Bracket for the GRA-7350TC Antenna

Regular readers of this blog know that my homebrew 19-ft vertical is my go-to antenna for “stationary-mobile” operations. I use a low-tech mounting system in the bed of my truck involving a plastic milk crate, a cargo bar, and some bungees. When we go on our annual vacation to North Carolina, unfortunately, I have to remove the crate to free up storage space. I plan to activate a park or two while on vacation this year, so I wanted to come up with an alternate antenna arrangement.

I bought the GRA-7350TC antenna with this specific scenario in mind. Previously, I tested this antenna with a magnetic mount that I had stashed away in the basement. Although a couple of successful POTA activations proved its viability, I wanted something better than my little mag mount. 

Browsing around on Amazon, I found a stainless steel bracket with an SO-239 to ⅜-24 mount. I was reluctant to drill holes in my truck, but I thought a couple of small holes in the truck’s bed wouldn’t be too bad. So, I placed an order.

The Sirio stainless steel antenna mounting bracket I found on Amazon
The Sirio M1 stainless steel antenna mounting bracket I found on Amazon

The bracket arrived the next day. It’s really heavy-duty and possibly overkill for my application. My local hardware store had an excellent selection of stainless steel hardware. I bought some #12 x 1-inch sheet metal screws and some star washers. 

The next step was figuring out exactly where to mount it. I had to make sure that I could still close the truck bed cover without hitting it. By dumb luck, I chose a spot where I could use one of the screws that fastens the truck’s bed liner. This placed the mount close to where I wanted it. Then, it was a quick task to drill pilot holes for the three additional screws. Mechanically, it felt solid, and an ohmmeter check confirmed continuity to the truck’s body. 

The bracket installed in the bed of my truck with the antenna installed. The black screw is an existing screw I took advantage of.
The bracket installed in the bed of my truck with the antenna installed. The black screw is an existing screw I took advantage of.

I gave the new mount a trial run at Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414, KFF-1414). It took me about a minute to get the antenna set up on the mount, and it was a perfect fit. I ran an 18-foot length of RG-8x coax (much longer than I really needed) to the Penntek TR-35 inside my truck.

Using an antenna analyzer, I first tuned it up on the 40M band. I couldn’t get the SWR down below 2:1. This also happened when using the antenna on a magnetic mount, too. I’m guessing a different length of coax or a counterpoise wire might help. In any event, I tuned the antenna to resonance and used a tuner to keep the rig happy. The first QSO was a station in Georgia who gave me a decent signal report. 

The Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna in use
The Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna in use

The SWR on 30M was a bit lower but still above 2:1. Again, I had no problems making contacts with the antenna. On 20M and 17M, the SWR was down to about 1.2:1 or thereabouts. 

Despite the time spent fiddling with the antenna, I logged 13 contacts, with three park-to-park QSOs. I also worked W1HNJ on 40M and 30M. As part of Museum Ship Weekend, they were operating the radio console from the hospital ship, SS Hope. The radio console is now part of the Chatham Marconi-RCA Wireless Museum on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

I still have some tinkering to do, but I think the mounting bracket will work just fine. I won’t be retiring my homebrew vertical anytime soon, but the GRA-7350TC gives me another option when the need arises. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Holiday Weekend Activities

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer here in the States. Although I had some family activities planned over the three-day weekend, I squeezed in some QRP-portable operations. 

POTA at Marsh Creek State Park

On Friday, I drove over to Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380, KFF-1380) for an activation. I figured it wouldn’t be too crowded on a Friday, but I was wrong. 

I wanted to operate from one of the picnic tables overlooking the lake. When I got there, folks getting a jump on their holiday picnics had already claimed them, so I ended up operating from the truck. I gave my newly acquired Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna another try, using the old magnetic mount I used last week. Like last week, I used my TR-35 transceiver at 5 watts.

