Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

Another Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) is in the books.  This year, I was going to travel to my operating site by bicycle but forecasts for thunderstorms forced a last-minute change of plans.

I ended up in French Creek State Park (PA) near the Hopewell Fire Tower.  This area has good elevation and there usually aren’t many other visitors around.  Dark clouds were moving in, so I opted to set up in the shelter of an old picnic pavilion.  Fortunately, the storm skirted around my location.

Pavilion near the Hopewell Fire Tower, French Creek State Park, PA.
My operating location near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park (PA)

I kept my antenna simple, in case I needed to bail out in a hurry.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a small tree next to the pavilion and set up a 30-foot wire vertical with a 9:1 unun.  I ran 18 feet of coax over to one of the picnic tables.  I had my KX3 set up and ready to go about five minutes before the contest started.

My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.
My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.

Conditions were pretty rough.  There was heavy fading on 20 meters and lots of static on 40 meters.  Early on, most of the activity was on 20 meters but 40 meters started to come alive later on.

Despite the conditions, I managed to eek out 19 contacts in about 3 hours.  I heard a lot of familiar callsigns.  I was pleasantly surprised to work N6GA, Cam, in California.  I guess my simple antenna was getting out OK.  I also worked fellow Polar Bear QRPer, Kelly K4UPG in Florida.  In addition to the contest exchange, Kelly and I exchanged the traditional Polar Bear greeting, “GRRR.” Right before I packed up, I found QRP friends, Larry W2LJ and Carter N3AO, on 40 meters.

My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016
My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

It turned out to be a pretty nice day.  The thunderstorms stayed away and not a drop of rain.  I was in the shade and there was just enough of a breeze to make the heat and humidity bearable and keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Thanks to the Adventure Radio Society for sponsoring this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

White Clay Creek Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoBoy, the state of Delaware sure has been good to me this week.  After my failed attempt at activating the Captain John Smith Trail (TR21) in Maryland, I rebounded the other day with great activation at First State NHP (HP12) in Delaware two days later.  I had an even better activation in Delaware today along the White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River (WR39).

This morning I drove down to the White Clay Creek Nature Center near Newark, Delaware.  (Thanks to N2CX for recommending this spot.)  I headed to the side of the parking lot closest to the creek and parked under a large shady tree.  Despite the heat wave we’re experiencing, I had a nice breeze through the truck for the first hour and a half or so.  It took about five minutes to set up my 30-foot vertical and KX3.

My "stationary-mobile" set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.
My “stationary-mobile” set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.

I got off to a slow start on 40 meters but once I got spotted, things picked up in a hurry and stayed busy for the next hour.  Propagation on 40 meters was interesting; I worked a lot of Pennsylvania and New Jersey stations with the vertical and then worked Florida.  Go figure.

I was getting ready to take a break before changing bands when a park ranger approached my truck.  Apparently, someone reported some suspicious activity in the Nature Center’s parking lot.  I explained to her what I was doing and what National Parks on the Air was all about.  She was very nice and said she would be back if the Park had any problems with what I was doing.  She never came back.

White Clay Creek
White Clay Creek

I spent another hour working stations on 20 meters before packing up.    I ended the day with 58 QSOs in the log, including a park-to-park QSO with N2CX at AA17 in New Jersey.  I took a walk around the Nature Center before heading back to Pennsylvania.  I need to do a non-radio visit here sometime to explore more of the park.

Obligatory selfie at White Clay Creek State Park Nature Center
Obligatory selfie

So, I had a couple of fun activations this week and one not-so-good one.  As the singer, Meatloaf, would say:  “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

72, Craig WB3GCK

First State NHP Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoAfter my last activation, I sure needed a day like today.  During my last outing just about everything that could go wrong did.  Thankfully, my activation today went off without a hitch.

I made the 45-minute trip down to First State National Historical Park in Delaware and set up in the parking lot of the Smith Bridge Picnic Area along Brandywine Creek.  (Thanks to Joe, N2CX, for recommending this location.)  I operated from inside my truck using a KX3 at 5 watts.  My antenna was a 30-ft vertical fed through a 9:1 unun with 18 feet of coax.  The Jackite pole was mounted on my bike rack mount.

Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park
Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park

I operated for about two hours and the bands seemed to be in decent shape.  Splitting my time between 40 and 20 meters, I wound up with 45 contacts in my log.  I hit the west coast 3 times and worked quite a few ham radio friends.

