Category Archives: Mobile

Chasing Bands: Two Truck Activations take Brian closer to the James F. LaPorta N1CC Award

Parked in the lot at PA State Game Land 074

Two Truck Activations:  Racking up Bands and DX

by Brian (K3ES)

One of the things I like best about living in Western Pennsylvania is that after a stretch of heavy winter weather, we always seem to get a bit of a break.  The break never lasts long, but the sun comes out and the temperature warms enough to hold a promise of spring.  The first week of February 2024 gave us one of those respites.  With rising temperatures, the snow melted, a strange yellow disc appeared in the sky, and this operator’s thoughts turned once again toward POTA activations, and a free Sunday afternoon provided a perfect opportunity.

A Long-Term Goal

For just over a year, I have been working slowly toward POTA’s James F. LaPorta N1CC Award for activators.  I am under no illusions.  This goal may take me another year to complete on my terms.

The award requires an activator to complete QSOs on ten different amateur bands from each of ten different Parks on the Air entities.  To the extent possible, I am working to finish all of the needed contacts using CW mode and QRP power levels.  So, one specific part of my afternoon outing would include an attempt to make a QRP CW contact on my tenth band from PA State Game Land 283, K-8977.  Two previous activations of K-8977 had given me contacts on each of the nine HF bands from 80m to 10m.  So this afternoon, I would attempt to make a contact on top band, 160m.

Molly supervises many of my activations, and even when the weather warms into the 40s, she prefers to activate from the truck.

The Activation Plan

With a little bit of advanced planning, POTA Dog Molly and I packed the truck on a Sunday afternoon and headed out to attempt two activations.  First, we would set up at K-8773, Pennsylvania State Game Land 074, a new park for me, where we would have about 2 hours on the air before the time would be right to move to the next park and attempt an activation including 160m.  It would be just a short drive to K-8977, and we hoped to arrive there and set up around 2100Z (4pm EST).  The goal at K-8977 was to get enough contacts for a successful activation, then shortly before sunset move to 160m and get at least one contact to complete activation of the the tenth band.

Parking areas at Pennsylvania State Game Lands are mostly unpaved, but they are well marked.

Activating K-8773

With temperatures running in the low 40s Fahrenheit, I decided Molly would be most comfortable operating from the truck.  She appeared to be quite pleased with that decision.  So we pulled into one of the parking lots at K-8773 and parked along the tree line.  I tossed my arborist line over a branch near the truck, and used it to pull up my Tufteln 9:1 35 ft random wire antenna into a near-vertical configuration.  After connecting the 17 ft counterpoise wire and laying it out along the ground, I attached the 15 ft RG316 feedline and routed it into the truck through the driver’s side door seal.

I clipped the feedpoint of my Tufteln random wire antenna to the 2m antenna on the front fender of the truck.
I threw my arborist line over a tree branch, and used it to pull up the far-end of the antenna.  A few wraps around the handle for the back window of the cap kept it secure for the activation.
The RG316 feedline runs through the door seal into the truck.

Once inside the truck, I set up my KX2, prepared my log book, and made the decision to work my way downward through the amateur bands.  Conditions proved to be amazingly good that Sunday afternoon, and my 5 watt signal yielded 54 CW contacts, including 13 DX contacts spread across 7 European countries.

Moreover, I made at least one of these contacts on each of 8 amateur bands, from 10m to 60m.  Unexpectedly, getting contacts on 8 bands during a spectacular afternoon at K-8773 also puts that park well within striking distance for completing 10 bands, just not on this particular afternoon.

Not a bad afternoon’s work at the first park, not at all!

The KX2 sits on the console of the truck, with its feet straddling one of the cup holders.  This leaves plenty of room for my log book (yes, I’m one of those dinosaurs who uses pencil and paper for logging).
Another view of the operating station.  Note the home made VK3IL pressure paddles above the log book.
Supervising this activation was a particularly difficult task.  Molly has decided that a rest is needed.  She has tucked her nose in the blanket, a definite signal that serious napping is underway.
At K-8773, I logged 56 contacts across 8 bands.  I was delighted that 13 of those contacts were DX from Europe.

Activating K-8977

Packing my gear at K-8977 went quickly.  As a most excellent POTA companion, I rewarded Molly with a short walk along a Game Land road, then a 15 minute drive on some rugged back roads brought us to K-8773.  I had operated from one particular parking lot during previous activations, but a quick look around for places to set up my antenna caused me to head for a  different parking lot.  I would be using a wire antenna that was much longer than normal, and a nearby power line was too close for comfort.

