by Joshua (KO4AWH)
Back in May I had to travel last minute for work to North Dakota. I typically bring radio gear in the event that I have some time to do a Parks On the Air activation. This trip presented the opportunity to activate a park in Minnesota as well as one in South Dakota. I didn’t have much time to plan these activations, but I knew I had an early enough arrival in the afternoon that I could likely activate a park in MN and then in SD. So, I picked out a park in MN close to my destination. I could go activate in MN then get over to a park in SD and activate there.
I found a nice looking State Park in MN. The idea was to activate as quickly as I could and then get back to a park in ND with enough time to activate before it got too late. K-2482 Fort Snelling State Park had 110 successful activations. That is always promising when planning out an activation. I got my rental car and headed to the park.
I also had recently purchased a HFJ-350m which is a base-loaded coil with an extendable whip. I found a tripod base I could print online and then designed an adapter so I could install a SO-239 and RG316 lead with a BNC connector. I had just tested this setup in the back yard and knew it worked, although I certainly knew it was a compromised antenna.
I typically bring my Raspberry PI4 loaded with Build-A-Pi and then run digital modes from my phone or Tablet. My plan was to activate this park with the compromised antenna running 5W on FT8 at the first park and then go to my second park and run a full half wave wire in a tree on SSB at 10W.
Not much to say about the activation in MN. The state park was nice but where I set up presented quite a bit of RF noise. Not so much of a problem since I was running digital. After a bit of adjustment on the whip I was tuned for 20m and started hunting a few FT8 stations. I did make a few QSOs while hunting but I then started calling CQ and had a bit more luck. I think because my signal was quite weak, calling CQ was a bit more efficient as only those who could hear me were calling back. While hunting, if those calling CQ were running a bit more power, I was unlikely to get in while running lower power and on a compromised antenna. I got the activation completed with 12 QSOs and packed it up and headed to the next park.
On the drive over to the park in ND, I thought I would go ahead and set up the full wire antenna as I had enough time left. Of course this would be my Tufteln QRP EFHW; deploying a wire antenna in a tree doesn’t take all that much time. Once I arrived at my planned location and scoped it out, I figured it would work just fine so I started my setup. The location was literally a pull off on the side of the road with a decent tree. With more time to plan and scope the area, I am certain there are some real gems for operating. I pulled out my arborist throw line kit and found that I was missing my throw weight. Not the best but we can usually improvise something like this. I didn’t have anything handy in my bag that I was willing to throw up in a tree. I looked around and found a flattened beer can. So, I opened it up and bit and put some gravel in it and tied it to the end of my throw line. It worked like a charm. As a result though, I now keep small zip bags in the bottom of my throw line kit, as a backup, that can be filled with gravel or dirt to use as a weight. They weigh less than a filled throw line weight and are certainly only a one time use bag, though.
Now that I was set up, I was ready to get on the air. I typically hunt a couple stations, Park to Park if possible, so that I know my station is working before I call CQ. I believe I snagged two stations and then I found an open spot, asked if the frequency was in use a couple times, posted a spot, then started calling.
It was a bit slow at first but then started to pick up. I wasn’t sure if I would need to change bands. I had deployed a 20m half wave but could add a segment for 40 if needed. Things started to pick up. Then I just kept going. 20 QSOs. I had an activation for sure. 50 QSOs, wow, might as well keep going. Next thing I knew I was up to 80 QSOs. Not bad for QRP. I figured I might as well see if I could break 100; wouldn’t that be fun! Then I passed 100! What fun.
Things were not really slowing down though, so I kept going. When the contacts started to slow down and I realized I was starting to lose a bit of light so I decided to call QRT. I had made 121 (14 P2P) 10W SSB contacts on 20m in 1h and 40 minutes on my Tufteln EFHW QRP Antenna and my TX-500. I was very happy!
Any time I have to go play radio, it is a pleasure. Breaking 100 QSOs during an activation feels like an extra special win.
For sure, things need to line up–propagation matters, station efficiency matters, time of day, location etc. I certainly don’t expect to have a high count on each activation, but I do expect to learn and have fun every time I go out. But, I now have a thought in the back of my mind: what if I could break 100 contacts running QRP again–? I have a total of 31 activation attempts, a few of these are two-fers. I love QRP but have run 100W on 2 activations. So, running up the QSO count is still very exciting for me.
Fast forward to September this year, once again, a work trip, this time to Louisiana. This trip was the second to the location, and as I planned things out, with little time to spare, I intended to activate the same park I had activated in August: K-4069 Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area. This park is just what it sound like, in what would be expected in the New Orleans area: swampy, very humid, LOTS of bugs. Unfortunately, I had not packed any bug spray. So, as much as I do not like operating from the vehicle, I did indeed set up and then operate from the rental car. This time I deployed my 35′ Tufteln EFRW with a 17′ counterose and 17′ RG316 Coax. I also paired the ATU-10 with my TX-500. I had a new toy as well, a DJI Mini 3, so I had to capture some drone photos.
Again, in typical fashion, I hunted a few stations, then found a clear frequency, posted a spot, then started calling CQ. QSO count ramped up fairly quickly. 20m was working quite well. I realized that I may be able to break 100 QRP again. I worked several pile-ups in between a few lulls and kept going. Once I broke 90 things started to slow down but I kept calling and before I knew it I broke 100. I log with HAMRS but don’t always catch if I log a duplicate so I added a few more QSOs before I called QRT. Total count was 103, all on 20m, SSB at 10W on my Tufteln EFRW QRP Antenna.
The Icing on top for me was that all 103 QSOs were inside of 59 minutes! I broke 100 in under 1 hour! Boy was I excited, to say the least.
I always enjoy my radio outings, but some are certainly more memorable than others.
And these two, for me, prove that QRP absolutely works, especially with a quality antenna setup!
Joshua (KO4AWH) has been licensed since 2020 and designs field radio supplies at tufteln.net. He likes to enjoy his park and summit activations with his wife and young children.