I logged into the POTA.app site this morning and noticed that I had 99 park-to-park QSOs, just one away from the next award level. With my vacation coming up, I probably won’t be able to activate a park for another couple of weeks. My obsessive nature couldn’t take looking at that 99 number all that time, so I set out today to rectify that.
I drove down to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761) this morning for a quick activation. We’re still under a heat advisory, so I got there early to avoid the worst of it. On arrival, I found a shady spot and parked my truck.
I set up a camping chair and small table in the shade and used my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck. My rig today was my Penntek TR-35 at 5 watts.
The CW hunters were out in force early today. It took all of 15 minutes to make my first ten contacts. Operating for exactly an hour, I finished with 25 QSOs in my log. Best of all, five were park-to-park QSOs, so I had more than enough to put me over the top.
With my mission accomplished, I can stop fixating on that pesky “99.”
My daughter and her family went on a road trip to Michigan for my grandson’s hockey tournament. They needed someone to stay with their dog, Cooper, who is recovering from recent leg surgery. I volunteered to stay at their house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while they were gone and spend some one-on-one time with my “grand-dog.” Of course, I took some radio gear along with me.
Cooper is recovering nicely from his surgery, but he still needs to restrict his activity. He’s OK on his own for a few hours, so I planned to squeeze in a couple of short radio-related outings while out there.
Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area (K/KFF-4356)
After feeding and walking the grand-dog on Thursday morning, I headed out for a quick POTA activation. The Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area—now that’s a mouthful—is only about 25 minutes away, so I could get an activation in without leaving the dog alone for too long.
The parking area, on a hill, was vacant when I pulled in. I passed a huge high tension tower near the park entrance, but, fortunately, the power lines didn’t run anywhere near the parking lot. I set up the TR-35 in the cab and mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of the truck.
I started out on 40M, and the band was in excellent shape. Despite being sandwiched in between some mountains, my five-watt signal was getting out fine. I was getting some very strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network. I logged my first ten contacts in less than 15 minutes.
After making 20 contacts on 40M, I moved up to 20M. There, I logged another 10 contacts, including SM0NSJ in Sweden. After about 50 minutes on the air, I started packing up to make my way back to the house.
The final tally was 30 contacts, with one park-to-park, and one DX QSO. Looking at the POTA website, it looks like this was the first CW activation at this park in more than two years.
I didn’t see much of the park, but what I saw looks beautiful. I will definitely need to go back there to do some hiking on the trails.
PA State Game Land 246 (K-8941)
My original plan for Friday morning was to take a bike ride on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and operate from somewhere along the trail. I’ve been wanting to ride this trail since I did some portable operating from the trailhead about 4 years ago. Unfortunately, as I was putting the bike on the rack for the trip out here, I found that the rear brake was locked up. I didn’t have time to deal with it; so, sadly, I left the bike at home. Another time, I guess.
With the bike out of the question, I instead drove a few miles down the road to PA State Game Land 246 for another POTA activation. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, and he left about 15 minutes later.
Band conditions seemed in great shape; it didn’t take long to make my first ten contacts. One of my first contacts was with fellow QRPer, W1PID, in New Hampshire. I hadn’t worked Jim in a while, so it was good to hear him calling.
I had a few stations that worked me on multiple bands. W6OUL in California heard my five-watt signal on 30 and 20 meter bands. Those were my longest contacts of the day. Meanwhile, K9VIC in Illinois reached me on all three bands used today (40M, 30M, and 20M).
I was on the air for exactly one hour, ending up with 34 QSOs with one park-to-park contact. After that, I packed up for the short drive back to the house to hang out with the grand-dog.
On Saturday, I stayed around the house and planned to do some casual operating from the backyard. It’s been a couple of years since I last operated from here, and it has always been somewhat of a challenge. It’s in a low spot, and surrounded by houses, but I thought I’d give it a go today.