ALWAYS watch for and avoid power lines when deploying your antennas in the field!

To activate on the 160m band, I intended to use my VK160 antenna.  The VK160 is a homebrew 9:1 random wire antenna with a 144 ft radiator and three – 17 ft counterpoise wires.  At the new location it went up quickly in an inverted V configuration.  With counterpoise wires spread out on the ground, and my 15ft RG316 feedline connected and run through the door seal of the truck, it was time to get the station assembled and on the air.  This time the rig would be a KX3 with built-in wide-range tuner.  The KX3’s spectacular tuner matches the VK160 on all bands from 10m to 160m.

I was easily on the air at 2100Z (4 pm EST), and had about 90 minutes before sunset.  My plan was to begin on 40m, and collect enough contacts to assure the activation before moving to 160m around 2200Z (5 pm EST), about 30 minutes before sunset.

Activating on 40m was a safe bet, even running 5 watts CW.  Once spotted, I was working a steady pileup for about 40 minutes.  When 40m callers tailed off, I switched over to 30m for 20 minutes and picked up a bunch more contacts on the new band.  Then, at 5 pm local, I switched over to 160m.  It did not take long to start making contacts.  It was not a pile up, but the three 160m contacts were very satisfying:  eastern Pennsylvania, western Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

I called QRT at 2215Z (5:15 pm EST), packed up my gear in the remaining daylight, and drove home.  I was home in time for dinner, and Molly didn’t say a word about being late for her normal 5 pm dinner time.

At K-8977, I logged 54 contacts.  Since I worked them on 30m, 40m, and 160m, it was entirely expected that most would be located in the eastern US and Canada.  Logging 3 contacts on 160m made it a perfect outing.

I do owe an apology to QRPer.com readers, because in the pace of the second activation, I failed to take pictures during my operation.  If you are interested in visuals, please take a look at previous QRPer articles on building the VK160 and testing it during Winter Field Day 2023.

Gear

Note: All Amazon links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

Equipment at K-8773

Equipment at K-8977

Building Positive Park Relations: Elevating Our Role as POTA Activators

Our Parks On The Air (POTA) community has experienced exponential growth since my introduction to POTA activations in 2019. Today, POTA boasts over 500,000 participants, including both hunters and activators.

Gone are the days of awkwardly explaining our hobby to park staff who were unfamiliar with amateur radio, let alone park activations. Nowadays, when I approach park staff for permission to operate, they often direct me to areas where other POTA activators have set up in the past, showcasing a growing acceptance and understanding of our community.

Goal: Positive Impact

With such a large and expanding community, we have the potential to significantly impact our park systems positively. It is crucial for POTA activators to not only leave a positive impression with park staff but also actively support and contribute to the well-being of our parks.

Why now?

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for several months. I hesitated to publish it because of my inclination towards positivity and reluctance to dwell on the negatives.

However, recent conversations with park rangers and staff from three different sites between June and November last year prompted me to share these insights. While acknowledging that interactions with POTA activators are generally positive, all three shared some concerns and criticisms.

I was surprised, in one case, that they hadn’t banned POTA activators from their site entirely. (I detail two examples at the end of this article.)

I imagine each and every one of these park rangers has had more negative interactions with the general public, but we POTA activators and amateur radio operators are a cohesive community that they lump into one group for better or for worse.

For instance, while a rowdy family gathering might disrupt the peace in a park, it doesn’t lead to a ban on families. However, repeated negative interactions involving POTA activators could result in our exclusion from parks or even escalation to wider park networks since many individual parks are tied to state, provincial, or national park systems.

Indeed, this has already happened at National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia. Check out the following message posted to Facebook this week from John (AB0O) who is a US mapping volunteer for POTA:

Time to be a positive force!

As John states in his message above, it’s time for us to proactively become ambassadors for POTA and good stewards of our parks and public lands.

I could have easily titled this post, “Ask not what your park can do for you; ask what you can do for your park!”

Let’s delve into some simple suggestions that I personally follow. This list is not exhaustive, so I invite you to share your strategies for promoting POTA positively in the comments below.

1. Obtain permission before operating

Despite the temptation to activate first and ask questions later, it’s essential to seek permission before setting up your station in a park. Some parks may require written permission for activations, regardless of the setup’s profile or impact (remember Leo’s recent field report?).

While most POTA sites allow activations as long as park rules are followed and other visitors aren’t disturbed, it’s prudent to confirm with park staff or experienced activators when in doubt.

In my experience, asking for permission is particularly crucial in parks with historical or ecological significance and limited facilities.

