My policy is to always keep a radio field kit in my car or truck so I can take advantage of any last minute opportunities.
On the morning of Wednesday, April 20, 2022, I was scheduled to take my car in for warranty/recall servicing at the dealership. I decided in advance that if the service could be completed in two hours or less, I’d relax in their waiting room with my MacBook, drink a cup or two coffee, and attempt to make a dent in my email backlog.
If the service was going to take longer than 2 hours, I decided that I’d use one of their loaner/courtesy cars and activate a nearby park.
The dealership is about 45 minutes from my QTH and I’ve activated most of the parks nearby it, save one: Holmes Educational State Forest. I’ve been wanting to activate this park for ages, but my travels these days simply don’t take me in the direction of the park very often; it’s a good 75 minute drive from my QTH.
Uncertain how long the dealership would need my car, I grabbed my SOTA backpack that had a full field kit inside based on the Penntek TR-35 transceiver.
I won’t go into details about the new upgrade in this field report since I describe it both in my activation video (see below) and in this post which relays the announcement from WA3RNC.
Suffice it to say, I was itching to see how well the new message memories work during a proper activation.
Front of the line
Since this upgrade was just made public, I thought those of you who either own the TR-35 or are plotting to purchase the TR-35, might want to see it in action. For this reason, I pushed this video and field report ahead of all of the others in my pipeline.
The really weird part about publishing this video so quickly is that one of my next field reports and videos will actually feature the first time I took the TR-35 to the field about 3-4 weeks ago! Back then, CW message memory keying wasn’t even on the table.
I arrived at the dealership around 9:00 AM (local) and the first thing I asked was, “So how long do you think this will take?” The representative looked at the work to be performed and said, “Three or four hours, likely. If you’re in a rush, maybe two hours.”
I decided I wasn’t in a rush because I’d much rather be playing radio at a new-to-me park than sitting in a waiting room.
I asked if I could borrow one of their courtesy cars and he replied, “We assumed you might want one Mr. Witherspoon, so we already reserved one for you.”
Holmes Educational State Forest (K-4856)
I’m a big fan of North Carolina Educational State Forests and have activated a few in the past: Tuttle (K-4861), Mountain Island (K-4858), and Rendezvous Mountain (K-4859). I love them because they typically have:
- Loads of tall trees
- Picnic areas
- Excellent trail loops
- Ample parking
- Generally lower visitor density than major parks
Holmes has a large parking area that I pretty much had to myself when I arrived.
I explored the area a bit to find a nice activation spot.
The trails were beautiful.
Like Tuttle, Holmes also has a large covered outdoor classroom and picnic shelter.
No doubt a great rainy day activation spot (as long as the shelter isn’t reserved or occupied).
There are multiple picnic sites along a trail loop.
I found a few ideal picnic tables that, I could tell, are used much less than those by the stream. One, in particular, had plenty of space for my 40 meter end-fed half-wave.
Setup was quick and easy!
- Penntek TR-35
- MW0SAW end-fed half-wave
- N0SA SOTA Paddle
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Bioenno 3 aH LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-1203AB)
- Ham Radio Workbench DC Distribution Panel Model HRWB101
- Mini Arborist throw line kit: Tom Bihn Small Travel Tray, Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, and Weaver 8 or 10oz weight
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch (affiliate link)
- Moleskine Cahier Journal (affiliate link)
- Zebra Mechanical Pencil, Del Guard, 0.7mm (affiliate link)
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera (affiliate link)
On the air
I had a feeling that this site might not have mobile phone service and I was mostly correct about that. The park is definitely on the fringe of the reception area for my carrier. Most of the time, my phone had no service at all, no matter how I positioned it. On occasion, it would get a brief lock on a tower–just enough to send a short text message, nothing more.
Before leaving the QTH that morning, I scheduled the park activation on the POTA site so that it would be able to auto-spot me using the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).
I started calling CQ POTA around 14:50 UTC and within two minutes, I logged WB1LLY, AD8EV, and then NE4TN.
I thought that awfully odd, but this is where having CW message memory playback comes in handy–I simply pressed the AUX switch down quickly, then tapped the left paddle on my key and the TR-35 sent the message I recorded in advance: CQ POTA DE K4SWL.
Finally, NE4TN called again and asked for my park number. I sent it to him with thanks and then realized that the POTA site was not auto-spotting me. This explained the silence on the air. My guess is that the first three contacts might have discovered me via another system like Ham Alert.
I’m not sure if it was NE4TN or my buddy WD8RIF who manually spotted me, but I was very grateful they did. After a few minutes, I received a small pile-up of contacts which quickly took me over the 10 needed for a valid park activation.
In fact, by the end of the activation, and a total of 47 minutes on the air, I logged 27 stations (twenty one on 40 meters, six on 20 meters).
It was a most enjoyable activation and I’m pleased to report that the new CW message memory functionality of the TR-35 worked beautifully.
One other fellow who tested the new TR-35 firmware is John (AE5X). He just posted a field report and video on his excellent blog and pointed out that the spacing between words was just slightly long. I agree and so does John (WA3RNC), so spacing was tightened up in the production firmware.
All new TR-35s will ship with the upgraded firmware, but if you already own the TR-35, read this previous post about how you too can get the upgrade.
Here’s what my 4-5 watts into a 40 meter EFHW looks like plotted out on a QSO map (click map to enlarge):
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation, save deploying the antenna (which I’ve done so many times in other videos):
Unsolicited Advice: Always have an RBN backup!
This activation was a prime example of why I always let my buddies Eric (WD8RIF) and Mike (K8RAT) know my activation plans. We watch out for each other in case the POTA-RBN connection isn’t working.
The RBN functionality on the POTA site (and SOTA) is simply amazing, but sometimes–very rarely, in fact–it is down. After all, it’s a complex system with a lot of moving parts.
Reality is, if you’re not spotted, you may struggle to get the contacts needed to validate a park activation. It can be very difficult because you’ll be relying on people to randomly discover then spot you.
I do love this TR-35 and I plan to just buy it from WA3RNC if he’ll let me. While I’d love to buy the kit and build it, I’ve gotten used to this one and have already modded it twice. (Indeed, I think I might add two little fold out feet like John did on his!). That and I will be first in line to buy the Penntek TR-45L kit when it finally becomes available.
As always, I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support. It makes videos and reports like this one possible.
Here’s wishing everyone an amazing week, good health, and good propagation!
Cheers & 72,