Socially-Distant Antenna Testing

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been spending a lot of time at home lately. We had some decent weather today, so I went out to do some portable operating while practicing social distancing.

My daughter and son-in-law recently purchased an old farmhouse that they are restoring. The farmhouse is located on a large piece of property with plenty of room for QRP-portable operating. No one was there today, so I had all that acreage to myself. That made the social distancing thing easy. 

I had a portable delta loop antenna that I built a year or two ago but never tested. Today seemed like a good time to try it out. I set the antenna up behind an old barn and operated my KX3 from a camp chair. (I’ll be doing a detailed write-up on this antenna soon.)

My operating position today
My operating position today

I spent some time seeing which bands the KX3 would tune. Once that initial testing was done, I tuned up on 20M and started calling CQ. After the third CQ, I received a call from fellow SKCC member F8FSC in France. We both struggled with fading, but I was thrilled that he heard my meager 5-watt signal.

I bumped my power up to 10 watts to improve my odds. I heard N3PDT calling CQ from Missouri and gave him a call. We exchanged SKCC numbers and chatted for a bit. 

Tuning down the band, I heard F6HKA booming in from France. I sent my callsign once, and he got it the first time. Bert gave me a 549 and said I was peaking at 569. We exchanged SKCC numbers and chatted for about 10 minutes before signing. I’ve worked Bert many times, and it’s always a pleasure.  

It was sunny but somewhat chilly and windy out there today. As I was working Bert, though, it started getting cloudy. I was starting to feel the cold, so I figured it was a good time to pack up and head home.

It felt great to be playing radio outside and not thinking about the pandemic.

Stay safe, everyone.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Brief Snowy Outing

The weatherman was predicting snow, sleet, and who-knows-what for my area today. I figured I get out for my QRP-portable fix before the weather got too bad.

My location was Schuylkill Canal Park in nearby Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. It’s just across the river from Phoenixville, and it’s been a while since I operated from there. 

My parking spot at Schuylkill Canal Park shortly after arrival.
My parking spot at Schuylkill Canal Park shortly after arrival.

By the time I got to the park, there was a coating of snow on the ground, and it was still coming down steadily. Except for a couple of mountain bikers and joggers, I had the park to myself.

After putting the antenna on the back of my truck, I tuned around on 40M and found W8BJO calling CQ from Ohio. Our QSO was interrupted by QRM, and I lost him.

WB3GCK hunkered down in the truck.
WB3GCK hunkered down in the truck.

I went up to 20M and worked K0RO from Mississippi. Ralph was operating as K3Y/5 in the annual SKCC K3Y event. Next, I called F6EJN, who was operating in the K3Y event representing Europe. Bob was very strong into Pennsylvania, and he gave me a 589 report. My last QSO was with fellow SKCC’er, WD5BVQ, in Louisiana. 

Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. The Locktender's House is on the left.
Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. The Locktender’s House is on the left.

The temperature was about 20°F, and I was starting to feel it. I started the truck once or twice for some heat, but that caused some noise in the radio. The accumulation was over an inch, and the road into the park was untreated. I figured I had better head out before things got worse.

It was a short but fun outing, but it was good to get home and warm up.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The Forgotten Antenna

We’re expecting some snow and sleet tomorrow, so I figured I head out for a little QRP-portable operating before the nasty weather moved in. So, I drove to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary for a quick outing.

The temperature today in southeastern Pennsylvania was a mild 42° F. I planned to operate from a picnic table using my AlexLoop clamped to the table. However, in my haste to get on the road, I neglected to put the AlexLoop in my truck. As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh!”

I had some antenna wires, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to mess with trees in a nature preserve. Fortunately, I always keep the necessary equipment for my stationary-mobile set-up in the truck. With my 19-foot vertical mounted on the back, I operated from inside the truck.  

A view of the "cockpit" of the truck
A view of the “cockpit” of the truck

The bands were in great shape this afternoon. It didn’t take long on 40M to put 5 SKCC contacts in the log. I also had a nice rag chew with K8RQX in Michigan before moving up to 20M.

Up on 20M, I had a coast-to-coast SKCC QSO with WD7JS in Washington. Russ was booming into Pennsylvania and gave my 5-watt signal an “honest 539.” I’ll take it! I moved down to check out 30M and had a quick SKCC QSO with K5MP in Florida before packing up.

Despite my absent-mindedness, It was a nice outing. Next time, I’ll have to pay better attention to my checklist.

72, Craig WB3GCK

QRPp in the November WES

Years back, I regularly ran QRPp. It’s been a while, so I had some fun getting re-acquainted with QRPp during this month’s SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).

