WES at Susquehanna State Park

My (far) better half and I took our little camper down to Susquehanna State Park in Maryland (POTA K-1601) over the weekend. I’m still dealing with knee problems, so it was an excellent opportunity to rest my knee and get on the air. The Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon was on this weekend, so that’s where I focused my efforts.

We rolled into the park on Friday afternoon and proceeded to get set up. Our campsite was densely wooded and secluded. However, we found the site had what I call The Three Rs: rocks, ruts, and roots. It was a little tricky leveling the trailer, but we got it done. The site was in a low spot, not an optimum location for radio. We were camping without hookups, so at least I didn’t have to deal with RF noise from the trailer.

Our campsite at Susquehanna State Park in Maryland. My KX3 is located on the little green table to the left.
Our campsite at Susquehanna State Park in Maryland. My KX3 is located on the little green table to the left.

I managed to get my antenna set up just before severe storms rolled through the area. Thunderstorms passed to the north and south of us, but the heavy stuff just missed us. After the weather cleared up, I made a couple of contacts to make sure everything was working.

We had much better weather on Saturday, so after breakfast, I set up my KX3 outside. I heard a lot of WES activity in the morning, and the signals were strong. It got more challenging as the day went on, though, with some deep fading on the bands. I also seemed to have trouble working stations to the south of me, for some reason. I had to work harder to make contacts, but I was still making them. 

We had to pack up early on Sunday morning, but I managed to make a handful of WES contacts while the coffee was perking. I ended up with 25 WES QSOs plus two additional contacts before the contest. 

Early Sunday morning operating at Susquehanna State Park. My better half is a late sleeper, so I keep the lights low.
Early Sunday morning operating at Susquehanna State Park. My better half is a late sleeper, so I keep the lights low.

Overall, it was a relaxing weekend, and the radio was fun. We’ll be back at Susquehanna State Park again in a few weeks. I plan to concentrate on POTA next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

First Camping Trip of 2021

We kicked off our 2021 camping season over the weekend. Although we had a few issues with the QRP Camper, we had a great time nonetheless.

As is our usual practice, we headed up to French Creek State Park near Elverson, PA, for our first trip. It’s close to home and a good place for our shake-down trip. It’s also a convenient location for our grandkids to come and hang out at the campsite. 

Radio-wise, I used my trusty Elecraft KX3 and a 29.5-foot wire vertical. I fed the vertical wire through the weather-resistant UnUn I built recently.

After getting things set up, I tested the antenna and had a Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) QSO with a station in Michigan. Convinced that everything was working, I headed out to enjoy the campfire on a chilly evening.

The "QRP Camper" at French Creek State Park
The “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park

On Saturday, I decided to do an impromptu Parks on the Air (POTA) activation before all of the grandkids showed up for the day. Marginal cell phone service precluded me from spotting myself. So, I moved 1 KHz up from another POTA activator, hoping someone would stumble across me while looking for him. I got off to a slow start, but eventually, things picked up. I’m assuming some kind soul spotted me. I stayed on 40M and worked about 19 stations in an hour or so. 

Later in the day, I checked the bands and worked, WA1WCC from Cape Cod. WA1WCC was commemorating the Chatham Radio/WCC coastal station for International Marconi Day (IMD). I also heard Steve K0BWR activating a park in Missouri. Conditions were rough, but Steve hung in there with me to complete a park-to-park QSO. By this time, contest stations had flooded the band, and there was heavy static from rain headed towards us. So, I pulled the plug for the night.

Speaking of rain, my weather-resistant UnUn got its first real test in wet weather. We had about six or seven hours of steady rain overnight, and the UnUn came through unscathed. 

My weather-resistant 9:1 UnUn after 6 or 7 hours of steady rain. It came through unscathed.
My weather-resistant 9:1 UnUn after a night of steady rain. It came through unscathed.

