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

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

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

Rainy Camping is Better Than No Camping

We’ve had a lot of great weather for our camping trips this year. We were bound to have a rainy weekend eventually, and I guess this weekend was it.

We headed back to nearby French Creek State Park (POTA K-1355/WWFF KFF-1355) near Elverson, Pennsylvania. We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and got everything set up, including my 30-foot wire vertical. After dinner, my (far) better half and I enjoyed a campfire while listening to a ballgame on the radio. Before turning in for the night, I gave my KX3 and quick test to make sure everything was working.

I woke up Saturday to the sound of rain hitting the roof of our little trailer. It kept raining most of the day, with some heavy downpours at times. Outdoor activities were out, so we spent much of the day staying dry inside the trailer.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.

To help pass the time, I turned on the KX3 in search of some contacts. I found wall-to-wall RTTY signals across the 40-meter band. I eventually found an open spot on 40M and decided to do an impromptu POTA activation.

The cell service was flakey, but I was eventually able to spot myself. Not long after that, stations started responding to my CQs. I was running 10 watts and seemed to be getting out fine. I operated for about an hour and a half and ended up with around 25 contacts. Among those were seven park-to-park contacts.

The rain let up around dinner time on Saturday, and a heavy fog rolled in. We managed to make dinner outside and got a campfire going. Unfortunately, as soon as I got a decent fire going, it started raining again. We wound up sitting under the trailer’s awning about 25 feet away from the fire. Talk about social distancing! When the heavy rain started up again, we packed it in for the night.

This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.
This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.

The rain stopped at some point during the night, so Sunday morning was damp, dreary, and muddy. I got back on the radio to see if anyone was up as early as me. After spotting myself, I got on 80M. About eight early risers gave me a call. I picked up a couple more on 40M, but the band didn’t seem as strong as the day before. I ended up with 35 contacts in my log for the weekend.

It wasn’t the most pleasant weather this weekend, but I’ll still take a rainy camping trip over not camping at all. Besides, my (far) better half and I needed a little downtime after the busy week we had.

Thanks to everyone who pulled me out of the noise this weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

French Creek State Park in the Camper

Because of the ongoing issues with the pandemic, my (far) better half and I decided that we would be doing our camping close to home this year. Fortunately, French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania, is a beautiful park and only about 35 minutes from home.

We hitched up the trailer Friday afternoon and headed up to the campground. The weather was hot and humid, but it was a few degrees cooler than back home. 

Our campsite at French Creek State Park
Our campsite at French Creek State Park

After dinner, I put up my trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical back near the woods. I fired up my KX3 to make sure everything was working. As I tuned around on 40M, I heard KF9UP doing a POTA activation in Indiana. It took a couple of tries, but I worked him for a park-to-park contact. After that, I joined my (far) better half out at the campfire.

My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun
My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun

On Saturday, my daughter and her family were coming up to visit the campsite. I didn’t have a lot of time for ham radio, but I managed to squeeze in a quick POTA activation. (French Creek State Park is K-1355 for POTA and KFF-1355 for WWFF.)

Band conditions weren’t the best, and our site was in a low spot. Despite all of that, I was able to log 14 contacts in about 45 minutes or so. Four of them were park-to-park contacts. The grandkids arrived after that, and I spent the rest of the day hanging out with them.

I got on the radio for a bit on Sunday morning, while the coffee was perking. I didn’t hear much of anything on 40M, so I called CQ for a while. I was getting some decent spots on the Reverse Beacon Network, but I got no takers. Although we had the campsite until 3 PM, we decided to head home a little early to avoid packing up in the heat. 

After the issues we had on our last camping trip, it was nice to have a rain-free and problem-free weekend with the camper. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Boschveldt Summer Camp 2020

A few of the Boschveldt QRP Club members descended upon Pine Grove Furnace State Park over the weekend for some camping, hiking, and radio. Although the weather was hot, we had a rain-free weekend and a good time hanging out with old friends.

