Zombie Shuffle 2018

Once again, the Zombie Shuffle QRP contest coincided with the last trip of the year with our little travel trailer. I did slightly better than last year.

We again wrapped up our camping season at nearby French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania. After setting up the trailer, my XYL and I had an errand to do. As a result, I got started a little later than I wanted to.

The WB3GCK mobile zombie hunting command and control center
The WB3GCK mobile zombie hunting command and control center

When we got back to the campsite, I hastily set up my 29.5-foot vertical about 25 feet away trailer. Since the weather was a bit breezy and chilly, I ran the coax into the trailer and set up the KX3 in there.

The campground was a little noisier (RF-wise) than usual but it didn’t stop me from making contacts. Fittingly, my first contact was with W0UFO on 20M. I managed to find 8 more zombies on 40M, including my friend, Ed WA3WSJ who lives fairly close to French Creek.  I dropped down to 80M and bagged two more zombies there.

My Zombie Shuffle operating position inside the WB3GCK QRP Camper
My Zombie Shuffle operating position inside the WB3GCK QRP Camper

With 11 zombies in the log, I had my best year yet. Among those 11 zombies were 4 “Elvis” stations. This silly, laid-back contest is one of my favorite QRP events of the year. Many thanks to Paul NA5N and Jan N0QT for organizing the Shuffle. It’s always a fun time.

On a sadder note… It’s now time to Winterize the QRP camper and put it into hibernation until Spring. Hopefully, the Winter goes by fast.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Camping in Elk Neck State Park

My XYL and I took the “QRP camper” back down to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland for the weekend. We had a couple of days of nice Fall weather but that did little to offset the mediocre propagation. By the end of the weekend, the weather became as bad as the band conditions.

When we arrived on Friday I set up my usual 29.5-foot vertical. I initally gave some thought to putting up an inverted L but I didn’t see a conveniently-placed tree to support the far end. In hindsight, having more wire up in the air would have been a good idea this weekend. I made a couple of contacts to make sure things were working before getting a campfire started.

On Saturday, I worked an assortment of stations (SOTA, special events, SKCC, etc.) but it seemed like almost every QSO was a struggle. With an A Index of 27, that wasn’t too surprising. After several attempts, I finally got through to N8N in Michigan on 40M for a park-to-park contact. Hank N8XX was operating with a special event callsign for National Trails Day. He was operating from the North Country Trail (KFF-1555).  (Elk Neck State Park is KFF-1569.)

The WB3GCK camper on a rainy morning in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. My Jackite pole is strapped to the lantern post on the left.
The WB3GCK camper on a rainy morning in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. My Jackite pole is strapped to the lantern post on the left.

The beautiful weather was short-lived. By Sunday morning, a steady rain had moved in, so I hunkered down with the KX3 in the camper to give the bands one more shot. I ended up with a very nice chat on 80M with NS3X. Mark is located in north-central Maryland and was a new SKCC number for my log. After I signed with Mark, I packed up the radio and began the unpleasant task of breaking camp in the rain.

I only logged a paltry 8 contacts over the weekend but that was enough to reach the 44 contacts needed for a WWFF-KFF activation.

We have two more trips planned for October before it’s time to winterize the camper and put it into hibernation until Spring. Time sure flies…

72, Craig WB3GCK

QRP Afield at Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Our reservations for a weekend of camping at Pine Grove Furnace State Park (K/KFF-1398) in south-central Pennsylvania coincided nicely with the New England QRP Club‘s (NEQRP) QRP Afield contest. Although I didn’t hear much QRP Afield activity there was a lot going on this weekend, radio-wise.

We had a great campsite this time. It was large and isolated from our neighbor campers. Behind our site, there was nothing but woods. This site was screaming for a larger antenna. I put up a 53-foot inverted “L” antenna about 25 feet tall. I ran the horizontal section back into the woods and tied it off in a pine tree. It only took two attempts to get my line where I wanted it. I’m embarrassed to say I missed the tree completely on my first toss!

The WB3GCK QRP camper at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. If you look closely, you can see my antenna behind the picnic table. The white object is a plastic bag protecting the 9:1 unun from the rain we had on Friday night. The horizontal part of my inverted L runs back into the woods.
The WB3GCK QRP camper at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. If you look closely, you can see my antenna behind the picnic table. The white object is a plastic bag protecting the 9:1 unun from the rain we had on Friday night. The horizontal part of my inverted L runs back into the woods.

When I fired up the KX3 Friday night, the bands sounded great. I made several SKCC contacts, including KA4RUR out in Missouri. Fred is a retired Coast Guard Radioman and a fellow Field Radio member. I also had a nice chat with Jim WT2W in New York on 60M. Jim told me he was a Navy Radioman on a “tin can” (destroyer). It was great to work these fellow former military radio operators.