Before packing up on Sunday morning, I finished the weekend with a chat with Bob N4QR in North Carolina. Bob was using a homebrew 3-tube transmitter, and it sounded great. He said he was using a DX-160 receiver, which was the receiver I used back in my Novice days.

I have a few minor repairs to do on the camper before our next trip, but it sure felt good to be camping in it again. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Camping in Gifford Pinchot State Park

With just two more trips left, our camping season is quickly winding down. For our penultimate camping trip, we spent a beautiful Fall weekend in Gifford Pinchot State Park (POTA K-1356, WWFF KFF-1356) in south-central Pennsylvania.

We arrived Friday afternoon, and it didn’t take us long to get things set up. So, my next task was to get my antenna set up. I tried several times to drive my Jackite pole ground mount in, but the ground was just too hard. I ended up strapping the pole to a steel lantern post. 

Leary about having my antenna wire so close to the metal pole, I took care to make sure the wire stayed at least two inches away from it. I used some extra straps and lightweight bungee cords to make sure the wire stayed in place.

This weekend was a busy one for ham radio. The SKCC WES contest, the Pennsylvania QSO Party, and a couple of others were all going on. I opted to do some casual operating in the SKCC contest. 

My daughter lives about 30 minutes away from the Park, so she brought my grand-kids down for a visit. So, I spent Saturday afternoon hanging out with the kids. Along with hotdogs cooked over the campfire, the kids enjoyed making s’mores.

I still found time for the contest. I operated on 40M during daylight hours and 80M at night and early in the morning. There was enough WES activity on those bands, so I never ventured up to 20M.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania

The metal lantern pole didn’t seem to affect my 29-foot vertical wire at all. Running 5 watts, I was getting some strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network on 40M. Even with a compromise antenna on 80M, I was able to work stations from Canada to Georgia and several stations in Indiana and Illinois. 

My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.
My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.

I finished out the trip with an even 30 SKCC QSOs in my log. I didn’t do a formal Parks on the Air activation this weekend, but I submitted my log to both POTA and WWFF. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. I enjoy camping in the Fall, with the cooler temperatures and the beautiful Fall colors. We have one last trip with the camper before it’s time to get it ready for storage over the Winter.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rainy Camping is Better Than No Camping

We’ve had a lot of great weather for our camping trips this year. We were bound to have a rainy weekend eventually, and I guess this weekend was it.

We headed back to nearby French Creek State Park (POTA K-1355/WWFF KFF-1355) near Elverson, Pennsylvania. We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and got everything set up, including my 30-foot wire vertical. After dinner, my (far) better half and I enjoyed a campfire while listening to a ballgame on the radio. Before turning in for the night, I gave my KX3 and quick test to make sure everything was working.

I woke up Saturday to the sound of rain hitting the roof of our little trailer. It kept raining most of the day, with some heavy downpours at times. Outdoor activities were out, so we spent much of the day staying dry inside the trailer.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.

To help pass the time, I turned on the KX3 in search of some contacts. I found wall-to-wall RTTY signals across the 40-meter band. I eventually found an open spot on 40M and decided to do an impromptu POTA activation.

The cell service was flakey, but I was eventually able to spot myself. Not long after that, stations started responding to my CQs. I was running 10 watts and seemed to be getting out fine. I operated for about an hour and a half and ended up with around 25 contacts. Among those were seven park-to-park contacts.

The rain let up around dinner time on Saturday, and a heavy fog rolled in. We managed to make dinner outside and got a campfire going. Unfortunately, as soon as I got a decent fire going, it started raining again. We wound up sitting under the trailer’s awning about 25 feet away from the fire. Talk about social distancing! When the heavy rain started up again, we packed it in for the night.

This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.
This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.

The rain stopped at some point during the night, so Sunday morning was damp, dreary, and muddy. I got back on the radio to see if anyone was up as early as me. After spotting myself, I got on 80M. About eight early risers gave me a call. I picked up a couple more on 40M, but the band didn’t seem as strong as the day before. I ended up with 35 contacts in my log for the weekend.

