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

Working SKCC at Valley Forge

They were forecasting some rain and snow for the late afternoon today, so I decided to squeeze in a trip to Valley Forge Park before it started. I have already met my WWFF-KFF quota from this park, so I concentrated my efforts on making SKCC contacts.

It was chilly but sunny when I rolled into the Park. I quickly set up my 19-foot Vertical on the back of the truck and fired up the KX3. I spotted my 40M frequency on the SKCC Sked Page and I was soon met with some callers. I had seven contacts in the log before things thinned out. I moved up to 30M and worked two more stations there. The clouds were starting to roll in (and the restrooms were closed for some reason), so I decided to pack up and head home.

My location at Valley Forge. The National Memorial Arch is in the background. I took this right before I left for home.
My location at Valley Forge. The National Memorial Arch is in the background. I took this right before I left for home.

I ended up with 9 SKCC contacts. Four of those are new numbers I need for the Tribune x5 level. As a bonus, I also made 3 two-way QRP SKCC contacts.  It was a brief outing today but I had fun.

As I write this, the snow has started.  Hopefully, I won’t have too much shoveling to do tomorrow.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Mid-Week Outing

I had some free time today so I made a quick trip to a local park for some mid-week QRP-portable operating. My plan for today was to make some Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts.

Upper Schuylkill Valley Park is one of my “go-to” places to operate. Today, my truck was the only vehicle in the parking lot. I set up my 19-foot vertical in the back of the truck, broke out my KX3 and MS2 straight key and got on the air.

All alone in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park
All alone in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park

I started on 40M near the SKCC calling frequency. My first “CQ SKCC” call was met with an immediate response. I like when that happens. I worked four more SKCC members (including special event station, K3Y/1) and had a nice rag chew with a non-member in Georgia before moving to 20M.

My 19-foot vertical has worked like gangbusters for me on 40M but I haven’t spent much time on 20M with it. While on 20M today, I worked SKCC special event stations in Nebraska (K3Y/0), California (K3Y/6) and Oregon (K3Y/7). Not too bad for QRP from eastern Pennsylvania. I guess the vertical gets out reasonably well on 20M.

Upper Schuylkill Valley Park
Upper Schuylkill Valley Park

After an hour and a half or so, I packed up and headed home to warm up (it was only 27° F today).

This was fun. I need to get out during the week more often.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Camp Run-a-MOC 2018

Mohican Outdoor Center is adjacent to the Appalachian Trail and is a popular stopover for hikersThe loosely organized group of QRPers known as the Boschveldt QRP Club made their annual pilgrimage to the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) for a weekend of radios and tall stories. Each year we rent a cabin and use that as a home base for hiking and QRP-portable operating. This year’s participants included Ed WA3WSJ, Ed K3YTR, Ron WA8IYH, John NU3E, Glen NK1N, Walt KB3SBC, Bill KA3RMM and me.

We all arrived Friday afternoon and it wasn’t long before a couple of stations were set up in the cabin. Friday evening’s activities included lots of socializing and a great dinner prepared by Ed K3YTR. KB3SBC set up a small projector and we looked at some pictures from the many WA3WSJ/KB3SBC NPOTA activations. We also saw a preview of WA3WSJ’s upcoming NPOTA presentation at the Four Days in May (FDIM) gathering.

The Boschveldt QRP crew. Seated (L-R): K3YTR, WA8YIH and WA3WSJ. Standing (L-R): KB3SBC, WB3GCK, NK1N, NU3E and KA3RMM. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
The Boschveldt QRP crew. Seated (L-R): K3YTR, WA8YIH and WA3WSJ. Standing (L-R): KB3SBC, WB3GCK, NK1N, NU3E and KA3RMM. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

The Club also had some door prizes, courtesy of Ed WA3WSJ. WA8IYH won a neat little QRPver 20M QRP rig. Other prizes included a QRPver antenna tuner, a set of Palm Mini paddles and a few other goodies. I was surprised when Ed presented me with a uBITX rig for making the most QSOs at past Field Days. (I later traded it to NU3E for the Palm Mini paddles.)

During the evening, we lost power to the cabin, including heat and running water. The Team channeled their inner MacGyver and collected rainwater for flushing toilets, firewood for the fireplace and battery-operated lights. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside, the cabin stayed remarkably warm through the night.

Ron WA8YIH inspecting the QRPver transceiver he won as a door prize.
Ron WA8YIH inspecting the QRPver transceiver he won as a door prize.