Located in Cumberland County in south-central Pennsylvania, Pine Grove Furnace is a beautiful park with a wooded campground. For this trip, there were four of us occupying two campsites: Ed WA3WSJ, Glen NK1N, John NU3E, and me, WB3GCK. 

(L-R) WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, and NU3E at Pine Grove Furnace State Park
(L-R) WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, and NU3E at Pine Grove Furnace State Park

On Saturday, Ed, Glen, and John set out to hike the Pole Steeple Trail, a short but steep trail leading to a scenic overlook. NK1N was planning to operate in the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest as a Hilltopper station, and the others went for the view. Ron WA8YIH and his family also came out for the day to join them for the hike. 

I decided not to challenge my knees with the steep climb and opted to stay back at the campsite for a POTA activation. (Pine Grove Furnace is K-1398 for POTA and KFF-1398 for WWFF.) I set up my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and fired up my KX3 at 5 watts. 

WB3GCK set-up for a POTA/WWFF activation at Pine Grove Furnance State Park.
WB3GCK set-up for a POTA/WWFF activation at Pine Grove Furnance State Park.

Despite my low power, I managed to put 27 CW contacts in the log, including one park-to-park contact. At one point, I took a break from my activation to work NK1N on 6M SSB and 2M FM, along with NU3E on 2M FM. I was happy with the 30 contacts, given that this was a short, impromptu activation. Due to the lousy cell phone coverage in the campground, I was unable to spot myself. So, I’m grateful to the kind folks who stumbled upon my QRP signal and spotted me. 

NK1N operating in the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest from the Pole Steeple Trail. (Photo by NU3E)
NK1N operating in the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest from the Pole Steeple Trail. (Photo by NU3E)

Following the hike, the other guys stopped for well-deserved ice cream before returning to the campsite. Their tales of hiking the steep trail in the high heat confirmed that I was right in opting out. With my knee issues, that hike would have been risky for me. 

After breakfast on Sunday, we started packing up before the temperatures heated up again. On my two-hour drive home, I was able to talk to WA3WSJ and NU3E at various times on 2M, and that helped to make the drive seem shorter.

It was great hanging out with the Boschveldt crew again, but it’s also great to be back in air conditioning again.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA and WWFF at Colonel Denning State Park

Our camping season is rapidly drawing to a close. My (far) better half and I took our little camper out to Colonel Denning State Park (POTA K-1343, WWFF KFF-1343) for our next-to-the-last trip of the year.

Located in central Pennsylvania, Colonel Denning was a new park for us. Our campsite for the weekend small but more than adequate. This section of the campground was along a creek and in a valley. There were steep hills directly behind our site. Given the terrain, I didn’t have high hopes for my radio waves getting out.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.

We arrived on Friday afternoon. After getting the camper situated, I set up my antenna and gave the radio a quick test. Tuning around, I could hear some strong signals. That gave me some hope.

I didn’t get on the air until Saturday morning. It was only 35F overnight, so I hunkered down in the camper to operate. I made a few contacts, so I appeared to be getting out OK. On 40M, I worked WB9WIU in Indiana, some New York QSO Party stations, and had a 2-way QRP QSO with WA1LFD in New Hampshire.

Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park.
Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park near our campsite.

Later in the day, I spotted myself on the POTA and WWFF websites and spent an hour or so working park chasers. I worked a lot of regulars including W6LEN in California. I had park-to-park QSOs on two bands (20M and 17M) with N4CD in Texas. At one point, I received a call from EA2IF in Spain, who mistakenly thought I was a SOTA activator. In any event, I was happy to add him to my log. I ended my brief POTA/WWFF session with 23 stations in the log.

We awoke Sunday morning to a steady rain. According to the local forecast, the day was going to be a washout—they were right. I made one final contact with K9FW on 80M before tearing down and packing up for the trip home.

The bands were in good shape over the weekend. Despite the terrain, my QRP signals seemed to have found their way out of the valley. Colonel Denning is on our list for a return visit next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Father’s Day Camping in Maryland

I spent Father’s Day camping in Maryland. My (far) better half and I took our little camper down to Susquehanna State Park (POTA/WWFF K/KFF-1601). It was a beautiful weekend and our first time camping this year without rain.

