Stationary-Mobile for the January WES

I took some time this weekend to visit two of my favorite local parks to make some SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts. Given the recent sub-freezing temperatures, I wimped out and operated from the truck.

On Saturday I stopped at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. Things got off to a slow start; I logged just five contacts in the first hour. I really had to work for some of them. Things did pick up a bit over the next half hour, though. Although I ended up with only ten contacts, five were new ones that I need to reach the next Tribune level. I also worked a few K3Y event stations

WB3GCK at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. What the heck... When the QSOs slow down, you might as well take a selfie.
WB3GCK at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. What the heck… When the QSOs slow down, you might as well take a selfie.

On Sunday I drove out to Black Rock Sanctuary. We had a couple of inches of snow overnight but the parking log was clear of snow by the time I arrived. It a bit colder this afternoon, though. My fingers started getting numb in the few minutes it took to set up the vertical on the back of the truck.

The WB3GCK rolling ham shack at Black Rock Sanctuary with the remnants of the snow we got overnight.
The WB3GCK rolling ham shack at Black Rock Sanctuary with the remnants of the snow we got overnight.

The bands seemed better today; I logged 13 contacts in about an hour. One of those counted in my quest for the Tribune x7 level. I was starting to feel the cold in my toes, so I packed up and headed out. The truck’s heater sure felt good on the ride home.

It was good to get out twice this weekend but I really miss the warmer months. I’m definitely looking forward to Spring!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Ringing in the New Year

It’s been my custom to start the new year with some QRP-portable operating. For various reasons, I missed the past two years. One of my New Year’s resolutions (well… my only resolution) was to start this year off right.

I headed out to a nearby county park but that was a bust. The County closed the park for the holiday. So, I turned around and paid another visit to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. This was the same park I operated from on Christmas Eve.

The temperatures today were well above normal for this time of year. The moderate temperatures, however, also brought some antenna-bending wind gusts. My 19-foot vertical swayed in the wind but still performed well.

My somewhat cluttered operating position inside my truck.New Year's Day at Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
My somewhat cluttered operating position inside my truck.New Year’s Day at Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

My focus today was making some SKCC contacts and I wasn’t disappointed. With Straight Key Night (SKN) still in progress, there were a bunch of SKCC members on the air this afternoon. Some seemed to be collecting SKCC numbers, while others were looking for SKN contacts. I was more than happy to accommodate both.

Most of the activity seemed to be on 40M and that’s where I made all my contacts today. I called CQ and received a steady stream of callers. I stayed for about an hour and a half and ended up with a dozen SKCC members in my log. The best “DX” of the day was Arkansas on 40M.  Three of the contacts were new ones in my SKCC log, so 2019 is off to a decent start (for me, at least).

The walking path at Black Rock Sanctuary.
The walking path at Black Rock Sanctuary.

For some reason, my antenna attracted more curious passersby than usual today. I’m always happy to entertain their questions. I’m always ready to give them my “30-second elevator speech” about ham radio and what I’m doing. I’ll expound on this topic in a future post.

So, from my shack to yours, have a very happy new year. I look forward to hearing you on the air in 2019.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Overdue Outing

It had been a while since I’ve done any portable operating. I decided to remedy that with a trip to a nearby park today.

I took a short drive over to Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, one of my favorite spots. It would have been a good day to operate outside, but melting snow from a recent storm had made a mess of things. Instead, I opted to set up my KX3 in the truck with my usual 19.5-foot vertical on the back.

My antenna near the last vestiges of the nor'easter we had this week.
My antenna near the last vestiges of the nor’easter we had this week.

When I turned on the radio, I found the 40M band to be in pretty good shape. I heard K4MHC in North Carolina calling “CQ SKCC” and gave him a call. Keith was also running QRP.  After exchanging SKCC numbers, we had a nice chat. Over the next hour or so, I added a few more SKCC stations to my log and had a couple of nice ragchews in the process.

A view of the Schuylkill River at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park
A view of the Schuylkill River at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park

It wasn’t the most exciting outing but it sure was good to be back out there.

72, Craig WB3GCK

4th of July in Valley Forge

I made a quick return visit to Valley Forge National Historic Park today. Although it’s still pretty hot here in Pennsylvania, the weather was slightly better than the last time I was here.

I parked in a shady corner of a picnic area parking lot. I installed my 19-ft Vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 on a small table under a large tree.

WB3GCK operating from Valley Forge
WB3GCK operating from Valley Forge

I started off calling “CQ SKCC” on 40M and received a call from K2K, a 13 Colonies special event station. The operator, AE1N in New Hampshire, is a fellow SKCC member, so we exchanged our membership numbers.

On 20M, I worked SKCC stations in Florida, North Carolina, and Wyoming. I also worked KX0R who was doing a SOTA activation (W0C/SR053) in Colorado. After that, I packed up and headed home to fire up the grill and crack open a cold “807” or two.

I’d like to wish my fellow U.S. hams a happy and safe 4th of July holiday.

72, Craig WB3GCK

It’s Like a Heatwave

My apologies to Martha and the Vandellas for misappropriating the hook from their iconic hit song. Here in Pennsylvania, yesterday was Day 1 of a heat wave that’s projected to be around for the next 5 or 6 days. With that in mind, I headed out yesterday morning to get some QRP-portable time in before it got too hot.

I made a quick trip over to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park and found a picnic table under a shady tree. I set up my Alexloop, KX3 and a straight key to see if I could conjure up some SKCC contacts.

WB3GCK operating at Valley Forge Park
WB3GCK operating at Valley Forge Park

I called CQ once on 40 meters and a very loud KG4W immediately came back to me from Virginia. I like when that happens! We chatted for a bit and, after we signed, I tried to make a few more contacts. It seemed like 40M dried up after that.

I moved up to 20M and tuned around. I didn’t hear much activity but I called CQ a few times. K4BXR, another Virginia station, gave me another SKCC contact. (Afterward, Ted emailed me a recording of me calling CQ on 20M. Pretty cool!) That was it for 20M, so I headed back to 40M for a last check. No takers there, either.

After an hour or so, the bugs had gotten the best of me. After something tried to take a chunk out of my ankle, I decided to pack up. I also noticed that the tree I was under was dripping sap on me and the KX3.

Boy, Mother Nature must have really had it in for me. At least I came away with a couple of contacts.

This morning, I gave it another try. I drove out to Towpath Park, which is a small community park a few miles away. There’s a nice little pavilion there that is one of my favorite spots. I got out there a little earlier this morning since the forecast high for today was 98°F  (36.6°C) with a heat index of 105°F.

My setup at Towpath Park
My setup at Towpath Park

I used the same setup as yesterday but the bands didn’t seem so hot this morning. I checked into the SKCC Sked Page to let folks know I was on the air. I called CQ for a while with no takers and didn’t hear any other activity around the SKCC 40M calling frequency. I moved up to 20M but the band didn’t seem quite open yet. KB2XX in Virginia contacted me via the sked page asking if I wanted to try a contact. We met on 40M and successfully exchanged our SKCC numbers. Another SKCC member in Missouri wanted to try 30M but, sadly, we couldn’t hear each other. I ended up my brief session with just one contact in the log. Oh well, at least I didn’t get skunked.

So for now, that’s enough of this hot weather for this old guy.  I think I had more bug bites than contacts this weekend.

Stay cool!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Another Busy Radio Weekend

There were several radio-related things going on this weekend. I managed to take part in a few of them.

This weekend, the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest coincided with the International Field Radio Event (IFRE). On Saturday, I headed out to Valley Forge National Historical Park to work both events. I parked in a remote section of the Varnum’s Picnic Area, as far away as possible from the folks having picnics. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 on a little table next to the truck.

My setup in Valley Forge National Historical Park. I last about an hour before I had to seek some shade.
My setup in Valley Forge National Historical Park. I lasted about an hour before I had to seek some shade.

I alternated between making SKCC contacts and checking the IFRE calling frequencies. Most of my contacts were with SKCC stations on 40M. I didn’t hear much activity on 20M but I did make a 2-way QRP SKCC contact with Bobby AK4JA. Bobby was running a crystal-controlled tube rig and had a nice signal into Valley Forge.

After about an hour, the heat was starting to get to me and the static crashes from nearby storms were deafening. I moved my rig into the truck to get out of the direct sun and checked around 7.035 for IFRE stations and heard Dave W3DET calling CQ. I had previously worked Dave in the last IFRE and, as luck would have it, he is also an SKCC member. Two for the price of one.

After two hours or so, the static crashes were giving me a headache, so I packed up and headed home. I needed to get a few things together for a public service event the next day. I ended up with 10 SKCC contacts and the IFRE contact with W3DET.

On Sunday, I wrapped up my weekend supporting the French Creek Iron Tour with my local ARES-RACES group. The Iron Tour is a charity bike event benefiting the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. This year, I provided communications for a rest stop in historic Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, the rain held off until I finished up and there were no major issues to deal with.

The French Creek Iron Tour rest stop in Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania.
The French Creek Iron Tour rest stop in Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, I was once again unable to participate in was the annual Cookie Crumble Contest due to a conflict with the bike event. Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate in this fun QRP contest next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rainy Camping Weekend

My (far) better half and I took our little trailer back to French Creek State Park (PA) for what turned out to be a rainy weekend of camping. Despite the lousy weather, I did have some radio fun and ran into one of my QRP friends.

The QRP camper on a rainy weekend at French Creek State Park
The QRP camper on a rainy weekend at French Creek State Park

Right after we set up the trailer, I was flagged down by one of my Boschveldt QRP buddies, Ron WA8YIH. Ron and his family were also spending the weekend at French Creek. Ron’s campsite was across the road about 30 yards or so away from ours. I hadn’t seen Ron since our Boschveldt QRP gathering back in January, so it was good to catch up with him.

Ron WA8YIH operating outside his camper at French Creek State Park
Ron WA8YIH operating outside his camper at French Creek State Park

I spent most of my radio time operating in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathong (WES) contest. This month, bonus points were available for QSOs made using a homebrew key. So, before we left, I threw together a homebrew straight key using parts from an earlier key project that wound up in my junk box.

My homebrew straight key
My homebrew straight key

The lever arm is a strip of thin fiberglass material I liberated from a trashcan where I worked many years ago. The contacts consist of a small screw on the lever arm and a piece of brass-plated metal from an old cabinet latch. I used some nuts and washers as spacers to get the contact spacing where I wanted it. That took a bit of trial and error. I couldn’t find anything on-hand that I liked for a knob, so I used a piece of self-adhesive foam. Using it on the air, I was pleasantly surprised with the feel of the key.

My 9:1 UNUN all prepared for the oncoming storms
My 9:1 UNUN all prepared for the oncoming storms

Since the weather was so lousy, I spent a bit more time on the radio than normal. Over the course of the weekend, I found the band conditions to be highly variable with some deep fading. At times, my 5-watt signal seemed to be getting out really well. At other times, not so much. I also had to disconnect the antenna when thunderstorms rolled through.  As if that wasn’t enough, our area was under a tornado watch on Saturday night. (Fortunately, they never materialized.)  Needless to say, I have had better weather for camping.

I ended up with 19 WES QSOs and 1 QSO with Ron. Since I could actually see Ron from my campsite, I guess we could have used semaphore for that contact.

72, Craig WB3GCK