Sunday, February 18, 2018

Moraine View State Recreation Area- KFF-4099 activation

Once again I found myself in Central IL with time to kill so I went to the Moraine View State Park located outside of Bloomington. As you can see we had a little bit of snow with temperatures around 32 degrees. There was no snow when I started the activation but it came down fast for about an hour. Just enough to make everything look pretty and the roads slick!

I started on 40 meters and quickly racked up 57 contacts in about 45 minutes. By this time the snow had fallen and I sat there debating whether to retune the antenna for 20 meters. Finally I retuned for 20 and began calling CQ and spotting on the Facebook thread. In 20 minutes I managed only 1 contact. I know that during the one 20 meter QSO the signal was up and down so maybe the band conditions were not the best or at least not good with my antenna set up. I usually like to use a 31 foot mast for my vertical but the type of trip I was on I needed to have nothing in the bed of the truck so I was using a shorter whip with the Wolf River coil. The noise level on 40 meters was S0 to S1 so this was a nice spot to operate. 

All of my tape measure radials and antenna whip/coil are wet so my next task is to dry off everything and spray with WD40. Hopefully I will have another road trip with an activation in a couple of weeks. 73 & 44

Friday, February 9, 2018

Kickapoo State Recreation Area- KFF-4097 activation

On February 3rd I was in the area of Danville IL with a couple of hours on my hands so I made the short drive west to the Kickapoo State Recreation Area. The park was pretty quiet with it being winter but the area has a lot to offer folks in the warmer weather. Today it served this ham radio portable operator! I set up in the truck again and used my Wolf River coil with about a 10ft rod along with 3 ground radials. Since the coil was still tuned for 20 meters from my last activation I decided to start there.

20 meters

20 meters was a battle from the start and I only made 5 contacts as that band was up and down. It reminded me of 6 meter openings where you better make the contact quick.  Folks in the WWFF Facebook group were waiting for me to go to 40 meters so I gave up on 20 meters.

40 meters

I found a spot on 40 meters, started calling CQ plus spotted myself on the Facebook group. 40 was much better but it was also up and down somewhat. I made 45 contacts and then my wife texted me that I could pick her up anytime. I had planned to operate at least 2 hours but since I also once again picked a frequency that the foreign broadcasts use and I was slowly starting to have trouble making contacts. My 50 contacts satisfied my ham radio itch for the day so I packed up to retrieve my wife and go to dinner. 

I doubt I am ever back to activate the park again but is was a good place to operate from and easy to get to. 

Operating spot is the blue circle.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Winter Field Day 2018

New plan for 2018!

The past few years Winter Field Day has been at my house either in my basement or in a tent on my deck. Last year Kyle-N0KTK joined me at my house and we operated from the tent so we could claim the outdoor bonus points. We realized that 2 people trying to cover the entire 24 hour event was close to impossible so we made plans for at least 3 people for 2018. We also decided to move to a state park so we could help drive up the QSO rate with the Parks on the Air program. We thought about the plan throughout the year and here is how the new plan unfolded. 


Kyle recruited Justin- KE0HXL for this years WFD. Kyle and Justin have been working together on portable deployments for years and they definitely have the setup sequence down to a science. I tried to stay out of their way as much as possible but probably still slowed them down. Justin brought a RV that we used to get some sleep and do some cooking. They had scoped out the campground at Babler State Park in St. Louis County MO and had reserved 2 spots which each had electric and concrete pads. This gave us room for multiple trucks, the camper and the operating tents. Also the campground folks understood what we were doing and gave us their blessing on putting up antennas in the trees. 

Camper and generator (far left)

Operating tents- ladder line and balun in lower right corner

Operating positions

This was a 2 Outdoor operation which means we could only have 2 stations on the air at a time. We planned that one person would be handling logistics or sleeping so we stuck with 2O. The larger tent had ICOM equipment and the smaller red tent had Kyle's Flex setup. The red tent is for ice fishing and it is somewhat insulated and very easy to heat compared to the larger tent. Sorry that I forgot to take pictures of the operating stations. 


Our main antennas were a 10-80m Windom up at about 40 feet. Kyle ran almost the entire time on this antenna. We also had a 80m horizontal loop that was over uneven ground and had various tree heights. On average I would say that it was up about 30 feet and in a rectangle shape. Justin and I mainly used this antenna. This was my first event using a loop and it worked great. A 160m trapped dipole went up but none of us could get it to tune so we did not get any 160m multipliers this year. We will need to solve this for next year. A vertical with a ICOM AH-4 tuner was set up for band scanning and for some digital operations. 
Sky loop antenna if you look hard enough!

ND9E 2O MO on the air!

We used my call mainly so I could get credit for the Parks on the Air and Grid Chase programs. Kyle was the main QSO machine for the entire event. He mainly ran the whole time he operated. Justin and I took turns looking for multipliers and I had a small run on 80 meter phone. I did some PSK31 runs also after Justin got my FLDIGI working with N1MM. Kyle and Justin and very versed in N1MM and this was only my second time running it. 

IC-7100 failure

Late Saturday afternoon as I was getting up from sitting on a plastic chair while at a plastic table.  I touched the back of my IC-7100 control head and received a static shock. I thought at the time, "that was not cool" and went to do something else. When I returned to the radio I noticed that I no longer had any transmit audio (or power) on phone. Digital and CW still worked fine. Needless to say I was not happy now with my situation. I thought about it for awhile and decided to do a partial reset from the main menu. It worked! Now I had transmit audio and power while learning a lesson on controlling static for the future. 

Final results

We operated about 18 hours of the 24 hour event. If we had 160 meters working we might have had an incentive to stay up the entire time. We operated right up til the end of the event and immediately began tearing down. We were packed up in about 2 hours and on our way.

Only about 10 ARRL sections short!

17,810 was our raw score with low power

Final claimed score with bonus
1500 points - remote
1500 points- emergency power
1500 points- outdoors
13 multipliers
22,310 claimed final score


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Bohm Woods Nature Preserve KFF-4111 activation

This was the first activation of this nature preserve as part of WWFF. It is located only about 15 minutes from my house but there is only parking for 2 or 3 cars. It is deer season and hunting is allowed in these woods so I have been staying away from this location. There were no hunters present so I pulled into the parking area and got set up.

Bohm Woods Nature Preserve

As you can see from the picture this property was given to the state of Illinois by the Bohm family to preserve these woods. The is the last "old growth" forest in this area especially for an urban area. This also borders the Southern IL University at Edwardsville campus. My son Simon has spent time in these woods for biology classes and has pictures of trees over 100 feet tall and several feet in diameter. 

Due to the small parking area I could not put out the radials like I normally do especially for 
40 meters. I started on 20 meters and boy was it a struggle to get 30 contacts even with frequent spots. 20 meters was good to the east coast and Canada. It was surprising that I only had one 20 meter contact to the west. After I switched to 40 meters things got moving! I made 60 contacts on 40 meters with a nice steady pace. Thanks for the spots and Facebook chatter to keep the run going. 

Final results
  • 91 contacts
  • 33 - 20 meter contacts
  • 59 - 40 meter contacts
  • 95 minutes on the air
  • 7 Canadian contacts
  • 1 DX contact with SA2CLU- He gets kudos for staying patient with me!
  • No park to park contacts today. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

KFF-0996 Giant City State Park

November 18, 2017

I had traveled to the southern part of Illinois so my better half could attend a music festival so that left me with some free time before I retrieved her so I planned to activate the Giant City State Park. This is a beautiful park with interesting rock formations and many hiking trails. I hope to return for another visit sometime especially during the fall colors. 

A spot was selected by using Google Earth with the GPS coordinates entered into my WAZE app. As I started to wind through the park I would drop cell coverage therefore the mapping would freeze. I eventually made it close to my selected spot but this was also deer season and this park must be treasured by the hunters as the sides of the road had pickup trucks all along them so I figured that parking in a secluded spot in the woods during deer season was not the safest plan. I backtracked to a public playground area that also had cell coverage so I set up there. 

Normally I use a 31 foot fiberglass mast with an AH-4 tuner but the mount is large and since I was spending the night at a hotel I did not want to have to put the mount inside the truck over night so I tried out a different arrangement. I used a trailer hitch mount with a 3/8 x 24 antenna mount, the 
4 foot Hustler extension, Wolf River Silver Bullet 1000 coil and a 16 foot MFJ telescoping mast. This takes up less room inside the truck when traveling. 

Unfortunately there was a wind advisory this day and the weather folks got it right as we had 40 mph gusts and no way could I fully extend the mast so I only extended the MFJ mast to 102" as I had already tested this at home. I used my antenna analyzer and quickly was set up on 40 meter phone. I started running on 40 meter phone and quickly reached 20 contacts and then I could not hear anyone else as I had a S7 noise level. I retuned the antenna and radials for 20 meter phone and began running again. I was having much better luck here as my noise level was S2. The rest of the activation was on 20 meters. 