On Saturday morning, KB3SBC and KA3RMM made a much-needed coffee and donut run. A few folks stayed behind at the cabin, while the rest of us drove up to High Point State Park. At 1803 feet above sea level, this is the highest point in the state of New Jersey.  Since the rain from the night before was now ice, we opted to forego hiking on this trip.

WB3GCK operating from the cab of the truck.
WB3GCK operating from the cab of the truck.

The road up to the High Point Monument was closed and it was too cold and windy for hiking, so we stayed in the parking lots and operated from our vehicles. WA3WSJ did a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. NK1N set up his portable satellite equipment to work the “birds.” I put my 19-foot vertical on my truck and operated in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. By this time, the temperature was in the teens with a wind chill in the single digits. Needless to say, putting up antennas was a real challenge. Despite the challenges, everyone had a successful day. After a few hours of operating, we packed up and made the hour-long drive back to the cabin.

Glen NK1N ready to work the "birds" at High Point State Park. My truck with my vertical is in the background.
Glen NK1N ready to work the “birds” at High Point State Park. My truck with my vertical is in the background.

On Saturday evening, power was restored to the camp and we all headed into town for a great dinner. The evening concluded with more tall stories and some more radio operating.

Ed WA3WSJ operating from High Point State Park.
Ed WA3WSJ operating from High Point State Park.

On Sunday morning, we had a huge breakfast before packing up and heading out. John NU3E made his famous Belgian waffles, while Ron WA8YIH made some incredible omelets. Needless to say, our little group includes some amazing culinary talent.

After packing up and saying our goodbyes, we closed the book on another fun Camp Run-a-MOC weekend. We’re all looking forward to coming back again next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Susquehanna State Park (Again)

I’ve been a little under the weather and haven’t done much radio stuff lately. A weekend of camping in Susquehanna State Park in Maryland turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. I worked some of the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest and I did a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation (KFF-1601).

During my last visit a couple of months ago, my results were less than stellar. This weekend, the bands seemed to be in better shape. My results this time were much improved.

The WB3GCK "QRP" camper at Susquehanna State Park (KFF-1601)
The WB3GCK “QRP” camper at Susquehanna State Park (KFF-1601)

On the WES front, I worked a lot of the SKCC regulars and added a few new ones to my log. In particular, 80 meters was very active Saturday night and Monday morning.  Tony K6ELQ in California managed to hear my QRP signals on two bands.  One of those bands was 40 meters, so he really must have good ears.  It was also good to work Bert F6HKA again.  Bert also has great ears.

My POTA activation got off to a slow start. I had poor cell phone coverage from the campsite, so self-spotting on Facebook and the DX cluster was difficult. I attempted to post a spot on Facebook but I’m not sure if it actually got through the first time or not. I spent about 30 or 40 minutes calling CQ on 40 and 20 meters with no takers. I knew that Joe N2CX was activating a park up the Susquehanna River from me so I set up on a frequency just below Joe’s usual 40M hangout. My hope was that folks looking for Joe would also stumble across me. It worked! I started getting some calls from POTA regulars who spotted me on the DX clusters.

When I wrapped up for the weekend, my log included France (3 QSOs), Croatia (2 QSOs), Netherlands, Belgium and park-to-park QSOs with N2CX and F4GYG. Coupled with my earlier visit, I amassed enough QSOs to exceed the 44 QSOs needed for a Worldwide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) activation.

After spending a relaxing weekend in the woods playing radio, I’m pleased to report that I’m feeling much better now.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Pine Grove Furnace State Park (KFF-1398)

The XYL and I made the 2+ hour trip to spend the weekend at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, one of our favorite campgrounds. It’s a beautiful park and is the halfway point on the 2000 mile Appalachian Trail. It had been 2 years since our last visit here, so we were definitely overdue.

Located in south-central Pennsylvania, Pine Grove Furnace is one of Pennsylvania’s gems.  The park features the remains of the Pine Grove Iron Works, along with two mountain lakes, hiking trails (in addition to the Appalachian Trail) and a beautifully wooded campground.  If you stop by the camp store, you might see Applachian Trail “thru hikers” celebrate reaching the halfway point by taking the “Half-Gallon Challenge”.  The challenge is to eat a half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting.  Pine Grove is also home to the fascinating Appalachian Trail museum.

