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.

Prep

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!

Results

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.









Monday, September 4, 2017

2017 Tennessee QSO Party- ND9E

Last year I stumbled upon the Tennessee QSO Party during the Labor Day weekend and operated from home. I had planned to work it in 2017 as a rover due to it being on a Sunday and I would have Monday as a recovery day. Well life got in the way this year so I decided to spend all of Sunday afternoon and evening working it as an out of state station.

My plan


I figured that 40 and 80 meters were my only chance due to being so close to Tennessee and my main antenna at home is a 31 foot vertical so I decided to put up a 40 meter Horse-fence antenna NVIS style. The 31 foot vertical would be used for any 80 meter contacts.

Operating strategy would be to work phone and CW on 40 meters as long as I could find new stations. I would check digital formats such as PSK-31, RTTY and FT-8 for any contacts. 

Equipment was my IC-7200, LDG AT-200 Pro tuner, Signalink, and the K42 CW Keyboard system. 

My entry would be: Out of state, Single operator, low power and mixed mode.

Antenna pictures




Horse-Fence NVIS antenna plot


Final results and observations

My operating time was around 7.5 hours and one of my off-spring noted that I am now called iron butt for some reason. I did remember to eat and take care of some things during the contest. CW wound up being my main mode especially for chasing a couple of the mobile stations which always makes things exciting. Spent most of the day spinning dial on 40 meters phone and CW. I checked for any digital activity 4 or 5 times but never found any stations calling CQ. I will be watching the final results to see if there were any digital stations that submit a log. 

I noticed that around 6 PM some stations disappeared from 40 meters so I went to 80 meters. I found a clump of stations on the 80M CW portion of the band. So from 6 PM till the end of the contest I bounced back and forth between 40 and 80. 

I did work the K4TCG bonus station 3 times for 300 bonus points. Below is the summary from the N3FJP logging program.


I had a great time in the contest and the timing of it being on the Labor Day long weekend will make this one of my planned events for years to come. Hopefully in the next few years I can pull off a rover or portable operation in-state. If I work from home again an 80 M NVIS would be good to have also. 

Thanks to the Tennessee Contest Group for a great event. 






Monday, August 28, 2017

2017 US Island QSO Party

On Saturday August 26th, the US Islands Awards Program held their annual QSO Party where much  like other QSO parties you can be a chaser or an activator. Activators are made of rovers, portable and expedition classes. I choose to operate as a rover station again this year operating from my truck. Here is a breakdown of my island adventures.

Cora Island- MO006R- Missouri

I am fortunate that in the St. Louis area there are around 6 islands that have easy access. I selected 4 of them where I can drive onto the islands. Cora Island looks more like a swamp at times but usually I am the only person there while operating. The Kansas and Ohio QSO Parties were also just getting started so the bands were packed. I managed 12 phone contacts with 2 island to island contacts. The first island contact was with K4I on VA069L which had just been qualified a few minutes prior to our QSO.  The second island contact was with VE3SCN on ON023.


Ellis Island- MO003R- Missouri


Next island was Ellis Island which was about a 10 minute drive from Cora Island. Here I made 10 contacts which is normal from here as the noise level is higher here probably due to being across Mississippi River from some industrial buildings. I did manage 2 more island contacts. Contact was made again with island ON023 but this time it was from a different call sign. Hopefully I did not mess up the call sign or island number. This call was VA3TIC. My second island was FL003S which was being activated by Greg N4KGL. Greg is a very active portable operator and has been active with the NPOTA, POTA and RaDAR. Check out Greg's excellent Google+ group. Link is below.



Chouteau Island- IL003R- Illinois


I crossed the Mississippi River at Alton IL and headed to Chouteau Island. There is some farming that happens here but it is mostly known as a large former landfill. My vantage point from the truck was staring at the large mountain of trash! This is an island due to a channel that was cut though to help with barge traffic which is known as the Chain of Rocks Canal. 

I made 22 contacts total with them being 10 phone and 12 CW. I made 3 island contacts here with K4I again at VA069L, NC6Q at CA074S and VA3TIC again at ON023. 

Here is a picture of the truck at Chouteau Island. 31ft mast and with tape measure radials. 




Walkers Island- IL019L- Illinois

This was my final stop of the QSO Party. This island is in the middle of Horseshoe Lake Park which is part of the Parks on the Air program as KFF-0998. I was hoping that this also being a park would drive up the QSO count.

All the contacts were on phone and mostly 40 meters. I hated to switch bands as the contacts kept coming so when I hit the point where the spots had stopped and I started calling CQ,  I switched to 20 meters. I made 128 contacts in 107 minutes of operating time. There was another island contact made with NC6Q on CA074S. 



Wrap up

The truck was unloaded on Saturday night and I began working on the logs. As a rover, you submit a log for each island. There is no logging program out there just for this event so I used N3FJP, exported the ADIF file to Excel and then created a template so I did not have to write out the log sheets. Logs get sent in on Tuesday night. 

Please check out the US Island program with the link below. Also visit their Facebook group. 





Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Field Day

Things at work have changed drastically for me so I have had to put ham radio on the back burner since April. I did get the chance to participate in the ARRL Field Day. Band conditions seemed pretty good on both days and if you were in the mid-west the weather was fantastic!

Due to work obligations I could not really commit to a Field Day outing with a group or by myself so I operated from home as a 1D station. Other times I have operated from home I was a 1E station running on batteries but I did not have time to set them up.

My operating windows were an hour in the afternoon and around 2 hours in the evening. I also got 30 minutes on Sunday morning.

I made contacts on 6m through 80m mostly on CW.

Claimed score was 438. Here are the QSO breakdowns.



Here is the map from N3FJP.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Missouri QSO Party/ POTA/ RaDAR run- recap

The MOQP wrapped up on Sunday and I have been "recovering" the last couple of days. Here is a rundown of what happened, what failed and what needs to improve.

Saturday

Started at Hawn State Park as planned and was on the air right at 1400z. Since I did not have much room around my parking spot I elected to just use the mobile antennas. I noticed that as I spun the dial that I was not hearing any MO stations,,,,,,hmmmn, that's odd. I made 11 contacts from this park. As I was leaving the park I looked over and someone was setting up an antenna behind their truck and I thought, "there is one of our kind" so I stopped to say hello. I met Wayne KD0NEO and gave a quick introduction and then left him alone since he was working on a cable problem. 

I moved over to St. Joe State Park and again I could not hear any MO counties. Dang this was going to be a rough day unless thing improve. Luckily most contacts I made were more interested in the POTA credit. I had a couple of mushroom hunters that were suspicious of what I was doing but I explained it to them and they thought I was the weird one. I made 17 contacts. 

After an hour and a half drive I was at Lake Wappapello State Park. This time I had room for a better antenna so I put up the 31ft vertical with 2 ground radials. By now I decided that 40 meters was just going to be long for the day and I had better milk the state and park contacts the best I could. I made 35 contacts from the 2 county line of Butler and Wayne counties. I tried a 80 meter mobile antenna and heard just noise. Maybe later. 

Then it was a 30 minute drive to the Mingo Wildlife Refuge which has the Bollinger/Stoddard county line running through it. Conditions were improving on 40 meters and I had my best run of the day by making 70 contacts. I should have spent some time on 20 meters but I was having fun on 40. I did get one MO county from here. Again I used the 31 ft vertical. 

Next was the drive to Trail of Tears State Park in Cape Girardeau County. I arrived  after dark just before the park closed but I found a parking spot next to the outside of the gate. There was not room to setup the vertical so I tried to run with the mobile antennas. No luck on 40 meters after calling CQ for about 20 minutes and I could not spot because of no cell coverage. I tried the 80 meter mobile antenna again and I could hear lots of MO stations but none could hear me. I have to get this
80 meter thing figured out. I left there with no contacts so I decided to start the 2 hour drive home. Arrived home at 11:15PM, did a quick trash clean out of the truck and dropped into bed. 

Sunday

I started on time at the Robertsville State Park in Franklin County and expected to hear the big signal from W0S since we were in the same county but conditions were still the same with 40 meters being long. I used the 31 ft vertical again and had to explain to another mushroom hunter that I was not doing surveillance on his spot. I made 14 contacts from here. 

I tried to find Ron Robinson State Park using Google Maps but never could find a park entrance so rather than hunting for it I headed to my planned 3rd stop which was RT 66 State Park.

At RT 66 State Park conditions were not too bad but 40 meters was still too long. I made 28 contacts between 20 and 40 meters including 2 DX contacts while using the 31 ft vertical. Lots of dog walkers were giving me the "eye" as they walked by. Below is a picture with the vertical deployed.



At this time I was considering changing my plan as I as still waiting to hear if someone had activated St. Louis City or not so I went onto Babler State Park. 

At Babler I found a nice secluded spot where I could try setting up the NVIS dipole even though the conditions were not favoring NVIS operations but I needed to practice setting this up by myself. My practice session in the driveway helped a bunch as I was able to set this up in under 15 minutes. I did a quick check of the SWR and it looked great but the noise level on the radio sounded funny. Hmmmnnn, what did I do wrong? I checked 20 meters but still sounded weird. Connections were checked and still no change so I put up the vertical but had the same result. I am thinking, did the apocalypse happen and I missed it? I checked my phone and it had no service so what do I do? Time for lunch! While eating lunch I was spinning the dial on 40 and heard one weak station and it was W0S. He was a S1 signal but why not try it. We managed a contact and since he was on a 3 county line I got counties number 3, 4 and 5! At this point I had had enough so I bailed out 2 hours before the end of the MOQP and decided I better go home and cut the grass. As I was leaving the park my cell service came back and I saw on Twitter that we had just experienced a large solar flare so now I know what happened. As I drove home listening to 40 meters the signals started coming back around 2:45PM. Here is a picture of the 40 meter NVIS setup. 


Overall is was still a good weekend. Band conditions were poor for a state QSO party but workable for the POTA. 

My 31 ft vertical is still my go-to antenna while roving. 

I need to make some improvements to the truck antennas especially for 80 meters. 

Thanks to the BEARS group (W0MA) for hosting the QSO Party and to the admins of the WWFF program.