The next day, I set up outside the trailer and got ready for the contest. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much QRP Afield activity on the bands. I only worked two stations — W0UFO in Minnesota and W1C at the Chowdercon QRP gathering. I briefly heard another station but couldn’t connect.

WB3GCK operating at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.
WB3GCK operating at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

Despite the lack of QRP Afield activity, there was plenty of other stuff going on to keep me occupied. I worked several stations in the Washington State Salmon Run, Iowa, and New Jersey QSO parties. I had park-to-park contacts with VE2DDZ (VEFF-0365) and K5KJ (K-3031) and also worked 3 SOTA stations — N0TA, KX0R, and AC1Z.

My favorite QSO of the weekend, though, was a two-way QRP chat with UR5FA/MM. I heard Oleg calling CQ on 30M and gave him a call. He was aboard a Ukranian cargo ship in the Atlantic, west of Gibraltar and bound for Canada. After chatting for a bit about our respective set-ups, I wished Oleg a safe voyage and he wished me an enjoyable camping trip. I was pleased to add UR5FA/MM to my log once again. That contact sure brought a smile to my face.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Flight of the Bumblebees 2018

Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) has always been one of my favorite QRP contests. Although I didn’t think I was going to be able to participate this year, I managed to get in on the first hour or so of the contest.

My (far) better half and I took our “QRP camper” up to French Creek State Park (PA) for the weekend. I figured we would be packing up and heading home about the time FOBB started, so I never signed up for a Bumblebee number. We ended up packing up most of our stuff in the morning, leaving my ham radio equipment for last. So, I was able to get in a little operating time before we had to vacate our campsite.

The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania. The Jackite pole supporting my 29-foot vertical wire can be seen on the right in the photo.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania. The Jackite pole supporting my 29-foot vertical wire can be seen on the right in the photo.

Without a Bumblebee number, I operated as a “Home” station, despite being portable.  Although the bands seemed a little weak, my hour of work yielded 8 contacts, including 6 bumblebees. One of the highlights was working Ed WA3WSJ who was using the Boschveldt QRP Club callsign, W3BQC. Ed hiked up to Pulpit Rock on the Appalachian Trail for the event. Having operated as W3BQC during Field Day several times over the years, it was fun to be on the other end for a change.

Hopefully next year I’ll have more time to spend in the contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

Father’s Day at Elk Neck State Park

My better half and I took our little travel trailer down to one of my favorite campgrounds for the Father’s Day weekend. Although rest and relaxation was my main objective, I also worked in some QRP, too.

Our destination for the weekend was Elk Neck State Park in northeastern Maryland. After getting the trailer set up on Friday night, I strapped a Jackite pole to a lantern post and set up a 29.5-foot vertical. I did a quick test and found the area to be very quiet from both an audio (i.e., quiet neighbors) and an RF perspective.

On Saturday morning, I fired up the radio while the coffee was brewing and made a few SKCC contacts. I also had a nice CW chat with Butch NM1I in Massachusetts.

After lunch, I decided to do an impromptu Parks on the Air activation. Despite having poor cell service, I managed to post my plans on POTA and WWFF-KFF Facebook pages.

Things got off to a slow start on 40M until Emily KB3VVE found me and spotted me. After that, things began to pick up a bit. Most of my contacts were on 20M but sadly, I didn’t from any of the European regulars. Before wrapping up, I dropped down to 30M and picked up a couple more.

WB3GCK activating Elk Neck State Park from outside the camper.
WB3GCK activating Elk Neck State Park from outside the camper.

After about an hour, I had 13 contacts in the log, including WB9OWN in Wisconsin who worked me on both 20M and 30M. I made another 7 contacts over the course of the weekend. That’s more than enough for a valid POTA activation but I’m still about 6 contacts shy of the 44 needed for a WWFF activation. We’re planning to visit Elk Neck again in the Fall, so I should be able to make the remaining WWFF QSOs I need.

It was nice to finally have a camping trip this year with decent weather and no rain. I more than satisfied my rest and relaxation objective for the weekend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Rainy Camping Weekend

My (far) better half and I took our little trailer back to French Creek State Park (PA) for what turned out to be a rainy weekend of camping. Despite the lousy weather, I did have some radio fun and ran into one of my QRP friends.

The QRP camper on a rainy weekend at French Creek State Park
The QRP camper on a rainy weekend at French Creek State Park

Right after we set up the trailer, I was flagged down by one of my Boschveldt QRP buddies, Ron WA8YIH. Ron and his family were also spending the weekend at French Creek. Ron’s campsite was across the road about 30 yards or so away from ours. I hadn’t seen Ron since our Boschveldt QRP gathering back in January, so it was good to catch up with him.

Ron WA8YIH operating outside his camper at French Creek State Park
Ron WA8YIH operating outside his camper at French Creek State Park

I spent most of my radio time operating in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathong (WES) contest. This month, bonus points were available for QSOs made using a homebrew key. So, before we left, I threw together a homebrew straight key using parts from an earlier key project that wound up in my junk box.

My homebrew straight key
My homebrew straight key

The lever arm is a strip of thin fiberglass material I liberated from a trashcan where I worked many years ago. The contacts consist of a small screw on the lever arm and a piece of brass-plated metal from an old cabinet latch. I used some nuts and washers as spacers to get the contact spacing where I wanted it. That took a bit of trial and error. I couldn’t find anything on-hand that I liked for a knob, so I used a piece of self-adhesive foam. Using it on the air, I was pleasantly surprised with the feel of the key.

My 9:1 UNUN all prepared for the oncoming storms
My 9:1 UNUN all prepared for the oncoming storms

Since the weather was so lousy, I spent a bit more time on the radio than normal. Over the course of the weekend, I found the band conditions to be highly variable with some deep fading. At times, my 5-watt signal seemed to be getting out really well. At other times, not so much. I also had to disconnect the antenna when thunderstorms rolled through.  As if that wasn’t enough, our area was under a tornado watch on Saturday night. (Fortunately, they never materialized.)  Needless to say, I have had better weather for camping.

I ended up with 19 WES QSOs and 1 QSO with Ron. Since I could actually see Ron from my campsite, I guess we could have used semaphore for that contact.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Trailer Operations – Lessons Learned

We recently wrapped up our first camping season with our little travel trailer. Over the past 6 months, I learned a few things about operating inside a metal box that has lots of electrical doo-dads inside.

Antenna

Over the 18 years of camping in a pop-up tent trailer, I evolved to a simple but effective vertical antenna, which was supported by the trailer. We basically used the old camper as a tent on wheels.  It had few electrical amenities, so noise wasn’t an issue.  Being mostly canvas, the pop-up camper had little influence on the vertical antenna I attached to it.

On our first trip with the new camper, I tried something similar. I used the new camper to support my vertical antenna.  Bad choice.  I quickly learned that the new travel trailer was a different animal.  I made contacts but there were two main issues: 1) The camper is a big metal object and 2) it’s noisy as heck when plugged into AC power at the campsite.

It became quickly apparent that I needed to keep the antenna as far away from the trailer as possible. For most trips, I used a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole. I fed it with a 9:1 unun and ran a 25-foot piece of coax into the trailer. In some campgrounds, I was able to strap the Jackite pole to a lantern post or other object. Otherwise, I used my Jackite ground mount. (Unfortunately, Jackite no longer sells this ground mount.)

Some state parks provide lantern hanging posts that make great antenna supports. These are pretty common in Maryland state parks.
Some state parks provide lantern hanging posts that make great antenna supports. These are pretty common in Maryland state parks.

This set up worked well for me. There’s still some intermittent noise on 40 meters but it’s still usable. The other bands are pretty quiet. A pleasant surprise is that my KX3 loads up this antenna on 80 meters and the noise there is very low. I’ve had some nice late night/early morning contacts on 80 meters. On trips when we camped without an electrical hookup and used battery power only, I had no issues at all with noise.

My trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical. It's supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole and fed with a homebrew 9:1 unun.
Jackite ground mount. I bought this years ago. This particular mount is no longer sold by Jackite.

Radio Location

When the weather is decent, I prefer to operate outside of the camper, either from my camp chair or picnic table. However, when the weather is cold or rainy, I seek the shelter of the camper.

WB3GCK making some straight key contacts from the trailer.
Radio set up inside the trailer. The coax is routed through the window.

Initially, my big dilemma was routing a coax cable into the trailer. I really didn’t want to drill holes in a brand new trailer so I took the easy way out. There’s a conveniently located window next to the dinette table, so I brought the coax through there. To keep the bugs and inclement weather out, I used a piece of pipe insulation to help close up the gap. This window is also under the awning, so I get some additional weather protection there.  The dark-colored pipe insulation isn’t very noticeable, so my set up is “XYL-approved.”

Pipe insulation used to help close the gap in the window. The black pipe insulation is barely noticeable making it XYL-approved.
Pipe insulation used to help close the gap in the window. The black pipe insulation is barely noticeable making it XYL-approved.

Wrapping It Up

So, now it’s time to Winterize the trailer and put it into hibernation until Spring. Over the Winter, I’ll have lots of time to look into other antenna options I can try next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK