Dodging the Rain at Marsh Creek State Park

I was in a Parks on the Air (POTA) mood this morning. I planned to visit Marsh Creek State Park, a nearby park that I have yet to activate. The weather forecast was dismal, and I almost talked myself out of going. 

Looking closer at my weather radar app, it looked like I might have a break from the rain if I got loaded up and on the road. It was pouring as I left the house, but it stopped when I was about halfway to the park. 

I haven’t been to Marsh Creek in quite some time. Years back, I did a lot of fishing and ice fishing on the lake. I planned to operate from one of the boat launch areas. I’m not sure I have ever been to this part of the park; It sure didn’t look at all familiar. As I pulled into the park, it was a downhill drive to the boat launch. Given the hilly terrain on this side of the lake, I didn’t have high hopes for making contacts.

WB3GCK at Marsh Creek State Park (POTA K-1380, WWFF KFF-1380)
WB3GCK at Marsh Creek State Park (POTA K-1380, WWFF KFF-1380)

I parked along the lake, and I was ready to get on the air in less than 10 minutes. I operated from my truck using my KX3 (5 watts) and my homebrew 19-ft vertical on the back. I spotted myself and started calling CQ on 40M. It took a few minutes before I started hearing from chasers. 

Despite the hilly terrain behind me, I had a pretty good string of contacts. It took me about 30 minutes to make my required ten contacts. But, it was on 20M where things got interesting. 

Up on 20M, things really got going. My first contact on 20M was a park-to-park QSO with EC1R in Spain, so my 5-watt signal was making it across the pond. I also worked F4HZR in France. It was nice to hear W6LEN calling from California, showing I was also making it out to the West Coast. 

After a little more than an hour, I logged my 25th contact. That’s when I started seeing some raindrops on the windshield. When I have my antenna on the truck, I have to keep the cargo cover open. I had some things back there that I needed to keep dry, so it seemed like a good time to shut down. I was happy with the 25 contacts (including 3 park-to-park contacts) during my short activation, so I declared victory and headed home. 

As I was leaving the park, the skies opened up, and it started raining like crazy. I timed this activation just right. My luck doesn’t usually run that way.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Flight of the Bumblebees 2021

Today was the annual Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) QRP contest. Sponsored by the Adventure Radio Society, this field contest is one of my favorites. Although I’m not getting around too well right now, I decided to get out for part of it, at least.

I needed to keep things easy this year, so I went up to my daughter’s property and set up out in one of the fields. One aspect of the contest is that field stations should get to their location under their own power. On doctor’s orders, I’m wearing a knee brace and using a cane for a while. So, I limited my hike to my operating location to about 20 yards. However, it took me a few trips to get my gear there. 

I used my KX3—at 5 watts, of course—with a 29.5-foot vertical wire and a 9:1 unun. It took a bit longer than usual to set up, but it wasn’t too bad. I set up my equipment and was ready to go for the start of the contest.

WB3GCK operating in the 2021 Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) contest
WB3GCK operating in the 2021 Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) contest

I started on the 40M band. I didn’t hear much FOBB activity there, but I logged a few familiar stations. There was more activity up on 20M, though. I was able to work everyone I heard. 

After about an hour, it started raining. I grabbed my radio and some other gear and headed down the hill for my truck. Just in case I needed to bail out early, I moved my truck up closer to my table. 

Fortunately, my rain delay only lasted about 15 minutes or so, and the sun came back out. I set the radio up again to make a few more contacts. Not hearing any new stations, I decided to pack up and head home.

I ended my short stint with ten contest QSOs, including nine bumblebee stations. Outside of the contest, I logged a POTA activator in Quebec. 

I’m glad I was able to participate this year. Thanks to the Adventure Radio Society for sponsoring this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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

4th of July Weekend POTA

It had been a while since I’ve done a POTA activation, so I did a spur-of-the-moment activation today. Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761) seemed like an appropriate park to activate for the 4th of July weekend.

The weatherman was forecasting temperatures in the upper 90s today, so I headed straight for my favorite shady parking spot. Unfortunately, someone was already parked there. I headed off to a remote corner of the parking lot away from the picnics. There wasn’t any shade there, so I operated inside the truck. At least I would be out of the direct sunlight. I put my 19-ft vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab.

WB3GCK at Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761, WWFF KFF-0761)
WB3GCK at Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761, WWFF KFF-0761)

Before I had even spotted myself, I got a response to my first CQ on 40M. After that, the QSOs came steadily. It only took about 15 minutes to get my requisite ten contacts. I divided the rest of my time between 40M, 20M, and 30M. 

