A Public Service Weekend

I haven’t been very active on the HF bands lately. Family functions and other obligations have been keeping me busy. This weekend, however, I was able to take part in two different ARESRACES events.

On Saturday morning, our local ARES-RACES group conducted a Simulated Emergency Test (SET). Because of the heavy rains forecasted, most operators participated from home. During the brief exercise, I sent an NBEMS message and a Winlink peer-to-peer message to the county Emergency Operations Center over local 2M simplex frequencies. I used my little Evolve laptop, and it performed great.

On Sunday, our ARES-RACES group provided emergency communications for the Marshalton Triathlon. This annual, family-friendly event combines cycling, canoeing, and speed walking. This year I was once again stationed at “Canoe Out,” which is the terminus of the 2.3 mile canoe run on the Brandywine River.

  • A water-logged WB3GCK at the Marshalton Triathlon
  • A crew was on hand to help participants disembark safely
  • The boat handlers did a great job in some very muddy conditions

This year’s triathlon was a wet one. It rained steadily for most of the five hours I was onsite. Despite the lousy weather, the participants seemed to have a good time. After the last canoe arrived, I was able to head home and dry out. 

Hopefully, I’ll get back to doing some QRP-portable operating this week.

73, Craig WB3GCK

French Creek Iron Tour 2022

I spent the morning taking part in a public service event. The French Creek Iron Tour is an annual cycling event that benefits the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. This year was the 20th running of the event.

Chester County ARES-RACES provides communications support for the event, and it’s one of our larger public service events. Besides providing a crew at the start/finish line, we have operators at five rest stops and in seven roving support vehicles. APRS is used to track the locations of the support vehicles, allowing Net Control to dispatch them efficiently to assist riders experiencing problems.

This year, my assignment was at a rest stop in historic Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania. I’ve been at this location for the past several years, and it’s become my favorite assignment. This rest stop is the first one to open for the event, so after a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I was onsite bright and early.

Yellow Springs rest stop for the French Creek Iron Tour. This was taken early in the day as the riders started coming through.
Yellow Springs rest stop for the French Creek Iron Tour. This was taken early in the day as the riders started coming through.

The day started off with some heavy downpours. I hunkered down in my truck, and the rain pounding on the roof made it hard to hear the radio. Fortunately for the riders, the rain stopped by mid-morning. Despite the initial rain and the wet road conditions, I didn’t encounter any downed riders or other major issues during my shift. 

Although the weather could have been better, it was nice to work with the friendly volunteers at the Yellow Springs rest stop again this year. Kudos to my ARES-RACES colleagues who put in a long day supporting this event.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Northbrook Canoe Challenge

Earlier this week, my orthopedic surgeon gave me the OK to drive again. This allowed me to take part in the Northbrook Canoe Challenge, an event to benefit the Cerebral Palsy Association. My local ARES-RACES group has provided communications for this event for many years.

This year I served as Net Control Operator for the event. Tim KB3FCJ set up a canopy for us along the scenic Brandywine River. We were situated near a dam, which the canoeists needed to portage around. A water rescue team was on hand to ensure the safety of the participants. 

My operating position for the Northbrook Canoe Challenge. This was taken while we waited for the canoes to make their was down the river.
My operating position for the Northbrook Canoe Challenge. This was taken while we waited for the canoes to make their way down the river.

As events go, it was pretty uneventful. There were no medical emergencies or overturned canoes. Just a nice day on the river operating with my Chester County ARES-RACES colleagues. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Water Bottle and HT Holder

My XYL says I’m obsessed with bags, cases, and containers. She might be right.

During normal years, I participate in several public service events with my local ARES-RACES group. For a couple of those events, I’m often out on foot away from my truck with an HT. I wanted a convenient way to carry a few essentials for those situations. 

I put together this little kit last Winter, but it hasn’t seen much use. Sadly, the pandemic forced the cancellation of our public service events this year. This year has been anything but normal.

My water bottle carrier with HT pouch attached on the side
My water bottle carrier with HT pouch attached on the side

I wanted something to carry the following items:

  • Water bottle
  • HT
  • Spare battery for the HT
  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Minimal first aid kit (a few antiseptic wipes and bandages)
  • A few snacks

To carry everything, I bought a no-name water bottle carrier on eBay for about $13. I looked at lots of bottle carriers, but this inexpensive one was best suited to my needs. I’d provide a specific link, but these eBay offerings tend to quickly come and go. A search for “tactical military molle system water bottle bag” should should yield lots of options. I found some for less than $10. Of course, there are name brands out there that cost much more.

