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

International Field Radio Event

IFR LogoI’m looking forward to participating in the first ever International Field Radio Event this weekend.  The event is sponsored by the Field Radio Facebook group and runs from 0000Z to 2359Z on May 28th, 2016.  Field Radio is an international group of amateur radio operators who practice and enjoy portable operations.

The goal of the event is simple:  Get out in the field and contact other Field Radio members, while letting other hams know about the group.  More than 200 hams from around the world have signed up to take part.  Registered Field Radio members will be exchanging ID numbers assigned for the event.  You don’t need to be a member to join in, though.  Feel free to work any of the portable stations calling, “CQ IFR.”

I haven’t yet decided where I’ll be operating on Saturday but I will likely be out operating from 1300Z to 1800Z.  I will most likely be on 40, 30, 20, and 17 meters CW.

So, if you hear any of the International Field Radio event participants on Saturday, give them a call.  I’m sure many of them will be operating from some interesting locations.

For more information on the Field Radio group, visit www.fieldradio.org.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Brief Break in the Weather

I was itching to get out for some portable operating but the weather this weekend had been pretty lousy.  I checked the weather radar this morning and saw that there was some clearing coming.  I figured I had a couple of hours before the next band of rain moved in.

I threw my backpack into my truck and headed out to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  Given the dreary weather, there was no one in the picnic area.  I headed for a picnic table that I had used once before and set up my equipment.

This was the first outing for my new KX3 and I was using a new LiFePO4 battery for the first time.  I connected a straight key with the hope of making a few Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a wooden sign post and strung up a 30-foot vertical wire fed through a 9:1 unun.

My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.
My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.

There wasn’t a lot of activity on the bands.  I eventually had a 2-way QRP SKCC QSO on 20 meters with K4ARQ in Florida.  That turned out to be my only QSO today.  I had a couple of “almost” QSOs that were either disrupted by QSB or QRM.  In particular, NP3CW in Puerto Rico heard me calling CQ on 17 meters and gave me a call.  As soon as I answered, a station in Mexico came on frequency and started calling CQ.  A few other SKCC members attempted QSOs with me but propagation just wasn’t working in my favor today.

Dark clouds starting rolling in, so I packed up and headed back to my truck.  My timing was excellent; it started raining on my drive home.

It wasn’t the greatest field trip I’ve had but it was a good practice session with the KX3.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Late to the (KX3) Party

I’ve toyed with the idea of picking up an Elecraft KX3 for the past year or so.  I came close to buying one a few times but always talked myself out of it.  I know there are many satisfied KX3 owners out there and I’ve used the KX3 several times myself so I was familiar with its excellent capabilities.  It was just that my current stable of rigs was working fine and I felt no urgent need to replace them.

That all changed last week.  I decided that a rig that has everything built-in (ATU, keyer with memories, etc.) was more suited to the kind of portable operating I typically do.  Since ham radio has been my main pastime since I retired, I figured I was deserving of a new toy.  So, I fired off an order to Elecraft and two days later it arrived.

KX3

While I was waiting for the radio to arrive, I spent some time reading through the user’s manual.  I wanted to gain some familiarity with the KX3’s mind-boggling array of features before I got my hands on it.  The basic operations were fairly intuitive but it will be a while until I feel like I have mastered this thing.

Barely out of the box, I had the KX3 set up and connected to my infamous rain gutter antenna.  The KX3 tuned it up nicely on all bands.  The filtering and noise reduction really did a nice job with my local noise problems on 40 and 80 meters.  While I was tuning around on 20 meters, I had an SKCC QSO with Andy, EA5IIK.  A DX QSO while running 5 watts into my rain gutter?  For the rig’s first QSO, that’s some good mojo!

It took me a while to join the ranks of KX3 users but I’m finally here and looking forward to many QRP outings with this great rig.

UPDATE (5/19/2016):

It figures…  A week after I get my KX3, Elecraft announces the smaller and less-expensive KX2.  I guess I’ll need to start saving my pennies again!

72, Craig WB3GCK

New AlexLoop Tripod

As mentioned in a earlier post, I have been using the Vivitar VPT-1250 tripod with my AlexLoop, as suggested by the vendor, Alex PY1AHD.  The Vivitar tripod has a few advantages.  It’s very light, fits in the AlexLoop carrying case and it’s inexpensive.  On the downside, it’s not particularly rugged.  It’s a great solution for casual operating but I wanted something a bit more robust for operating in the field.

UltraMaxx Model# UM-TR60BK tripod. The camera mount and carrying handle have been removed.
UltraMaxx Model# UM-TR60BK tripod. The camera mount and carrying handle have been removed.