Even with all of the windows open, it got pretty hot inside the truck. I also noticed my KX3 was getting pretty warm, so I decided to wrap things up and head home. After an hour or so, I had 31 contacts logged, including one park-to-park QSO. 

I hope all of my U.S. friends had a happy and safe 4th of July holiday weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Boschveldt QRP Field Day 2021

Boschveldt QRP Club patch

Once again, our loosely organized group of QRPers got together for Field Day. We only get together a few times each year, so our Field Day tends to be a laid-back social affair.

This year marked our 5th year operating from the property of a local business owner. We certainly appreciate him allowing us to set up camp in his field again this year. We ran as category 4A EPA using the club’s callsign, W3BQC.

Yours truly, WB3GCK, operating CW from my tent
Yours truly, WB3GCK, operating CW from my tent

This year’s Boschveldt crew included: 

Ed WA3WSJ
Ed K3YTR
Glen NK1N
Ron WA8YIH and his son, Cole
John NU3E
Rob KE3TI
Craig WB3GCK

Ron WA8YIH operated phone and ran CW on 80M
Ron WA8YIH operated phone and ran CW on 80M

I spent most of the weekend hobbling around on a bum knee, so I didn’t get pictures of everyone there. WA3WSJ will likely post more on the Boschveldt QRP Club website

Glen NK1N working the satellites
Glen NK1N working the satellites

I operated on 40M only with a 53-ft inverted L. I gave my new K1EL WKmini CW interface its first real workout. I have to say it performed flawlessly for me. One of the highlights for me was working W1AW.

KE3TI operating CW. Rob joined us for the first time this year.
KE3TI operating CW. Rob joined us for the first time this year.

I think it’s safe to say that none of our group are hardcore contesters. We just enjoy camping together and playing some radio. I haven’t received everyone’s logs yet, but I’m sure we won’t be leading our category. Nonetheless, it was a good time. 

Ed K3YTR operating 2M and 6M SSB and FM
Ed K3YTR operating 2M and 6M SSB and FM

Weather-wise, it has a hot and humid weekend. We had some rain Saturday afternoon; thankfully, it didn’t last long. Overall, it was far from the worst weather we’ve endured for Field Day.

Fueling up for the day at the Boschveldt QRP Club Field Day
Fueling up for the day at the Boschveldt QRP Club Field Day

Our next major group outing will be in January 2022. We’re planning to have our annual Winter get-together at the Daniel Boone Homestead

I hope everyone had a successful and safe Field Day.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Old Tuner to the Rescue

According to the weather prognosticators, today is the start of a 4- or 5-day heatwave here in southeastern Pennsylvania. So, I wanted to get out early for some antenna testing before things heated up too much.

I planned to play around with the speaker wire end-fed halfwave antenna I built recently. To do this, I went back to my favorite antenna test range—my daughter and son-in-law’s property. 

I set up the formerly 66-foot wire (now about 63 feet) in an inverted-V configuration. Since the last time I used this antenna, I trimmed off a couple of feet to see if I could get my little Hendricks SOTA tuner to load it on 20M. 

I started with the SOTA tuner on the 40M band and worked a POTA activator in Indiana. I moved up to 20M, but the SOTA tuner wouldn’t tune below a 2.2:1 SWR. 

Before I left the house today, I had the forethought to pack an old antenna tuner I built about 25 years ago. I used it extensively years ago, but I relegated it to the shelf when fancier equipment came along. I switched to the old tuner, which I configured as an L-match. It loaded up nicely on 40, 20, and 15 meters. As a bonus, the old-school tuner gave a good match on 30 and 17 meters. 

My 25-year-old homebrew antenna tuner. It doesn't look like much, but it did a nice job with my end-fed halfwave antenna cut for 40M.
My 25-year-old homebrew antenna tuner. It doesn’t look like much, but it did a nice job with my end-fed halfwave antenna cut for 40M.

After I finished experimenting with the antenna, I set out to make a few contacts. It was a busy day for Parks-on-the-Air (POTA) activators. I worked 10 of them in 8 states plus Puerto Rico. Three of the QSOs were on 17 meters. It was nice to hear POTA activity up there. 

All in all, I was pleased with how my old homebrew antenna tuner performed. I don’t think it will be spending as much time on the shelf in the future.

73, Craig Wb3GCK

Memorial Day 2021

I was out of town visiting family for most of the weekend. However, I managed to get out for a brief QRP-portable outing this afternoon.