Here are the particulars of the one I bought:

  • The bag is constructed of 600D nylon. The specs say it’s waterproof, but I haven’t verified that.
  • The main compartment is 10.6″ tall and 4.3″ in diameter. It’s large enough to hold a 2-liter bottle. If I use a smaller water bottle, there’s room in this compartment for some other gear, too. It also has a zippered lid that will keep your gear from falling out.
  • There’s a 5.9″ x 4.3″ x 2″ gadget pouch on the front. This pouch is large enough for a couple of HT batteries, notepad, pencil, first aid kit, etc.
  • It has plenty of MOLLE webbing. A couple of them have Velcro for attaching patches. You could use the straps on the rear of the bag to attach it to another larger bag or your belt.

This bag certainly has room enough to carry everything I plan to carry in it. Heck, I’m sure I could carry a complete HF QRP station in it.

To hold my HT, I tried out several MOLLE-compatible pouches. The one I plan to use is a no-name item I bought from a Chinese seller on eBay. It only cost me about $4.00 (shipping included), but it works well with my current collection of HTs. I attached it to the side of the bottle carrier using the MOLLE webbing. An Internet search for “radio pouch” will bring you a dizzying assortment from which to choose.

As a final touch, I added a patch with my callsign on it. I ordered the 4″ x 1″ custom embroidered Velcro patch from a shop on Etsy. This little bit of vanity cost almost as much as the bag, but it looks good. 

So far, I’ve only used this bag for a few short hikes. I haven’t used this bag for its intended purpose yet, but I’m hoping that will change next year. (Fingers crossed)

73, Craig WB3GCK

My Activities of Late

I haven’t been posting much here lately. The COVID-19 pandemic and other family obligations have been cutting into my ham radio activities. Nevertheless, I do have a few projects in the works.

A few weeks ago, I started another project in my ongoing series of speaker wire antennas. This one will be a variant of the bi-square antenna. This antenna has the potential to be a little more field-friendly than the delta loop I tested last month. It’s all built; I just need to get out somewhere to set it up and see how it works.

I’ll file my next project under the category of Old Dogs/New Tricks. Back in December, I bought a Kenwood TH-D74a HT. That gave me the ability to reach a nearby D-Star repeater. This week, I purchased an MMDVM hotspot to go along with it. I plan to spend some time in the coming days getting it set up. I’m hoping to be able to eventually connect to the DMR talk groups used by my ARRL section and local ARES-RACES groups. Fortunately, my local group has some experienced hotspot users I can consult if I run into any snags. Wish me luck.

Sadly, our camping season with our little QRP Camper is off to a late start. State park campgrounds in our area have been closed due to pandemic. We have reservations at a state park in Maryland next month, however, and it looks that might be our first trip of the year. I’m looking forward to a little QRP-portable operating from the camper.

My local QRP club has started making plans for Field Day. We have a set of social-distancing guidelines we’ll be following this year. We’ll be limiting the number of participants, keeping our tents at least 10 feet apart, and eliminating common eating areas. Also, we won’t be sharing stations and equipment. This year’s Field Day will be different, for sure. 

Other than that, I’ve been active on our local ARES-RACES nets, and I have been checking into the Pennsylvania NBEMS Net on Sunday mornings. 

You can also find me on 40M or 80M CW in the evening. I usually hang out around the SKCC watering holes.

I’ll be posting more on all of this stuff in the coming weeks. Until then, stay safe, and I’ll see you on the air. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Another Busy Radio Weekend

There were several radio-related things going on this weekend. I managed to take part in a few of them.

This weekend, the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest coincided with the International Field Radio Event (IFRE). On Saturday, I headed out to Valley Forge National Historical Park to work both events. I parked in a remote section of the Varnum’s Picnic Area, as far away as possible from the folks having picnics. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 on a little table next to the truck.

My setup in Valley Forge National Historical Park. I last about an hour before I had to seek some shade.
My setup in Valley Forge National Historical Park. I lasted about an hour before I had to seek some shade.

I alternated between making SKCC contacts and checking the IFRE calling frequencies. Most of my contacts were with SKCC stations on 40M. I didn’t hear much activity on 20M but I did make a 2-way QRP SKCC contact with Bobby AK4JA. Bobby was running a crystal-controlled tube rig and had a nice signal into Valley Forge.