I started with my trusty 19-foot vertical on my homebrew ground mount. The receiver noise was horrendous. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) showed I was getting out with double-digit signal-to-noise readings. I just couldn’t hear anything. I figured the vertical was just the wrong choice for this environment.
Next, I went with the Alexloop, figuring that it would be better in this noisy environment. Like the vertical, I was getting decent SNR readings on RBN, but it was receiving only slightly better. Not great, but a little better.
Although I got skunked, I got some practice using the Alexloop with the TR-35. I used a resistive SWR bridge between the TR-35 and the loop, and I figured out the output power settings that work best on each band to get the bridge’s LED to extinguish at resonance. I also got to test a little battery pack I put together with three 18650 Li-ion cells.
So, this little mis-adventure wraps up my operations from here in south-central Pennsylvania, and I’m heading back home tomorrow (Sunday). At least I got in a couple of fun POTA activations while I was here.
One antenna I plan to try during my annual Outer Banks, North Carolina, vacation this summer requires a 4:1 unun. If the antenna works as hoped, it’ll be in place for the entire week. So, I need an unun that can stand up to the elements.
About a year ago, I built a 9:1 unun in a weather-resistant housing made from PVC pipe parts. I had some parts left over from that project, so I built a 4:1 unun version. The construction of this unun is like the last one, however, this one has a ground terminal.
I wouldn’t want to take this unun on a backpacking trip; it weighs in at a substantial 8.6 ounces. When I’m going to be operating from a location for an extended period, however, this should do the trick.
The parts for the housing are similar to the last one, but there are some additions for the ground connection.
About 2.5 inches of 1.5-inch PVC pipe
(1) 1.5-inch PVC end cap (slightly rounded top)
(2) 1.5-inch PVC end caps with flat tops
(1) SO-239 panel-mount connector (along with some #4 hardware for mounting)
A 4:1 unun wound on a T130-2 toroid
(2) #10-24×3/4″ stainless steel machine screw (along with some #10 flat washers, nuts, wing nuts, and lock washer)
The PVC end-caps with flat tops can be hard to find. If you search online for furniture-grade end caps, you might find some.
You can find plans for winding the unun here and other places on the Internet. The one I built for this project uses 19 bifilar windings of #24 solid hookup wire on the T130-2 toroid.
To start, you need to glue the two flat top end caps together. When dry, drill the holes to mount an SO-239 connector in the center.
For mechanical reasons, I added the #10-24 stainless steel screw for a ground terminal in the lower half of the connector housing. A short length of wire runs from the ground screw through a small hole and connects to one of the SO-239’s mounting screws. I installed another #10-24 screw in the slightly rounded end cap for the antenna connection.
The final assembly was straight forward. I soldered the toroid’s input wires to the center pin of the SO-239 connector. Then, I attached the toroid’s ground wire to one of the SO-239’s mounting screws.
Next, I inserted the PVC pipe section into the connector housing. I then installed a ring lug on the output wire. I left the output wire just long enough to make the connection to the output bolt in the rounded end cap. Before mounting the end cap to the PVC pipe, I added some pieces of foam around the toroid core to hold it in place. Then I press-fitted all the PVC parts together.
Testing in the Field
I tested the 4:1 unun in the field recently, and it performed as expected. I used it as part of a Rybakov vertical, with a 26-foot radiator supported by a Jackite pole, another 26-foot wire on the ground for a counterpoise, and 18 feet of RG-8x coax. My little Elecraft T1 tuner matched it with no problems on 40M, 30M, 20M and 17M, the bands covered by the rig I was using. Similar 4:1 ununs I have built worked well from 40M through 6M, so I’m confident this one will, too. While I was testing, I had a couple of nice CW rag chews on 40M and 30M.
Like its 9:1 counterpart, this unun is probably a bit over-engineered. My weather-resistant 9:1 has served me well through several camping trips and two Field Days, so I expect this 4:1 version will do likewise. So, bring on that beach weather!
