Boschveldt Field Day 2020

This year has presented some challenges, but the members of the Boschveldt QRP Club were up for those challenges. We adapted to the current situation and held our annual Field Day outing—with suitable precautions, of course.

The sign at the entrance to the Boschveld QRP Club (W3BQC) Field Day site

We convened at the same location we’ve used for the past few years. A local businessman graciously allows us to camp on a section of his property for the weekend. We had the following members in attendance this year: Ed WA3WSJ, Glen NK1N, Ed K3YTR, Ron WA8YIH, John NU3E, and me. 

Now, here’s where things changed a bit. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we implemented some guidelines:

  • Tents had to be at least 10 feet apart—no problem, given the large field we were on.
  • No central food preparation area. Each member was responsible for providing and cooking their food.
  • No sharing of radio equipment
  • Maintain social distancing, especially around the campfire.
  • No outside visitors

This year we operated in the 4A Battery category—using QRP, of course. We ran 4 HF stations, plus a satellite station and a VHF/UHF station. 

As usual, I ran CW on 40M and 80M, with my tent serving as both my sleeping quarters and radio shack. I ran my KX3 into a 53 foot inverted L. I used a 17-AHr gel cell for my rig and a deep cycle battery to charge my laptop. 

Yours truly, WB3GCK, operating CW from my tent. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
Yours truly, WB3GCK, operating CW from my tent. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

Glen NK1N worked the satellites and had a slick setup for his Jeep. The Jeep also served as his sleeping quarters. There’s a lot of tree cover at this site, so Glen set up in an open spot near the entrance to the property. As a result, he had his best year ever from this site. 

NK1N working the satellites
NK1N working the satellites

Glen NK1N took a break from the satellites to tune into the W1AW digital broadcasts to copy the Field Day Bulletin. He also checked into the paNBEMS on Sunday morning to pass our Field Day radiogram to the EPA Section Manager. 

Not far from the satellite station, Ed K3YTR operated the VHF/UHF station from his car. Like last year, Ed slept in a slick, little teardrop trailer he rented for the weekend. 

K3YTR working VHF and UHF from his car.
K3YTR working VHF and UHF from his car.

Ron WA8YIH operated both digital modes and phone from his tent/sleeping quarters. He also used a KX3 with an inverted L. Ron supplied the firewood for our evening campfires, which is a traditional feature of a Boschveldt Field Day.

WA8YIH operating FT8 from his tent
WA8YIH operating FT8 from his tent

John NU3E has been a member of this group for a long time, but this was his first Field Day with us. John operated CW on 15M and 10M using a KX2 with a dipole. John used his backpacking tent for lodging. 

NU3E operating CW. This was John's first Field Day with the Boschveldt QRP Club.
NU3E operating CW. This was John’s first Field Day with the Boschveldt QRP Club.

Ed WA3WSJ operated CW on 20M, using his KX2 and an inverted L. Ed spent the first night on a cot underneath a tarp. He also had a neat sleeping setup in his car. He used that on Saturday night, due to the weather forecast. 

WA3WSJ taking a break. Ed's station is in the background.
WA3WSJ taking a break. Ed’s station is in the background.

Field Day for the Boschveldt QRP Club is by and large a social event; we aren’t in it for the score. Sure, we operate, but there are lots of breaks and plenty of socializing. We had a campfire each night and exercised our tradition of roasting marshmallow Peeps®. (If you haven’t tried roasting Peeps®, you haven’t lived!)

The initial weather forecast for Saturday looked dire. We were under a severe thunderstorm watch for Saturday afternoon and evening. Instead, we only had some light rain on Saturday morning. The rest of the weekend was dry and storm-free. 

Despite our social distancing protocols, we had a fun weekend. It sure was great to be out of our homes and camping with old friends again. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Rough Start to the Camping Season

After months of closed state park campgrounds due to the pandemic, I was finally able to go camping in our little trailer. I was expecting a relaxing and peaceful weekend, but what I got was something different.

Back before the pandemic shut everything down, I made a reservation at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland for Father’s Day weekend. So we headed out on Friday for the delayed start of our camping season. 

We had a great campsite; it was large, private, and surrounded by woods. The site didn’t have electricity for the camper, but we often camp that way. Propane and battery power are all we need for a weekend of camping in the camper. After getting situated, we had dinner and enjoyed a relaxing campfire. And, of course, my antenna went up, and I set up the radio. 

Our campsite at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. This was literally the calm before the storm.
Our campsite at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. This was literally the calm before the storm.

During the evening, the trailer battery started to fade. Eventually, it died altogether. It’s a 100 Ah deep cycle battery that has served us well for several camping seasons. Without it, we had no lights, the propane refrigerator wouldn’t start, and we had no water for the toilet. (I can hear the backpackers out there laughing right now.)

Fortunately, I had an extra 35 Ah battery I could press into service as a backup. After swapping a few connections, we were back in business. We used some alkaline battery-powered lights inside the camper to minimize the current draw on the smaller battery.

On Saturday, we awoke to some great weather and watched a deer pass by in the woods. Radio-wise, I started the day with a CW chat with KB4GYT in South Carolina. But, as the morning progressed, we started hearing some rumbling off in the distance. By mid-day, the storms moved in, and it continued to rain the rest of the afternoon.,

To our good fortune, the rain let up around dinner time. As we were finishing our dinner, however, we heard the propane gas detector in the trailer starting to chirp. That chirp meant we had another depleted battery on our hands. 

At that point, we could have reverted to tent camping mode, using our battery operated lights and making use of the campground bathroom facilities. (We had other workarounds for using the toilet in the trailer, but I’ll spare you those details.) We had two coolers, so we could deal with the loss of the refrigerator. Plus, we still had another battery for charging phones and running a fan. We tent-camped for many years, so we’ve done all this before.

