I remember back in 2020 when I really kicked my POTA activations into high gear, I made a spreadsheet of all of the POTA sites within a 2 hour drive of the QTH and started activating them one by one.
At the time, almost 50-60%, or possibly more, had never been activated. Keep in mind that in early 2020, POTA had a wee fraction of the activity it has today.
It was a lot of fun especially considering those were the early days of the pandemic and it was just nice to get out and about. Any excuse, right?
One of the parks on my list was the Thomas Wolfe Memorial but being a small historic site in an urban setting, they were closed for quite some time during the pandemic. There was nothing to stop me from walking on the site–or pulling up in their parking lot–and doing an activation while they were closed, but I just didn’t feel like it should be fair game when closed.
Then restrictions loosened up and, frankly, I just sort of forgot about it.
I tend to activate parks in rural areas and I am prone to overlook urban sites (although quite a few of my activations in Canada last year were urban).
Thomas Wolfe Memorial (K-6853)
On Thursday, September 7, 2023, I dropped off my daughters at school then made my way to a doctor’s appointment. I arrived at the office, gave them my name at the front desk, and then they reminded me that we had re-scheduled this particular appointment for later in the month.
Doh! I forgot to make the change in my calendar.
All of the sudden, I had a bit more free time!
Of course, I always fill free time with POTA activations, and I already had radio gear in the car, so it was only a matter of deciding where to go.
I called the Vance Historic Birthplace (about a 25 minute drive) to see if they were busy. Their director (who I know quite well at this point) told me that a large group was on the site, but would be gone by 1:30. That timing didn’t work for me, so I consulted the POTA map.
Since the POTA site used my coordinates to find the closest park, I was reminded that K-6853 was a mere 3 minute drive from the doctor’s office. I could have walked there.
I gave the site a call to ask for permission (again, I always do this for small historic sites) and they told me I’d be most welcome.
The site is on a small urban lot and consists of two buildings: the visitors’ center, and the Old Kentucky Home boarding house.
The visitors’ center is beautiful and sports a gift shop, theatre, and presentation areas.
The historic home is gorgeous.
Here’s a bit of history about the Boardinghouse via the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Website:
The historic Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse operated by Thomas Wolfe’s mother was depicted as “Dixieland” in Wolfe’s 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel. It had been his home for ten years. Strongly influenced by his childhood in Asheville and by life in the boarding house, Wolfe turned to his early experience for inspiration in his writing. His highly realistic portrayals of Asheville and its citizens, including Wolfe’s own family, caused Look Homeward, Angel to be banned from the local library. Wolfe did not return to Asheville for almost eight years. He finally came home in 1937, where he spent part of the summer in the boardinghouse with his mother. Here he wrote “Return” a short article published in the Asheville Citizen newspaper.
It would have been an amazing spot for Wolfe to spend his summer in ’37 even though, admittedly, Asheville may not have been his favorite city after banning his book!
The Wolfe staff gave me permission to set up anywhere that wouldn’t be in the way of their guided tours. (I highly recommend the guided tours, if you ever visit).
In truth, there really isn’t a lot of space to set up–only a small strip of grass around the historic home which is surrounded by large buildings (a condo, hotel, etc.). Check out my activation video below for more context.
I found a spot next to the side of the house facing a multi-story condo; it was well away from the guided tour path.
Next, I needed to deploy an antenna. The lowest-impact self-supporting antenna I had the in the car was the Chelegance MC-750 vertical. The staff gave me permission to use the MC-750 and support it with the stainless steel spike in the ground.
It was ideal for this site other than the fact that verticals are probably one of the worst antenna types for QRM/RFI (electronically noisy) environments.
Keep in mind that I had not planned to activate the Wolfe Memorial that day. Had this been planned, I would have packed my Chameleon F-Loop.
Mag loops are your friend when you’r facing local QRM!
But hey–I worked with what I had and just crossed my fingers that there would be some bands free of RFI/QRM.
Next, I set up my Elecraft KX2, my field chair, and my kneeboard.
Time to play radio!
- Elecraft KX2 with Windcamp X2 Side Rails and Cover
- KXPD2 Paddles
- Elecraft KXBT2 Li-Ion Battery Pack
- Tufteln N0RNM Folding Knee Board
- Elecraft ES60 Pack (Note that mine is a discontinued LowePro CS60 pack, the ES60 is identical and Elecraft branded)
- ABR Industries 25’ RG-316 cable assembly with three in-line ferrites (Use Coupon Code ABR10QRPER for 10% Discount!)
- SO-239 to BNC Adapter
- Chelegance MC-750
- Chelegance MC-750/JPC-12 Tripod
- GoRuck GR1 USA
- GraphGear 0.9mm 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil
- Rite In The Rain Top Spiral Notebook
- Camera: original OSMO Action Camera (the OSMO 3 is the current version) with Sensyne Phone Tripod
On The Air
By that, I mean, I didn’t hear the pulsing noises that are the hallmark of urban QRM.
I did find out pretty quickly, though, that my noise floor was actually about S4 or S5–it’s just that the KX2 sounded quiet regardless.
I started out on 20 meters and quickly worked five stations: K9IS, N0AIF, W3TW, WA1VEI, and WA1JMG.
Then there was a lull of about 15 minutes before I worked WI5D, W5WMQ, K5PE, and KO4JKV. Turns out, as I suspected, KO4JKV was only one mile up the road from my POTA site!
After another lull, I QSYd to the 40M band and worked WA4PGM, KE8PZN, and W5GDW.
I did, briefly, move back up to 20 meters and work VA3DXQ P2P.
All in all, a total of 13 contacts in 51 minutes.
To be clear, I believe there were many other stations calling me that day and I’m sure they were confused when I didn’t reply, but they were all below my elevated noise floor. This is the frustrating thing about QRM: you can only hear the strong stations. No weak signal work.
Here’s what this five watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation. As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.
As I left the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, I told the staff that I’d be back after leaf season (when the massive influx of tourists dies down) and activate again, this time, with my Chameleon mag loop antenna!
I’m very curious to see how well it might mitigate the noise. Bonus is that the mag loop is completely self-supporting and low-profile. Perfect for this spot!
I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them.
Of course, I’d also 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.
As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo make it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free, but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.
Thanks for spending part of your day with me! Have an amazing week ahead!
Cheers & 72,