Winter Field Day 2017

Well, there wasn’t much “field” in Winter Field Day (WFD) for me.  My XYL and I traveled out to central Pennsylvania for the weekend to babysit our 2-year old grandson.  My plan was to sneak out into the backyard for a few hours each day to operate in WFD as category 1O (outdoor).  Before the weekend, however, I came down with a wicked cold (courtesy of my other grandson).  I decided that operating out in the cold probably wasn’t a good idea.

I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to the fence in the backyard and used it to support the far end of my LNR EFT-10/20/40 end-fed halfwave antenna.  The feed point was just inside a second story window.  I set up my KX3 and operated under battery power.  I read over the rules and concluded that I was a “1H” (home) station.

My temporary indoor station for Winter Field Day
My temporary indoor station for Winter Field Day

After setting up, I had a warm-up QSO on 20M with K0WEW in Kansas.   Everything appeared to be working.  I operated mostly during nap time (my grandson’s, not mine).  With just a couple of hours of actual operating,  I ended up with 20 CW Winter Field Day stations in the log.  I’m sure I could have logged more if I had plugged in the microphone.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Outside of the contest, I worked TM1A (France) in the REF Contest (on 40 meters, no less).  I also had a nice two-way QRP QSO with W4MQC.  Alan was operating portable from New Hampshire.

Even though it wasn’t much of a Field Day for me, it wasn’t without some excitement.  At one point, all the signals on 40 meters suddenly dropped way down.  I looked out the window and saw that the wind caused my Jackite pole to collapse putting half of my antenna on the ground.  My halyard line got caught between two sections of the pole when it collapsed.  It took me about 30 minutes to get that mess straightened out.

My hat goes off to all the hardy hams who braved the cold for Winter Field Day.  Hopefully, next year I’ll get out there, too.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Camp Run-a-MOC 2017

Our loosely-knit group of QRPers, known as the Boschveldt QRP Club, gets together each year in January for a weekend of operating and socializing in the woods.  We rent a small cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) in the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area in Northern New Jersey.  The MOC, which is adjacent to the Appalachian Trail, has been the site of this annual gathering for the past 12 years or so.  This annual event has come to be known as “Camp Run-a-MOC.”

Our cabin at Mohican Outdoor Center.
Our cabin at Mohican Outdoor Center.

In attendance this year was K3YTR, WA3WSJ, NK1N, NU3E and me.  Walt KB3SBC was there on Friday but, unfortunately, had to leave to deal with a plumbing emergency at home.

When I rolled into camp on Friday afternoon, Ed K3YTR was busy setting up his gear for the ARRL VHF Contest and John NU3E was setting up an end-fed halfwave antenna for some JT65 & JT9 operating.  Ed WA3WSJ and Glen NK1N were operating pedestrian mobile near Crater Lake.  It turned out to be a rainy hike for them.  After a dinner prepared by K3YTR, there was a lot of catching up and story swapping.

John NU3E operating JT modes from the cabin.
John NU3E operating JT modes from the cabin. It wasn’t that cold in the cabin; John was dressed for our hike to the Catfish Fire Tower.

After breakfast on Saturday, WA3WSJ, NK1N, NU3E and I made the two-mile hike up to the Catfish Fire Tower on the Appalachian Trail.  Although we hiked through dense fog on the way up, the weather cleared up a bit when we reached the top of the ridge.

I set up my KX3 and AlexLoop at a picnic table, while WA3WSJ and NK1N operated pedestrian mobile.  NU3E came along for the hike and caught a short nap on the bench of the picnic table where I was operating.

WB3GCK operating from the fire tower. This was taken during a brief break in the weather.
WB3GCK operating from the fire tower. This was taken during a brief break in the weather.

After we each had made a few contacts, the sun went in, the temperature dropped and a dense fog rolled in.  We packed up our gear and made the trek back down the trail.

Ed WA3WSJ operating pedestrian-mobile near the fire tower.
Ed WA3WSJ operating pedestrian-mobile near the fire tower.

Back at the cabin, K3YTR and NK1N made more some contacts in the VHF contest before we headed into town for dinner.  By the time we headed back to the cabin, the heavy fog and limited visibility made for some tricky driving.  When we got back to the cabin there was some more VHF contesting and more tall stories.  On Sunday morning, we all enjoyed NU3E’s famous Belgian waffles before packing up for the trip home.

ED K3YTR working the VHF contest from the cabin.
ED K3YTR working the VHF contest from the cabin.
Glen NK1N operating 6 meters in the VHF contest from the cabin.
Glen NK1N operating 6 meters in the VHF contest from the cabin.

So, another fun Camp Run-a-MOC get-together is in the books.  The weather wasn’t great but at least it didn’t snow this year.

The next outing for the Boschveldt QRPers is Field Day.  I’m already looking forward to that.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Busy Radio Weekend

This was a busy weekend, radio-wise.  First, the Polar Bear QRP Club held their monthly Moonlight Madness Event on Saturday.  Also, the Facebook-based Field Radio group was holding their second International Field Radio Event (IFRE) this weekend.  Finally, the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) was holding their monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.  To take advantage of all of this, I went portable twice over the weekend.

It was a bit chilly here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I operated “stationary-mobile” from a local park.  I used my KX3 with a 29.5-foot vertical on the back of my truck.   When I powered up the radio, I immediately heard fellow Polar Bear, Chuck AF4O, calling CQ from a park in Tennessee.  I gave him a shout and had a nice chat.  His HB-1A sounded great.

My “stationary-mobile” location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
My “stationary-mobile” location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

I tuned around listening for stations operating in the International Field Radio Event. Not hearing any, I called CQ on 20 meters and got a call from HA3NU.  I think he was search and pouncing in a contest but he gave me a contact anyway.  I shifted over to SSB (which I don’t do very often) and worked 4 stations that way on 20 and 40 meters.

Since the SKCC WES was also going on, I put the KX3 in straight key mode and laid my Palm mini paddles on their side and used one paddle as a straight key.  I made two contacts that way, including F6HKA,  (Bert always has good ears.)

I ended my session by working Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation (Fort Necessity National Battlefield in southwestern Pennsylvania).

I wound up with 10 contacts total including 1 Polar Bear, 2 SKCC WES, 1 NPOTA and no IFRE stations.

I took a bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail, which connects to the Perkiomen Valley Trail.  I stopped at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to set up the radio.  This is one of my favorite spots for QRP portable.  I put a 29.5-foot wire up in a tree and set up my KX3 on a conveniently located bench.

My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.
My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.

The bands were definitely not as hot as yesterday.  I tuned around the Field Radio calling frequencies but didn’t hear any IFRE activity.  I called “CQ IFR” on both 40 and 20 meters but had no takers.   The SKCC WES contest was still going on, so I made a few SKCC contacts.  One of those was with F6EJN.  It took a few tries to complete the QSO but Bob was able to pull me out of the noise.  While tuning around 40 meters, I had an NPOTA contact with WK2S.  Art was in the Pinelands National Reserve Affiliated Area (AA19) in New Jersey, which is a new one for me.

Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park
Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park

The weather was absolutely beautiful today but, as the sun began to set behind the trees, it started getting cold.  So, I loaded up the bike and headed back down the trail.

This was my second IFRE with no contacts.  Oh well, maybe next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Zombie Shuffle 2016

Official QRP Zombie BadgeLast night was the annual running, or should I say shuffling, of the Zombie Shuffle contest.  I participated in the Shuffle for the first time last year and managed to squeeze out 6 QSOs.  My goal for this year was to top that meager score.  No such luck.

I saw reports that the 20-meter band was pretty active during daylight hours.  Of course, I missed all that.  By the time I got on the air around 2230Z, there was very little activity.  I picked up 2 contacts on 40 meters.  After that, zombie activity on the bands vanished.  I briefly heard some zombie stations on 80 meters but they faded out or went back to their graves.

Thanks to NA5N for organizing this fun event.  Thanks to AB8DF and AI4IC for keeping me from getting skunked.  I look forward to shuffling with the zombies again next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK
QRP Zombie #1177


SKCC WES October 2016

I spent the weekend camping in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania.  The Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) was held this weekend, so I spent some time making straight key contacts.

I was set up in my pop-up camper using my KX3 at 5 watts on battery power.  My antenna was my trusty “Pop-up Vertical.”

Working the SKCC WES contest from the camper
Working the SKCC WES contest from the camper

Prior to the start of the WES contest, I had a nice 2-way QRP chat with John W3FSA up in Maine.  John’s YouKits HB-1B was putting a great signal into Pennsylvania.

Working the contest on and off over the weekend, I logged 39 contacts.  Some of the highlights included:

  • Working F6EJN and DK7OB.  Both were new additions to my SKCC log.
  • An early morning QSO with Tony K6ELQ in California on 40 meters.  I have to admit, the credit needs to go to Tony and his phenomenal station.  It’s not the first time I’ve worked the West Coast on 40 meters during daylight hours but I always like when that happens.
  • Adding enough new contacts to my SKCC log to qualify for the Tribune x3 level.  I was stuck at the Tx2 level for a while, so I was pleased to finally get to the next level.

While tuning around 40 meters on Saturday afternoon, I heard my old QRP buddy, WA3WSJ, making some contacts in the Pennsylvania QSO Party.  I gave Ed a contact and let him know I was camping not far from his home.  A little while later, Ed stopped by the campsite for a visit.  He even came with some food items he acquired during one of his NPOTA trips.  It’s always fun to do some catching up with Ed.

Our pop-up camper on its final camping trip (with us, at least).
Our pop-up camper on its final camping trip (with us, at least).

I had a bittersweet moment this morning as I was taking down the Pop-up Vertical for the last time.  My XYL and I decided to retire the pop-up camper and go with something different next year.  Over the past 19 years, my ham radio setup in the camper has evolved to where I could be up and operating in minutes.  The Pop-up Vertical has always performed well for me.  So, I’ll have to start all over working out a new antenna setup for whatever kind of camper we end up with next year.  That should be fun.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Peanut Power Sprint 2016

I operated in the Peanut Power Sprint for the first time today.  This sprint is sponsored by the good folks of the North Georgia QRP Club.  It’s a short, two-hour sprint, which works nicely with my short attention span.

I headed out to a nearby park to operate portable.  Since the Peanut Power Sprint is a short contest and I was pressed for time anyway, I kept my setup simple.  I used the same setup I have used for some recent NPOTA activations.  I operated from my truck with a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole on my bike rack.  I fed the vertical wire with a 9:1 unun and 18 feet of coax.  I set up my KX3 on the passenger seat of my truck.

My "stationary-mobile" setup at the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The Jackite pole is mounted on the rear of the truck.
My “stationary-mobile” setup at the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The Jackite pole is mounted on the rear of the truck.

Before the sprint started, I worked AB7RW who was doing an NPOTA activation from the Curecanti National Recreation Area (RC06) in Colorado.  So, it looked like the antenna was working.

Propagation on 20 meters was a little flakey and 40 meters was plagued by wall-to-wall RTTY contest stations.  Despite the challenges, I ended up with 19 contacts in the log.  Even though my operating location was along the Schuylkill River and I didn’t have the benefit of altitude, I managed to work the west coast (WA).  I also worked N8XX and WD8RIF who were both operating from the North Country National Scenic Trail (TR04).  My last contact was with Greg N4KGL who was operating pedestrian-mobile from Florida.

I’m glad I decided to operate in this year’s Peanut Power Sprint.  It was a fun way to spend a beautiful Fall afternoon.

72, Craig WB3GCK

QRP Afield 2016

My XYL and I were long overdue for a weekend of camping.  We towed our old pop-up camper to one of our favorite campgrounds, French Creek State Park near Elverson, PA.  It was a happy coincidence that the New England QRP Club’s QRP Afield contest was being held while I was camping.  OK, so maybe it wasn’t just a coincidence.

Our pop-up camper and sometimes portable radio shack.
Our pop-up camper and sometimes portable radio shack.

I operated from inside the camper using my KX3 on battery power.  The antenna was my “Pop-up Vertical” that I have used with the  camper for years.  Basically, the antenna is a 27-foot wire vertical fed through a 4:1 unun.  I use the body of the camper for ground.  The wire is supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole attached to the side of the camper with some velcro straps.  I run a 10-foot length of coax into the camper to the radio.  The KX3’s internal tuner will easily load up the antenna from 40 meters through 6 meters.  The KX3 can also tune it on 80 meters but it isn’t very efficient on that band.

The "Pop-up Vertical" fastened to the camper.
The “Pop-up Vertical” fastened to the camper.

During the contest, I didn’t hear much activity on 20 meters.  I made one QRP Afield QSO there.  I made the rest of my contacts on 40 meters.  I ended up with only 11 contacts in the log.  It wasn’t a great showing but I had fun.

Outside of the contest, I worked several Route 66 special event stations, along with a few National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) stations.  I also worked TM77X, a special event station in France.  There were a couple of nice rag chew QSOs in there, too.

My operating position inside the camper. The coffee cup. of course, is a mandatory accessory.
My operating position inside the camper. The coffee cup. of course, is a mandatory accessory.

We have one more outing with the camper scheduled for October.  Not only will this be the last camping trip of the year for us, it will be the last camping trip with our old camper.  It has served us well for the past 19 years but, like me, it’s starting to show its age.  My XYL and I decided it’s time to retire it and replace it with something new for next year.

I’ll miss our little tent-on-wheels.  My family made a lot of memories with that camper and I made a lot of fun QRP QSOs from it.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2016

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt LogoThe NJQRP Skeeter Hunt is one of my favorite QRP field contests.  This year, I planned to do some biking along White Clay Creek but the dire weather forecasts made me opt for “Plan B.”  “Plan B,” in this case, was to activate nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park (HP46) and operate from my truck.  This was my first time back at Valley Forge since I activated it on New Year’s Day.

I chose a parking spot that was away from the trees.  I also made sure to face west, so I could keep an eye on the approaching storms.   I took a few pictures before the Skeeter Hunt started, while the weather was still decent.

I used a 30-foot wire vertical mounted on the back.  This antenna, fed with a 9:1 unun and 18-feet of coax served me well on several NPOTA outings recently.  I set up my KX3 on the passenger seat of my truck.

A few QSOs into the contest, a park ranger rolled up next to me and asked what I was doing.  I mentioned National Parks on the Air and he said, “that’s cool.”  He also warned me about the approaching storms.  I assured him that I planned to shut down if there was any lightning.

At about 20 minutes into the contest, the rain started and never really stopped.  It varied between slight drizzle and torrential downpours. When the rain forced me to roll up my windows, the cab of the truck got unbearably warm.  I couldn’t operate with the truck running due to electrical noise from the engine.  Every so often, I took a break from the radio and ran the air conditioner to cool off.

My "stationary-mobile" set up in Valley Forge. You can see the wind bending the fiberglass pole.
My “stationary-mobile” set up in Valley Forge. You can see the wind bending the fiberglass pole.

The bands seemed to be in pretty good shape.  After a little more than two and a half hours of operating, I had 29 QSOs in the log.

20160821    1701      40M    CW    K3COD   559    559    NC NR145
20160821    1710      40M    CW    K4YA    569    569    TN NR8
20160821    1716      20M    CW    N4BP    599    599    FL NR173
20160821    1718      20M    CW    N0SS    579    579    MO NR18
20160821    1720      20M    CW    AB9CA   559    559    AL NR57
20160821    1727      20M    CW    WK8S    559    559    CO NR156
20160821    1729      20M    CW    NN9K    559    559    IL NR168
20160821    1732      20M    CW    WB4OMM  599    599    FL NR97
20160821    1737      20M    CW    VE3XT   569    559    ON NR162
20160821    1739      20M    CW    K2WO    599    559    FL NR2
20160821    1749      20M    CW    W4MZA   569    579    MN29 NR60
20160821    1750      20M    CW    KX0R    569    569    CO NR166
20160821    1756      40M    CW    N2CX    589    579    NP51 NR1
20160821    1802      40M    CW    NC4RT   579    559    TR10 NR24
20160821    1808      40M    CW    KG3W    599    579    PA NR160
20160821    1809      40M    CW    AA8WQ   599    569    OH 5W
20160821    1816      40M    CW    AA4XX   569    449    NC NR112
20160821    1818      40M    CW    N3AQC   589    569    TR14 NR76
20160821    1823      40M    CW    KY3P    579    589    NY 5W
20160821    1826      40M    CW    W1PID   559    559    NH NR41
20160821    1835      40M    CW    W4MPS   579    559    NC NR163
20160821    1845      40M    CW    WD8RIF  579    559    HP11 NR46
20160821    1850      20M    CW    K7TQ    559    559    ID NR11
20160821    1856      20M    CW    NF4GA   579    579    GA NR110
20160821    1904      20M    CW    AB4QL   569    569    AL NR149
20160821    1911      20M    CW    AD4S    599    579    GA NR56
20160821    1916      20M    CW    WB5BKL  579    579    TX NR42
20160821    1926      40M    CW    VE3LFN  599    599    ON NR28
20160821    1936      40M    CW    W3BBO   559    559    PA NR5

The rain was really starting to come down heavily, so I put on my rain gear and tore down the antenna.  The park ranger was parked in the lot behind me.  He was probably getting a chuckle out of the crazy old guy taking down his antenna in a downpour.

As I was making the 3-mile trip home, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Go figure!  Anyway, I had a fun time, despite the rain.  Once again, a tip of the hat goes to Larry, W2LJ, for coordinating this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

Another Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) is in the books.  This year, I was going to travel to my operating site by bicycle but forecasts for thunderstorms forced a last-minute change of plans.

I ended up in French Creek State Park (PA) near the Hopewell Fire Tower.  This area has good elevation and there usually aren’t many other visitors around.  Dark clouds were moving in, so I opted to set up in the shelter of an old picnic pavilion.  Fortunately, the storm skirted around my location.

Pavilion near the Hopewell Fire Tower, French Creek State Park, PA.
My operating location near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park (PA)

I kept my antenna simple, in case I needed to bail out in a hurry.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a small tree next to the pavilion and set up a 30-foot wire vertical with a 9:1 unun.  I ran 18 feet of coax over to one of the picnic tables.  I had my KX3 set up and ready to go about five minutes before the contest started.

My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.
My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.

Conditions were pretty rough.  There was heavy fading on 20 meters and lots of static on 40 meters.  Early on, most of the activity was on 20 meters but 40 meters started to come alive later on.

Despite the conditions, I managed to eek out 19 contacts in about 3 hours.  I heard a lot of familiar callsigns.  I was pleasantly surprised to work N6GA, Cam, in California.  I guess my simple antenna was getting out OK.  I also worked fellow Polar Bear QRPer, Kelly K4UPG in Florida.  In addition to the contest exchange, Kelly and I exchanged the traditional Polar Bear greeting, “GRRR.” Right before I packed up, I found QRP friends, Larry W2LJ and Carter N3AO, on 40 meters.

My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016
My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

It turned out to be a pretty nice day.  The thunderstorms stayed away and not a drop of rain.  I was in the shade and there was just enough of a breeze to make the heat and humidity bearable and keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Thanks to the Adventure Radio Society for sponsoring this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

FYBO 2016

I didn’t have a lot of time today but I wanted to get out for an hour or two for the annual Freeze Your B—- Off (FYBO) contest.  FYBO is sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions.  I didn’t do a lot of  advanced planning for this event, so I threw my backpack into my truck and headed out with a couple of possible locations in mind.

I ended up in the Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, just a few miles away from home.  I’ve been to this park many times but I had never operated from there.  The spot I had in mind had some high voltage power lines nearby so I headed a little further down the road.  I wound up in a parking lot next to the canal lock.  There was still some snow on the ground and the area looked muddy, so I set up in the truck with the window down.  (It was 36F when I started.)  I used my YouKits HB-1B and a 29.5-foot vertical.

FYBO "Stationary-mobile" set up
FYBO “Stationary-mobile” set up

Now, normally, when people see my antenna, they usually just give some curious stares and move on.  Not so today.  Before I had even made a contact, I noticed a county park ranger drive by.  He circled back around and pulled up next to me.  He was curious about the antenna and I ended up discussing ham radio with him for the next 5 minutes or so.  He wished me well and drove off.

A few minutes later, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a car with two park rangers behind me.  They were staring at the antenna, so I got out and went over to talk to them.  I gave them my ham radio spiel and a few minutes later they drove off.  I was finally able to get back to the radio and start making some contacts.

In my hour or so of operating, I only managed to work 3 FYBO contesters on 20 meters.  There was very little FYBO activity heard.  In fact, I worked more Minnesota QSO Party stations than FYBO stations.  Before I packed up, I dropped down to 40 meters and picked up a Vermont QSO Party station.

Just before shutting down, a fellow who had been walking his dogs walked up to my truck and asked about what I was doing.  Once more I gave my ham radio spiel.  In all the years I’ve been operating from portable locations, I can’t remember ever getting this much attention.  Maybe I enlightened a couple of folks today.

Lock 60 and the Canal Keeper's House at Schuylkill Canal Park, Mont Clare, Pennsylvania
Lock 60 and the Canal Keeper’s House at Schuylkill Canal Park, Mont Clare, Pennsylvania

Even though it was a short outing and I’m sure I wasn’t a big threat in the FYBO contest, it’s always good to get out and play some radio.

72, Craig WB3GCK