I headed back up to my daughter’s property and set up on top of a hill. The ground was a bit muddy from recent rains, so I set up in my truck. I set up my KX3 in the cab and mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back.

WB3GCK operating portable on Memorial Day 2021
WB3GCK operating portable on Memorial Day 2021

I started with an SKCC QSO on 40M with KG4GCX in North Carolina. I also had a chat with K4VSV in South Carolina. Bill was running 10W and was pounding into southeastern Pennsylvania.

I spent the rest of my time hunting for CW POTA activators and managed to work 5 of them: WD5GRW in Texas, K7CO in Utah, NG5E in Oklahoma, KD8IE in Ohio, and WB0TUA in Michigan. Thanks to these folks who took the time on a holiday to activate parks.

I hope all of my U.S. friends have a safe and enjoyable holiday. Please take time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedoms.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Speaker Wire EFHW Antennas

A while back, I challenged myself to see what kind of antennas I could make from a cheap 50-foot roll of two-conductor speaker wire. This time I made a couple of end-fed halfwave wires for the 40M and 20M bands. 

My aim with these projects is to make (nearly) full use of the 50 feet of speaker wire. I figured that would be enough for 66-foot and 34-foot radiators for the 40M and 20M bands, respectively. These dimensions work with the Hendricks SOTA Tuner (now sold by Pacific Antenna) I planned to use with them. 

Construction couldn’t be more simple:

  • Starting with 50 feet of speaker wire, separate the conductors.
  • Cut one of the wires into two lengths, 34 and 16 feet.
  • Splice the 16-foot wire onto the 50-foot wire. Now you have wires that are approximately a halfwave on 40M (66 feet) and 20M (34 feet).
  • I added spade lugs to one end of each wire. 
  • I used pieces of a used gift card to make end insulators that would allow for adjustments if needed. (See photo)
Speaker Wire EFHW Antenna diagram
Speaker Wire EFHW Antenna diagram

Of course, you’ll need an antenna coupler to match these wires to your rig. The SOTA Tuner I used worked fine, but each wire operated only on a single band. I cheated a bit and used some other scrap wire to make two short counterpoise wires, 5 feet for 40M and 3 feet for 20M. Of course, you could always use the 34-foot wire as a counterpoise for the 66-foot wire if you’d like. 

An improvised end insulator made from an old gift card. I used this so I could shorten the wire, if needed, by folding it back on itself.
An improvised end insulator made from an old gift card. I used this so I could shorten the wire, if needed, by folding it back on itself.

I haven’t tried it yet, but an L-network transmatch should allow the 66-foot wire to work on 40M, 20M, and 10M. A 49:1 transformer might also give you multiple bands with the 66-foot wire. You’ll likely need to adjust the length to obtain a match. You’re on your own here.

In the field, the SOTA Tuner provided a good match on both wires. I used the 66-foot wire as an inverted vee and the 34-foot wire as a sloper. I had no trouble making contacts on both bands with 5 watts.

Of course, you could build these antennas with any old wire. After all, it’s just wire. But, I enjoy the challenge of being constrained by the 50 feet of speaker wire. 

I have more speaker wire and more antenna ideas, so you’re going to be subjected to more of these crazy projects in the future.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Summer Weather Preview

The temperature climbed into the 80s (F) today, giving southeastern Pennsylvania a taste of the warmer weather to come. It seemed like a good day for some QRP-portable operating.

I had a couple of end-fed halfwave (EFHW) antennas I built last night that I wanted to try out in the field. So, I headed out to my daughter’s property and set up on the top of the hill. I set up my KX3 on a small table and set up a 40M EFHW antenna as an inverted vee. (I’ll do a separate post on these antennas.)

Taking advantage of the warm weather today
Taking advantage of the warm weather today

The band was somewhat noisy. I suspect it was coming from the power lines that cross the property. Undeterred, I started calling CQ on 40M near the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) calling frequency. I soon received a call from WA2JMG in New York. Pete was operating outdoors from his deck.

Next up was a two-way QRP SKCC QSO with WN1MB in Connecticut. Jeff was running 2 watts and cutting through my local noise. I finished up on 40M by working a New England QSO Party (NEQP) station in Maine.

At this point, I took down the 40M wire and replaced it with a 20M EFHW configured as a sloper. Thankfully, the noise was slightly lower on this band. When I wasn’t playing around with the antenna, I worked a couple more NEQP stations.

At this point, I had lost my shade and had the sun beating down on my neck (and the KX3). It seemed like a good time to pack up and head home for lunch.

I’m looking forward to more weather like this. Next time I’ll set up in a spot with more shade.

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