This weekend was a Parks on the Air (POTA) Support Your Parks weekend. There are four seasonal events with the chance for activators and hunters to earn plaques. Even though I stand little to no chance of getting a plaque, I figured this would be a good weekend to activate a couple of parks.
Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380)
On Saturday, I headed over to the western boat launch area in Marsh Creek State Park. I’ve operated from this spot twice in the past year, and it’s not usually busy. Not today, though. The parking lots were jam-packed, with a steady stream of boaters coming in. I drove around to the other side of the lake to check out the picnic area.
When I arrived mid-morning, the picnic area parking lot was fairly empty. I figured the place would get pretty busy towards lunchtime, so I found a shady parking spot and operated from the truck. I used my Penntek TR-35 (5 watts) and my usual 19-foot vertical.
My first contact was with my friend and fellow ARES-RACES member, N3FLL. Frank said he was doing some POTA hunting today, so I was happy to give him a park.
After I had logged 26 CW contacts (with three park-to-park QSOs), the inside of the truck was getting pretty warm. Plus the great smells from all the surrounding barbeques reminded me it was lunchtime. By the time I left, the park was getting crowded with folks taking advantage of the summer weather, so my timing was perfect.
Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761)
I wanted to get a bike ride in, so Sunday morning I rode from the Pawlings Road trailhead into Valley Forge Park. It was a little over two miles to the Betzwood Picnic Area. I operated from this location once before six years ago. The elevation isn’t very good, but I gave it a shot, anyway.
I found a picnic table in a shady spot back along some trees. I had a hill right behind me, but the shade was more important today. On this trip, my rig was the TR-35 and my Alexloop.
My first contact was with W3DET on 30M. This was my first QSO with Dave in a while, so it was good to hear him again. I made four more contacts before giving 20M a try. I picked up one contact on 20M, so I moved down to 40M, which is the least efficient band for the Alexloop. However, the 40M band produced four park-to-park contacts.
Since it was so hot and humid, I packed up after making the required ten contacts and headed back to the trailhead. There was nothing extraordinary today, radio-wise, but I had an enjoyable bike ride.
When I got home and logged into the POTA website, I found I had received a certificate for activating during the Support Your Parks weekend. There sure were a ton of stations on the air this weekend, so I hope all the activators and hunters had fun.
I had a couple of hours this morning, so I loaded up the bike and headed out for another ride. Since the SKCC’s Weekend Sprintathon is running this weekend, I took the radio gear along for the ride.
I rode the new section of the Schuylkill River Trail that I mentioned in my last post. I headed west from the new trailhead and rode out to Towpath Park. Towpath Park is a small community park that I have operated from many times over the years. Today was the first time I got there by bike.
After a nice three-mile ride, I arrived at the park. I headed to a small pavilion and set up the radio. I used my TR-35 and my homebrew 19-foot vertical. I have to say that I have really been enjoying my little TR-35. It’s a great rig for portable operations like this.
I didn’t hear much contest activity, but I still managed to log four contacts in short order on 40M (NH, MI, OH, MA) and one on 20M (WI). After my radio-based pit stop, I loaded up the bike and started back down the trail. On the way back, I stopped to snap a picture of what’s left of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name.
This is a great ride for bike-portable operation. I’ll definitely be doing this again in the future.
The beginning of this week was a real bummer. A couple of days after Field Day, my trusty laptop gave up the ghost. Fortunately, it waited to die until after Field Day. However, this weekend I rode my bike for the first time since my knee surgery. So I put that one in the “Win” column.
On Saturday, I loaded up the bike and headed out to a section of the Schuylkill River Trail that opened recently. I took along my AnyTone AT-D878UV, Bluetooth ear piece, and Bluetooth push-to-talk button. I planned to operate bicycle-mobile into our local repeater.
Before hopping on the bike, I sat in the truck and paired the Bluetooth devices to the radio, and everything seemed to work—until I got on the bike. I think the battery in the PTT button died, so I put the radio stuff back in the truck and headed off down the trail.