My location at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380, KFF-1380). The GRA-7350TC is mounted on the roof of my truck with a magnetic mount.
My location at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380, KFF-1380). The GRA-7350TC is mounted on the roof of my truck with a magnetic mount.

Band conditions were less than stellar on the lower bands, but a mini pile-up promptly greeted me on 40M. After logging a few quick contacts, things slowed down considerably. I spent most of my time on 30M, where band conditions seemed a little better. I also did some hunting on 20M before packing up. I finished up with 20 QSOs in the log, including five park-to-park contacts.

I don’t think the GRA-7350TC performs as well as my homebrew vertical, but it sure is easy to set up. Although I can set up my homebrew vertical in under three minutes, the Gabil antenna goes up even faster. 

By the time I left, the parking lot was nearly full. I guess people were eager to get their long weekend started. 

Bike-Portable in the Park

On Saturday, I went for a short bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail. This was my first time on the bike since my latest round of knee issues sidelined me back in March. Before heading out, I threw in my TR-35, Elecraft AX1, and bike mount

I started off from a trailhead parking lot close to Towpath Park—I didn’t want to overdo it with my knee. A mile and a half later, I was in the park setting up the radio. I set up the radio on a park bench near the remnants of the Schuylkill Canal and mounted my AX1 on the bike’s handlebars.

My park bench setup in Towpath Park
My park bench setup in Towpath Park

I planned to do some POTA hunting on 20M, but I found the band was wall-to-wall with contesters. I worked one contester in Wisconsin on 20M, but I had no success beyond that. My 5 watts and 40-inch whip was no match for the high-power contest stations in pile-ups. I checked 17M, but I didn’t hear much of anything there.

My view of the old Schuylkill Canal in Towpath Park
My view of the old Schuylkill Canal in Towpath Park

With one meager QSO in my log, I packed up and continued on my ride. It sure felt great to be back on the bike again. While I didn’t do so hot on the radio, my knee held up great on my short three-mile ride. I’m looking forward to longer rides.  

Valley Forge POTA Activation

On Monday, I headed out early to get in a quick POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761). I rolled into one of the picnic areas and found a nice shady parking spot.

My shady parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)
My shady parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)

As I was setting up, a gentleman walked up to ask about my antenna on the back of my truck. I gave him a quick explanation of ham radio and Parks on the Air. Normally, passersby would just thank me and move on. This fellow, however, tried to engage me in one of the most bizarre conversations I’ve ever heard. After a few minutes, I politely disengaged myself from his rambling and got on with my activation.

Today, I used my TR-35 and my 19-foot homebrew vertical. It took about 10 minutes to log my first 10 contacts on 40M. In a little more than an hour, I logged 23 contacts on 40M, 30M, and 20M. There were lots of activators out and about this morning; I made seven park-to-park contacts I know of. 

All in all, I had a good weekend, and the weather was spectacular. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend as well and took some time to remember those who gave their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA with a New Antenna

I looked at my log the other day and saw that I had only made a measly two HF contacts this month. Between the grandkids’ school functions, soccer games, horseback riding competitions, and my knee issues; I haven’t had much time for my QRP-portable activities. I set out to change that this morning with a drive to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761).

A few weeks ago, while nursing my injured knee, I made an impulse purchase. After watching some YouTube videos, I went on Amazon and bought a Gabil GRA-7350TC antenna. The last thing I needed was another antenna—I blame YouTube and Amazon. Actually, it wasn’t a totally frivolous purchase; I have plans to use it during a trip later this summer.

I also bought the matching GRA-ULT01 MK3 tripod for the antenna, which I planned to try out today. I put together some radials to use with the tripod setup. 

As I headed out the door this morning, I grabbed an old magnetic mount base I had from an 2M/440 antenna. Since I bought the GRA-7350TC with the ⅜-24 stud mount, the antenna was a perfect fit for the mag mount. I figured I’d give that a try, while I was trying out the antenna.

It was raining when I got to the park this morning, so I kept things simple and tried out the mag mount. In doing so, I learned something about my six-year-old truck: The hood isn’t made of steel. The rest of the truck is, but not the hood. Who knew? (Probably every Chevy Silverado owner but me, I guess.) I ended up putting the antenna on the roof where I could easily reach it. Inside the truck, I used my Penntek TR-35 (5 watts).

The Gabil GRA-7350TC on a magnetic mount from an old 2M/440 antenna.
The Gabil GRA-7350TC on a magnetic mount from an old 2M/440 antenna.

The sliding coil adjustment made tuning up a snap. Using my old MFJ-226 antenna analyzer, it only took a minute or two to get the antenna tuned up on 40M. I’m not a big fan of having to take an antenna analyzer out in the field, but this was relatively painless. Band changes only took about a minute. Most of that time was setting up the antenna analyzer for the band of interest. 

I used the new antenna on 40M, 30M, and 20M with decent results. In the end, I had 16 contacts, including five park-to-park QSOs. I’m sure my little magnetic mount wasn’t providing the best ground in the world, but at least I know it’s usable in a pinch.

Hopefully, June will provide more opportunities to get out portable. Since my old knee has been feeling a little better recently, I’m hoping to get back on the bike again at some point. I already have some ideas for a bike mount for the GRA-7350TC. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rare Weekday Activations

Because of family obligations, my QRP-portable operations are usually limited to weekends. A change in plans this week freed up Tuesday through Friday mornings for some POTA activations. I needed to stop by my daughter’s house each day, and she lives about 10 minutes away from several POTA/WWFF entities.

French Creek State Park

I haven’t been up to French Creek State Park (K-1355, KFF-1355) in a while, so I thought it would be a good place to kick off the week. I operated near the Hopewell Lake boat launch, which is a busy place on weekends. On a Tuesday morning, however, there were very few people there.

The WB3GCK "QRP-mobile" near Hopewell Lake at French Creek State Park
The WB3GCK “QRP-mobile” near Hopewell Lake at French Creek State Park

Using my usual TR-35 (5 watts) and homebrew vertical, I logged 25 contacts. All but two were on 40M; I didn’t have much luck on 20M this time out. I also ended up with four park-to-park contacts.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

On Wednesday, I made a return trip to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (K-0834, KFF-0834). I last activated this site back in October of last year. I parked my truck in a parking lot on the top of a hill. This would have been a great day for operating from a picnic table, but there were no tables to be found.

Parked among the blossoms at Hopewell Furnance National Historic Site (K-0834, KFF-0834)
Parked among the blossoms at Hopewell Furnance National Historic Site (K-0834, KFF-0834)

Using the same setup as yesterday, I worked 36 stations. On 20M, I worked Germany, Finland, and France in rapid succession. There was also an Italian station calling, but other stations kept stepping on him. Unfortunately, I could only pick out part of the callsign. I also had one park-to-park contact (that I know of).

William Penn State Forest and Back to French Creek

William Penn State Forest (K-5481, KFF-4914) is another entity overdue for a re-visit. My destination today was the Hopewell Fire Tower, which is next to French Creek State Park. Although I’ve operated there many times over the years, this would only be my second POTA/WWFF activation. 

I’ve always had good luck operating from Hopewell Fire Tower. As you would expect, this area has good elevation. Unlike some of the other adjacent POTA/WWFF entities, this location has great cell coverage.

Heading up the hil towards the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest
Heading up the hil towards the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest

To keep things simple, I went with my Elecraft AX1 antenna and window mount. Since I used my TR-35, I was limited to 20M and 17M with the AX1. 

Using my window mount and AX1 antenna near the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest
Using my window mount and AX1 antenna near the Hopewell Fire Tower in William Penn State Forest

The band conditions weren’t great, so I thought the 10th POTA contact would never come. I had never been “skunked” before with the AX1, so I pressed on. After what seemed like an eternity, I finished up with 15 contacts, with three park-to-park contacts.

