QRP Joy on Mount Misery

I can’t believe it– three decent weekends in a row.  Thanks to El Niño, we’re headed for record temperatures this weekend.  I definitely needed to take advantage of these mild temperatures.  So, I drove down to Valley Forge National Historic Park to do some portable operating.  I had planned to operate from Mount Misery (aka Valley Forge Mountain) for a while but never got around to it.

Following some directions that my friend, Carter N3AO,  gave me, I hiked up the Mount Misery Trail.  Carter operated a QRP field contest there years ago and said it was a nice spot.  I hiked in about a mile and branched off onto the Horse-Shoe Trail for another half-mile or so.  Most of the other hikers seemed to be staying on the Mount Misery Trail.  I figured the Horse-Shoe Trail would be more secluded.  I was right.  The only other person I saw was a Park Watch volunteer.  She came by as I was trying to figure out where to hang my antenna.  I’m sure she was wondering why I was standing there staring up into the trees.

The intersection of the Mount Misery and Horseshoe trails.
The intersection of the Mount Misery and Horseshoe trails.

My biggest challenge of the day was getting my antenna up in the trees.  I continued to hike looking for something that resembled a clearing.  The woods up there are dense and there is a lot of brush just waiting to snag my antenna wire.  After about 20  minutes, I managed to get my LNR EFT-10/20/40 EFHW antenna up.  I set up my trusty YouKits HB-1B and got on the air.

My operating position on Mount Misery.
My operating position on Mount Misery.

I called CQ on 20 meters and AF5BA answered from Arkansas.  After that, I got a call from fellow QRP Polar Bear, WA8REI.  Ken was also QRP portable, operating from his trailer in a deer camp in Michigan.  Next up was VE1BA in Nova Scotia.  John’s  5-watt signal was booming into Pennsylvania.

I moved down to 40 meters, but I didn’t hear a lot of activity.  I tuned around and heard NM1I calling CQ from Massachusetts.  I gave him a call and we had a nice chat.

I took a break to stretch my legs and take a few pictures before heading back to 20 meters.  I worked the VE9CRM club station in New Brunswick.  The operator was VE9BEL.  Their club station was putting out a very strong signal.

WB3GCK operating on Mount Misery in Valley Forge, PA
WB3GCK operating on Mount Misery in Valley Forge, PA

I was getting ready to shut down when I heard KG0YR calling me from Missouri.  Dave was running 1 watt and had a nice signal.  On his heels was K4AKC from Alabama.  Tom was running 5 watts.  I hated to cut our QSO short, but I needed to pack up and hike back down the hill.

All in all, it was a productive 2 hours.

Trail marker on the Horseshoe Trail
Trail marker on the Horseshoe Trail

I did have one take away from today’s outing.  I have been using 20 lb. test monofilament line with a 2-ounce lead sinker to get my antenna up.  It works great, but the line becomes completely invisible in the woods.  I need to get some high-visibility line and paint the sinker.

Across from Mount Misery is another mount named… Wait for it…  Mount Joy!  That’s on my list for a future outing.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

December Bike Ride

It’s hard to believe, but this was the second weekend in a row with unseasonably warm temperatures.  So, I loaded up my bike and went for a ride.  I rode about 2 miles along the Schuylkill River Trail and another mile or so on the Perkiomen Trail.  I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to do a little QRP portable.

My transportation and operating position
My transportation and operating position

I found a picnic table near a nice stand of trees.  I tossed a line up in one of the trees and pulled up an experimental 42-foot end-fed wire.  I used the handlebars of my bike to secure the 4:1 unun I was using.  I laid out a couple of radials on the ground.

My bike served to support the feedpoint of my antenna.
My bike served to support the feedpoint of my antenna.

I fired up my trusty YouKits HB-1B and checked 20 meters.  I didn’t hear much going on there.  After a few unanswered CQs, I tried 30 meters.  My Elecraft T1 tuner couldn’t get the SWR as low as I would like it, so I went down to 40 meters.  I called CQ a couple of times and Keith, KB8FE, answered from the Akron, Ohio, area.

My operating position
My operating position

After a short QSO with Keith, I called “QRZ?” and Chuck KY3P gave me a call from New York.  I had a nice two-way QRP ragchew with Chuck, despite some fading on the band.

After signing with Chuck, I did a few quick experiments with my antenna.  By that time, the sun was starting to go down and I could feel the temperatures starting to drop.  So, I loaded up my bike and headed back.  I got back to the trailhead just as the sun was setting over the trees.

When December days like this show up here in Pennsylvania, you just have to take advantage of them.

WB3GCK operating on a beautiful December afternoon
WB3GCK operating on a beautiful December afternoon

73, Craig WB3GCK

Jackite Pole Repairs

As you can tell from other posts, I’m a big fan of Jackite fiberglass poles.  My 31-foot pole sees heavy use as the main component of my Pop-up Vertical antenna. I also use it a variety of other portable situations, including my Bike Rack Vertical antenna.

