Putting the QRP Camper to Bed

It’s been a rough year for camping. With my physical issues, our camper has seen little action this year. Since we need to winterize the camper soon, my (far) better half and I took the camper up to nearby French Creek State Park for the weekend. We planned to use this last trip to clean out the trailer and get it ready for storage. Of course, I got on the radio over the weekend, too.

I set up my 29.5-foot vertical and KX3 after we arrived on Friday, but I didn’t get on the air until later that evening (around 0100Z). I started calling CQ POTA on 80M and soon had some chasers. Since the cell coverage is spotty in this campground, I entered my planned activation on the POTA website. The POTA system automatically spotted me, and seven chasers came calling. 

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania

I jumped on 40M the next morning, while the coffee was perking. In less than an hour, I had ten more in the log. That qualified me for a late-shift activation. Thanks to all the nightowls and early risers for calling. I spent most of the day relaxing and doing some work on the camper.

By late Saturday afternoon, some heavy rain moved in, forcing us to hunker down in the camper for the rest of the day. I got on the radio again and worked some more POTA chasers and picked off a few New York QSO Party stations. I shut down around 7:30 P.M. (2330Z) with 35 QSOs in my log.

Back on the air Sunday morning (0800 local, 1200Z), I intended to make a few casual Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts. I called CQ SKCC a few times and soon had a mini pileup. I had forgotten that the POTA spotting website would automatically spot me. So I quickly switched out my straight key for my paddles and proceeded with an impromptu POTA activation. After eleven quick POTA contacts, things slowed down, and I shut down to pack up. 

I ended the weekend with 46 QSOs, including two park-to-park contacts. Not too shabby for five watts, I guess.

So, that wraps up another camping season, albeit a short one. Now it’s time to finish winterizing the trailer and putting it to bed for the next five months. Hopefully, the QRP Camper will see more action next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Nolde Forest

I activated a new (for me) park this morning. Although Nolde Forest State Park (K/KFF-4362) is only a 45 minute drive for me, I had never been there.

The Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center is located south of Reading, Pennsylvania. It’s a 725 acre park with numerous trails and diverse habitats.

I first pulled into the Sawmill parking area, which is a trailhead for some of the hiking trails. The parking lot was small and crowded, so I drove down the road to the main entrance. There, I found the gate partially closed with a sign that said parking was only for an event. Back to the Sawmill area I went.

Bulletin board in the Sawmill parking area at Nolde Forest Evironment State Park
Bulletin board in the Sawmill parking area at Nolde Forest Evironment State Park

I found a parking spot and got the KX3 and homebrew vertical set up. The area is in a low spot, so I wasn’t expecting much. Not long after I spotted myself, 40M came alive with callers. I made my first ten contacts in about 9 minutes. I stayed on 40M about 30 minutes until the hunters thinned out.

My parking spot in Nolde Forest State Park. The parking lot was crowded, but I managed to get a spot on the end.
My parking spot in Nolde Forest State Park. The parking lot was crowded, but I managed to get a spot on the end.

The 20M band was a different story, though. I only made two contacts up there, but one of them gave me a 559 from Nevada. Not too shabby for 5 watts in a gully, I guess. I tried 30M, but I only found one taker there. I went back to 40M and picked up a few more before wrapping up.

At one point, a young man walked up to my passenger-side window and asked what I was doing. I gave him my elevator speech about Amateur Radio and Parks on the Air (POTA). He gave me two thumbs up and said that was “rad.” I assume I suitably impressed him.

After an hour and fifteen minutes, I had 25 contacts in my log. No park-to-park QSOs this time, though.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see much of the park beyond the parking lot. My doctor hasn’t cleared me for hiking (or biking) just yet. I need to go back again sometime when I can do some exploring. Maybe some operating on top of the hill that was behind me.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at William Penn State Forest

We had some beautiful Fall weather here in southeastern Pennsylvania today. It was a great day for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. This time I drove up to William Penn State Forest’s Hopewell Tract near Elverson, PA.

I have operated here many times over the years. However, this was my first POTA activation from here. The area around the Hopewell Fire Tower has good elevation, and I have always had good luck there.

The Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest, Hopewell Tract (POTA K-5481)
The Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest, Hopewell Tract (POTA K-5481)

The parking lot was empty when I arrived. Except for some occasional hikers passing through, I had the place to myself. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab. I ran my usual 5 watts.

I spotted myself and started calling CQ. It took me about 20 minutes on 40M to make the required ten contacts. I logged 19 contacts on 40M, including three park-to-park QSOs.

I had mixed results on 20M. I got very few Reverse Beacon Network spots, but I worked two Oregon stations and one in Nevada. I had no more takers after that. I moved down to 30M and picked up five more there.

I packed up after an hour and a half. In all, I made 27 contacts in about 13 states and two Canadian provinces.

Before heading out, I walked back to the Fire Tower to get a picture. Years ago, you could climb the tower, but it’s been closed now for some time. I’m not big on heights, so it’s not a big loss for me.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at PA State Game Lands 234

I did another brief Parks on the Air (POTA) activation today. My target this time was PA State Game Lands 234 (K-8931). This one was close by, as a section of it is only 15 minutes from home. It was certainly quieter than my last activation.

