Father’s Day with a New Rig

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.

My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.
My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.

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.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Chance POTA Meet-Up

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.

Greg WA3GM activating Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)
Greg WA3GM activating Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)

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. 

WA3GM (left) and WB3GCK during a chance POTA meet-up in Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)
WA3GM (left) and WB3GCK during a chance POTA meet-up in Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)

I ended up with 19 contacts in my log, with 3 park-to-park contacts and a nice eyeball QSO.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Memorial Day 2022

May has been a busy month around here, and I haven’t had much time to get out and do some portable operating. So, on the last day of the month, I made a quick trip to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park for a short POTA activation (K-0761, KFF-0761).

I had some plans for later today, so headed out early. Most of the holiday picnic goers would likely arrive later to observe Memorial Day and take advantage of the glorious weather. Based on previous activations, I knew where to find a shady parking spot. Once situated there, I set up my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck. I operated my trusty KX3 in the truck, this time out. 

My parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)
My parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)

Starting out on 40M, I made the requisite ten contacts in about 15 minutes. My best “DX” of the day was California and Washington State, both on 20M with 5 watts. I operated for a little over an hour and ended up with 32 contacts with four park-to-park QSOs. 

Now that I’m driving again, life seems a little more normal. It was good to do an activation with no chauffeur. My (far) better half was a good sport, but I know she has things she’d rather be doing.

Friends here in southeastern Pennsylvania have been talking about how bad the ticks are this year. I think they’re right. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I found one crawling on the back of my neck. So, be careful out there.

Finally, I’d like to wish everyone an enjoyable and safe holiday. Please be sure to take time to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Patience is a Virtue

I’m still not able to drive yet, so my (far) better half offered to take me out for another POTA activation. Things got off to a slow start, so much so that I was tempted to throw in the towel. I hung in there, and eventually my patience paid off.

Like last week’s trip, we kept it close to home. We headed down to Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414) for some Parks on the Air action.

Like last week, I kept my gear simple and used my KX3 (5 watts) and AlexLoop. After calling CQ for a while on 40M, I finally logged a contact. Moving between 20M and 30M, I made three more contacts. Despite some decent spots on RBN, I was stuck with four contacts for what seemed like an eternity.

WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414, KFF-1414)
WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414, KFF-1414)

After bouncing around the bands for a while, I ended up back on 20M. I was going to spend a few more minutes calling CQ before packing it in and accepting defeat. 

The propagation must have improved, because a pile-up appeared out of nowhere. Over the next few minutes, I made seven more contacts. That was enough to qualify the activation plus one for good measure. Those contacts included 3 park-to-park contacts.

As I was packing up I saw something I hadn’t encountered in almost 30 years of portable operation. A little pot-bellied pig stopped by to say hello. His owner was trying to take him hiking on a nearby trail, but the little guy seemed to prefer socializing with the other people in the park. Eventually he responded to his owner’s call and went off trotting down the trail.

Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn't the only "ham" in the park today.
Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn’t the only “ham” in the park today.

It wasn’t a great day for radio, but at least I made enough for a valid POTA activation. Radio notwithstanding, the weather was excellent, and I got to meet Boss the pig. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Getting My QRP-Portable Fix

It’s been more than a month since my last QRP portable outing. I’m still recovering from my knee surgery, and my doctor hasn’t cleared me to drive yet. My (far) better half must have recognized that I was going through portable radio withdrawal, because, out of the blue, she offered to drive me somewhere to get my portable radio fix.

Naturally, I took her up on her offer. For my XYL’s sake, I wanted to keep it short, so I opted to do a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation at nearby Evansburg State Park. To keep things simple, I grabbed my KX3, a battery, and my Alexloop.

We ended up in a small picnic area. It’s still a little early for picnics, so we had the area to ourselves. While I set up the radio equipment, my XYL occupied herself with a book. 

WB3GCK at Evansburge State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)
WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)

It has been quite a while since I’ve used the Alexloop, so I was rusty at getting it tuned up. I was having some trouble finding a peak in the receiver noise. I concluded this location was just too quiet (RF-wise). Turning on the preamp during tune-up, I had no trouble finding the noise peaks. My five-watt signal seemed to get out fine with the loop.

I operated for about an hour, logging 16 contacts, including one park-to-park contact in Florida. There weren’t any exotic QSOs today, but I had a nice two-way QRP contact with N1MX near Boston. Mike was running two watts and sounded great. I also had a QSO with fellow Boschveldt QRP Club member, NK1N, over in New Jersey. It’s always a pleasure to work Glen.

