The “QRP” Camper Rides Again

It seemed like an eternity since our little travel trailer went into storage for the Winter. This past weekend we were finally able to take it out for a weekend of camping. Of course, ham radio was a part of that.

My (far) better half and I went to nearby French Creek State Park for our inaugural trip of the 2019 season. We arrived on Friday night ahead of a line of severe thunderstorms. We had just enough time to get the trailer parked and leveled before the storms rolled in. My antenna would have to wait.

After the storms passed through, I was able to set the antenna up before it got too dark. I went with my trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical and 9:1 UNUN. It was too wet for a campfire so I got on the radio instead. There was a fair amount of SKCC activity on 30M. I made several QSO there before calling it quits for the night.

The WB3GCK QRP Camper at French Creek State Park. If you look closely, you can see my vertical antenna back along the tree line.
The WB3GCK QRP Camper at French Creek State Park. If you look closely, you can see my vertical antenna back along the tree line.

Saturday brought clear blue skies but also gusting winds and chilly temperatures. Two of our grandkids were visiting for the day, so my radio time was sporadic. During the course of the day, I made a variety of QSOs. Here are some of the highlights:

  • I ran into an old Polar Bear QRP friend, Mark NK8Q, on 60M CW. Mark was doing a SOTA activation in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.
  • I worked a special event station, WA1WCC, on Cape Cod. WA1WCC was commemorating International Marconi Day and the Centennial of RCA. This was the third time I’ve worked WA1WCC while camping at French Creek.
  • I worked a special event station, KM0RSE/8, commemorating Samuel Morse’s birthday. The operator was fellow SKCC and FISTS member, Larry KA8HFN.
  • Some of my Boschveldt QRP buddies were on an overnight hike on the Appalachian Trail. They were camping at a shelter on Peters Mountain in central Pennsylvania. Glen NK1N texted me to let me know he was on the air. I met Glen on 60M CW for an SKCC QSO. Shortly afterward, I worked both Glen and Ron WA8YIH on 60M SSB. It sounded like they were having a great time up there.

Fortunately, the winds eventually calmed down later in the day. After cooking some burgers and hanging out at the campfire with the grandkids, I made one more SKCC QSO before calling it a day.

On Sunday, we awoke to a somewhat rainy and dreary day. We usually do our cooking outdoors but today we opted for a leisurely breakfast in the camper. After breakfast, I made a few more QSOs before packing up for the drive home.

After a long Winter, it felt great to be back out in my little “QRP” camper. I’m looking forward to the next trip in a couple of weeks.

72, Craig WB3GCK

(Almost) Gone with the Wind

I was long overdue for some outside QRP-portable operating. Although we had some heavy rain overnight, it looked like it would be gone by mid-day. So, yesterday I headed out to nearby Towpath Park to take advantage of some milder temperatures.

I had a couple of objectives for today. First, I was hoping to make some QRP to the Field (QTTF) contest QSOs. I also wanted to test a new ground mount I put together for my cheap eBay telescopic pole.

When I got to the park, the rain had stopped. Unfortunately, last night’s heavy rains left the park a bit on the swampy side. That, coupled with some gusting winds, would make for an interesting test of my new ground mount. I was a bit leary but went ahead and set up the antenna anyway.

As I was setting up, a Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission officer got out of his car and walked up the path towards me. While it’s true that I was using a fishing rod (for my antenna), I was about 50 yards away from the river! As he approached, I told him that I was a ham radio operator. He said, “I know.” As it turns out, he was also a ham and had spotted my callsign on my license plate. He was just stopping by to say hello. As we talked a bit, we also found out that we also had some former employers and co-workers in common. Small world!

WB3GCK at Towpath Park
WB3GCK at Towpath Park

As we were chatting, the gusting wind blew my antenna over to a 45-degree angle. The ground was too soggy to hold my antenna mount. It never fell over, so I gave my antenna mount a passing grade for this extreme test. Unfortunately, in my rush to straighten out the antenna, I never took a picture. Pity. It put that tower in Pisa to shame. I moved the antenna a few feet to a somewhat drier spot and that did the trick. I’ll show a closer look at my ground mount in a future post.

My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.
My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.

When I finally got on the air, I found the bands dominated by Michigan and Ontario QSO Party stations. I didn’t hear any QTTF stations at all. So, I spent some time handing out points to some of the QSO Party stations.

After a while, I had had enough of the wind and packed up my gear. As I was packing up, the sun came out and the wind subsided. Go figure!