The parking area is right across the street from a residential area. Also, there were powerlines directly across from me. There was a steady stream of hunters coming and going, so the parking area was crowded. It’s dove season here in Pennsylvania.

Entrance to PA State Game Lands 234 near Royersford, PA.
Entrance to PA State Game Lands 234 near Royersford, PA.

With all the hunting going on, I didn’t venture into the gated area. Instead, I operated from the parking area. I used my usual setup—my 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and my KX3 (5 watts) inside.

I started off on 40M with a park-to-park (P2P) contact with VE2VIA in Quebec. After spotting myself, things picked up. I soon had my required ten contacts. After 30 minutes, the 40M activity began to slow down. I moved up to 20M and had 4 QSOs, including a P2P contact with KØBWR in Idaho. Despite some powerline noise, the 30M band produced another ten QSOs.

On four occasions, I stopped to answer questions from curious hunters. They were fascinated with my antenna and the fact that I was using Morse Code to communicate. I’m always happy to stop and give ham radio a plug.

I packed up after an hour and fifteen minutes. I ended with 29 QSOs, including the two P2P contacts. Thanks to WD9IGY, who worked me on both 20M and 30M.

This outing was a fitting wrap-up for a long holiday weekend here in the U.S. I hope my fellow U.S. hams had a safe and happy Labor Day.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Different Kind of QRM

I did a brief Parks on the Air (POTA) activation today. My destination was Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (K-8742) in Elverson, PA. While it was successful, I ran into something I hadn’t encountered before: loud gunfire.

Before heading out, I took a look at the area using Google Earth. I found a public shooting range in the Game Lands with a large parking lot. It looked like an easy place to set up. As it turns out, it was not without some challenges.

Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (POTA K-8742) entrance
Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (POTA K-8742) entrance

When I got there, the parking lot was bustling with shooters out for some target practice. I parked away from the shooting range and set up my antenna on the truck. My rig was my trusty KX3 at 5 watts running CW.

The cell coverage wasn’t great, but I managed to spot myself on 40M. Almost immediately, I got a call from WA8ERJ, who gave me a park-to-park contact. I had a bit of a pile-up and logged ten contacts in the first twelve minutes. I logged a park-to-park contact with K8DRT before changing bands.

My setup in the public shooting range parking lot in Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043
My setup in the public shooting range parking lot in Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043

Up on the 20M band, the activity was somewhat sparse, and there was some noise from nearby powerlines. I managed to log two contacts before moving down to 30M. The 30M band was more productive, producing eight more for the log. 

The whole time I was operating, there was quite a bit of audio frequency QRM from the shooting range. My earbuds don’t provide much sound isolation. For the most part, though, the noise was intermittent and manageable. When necessary, I turned the volume up on the rig and rolled up the window.

The last contact was a bit difficult. The signal was weak and hard to hear over the noise from the range. He had to repeat his callsign five or six times before I got the whole thing. My apologies to that operator.

After an hour, I packed up and headed home. I ended up with 22 contacts, including the two park-to-park QSOs. Also, K9IS worked me on both 40M and 30M from Wisconsin. 

According to the POTA website, I was only the second person to activate this entity. It was also the first time I had to deal with loud gunfire during an activation. Of course, I was the one who picked this location. I should have anticipated the noise and brought some over-the-ear headphones.

On the drive out, I found another parking area further down the road from the shooting range. Next time, I’ll give that a shot—no pun intended.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Ridley Creek State Park

I did another impromptu Parks on the Air (POTA) activation this morning. This time I drove down to Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County, Pennsylvania (POTA K-1414). 

Although it’s only about a 30-minute drive from home, this was my first visit to Ridley Creek. Before I left, I did some quick aerial reconnaissance using Google Earth. I picked out a spot near a trailhead that looked promising and happened to have restrooms. 

On arrival, I found a parking spot near some trees away from other visitors and vehicles. I used my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab. As usual, I kept my power to 5 watts and ran CW only. 

My parking spot at Ridely Creek State Park.
My parking spot at Ridely Creek State Park.

I spotted myself on the POTA website and started calling CQ on 40M. Within a minute, I began receiving calls. It took less than ten minutes to make the required ten contacts. After 40M slowed down, I moved to 20M for a while, later finishing up on 30M.

After 90 minutes—the apparent limit of my attention span—, I had 34 contacts, including three park-to-park QSOs. I worked KØBWR out in Kansas on all three bands. Thanks, Steve!  VA2NB (aka VE3WMB), my QRP friend to the north, worked me on 40M and 20M from Quebec. Thanks, Michael!

The equestrian facility located within Ridley Creek State Park
The equestrian facility located within Ridley Creek State Park

With that, I packed up for the drive home. Before I left, I drove around the park to do some exploring. On my way out, I stopped near a horse farm within the park to take a picture.

It was a fun morning at Ridley Creek. I’m sure I’ll be back to activate it again. 

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

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