In the end, we decided we didn’t want to spend our time implementing workarounds for our workarounds to extend our stay one more night. We had to be out by mid-day the next day, anyway. So, we took advantage of the remaining daylight to hastily pack up and head home. 

In between the thunderstorms and dealing with trailer battery issues, I managed to make a half-dozen contacts. Of those, two were Parks on the Air (POTA) park-to-park contacts. At times, the static crashes made radio reception difficult. I can only imagine what my 5-watt signal sounded like on the other end.

It was nice while it lasted. Well, most of it was, anyway. Instead of camping, I’ll spend Father’s Day getting my tent camping gear together for Field Day next weekend. Oh yeah… and shopping for a new battery.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Cookie Crumble 2020

After some damaging storms this week, we were blessed with some great weather for the weekend. Today was a perfect day to head outdoors for the annual Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.

The Cookie Crumble is a QRP contest run by Tim Carter W3ATB and Emily Saldana WC3R. It was inspired by the cookies that Emily used to make during the 2016 National Parks on the Air event. You get bonus points for working stations designated as Cookie Monsters. What’s unique about this contest is that you lose points for working Burnt Cookie stations. In any event, it’s a lot of fun.

My set up for the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.
My set up for the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.

This year, I headed out to my daughter’s farm to operate from one of the fields. My setup was almost identical to the setup I used last weekend. I used a half-square antenna made from cheap speaker wire, along with my KX3. I set up my chair under a shady tree—for a while, at least.

I wasn’t out for too long, but I worked 10 stations in the contest. One of those was a Cookie Monster station. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter any burnt cookie stations. 

Some of the highlights from today included:

  • My first QSO was with my old friend, Carter N3AO, down in Virginia. It was great to hear him again.
  • I worked VE2DDZ, who was doing a joint Cookie Crumble and SOTA activation. Malcolm had a great signal into Pennsylvania.
  • Outside of the contest, I worked WD8RIF who was doing a Parks-on-the-Air (POTA) activation from Ohio.
WB3GCK hard at work (or hardly working) in the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.
WB3GCK hard at work (or hardly working) in the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.

After a while, I began to lose my shade and I was starting to get a little sunburned. Right before I started tearing down, I heard another old friend, Dan KA3D, very faintly. I gave him a couple of calls but, sadly, he couldn’t hear me. We were probably a little too close for 40M. Maybe next time.

It was a great day to be outside playing radio. I also got some more on-the-air experience with my homebrew half-square antenna, which I’ll document in my next post.

Thanks for Tim W3ATB and Emily WC3R for running this fun contest. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

More Socially-Distant Antenna Testing

It was a beautiful day yesterday, here in southeastern Pennsylvania. I hadn’t done any portable operating lately, so this was a perfect day to get out there to test a new antenna I built.

I headed back out to the property my daughter and son-in-law own. They are in the process of restoring an old farmhouse on a large piece of land. Like my last outing there, I had the place to myself.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had built a half-square antenna out of speaker wire. So, I set it up in what had been a cornfield and gave it a go.

My setup out in what had been a cornfield. The old barn in the background is slated to be replaced later this year.
My setup out in what had been a cornfield. The old barn in the background is slated to be replaced later this year.

The bands were wall-to-wall with participants in the CQ WW PX Contest. While I was playing around with the antenna, I worked several contest stations on 40M, 20M, and 15M. Running five watts, I was able to work most of them on the first call. Contesters, of course, have exceptional ears.

All in all, I was pleased with the half-square antenna. I used a slightly different approach to this antenna, which gave me some multi-band capabilities. The KX3 was able to load it up from 80M through 6M. A detailed post on this speaker wire antenna project is in the works.

After two months away from it, it sure felt great to be back out in the field again playing with the radio.

72, Craig WB3GCK

My Activities of Late

I haven’t been posting much here lately. The COVID-19 pandemic and other family obligations have been cutting into my ham radio activities. Nevertheless, I do have a few projects in the works.

A few weeks ago, I started another project in my ongoing series of speaker wire antennas. This one will be a variant of the bi-square antenna. This antenna has the potential to be a little more field-friendly than the delta loop I tested last month. It’s all built; I just need to get out somewhere to set it up and see how it works.

I’ll file my next project under the category of Old Dogs/New Tricks. Back in December, I bought a Kenwood TH-D74a HT. That gave me the ability to reach a nearby D-Star repeater. This week, I purchased an MMDVM hotspot to go along with it. I plan to spend some time in the coming days getting it set up. I’m hoping to be able to eventually connect to the DMR talk groups used by my ARRL section and local ARES-RACES groups. Fortunately, my local group has some experienced hotspot users I can consult if I run into any snags. Wish me luck.

Sadly, our camping season with our little QRP Camper is off to a late start. State park campgrounds in our area have been closed due to pandemic. We have reservations at a state park in Maryland next month, however, and it looks that might be our first trip of the year. I’m looking forward to a little QRP-portable operating from the camper.

My local QRP club has started making plans for Field Day. We have a set of social-distancing guidelines we’ll be following this year. We’ll be limiting the number of participants, keeping our tents at least 10 feet apart, and eliminating common eating areas. Also, we won’t be sharing stations and equipment. This year’s Field Day will be different, for sure. 

Other than that, I’ve been active on our local ARES-RACES nets, and I have been checking into the Pennsylvania NBEMS Net on Sunday mornings. 

You can also find me on 40M or 80M CW in the evening. I usually hang out around the SKCC watering holes.

I’ll be posting more on all of this stuff in the coming weeks. Until then, stay safe, and I’ll see you on the air. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

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