A piece of advice: When seeking permission, showcase your most portable, low-profile radio gear to help park staff understand the minimal impact of your setup. Over the years, this approach has resulted in successful activations for me, with only one instance of declined permission, primarily due to supervisor unavailability.

2. Choose inconspicuous locations

At the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, I received permission to operate and I set up my station well outside the viewshed of the lighthouse.

When setting up your station, avoid obstructing viewsheds or high-traffic areas within the park. Instead, opt for spots away from major attractions or foot traffic, ensuring minimal disruption to other visitors’ experiences.

Most POTA sites offer designated picnic or parking areas that are suitable for activations without interfering with scenic views. When uncertain, seek guidance from park staff to identify suitable locations.

3. Default to low-impact, low-profile gear

Unless you know in advance that a park allows wires in trees, stakes in the ground, or other antenna support structures, default to your most portable, low-profile, low-impact field setup.

Unless explicitly permitted, refrain from deploying antennas in trees or using stakes that could damage park grounds.

I believe every POTA activator should possess a compact, self-supporting antenna system to minimize environmental impact. Additionally, consider operating from your vehicle if uncertain about setup requirements.

An NC State Park ranger told me last fall, “I like to see POTA activators that aren’t taking up a lot of space and yelling at their radio.

Let’s not be the guy or gal he described!

4. Leave No Trace

Adhering to the principles of Leave No Trace is paramount during POTA activations and other outdoor adventures. Always dispose of trash properly and, if at all possible, pick up any litter you encounter at your operating site. My goal is to always leave the site cleaner and tidier than I found it.

In my backpack and car, I keep small litter bags along with nitrile gloves so that I can pick up and dispose of any trash I find.

Over the years I’ve operated POTA, park rangers and game wardens have caught me in the act of collecting trash and thanked me. I made a point of telling them that I’m an amateur radio operator doing a POTA activation. I feel like this can only leave a positive impression in their minds and help future activators who might seek permission to operate at a particular site.

Want to go a step further?  Consider organizing group clean-up events with your amateur radio club. This collaborative effort not only benefits the park but also strengthens park and community ties.

5. Support your park financially

Show your appreciation for park access by contributing financially, especially at smaller locations with visitor centers or donation boxes. Whether purchasing items from the gift shop or making direct donations, your support is invaluable in maintaining park facilities and programs.

For instance, during a recent visit to a historic site, I made a point to purchase items from the gift shop and donate to the park.

The park rangers thanked me and noted that another frequent POTA activator also donates a bit of money or buys something in the shop each time he visits.  They pointed out how much they appreciate that type of support.

While I usually prefer inconspicuous contributions, I intentionally inform park staff of my status as a POTA activator during these interactions. This transparency reinforces the positive image of amateur radio operators as park supporters.

6. Respect park operating hours

Ensure that your activations align with park operating hours to avoid overstaying your welcome. Familiarize yourself with park schedules and plan your activities accordingly to minimize disruptions and inconvenience to park staff.

I learned this lesson firsthand during an activation at Lake Norman State Park in 2021, where I unintentionally extended my stay past park closing hours. This happened during the week they shifted from more liberal summer hours, to winter hours. I was apologetic to park staff. Since then, I make a conscious effort to wrap up my activities well before closing time and communicate my intentions with park staff if I feel like I might cut it a bit close.

Be a POTA Ambassador

Vlado (N3CZ) draws a crowd on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

By following basic guidelines like these, POTA activators can cultivate positive relationships with park staff and demonstrate our commitment to responsible outdoor recreation.

As POTA Ambassadors, let’s engage with park staff, address any concerns they may have, and showcase the respectful conduct of our community. Listening to their feedback and acknowledging past issues can help mitigate negative perceptions and foster mutual understanding.

Real-word example

During a visit to a new-to-me urban park last year, I proactively sought permission to operate, considering the site’s limited space and popularity among POTA activators. Park staff appreciated my courtesy and expressed gratitude for my considerate approach.

Our conversation revealed previous negative experiences involving POTA activators. These included instances where operators failed to comply with park rules and even exhibited disruptive behavior. For example:

  • One operator tried to set up an antenna by tying a short 2×4 to fishing line and attempting to throw it into a tree. However, this park prohibits the use of trees for antenna support, and his “method” was causing damage to small branches. When asked to refrain from using the tree, the operator became confrontational, insisting on his ‘legal right’ to do so. Despite the staff’s polite explanation of the park rules, the operator angrily packed up and left.
  • Another incident involved a mobile activator who parked his truck in the park’s small lot, occupying three parking spaces, while deploying a hitch-mounted vertical. With a public event underway and all parking spaces occupied, park guests raised complaints. Despite staff requests to reposition his truck to free up space, the activator responded angrily, rolled up his window, operated for a few minutes, and then departed.

