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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.