Murphy and MacGyver

My XYL and I traveled out to the Harrisburg, PA, area over the weekend to spend some time with our daughter and her family.  Yesterday, I set up my KX3 and Alexloop in the backyard to make a few SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts.  Ol’ Murphy was certainly with me.

First, I had a problem with my little American Morse MS2 straight key.  Well, not the key itself, but rather a bad connector or cable.  I spent some time playing around with it but I had no multimeter to  troubleshoot it and no parts to repair it.

Tuning around the bands, I couldn’t hear a lot of activity.  The SKCC stations I heard seemed pretty weak and I wasn’t having any luck making contacts.  I checked the Band Conditions website and saw that the bands were in bad shape.  At that point, I threw in the towel and chalked up a win for Murphy.

Tough going on the bands
Tough going on the bands

Today I decided to give it another shot.  The bands sounded better and I could hear some WES activity.  I remembered a trick that Burke N0HYD employed to pull off an SKCC contact with me a while back.  So, I channeled my inner MacGyver and set up the KX3 for a straight key and connected my Palm mini paddles.  I turned the paddles over on their side and used one lever as a straight key.  The straight key workaround worked surprisingly well.  The “feel” wasn’t half-bad, actually.

My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.
My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.

With the improved band conditions and the straight key workaround, I made several SKCC WES contacts, including one with Bert F6HKA.  Bert has great ears and has managed to pull my puny QRP signal out of the noise on several occasions.  I finished my session with a nice two-way QRP QSO with Mac NN4NC down in North Carolina on 40 meters.  I was only on for an hour or so but it was fun.

Despite my lack of a functioning straight key, I managed to put a few new SKCC stations in my log today.  MacGyver would have been proud.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Quick Labor Day Outing

I had some plans for the Labor Day holiday but I wanted to get out to play radio for a bit.  I threw my KX3 and Alexloop into my truck and drove to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  Although there were more people picnicking than usual, I found an isolated spot along the river.

It only took a few minutes to set up.  It was a little breezy along the river, so I clamped the Alexloop to the picnic table.

My set-up along the Schuylkill River in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
My set-up along the Schuylkill River in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

I started out on 30 meters and gave KB6NU a call.  Dan heard me out in Michigan but the QSB was really bad.  He gave me an RST of 229.  Next up was a nice chat with John WW4DX in North Carolina.  He was really booming into Pennsylvania this morning.

I moved up to 20 meters and had a short QSO with Sam WZ4L in Tennessee.  I wrapped up with a nice two-way QRP chat with Grady AJ4YA in North Carolina.  We experienced some QRM but managed to complete the QSO.

The bands seemed to be a little “short” this morning and I definitely had a pipeline to the South.  I have used the Alexloop at this location a few times before and it always seems to favor a southerly direction.

Although I could have stayed out there all day in this great weather, I needed to get home to throw some chicken on the smoker and make sure the beer is cold.  As always, I have my priorities in order!

I hope all of my U.S. friends have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day holiday.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Schuylkill River Trail Ride

I headed out this afternoon for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail.  I pulled off the trail where it passes through Valley Forge National Historical Park.  I wanted to ride across Sullivan’s Bridge, which opened recently.  This pedestrian and biking bridge crosses the Schuylkill River and provides a connection to other trails.

After riding across the new bridge and back, I made a pit stop in the Betzwood Picnic Area.  I wanted to do some testing with an antenna that I’ve been playing around with lately.  It’s simply a lightweight, 19-foot vertical fed through a 9:1 unun.  It’s built around an inexpensive, lightweight, Chinese fishing pole I bought on eBay.

I set up at a picnic table under a shady tree.  I mounted the vertical on a tripod, using an adapter that I cobbled together from PVC pipe this morning.  The internal tuner in the KX3 tuned it up on every band from 40 meters through 6 meters.

My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.

I didn’t hear any activity around the 30 and 20 meter QRP watering holes, so I moved down to 40 meters.  Forty meters is the least efficient band for this antenna but I worked a few Ohio QSO Party stations.  I also worked Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation in Ohio (NS78).  I didn’t set out to activate Valley Forge today but I sent Joe the NPS unit number (HP46).  I have to confess that I cranked my power up to 10 watts for the QSO with Joe.  I think that’s the first time I’ve used more than 5 watts on the HF bands in the past 20 years or so.

Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail
Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail

Feeling comfortable that this short vertical seems to be making some radio waves, I packed up the bike and got back on the trail for the ride back.

It was a nice day but I’m glad I got my ride in before it really started warming up.

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

Mid-Week QRP-Portable Fix

My free time has been somewhat limited lately, so I’ve been itching to get out for some QRP-portable operating.  A rare mid-week opportunity presented itself, so I decided to take a quick bike ride and make a few ham radio contacts while I was out.

I threw some radio gear into my pannier bags and headed out on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails.  Before heading back, I made a stop at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.  There weren’t many people around on a Wednesday morning.

My first attempt to put a line into a tree got some great elevation but I missed my target branch completely.  My second attempt caught a lower branch.  Since I was limited on time, I decided to go with that.  My 30-foot wire ended up as a sloper.  I used my bike as a tie-off for my halyard and attached my 9:1 unun to one of the handlebars.

My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail
My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail

I tuned around 30 meters and heard Roger KO5Q calling CQ from Georgia.  We chatted for a few minutes but there was some deep fading on the band.  Roger said my signal came up to 599 for a bit and faded quickly.

I moved up to 20 meters and called CQ.  Enzo VE3VTG called me from the Toronto area.  He had a great signal.  If I copied correctly, he said he was running 2 watts into a beam.

After that, I packed up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead.  The beautiful weather and a couple of QRP-portable contacts were enough to tide me over until the QRP Skeeter Hunt this weekend.

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

White Clay Creek Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoBoy, the state of Delaware sure has been good to me this week.  After my failed attempt at activating the Captain John Smith Trail (TR21) in Maryland, I rebounded the other day with great activation at First State NHP (HP12) in Delaware two days later.  I had an even better activation in Delaware today along the White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River (WR39).

This morning I drove down to the White Clay Creek Nature Center near Newark, Delaware.  (Thanks to N2CX for recommending this spot.)  I headed to the side of the parking lot closest to the creek and parked under a large shady tree.  Despite the heat wave we’re experiencing, I had a nice breeze through the truck for the first hour and a half or so.  It took about five minutes to set up my 30-foot vertical and KX3.

My "stationary-mobile" set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.
My “stationary-mobile” set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.

I got off to a slow start on 40 meters but once I got spotted, things picked up in a hurry and stayed busy for the next hour.  Propagation on 40 meters was interesting; I worked a lot of Pennsylvania and New Jersey stations with the vertical and then worked Florida.  Go figure.

I was getting ready to take a break before changing bands when a park ranger approached my truck.  Apparently, someone reported some suspicious activity in the Nature Center’s parking lot.  I explained to her what I was doing and what National Parks on the Air was all about.  She was very nice and said she would be back if the Park had any problems with what I was doing.  She never came back.

White Clay Creek
White Clay Creek

I spent another hour working stations on 20 meters before packing up.    I ended the day with 58 QSOs in the log, including a park-to-park QSO with N2CX at AA17 in New Jersey.  I took a walk around the Nature Center before heading back to Pennsylvania.  I need to do a non-radio visit here sometime to explore more of the park.

Obligatory selfie at White Clay Creek State Park Nature Center
Obligatory selfie

So, I had a couple of fun activations this week and one not-so-good one.  As the singer, Meatloaf, would say:  “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

72, Craig WB3GCK