Horse-Shoe Trail Bike Ride

I headed out this morning with the dual purposes of getting in a bike ride and doing a little portable QRP operating.  My destination was a 3-mile section of the historic Horse-Shoe Trail that runs through Warwick County Park.

I had never been on this section of the trail before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  It’s a beautiful trail and very well maintained.  The stone and sometimes rocky surface was better suited for a mountain bike.  My old hybrid bike was able to handle it with no problems, though.  At the bottom of a rocky hill, I came across an open field and decided to set up the radio there.

Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.
Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.

I set up an experimental antenna that uses a compact 20-foot telescopic pole I picked up recently on eBay.  It’s basically a variation of the Rybakov Vertical with a 25-foot wire fed through a 4:1 unun.  I laid out one 25-foot radial on the ground.  I mounted the pole by simply placing it over a screwdriver shoved into the ground.  Since the wire is longer than the pole, I attached the unun to the bike’s handlebar and ran a short coax down to my KX3.  The KX3’s ATU matched it easily from 40 through 10 meters.

My operating position
My operating position

I called CQ on 20 meters and had a nice chat with Lynn, NG9D, near Chicago.  I think he thought I was crazy using an untested antenna out on a trail.  (I had a backup!)

Moving down to 30 meters, I worked Mike, W9KY, in Indianapolis.  I finished up on 40 meters with a short 2-way QRP QSO with Jack, WD4E, in North Carolina and a nice QSO with NY2MC aboard the USS Ticonderoga in Whitehall, NY.  I did a little more experimenting with the antenna before packing up the bike for the ride back.

My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead
My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead

As I expected, this antenna isn’t a real barn burner on 40 meters but it seems to work well enough for casual operating.  The pole weighs about 12 ounces and collapses down to about 26 inches, making it easy to transport via bike or backpack.   I definitely need to make some refinements to the antenna, though.  If it works out, it will be the subject of a future post.

It was a nice morning in a beautiful park.  I’m looking forward to exploring some of the other trails.

72, Craig WB3GCK

International Field Radio Event Recap

I operated in the first-ever International Field Radio Event on May 28th.  (See my earlier post for information on this event.)  A few days before the event, I decided to operate near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park.  The day before the event, my XYL and two of our grandchildren accompanied me on a hike to scout out operating locations.  I found a small clearing in the woods near the fire tower.  It was off the beaten path and looked like it would work out for me.

Hopewell Fire Tower
Hopewell Fire Tower

The next day I got off to an early start and headed back to the little clearing.  There wasn’t enough room to toss a line up in a tree, so I used two Velcro® straps to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to a tree.  I set up a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by the pole and laid out two radials on the ground.  I fed the antenna through a 4:1 unun and a short length of coax.  I set up my KX3 on a small table near the tree and was soon ready to get started.

My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.
My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.

It was tough going for this event.  Band conditions were less than stellar and 20 meters was wall-to-wall with CQ WW WPX CW Contest stations.  I spent my time searching for other Field Radio Event stations, both CW and (gulp) SSB.  After a few hours, I only had 3 CW contacts on 30 meters in my log.  None of them were Field Radio stations.  One was a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation in Kentucky and the other two were rag chews with stations in Florida and Michigan.

WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations
WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations

One pleasant surprise was an eyeball QSO with Jerry K3BZ.  Jerry was walking near my location and noticed me back in the woods.  He stopped by to say hello and introduce himself.  After chatting with Jerry for a bit, I packed up and headed home.

I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t work any other Field Radio Event stations.  On the Field Radio group page on Facebook, many other stations reported similar disappointing results.  There is talk about conducting another International Field Radio Event later this year.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that band conditions will be better and that there won’t be a major contest going on that weekend.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

International Field Radio Event

IFR LogoI’m looking forward to participating in the first ever International Field Radio Event this weekend.  The event is sponsored by the Field Radio Facebook group and runs from 0000Z to 2359Z on May 28th, 2016.  Field Radio is an international group of amateur radio operators who practice and enjoy portable operations.

The goal of the event is simple:  Get out in the field and contact other Field Radio members, while letting other hams know about the group.  More than 200 hams from around the world have signed up to take part.  Registered Field Radio members will be exchanging ID numbers assigned for the event.  You don’t need to be a member to join in, though.  Feel free to work any of the portable stations calling, “CQ IFR.”

I haven’t yet decided where I’ll be operating on Saturday but I will likely be out operating from 1300Z to 1800Z.  I will most likely be on 40, 30, 20, and 17 meters CW.

So, if you hear any of the International Field Radio event participants on Saturday, give them a call.  I’m sure many of them will be operating from some interesting locations.

For more information on the Field Radio group, visit www.fieldradio.org.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Brief Break in the Weather

I was itching to get out for some portable operating but the weather this weekend had been pretty lousy.  I checked the weather radar this morning and saw that there was some clearing coming.  I figured I had a couple of hours before the next band of rain moved in.

I threw my backpack into my truck and headed out to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  Given the dreary weather, there was no one in the picnic area.  I headed for a picnic table that I had used once before and set up my equipment.

This was the first outing for my new KX3 and I was using a new LiFePO4 battery for the first time.  I connected a straight key with the hope of making a few Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a wooden sign post and strung up a 30-foot vertical wire fed through a 9:1 unun.

My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.
My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.

There wasn’t a lot of activity on the bands.  I eventually had a 2-way QRP SKCC QSO on 20 meters with K4ARQ in Florida.  That turned out to be my only QSO today.  I had a couple of “almost” QSOs that were either disrupted by QSB or QRM.  In particular, NP3CW in Puerto Rico heard me calling CQ on 17 meters and gave me a call.  As soon as I answered, a station in Mexico came on frequency and started calling CQ.  A few other SKCC members attempted QSOs with me but propagation just wasn’t working in my favor today.