Despite these incidents, the staff emphasized that they were exceptions rather than the rule. They mentioned several regular activators whom they enjoy interacting with during their visits. Undoubtedly, these individuals serve as POTA ambassadors, exemplifying our community’s respect for parks and public lands.

Privilege and Responsibility

Wiseman’s View in Pisgah National Forest (K-4510)

While our tax dollars support public lands, park staff retain the authority to regulate activities that may impact park ecosystems or visitor experiences.

The recent notice regarding National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia serves as a reminder of this privilege and responsibility.

Let’s strive to represent POTA activators positively and proactively contribute to our parks’ well-being. Together, we can ensure that future generations continue to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of our public lands.

What are your strategies? Please share your tips and advice in the comments section!

N2YCH: January POTA Travel in Frozen Alaska!

Many thanks to Conrad (N2YCH) who shares the following field report:


Conrad’s January Alaska Activation

By: Conrad Trautmann, N2YCH

Why would you go to Alaska in January?” is what everyone asked me.

I’ve wanted to see the Northern Lights for as long as I can remember. The best time to see the aurora borealis is between late August to late April in Fairbanks, Alaska. Days are short in January, sunrise is at 10:24am local time and sunset is at 3:38pm. It’s twilight before the sun comes up and after it sets so it’s not pitch dark, but it’s mostly dark for about 19 hours a day in Fairbanks at this time of year. Once I began researching, I learned that peak viewing times for the aurora are between 10p and 2a local time even with the extended darkness. Check aurorasaurus.org for more information.

So, the answer to the question is, “The odds are better to catch the Northern Lights in the winter.”

Cold weather and snow doesn’t bother me having lived in Syracuse, New York for ten years. I have experience with winter weather and driving. Fairbanks is one of the best places in the state to see the aurora since it is directly below the “Aurora Oval” and it has over 100 days a year when the aurora is visible. Except for January 12th through the 15th, 2024, when the sky had 98% cloud cover and it was snowing. Aurora viewing was not happening during my visit.

However, this trip was not a total loss by any means. There are things to see and do here, including activating parks! I activated three parks in three days, Denali National Park (K-0022), Chena River State Recreation Area (K-7228) and Creamer’s Field Wildlife Refuge (K-9697). I’ve heard stories from hams in Alaska that propagation can be spotty, that there can be total radio blackouts from solar flares and that bands we don’t usually worry about in the lower 48, like 20 meters, can be useless at times. I packed enough equipment and antennas to activate on any band from 40 meters to 6 meters, up to 100 watts using my Elecraft KX3 with the Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier. On the first day at Denali, I used the amp for the entire activation, but I realized at the end of the day that Thomas, K4SWL, who runs “QRPer.com” wouldn’t be too happy with a field report from “QROer.com” Conrad, N2YCH. To remedy that, I activated my second park using just my KX3, no amp. At K-7228, my first 11 QSO’s were QRP and the park was officially activated using only QRP power. I activated my third park QRO, read on and I’ll explain why.

[Thomas here: For the record, readers, I gave Conrad a Special Use Permit to mention QRO on QRPer! Ha ha! Of course there’s no problem going QRO from time to time!]

Back to propagation, I emailed one of the most active POTA activators in the area prior to my trip to get a sense of what to expect. I highly recommend doing this for anyone planning to travel somewhere and activate. Look at the POTA pages for the parks you want to activate and you’ll surely see a repeat activator with a Kilo award or many visits to those parks. They know the parks the best and also what to expect for propagation. They also share your passion for POTA and are usually very happy to help. The advice I received was that it would be difficult to make contacts on 20 meters and that watching the MUF (maximum usable frequency) charts would serve me well. (Check out hf.dxview.org) The activator said 10 meters would probably be the best band during daylight hours. He was exactly right. Even with QRO power, 20 meter reception in Alaska was noisy and my signal did not get out very far on FT8 watching the pskreporter.com spot map. I moved to 10 meters and quickly had a steady pile up. I stayed on the air until I depleted a 9ah and a 3ah battery I brought. What fun!

Okay, so for the QRP activation, I was at a trailhead parking area out near the Chena Hot Springs resort. Before the activation, I stopped and did the tour of the Aurora Ice Museum and took a dip in the natural hot springs. I do recommend the hot springs if you ever go to Fairbanks. It was -10F degrees when I was there, quite an experience.