Recently, I was in a wooded area and had the pole strapped to a signpost. While packing up to leave, the tip section got stuck.  It refused to slide back into the next larger section.  I noticed that the split ring I have attached to the top eyelet (see my Jackite Hacks post) had some damage. I’m guessing it got hung up in a tree branch when I was collapsing the pole.  My downward pulling most likely caused the top two sections to become jammed.

Damaged split ring. (Click for full-size image.)
Damaged split ring. A possible clue as to how two sections of my Jackite pole became hopelessly jammed.

I have had these two sections become stuck once or twice before.  I guess I’m sometimes a bit too aggressive when I extend the sections.  Usually, a little WD-40 does the trick.  Not this time.

I worked on it when I got home and wound up cracking the tip section.  The two sections were still stuck together.  After few minutes on the Jackite website, a new tip section and the next larger section were on order.  I received a shipping notice the next day. The cost was reasonable.  It was definitely less expensive than replacing the entire pole.  A couple of days later, the parts arrived and the pole is ready to head out into the field again.

Thanks to the good folks at Jackite, I’m back in business.  I’ll try to be more careful next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Disclaimer:  I have no interests, financial or otherwise, in Jackite.  I’m just a happy customer.

QRP by the River

I haven’t been able to get out to do any portable operating in while.  I had a few hours this morning before we headed out of town to spend the weekend with family, so I thought I do a quick trip to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  The forecast was calling for rain, so my original plan was to operate from my truck with my antenna mounted on my bicycle rack.

When I arrived at the park, it was a mild 55 degrees (

A conveniently-placed bulletin board served as my antenna support.
A conveniently-placed bulletin board served as my antenna support.

) with no wind and no rain.  I figured there won’t be many more days like this for a while, so I decided to head further into the park and operate from a picnic table next to the Schuylkill River.  My antenna was a 30-foot vertical wire fed through a 9:1 unun.  I used some nylon cable ties to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to a sign post.  My rig was my trusty YouKits HB-1B.

I started out on 20 meters.  The band was jam packed with stations working the CQ DX Contest.  I’m not a big fan of the quick contest-type exchanges so, after working PJ2T, I moved down to the more peaceful 30 meter band.

WB3GCK operating by the Schuylkill River
WB3GCK operating by the Schuylkill River

W9ZN was booming into Pennsylvania so I gave him a call.  I’ve worked Bill several times before from a variety of portable locations and it was nice to work him again.  We had a nice chat until the band started fading.

Next, I moved down to 40 meters and called CQ.  W2ZRA gave me a call from Eastern Long Island.  We had a nice rag chew.  Kevin was running 50 watts and I gave him a 589 signal report.  During the QSO, he reduced his power to 5 watts and was still about 569.

After that, I needed to pack up and head home.  My timing was impeccable; it started raining a few minutes after I got home.

It was a very brief but enjoyable morning to be operating outdoors by the river.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

 

AlexLoop Mounting

In my 40+ years in Amateur Radio, the AlexLoop Walkham was the first commercially-made HF antenna I ever bought.  I wanted something for those spur-of-the-moment QRP outings when I want to get on the air quickly and not have to deal with putting wires into trees.  The AlexLoop fit the bill nicely.  There’s probably nothing novel or new here but here’s how I mount the AlexLoop for operation.

Tripod Mounting.  While I was waiting for the AlexLoop to arrive from Brazil, I ordered a Vivitar VPT-1250 tripod from a vendor on eBay for less than $20.  The VPT-1250 is super lightweight and stores nicely in the AlexLoop’s carrying bag.  It’s a decent tripod for casual use but for something like a SOTA activation under windy conditions, you’d be better off with something more robust.

vivitar_tripod_2
Vivitar VPT-1250 Tripod with PVC pipe installed.

To use the VPT-1250, I removed the pan/tilt head.  I cut a 4-inch piece of 1/2-inch PVC pipe, which I slide over the center post of the tripod.  I added a bit of electrical tape to both the tripod post and the PVC pipe to give a slight friction fit.  The base of the AlexLoop slides onto the PVC pipe.

Picnic Table Mounting.  This is an idea I got from AK4LP’s QRZ page. For mounting to a table, I take the same piece of PVC pipe and insert it into a 1/2-inch PVC elbow fitting.  I sanded the end of the PVC pipe so it was easier to remove from the elbow fitting.

table_mount_1
Table mount attached

I just use a 2-inch C-clamp to secure the pipe and elbow fitting to the side of the table.  Again, the base of the AlexLoop just slides over the pipe.  I store the PVC parts and the C-clamp in the tripod’s nylon carrying bag.  When a picnic table is available, this mount goes to together faster than setting up the tripod.

table_mount_2
AlexLoop base mounted to table

If anyone knows the ham who came up with the picnic table mounting idea, let me know in the comments and I’ll make sure he gets credit for it.