Final results

20 contacts on 40 meter phone
48 contacts on 20 meter phone
0 park to park contacts
1 DX contact
Had a great time!

Lessons learned (or re-learned)

Know your grid square and the county you are operating from for when people ask. Sorry folks, I was in EM57 and Jackson County. 

Save you maps in your phone in the off-line mode for when you lose cell coverage. I have taught myself this lesson at least 3 times but it is not sinking into the ol' noggin. 

Truck engine is noisy on 40 meters so I need to work on that some more. Next I will try to add bonding to the hood. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

2017 Illinois QSO Party- ND9E

My plan

This was my 5th or 6th year for the ILQP. The first couple of years I operated as a portable station from the 3 county corner of Massac, Johnson and Pulaski. Then I switched to being a rover station to try to get more counties activated but I always make this county corner one of my stops. This year I decided to focus on just 2 operating locations and reduce my travel time plus is also simplified my setup as I did not have to be equipped with mobile antennas. 

Also in the plan was to operate from WWFF POTA park locations as this was a big help to me during the Missouri QSO Party this past spring.


Friday and Saturday was spent prepping for the event and most of the time was spent testing antennas or practicing putting up different antennas. Since I was determined to operate on 80 meters this year my thought was to put up a high 80 meter dipole. After a few practice sessions I determined that this would take too much time plus looking at the places on Google Earth I probably did not have room for the dipole anyway. While sitting in the garage wondering about my options and looking at the AH-4 tuner on the back end of the truck I occurred to me that since I was using the tuner for the balanced feed of the 40 meter dipole plus I can use the tuner to feed a vertical that I could set up an inverted L like I have done at home. So the mast on the truck would be pushed up as high as I am comfortable with and then only need to set up one other support. I made a pair of cables that hooked up the ladder line to the tuner. Alligator clips go to the top and bottom terminals on the AH-4 tuner.

Everything was packed up by Saturday afternoon with only minor items to address Saturday evening.

Alexander/Pulaski county line/KFF-0283 Cypress Creek

I opened the contest from the Alexander/Pulaski county line which is also within the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. The contests that I usually participate in have a lot of search and pounce but I am slowly learning to break that habit and go straight to running. I found a spot on 7.245 and stayed there around 2 1/2 hours. I had planned to only be at that location for 2 hours and 45 minutes but I had never made it to 20 meters which does not benefit the other IL counties but it benefits the folks chasing POTA and also the out of state people working the ILQP. I had 3 park to park contacts for POTA. Turns out 20 meters was not very cooperative so I called it quits after 3 hours on site.  Now it is starting to drizzle so I took down the antenna. The setup for this location was a 40 meter dipole feed with ladder line to my AH-4 tuner. Apex of antenna was about 20 feet with the ends at 12 feet. See picture below.

Massac/Johnson/Pulaski county line/KFF-4112

It is about a 40 minute drive from my first location to this 3 county corner. As I said before it had started to drizzle and by the time I got to my second location it was truly raining. I scoped out this location and felt that I did not have the room to put up the dipole in the orientation that I wanted unless I went into a farmers field. I did not have permission plus the beans had not been harvested yet. So since I already had the AH-4 wire tuner mounted on the trailer hitch I decided to set up an inverted L. The mast was put up to 25 feet with a pulley and I had brought around 100 feet of wire so I pulled the wire up 25 feet and then the remaining wire sloped down towards the north with the end at 12 feet high. I also deployed 2- 100 foot tape measures where I could for radials. It took me 20 minutes to set this up and now it is really raining and I am soaked. 

I got back on the air around 4:40 PM CST with some good runs on 40 and 80 meters. This antenna was more noisy but that was expected. One of my goals this year was to get on 80 meters by the time it got dark.  Around 6 PM the truck suddenly shook, like when someone bumps into you at a drive-thru. After a few moments I thought the antenna or mast must have failed. Sure enough the painters pole 80 feet behind the truck had a guy rope/stake failure. Did I mention that it was still raining? Now I take off walking behind the truck and with all the rain the mud was now ankle deep. I fixed the pole and now the antenna was back up and now I had to wade back through the mud. Once at the truck I changed shoes, turned up the heater and turned on the heated seats to get warm.

