Ganshahawny Park

I haven’t had much time for radio the past couple of weeks and I needed a QRP-portable fix. I decided to explore a new (to me) local park this afternoon.

The road I travel to get to my daughter’s house parallels the Schuylkill River. There’s a park on the opposite side of the river that I always see. Today, I decided to head over there to check it out.

The park I had seen from across the river is Ganshahawny Park, a small municipal park in Douglass Township, Pennsylvania. Ganshahawny is a Lenape word for “tumbling waters,” the native American name for the river that the European settlers called the “Schuylkill.”

Ganshahawny Park’s unique sign.
Ganshahawny Park’s unique sign.

When I arrived, I was the only one in the park. I set up my KX3 and AlexLoop at a picnic table about 15 feet away from the river bank. There was a major highway about 100 yards away on one side and a well-traveled road just across the river. Despite all that activity, the park was extremely “RF quiet.”

My operating location along the Schuylkill River.
My operating location along the Schuylkill River.

Tuning around on 40M, I heard a strong station ending a QSO and gave a call. Howard K4LXY/3 was operating from nearby French Creek State Park.

Next, I moved up to 20M and found WV0H in Colorado. Myron was also operating QRP-portable from a park.  He was using one of his famous portable doublet antennas and had a pretty nice signal into Pennsylvania.

WB3GCK scouring the bands for a contact.
WB3GCK scouring the bands for a contact.

On 30M, I faintly heard Joe N2CX who was doing a POTA activation in Pennsylvania somewhere. I gave him a call but I’m not sure if I made it into his log or not. There was a strong station from the Netherlands calling CQ that covered him up.

I wrapped up on 40M with a nice two-way QRP chat with Jay KB3ERI in central Pennsylvania. I had a few more things to take care of at home, so I packed up and took a few pictures before heading out.

It was a nice afternoon to be out doing some casual operating and I found a great place for future portable operations.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable with My AlexLoop

Today was the first chance I’ve had during this long, holiday weekend to go out play radio. I’m a regular supporter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, so I like to take advantage of rail trails when I can. Today, I loaded up my bike and headed down to the Chester Valley Trail. The Chester Valley Trail cuts across Chester County and connects to a large, growing network of trails in the greater Philadelphia area.

I decided to take my AlexLoop along today. I’ve never really tried carrying the AlexLoop on my bike before. While it fits comfortably in my backpack, I don’t really like to ride with a backpack on. I’ve always found that uncomfortable, especially on hot and humid days.

My bike loaded up and ready for travel. The AlexLoop structural components are in the green back. The coax radiator is in one of the pannier bags.
My bike loaded up and ready for travel. The AlexLoop structural components are in the green back. The coax radiator is in one of the pannier bags.

Today, I arranged the three support pieces of the loop side-by-side. I used the velcro straps on the back of the tuning box to help hold the three sections together. Then I placed the sections in an over-sized nylon stuff sack. Taking care not to bend the antenna’s feed loop, I strapped the loop components and my tripod on the rear rack of my bike. I put the coax part of the loop in one of my panniers, along with my LiFePO4 battery. I put my KX3 in the other pannier bag. This turned out to be a workable solution.

This is how I arranged the AlexLoop components prior to putting them in a protective stuff sack. The velcro straps attached to the tuning box are used to help hold the pieces together.
This is how I arranged the AlexLoop components prior to putting them in a protective stuff sack. The velcro straps attached to the tuning box are used to help hold the pieces together.

After loading up the bike, I rode about 2.75 miles to the Exton County Park. I found a picnic table in a remote section of the park and set up the AlexLoop and KX3. I was out in an open area, so the wind was strong at times. I used a bungee cord to secure the tripod to the seat of the picnic table.

Due to some gusting winds, I used a bungee cord to secure the tripod to the bench.
Due to some gusting winds, I used a bungee cord to secure the tripod to the bench.

I started off calling CQ on 20 meters and quickly received a call from N5GW. Gene was on vacation in Tennessee and was putting a great signal into southeastern Pennsylvania. After chatting for a bit, I signed with Ken and moved down to 30 meters. There were no takers there, so I gave 40 meters a try. N1KK gave me a call. Ken was operating QRP-portable from his summer home in Narragansett, Rhode Island. By the time Ken and I finished our QSO, the lack of shade was starting to get to me, so I packed up the bike and got back on the trail.

My setup at Exton County Park.
My setup at Exton County Park.

I rode another mile or so further before turning around and heading back to the trailhead.  I really enjoyed this trail and I’ll definitely be doing this ride again in the near future.

I was happy with the AlexLoop arrangement on the bike but I’m sure there’s room for improvement.

I’d like to wish all of my friends here in the U.S. a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Delaware National Scenic River Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoI made the trip to the Washington Crossing area to activation the Delaware National Scenic River (WR03).  It’s a beautiful area but this wasn’t my best activation.

I had a couple of potential operating locations I wanted to check out.  I first headed up to the Thompson-Neely section of the Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania.  There was a high bluff overlooking the river that was intriguing but didn’t seem close enough to the river.  (In hindsight, I might have been over-thinking the 25-foot requirement.)