UPDATE (11/16/2015):  I remember now where I got the idea for the picnic table mount and have updated the post accordingly.  Many thanks to Bob AK4LP for coming up with this simple and novel idea!  Be sure to check out his page on QRZ.com for pictures of his picnic table portable setup.  I had the pleasure of working him at that Smith Mountain Lake location back in 2013 while I was camping in Maryland.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Line Isolator

One of my favorite portable antennas is a 30-ft wire fed through a 9:1 unun.  This type of antenna generally the uses coax feeder as a counterpoise, since the 9:1 unun configuration provides no line isolation.  Most of the time, this has worked well for me with no issues with stray RF getting back into the equipment.

On a couple of occasions, my Elecraft T1 auto tuner began to act up, refusing to load up on one or more bands. (Running through the T1’s diagnostic mode always seems to restore operation to normal.)  I’ve also had one of my keyers behave erratically once or twice.  Since this has only happened when using the 9:1 unun, my suspicion is that common-mode RF currents on the coax shield are the culprit.

My proposed solution for this is to use a line isolator between the tuner and the coax feeder.  (Note:  Using a line isolator at the antenna end of the coax would defeat the purpose in using the coax as a counterpoise.)  A quick survey of my junk box stash of parts showed I had everything I need to build a line isolator from scratch.

Parts List

  • RG-174/U coax (approximately 24 inches)
  • FT-140-43 ferrite core
  • (2) BNC-F chassis mount connectors
  • Hammond Manufacturing 1591MSBK Enclosure (2.2 x 3.3 x 0.8 inches)

Construction

This is a very simple project.  You can build one in well under an hour.

  • The RG-174 coax is wound on the FT-140-43 core for a total of 10 turns.  Take note of how the 5th turn goes across the core.  This makes installation in the case a little easier.  I used a couple of small nylon tie-wraps to hold the windings in place.
  • Drill the holes for each of the BNC connectors and wired up the choke, as shown.  I used a 5/64-inch drill bit and had to use a reamer to get the holes to the right size for the BNC connectors I used.
  • Solder the coax to the BNC connectors.
  • To mechanically secure the core, I used a piece of two-sided foam mounting tape to mount the choke to the bottom of the case.  As an additional precaution, I put a piece of packing foam on top of the choke before attaching the lid.  This foam provides a slight downward pressure on the choke to prevent it from shaking loose in the case during handling.
line_isolator_core
Core winding
isolator_core_installed
Core installed in case

Testing

I don’t have access to the equipment necessary to do any type of exhaustive testing of the line isolator.  In lieu of that, I hooked it up to a 50-ohm dummy load and checked the SWR.  It was basically flat from 160M through 6M.  While that tells me nothing about how effective it is in reducing common-mode currents, I at least know I didn’t make any serious screw-ups in building it.

2015-11-08 13.45.50
Completed line isolator

In Operation

Well, this part will have to wait until I have a chance to get out for some portable operating.  I want to make sure that the line isolator doesn’t affect the T1’s ability to tune my antenna.  Since the initial problems were very intermittent, only time will tell if I solved those problems or not.  I’ll be sure to update this post with any new insights I gain.

Update 5/16/2017:

Since this article seems to get a lot of traffic, I figured it was time for a long-overdue update.  Not long after this post was published, I tested this 1:1 unun in line with the coax to my 30-foot wire and 9:1 unun.  As I suspected it might, it affected the tuning of the antenna.  One or two bands wouldn’t load up properly.  This made sense to me, since this antenna configuration relies on the shield of the coax for the counterpoise.  So, there’s some RF on the coax shield by design.  This device obviously is blocking some RF, as it should.  I haven’t pursued it further and I still have done any measurements to determine its effectiveness.  With a change of connectors on the output side, it could definitely be useful as a 1:1 balun, I suppose.

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Tilt Stand for the YouKits HB-1B

This is another one of those projects that took longer to write up than to build.

The top facing controls on “trail-friendly” radios like the YouKits HB-1B and others are very convenient when you’re sitting on the ground out in the middle of nowhere. When operating “picnic-table-portable,” however, the display can sometimes be a little hard to read. For those situations, I came up with a little tilt stand using some stuff I had on hand.

tiltstand-1
Magnet applied to the corner brace.

The tilt stand I came up with has a grand total of two parts. First is a steel inside corner brace. You can find these at any hardware store. The one I used is 3/4-inch on each side and 1.5 inches long. You can use whatever size gives you the amount of tilt you’re looking for. The other item is a small but powerful magnet. The one I used is about the size of a nickel. I secured it to the corner brace using some Goop adhesive. To use the tilt stand, just use the magnet to put it on the bottom of the HB-1B, as shown in the pictures.

tiltstand-2
Tilt stand attached to the radio

This tilt stand works best when you have rubber feet on the bottom of the radio, as I have on mine. In fact, I added those the first time I used the radio, to keep it from sliding around on my desk.

tiltstand-3
Tilt stand in use

This little gizmo will a permanent part of my HB-1B portable station for those “picnic-table-portable” operations.

73, Craig WB3GCK