I’m happy to report that the new knee performed flawlessly—no pain or tightness at all. The bike was none the worse for sitting idle in the garage for more than a year. I didn’t want to push it, so I kept my ride to three miles round-trip. Plus, the humidity was brutal this morning, so I declared victory and headed home.
This morning I went on a longer ride on a different section of the Schuylkill River Trail, eventually connecting with the Perkiomen Trail. I’ve ridden on these trails countless times over years. My ride today was about six miles out and back, and I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to take a pit stop and get on the radio.
I set up my recently acquired TR-35 at a picnic table and used my homebrew 19-foot vertical, which was ground-mounted with four 12-foot radials. I tuned up on 40M and immediately came across K2J in North Carolina, one of the 13 Colonies stations. After logging that one, I got on my straight key and called “CQ SKCC” a few times. KK8X in Ohio came back to me. We exchanged SKCC numbers and had a brief chat. I moved up to 20M and found NA4A doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in Alabama.
After signing with NA4A, I packed up and loaded up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead. Once again, the new knee did great. I had a little fatigue but no pain to speak of, as I continue to regain my leg strength.
I want to wish my fellow American hams a happy 4th of July. Also, a belated happy Canada Day to my friends to the north.
Another fun Field Day with the Boschveldt QRP Club is in the books. As in recent years, we spent the weekend camping on private property as the guests of a gracious local business owner. We had four members in attendance this year: Ed K3YTR, Glen NK1N, Ed WA3WSJ, and me.
When I arrived Friday afternoon, NK1N was already onsite. As I was setting up my tent, the others rolled in and got settled in for the weekend. Later, we headed out to a local restaurant for dinner and finished off the night around the campfire.
After breakfast, I set up my antenna and radio equipment. We had three HF stations this year, all running CW. I operated on 40 meters, NK1N covered 20 and 80 meters, while WA3WSJ took care of the higher bands. K3YTR operated phone on 6 and 2 meters. We operated in Category 3A, running QRP on battery power and using our club callsign, W3BQC. Our three HF stations all used inverted L antennas, our weapon of choice for Field Day.
This year we tried networking our logging computers together. Glen set up a small battery-powered Wi-Fi access point and used his laptop as the server. It was a simple task to configure the N3FJP logging software on the other laptops, and the network worked great.
After a dinner of brats and hotdogs, we again convened around the campfire. Before turning in, Glen jumped on 80M and I got back on 40M to make a few more contacts.
Glen was our most productive point generator this year. Besides making the most contacts, he also copied the Field Day bulletin, transmitted our radiogram to the Section manager, and filled in as the Boschveldt Safety Officer this year.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, we got back on our radios for a few more hours before packing up. By mid-day, we had all cleared out and headed home.
Although we don’t run the most serious Field Day operation, we always have a good time getting together. Besides our annual winter outing, we talked about doing another camping trip sometime this summer.
I hope everyone who took part had a fun and safe Field Day weekend.
I needed another rig like I needed a hole in the head, but I couldn’t resist. I’ve had my eye on the Penntek TR-35 for a while now, so I finally pulled the trigger and ordered one. I considered it a Father’s Day present to myself. Two days later, I had the TR-35 in my hands.
Lacking the patience and the close-up vision for serious kit building these days, I ordered a factory-built radio with the rotary encoder tuning option. Now, I have seen plenty of pictures and videos of the TR-35, but the small size of this rig really struck me when I opened the box. Its footprint is not much larger than a QSL card. It’s a perfect size for portable operating.
Here are some features that drew me to the TR-35:
It covers the bands I use most in the field (40/30/20/17)
Built-in iambic mode B keyer (my mode of choice)
Two CW memories. Perfect for POTA activations, QRP contests, etc.
Separate inputs for paddle and straight key. I sometimes get calls from fellow SKCC members, so it’s convenient to switch instantly to a straight key for those QSOs.