After doing some searching, I came across the UltraMaxx UM-TR60BK.  It’s 60-inch tripod that is much sturdier than the Vivitar tripod.  In particular, the very bottom sections of the legs are thicker than those of the Vivitar tripod.  The bottom sections of the UltraMaxx are about 19/32″ (13.7mm) compared to 5/16″ (7.85mm) for the Vivitar.  It also wasn’t very expensive.  I found a source on eBay for less than $20 shipped.

Comparing the diameter of the bottom leg sections of the UltraMaxx Model# UM-TR60BK tripod (top) and the Vivitar VPT-1250 (bottom).
Comparing the diameter of the bottom leg sections of the UltraMaxx Model# UM-TR60BK tripod (top) and the Vivitar VPT-1250 (bottom).

One nice feature of the UltraMaxx is the accessory hook at the bottom of the center post.  This can be used to suspend some weight to help stabilize the tripod in windy conditions.  I envision using a bungee cord between the accessory hook and my backpack on the ground beneath the tripod.

UltraMaxx UM-TR60BK accessory hook on the bottom of the center post.
UltraMaxx UM-TR60BK accessory hook on the bottom of the center post.

Adapting the UltraMaxx tripod for use with the AlexLoop was a snap.  I easily removed the pan head/camera mount, leaving just the bare center post.  The center post is just slightly smaller than the opening of the AlexLoop tubing.  So, I took a velcro cable tie, doubled it over and placed it on the center post as I placed the AlexLoop over the post.  This gave a nice, snug fit.  I also removed the handle attached to the underside of the tripod; I don’t envision a scenario where I would use it.

This is how I arrange the Velcro strap before placing the AlexLoop on the tripod. This gives a nice, snug fit.
This is how I arrange the Velcro strap before placing the AlexLoop on the tripod. This gives a nice, snug fit.

The sturdiness of the UltraMaxx tripod does come at a price.  With the head removed, it only collapses down to 19 inches (48cm) compared to 14.5 inches (37cm) for the Vivitar.  The UltraMaxx doesn’t fit inside the AlexLoop bag but it does attach neatly to the outside of my backpack.  Also, the UltraMaxx weighs in at 1.3 lbs (584g) compared to 12 ounces (341g) for the Vivitar.  For my purposes, this isn’t a huge trade-off.

I don’t plan to retire the Vivitar tripod anytime soon.  It will keep its permanent spot inside the AlexLoop bag.  It’s still a good solution for quick excursions to the local park.  But when I’m out in more rugged conditions, I think the new UltraMaxx tripod will suit my needs a little better.

Now, all I need is some spare time to do some field testing the with the new tripod.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

More SKCC Fun

Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) logoThe past few weeks have been interesting for me.  Despite poor band conditions, I managed to qualify for some more Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) awards.

Two weeks ago I received my Prefix x2 (Px2) award and a 40 meter endorsement on my Px1 award.  The SKCC Prefix awards are awarded on a point system for working a unique set of prefixes and summing up the membership numbers of the stations you work.  The PX1 award requires 500,00 points and the Px2 award requires 1,000,000 points.  So, I had 1,000,000 points on all bands and more than 500,00 on 40 meters alone.  It’s a lot easier to reach these numbers than you would think.

Yesterday afternoon, I got on 40 meters for a bit to see if I could find two more Centurion or higher contacts to reach the Tribune x2 level.  After working Tom N2TRJ in New Jersey, I heard him working Conrad W3ZMN.  Conrad is about 45 miles north of me in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA.  After they finished, I gave Conrad a quick call.  We were 339 both ways but managed to complete the exchange.  My thanks to these two folks for getting me to the Tx2 level!

My SKCC Tribune x2 certificate for working 100 unique Centurion, Tribune and Senator level members. I still need about 500 more to reach the Senator level.
My SKCC Tribune x2 certificate for working 100 unique Centurion, Tribune and Senator level members. I still need about 500 more to reach the Senator level.

Today, along with my Tx2 award, I also received my 1xQRP award.  This award is a point-based award for working a sufficient number of stations while running 5 watts or less.  The points for each QSO vary according to the band used.  There is also a 2xQRP award for making 2-way contacts but that is going to be much harder to achieve.

While I was in my SKCC logging program, I noticed that I was also qualified for 40 meter endorsements on my Centurion X1 and Tribune X1 awards.  I also received those endorsements today.

The SKCC awards certainly become more challenging as you move up the ranks.  I think that one of the things I enjoy most about the SKCC is that even someone like me with a QRP rig and a crappy antenna (more on that in another post) can earn some wallpaper.  Being able to pick up an award now and then gives me a sense of accomplishment that has kept my interest peaked.  Plus, you get to interact with some really friendly hams in the process.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

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