Since I had to pass through French Creek State Park to get to my daughter’s house, I stopped for a quick activation—or so I thought. This time I went with my 19-ft vertical. I thought, with the larger antenna, I could knock off ten contacts in no time flat. Ha!

Normally, 40M is my bread and butter band with the homebrew vertical. Not this time. I only made one contact on 40M (W6WU running QRP in Maryland), with the rest on 30M and 20M. It took so long to make my tenth contact, I really thought I was going to have a busted activation. Eventually, I logged number ten and called it a day. 

I had two park-to-park contacts from French Creek and a nice contact with fellow Polar Bear VE3WMB. Michael was out portable in Ontario using an Alexloop and his brand new Xiegu 6100. His new rig sounded great in Pennsylvania. 

Evansburg State Park

On Friday, I wrapped up my series of weekday activations with a visit to Evansburg State Park (K-1351, KFF-1351). The weather forecast was calling for heavy rain and gusting winds later in the day, so I hoped I could squeeze an activation in before it started. Ha!

When I got to the park, the skies were overcast, but there was no rain. I set up the 19-ft vertical and the TR-35. As soon as I got on the air it started drizzling. I got to work, hoping to beat the heavy rain. Ha!

It was another slow day for me on the air. I only made one contact each on 40M and 30M. Both were with WB8DTT in Michigan. There was more activity up on 20M, although several minutes passed between contacts. 

The rain started coming down heavier, so I used a plastic shopping bag to protect the antenna from the rain. About 20 minutes later, I went out in the rain to tear down the antenna. I finished up with 15 contacts in the log, including a contact with a SOTA activator in Arkansas. I had one park-to-park contact today, but that station was operating from two parks.

My homebrew vertical wearing its raincoat at Evansburg State Park
My homebrew vertical wearing its raincoat at Evansburg State Park

So that wraps up my string of weekday activations. It’s not often that I get to go out during the week, so I enjoyed avoiding the weekend crowds in some parks. Although there seems to be a lot more hunters on the weekends.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Ridley Creek Redux

I try to get out for some QRP-portable operation at least once each week. To get my fix this week, I made a trip down to Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414/KFF-1414).

It’s been about seven months since my last visit. Back then, I was recovering from knee surgery, and I got to hang out with someone’s pet pig. 

This time out, I used my little TR-35 and my trusty 19-foot vertical. The bands seemed a little weak today. Nevertheless, I logged 45 contacts over the course of my 90-minute activation. I had one park-to-park contact, but no DX today. 

WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414/KFF-1414)
WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414/KFF-1414)

Before I got started, I broke out my antenna analyzer to take a few measurements on the vertical. When I built the antenna over five years ago, I did the initial tweaking with it mounted close to ground with four ground radials. I knew that the resonant frequencies shifted significantly, when using the body of the truck for ground. Because of this, I have always used a tuner to keep my rig happy. I’m thinking about possibly building another one and optimizing it for use on the truck. Of course, after making tons of QSOs over the past five years with the current antenna, I guess there’s no real hurry. 

I hope you all have a very happy and healthy holiday season. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Three-in-One Outing

I combined three activities into one outing today. The Polar Bear QRP Club was doing a Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME), and the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) started today. I planned to make some contacts in both, while doing a POTA activation.

The Polar Bear group traditionally schedules outings on the Saturday nearest a full moon. Rather than hold a separate on-air event, the Polar Bear ops are encouraged to conduct their usual portable operations (e.g. POTA, SOTA, picnic table portable somewhere, etc.) and give the other Polar Bears a heads-up so they can keep an ear out for them. The SKCC WES is held every month, and it just happened to coincide with the PBMME.

For today’s event, I chose to do a POTA activation at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380). I used my Penntek TR-35 (CW @ 5W) and my 19-foot vertical. I operated from the West Launch parking area with a beautiful view of the lake. My plan was to call “CQ POTA” on each band for a while. Before changing bands, I planned to “search and pounce” looking for Polar Bears and SKCC stations. 