Dark clouds starting rolling in, so I packed up and headed back to my truck.  My timing was excellent; it started raining on my drive home.

It wasn’t the greatest field trip I’ve had but it was a good practice session with the KX3.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Portable for a Good Cause

The QRP to the Field (QTTF) contest is one that I look forward to every year.  This year, however, it coincided with a long-standing commitment to take part in a public service event.

For many years, I’ve been coordinating my local ARES-RACES group’s support for the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies event in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  In addition to enhancing the safety of the participants, events like this also provide a low-stress environment to hone our emergency communications skills.

The event got off to an unpleasant start.  Paul, KB3ZOH, and I arrived early to set up a crossband repeater at the Net Control location.  We wound up having to set things up in a steady downpour.  Fortunately, the rain let up by the time the walkers set out on the course.

Paul KB3ZOH assuming the Net Control duties
Paul KB3ZOH assuming the Net Control duties

From an ARES-RACES standpoint, it was an uneventful event.  We had solid communications around the course and there were no incidents or issues to handle.  In addition to KB3ZOH and me, The Chester County ARES-RACES team included Leslie KC3EOR, Joe W3JY, Will K3WIL, and Rob W3OWM.

Walkers passing by my position. The weather was dreary but, at least, it was raining.
Walkers passing by my position. The weather was dreary but, at least, it was raining.

Since the March for Babies course was located about 100 yards from Valley Forge National Historical Park, my original plan was to head over there after the event for some QTTF action.  With another obligation later in the day, however, QTTF was clearly not in the cards for me.

So, I look forward to next year’s contest.  At least I was able to do some portable operating for a good cause this morning.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Three Birds, One Stone

I was on a mission today and there were three things I wanted to accomplish.  With one trip to a local park, I was able to check them all off of my list.

First, I submitted a write-up on my homebrew, drive-on antenna mount for the Ideas Exchange column in the QRP Quarterly publication.  Mike WA8MCQ, the column’s editor, asked for some more pictures.  So, I needed to get out and set up somewhere to take a few shots.

Next, I wanted to field test my little American Morse MS2 straight key and the homebrew magnetic mount I built for it.  I had used it at home but I was anxious to see how it works out in a portable setting.

Finally, I wanted to get out and make some Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) QSOs using a real antenna (as opposed to using my downspout at home).  I only had an hour, so I needed to move quick.

I headed out for Black Rock Sanctuary, which is just outside Phoenixville, PA.  On arrival, I set up the drive-on mount and took some pictures before and after deploying my 31-foot Jackite pole.  I used a 29.5-foot vertical wire with one counterpoise wire fed through a 4:1 unun.  My rig today was my trusty YouKits HB-1B powered from a small gel cell battery.

Drive-on antenna support
Drive-on antenna support

I started on 40M and posted my frequency on the SKCC Sked Page.  Almost immediately, I got a call from KB1WOD in Vermont.  He gave me a decent signal report, despite some less-than-optimal band conditions.  A few minutes later, I had a 2-way QRP QSO with KD3CA here in Pennsylvania.  I finished out my brief session with a 2-way QRP QSO on 20 meters with AA4MX in Florida.

As for the MS2 straight key, I have to say it worked pretty well.  My homebrew magnetic mount held the key firmly to my clipboard.   I was pleased with that.  Using a straight key in the confines of my pickup truck’s cab was a little challenging, though.  I also found the feel of the key a little loose, so I’ll need to tighten up the spring tension a bit.

MS2 miniature straight key and magnetic mount in use.
MS2 miniature straight key and magnetic mount in use.

So, in about an hour, I accomplished my mission.  I got the pictures I needed, tested my little straight key/clipboard setup, and made a few SKCC QSOs to boot.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Hopewell Furnace NPOTA Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoOn Good Friday, I found myself with a free afternoon.  I decided to take advantage of the great Spring weather and make a spur-of-the-moment trip to activate the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (NS37).  I hastily threw some equipment into my truck and headed out.

About 45 minutes later, I was on site and ready to get started.  But first, I  had to resolve some antenna issues.  For some reason, my SWR was higher than normal and not very stable.  I found a loose BNC connector on my 4:1 unun that I think was the culprit.  I eventually managed to get things stabilized enough to operate.  I was using my FT-817 at 5 watts into a 29.5-foot vertical wire antenna with two counterpoise wires.  I operated all CW.

The somewhat cramped operating position in my truck.
The somewhat cramped operating position in my truck.

I couldn’t spot myself due to lack of a cell signal, so I just started calling, “CQ NPOTA.”  After about 35 minutes with no takers, I was pretty close to packing up and heading home.  Finally, I worked a Wisconsin station on 20 meters.  I tuned down the band a bit and heard N4CD activating a park in Texas.  I got him on the first call.  So, at least, I was getting out to somewhere.

I moved down to 40 meters a worked stations in New York and Michigan.  One of them must have spotted me because things picked up quickly after that.  I spent the rest of my time on 40 meters and wound up with 30 contacts in the log (including 2 park-to-park QSOs) after an hour and forty-five minutes.

My 31-ft Jackite pole supported with a drive-on mount
My 31-ft Jackite pole supported with a drive-on mount

After I packed up, I stopped by the visitor center and chatted a bit with the park rangers.  They were very welcoming and happy to have their park activated again.  They were curious about how many contacts I made and how far I was able to get out.  As I was leaving they thanked me for putting their park on the air.

Hopewell Furnace visitor's center
Hopewell Furnace visitor’s center

I have some repair work to do on my antenna but it was a nice afternoon for an NPOTA activation.

72, Craig WB3GCK