Although it wasn’t my primary focus this weekend, I got a little radio time in. The monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest was going on and I wanted to squeeze in a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of KFF-1398.

Our campsite at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.
Our campsite at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

We had almost no cell phone service at our campsite, so I was concerned about not being able to spot myself for the POTA activation. Fortunately, while we were out getting a few supplies, I managed to post my operating plans on the POTA Facebook group.

WB3GCK making some straight key contacts from the trailer.
WB3GCK making some straight key contacts from the trailer.

When I got back to our campsite, I called CQ for about 30 minutes on 40, 30 and 20 meters with no success. Eventually, KG8P found me on 40 meters and gave me a call from Michigan. After he spotted me on the DX reflector things picked up for a bit. I wrapped up my one-hour session falling a few short of the ten contacts needed to qualify my activation. The good news, however, is that the SKCC contacts I made pushed me well over the top.

Pine Grove Furnace State Park is also home to the Appalachian Trail Museum. They have some fascinating exhibits on the history of the trail and some of the early hikers.
Pine Grove Furnace State Park is also home to the Appalachian Trail Museum. They have some fascinating exhibits on the history of the trail and some of the early hikers.

It was a nice weekend with some great Fall weather. We won’t wait so long for our next trip to this great park.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Susquehanna State Park (KFF-1601)

My better half and I headed down to Susquehanna State Park in northeastern Maryland for a relaxing weekend of camping. My plan for the weekend was to make some contacts in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I also wanted to set some time aside for a dedicated Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of KFF-1601.

Our campsite was heavily wooded but in a bit of a low spot. It was a great site for camping but probably not ideal for ham radio. Undeterred, I used my 30-foot wire vertical, fed through a 9:1 unun and did most of my operating outside in a comfy camp chair.

WB3GCK hard at work operating from our campsite in Susquehanna State Park.
WB3GCK hard at work operating from our campsite in Susquehanna State Park.

I made most of my contacts on Saturday morning working WES stations. After that, things slowed down and my little 5-watt signal was struggling to get through. On Saturday afternoon, I spotted myself on the POTA Facebook page and called CQ for nearly an hour on 40 and 20 meters. The net result was a meager 2 contacts. I made a few more WES contacts on 80 and 40 meters on Sunday morning before packing up for the trip home.

When the bands start to fade, it's good to have a backup plan.
When the bands start to fade, it’s good to have a backup plan.

Fortunately, I ended up with more than enough contacts to get credit for the POTA activation. Even when the bands aren’t conducive to QRP, it’s still fun operating outdoors.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Busy Radio Weekend

This was a busy weekend, radio-wise.  First, the Polar Bear QRP Club held their monthly Moonlight Madness Event on Saturday.  Also, the Facebook-based Field Radio group was holding their second International Field Radio Event (IFRE) this weekend.  Finally, the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) was holding their monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.  To take advantage of all of this, I went portable twice over the weekend.

Saturday:
It was a bit chilly here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I operated “stationary-mobile” from a local park.  I used my KX3 with a 29.5-foot vertical on the back of my truck.   When I powered up the radio, I immediately heard fellow Polar Bear, Chuck AF4O, calling CQ from a park in Tennessee.  I gave him a shout and had a nice chat.  His HB-1A sounded great.

My “stationary-mobile” location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
My “stationary-mobile” location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

I tuned around listening for stations operating in the International Field Radio Event. Not hearing any, I called CQ on 20 meters and got a call from HA3NU.  I think he was search and pouncing in a contest but he gave me a contact anyway.  I shifted over to SSB (which I don’t do very often) and worked 4 stations that way on 20 and 40 meters.

Since the SKCC WES was also going on, I put the KX3 in straight key mode and laid my Palm mini paddles on their side and used one paddle as a straight key.  I made two contacts that way, including F6HKA,  (Bert always has good ears.)

I ended my session by working Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation (Fort Necessity National Battlefield in southwestern Pennsylvania).

I wound up with 10 contacts total including 1 Polar Bear, 2 SKCC WES, 1 NPOTA and no IFRE stations.

Sunday
I took a bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail, which connects to the Perkiomen Valley Trail.  I stopped at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to set up the radio.  This is one of my favorite spots for QRP portable.  I put a 29.5-foot wire up in a tree and set up my KX3 on a conveniently located bench.

My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.
My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.