Susquehanna State Park is relatively small but it’s one of my favorites. Our campsite this time was large, heavily-wooded, and secluded. It was just what we needed after a busy weekend — a peaceful place to relax.

When I wasn’t just goofing off, I was on the radio. My original plan was to put up an inverted L but there were just too many trees (and I was too lazy). So I stayed with my usual 29.5-foot vertical and 9:1 unun.

A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.
A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.

Instead of doing a formal POTA/WWFF activation, I focused on making SKCC contacts towards my “Senator” award. The bands were up and down but at times they were pretty good. Since we were “dry camping” without hookups, I didn’t have to contend with a bunch of noise from the trailer.

Breakfast time at the "QRP Camper" in Susquehanna State Park (MD).
Breakfast time at the “QRP Camper” in Susquehanna State Park (MD).

One of my first contacts on Friday was Florida on 40M. So, that was a good sign. On Saturday morning, there was some good SKCC activity on 30M. I worked several mid-West stations, including AK9A in Wisconsin. Bob was running 1 watt and putting out a great signal. Later in the day, I caught a good opening on 20M, netting me 579 reports from Louisiana and Manitoba, Canda. At the end of the weekend, my casual operating netted me 19 contacts. Six of them counted towards my SKCC “S Quest.”

Other than that, we caught up on much-needed sleep and ate lots of good food. Now, it’s back to the real world.

Life is good...
Life is good…

I’ll be busy this weekend getting stuff together for Field Day next weekend. I’ll be operating with the Boschveldt QRP Club (W3BQC). Give us a shout if you hear us!

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES Portable in Valley Forge

This weekend is the SKCC‘s monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. When I can, I like to go out and operate portable for at least part of the contest. I headed to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a couple of hours to take advantage of the great weather.

On arrival, I headed for a shady spot that I’ve used a few times before. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up a small table behind my truck. I fired up my KX3 and got on the air.

My set up in Valley Forge
My set up in Valley Forge

In short order, I logged several stations on 40M, including a POTA park-to-park QSO. (Valley Forge is POTA/WWFF K/KFF-0761.) Moving up to 20M, I made a few more contacts.

I decided to check 15M and I’m glad I did. I found several very strong stations who easily heard my meager 5-watt signal. I called CQ for a while and picked up a few more stations. I seemed to have a pipeline to Indiana and Illinois. It was great to hear some WES activity on 15M.

After a couple of hours, I started to run out of shade. I was getting hot and so was the KX3. I decided to pack up for the day. Besides, I had to do some preparations for a public service event early the next morning.

It was a great day for portable operating and I added a few more QSOs towards my SKCC Senator award.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The Passing of a QRP Legend

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I was sad to learn of Joe Everhart’s passing. If you are at all involved with QRP or Parks on the Air, Joe’s callsign, N2CX, should be very familiar to you.

I first met Joe back in the early 90s, while we were both employed by the same company. With our common interest in QRP, we continued to cross paths through the years.

Joe was a talented engineer and freely shared his extensive technical knowledge with his fellow hams. Joe’s articles appeared in a variety ham radio publications. I particularly enjoyed his ongoing series of “Technical Quickies” in each issue of QRP Quarterly. The next issue of QRP Quarterly will contain his 109th and final “Quickie.” Joe was a tireless tinkerer and we all benefited from his experiments.

Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an "eyeball QSO" with Joe in April 2016.
Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an “eyeball QSO” with Joe in April 2016.

As an activator in Parks on the Air (POTA) and World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF), Joe was a machine. He traveled all over, activating countless parks at a dizzying pace. As of this writing, Joe was number 3 on the POTA list of Top Activators of All Time. I always enjoyed reading the recaps of Joe’s activations on Facebook or the QRP-L mailing list. He was a natural story teller with a great sense of humor.

So, thank you, Joe, for the advice and guidance you provided to me and others over the years. Looking back at our many QSOs in my log, it’s sad to think there won’t be any more. It was an honor to know you and you will be missed.

Rest in peace, my friend.

72, Craig WB3GCK