On Saturday, I headed out to Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my favorite spots for a quick stationary-mobile outing. The temperature was in the 30s, so I operated from my truck. I mounted my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and set up the KX3 in the cab. I turned the power down to 1 watt and got busy looking for WES stations.

My set up at Black Rock Sanctuary during the November WES
My set up at Black Rock Sanctuary during the November WES

The 40M band seemed to be in good shape, but there were RTTY stations all over the place. Despite the RTTY interference, I didn’t seem to have much difficulty making contacts. I didn’t have as much luck on 20M, but I did pick up two stations (Florida and Georgia).

After an hour and a half, I had to pack up to run some errands. I ended up with 8 contacts in the log. That’s better than I expected.

I didn’t have much time for radio this weekend, but I did pick up a couple more contacts from home on Sunday. It was a bit more of a challenge at home with my rainspout antenna. My final tally was 10.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with 1 watt. Thanks the great operators who managed to pull me out of the noise.

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Frances Slocum State Park

My (far) better half and I hitched up the “QRP camper” and headed north to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Our destination for the weekend was Frances Slocum State Park. It was our first visit there and we had a great time. As a bonus, our trip coincided with the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

Frances Slocum State Park, located north of Wilkes-Barre, covers 1,035 acres. The centerpiece of the park is Frances Slocum Lake. The campground is relatively small and very quiet. Ours was one of the larger sites available and was nicely secluded.

Frances Slocum Lake
Frances Slocum Lake

After getting the camper situated, I went about setting up my antenna. I had a bit of trouble driving in my Jackite pole ground mount. The ground was very rocky and it took 5 or 6 tries to find a spot to drive it in. I wound up putting it at the edge of our site near a large stand of pine trees.

My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.
My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.

I got on the air Saturday morning just as the WES contest was starting. In general, it seemed like my 5-watt signal was getting into the southern states with good signal reports but reaching New England was a problem at times. I’m guessing that the mountainous terrain surrounding the park was a factor.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park

After operating on and off on Saturday (and a little bit early Sunday morning), I ended up with 20 WES contacts in 12 SPCs. Not too bad, considering the time I spent on the air. I also worked KX0R out in Colorado. This was the second camping trip in a row where I worked George during one of his SOTA activations.

All in all, it was a very nice weekend. The weather was great and the radio wasn’t too bad.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2019

Once again, my family made our annual vacation trip to North Carolina. We rented a house in Corolla on the Outer Banks for the week. Of course, in between the usual vacation activities, there was some ham radio involved.

For various logistical and traffic reasons, it took us longer than usual to get there. It wasn’t until the next day (Sunday), that I was able to get an antenna up. This year, I went with my trusty “Up & Outer” antenna.

I mounted a 28-foot pole on the 3rd story deck for the vertical element. I strapped a smaller pole to a fence to support the horizontal element. I put a BNC-to-binding post adapter on my KX3 and fed the 300-ohm twin-lead directly. It loaded up fine from 60M through 10M. Surprisingly, the ambient noise levels were low. Man-made noise is usually a challenge in these rental houses.

Poles supporting my "Up & Outer" antenna. The pole on the left is supporting the vertical wire. The pole on the right is the end support for the horizontal wire.
Poles supporting my “Up & Outer” antenna. The pole on the left is supporting the vertical wire. The pole on the right is the end support for the horizontal wire.

I operated from a 2nd-floor deck on the rear of the house. This spot provided some nice shade for most of the day and gave a great view of Currituck Sound.

My outdoor shack for the week. The chair was particularly comfortable and the view of Currituck Sound was great.
My outdoor shack for the week. The chair was particularly comfortable and the view of Currituck Sound was great.

I managed to catch a few hours of the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. Running 10 watts, I worked 20 stations and added 8 more new contacts to my quest for the Senator Award. For good measure, I also worked DP6A in Germany who was participating in another contest. So, the antenna set-up appeared to be working fine.

The view of Currituck Sound from my antenna
The view of Currituck Sound from my antenna.

For the rest of the week, I fell into a pattern of casual QRP operating for a bit in the late mornings. The rest of the time was spent swimming, crabbing, and riding bikes with my grandkids. I still managed to make a handful of contacts each day and enjoyed some nice rag-chews.

Mid-week, we had some unsettled weather. I had a “Plan B” for inclement weather, though. I planned to move my radio gear into an unused sitting area not far from my outdoor location. I was going to use a small piece of pipe insulation to route the twin-lead in through a sliding door and keep it from touching the metal door jamb. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and “Plan B” never came into play.

As usual, the week went by too fast. On our last day, I made two more contacts before it was time to pack up the radio and tear down my antenna.

This was another fun vacation, radio-wise. I made 40 contacts, including some very nice early morning CW chats. I also worked a couple of stations who were also operating portable while on vacation and made a couple of DX contacts to boot. Plus, I continued my slow-but-steady progress towards my SKCC Senator Award, adding 16 new ones this week.