Chena Hot Springs

I intentionally wanted to delay my activation from early morning to closer to sunset to see if operating during the evening gray line passing over would help improve the number of contacts I could get. The short answer is that it was worse…way worse. I went back to activating closer to sunrise on my third day and had similar results as I did the first day, much better. Sunrise wins.

The map above shows my initial ten QRP QSO’s from K-7228.

What really continues to amaze me is just how far my signal can reach with the portable equipment I was using. I brought the Buddipole so I could configure it as a vertical or a dipole. I tried it as a vertical on 20 meters on my first day and as I said, the reception was poor. The beauty of the Buddipole is that I could quickly reconfigure it to a 10 meter dipole. With the tripod, it’s roughly 10’ off the ground. There was no wind to speak of, so I didn’t need to guy it. If there was, I would have used a bungee cord to secure it to the car bumper or side mirror.

It breaks down and fits in the bag I bought with the Buddipole tripod and I tossed it into my checked bag on the plane. With the tripod and mast, it’s just a little too long for the carry-on bag. I could have brought a fiberglass push up mast and wire antennas in my carry-on, but I decided on the checked bag and brought the Buddipole to have as many options as possible. After all, I was traveling all the way to Alaska. Continue reading N2YCH: January POTA Travel in Frozen Alaska!

2,112 miles as AI7LK in the US Pacific Northwest

by Vince (VE6LK/AI7LK)

As always there are links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! 

In December of 2023, I found myself with a surplus of vacation from my employers, and my Brother who’s move-in date to his new home got suddenly moved forward to just before Christmas. I was able to get time off work and make an epic road trip with POTA stops along the way to both allow me to have some radio fun and to give my body a stretching break. My trip would take me from my home in Alberta, westward through British Columbia, southward into Idaho, Washington, Oregon and I even made it as far as Northern California to see the Pacific before turning around and heading back home.

Along the way, I activated at 14 stops which totaled 21 parks in all after factoring in the 2-fer, 4-fer and 5-fer stops! This was a total of 301 actual QSOs netting 508 after the x-fers were computed in. It was a mix of CW and voice with an average of 21 contacts per stop.

There were many highlights of the trip, and naturally spending time with my brother and his wife were at the top of the list–despite the work of moving into a house–followed by the simply spectacular scenery along the route and the route planning itself. While this trip was decided upon on a Thursday evening and I was on the road the following Monday, I still found about 10 hours to research points of interest along my routes and look for POTA entities that had either not been activated yet or were CW ATNO, having only had a Phone or Digital activation previously. For the most part, these were the stops I targeted as my waypoints.

The Columbia River is nearly a mile wide at Rooster Rock SP

Driving along the Columbia River Gorge on I-84 approaching Rooster Rock State Park felt like driving along the base of the Grand Canyon, given the 1000′ height of the cliffs beside me. Rooster Rock State Park (K-2850), is notable for two reasons. 1 – it’s a 5-fer activation point – my first 5-fer stop ever doing POTA, and 2 – it’s windy as heck as you can see in this short video I took for Charlie W7RTA who told me, via Discord, it would blow [what’s left of my hair] off my head.

Click here for 7 seconds of the Columbia River Gorge wind whipping the hair off my head!

Certainly Rooster Rock was a highlight given it’s the only 5-fer activation I’ve ever done. It was activated two hours after a 4-fer at Willow Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area (K-10646). I only learned about the multiples after chatting with folks on the POTA Discord server.

It was a short drive from Rooster Rock SP to the home of KJ6VU in Oregon City, Oregon. While I’ve worked with George on the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast for nearly three years, I’d never met him in person until this trip. It was such a treat to spend time with him.  George is the creator of the Packtenna that so many of us love to use. As luck would have it, the KJ6VU repeater was due for a replacement and scheduled for the next morning, and I was able to put my skills in racking (installing) repeaters to good use. After we finished the repeater I departed and did some performance testing while southbound on I-5 to test its range.

The repeater crew. L to R: Josh K6OSH, Nick KF7SOM, the Author, and George KJ6VU

Along the way I got to have a coffee break with Nick Smith NT3S who I had met via Discord. Nick can be found activating parks and going overlanding on weekends. Thanks Nick for the time to have a break with you!

Over the next several days I spent time in Grants Pass Oregon assisting my brother and his wife to get moved in. Grants Pass even has a Harbor Freight Tools and I was able to get some shopping done! So as it turns out I wouldn’t be slugging boxes every day and there was a bit of a break during my visit to go out and play radio. I know the POTA program is especially popular in the United States and I’d heard that every entity has been activated at least once, which is very different from here in Canada where many parks are untouched. In my research and thanks to the parks added in the autumn of 2023, there are some in the system that had never been activated. On one Saturday afternoon I was able to visit one of these parks -Cathedral Hills Trail System- and work 72 contacts in under an hour on SSB.