My antenna drew a lot of attention today.  Several people came up to me to ask about the 31-foot pole.  A few times, it happened while I was sorting through pileups.  One fellow couldn’t believe ham radio still existed.  Another said, “No wonder you use ham radio; the cell phone coverage around here is lousy.”

My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.
My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.

I’m going to attempt one more activation this week.  I hope it goes as well as today.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Captain John Smith Trail Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoIt had been a while since I did a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation,  so I decided to activate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (TR21).  The Captain John Smith Trail is a water trail that includes the Susquehanna River up to the Conowingo Dam.  Since I’m a member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I thought I would explore the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail and activate TR21 somewhere along the way.  Despite my best efforts, things didn’t go as well as I had planned.

After suffering through a huge traffic jam due to a downed tree on a major highway, I arrived at the trailhead later than planned.  As I pulled into Fisherman’s Park just below the Conowingo Dam, I was greeted by a large group of vultures.  I think they foreshadowed the type of outing I was about to have.

A group of vultures at Fisherman's Park
On arrival, I was greeted by a large group of vultures. An omen, perhaps?

I unloaded my bike and headed out down the trail.   During my ride, I scouted out potential operating locations along the trail.  The pickings were slim.  For most of its 2.5-mile length, the trail parallels the Susquehanna River.  There is a very dense tree canopy over the trail.  On one side of the trail, there’s a sharp drop-off  down to the river.  The inland side of the trail is mostly wetlands.  I found a picnic table off to the side of the trail and stopped there on the ride back.

Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.
Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.

The temperature today was in the low 90s but it was comfortable while I was riding.  Once I stopped, though, the humidity under the dense tree canopy was unbearable.  I decided to ride back to the trailhead and operate from the parking lot.

This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.
This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.

I parked in the only shady spot I could find and set up my trusty 29.5-foot vertical.  My chosen spot had three major problems:  1) The shade was only short-lived, 2) the noise levels were very high,  and, 3) there was a steep hill behind me.  Undeterred, I started out on 40 meters and immediately got a call from  a station in South Carolina.  I continued to call CQ with no takers.  After that, I switched back and forth between 40 and 20 but no luck.  I made some changes to my antenna but still no luck.

My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.
My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.

The heat was starting to become too much for this old man.  My cell phone was overheating and going into some sort of self-protection mode.  Even though my KX3 was only set for 5 watts, it started feeling a bit warm.  On top of that, some biting flies decided to have lunch inside my truck and I was the main course.   After an hour or so, I had enough and packed up.  I waved goodbye to my vulture friends and headed home.

The Conowingo Dam
The Conowingo Dam

Although it wasn’t a successful NPOTA activation, I at least had a nice bike ride on an interesting trail.  I didn’t make the minimum number of contacts for a valid activation but, then again, I didn’t get skunked.   I’ll have to give TR21 another try later this year.  Next time, I’ll move further downstream from the hydroelectric plant.

I plan to do two more activations this week.  Hopefully, my luck will be better.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

Backyard-Portable in Central PA

My XYL and I spent the weekend with our daughter and her family near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  I spent most of my time enjoying the company of my grandson but I did manage to get on the air for a bit this afternoon.

I set up my KX3 and AlexLoop antenna out in the backyard at the picnic table.  Since the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest was going on, I hooked up my little MS2 straight key to make a few contacts.

Operating “backyard-portable” near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)
Operating “backyard-portable” near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)

This was my first time using the AlexLoop with my KX3 and it worked well.  Operating “search and pounce” during a contest was tricky with the AlexLoop but not impossible.  I just tuned the KX3 about 500Hz off of the station I wanted to work, tuned the loop and then moved back to the station’s frequency.

I worked a half-dozen SKCC stations from Maine to Florida and as far west as Missouri.  The last QSO was with W3CEI.  His signal was so strong I had to turn the KX3’s preamp off and kick in the attenuator.  As it turns out, Larry was only a half mile away or so from me.  That was my big DX contact of the day!

It was a short outing but it was a beautiful day to be out playing radio under a shady tree.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Holiday Weekend Bike Ride

For a long, holiday weekend, it’s been pretty busy around here.  I managed to get in a bike ride this morning on the nearby Perkiomen Trail.

On my way back to the trailhead, I stopped for a brief QRP session.  I tossed a line up over an opportune branch and hoisted up a 29.5-foot wire.  It wasn’t the highest branch but it let me operate under a shady tree.  I laid another 29.5-foot wire out on the ground for a counterpoise.  I’ve had very good success with this configuration on many occasions, while feeding it through a 4:1 unun.  Today, I tried attaching the wires directly to my KX3 using a BNC-to-binding post adapter.  The KX3 managed to tune it with an SWR less than 2:1 on 40 and 30 meters.  On 20 meters, however, I couldn’t get it below 5:1.  So, I quickly hooked up the 4:1 unun and about 6 feet of coax.

Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.
Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.

Not hearing much activity on 20 meters, I tuned around 30 meters and heard W9CBT calling CQ from the Chicago area.  The QSB was bad and we just couldn’t complete the QSO.

My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.
My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.

Down on 40 meters, I had a quick exchange with K2D in Connecticut, one of the 13 Colonies special event stations.  I called CQ on 7.030 and wound up having a nice two-way QRP QSO with John, W3FSA, in Portland, Maine.  We managed to hang in there despite some deep fading at times.

After that, I quickly packed up and rode the last few miles back to the trailhead.  The weather was perfect and I would have liked to stay longer.  However, I needed to get home to put some ribs on the smoker.  I have my priorities in order!

I wish all of my U.S. ham friends a happy and safe 4th of July.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Field Day 2016

Boschveldt QRP Club patchAnother Field Day is in the books.  This year, as in past years, I operated with the Boschveldt QRP Club.  The Boschveldt QRP Club is a small, informal group of QRPers who share a love of portable QRP operating.  Basically, we get together twice each year.  In January, we converge on a cabin in the Delaware Water Gap.  In June, of course, we get together for Field Day.

Our Field Day site was a group tenting site in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania.  Our Field Day crew consisted of Ed WA3WSJ, Glen NK1N, Ed K3YTR, Ron WA8YIH and me.  After arriving on Friday afternoon and setting up our tents, we headed into town for dinner.  After that, we set up a few antennas and it was soon time to get a campfire going.

WB3GCK CW tent
WB3GCK CW tent

After breakfast on Saturday, we finished setting up the radio equipment.  After a lunch of cheddar-stuffed bratwursts cooked over a fire, we drove over to visit with members of the Pottstown Amateur Radio Club (PARC) who were operating from another site in the park.  We got back to our site in time for the start of Field Day.

Ed WA3WSJ operating from a chair instead of his usual pedestrian-mobile operating
Ed WA3WSJ operating from a chair instead of his usual pedestrian-mobile operating

Once again, we operated class 4AB (QRP) using our club callsign, W3BQC.  I ran a CW station on 40 and 80 meters.  NK1N operated CW on 20 meters and SSB on 40 meters.  WA8YIH operated SSB on 20 meters and up, while WA3WSJ ran CW on 15 meters and up.  K3YTR operated 6 and 2 meters SSB.

Glen NK1N operating SSB on 40 meters
Glen NK1N operating SSB on 40 meters

Now I have to point out that the Boschveldt QRPers run a very informal Field Day.  In fact, we probably spend as much time socializing as we spend operating.  When the sun goes down, things come to a halt.  We gather around the campfire to relax and just enjoy being outdoors.  One of our traditions is roasting marshmallow Peeps® over the campfire.

Ron WA8YIH working 20 meters SSB
Ron WA8YIH working 20 meters SSB

This year we had a large group of Boy Scouts camped across the road from us.  A few of them stopped by Saturday night for a ham radio demonstration by WA8YIH.

Ed K3YTR operating on 6 meters and 2 meters from his car
Ed K3YTR operating on 6 meters and 2 meters from his car

Our logs haven’t been consolidated yet but I’m guessing we had something like 300 contacts between the five of us.  Although band conditions weren’t all that great, the weather was a lot better than the rain we had last year.

I always enjoy getting together with the Boschveldt guys for Field Day.  We’ve already started planning our January trip.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Perkiomen Trail Ride

I took advantage of some great weather this morning to get in a bike ride at one of my favorite places to ride.  The Perkiomen Trail is a nicely paved, multi-use trail that parallels the scenic Perkiomen Creek.  I did an 8-mile out-and-back ride this morning.  On the way back, I stopped in the Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to do a little QRP-portable.

I was using another experimental antenna today.  I figured my short 19-foot vertical would do reasonable well on the higher bands and would at least be somewhat usable on 40 meters.  The KX3 had no problems loading it up from 40 through 6 meters.  A quick check of the Reverse Beacon Network showed more spots on 40 meters than the higher bands.  That seemed to track with what the Band Conditions website was showing at the time.  With the deep QSB on the bands, I really couldn’t tell how well the antenna was working.

