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

Falmouth Boat Launch

On the last day of a week-long trip to Central Pennsylvania to see my new granddaughter, I took a quick side trip to scout out the trailhead for the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. This trail is on the list of trails I want to explore by bike this year. While I was out there I did a little QRP-portable operating (of course).

The Northwest Lancaster County River Trail is a 14-mile trail that ends at the Falmouth Boat Launch near Bainbridge, PA. From my parking spot at the boat launch, I had a wide view of the scenic Susquehanna River. This spot is just a couple miles downstream from the infamous Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station.

My parking spot at the Falmouth Boat Launch on the Susquehanna River.
My parking spot at the Falmouth Boat Launch on the Susquehanna River.

Since it was a dreary, rainy day (but better than the snow we had yesterday), I set up my 19-ft Vertical on the back of the truck and operated my KX3 from the cab of the truck. With Three Mile Island up the river and another power plant directly across the river, I thought it would be a noisy location. As it turned out, it was surprisingly quiet. My only issue today was some heavy, weather-related QRN on 40M.

Falmouth Boat Launch information board
Falmouth Boat Launch information board

I’m only 1 contact away from reaching the SKCC Tribune x 5 award, so I once again focused on making SKCC contacts. Being a Tuesday afternoon, there wasn’t a whole lot of SKCC activity. I still made some interesting SKCC contacts, though. I worked two mobile stations from Ohio on 40 meters, WJ8Y and KD8ZM. KD8ZM was operating while driving. I was impressed! I also worked Hal K7SAX in Oregon. Hal’s signal was so strong, I had to quickly reach for the volume control on the KX3. Hal gave me a 569 and said I had an “amazing signal for QRP.” That was very nice to hear from a West Coast station.

It started raining heavily again, so I quickly took down the antenna and packed up. I ended up with 6 SKCC contacts but, unfortunately, none of them counted towards my Tx5 award. The quest for that final contact goes on.

The northern end of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail
The northern end of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail

I’m looking forward to bringing my bike along on a future visit and exploring the trail along the river. I’m sure there will be some QRP-portable operating from somewhere along the trail.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Antenna Testing in the Park

Today was fun. I had a little time this afternoon, so I headed out to a nearby park to test a new antenna and ended up making a couple of interesting contacts.

I spent a couple of hours in Towpath Park, a nice little park along the Schuylkill River. It’s usually not very crowded, so it’s been one of my favorite places to test new antennas. Today, I was doing some initial testing and tuning on a Tri-Band Vertical from QRPGuys.

My "outdoor shack" overlooking the Schuylkill River
My “outdoor shack” overlooking the Schuylkill River

I set up the antenna and spent some time taking SWR plots on the antenna. The 20 and 30 meter bands were great without any adjustments. The 40M band is resonating too low, so I need to do some tweaking on one of the loading coils. I’ll do a separate post on this antenna when it’s finished.

My antenna today. My $9 telescopic pole from eBay is mounted on a screwdriver shoved in the ground.
My antenna today. My $9 telescopic pole from eBay is mounted on a screwdriver shoved in the ground.

I put the antenna analyzer away and got out my KX3. I made a few “CQ SKCC” calls on 20M and was answered by CT7AFN in Portugal. There was some QSB but we managed to exchange SKCC numbers. A few minutes later, I got a call from another station in Portugal, CT1BQH. Wow! Back-to-back Portuguese SKCC stations. This new antenna definitely has some mojo.

I worked stations in Texas and Florida before wrapping up. I neglected to bring gloves today and the wind chill was taking a toll on my fingers. I packed up my equipment and headed out happy with the contacts I made in a short period of time.

I have a little work to do on this new antenna but so far it looks like a keeper.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Is It Finally Spring?

After enduring the fourth nor’easter this month, I needed a little QRP-portable fix. Unfortunately, my bike is in the shop for repairs and the ground is saturated from melting snow, so I opted for quick trip to a local park and operated from the truck.

Charlestown Park is a beautiful community park just down the road from my home. I hadn’t operated from there in a while, so it was an ideal spot for a quick outing.

As I was setting up, a curious passerby walked up and asked about the 20-foot Black Widow pole I was getting ready install on the truck. I explained that it was a ham radio antenna. He watched to see how I  mounted the pole then resumed his walk.

My location in Charlestown Park.
My location in Charlestown Park.

Once again, I focused my efforts on making SKCC contacts. I started off on 40M and added a few new members to my log. On 30M I had two 2xQRP contacts. One with W9ILF in Indiana and one with KI4KGK in Georgia who was running 1 watt.

As I was operating, a security officer cruised by looking at my antenna. He drove down the road a bit and turned around. He slowed down in front of me, probably getting ready to approach me. I waved to him and he waved back and drove off. I guess he was satisfied that I wasn’t doing anything nefarious.

On 20M, I received a nice signal report from VE4MG in Manitoba. He was very strong into Pennsylvania. I made one more contact on 40M before packing up.

Today was a nice break from the snow we had this week but I’m looking forward to some warmer weather. Hopefully, it’s not too far off.

73, Craig WB3GCK