Cathedral Hills Trail System, Grants Pass Oregon
Tall trees at Cathedral Hills Trail System, Grants Pass Oregon

On the following Tuesday, I headed out from Grants Pass to head to California if only to tick off the box on POTA’s website saying I’d activated there. I had no idea that Highway 199 would be so scenic. I activated six entities on this day.

At the end of Highway 199 is Tolowa Dunes State Park (K-1202). The photo at the top of this article is on the dunes and at the coast of the Pacific Ocean near Crescent City CA. Yes, I walked along the surf despite the threatening weather. It also allowed me the luxury to park within the dunes themselves to do my activation with a spectacular view. Continue reading 2,112 miles as AI7LK in the US Pacific Northwest

K9JP: POTA QRV in a Ford Transit Connect!

Many thanks to Jeff (K9JP) who shares the following guest post:


Simple-for-me POTA activations

Jeff (K9JP)

This past year, I discovered POTA and the joy of activating parks. This part of amateur radio is very rewarding to me. I started activating parks in March, which means cold and possibly snowy days. I took the easy way and set up my POTA station inside of my car with the engine running to power the radio and the car heater creating warmth, but increasing my carbon footprint.

I soon recognized that had to be a better way.

I was using a magnetic-mounted ham-stick type of antenna on the roof of my car to make the antenna easy to use. I had problems getting my ham-stick antennas to resonate, did a little web research, and found that I needed to bond the coax feedline to the body of the car. I made up a pass-through coax connection using a chassis mount connector and a short length of one-inch ground braid that I had in my spare parts stash. I attached the braid to one of the back set floor bolts

Now the antenna was resonating and working well. For my radio, I used my backup ICOM IC-7300 with a power output set to 4 watts for QRP Fun. I can use all bands from 20 through 6 meters now.

My next change was to purchase a rechargeable LiFePo4 battery.. Looking at the cost per amp hours, I decided on a 100 Ah battery that offered a possible 2000 charge cycles. It should last for years with good care. With the large capacity of that battery, I can power the 7300 for many hours at QRP power levels and operate either FT8/FT4 or CW, and would also make high power possible if needed for some reason or other operating event. My experience so far has been I can operate from five parks per day and only need to charge the battery after the fourth day or about 20 activations.

I have recently purchased a Ford Transit Connect minivan to convert for my POTA Park mobile adventures. The van offered a better way to mount the antennas I use. It has a roof rack with cross-bars.

I modified an older Diamond roof rack mount to fit the wider cross bars.

Once I installed the coax bonding strap under the center-row seat I was ready to go.

I had also received a 40-meter ham-stick type antenna and thought I would give that band a go on my next park activation.  Again no joy, I could not get the 40-meter antenna to resonate. When I got back home, I made up a 1/2″ grounding braid strap long enough to bond or connect the roof rack mount to the body of the minivan. I covered this strap with dual wall adhesive lined heat shrink tubing.

This bonding strap is connected to the roof rack mount, runs under the side door weather stripping, and is terminated under the side door latch.

Now the 40-meter resonator was working very well.

How could I add 60, 80, or 160-meter bands?  Giving that some thought, could I try to create a sort of 1/2 fan dipole?  Yes, I could!  Through experimentation, I made up clamp-on elements for 60, 80, and 160-meter bands. Those can be attached or clamped on the quick disconnects I have on all my ham stick antennas.

I support the clamp-on elements by either draping the wire element over nearby shrubs or small trees or by just using a plastic step-on fencing post that I found at my local farm and home supply store. It only costs $3.00. These elements create an NVIS radiation pattern which helps reach out to interstate POTA hunters.

Inside the minivan, I place my portable LiFePo4 battery, 7300 radio, and my laptop for digital modes and logging.

I hope you will find this helpful. I believe this is a simple way to activate parks.

I now have 186 activations, from 23 parks, and 4800 contacts using 160 through 6-meter bands.  Many thanks to all I have contacted this past year and my goal for 2024 is to try and activate more Michigan, Ohio, and South West Canada parks using QRP power levels.

72/73 de Jeff K9JP

Field Report: Dave ventures into the fog to play FT8 POTA!