I did some runs on 80 meters until 7 PM when I was seeing spots for folks moving all around looking for someone new to work. I tried to get some of the mobile stations on CW with no luck. At 7:15 PM I decided that the rain wasn't going to stop and I was tired so I started to pack up and make 2 more trips through the mud.

It continued to rain the entire drive home and the truck interior (or me) smelled like a wet dog. I arrived at home at 11 PM and decided that the stuff in the bed of the truck could not get any wetter so I left it until the morning.

The clean up/ drying out

My first head slap to myself was that I left a bucket in the bed of the truck which had my tape measures that I use for radials. The bucket had 4 inches of water in it! I took the tape measures and fully extended them to dry and then I flooded them with WD-40. Then they were blown out with compressed air and time will tell if I salvaged them or not. All of my spools of ropes were unrolled and in piles all over the driveway to dry. Next it was onto drying out the masts. All the masts were slid apart, wiped down and allowed to air dry. The picture below was just a small area used to dry out ropes and tapes measures.
Everything was dried out by Tuesday and the masts were reassembled. All items have been cleaned and put away!


It looks like I may have a final score around 70K with 102 multipliers. This turned out to be a very good outing for me and may be my highest score yet for ILQP. 

Lessons learned

Rain- I need to be prepared for a rain event. I knew rain was in the forecast and I had made some provisions for rain such as spare shoes and rain jacket but I did not consider the items in the bed of my truck. There was nothing I could have done for the masts but I could have carried the ropes and tape measures in something with a lid. 

Operating strategy- Things improved this year by limiting my travel time between locations. I think just hitting 2 locations works best for me. Still need to spend time on 20 meters so to get the state multipliers. 

Antennas- The dipole worked well on 40 meters but it did not do so well on 20 meters but most folks were saying 20 meters was poor that day. The inverted L worked well and it allowed me to get on 80 meters which was a big boost to my score. 

Step stool (don't laugh)- This small fold up step stool goes on most portable outings as it is much better then trying to stand on the bumper of the truck. 

Cup holder upgrade- As you can see in the below picture I lose my cup holders when the radio is installed. I made up a cup holder out of some PVC fittings and screwed it that 2x4 you see sitting in the trucks existing cup holder.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

KFF meet up for World Wide Flora and Fauna

I saw on the KFF Facebook group that there was a planned meet up for the US arm of the WWFF for the 9/30-10/1 weekend. Since my truck is already setup for the ILQP,  I decided to head out on Saturday morning with the goal to hit 3 parks at the Carlyle Lake area in Illinois. These have been on my radar for some time now so I had already picked out my locations by using Google Earth. I took the lat/long for these locations and entered them into my WAZE app on my phone so I could navigate between them.

KFF-4114 Carlyle Lake Fish & Wildlife Area

Carlyle Lake is a man made lake located in the center of Illinois and was created by damming the Kaskaskia River. It is the largest man made lake in Illinois and covers 26,000 acres. KFF-4114 is on the northern tip of the lake and has a secluded parking lot mainly used by waterfowl hunters. I had the parking lot to myself so I had room to put out my ground radials without fear of someone driving over them. 54 contacts were made with 3 park to park QSO's. Most of the contacts were on 40 meters with a few on 20 meters. You can see the lake way off in the back of the picture below. 

KFF-0991 Eldon Hazlet State Park

Next stop was Eldon Hazlet State Park with offers many spots to operate from especially since this is the "off season" for the park but there are still many campers around the place. 40 meters continued to be my main band to operate with 74 contacts made along with 7 park to park QSO's. It was beautiful weather the entire day and even though I planned to operate from the truck but I did want to have the windows down but the horse flies were out and they were quite large. So I wound up with the windows up and running the truck. Below is a picture from this location. 

KFF-1025 South Shore State Park

Arrival time here was around 4:45 PM and again I found an empty parking lot. I set up on an edge so my radials were in the grass and out of the way in case someone showed up. This parking lot is very large and of course when the one other person drove in they had to come check out the weird looking truck with the tall green mast. Putting the "amateur radio" signs in the windows really helps to answer folks questions. I ran 40 meters only from this location making 58 contacts with 4 park to park QSO's. By this time I had already been sitting in the truck for 9 hours and still had another hour home so I called it quits for the day. 

All logs have been checked, submitted to the KFF coordinator and uploaded to LOTW. I was a great day playing on the radio. 

Thanks to Jason W3AAX for heading up the KFF group and cranking out the great looking awards. Also thanks to Bob KA9JAC processing the 9 area call logs for KFF.