No complicated menu structures to navigate to get things set up. The TR-35 is super-simple to operate, and that’s just how I like it.
The TR-35 doesn’t include a built-in tuner. No worries; I’m going to dust off my little Elecraft T1 ATU and show it some love. An SWR indicator would have been a nice feature to have, but I can get along fine without it.
Taking It For a Spin
I didn’t have a chance to put my new TR-35 on the air until today. I drove over to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761 and KFF-0761) to try the new rig on a POTA activation. Doing an activation with a radio you’ve never used is a little like going camping with a tent you’ve never set up before. But, what the heck, I was a risk-taker today. Actually, I brought a backup rig along, but I never needed it.
I set up the TR-35 in the cab of my truck, along with my T1 tuner. The antenna was my homebrew 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck. As soon as I powered up, I was greeted by lots of loud CW signals. That’s a good sign. I quickly programmed a “CQ POTA” message into one of the two CW memories and got on the air.
One of the first things I noticed is how loud the audio is. I was using earbuds, and I had to turn the volume almost all the way down. The sidetone seemed a bit loud for my liking, but not really much of a problem for me.
Once I got going, I had a lot of fun with this little rig. I easily made contacts on each of the four bands (40/30/20/17). The TR-35 is a joy to operate, and I really appreciate its simplicity. Tuning with the optional rotary encoder is smooth as silk.
After about an hour and a half, I had 24 contacts in the log, with five park-to-park QSOs. My stomach reminded me it was lunchtime, so I packed up and headed home. I left the park feeling very happy about my recent purchase. The TR-35 is going to see a lot of use in the field.
Chester County ARES-RACES provides communications support for the event, and it’s one of our larger public service events. Besides providing a crew at the start/finish line, we have operators at five rest stops and in seven roving support vehicles. APRS is used to track the locations of the support vehicles, allowing Net Control to dispatch them efficiently to assist riders experiencing problems.
This year, my assignment was at a rest stop in historic Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania. I’ve been at this location for the past several years, and it’s become my favorite assignment. This rest stop is the first one to open for the event, so after a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I was onsite bright and early.
The day started off with some heavy downpours. I hunkered down in my truck, and the rain pounding on the roof made it hard to hear the radio. Fortunately for the riders, the rain stopped by mid-morning. Despite the initial rain and the wet road conditions, I didn’t encounter any downed riders or other major issues during my shift.
Although the weather could have been better, it was nice to work with the friendly volunteers at the Yellow Springs rest stop again this year. Kudos to my ARES-RACES colleagues who put in a long day supporting this event.
I made a return trip to Fort Washington State Park (K/KFF-1352) this morning for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. I activated this park back in October of last year, so I wanted to give it another go today. Along with some over-the-air contacts, I made a fun eyeball QSO.
My location and setup were nearly identical to my last visit. I started on 40M, and within a few minutes, the POTA hunters showed up. After I had logged 14 contacts, I was getting ready to change bands. I noticed a car going by with a familiar callsign on its license plate.
Greg WA3GM turned around and stopped behind my truck. I have worked Greg many times in recent years. He’s a frequent POTA activator and a fellow SKCC member. Despite those contacts, we have never met in person. After chatting for a few minutes, Greg left to find somewhere to set up for his activation.
After spending some time on 30M and 20M, I did some searching and pouncing to pick up a few park-to-park contacts. Right before pulling the plug, I found Greg on 40M and had a quick park-to-park QSO with him. Of course, we were 599 both ways.
I packed up my gear and spent some time driving around the park to see if I could find Greg. I found him less than a mile away, operating from a picnic table near some group campsites. Greg was using his trusty Rybakov antenna. We chatted for a while and learned that we have a bunch of friends in common. After posing for some selfies, I let Greg get back to his activation and headed off on my drive home.
I ended up with 19 contacts in my log, with 3 park-to-park contacts and a nice eyeball QSO.