It was nice to be using a decent antenna in a low-noise environment — a welcomed change of pace from my home station!

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Cunningham Falls State Park

My (far) better half and I took our little camper to one of our favorite campgrounds for the weekend. Our destination was Cunningham Falls State Park in north-central Maryland. Our trip coincided with the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES). So, I spent most of my ham radio time operating in the contest.

Our site was wooded and nicely shaded but not large enough for the larger antenna I planned to use. Instead, I strapped my Jackite pole to a lantern post and used my trusty 29.5-foot wire and 9:1 unun.

I got on the air on Saturday at 1200Z when the contest started. The noise from my trailer was very low (for reasons unknown) and I heard some strong signals on 40M. Things got off to a good start but got a bit more challenging as the day went on.

I worked the contest on and off over the weekend with mixed results. I was able to easily make some contacts while others were difficult, if not impossible. Cunningham Falls is located in a very mountainous area. That, coupled with some sketchy band conditions, made it an interesting weekend.

I’ve been working towards my SKCC Senator award but I’ve been in a bit of a slump the past few weeks. I decided to increase my KX3’s power to a whopping 10W to improve my odds. This was the first time I haven’t been in the QRP category for a WES contest.

WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland
WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland

Despite the terrain and propagation issues, my casual operating resulted in 28 contacts in my log. Most were on 40M with a couple on 80M.

Here are the highlights:

  • I managed to add 12 more QSOs toward my Senator award. I only have 65 more to go.
  • On Saturday evening, I heard R7DA calling “CQ WES” from Russia on 40M. I gave him a call and got a “WB3? AGN.” It took quite a few tries before he had my full callsign and we were able to complete the QSO. Alex deserves major props for his patience and persistence in pulling my puny 10W signal out of the noise.
  • On Sunday morning, I got on the radio for a few final contacts before packing up. As I was tuning around looking for WES stations, I found N4ZN doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in New York. I gave him a call and had a park-to-park QSO. After that, I pulled the plug and started packing up for the long drive home.

Despite the occasional frustrations, it was an enjoyable weekend of camping and ham radio.

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

My Quest for SKCC Tribune x 8

I haven’t been posting much lately but I have been on the air a fair amount. I’ve been focusing my operating time on reaching a milestone in the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) award hierarchy.

I’ve been working on reaching the Tribune x 8 (Tx8) level on my way to reaching the Senator level. I needed to work 400 unique SKCC members (in increments of 50) who are Centurians, Tribunes, or Senators.

I began this weekend a mere 4 QSOs away from the Tx8 level. I had family coming for the weekend, so there wasn’t much time for radio. Despite that, I set a personal goal of finishing up the last 4 this weekend.

I got on the air on Friday night for about an hour and was on a roll. I worked 3 qualifying QSOs in a row, leaving me just 1 QSO away from my goal. A piece of cake or so I thought.

On Saturday morning I got on for a bit. I had several stations offer to help me give me that last QSO but we couldn’t complete the contacts. Between unsettled geomagnetic conditions and static from storms down South, I came away empty-handed.

Part of the reason for the noisey band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.
Part of the reason for the noisy band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.

I had about an hour and a half before my family arrived, so I drove out to a nearby park to try some portable operating. With the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) going on, I figured it would be easy to pick up the last QSO. Plus, using a decent antenna sure wouldn’t hurt, either.

Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.
Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.

Using my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck, I got busy trying to bag some WES QSOs. Band conditions had perked up a little. Surely, I would find that last qualifying QSO.

I worked several stations on 40M and one on 20M. Unfortunately, they were familiar callsigns already in my log. I was feeling a bit disappointed as I rushed to make one last contact before I had to pack up and head home.

When I got home, I entered my contacts into the SKCCLogger software. Guess what! That last contact turned out to be a new one, giving me that elusive 400th Tribune QSO! Thanks to Len KD8FKD for being the one that got me there.

It’s been a long, slow climb for me. I started working on the Tribune levels about 3 years ago. (I took a break from SKCC for a while.) I made the vast majority of my SKCC contacts running 5 watts (with a few at 10 watts). I was either out portable or at home using my rainspout antenna. I have enjoyed the challenge, though. I find the SKCC events to be a whole lot of fun and somewhat addicting.

So, what’s next? My application for the Tx8 award is in the queue for processing. Once it’s approved, I’ll start working on the Senator Award, the highest award in the hierarchy. For that, I’ll need to work 200 unique SKCC members who are Tribunes or Senators. I’m hoping to get there sometime this year.

Wish me luck…

73/72, Craig WB3GCK