I next headed across the very narrow bridge to the New Jersey side.  Intrepid NPOTA activator, N2CX told me about this section of New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park.  I passed on the picnic area (one of a couple of bad decisions I made) and continued to explore the park.  I was thinking about heading back to the Pennsylvania side but I wanted to get on the air.

Washington's Crossing, looking from the New Jersey side. The bridge is barely wide enough for two-way traffic.
Washington’s Crossing, looking from the New Jersey side. The bridge is barely wide enough for two-way traffic.

I set up in a lightly-used section of the park in a wooded area on the banks of the river.  I could have tossed a wire up in a tree but I took the easy way out and went with my Alexloop.  Since the Alexloop isn’t exactly a barn-burner on 40 meters, I cranked up the power on my KX3 to 10 watts (gasp!).

Operating on the banks of the Delaware River. I was sitting on a thick, foam pad; otherwise, I wouldn't have lasted too long!
Operating on the banks of the Delaware River. I was sitting on a thick, foam pad; otherwise, I wouldn’t have lasted too long!

I started out on 40 meters and quickly received a call from Emily KB3VVE.  Emily is an active NPOTA activator and chaser and is widely-known in NPOTA circles for her cookies.

For the next 20 minutes or so, I was pretty busy until things started slowing down.  I checked 20 meters but it was wall-to-wall with contesters.  So, I retreated to 30 meters.  Thirty is usually a pretty good band for me but not today, for some reason.  Checking the Band Conditions website, it looked like conditions had taken a bad turn.  I went back to 40 meters and picked up one more contact.

Band Conditions Graph
This could be one of the reasons the QSOs dried up on me.

It was heavily overcast today with a steady breeze blowing down the river.  After an hour or so I started to get cold and decided to pack it in for the day.

I ended the day with 13 contacts in the log — all on 40 meters.  It wasn’t a great showing but I had more than enough to qualify the activation.

The heater in the truck felt pretty good on the drive home.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Monocacy Hill Hike

After a week of mostly chilly temperatures, we were blessed with some unseasonably warm temperatures today.  With temperatures approaching 80 degrees (F), I decided to do a little hiking on Monocacy Hill.

Monocacy Hill Trailhead
Monocacy Hill Trailhead

The Monocacy Hill Recreation Area is a little gem of a place, tucked away in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  Even though it’s only about 10 miles away, I had never heard of it until I worked WA3WSJ there in December of last year.   This area has some beautiful hiking trails.

Monocacy Hill Trail
Monocacy Hill Trail

I hiked in about a mile so to the top of the hill and set up my KX3 in the middle of large group of boulders.  Since I didn’t know what to expect, antenna-wise, I brought my AlexLoop along in my backpack.  In a few minutes, I was up and running.

My operating position on top of Monocacy Hill
My operating position on top of Monocacy Hill

I started out on 20 meters and immediately came across Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation from the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial Affiliated Area (AA03) in Philadelphia.  Joe had quite a pile-up going, so I waited until it thinned out a bit and worked him.  I amazed that I was able to work Philly on 20 meters.  I guess my elevation might have helped.

Monocacy Hill Trail. I encounterd a rock or two on the trail.
I encountered a rock or two on the trail.

After that, the bands seemed to fade out on me.  I tried calling CQ on 30 meters and 40 meters with no luck.  In between attempts, I had some nice chats about ham radio with some of the curious hikers going by.  I checked the Band Conditions website and it looked like propagation had taken a turn for the worse.  I decided to pack up and enjoy the hike back to the trailhead.

It was a great day for a little hiking.  There probably won’t be any more days like this one for quite a while.  A few more contacts would have been nice, though.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Quick Labor Day Outing

I had some plans for the Labor Day holiday but I wanted to get out to play radio for a bit.  I threw my KX3 and Alexloop into my truck and drove to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  Although there were more people picnicking than usual, I found an isolated spot along the river.

It only took a few minutes to set up.  It was a little breezy along the river, so I clamped the Alexloop to the picnic table.

My set-up along the Schuylkill River in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
My set-up along the Schuylkill River in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

I started out on 30 meters and gave KB6NU a call.  Dan heard me out in Michigan but the QSB was really bad.  He gave me an RST of 229.  Next up was a nice chat with John WW4DX in North Carolina.  He was really booming into Pennsylvania this morning.

I moved up to 20 meters and had a short QSO with Sam WZ4L in Tennessee.  I wrapped up with a nice two-way QRP chat with Grady AJ4YA in North Carolina.  We experienced some QRM but managed to complete the QSO.

The bands seemed to be a little “short” this morning and I definitely had a pipeline to the South.  I have used the Alexloop at this location a few times before and it always seems to favor a southerly direction.

Although I could have stayed out there all day in this great weather, I needed to get home to throw some chicken on the smoker and make sure the beer is cold.  As always, I have my priorities in order!

I hope all of my U.S. friends have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day holiday.

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

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