After about an hour, the heat was starting to get to me and the static crashes from nearby storms were deafening. I moved my rig into the truck to get out of the direct sun and checked around 7.035 for IFRE stations and heard Dave W3DET calling CQ. I had previously worked Dave in the last IFRE and, as luck would have it, he is also an SKCC member. Two for the price of one.

After two hours or so, the static crashes were giving me a headache, so I packed up and headed home. I needed to get a few things together for a public service event the next day. I ended up with 10 SKCC contacts and the IFRE contact with W3DET.

On Sunday, I wrapped up my weekend supporting the French Creek Iron Tour with my local ARES-RACES group. The Iron Tour is a charity bike event benefiting the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. This year, I provided communications for a rest stop in historic Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, the rain held off until I finished up and there were no major issues to deal with.

The French Creek Iron Tour rest stop in Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania.
The French Creek Iron Tour rest stop in Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, I was once again unable to participate in was the annual Cookie Crumble Contest due to a conflict with the bike event. Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate in this fun QRP contest next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

The Quickie Whip

This week, my ham radio activity was focused on an emergency communications exercise with my local ARES-RACES group.  I thought I’d do a post about the simple whip antenna I used with a dual-band radio.  I cobbled this  set up together a few years back and it has come in handy on several occasions.

During the exercise, I was operating indoors with easy access to our local repeaters. I was copying digital traffic using the Narrowband Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS), so a handheld radio wasn’t a good option. In this situation, a dual-band mobile radio and this little whip antenna hack were able to get the job done.

The Quickie Whip attached to my old Icom 207-H dual band radio
The Quickie Whip attached to my old Icom 207-H dual band radio

For the whip, I use commercially available, collapsible BNC whip antennas for the 2 meter and 440 bands.  To connect the whip to the radio, I use a UHF-Male to BNC-Female right angle adapter I picked up on eBay. To help improve the efficiency, I attach two 1/4-wave counterpoise wires, one for 2 meters (about 19 inches) and one for 440 (about 6.3 inches).

Quickie Whip Antenna components: telescopic whip antenna, PL-259 to BNC-F right-angle adapter, and the modified 9V battery clip for the counterpoise wires.
Quickie Whip Antenna components: telescopic whip antenna, PL-259 to BNC-F right-angle adapter, and the modified 9V battery clip for the counterpoise wires.

To attach the counterpoise wires, I re-purposed a 9-volt battery holder. I just drilled out one of the mounting holes and used a small bolt and nut to attach the wires. The clip is just about the perfect size to snap onto the right angle adapter.

The antennas I use came from Smiley Antenna. I have 5/8-wave whips for 2 meters and 440, along with a halfwave whip for 2 meters. Although some of the antennas are specified to handle 50 watts, I generally use them only for 10 watts or less (in the interest of RF safety). If I need to run more power, I’ll go with an antenna placed a safe distance away.

I’ve used this simple antenna arrangement in several situations in recent years. It’s become a permanent part of my emergency communications go-kit.

73, Craig WB3GCK


Portable for a Good Cause

The QRP to the Field (QTTF) contest is one that I look forward to every year.  This year, however, it coincided with a long-standing commitment to take part in a public service event.

For many years, I’ve been coordinating my local ARES-RACES group’s support for the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies event in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  In addition to enhancing the safety of the participants, events like this also provide a low-stress environment to hone our emergency communications skills.

The event got off to an unpleasant start.  Paul, KB3ZOH, and I arrived early to set up a crossband repeater at the Net Control location.  We wound up having to set things up in a steady downpour.  Fortunately, the rain let up by the time the walkers set out on the course.

Paul KB3ZOH assuming the Net Control duties
Paul KB3ZOH assuming the Net Control duties

From an ARES-RACES standpoint, it was an uneventful event.  We had solid communications around the course and there were no incidents or issues to handle.  In addition to KB3ZOH and me, The Chester County ARES-RACES team included Leslie KC3EOR, Joe W3JY, Will K3WIL, and Rob W3OWM.

Walkers passing by my position. The weather was dreary but, at least, it was raining.
Walkers passing by my position. The weather was dreary but, at least, it was raining.

Since the March for Babies course was located about 100 yards from Valley Forge National Historical Park, my original plan was to head over there after the event for some QTTF action.  With another obligation later in the day, however, QTTF was clearly not in the cards for me.

So, I look forward to next year’s contest.  At least I was able to do some portable operating for a good cause this morning.

72, Craig WB3GCK