My operating position along the Perkiomen Trail
My operating position along the Perkiomen Trail

On 30 meters, I heard WB8AJR calling CQ from Akron, Ohio.  It took a few tries for him to get my callsign and we struggled to exchange our basic information.  His signal was ranging from a solid 579 down to barely perceivable.  So, I’m sure my 5 watts and short vertical dropped out completely when the band dipped.

On 40 meters, I faintly heard N2CX coming on the air for an NPOTA activation.  I tried calling a few times with no success.  After a few minutes, lots of chasers started showing up and I moved on.

Up on 20 meters, I heard Paul W0RW calling CQ with a special event callsign, W7L.  After several calls, I think he recognized my callsign.  He gave me a 339.  He was about the same but the QSB was very deep on 20 meters.  It didn’t sound like he got my information.  [Update:  Paul emailed me the next day saying I made it into his W7L log.]

The nice part about combining ham radio with cycling is that when the bands aren’t cooperating, I at least get some nice scenery and a little exercise.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Horse-Shoe Trail Bike Ride

I headed out this morning with the dual purposes of getting in a bike ride and doing a little portable QRP operating.  My destination was a 3-mile section of the historic Horse-Shoe Trail that runs through Warwick County Park.

I had never been on this section of the trail before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  It’s a beautiful trail and very well maintained.  The stone and sometimes rocky surface was better suited for a mountain bike.  My old hybrid bike was able to handle it with no problems, though.  At the bottom of a rocky hill, I came across an open field and decided to set up the radio there.

Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.
Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.

I set up an experimental antenna that uses a compact 20-foot telescopic pole I picked up recently on eBay.  It’s basically a variation of the Rybakov Vertical with a 25-foot wire fed through a 4:1 unun.  I laid out one 25-foot radial on the ground.  I mounted the pole by simply placing it over a screwdriver shoved into the ground.  Since the wire is longer than the pole, I attached the unun to the bike’s handlebar and ran a short coax down to my KX3.  The KX3’s ATU matched it easily from 40 through 10 meters.

My operating position
My operating position

I called CQ on 20 meters and had a nice chat with Lynn, NG9D, near Chicago.  I think he thought I was crazy using an untested antenna out on a trail.  (I had a backup!)

Moving down to 30 meters, I worked Mike, W9KY, in Indianapolis.  I finished up on 40 meters with a short 2-way QRP QSO with Jack, WD4E, in North Carolina and a nice QSO with NY2MC aboard the USS Ticonderoga in Whitehall, NY.  I did a little more experimenting with the antenna before packing up the bike for the ride back.

My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead
My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead

As I expected, this antenna isn’t a real barn burner on 40 meters but it seems to work well enough for casual operating.  The pole weighs about 12 ounces and collapses down to about 26 inches, making it easy to transport via bike or backpack.   I definitely need to make some refinements to the antenna, though.  If it works out, it will be the subject of a future post.

It was a nice morning in a beautiful park.  I’m looking forward to exploring some of the other trails.

72, Craig WB3GCK

International Field Radio Event Recap

I operated in the first-ever International Field Radio Event on May 28th.  (See my earlier post for information on this event.)  A few days before the event, I decided to operate near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park.  The day before the event, my XYL and two of our grandchildren accompanied me on a hike to scout out operating locations.  I found a small clearing in the woods near the fire tower.  It was off the beaten path and looked like it would work out for me.

Hopewell Fire Tower
Hopewell Fire Tower

The next day I got off to an early start and headed back to the little clearing.  There wasn’t enough room to toss a line up in a tree, so I used two Velcro® straps to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to a tree.  I set up a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by the pole and laid out two radials on the ground.  I fed the antenna through a 4:1 unun and a short length of coax.  I set up my KX3 on a small table near the tree and was soon ready to get started.

My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.
My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.

It was tough going for this event.  Band conditions were less than stellar and 20 meters was wall-to-wall with CQ WW WPX CW Contest stations.  I spent my time searching for other Field Radio Event stations, both CW and (gulp) SSB.  After a few hours, I only had 3 CW contacts on 30 meters in my log.  None of them were Field Radio stations.  One was a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation in Kentucky and the other two were rag chews with stations in Florida and Michigan.

WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations
WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations

One pleasant surprise was an eyeball QSO with Jerry K3BZ.  Jerry was walking near my location and noticed me back in the woods.  He stopped by to say hello and introduce himself.  After chatting with Jerry for a bit, I packed up and headed home.

I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t work any other Field Radio Event stations.  On the Field Radio group page on Facebook, many other stations reported similar disappointing results.  There is talk about conducting another International Field Radio Event later this year.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that band conditions will be better and that there won’t be a major contest going on that weekend.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK