QRP in the park—except for my antenna!

I didn’t get to operate from the park today, but it was still a great day for a ride. And, the cobwebs are gone. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

If It’s Metal, Load It Up!

On one of the several ham radio mailing lists I subscribe to, there was some recent discussion about unusual antennas. You know—bed springs, light bulbs, and the like. It brought to mind a memorable QSO I had 27 years ago.

In the July 1993 issue of QSTRod Newkirk W9BRD (later VA3ZBB, now SK) wrote an article about building small, multi-turn loop antennas[1]. If his name doesn’t ring a bell for you, Rod wrote the “How’s DX?” column in QST from 1947 to 1978 and coined the term, “Elmer.” 

Although I never actually built one of Rod’s loops, I found the article fascinating. At the end of the article, Rod noted that he conducted his loop antenna experiments in the partially-underground cellar of his Chicago home. Remarkable!

Fast-forward to September 1993. I went downstairs to my basement shack one evening and fired up my old MFJ-9030 on 30M CW. I had three QSOs that night; one of them was with—you guessed it—W9BRD. 

During our QSO, Rod mentioned that he was using one of his experimental mini-loops indoors in his shack. When I told him I was running 5 watts into my rainspout, he sent back, “Hey, if it’s metal, load it up.” According to my log, we chatted for about 12 minutes before signing.

Needless to say, that contact put a smile on my face. It was the kind of QSO I really enjoy—one with a station using an unusual set-up or operating in a unique location. I guess you could say this QSO checked both of those boxes. Not to mention that I had just worked a very well-known figure in Amateur Radio.

QSL card from W9BRD documenting our unusual QSO in 1993.
QSL card from W9BRD documenting our unusual QSO in 1993.

I fired off a QSL card to Rod to acknowledge our QSO and to let him know that I enjoyed his loop article. Before too long, I received a card back from Rod. His typewritten note on the back of the card continued the theme of our QSO. It read, in part: “Hey, if your XYL uses gold or silver thread for that needlepoint, let’s try loading it up, Craig.” He also wrote about his experiences with rainspout antennas, including his attempt to feed a particularly stubborn one.

Rear of W9BRD's QSL card: DR OB Craig -- Hey, if your XYL uses god or silver thread for that needlepoint, let's try loading it up, Craig. Thanks for your gratifying "Shrinker" comments. Rainspouts have been kind to me, too. All except one which was a 40-meter halfwave grounded at one end. Totally anti-resonant on 40 and 20. NO WAY could I get power into it. Not bad on 80, though, shunt fed. Take cre -- CUL -- VY 73 . . . . Rod
Rear of W9BRD’s QSL card

From articles I have read, it’s clear that Rod had a penchant for assembling and experimenting with unusual antennas. His daughter, Amanda, once wrote: “He especially loved discovering how much of a signal he could achieve with his various objects: the coffee cans, cookie tins, piles of wire and boxes and tidbits—out of which he wrung quite magical things.”[2]

When it comes to unusual antennas, Rod was a man after my own heart. Over the past 27 years, his words from our QSO have been my mantra: “If it’s metal, load it up!”

Thanks for the inspiration, Rod.

73, Craig WB3GCK

References:
[1] Newkirk (W9BRD), Rod. “Honey, I Shrunk the Antenna.” QST, July 1993, pp. 34-35, 39.
[2] Newkirk (WN9PMC), Amanda. “On Being W9BRD’s Daughter.” K9YA Telegraph, Vol 11, Issue 9, September 2014, pp. 2-3. (K9YA Telegraph website)

Skeeter Hunt 2020

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

Today was the annual running of the Skeeter Hunt contest sponsored by the New Jersey QRP Club. It was a miserable day for a portable QRP contest, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless.

Since it was raining here in southeastern Pennsylvania, I opted to operate from my truck from a local park. I mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of my truck and fired up my KX3.

I started on 40M, and the Skeeters were swarming. It only took me a minute to log my first Skeeter. I had a steady stream of contacts for the first half-hour or so. I heard lots of familiar callsigns, and I added a fair number of new ones to my log.

My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest
My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest

With the steady rain, it was a little uncomfortable in the truck. It was getting warm, but if I opened my window too far, I got rained on. So, after about 2 hours I decided to call it quits. I ended up with 24 contacts in the log. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever done, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. 

WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt
WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt

As always, I extend my thanks to Larry W2LJ for coordinating this great contest. It’s always a good time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2020

Once again, our family headed down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our annual vacation. Naturally, I made ham radio a part of my vacation.

We rented the same house in Corolla that we were in last year. It’s a great place that overlooks the Currituck Sound. Plus, I already knew what to expect, radio-wise, and how to set things up.

After a long but uneventful drive down on Saturday, we arrived at the rental house. So did some thunderstorms. Despite the weather, it didn’t take us too long to get unpacked and settled in. 

After the storm had passed, I took a few minutes to set up an antenna for HF. I kept things simple this year. I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to the railing on the 3rd-floor deck and set up a 30-foot vertical wire and 9:1 unun. I ran 25 feet of coax down to the second-floor deck, so I had a shady place to operate during the day.

My 31-foot Jackite pole strapped to the railing on the 3rd story deck of the rental house. I operated from the deck below with a great view of Currituck Sound.
My 31-foot Jackite pole strapped to the railing on the 3rd story deck of the rental house. I operated from the deck below with a great view of Currituck Sound.

After a late breakfast on Sunday, I took my KX3 out to the deck to catch a little bit of the monthly SKCC WES contest. This month’s theme was Homebrew Keys, so I brought along one that I made a couple of years ago. The band conditions weren’t great, but I ended up with 10 QSOs before pulling the plug and heading for the pool. 

My homebrew key for the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). For a bunch of junkbox parts, it has a suprisingly good feel.
My homebrew key for the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). For a bunch of junkbox parts, it has a suprisingly good feel.

During the WES, I encountered much more RFI coming from the house than I experienced last year. To my good fortune, whatever was making the racket stopped after a while, and things improved somewhat. For most of the week, I still had some S2-S3 noise at times, but it was manageable. 

For the remainder of the week, I did a little casual operating each morning, while I still had shade out on the deck. I spent the rest of the day doing the usual Outer Banks vacation stuff—swimming, crabbing, and just hanging out with my family. 

WB3GCK operating in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks (with a cold "807" on the table)
WB3GCK operating in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks (with a cold “807” on the table)

Most of my contacts this week were casual rag-chews along with a few POTA stations here and there. During the week, John W3FSA worked me twice from Maine. It’s always good to chat with him.

For something different, I checked into the Outer Banks Area Wide Net on Thursday evening, while enjoying the sunset from the deck. I used my handheld to access one of the linked repeaters in a system that covers the entire Outer Banks. The net had a friendly mix of locals and visitors to the area.

For the most part, the weather was great this week—sunny, hot, and rain-free. Things got a little unsettled on the last day, though. There were storms in the area, but I still got in some more time on the air before tearing down the antenna and packing up the radio. My last QSO of the week was on SSB with my friend, Glen NK1N, who was doing a POTA activation in New Jersey.

I always say that our annual vacation on the Outer Banks is the shortest week of the year. That was true again this year, as the week just flew by.

73, Craig WB3GCK