It wasn’t the most pleasant weather this weekend, but I’ll still take a rainy camping trip over not camping at all. Besides, my (far) better half and I needed a little downtime after the busy week we had.

Thanks to everyone who pulled me out of the noise this weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

French Creek State Park in the Camper

Because of the ongoing issues with the pandemic, my (far) better half and I decided that we would be doing our camping close to home this year. Fortunately, French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania, is a beautiful park and only about 35 minutes from home.

We hitched up the trailer Friday afternoon and headed up to the campground. The weather was hot and humid, but it was a few degrees cooler than back home. 

Our campsite at French Creek State Park
Our campsite at French Creek State Park

After dinner, I put up my trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical back near the woods. I fired up my KX3 to make sure everything was working. As I tuned around on 40M, I heard KF9UP doing a POTA activation in Indiana. It took a couple of tries, but I worked him for a park-to-park contact. After that, I joined my (far) better half out at the campfire.

My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun
My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun

On Saturday, my daughter and her family were coming up to visit the campsite. I didn’t have a lot of time for ham radio, but I managed to squeeze in a quick POTA activation. (French Creek State Park is K-1355 for POTA and KFF-1355 for WWFF.)

Band conditions weren’t the best, and our site was in a low spot. Despite all of that, I was able to log 14 contacts in about 45 minutes or so. Four of them were park-to-park contacts. The grandkids arrived after that, and I spent the rest of the day hanging out with them.

I got on the radio for a bit on Sunday morning, while the coffee was perking. I didn’t hear much of anything on 40M, so I called CQ for a while. I was getting some decent spots on the Reverse Beacon Network, but I got no takers. Although we had the campsite until 3 PM, we decided to head home a little early to avoid packing up in the heat. 

After the issues we had on our last camping trip, it was nice to have a rain-free and problem-free weekend with the camper. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rough Start to the Camping Season

After months of closed state park campgrounds due to the pandemic, I was finally able to go camping in our little trailer. I was expecting a relaxing and peaceful weekend, but what I got was something different.

Back before the pandemic shut everything down, I made a reservation at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland for Father’s Day weekend. So we headed out on Friday for the delayed start of our camping season. 

We had a great campsite; it was large, private, and surrounded by woods. The site didn’t have electricity for the camper, but we often camp that way. Propane and battery power are all we need for a weekend of camping in the camper. After getting situated, we had dinner and enjoyed a relaxing campfire. And, of course, my antenna went up, and I set up the radio. 

Our campsite at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. This was literally the calm before the storm.
Our campsite at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. This was literally the calm before the storm.

During the evening, the trailer battery started to fade. Eventually, it died altogether. It’s a 100 Ah deep cycle battery that has served us well for several camping seasons. Without it, we had no lights, the propane refrigerator wouldn’t start, and we had no water for the toilet. (I can hear the backpackers out there laughing right now.)

Fortunately, I had an extra 35 Ah battery I could press into service as a backup. After swapping a few connections, we were back in business. We used some alkaline battery-powered lights inside the camper to minimize the current draw on the smaller battery.

On Saturday, we awoke to some great weather and watched a deer pass by in the woods. Radio-wise, I started the day with a CW chat with KB4GYT in South Carolina. But, as the morning progressed, we started hearing some rumbling off in the distance. By mid-day, the storms moved in, and it continued to rain the rest of the afternoon.,

To our good fortune, the rain let up around dinner time. As we were finishing our dinner, however, we heard the propane gas detector in the trailer starting to chirp. That chirp meant we had another depleted battery on our hands. 

At that point, we could have reverted to tent camping mode, using our battery operated lights and making use of the campground bathroom facilities. (We had other workarounds for using the toilet in the trailer, but I’ll spare you those details.) We had two coolers, so we could deal with the loss of the refrigerator. Plus, we still had another battery for charging phones and running a fan. We tent-camped for many years, so we’ve done all this before.

