Guest Post: Dan’s first straight key POTA activation

Many thanks to Dan (W9SAU) who shares the following field report:

My first Straight Key POTA Activation

Dan (W9SAU)


After 3 weeks of working Straight Key for SKCC, SST, and POTA QSOs, and a lot of practice, I wanted to try a Straight Key POTA Activation, using a Cootie paddle.

My Cootie/Sideswiper is a modified Vibroplex Single paddle, with a switch installed. Converting a paddle to a Cootie is done by jumpering the dot and dash wire connections. Then turn the Electronic Keyer off. The switch allows for Cootie or Keyer operation.

Pullman National Monument (K-7917) is only 10 minutes from my QTH. Pullman is unique, with the National Park borders surrounding a portion of the Pullman factory and neighborhood. You can operate from anywhere within these borders. I operated from the parking lot of the Pullman National Monument Exhibit Hall.

In this busy area in the City of Chicago, the noise floor was near S-Zero. There is occasional interference from a passing Illinois Central Electric Train, with QRN that obliterates everything. Not many trains on a Sunday morning.

With snow falling, my operating position was inside the vehicle, using a Yaesu FT-891 set to 5W for QRP, with a Shark 20 meter Hamstick on the roof.

Some anxiety, starting at 13wpm, but I quickly became  comfortable with 15wpm. My goal was to complete the Activation with 13 or 14 contacts.

I finished with 22 in the log in 35 minutes. I appreciate the patience of all who slowed down for me.

I had plenty of protection from Chicago’s Finest!  Across the street are the Pullman Horse Stables. All employee and visitor horses were housed and cared for here, in the late 1800’s.

Working the Cootie is a lot of fun! I find it easier than the traditional up/down key. But each character still has to be formed manually. I will be doing more of this type of POTA Activation.

A bonus is Ops who sometimes initiate a SKCC QSO when I work them for POTA. I was happy to accommodate them, but using a Keyer, I could not take SKCC credit. With the Cootie, I can use the credit to work towards the next SKCC achievement level. All while working Parks On The Air!

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Dan’s first straight key POTA activation”

  1. This is so cool. I am just getting back into the hobby after being out for 20 years through health and other crisis, but this POTA stuff looks fun. I am building a complete Two Tinned Tunas QRP station and will try it out on POTA at some point. I do not have an excellent place to practice my US Morse Straight Key except at the picnic table of our RV, too much QRN here in the park, but mostly no static noise out at the WMAs I have visited. I just looked up my SKCC number yesterday and it is still in there, and I have been practicing listening to Thomas. At the same time, I run my morning celery juice through the juicer while listening to Thomas, plus if I can’t sleep at 3 AM I practice head copying everything I can through my headphones, my ham XYL says she can still hear it but isn’t too loud. Here’s to many years of POTA fun for you! -Dave – KU9L

    1. Thank you for your kind words Dave,
      In his videos, Thomas coveys the same thrill I feel when I work CW/QRP. POTA Sites really work well for new challenges and trying different things. And the joy of working portable!

      I see that you have signed up for POTA. Hunt some Activators, and Activate when you’re ready. You can even hunt from a POTA location, without spotting your Call, and your QSOs will count for an Activation, when you submit a log. CW Operators will work with you to make sure to get your Call in their log.

      My SKCC number was dormant since 2018. David W9AIL, let me try his Cootie on New Years Eve, and I was hooked! I have since completed 40 SKCC QSOs, working towards my first 100, for the Centurion Award. SKCC is perfect for a Straight Key, since it is much slower than using an Electronic Keyer.

      My CW Mentor/Elmer Dave AB9BZ is constantly building QRP kits and antennas, and has achieved the NAQCC 48 State QRPp Award, with 1 Watt. It’s amazing what you can do with so little power.

      Sounds like you are immersed in preparing for on-air CW. We’re waiting to get your Call in our logs.

      Thanks again Dave,
      Dan W9SAU

      1. Wow Dan, very cool! Our farm in 1979 was near Elizabeth, IL, and check out my Novice station photo on, 10M was very hot then and all of my College building projects were QRP TX & RX that I copied out of CQ magazine of the day. Back then QRP was something folks built and put on the shelf, not me, I worked the world with 10M and 40M to get my WAS/QRP & about 60 DXCC countries before our motorcycle accident altered my life forever, I forgave the driver of the pickup, just an 18-year-old kid. I have driven to 8 POTA activation sites in central FL to get a feel for the variety to see I need both vertical & EFHW antennas depending on trees or no trees. The 6-inch across spiders in the oak tree webs there convinced me to be very flexible indeed, LOL. We come up to Rockcut SP for 3 weeks in April to see grandbabies before we go to CO to work for the summer so I hope to try out my TR-35 a bunch of times. S9 noise in this RV park near Winter Haven so a WMA activation and just plain POTA hunting sound great. Each property changes shading, no shading, tables/no tables, and spiders/no spiders, LOL. At 61 it’s all about fun now! 72, Dave – KU9L

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