Socially-Distant Antenna Testing

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been spending a lot of time at home lately. We had some decent weather today, so I went out to do some portable operating while practicing social distancing.

My daughter and son-in-law recently purchased an old farmhouse that they are restoring. The farmhouse is located on a large piece of property with plenty of room for QRP-portable operating. No one was there today, so I had all that acreage to myself. That made the social distancing thing easy. 

I had a portable delta loop antenna that I built a year or two ago but never tested. Today seemed like a good time to try it out. I set the antenna up behind an old barn and operated my KX3 from a camp chair. (I’ll be doing a detailed write-up on this antenna soon.)

My operating position today
My operating position today

I spent some time seeing which bands the KX3 would tune. Once that initial testing was done, I tuned up on 20M and started calling CQ. After the third CQ, I received a call from fellow SKCC member F8FSC in France. We both struggled with fading, but I was thrilled that he heard my meager 5-watt signal.

I bumped my power up to 10 watts to improve my odds. I heard N3PDT calling CQ from Missouri and gave him a call. We exchanged SKCC numbers and chatted for a bit. 

Tuning down the band, I heard F6HKA booming in from France. I sent my callsign once, and he got it the first time. Bert gave me a 549 and said I was peaking at 569. We exchanged SKCC numbers and chatted for about 10 minutes before signing. I’ve worked Bert many times, and it’s always a pleasure.  

It was sunny but somewhat chilly and windy out there today. As I was working Bert, though, it started getting cloudy. I was starting to feel the cold, so I figured it was a good time to pack up and head home.

It felt great to be playing radio outside and not thinking about the pandemic.

Stay safe, everyone.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Winter Field Day 2020

With family coming in this weekend, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to participate in this year’s Winter Field Day. I did, however, manage to get out for a couple of hours at the start of the contest.

It was raining cats and dogs when I arrived at Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my favorite operating spots. I had my usual stationary-mobile set up ready to go a few minutes before the starting time. 

My antenna bundled up for a rainy Winter Field Day.
My antenna bundled up for a rainy Winter Field Day.

I mostly operated CW on 40M and 20M, but I did manage a couple of rare—for me, at least—SSB contacts on 40M. I ended up with 20 contacts in my log. There were quite a few familiar callsigns from previous Winter Field Days. 

It was getting hard to find new CW stations to work, so I decided to head out and get some errands done. I hope everyone who stuck it out had a fun—and warm—Winter Field Day.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Brief Snowy Outing

The weatherman was predicting snow, sleet, and who-knows-what for my area today. I figured I get out for my QRP-portable fix before the weather got too bad.

My location was Schuylkill Canal Park in nearby Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. It’s just across the river from Phoenixville, and it’s been a while since I operated from there. 

My parking spot at Schuylkill Canal Park shortly after arrival.
My parking spot at Schuylkill Canal Park shortly after arrival.

By the time I got to the park, there was a coating of snow on the ground, and it was still coming down steadily. Except for a couple of mountain bikers and joggers, I had the park to myself.

After putting the antenna on the back of my truck, I tuned around on 40M and found W8BJO calling CQ from Ohio. Our QSO was interrupted by QRM, and I lost him.

WB3GCK hunkered down in the truck.
WB3GCK hunkered down in the truck.

I went up to 20M and worked K0RO from Mississippi. Ralph was operating as K3Y/5 in the annual SKCC K3Y event. Next, I called F6EJN, who was operating in the K3Y event representing Europe. Bob was very strong into Pennsylvania, and he gave me a 589 report. My last QSO was with fellow SKCC’er, WD5BVQ, in Louisiana. 

Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. The Locktender's House is on the left.
Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. The Locktender’s House is on the left.

The temperature was about 20°F, and I was starting to feel it. I started the truck once or twice for some heat, but that caused some noise in the radio. The accumulation was over an inch, and the road into the park was untreated. I figured I had better head out before things got worse.

It was a short but fun outing, but it was good to get home and warm up.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Mohican Outdoor Center 2020

The Boschveldt QRP Club convened for our Winter trip to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in northern New Jersey. We all enjoyed a fun weekend of ham radio in a scenic setting.

As in past years, we rented a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) near Blairstown, New Jersey. This year’s crew included Ed K3YTR, Glen NK1N, Ed K3BVQ, John NU3E, Ed WA3WSJ, Walt KB3SBC, and me.

Ed WA3WSJ (L) and Walt KB3SBC outside the cabin
Ed WA3WSJ (L) and Walt KB3SBC outside the cabin

On Friday, some of the early arrivals headed out to Crater Lake to do some operating. The road down to the lake was closed, so they operated from the nearby Blue Mountain Lakes Trailhead instead. I arrived mid-afternoon as NK1N and NU3E were putting up an inverted L antenna outside the cabin. Glen had already set up a station inside the cabin. After settling in and catching up with old friends, we all drove into Blairstown for dinner at Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant.

Ed K3YTR (L) trying his loop antenna inside the cabin with Ed K3BVQ observing
Ed K3YTR (L) trying his loop antenna inside the cabin with Ed K3BVQ observing

I volunteered to provide breakfast on Saturday, so I made breakfast sandwiches for everyone. (I refer to them as Craig McMuffins—with apologies to a certain fast-food restaurant chain.)

Glen NK1N making some satellite contacts outside the cabin
Glen NK1N making some satellite contacts outside the cabin

After breakfast, everyone took off in different directions. NK1N and NU3E hiked up to Raccoon Ridge on the Appalachian Trail. WA3WSJ went over to the Pennsylvania side to operate from some scenic overlooks. K3YTR did some experimenting with antennas back at the cabin.