Western boat launch area in Marsh Creek State Park (PA)
West Launch area in Marsh Creek State Park (PA)

After about two hours, I had 37 contacts in my log. I spent most of my time making POTA contacts, so I only made three SKCC QSOs. I found two Polar Bears on the air, however. NJ7V was doing a combined POTA and SOTA activation out in Arizona. I saw Charlie’s spot come up on the POTA website, so I called him on 20M. We had a “tuner-upper” on the frequency, but we got our park-to-park QSO done. I also had a park-to-park QSO with AE5X, another Polar Bear member. John was activating a park down in Florida. Altogether, I had ten park-to-park QSOs today. 

I have to say this was a fun way to spend a chilly December morning.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Duct Tape to the Rescue

I made a run down to the White Clay Creek Preserve (K-6433) for a POTA activation this morning. It’s been about a year since my last visit to this park. While I had a successful activation, it was not without some equipment issues.

After an hour-long drive, I rolled into a parking area near the park office. As I began setting up my homebrew vertical, the eyelet at the top of my Black Widow pole snapped off. This pole has seen heavy use over the past 25 years, so something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. 

So, I rummaged around in the truck for something that would temporarily attach my antenna wire to the top of the pole. Searching through a plastic milk crate that I keep in the truck bed, I found something that would do the trick—a roll of duct tape. Unfortunately, this roll of tape has been in the truck bed for years through freezing cold and scorching heat. As a result, this sad-looking roll of tape was stuck fast to the bottom of the crate. With the help of a large screwdriver, I pried it loose. Eager to get on the air, I tore off a piece of tape and secured the antenna wire to the top of the pole.

My broken antenna pole and the duct tape attaching the antenna wire
My broken antenna pole and the duct tape attaching the antenna wire

With my antenna finally installed, I got started with my trusty TR-35 (5 watts). The bands didn’t seem very strong this morning, but the hunters still heard me. After a little more than an hour, I had 38 contacts, including five park-to-park QSOs. Up on 17M, I also heard from stations in Italy and Puerto Rico.

WB3GCK at White Clay Creek Preserve (PA)
WB3GCK at White Clay Creek Preserve (PA)

As I was taking the antenna down, things got interesting again. Remember that sad-looking duct tape? Well, it didn’t want to come off the antenna pole without a fight. With considerable frustration and a few choice words, I got the tape off of the pole. Unfortunately, my antenna wire (#26 stealth wire) incurred some damage in the process. 

I guess I have a few repairs to add to my to-do list.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Big Elk Creek State Park

For most of this year, I’ve fallen into the habit of activating the same familiar parks. Today, I wanted to go out to a park I haven’t been to before. After looking at the map on the POTA website, I chose Big Elk Creek State Park (K-9721/KFF-6093) as today’s destination. 

Big Elk Creek received its state park designation back in September, making it one of Pennsylvania’s newest state parks. I did a little Google Earth reconnaissance to get a feel for the area. There are no amenities to speak of, but it has some trails and two trailhead parking lots. I entered both trailheads into my navigation app before heading out.

Big Elk Creek near the Springlawn Trail
Big Elk Creek near the Springlawn Trail

After driving about an hour, I stopped first at the Springlawn trailhead. Being a low-lying area, it didn’t look promising for radio. A sign showed that the trail was closed temporarily because of hunting in the area. I moved on to the second parking area shown on the park map. 

I pulled into the Fair Hill Trailhead. This spot was wide open, had good elevation, and I was the only one there. I set up my usual Penntek TR-35 (5 watts) and my homebrew vertical

Fair Hill Trailhead in Big Elk Creek State Park
Fair Hill Trailhead in Big Elk Creek State Park

I started on the 40 meters CW. Right after I spotted my location and frequency, I was greeted by a large pile-up that took a little while to work through. Being a new park, Big Elk Creek has only been activated a handful of times. I’m guessing that’s what attracted all the hunters.