The bands were definitely not as hot as yesterday.  I tuned around the Field Radio calling frequencies but didn’t hear any IFRE activity.  I called “CQ IFR” on both 40 and 20 meters but had no takers.   The SKCC WES contest was still going on, so I made a few SKCC contacts.  One of those was with F6EJN.  It took a few tries to complete the QSO but Bob was able to pull me out of the noise.  While tuning around 40 meters, I had an NPOTA contact with WK2S.  Art was in the Pinelands National Reserve Affiliated Area (AA19) in New Jersey, which is a new one for me.

Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park
Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park

The weather was absolutely beautiful today but, as the sun began to set behind the trees, it started getting cold.  So, I loaded up the bike and headed back down the trail.

This was my second IFRE with no contacts.  Oh well, maybe next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

SKCC WES October 2016

I spent the weekend camping in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania.  The Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) was held this weekend, so I spent some time making straight key contacts.

I was set up in my pop-up camper using my KX3 at 5 watts on battery power.  My antenna was my trusty “Pop-up Vertical.”

Working the SKCC WES contest from the camper
Working the SKCC WES contest from the camper

Prior to the start of the WES contest, I had a nice 2-way QRP chat with John W3FSA up in Maine.  John’s YouKits HB-1B was putting a great signal into Pennsylvania.

Working the contest on and off over the weekend, I logged 39 contacts.  Some of the highlights included:

  • Working F6EJN and DK7OB.  Both were new additions to my SKCC log.
  • An early morning QSO with Tony K6ELQ in California on 40 meters.  I have to admit, the credit needs to go to Tony and his phenomenal station.  It’s not the first time I’ve worked the West Coast on 40 meters during daylight hours but I always like when that happens.
  • Adding enough new contacts to my SKCC log to qualify for the Tribune x3 level.  I was stuck at the Tx2 level for a while, so I was pleased to finally get to the next level.

While tuning around 40 meters on Saturday afternoon, I heard my old QRP buddy, WA3WSJ, making some contacts in the Pennsylvania QSO Party.  I gave Ed a contact and let him know I was camping not far from his home.  A little while later, Ed stopped by the campsite for a visit.  He even came with some food items he acquired during one of his NPOTA trips.  It’s always fun to do some catching up with Ed.

Our pop-up camper on its final camping trip (with us, at least).
Our pop-up camper on its final camping trip (with us, at least).

I had a bittersweet moment this morning as I was taking down the Pop-up Vertical for the last time.  My XYL and I decided to retire the pop-up camper and go with something different next year.  Over the past 19 years, my ham radio setup in the camper has evolved to where I could be up and operating in minutes.  The Pop-up Vertical has always performed well for me.  So, I’ll have to start all over working out a new antenna setup for whatever kind of camper we end up with next year.  That should be fun.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Murphy and MacGyver

My XYL and I traveled out to the Harrisburg, PA, area over the weekend to spend some time with our daughter and her family.  Yesterday, I set up my KX3 and Alexloop in the backyard to make a few SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts.  Ol’ Murphy was certainly with me.

First, I had a problem with my little American Morse MS2 straight key.  Well, not the key itself, but rather a bad connector or cable.  I spent some time playing around with it but I had no multimeter to  troubleshoot it and no parts to repair it.

Tuning around the bands, I couldn’t hear a lot of activity.  The SKCC stations I heard seemed pretty weak and I wasn’t having any luck making contacts.  I checked the Band Conditions website and saw that the bands were in bad shape.  At that point, I threw in the towel and chalked up a win for Murphy.

Tough going on the bands
Tough going on the bands

Today I decided to give it another shot.  The bands sounded better and I could hear some WES activity.  I remembered a trick that Burke N0HYD employed to pull off an SKCC contact with me a while back.  So, I channeled my inner MacGyver and set up the KX3 for a straight key and connected my Palm mini paddles.  I turned the paddles over on their side and used one lever as a straight key.  The straight key workaround worked surprisingly well.  The “feel” wasn’t half-bad, actually.

My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.
My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.

With the improved band conditions and the straight key workaround, I made several SKCC WES contacts, including one with Bert F6HKA.  Bert has great ears and has managed to pull my puny QRP signal out of the noise on several occasions.  I finished my session with a nice two-way QRP QSO with Mac NN4NC down in North Carolina on 40 meters.  I was only on for an hour or so but it was fun.

Despite my lack of a functioning straight key, I managed to put a few new SKCC stations in my log today.  MacGyver would have been proud.

72, Craig WB3GCK