I operated stationary-mobile at the Blue Mountain Lakes Trailhead to make some contacts in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I did a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation from this spot back in 2016. K3BVQ and KB3SBC were parked about a half-mile down the road from me doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of Delaware Water Gap.

Ed K3BVQ (L) and Walt KB3SBC doing a POTA activation of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Ed K3BVQ (L) and Walt KB3SBC doing a POTA activation of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

I made about a dozen SKCC contacts, including K3BVQ down the road. (Ed was a solid 599, of course.) Later, while tuning around on 20M, I heard WA3WSJ calling CQ with the club’s callsign, W3BQC. Ed was across the river in Pennsylvania at a site overlooking Delaware Water Gap. We had some heavy QRM during our short contact, but we managed to complete the QSO.

My location at the Blue Mountain Lakes Trailhead
My location at the Blue Mountain Lakes Trailhead

Later that night, we went back into town for our customary Saturday night dinner at the Blairstown Inn. We had a few beers, great food, lots of tall stories, and plenty of laughter. That was a great way to end the day.

NU3E made his incredible Belgian waffles for breakfast on Sunday. John’s amazing waffles have become a Sunday morning tradition on these trips. After breakfast, it was time to pack up and clean up the cabin.

John NU3E making his amazing Belgian waffles for breakfast on Sunday morning
John NU3E making his amazing Belgian waffles for breakfast on Sunday morning

I always look forward to these Winter trips with my old QRP buddies. I think it’s fair to say everyone had a great time again this year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Ringing in 2020

I always try to start each year with some QRP-portable operating. In keeping with that tradition, I headed out to participate in the annual Straight Key Night (SKN) activities.

My destination was one of my usual Wintertime haunts, Black Rock Sanctuary. When I arrived, the temperature was about 35°F with cloudy skies and occasional flurries. I operated stationary-mobile from inside my truck with my faithful 19-ft vertical mounted on the back. My MS2 straight key was my weapon of choice.

MY KX3 and MS2 straight key ready for Straight Key Night
MY KX3 and MS2 straight key ready for Straight Key Night

There was enough activity on 40 meters, so I never changed bands. Band conditions were pretty good, and it didn’t take long to log my first contact of 2020. Thanks to Alan W4AMV in North Carolina for doing the honors.

At one point, a curious couple approached the truck. They were intrigued with my antenna, so I spent some time chatting with them about ham radio.

My usual parking spot at Black Rock Sanctuary
My usual parking spot at Black Rock Sanctuary

After I operated for about 2 hours—and exhausted my coffee supply—I decided to pack it in. I ended up with 10 QSOs in the log. All of them were fellow SKCC members.

So, another year is underway. I already have some interesting radio activities on my calendar. This year should be fun, ham radio-wise.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful 2020.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Rainy Polar Bear Outing

Today was the monthly Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME). While the weather had warmed up to a balmy 50°F, it came with a bunch of rain. The weather was lousy, but the bands were pretty good.

I headed back to Black Rock Sanctuary for today’s outing, and it rained the entire time I was there. So, I hunkered down in the truck for this one.

The WB3GCK portable QRP shack on a rainy afternoon
The WB3GCK portable QRP shack on a rainy afternoon

I started on 40M and was greeted with loud static crashes from the storm passing by. Despite the QRN, I had two-way QRP QSOs with W9ILF in Indiana, WI8J in Michigan, and fellow Polar Bear, Mike VE3WMB, in Ontario.

I ventured out in the rain to configure my 19-foot vertical for the 20M band. The pipeline to the West Coast must have been wide open. I worked two California stations and had a two-way QRP QSO with K7QF in Washington state. I also had an SKCC QSO with K5DMC down in Mississippi for good measure.

There was a 10M contest going on, so I headed up there to see what was going on. My vertical was only giving me a 2:1 SWR on 10M, but that was good enough to work a contester 5 miles away.

I went back to 40M for a bit before packing up and ended up with a nice two-way QRP QSO with K4JJW in North Carolina. Dick was really booming in with his 5 watts.

My homebrew vertical wrapped up for the rain
My homebrew vertical wrapped up for the rain

After tearing down the antenna in the rain, I got back in the truck to head home. As my luck would have it, the sun was trying to break through the clouds. That figures!

Nonetheless, I had fun today. Now it’s time to go dry out some antenna parts.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The Forgotten Antenna

We’re expecting some snow and sleet tomorrow, so I figured I head out for a little QRP-portable operating before the nasty weather moved in. So, I drove to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary for a quick outing.

The temperature today in southeastern Pennsylvania was a mild 42° F. I planned to operate from a picnic table using my AlexLoop clamped to the table. However, in my haste to get on the road, I neglected to put the AlexLoop in my truck. As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh!”

I had some antenna wires, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to mess with trees in a nature preserve. Fortunately, I always keep the necessary equipment for my stationary-mobile set-up in the truck. With my 19-foot vertical mounted on the back, I operated from inside the truck.  

A view of the "cockpit" of the truck
A view of the “cockpit” of the truck

The bands were in great shape this afternoon. It didn’t take long on 40M to put 5 SKCC contacts in the log. I also had a nice rag chew with K8RQX in Michigan before moving up to 20M.

Up on 20M, I had a coast-to-coast SKCC QSO with WD7JS in Washington. Russ was booming into Pennsylvania and gave my 5-watt signal an “honest 539.” I’ll take it! I moved down to check out 30M and had a quick SKCC QSO with K5MP in Florida before packing up.

Despite my absent-mindedness, It was a nice outing. Next time, I’ll have to pay better attention to my checklist.

72, Craig WB3GCK