Many thanks to Dave (K1SWL) who shares the following field report:


October 6th POTA activation

by Dave (K1SWL)

I’m pretty much a died-in-the-wool CW guy. I’m not averse to dabbling in other modes, though. Friday, October 6, 2023, was such an occasion. I’d noted that there’d been little recent Digital activity in one of our area’s Parks. As if it needs more familiarity, it looms over I-91 only three miles from the Connecticut river. As a result, it’s been activated more than 75 times.

This was Mount Ascutney State Park in VT, and at 3144′, features a paved road to the summit. Off I went!

Finding a parking space at the summit lot wasn’t an issue. The top of the mountain was socked in above 2500 feet. Visibility was 30 to 50 feet, and sightseers were inexplicably scarce.

I normally use a 20M end-fed antenna and homebrew pneumatic launcher. The stunted trees at that elevation made that less practical. I used instead Hustler resonators for 10M and 20M atop the truck cab on a mag mount. I usually consider that setup a compromise, but at 2000 feet above average terrain (HAAT), it didn’t matter.

The operating position inside the truck is quite comfortable. A melamine-clad slab serves as the operating surface. (see above) The chain at the far end was a design ‘iteration’. I’d originally just supported that end on the passenger-side arm rest. I’d operated from the driver’s side, and one day got out, went around and absent-mindedly opened the passenger door. The whole station headed for the ground. I caught the rig but the Vibroplex Iambic paddles were a loss. A fabulous excuse for a Begali- and a hard protective case! When I’m operating from the truck, an IC-706MKIIg and 15-AH Bioenno battery does the honors. If gear needs to be carried any distance, the KX3 makes more sense. The station itself takes two minutes at most to set up.

So how’d it work out? A closeup of the WSJT-X screen (seee above) illustrates it. (The device is an MS Surface.) I was getting as many as 3 replies to my CQs at a time. I wound up ‘interleaving’ three contacts at a time. It got confusing! I need to look into ‘Fox/Hounds’ operation to speed things up for the future.

All in all- a great success. A total of 62 FT8 contacts in a little over 2 hours. 16 of these were on 10M at the start and the balance on 20M. The attached QSO Map (att. 4) shows the contact distribution- mainly eastern US with a few Europeans for good measure. Will I do it again? You bet!

73- K1SWL

Scott builds a mobile desk for HF park-roving

Many thanks to Scott (KK4Z) who shares the following post from his blog KK4Z.com:


Necessity is the mother of invention

by Scott (KK4Z)

Plato’s Republic he said that *our need will be the real creator* or the proverb as we know it today *necessity is the mother of invention*.  Recently, my friend Thomas K4SWL acquired a Yaesu FT-891.  During his YouTube video, he expounded on how much fun he had with it. It did indeed look like fun. During this time I was pondering about doing more day activations instead of overnights.  With the cost of everything still climbing, the need to conserve becomes apparent.  I thought an FT-891 might really be a great radio for these day activations. Then reality set in.

I already have a number of projects I am working on and misc things like maybe having to replace my old 33′ push-up pole, it was not in the stars nor was there a twinkle in my wife’s eye when I mentioned it. In reality, the IC-7300 is a great radio and does everything I need to do especially in the field. I don’t need another radio, I have three 100 watt radios and three QRP radios. I still wanted an easy setup for these one-day activations. I want to drive to a park, set up in a few minutes, operate, tear-down in a couple of minutes, and head for home or another park. I also wanted to make my day activations park ranger friendly. To me, that means trying to be inconspicuous.

I have two projects planned. The first is a desk for my truck. I am making a desk to sit over the center console and front passenger seat big enough to hold my IC-7300, a laptop and a CW paddle. My plan is to secure the desk to the truck and the radio to the desk. I also wanted to make this as cheaply as possible. I used stuff I had on the property such as a half sheet of plywood and some construction lumber. The only things I had to buy were some screws and eye-bolts, about 14 dollars worth.


The plywood was cut to 24 x 38.5 inches. The length covers the center console and front seat while still allowing me to get to the heat/AC controls. I gave the corners a generous radius and I broke the edges with a router. On the underside, I used a 2 x 12 to make a spacer for the center console where the cup holder is and a leg for the other side over the passenger seat. The spacer is glued and screwed to the desktop but the leg is not attached. This is to make it easier to store. I made a socket for the leg using 2 x 2’s. It’s probably easier to look at a picture than me to try to explain. I added eye rings to the rear of the desk and use a bungee cord to secure the desk to the passenger seat. The only other thing I did, sprayed the top with polyurethane. Note. I am not a carpenter or cabinet maker. I use rough hand tools to get the job done and I am often making do with what’s on hand or what’s the cheapest way to do it.

Continue reading Scott builds a mobile desk for HF park-roving

Dave sorts out vehicle-mounted antenna SWR issues

Photo by Katie Musial.

Many thanks to Dave (K1SWL) who writes:


Comments on vehicle-mounted antennas

by Dave Benson (K1SWL)

As with Rand’s recent post about his effective vehicle setup, I and others also use a small operating table inside the vehicle.  I’ve tried a number of approaches to antennas.  Without elaborating on those schemes, I’ll note that winter is now closing in here in NH. As a result, I’m now operating exclusively from my truck. My interest is now in minimizing setup and tear-down times.  Barry (WD4MSM)

also commented about the improvement in vehicle-mounted antennas with an added ground.  I’d like to quantify that.

I’d recently ordered a number of Hustler Mobile antenna components. They’re used as a stationary-portable setup using that company’s high-quality mag-mount. As I first evaluated the antenna, I was disappointed to find the minimum SWRs to be on the high side.

These results were related to the ‘floating’ coax shield, which serves as a counterpoise with the mag-mount setup.  Worse yet, these results were inconsistent. Touching the coax connector shell at the antenna analyzer caused the SWR to jump up, as did just changing the way I held the analyzer. Bad juju! It means RF inside the vehicle, with the potential for RF-‘hot’ symptoms at the rig..  Adding a 1:1 balun inline eliminated the stray RF at the rig, but didn’t do much for the SWR. It’s also just one more gadget to bring along.

A better fix was a custom bracket that bolted to the truck frame. I first confirmed that there was low-resistance continuity between a target location and the vehicle’s cigarette lighter shell.  This was something of a ‘comedy of errors’. I had a sheet-metal angle bracket on hand and went to work enlarging a hole in it. This had the usual outcome: a drill bit grabbed the workpiece and spun it. The bracket itself was buckled beyond redemption and my finger’s now healing well.  A length of 1-1/2 inch aluminum angle bracket was just the ticket.   Note that the mounting hole needs to be offset from the coax fitting mount. This avoids an interference between the mounting bolt and coax connector shell. Ask me how I know.  The bracket assembly uses a specialty coax fitting from DX Engineering. It’s their part number DXE-UHF-FDFB.

This bracket is bolted down on one of the corners of the Tacoma’s passenger seat assemblies.  It’s the closest location to the antenna I found without drilling holes and cutting the coax.  For this vehicle, it’s a 10mm bolt and was paint-coated for appearance reasons. I replaced it with a stainless-steel bolt from a hardware store. It’s important to include a split-lockwasher between the bolt and the bracket. This’ll keep the conductivity to the frame good over time. The bracket is deburred and its corners rounded to preclude injury to passengers.

In any event, it’s out of the way of the seat’s legroom space. A 3-foot coax cable assembly brings the coax nicely up behind the rig atop the operating surface.

So- how’d it work? It’s like the difference between night and day!  The broad SWR curves vanished – replaced by typical characteristics for monoband antennas. The sensitivity to handling the coax has vanished.  (A representative curve at right.) The curves are narrower, and that’s actually a good sign- it means that unwanted resistances have been reduced. 

With this fix in place, here are the SWR minima:

Frequency    SWR

14060        1.04:1

21060        1.05:1

28060        1.16:1

I took advantage of the CQ Worldwide CW Contest this past weekend. I was able to work 101 stations on 10M, 15M and 20M with this setup.  That was from a State Park 5 minutes away.  The attraction was a large and sunny parking lot, and solar gain was such that I needed to leave the truck door open several times.  This area is kept plowed out in winter, and I may try for the POTA ‘kilo’ award from there at the 1000-contact benchmark.  

We’ll see….   73, K1SWL

Rand’s “Shotgun!” Mobile QRP Station

Many thanks to Rand (W7UDT) who shares the following guest post:


 ‘Shotgun!’ My Mobile QRP Station…

by Rand (W7UDT)

I’ll confess, at our overly stylish home, sadly, I don’t have a shack… my XYL has “concerns.”  So, in an attempt to keep my operating license and man card active, I happily practice portable QRP field operations at my QTH and afield.

This time of year however, with winter bearing down on us, I choose to deploy via my ‘Shotgun!’ mobile QRP station.  Simply, a quarter inch sheet of birch plywood, cut and finished nicely to fit suspended from the grab bar and headrest of my Jeep Wrangler’s passenger seat.  Ergo, ‘Shotgun!’

Grab, hang, stow and go!

It’s not a new idea, but I must say, it has become a very good solution to the chilly problem of posterior frostbite and hypothermia.

I’ll elaborate…

Continue reading Rand’s “Shotgun!” Mobile QRP Station