72, Craig WB3GCK

My Quest for SKCC Tribune x 8

I haven’t been posting much lately but I have been on the air a fair amount. I’ve been focusing my operating time on reaching a milestone in the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) award hierarchy.

I’ve been working on reaching the Tribune x 8 (Tx8) level on my way to reaching the Senator level. I needed to work 400 unique SKCC members (in increments of 50) who are Centurians, Tribunes, or Senators.

I began this weekend a mere 4 QSOs away from the Tx8 level. I had family coming for the weekend, so there wasn’t much time for radio. Despite that, I set a personal goal of finishing up the last 4 this weekend.

I got on the air on Friday night for about an hour and was on a roll. I worked 3 qualifying QSOs in a row, leaving me just 1 QSO away from my goal. A piece of cake or so I thought.

On Saturday morning I got on for a bit. I had several stations offer to help me give me that last QSO but we couldn’t complete the contacts. Between unsettled geomagnetic conditions and static from storms down South, I came away empty-handed.

Part of the reason for the noisey band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.
Part of the reason for the noisy band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.

I had about an hour and a half before my family arrived, so I drove out to a nearby park to try some portable operating. With the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) going on, I figured it would be easy to pick up the last QSO. Plus, using a decent antenna sure wouldn’t hurt, either.

Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.
Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.

Using my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck, I got busy trying to bag some WES QSOs. Band conditions had perked up a little. Surely, I would find that last qualifying QSO.

I worked several stations on 40M and one on 20M. Unfortunately, they were familiar callsigns already in my log. I was feeling a bit disappointed as I rushed to make one last contact before I had to pack up and head home.

When I got home, I entered my contacts into the SKCCLogger software. Guess what! That last contact turned out to be a new one, giving me that elusive 400th Tribune QSO! Thanks to Len KD8FKD for being the one that got me there.

It’s been a long, slow climb for me. I started working on the Tribune levels about 3 years ago. (I took a break from SKCC for a while.) I made the vast majority of my SKCC contacts running 5 watts (with a few at 10 watts). I was either out portable or at home using my rainspout antenna. I have enjoyed the challenge, though. I find the SKCC events to be a whole lot of fun and somewhat addicting.

So, what’s next? My application for the Tx8 award is in the queue for processing. Once it’s approved, I’ll start working on the Senator Award, the highest award in the hierarchy. For that, I’ll need to work 200 unique SKCC members who are Tribunes or Senators. I’m hoping to get there sometime this year.

Wish me luck…

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

Calm Before the Storm

We’re under a Winter Storm Warning today, with 5 to 8 inches of snow expected in some areas. I thought I would sneak out for a bit of QRP-portable before the snow starts. So I drove over to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, one of my regular Winter-time haunts.

The Upper Schuylkill River Trail at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park
The Upper Schuylkill River Trail at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park

There were a few people in the park when I got there, including a few hardy fishermen. After installing my 19-foot Vertical on my truck, I fired up the KX3 on 40M in search of some SKCC contacts. The bands seemed to be recovering from the geomagnetic wackiness from the past few days. There were some strong signals on the band but not much activity.

I only logged four contacts today but there were some nice chats. In particular, I had nice two-way QRP chats with W8BUD and AJ8S. The best “DX” of the day was with KR9Z in Florida on 20M.

After a while, a park ranger came by to tell me that they were closing the park in anticipation of the snow. So, I tore down, packed up, and headed home. No problem, I was starting to get hungry anyway.

As I write this, the snow has yet to arrive but the local weatherman assures us that it’s coming. I guess I better rest up for some snow shoveling tomorrow.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Slippery Sloper

I spent the weekend with my grandkids out near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My XYL and I watched the kids while my daughter and son-in-law took a little anniversary get-away. Of course, there was some time for ham radio, too.

By the time I got around to setting up an antenna on Friday, it was dark and the temperature was well below freezing. Oh yeah, there was about 4 inches of snow in the backyard to boot. So, I was in need of a real quick and dirty antenna.

I decided to toss a 29.5-foot wire out of a 2nd-floor window. I then went out to the backyard to secure the other end of the wire. I used some shock cord to tie it off to the top of a 6-foot wooden fence. My total time outside in the cold and dark was about a minute.

Back inside, I fed the wire through a homebrew 9:1 UNUN with 18 feet of RG-8X coax. This particular wire and UNUN served me well as a vertical during many National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activations. I commandeered one end of the dining room table for my KX3 and powered up for a test. The KX3 was able to get a match on 80M through 10M.  Then, I went back to hanging out with the kids.