In the end, we decided we didn’t want to spend our time implementing workarounds for our workarounds to extend our stay one more night. We had to be out by mid-day the next day, anyway. So, we took advantage of the remaining daylight to hastily pack up and head home. 

In between the thunderstorms and dealing with trailer battery issues, I managed to make a half-dozen contacts. Of those, two were Parks on the Air (POTA) park-to-park contacts. At times, the static crashes made radio reception difficult. I can only imagine what my 5-watt signal sounded like on the other end.

It was nice while it lasted. Well, most of it was, anyway. Instead of camping, I’ll spend Father’s Day getting my tent camping gear together for Field Day next weekend. Oh yeah… and shopping for a new battery.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Wrapping Up Another Camping Season

This is always a bittersweet time of year for me. While I enjoy camping in Fall, I also know that the camping season is drawing to a close. This past weekend was the final trip of the year for the QRP Camper.

My (far) better half and I took our little trailer to nearby French Creek State Park in Elverson, Pennsylvania. We usually start and end the season there. It’s close to home and it’s one of our favorite campgrounds.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" as we were wrapping up our last camping trip of the year. We had the unpleasant task of packing up in a steady downpour.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” as we were wrapping up our last camping trip of the year. We had the unpleasant task of packing up in a steady downpour.

My radio time was limited this weekend. We had our four grandchildren visit the campsite on Saturday. Most of Saturday was spent carving pumpkins with the kids and roasting hotdogs and marshmallows over the campfire. 

I did manage to find time to make a half-dozen contacts, though. A couple of them were real nice rag chews. One of note was with K1LKP in New Hampshire. Carmen noted that our last QSO was 15 years ago while I was camping in Maryland. It sure was nice to work him again.

Looking back over the past camping season, I made a few small changes in how I operate from the camper. I mentioned in previous posts, that the 120VAC-to-12VDC converter in the trailer generates a huge amount of RF noise. I’ve been getting around that by killing the AC power to camper when I’m on the radio. All of the essential functions in the trailer (lights, refrigerator, water pump, water heater) automatically switch to battery or propane. In the chillier weather—like this weekend—, I run a separate extension cord into the trailer to power a small electric heater.

I also did some experimenting with the way I feed my antenna. My 29.5-foot vertical is fed through 9:1 unun and uses the coax shield as a counterpoise. I have never had any serious problems with RF in the shack, but I have noticed some minor fluctuations in SWR. I placed a common mode choke at the rig end, and that has made tuning more consistent. I built the common mode choke—or line isolator—a while back for other experiments. It’s now a permanent part of my set up in the camper.

This is the hombrew common mode choke that I have been using with my 29.5-foot vertical and 9:1 unun.
This is the hombrew common mode choke that I have been using with my 29.5-foot vertical and 9:1 unun.

So, that wraps up another fun camping season with the QRP Camper. It’s now time to Winterize it and put it in storage until Spring. It’s not the end of my portable operating though; there’s still lots of outdoor radio fun to be had.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA and WWFF at Colonel Denning State Park

Our camping season is rapidly drawing to a close. My (far) better half and I took our little camper out to Colonel Denning State Park (POTA K-1343, WWFF KFF-1343) for our next-to-the-last trip of the year.

Located in central Pennsylvania, Colonel Denning was a new park for us. Our campsite for the weekend small but more than adequate. This section of the campground was along a creek and in a valley. There were steep hills directly behind our site. Given the terrain, I didn’t have high hopes for my radio waves getting out.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.

We arrived on Friday afternoon. After getting the camper situated, I set up my antenna and gave the radio a quick test. Tuning around, I could hear some strong signals. That gave me some hope.

I didn’t get on the air until Saturday morning. It was only 35F overnight, so I hunkered down in the camper to operate. I made a few contacts, so I appeared to be getting out OK. On 40M, I worked WB9WIU in Indiana, some New York QSO Party stations, and had a 2-way QRP QSO with WA1LFD in New Hampshire.

Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park.
Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park near our campsite.

Later in the day, I spotted myself on the POTA and WWFF websites and spent an hour or so working park chasers. I worked a lot of regulars including W6LEN in California. I had park-to-park QSOs on two bands (20M and 17M) with N4CD in Texas. At one point, I received a call from EA2IF in Spain, who mistakenly thought I was a SOTA activator. In any event, I was happy to add him to my log. I ended my brief POTA/WWFF session with 23 stations in the log.

We awoke Sunday morning to a steady rain. According to the local forecast, the day was going to be a washout—they were right. I made one final contact with K9FW on 80M before tearing down and packing up for the trip home.

The bands were in good shape over the weekend. Despite the terrain, my QRP signals seemed to have found their way out of the valley. Colonel Denning is on our list for a return visit next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Frances Slocum State Park

My (far) better half and I hitched up the “QRP camper” and headed north to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Our destination for the weekend was Frances Slocum State Park. It was our first visit there and we had a great time. As a bonus, our trip coincided with the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

Frances Slocum State Park, located north of Wilkes-Barre, covers 1,035 acres. The centerpiece of the park is Frances Slocum Lake. The campground is relatively small and very quiet. Ours was one of the larger sites available and was nicely secluded.

Frances Slocum Lake
Frances Slocum Lake

After getting the camper situated, I went about setting up my antenna. I had a bit of trouble driving in my Jackite pole ground mount. The ground was very rocky and it took 5 or 6 tries to find a spot to drive it in. I wound up putting it at the edge of our site near a large stand of pine trees.

My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.
My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.

I got on the air Saturday morning just as the WES contest was starting. In general, it seemed like my 5-watt signal was getting into the southern states with good signal reports but reaching New England was a problem at times. I’m guessing that the mountainous terrain surrounding the park was a factor.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park

After operating on and off on Saturday (and a little bit early Sunday morning), I ended up with 20 WES contacts in 12 SPCs. Not too bad, considering the time I spent on the air. I also worked KX0R out in Colorado. This was the second camping trip in a row where I worked George during one of his SOTA activations.

All in all, it was a very nice weekend. The weather was great and the radio wasn’t too bad.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Codorus State Park 2019

We’re in the midst of a busy camping season. Over the past weekend, we took our little “QRP” camper to Codorus State Park. I didn’t spend too much time on the radio this weekend but I did have some fun on 30M.

Codorus State Park, in southern York County, is one of our favorites. We try to get out there at least once a year. It’s a large, scenic park and includes and encompasses 1,275 acre Lake Marburg. Our site this time was large and wooded, with no neighbors on one side.

It was getting towards dark when I finally got around to putting up an antenna. I had a nice contact with W2IFB on 40M who was putting out a great 3-watt signal from New York. Assured that everything was in order, I headed out to join my (far) better half at the campfire.

The next morning, I made a few more contacts on 40M and 80M. Among those was N2KMF who was operating portable from Crandall Park near Glen Falls, New York.

WB3GCK operating at Codorus State Park near Hanover, Pennsylvania
WB3GCK operating at Codorus State Park near Hanover, Pennsylvania

For the rest of the weekend, I stayed on 30M, which provided lots of activity. The 30M band has always been one of my favorites and there was ample activity there. There weren’t any exotic contacts but I had fun working stations up and down the East Coast and out to the mid-West.

There was some deep fading on 30M on Saturday but Sunday was a different story. I got on around mid-day briefly before heading out for the trip back home. I was met with a mini pile-up and the signals were all solid. I quickly worked four stations before packing up the radio and tearing down the antenna.

Scenic Lake Marburg in Codorus State Park
Scenic Lake Marburg in Codorus State Park

The good news is that I made some more progress towards my SKCC Senator award. The bad news, though, is that I had to miss this year’s running of the Flight of the Bumblebees. The QRP contest coincided with our drive home. I hope all of the bumblebees had fun and I hope to be able to join in the fun next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK