Zombie Shuffle 2017

This year’s QRP Zombie Shuffle coincided with our last camping trip of the season with our little travel trailer. We wrapped up our camping season in French Creek State Park in southeastern Pennsylvania.

After setting up camp and eating dinner, I spent some time on the radio in search of my fellow zombies. It’s customary to complain about contest band conditions but this year the complaints were justified. I never really heard any strong signals and there was severe fading on the bands.

My official QRP Zombie credentials.
My official QRP Zombie credentials.

Despite the frightful conditions, I managed to log 8 zombies this year. Six of my eight contacts were on 80M. I was using a 29.5-foot wire vertical and 9:1. I’m always amazed at how well this relatively short antenna gets out on 80M.

One of the highlights was working Ed WA3WSJ while he was operating from a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. He was also using the Boschveldt QRP Club call, W3BQC. I’ve made hundreds of Field Day QSOs as W3BQC but this was the first time I have been on the receiving end.

So, another Zombie Shuffle is in the books and it’s time to crawl back into the crypt.  I can’t wait to shuffle again next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2017

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt LogoAnother NJQRP Skeeter Hunt is in the books. This year, stations operating from Parks on the Air (POTA) entities earned bonus points. So, I did a repeat of last year’s contest and operated from Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA designator KFF-0761).

I operated from my truck in the Varnum’s Picnic Area of the park. I like this spot because it’s quiet, RF-wise, and has decent elevation. Most importantly, it has a restroom, which is important for us old guys.

In my haste to get set up and on the air, I made a huge mistake by parking in an area without shade. (More on that later.) As I was mounting my 31-foot Jackite pole on the back of my truck, an elderly gentleman approached and inquired about my antenna. He was very curious about ham radio, so after I got set up, I let him listen to some signals on my KX3. After about 10 minutes, he wished me luck and moved on.

My unshaded site at Valley Forge. It's hard to see, but my 31-foot Jackite pole if mounted is mounted on a bike rack on the back of my truck.
My unshaded site at Valley Forge. It’s hard to see, but my 31-foot Jackite pole if mounted is mounted on a bike rack on the back of my truck.

Propagation was weird today. At times, 40M seemed to be very long. I worked stations in Michigan and Wisconsin while struggling to work my friend Carter N3AO down in Virginia. The bands seemed to be up and down all afternoon.

In the course of nearly 3 hours of operating, the sun was baking me and my radio inside the cab of my truck. At one point, the KX3 rolled its power back to 3 watts. I never had that happen before. After rearranging some things, I got the KX3 out of the direct sunlight and things eventually went back to normal.

Towards the end of my operating session, I was struggling to find stations I hadn’t already worked. Since the heat was taking its toll on me and the radio, I decided to pack up and head home.

My lucky Skeeter Hunt t-shirt.
My lucky Skeeter Hunt t-shirt.

Even though I was wearing my lucky Skeeter Hunt t-shirt, I only ended up with 19 QSOs in the log. Four of those were park-to-park QSOs, though. I didn’t do as well as last year but it was still a fun event. Thanks for Larry W2LJ and the NJQRP Club for putting the Skeeter Hunt together.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

QRP to the Field 2017

I missed the QRP to the Field (QTTF) contest last year due to family obligations.  I almost missed it again this year for the same reason.  I had some family coming in this weekend but I managed to sneak out for a few hours to make a few contacts.

The theme this year was, “A River Runs Through It.”  Stations operating near a river get a higher multiplier for their score.  Living near the Schuylkill River, I have a lot of options.  I decided to head over to Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, which is one of my regular operating spots.

A view of the Schuylkill River from Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
A view of the Schuylkill River from Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

The weather forecast was calling for periods of rain throughout the day, so I opted to operate from inside the truck.  As it turns out, that was a wise decision.  It rained most of the time I was operating.

My “stationary-mobile” set up for QRP to the Field
My “stationary-mobile” set up for QRP to the Field

I set up my trusty 30-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 on the center console.  I was quickly on the air but I wasn’t hearing much.  Between some solar storms and static from the rain, band conditions were pretty lousy.

My operating position in the truck.
My operating position in the truck.

After a while, 40 meters opened up a bit.  I had a brief run of stations there.  Twenty meters remained pretty dismal.  I heard W0RW/M out in Colorado early on but could connect with him.  I eventually worked Tom K4AKC in Alabama.  Besides that, I didn’t hear much of anything on 20 meters.

After about two hours, I had to leave.  The rain started picking up, so I quickly took down the antenna and headed home.  I ended the day with 10 contacts on 40 meters and just 1 on 20 meters.

As I was packing up, a large group of kayaks traveled down the river.
As I was packing up, a large group of kayaks traveled down the river.

I sure could have used some better band conditions and weather but, all things considered, I was happy with the 11 stations I managed to work.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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.

Saturday:
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.

Sunday
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

Save

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