During my activation, I also spent time on 30, 20, and 17 meters. After about an hour and 15 minutes, I had 42 stations in my log. I had three park-to-park QSOs, and I also worked England, Italy, and Portugal. 

Right as I was reaching for the power switch to turn off the radio, I heard PG4I calling “CQ SKCC” on 17M. I quickly grabbed my straight key and called him. We exchanged our SKCC info, and Jo gave me a 559 from the Netherlands. That brought my total to 43 with four DX contacts today. 

A car pulled into the parking lot as I was taking down my antenna. The driver walked over to inquire about my antenna. I gave him a brief explanation of the Parks on the Air program, and we had a nice chat about the park. He told me about the trail that heads south for about a mile to the Maryland state line. The Fair Hill State Natural Area (K-6387) is just across the state line.

I’m planning to come back at some point to do a little hiking and activate both Big Elk Creek and Fair Hill.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Black Friday POTA

Traditionally, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. is the start of the Christmas shopping season. People flock to the stores looking for bargains. This time of year is typically when stores start turning a profit (operating in the black), hence the name “Black Friday.” Wanting to avoid all of that craziness, I went a different way and headed out to a nearby park for a POTA activation.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been on the air much this month. I was overdue for some QRP-portable operating, so I headed to nearby Evansburg State Park (K-1351, KFF-1351). It was rainy here in southeastern Pennsylvania this morning. When I arrived at the park, I was the only one there for a while. 

WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351) on a damp and dreary morning
WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351) on a damp and dreary morning

I set up my TR-35 (5 watts) inside the truck and installed my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back. The hunters quickly showed up after I spotted myself. I had my required ten contacts in about ten minutes. After I had logged 16 contacts on 40M, a station came on frequency and started CQing. I figured that was a good time to check some other bands.

The organized chaos inside my truck
The organized chaos inside my truck

Up on 20M, the signals didn’t seem as strong. Nevertheless, I picked up 15 more contacts. I made four more contacts on 17M before pulling the plug. 

After a little more than an hour, I ended up with 36 contacts. Among those were four park-to-park contacts. I also logged four DX contacts: DL1AX (on two bands), SP6GNJ, and F4ILH. 

It felt great to be back out activating. Hopefully, I can get back out again over the weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Swatara State Park

I had a rare free day today. The only thing on my agenda was to drive out to see my grand-kids in central Pennsylvania. I made a last-minute decision to activate a park on the way there. 

Just minutes before I left the house, I looked at the map of parks on the POTA website and selected Swatara State Park (K-1426/KFF-1426). I’d never been there, so I took a quick look at a map of the park and spotted a trailhead with restrooms. So, I put the address for the Trout Run Trailhead in my GPS and took off. 

I rolled into the parking lot about 90 minutes later. Except for a park maintenance truck, I was the only one there. I quickly set up and got busy. The rig today was my TR-35 (5 watts) and my trusty 19-foot vertical

WB3GCK all alone in the Trout Run trailhead parking lot at Swatara State Parks
WB3GCK all alone in the Trout Run trailhead parking lot at Swatara State Park

The cell coverage was great, so I easily spotted myself. A minute or two later, the hunters came calling. I spent most of my time on 40M, but I also made contacts on 30M and 20M. 

After about 90 minutes, I had 54 CW contacts in the log. Among those were six park-to-park QSOs and one DX contact (CU3AA).

Swatara State Park is another park worth further exploration. There aren’t many amenities, but there are lots of trails. It appears to be a popular spot for mountain biking. 

Trail signs at Swatara State Park. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park, but I wasn't close enough for a "two-fer."
Trail signs at Swatara State Park. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park, but I wasn’t close enough for a “two-fer.”

There was a trailhead for the Appalachian Trail just down the road from where I was. If I hadn’t been so hasty with my planning, I could have gone there and activated a “two-fer.” Maybe next time. 

73, Craig WB3GCK