After sitting for an hour, my knee was getting stiff. So, we packed up our stuff and loaded up the car. We took advantage of the great weather and went for a walk before heading home.

Many thanks to my incredible XYL for this brief field trip today. It sure felt great to be operating outdoors again.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Auburn Valley State Park Re-visit

I made another quick trip to Delaware this morning for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. My destination was Auburn Valley State (POTA K-4366, WWFF KFF-4366), a park I activated by in November of last year. Delaware state parks resume charging a parking fee on March 1st. It’s $4 for state residents and $8 for out-of-state vehicles like mine. So, I saved a few bucks today.

Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

Like last time, I parked at the Yorklyn Bridge Trail trailhead. Once again, I used my KX3 at 5 watts with my 19-ft vertical mounted on the back of my truck. The last time I was here, there was a little of noise on the bands, but, fortunately, that noise was nowhere to be found today. 

My cell coverage wasn’t as good as the last time. Using the Wi-Fi in my truck, however, I managed to post a spot on the POTA website. Unfortunately, I fat-fingered the park designator and inadvertently spotted myself at a park in Iowa. Doh! I quickly made the correction and got on the air.

My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

I spent most of my time on 40M and quickly racked up 27 contacts. I moved up to 20M, which was good for another seven contacts. Although the 17M band seemed to be open, I only picked up one QSO there. After an hour and a half, I packed up and headed back north to Pennsylvania.

I ended up with 35 QSOs in the log with three park-to-park contacts. One of the park-to-park contacts was with W6LEN in California. The best DX of the day was with TI5JON in Costa Rica. 

Delaware parks are always fun for POTA. I swear, a Delaware location adds a few decibels to your signal.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Fox Point State Park

Fox Point State Park sign

I drove down to Delaware this morning to do a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of a new (to me) park. Fox Point State Park (K-1738, KFF-1738) is located along the Delaware River near Wilmington. The park is in an industrial area, with busy railroad tracks on one side and cargo ships navigating the river on the other side.

I parked my truck near a picnic pavilion and a large playground. The park was mostly empty today. At times, I was the only one in the park.

WB3GCK at Fox Point State Park in Delaware
WB3GCK at Fox Point State Park in Delaware

I went with my go-to setup: my Elecraft KX3 (5 watts) and my homebrew 19-foot vertical. The hunters showed up en masse on 40M a minute or two after posting a spot. The activity was steady for about thirty minutes, netting me twenty-five contacts..

The higher bands weren’t quite as productive. I only picked up three on 30M and one on 20M. The 17M band yielded another four contacts. I headed back to 40M for another thirty minutes before packing up.

A cargo ship making its way up the Delaware River at Fox Point State Park
A cargo ship making its way up the Delaware River at Fox Point State Park

I finished up with forty-eight contacts today, including seven park-to-park (P2P) contacts. The park-to-park contacts included QSOs with KØBWR in Kansas on three bands. I also had a P2P contact with K3RTA, who was at another Delaware Park down the river from me. The best DX of the day was EC1R in Spain on 17M. Alfonso gave me a 339 report. I’ll take it!

It was another good day in the state of Delaware. I always enjoy operating from the “First State.”

73, Craig WB3GCK

Weekend Sprintathon in the Park(s)

This weekend was the monthly running of the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. I took part in this month’s contest from two state parks, combining both the WES and Parks on the Air (POTA).

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

I went to Marsh Creek State Park on Saturday. It had been about six months since I last activated Marsh Creek. Today, I had two goals in mind. First, since the World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) program requires 44 QSOs to qualify an activation, I needed 19 more contacts from this park. Second, I needed 4 more qualifying SKCC contacts to achieve the Senator x2 level. 

The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my "shack"
The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my “shack”

I started on 40M and picked up 17 QSOs. When things started thinning out, I moved up to 20M, but my 5-watt signal wasn’t being heard by anyone. I checked the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and found that I wasn’t getting a single spot on this band. With no luck on 20M, I went back to 40M. I couldn’t get the SWR below 3:1, and that was highly unusual. Time for some troubleshooting.

Although the temperature today was moderate for Pennsylvania at this time of year, it was cloudy and very windy. My 19-foot vertical had been whipping around with the wind gusts. The wind had moved the antenna around enough to disconnect the ground connection to the body of the truck. After I remedied that issue, I went back and logged a few more on 40M. My last QSO was with F6HKA on 20M.

My session ended with 18 contest contacts and 2 POTA park-to-park contacts. Although I had enough to meet my WWFF goal, I fell short of my SKCC goal. I still needed one more qualifying contact for the Senator x2 level. I picked up that last elusive contact after I got home.

Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414)

This morning (Sunday), I drove down to Ridley Creek State Park to work a few more SKCC stations. The weather was different this time out. The temperature had dropped to 32°F, and there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of it sticking to the roads.

My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.
My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.

I drove to a picnic area on the top of a hill and got the antenna and radio set up. There weren’t as many WES stations as yesterday. As I was operating, the snow started coming down steadily. I had to get out a few times to clear the snow off the exposed connections on my antenna matching box.

I didn’t stay too long today, but I made 14 WES contacts, plus one POTA park-to-park contact. Among those contacts were W7GB in Washington State on 20M and F6EJN in France on 15M.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad weekend. My SKCC WES score won’t set any records, but I always have fun participating in this contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Evansburg State Park

After a particularly challenging week, I desperately needed a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. I made a return trip to nearby Evansburg State Park (K-1351, KFF-1351), and it was worth the trip.

Entrance sign at Evansburg State Park

My location in the park was exactly the same as the last time I was here. I once again used my KX3 (5 watts) and homebrew vertical mounted on the back of my truck. After a few minutes of setting up, I was ready to go.

The 40M band (CW) was really hopping. When I turned on the rig, I came across a POTA activator in Massachusetts and quickly had them in the log. When I started calling “CQ,” the calls came in non-stop for the next 45 minutes. 

I had some excitement at one point. As I was working fellow QRPer, N4DJ in Virginia, I heard a loud bang, and the radio suddenly went quiet. I got out of the truck and noticed that the 20-foot pole holding my vertical wire had collapsed. 

The pole in question is a 20-foot Black Widow pole from B’n’M that has served me well for over 25 years. When it collapsed, the impact broke and bent the little eyelet at the top of the pole. Using the little multi-tool that I always carry, I did a quick “MacGyver” repair. After untangling the antenna wire, I had the antenna back up in less than 10 minutes. By that time, N4DJ was long gone. I emailed him later to let him know he was in my log. 

Back on 40M, the pile-ups resumed. Right before I changed bands, it surprised me to hear a call from KL7E in Alaska. I had a grin on my face as I logged our QSO. I don’t think I have ever worked Alaska from Pennsylvania on 40M, let alone with 5 watts in broad daylight.

The 20M band was also in good shape. I was pleased to work my QRP friend, Fred KA4RUR in St. Louis. He had a weak copy on me, but we got it done. Not long after that, I had back-to-back QSOs with CU3DI and CU3HY in the Azores. I finished with a handful of QSOs on 17M.

After an hour and a half, I had 55 contacts in my log. Sometime this week, I’ll take a closer look at my Black Widow pole to see if I can do a more permanent repair. After 25-plus years of use, I certainly got my money’s worth out of that pole.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Late Start for 2022

Once again, I postponed my traditional New Year’s Day portable outing. It rained most of the day yesterday with some periods of heavy downpours. The weather forecast for today showed improvement, so I headed back down to Delaware for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation.

The entrance sign for the Possum Hill parking area in White Clay Creek State Park, Delaware

I have operated from White Clay Creek State Park (K/KFF-1743) a few times over the years, but not as a POTA entity. I chose the Possum Hill Parking Area, which is towards the eastern end of the park. My parking spot had a scenic view of one of the paved multi-use trails that looped around a pond. The parking lot was mostly empty when I got there, but it was crowded by the time I left.

I ran my usual 5 watts into my homebrew vertical, and the bands were in great shape. The 40M band was really hopping; I worked 44 stations in just under an hour. The 20M band produced another 16 contacts. I ended up with a handful of contacts on 17M. 

The Possum Hill parking area in White Clay Creek State Park, Newark, Delaware
The Possum Hill parking area in White Clay Creek State Park, Newark, Delaware

I ended up with 65 contacts in a little over an hour and a half, including 3 park-to-parks QSOs. The best DX to the east today was CU3AA in the Azores on 20M. The best DX to the west was VA7AQ in British Columbia on 17M. 

It was also nice to log another contact with fellow QRPer, N4DJ, in Virginia. This was the third time I have worked him in the past month. His two-watt station puts out an impressive signal.

Although I missed my usual New Year’s Day outing, this was a pretty good way to start the year, radio-wise. What the heck, I’m usually a day late and a dollar short, anyway. Once again, Delaware has been good to me.

Thanks to everyone who stops by to read this stuff. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. Stay safe, and I’ll see you on the air.

73, Craig WB3GCK