My impromptu sloper's feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.
My impromptu sloper’s feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “slippery” part of the this post’s title comes in. Well, the next morning I looked out the window and saw that some ice had accumulated on the wire. The wire was dragged through the snow during installation and it froze overnight. The KX3 didn’t mind at all; the internal tuner loaded up the frozen wire without problems.

I got on the air for a bit on Saturday afternoon.  On the air, my impromptu antenna far exceeded my low expectations. I started off working N2CX on 40M. Joe was activating a park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I followed that up with a nice two-way QRP chat with WK2J in North Carolina.

My dining room table set up.
My dining room table set up.

I worked a couple of QRPers in the FYBO contest sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions. I also worked some Minnesota and Vermont QSO Party contesters. An assortment of SKCC, POTA, and SOTA stations also made it into my log over the weekend. The best “DX” of the weekend was VE7ST in the British Columbia QSO Party on 20M.

I didn’t expect much from this quickie antenna configuration but I was happy with the way it got out. Plus, set up/tear-down was easy and only took a few minutes. This sloper will likely be my go-to antenna for future visits to see the Harrisburg grandkids.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Another JS8Call Newbie

Yep, that’s me. At an ARES-RACES meeting the other night, a few fellow members were discussing JS8Call. I decided to download the software and give it a whirl.

After installing the software and looking it over, I watched a few YouTube videos to learn how to use it. Once I thought I had the basics down, I fired up my KX3 to take JS8Call for a spin.

I didn’t see any activity on the waterfall, but after a while, I was able to decode a transmission on 20M. That was a good sign. I called CQ few times with no response. Checking PSKReporter, however, I saw spots from as far away as southern California. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna.

My initial CQs with JS8Call made it out to southern California on 20M. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna!
My initial CQs with JS8Call made it out to southern California on 20M. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna!

I dropped down to 40M and saw immediately saw a few decodes pop up. I called CQ a few times and received a call from N4YTM in North Carolina. Gordon, as it turns out, was only slightly more experienced with JS8Call; I was his third contact. Despite our collective inexperience, we had a nice, albeit slow, chat with this new mode.

I found that carrying on a basic QSO with JS8Call was pretty intuitive. I still have a lot to learn about some of the more advanced messaging features, though. JS8 is an interesting mode and less robotic than FT8. It’s slow for a keyboard-to-keyboard chat mode but I was decoding signals I could hardly see on the waterfall.

Although CW will always be my primary mode, I’m sure there will be more JS8Call activity in my future.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Winter Field Day 2019

Between errands and other obligations, I squeezed in a little time for Winter Field Day. I was only on for about 3 hours over the weekend but it was still fun.

On Saturday, I went to one of my usual Winter operating spots, Black Rock Sanctuary. (It’s one of a few local parks that have Porta-Potties year round.) I used my usual stationary-mobile set-up and operated from inside the truck.  I operated in category 1O from EPA.

WB3GCK operating in Winter Field Day 2019. If you look closely, you can see a microphone connected to my KX3. Yep. I actually made some SSB contacts.
WB3GCK operating in Winter Field Day 2019. If you look closely, you can see a microphone connected to my KX3. Yep. I actually made some SSB contacts.

I got off to a rough start, though. My trusty Palm Mini paddles gave me some problems. The connector at the paddles wasn’t making reliable contact. After fiddling with it for a while, I managed to get them working again. I’m babying these paddles since Palm is no longer in business and parts are unavailable.

After I got on the air, I found that 40M was wide open. I was able to work pretty much any station I could hear. In a little over an hour of operating, I logged 19 contacts — all on 40M CW.

I packed up and headed home to have dinner with my (far) better half, who had been out of town most of the week. I also went to work on my Palm paddles with some contact cleaner.

On Sunday, I headed back to Black Rock to make a few more contacts. This time my paddles worked right off the bat. (Note to self: Hey, Craig! Do some maintenance on your portable keys once in a while, will ya!)

The QSOs came a bit slower this time around. In two hours, I logged 20 contacts on 40M and 20M. I even made some SSB contacts for the extra multipliers. (That’s a fairly rare thing for me.) My best “DX” of the day was California.

When it starting getting tough to find “fresh meat” on the bands, I decided to pack up and head home. It wasn’t the most adventurous Winter Field but it was fun to get out there to make a few contacts.

72, Craig WB3GCK