Category Archives: News

Joshua acquires an Argonaut 509

Many thanks to Joshua (KO4AWH) who shares the following guest post:


Ten-Tec Argonaut 509 Acquisition

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

My club president sent me a text on Sunday before our Monday club meeting. He wanted to know if I was interested in a Vintage 80s QRP Radio. He knows I have an affinity for QRP. Honestly, I think he is still amazed at how I managed to get through piles ups on his hexbeam during summer field day with my TX-500. Boy was that fun.

The deal was a Ten-Tec 509 with the microphone and CW filter, the matching 251 power supply with meter, and the 504 matching 50W amplifier. He sent me a photo, I had to look it up. I have heard of Ten-Tec, thanks to Thomas K4SWL, but certainly was not familiar with their Argonaut 509. I was intrigued. I don’t have a single vintage piece of equipment. I have only been a Ham for less than 3 years.

We had some equipment from a club member SK donated for auction to raise funds for some club repeater upgrades. This was a good excuse to purchase an old piece of equipment that I likely would not have purchased otherwise. After looking over the 509 and accessories, all of which were in great condition, I brought them home. Of course I couldn’t help but hook everything up and turn on power. Everything powered up but no movement of the frequency indicator, not a great sign, and no audible hint of changing reception frequency. After further inspection it seemed the dial tuning mechanism was seized up. Looks like another project.

The next morning, as I had a few minutes to spare I started taking things apart. I have never pulled apart an old transmitter before so I took my time as I studied all the components and marveled at the simplistic yet complex circuitry found under the covers. Once I was down to the tuning mechanism, a few desoldered wires later, it was removed and ready for cleaning. I don’t know if the grease was original, but it sure was hard. After carefully cleaning, greasing, and reassembling all the components, soldering a couple wires back, and reassembling the housing, I was ready to power it back up. I don’t want to understate the work involved, it can be quite tricky, but I really enjoy this type of thing.

After tuning around a bit and working with the controls on the Radio, I found a POTA operator to zero beat. I needed something to reference in order to adjust my knob indicator so I would know what frequency the radio is on. I actually received the manual for the radio and each of the components. Reading through a few key points the night before really helped out when I was ready to start tuning in and transmitting.

I had the amplifier on, I set the DRIVE to about half way guessing that was okay and called back to the Activator. First call, he called me back with a 59! WOW, I was excited. I let him know I was on an old Ten-Tec that I had just repaired and he came back and said the audio and signal were great. How exciting! So, naturally, I hunted a few more stations and then listened to a few rag chews as I got familiar with the Radio.

Not only was I excited to have repaired my first radio, I am also amazed at the capability of this Radio originally released in 1973. I am not a long time SWL or radio operator but there is certainly something very appealing to me about the audio this Rig produces. I wasn’t certain what I was getting into with this rig, but I sure am happy how it worked out! I may just be on the hunt for another Ten-Tec. I even plan to take this to my local park and do at least one activation with it.

Here is a quick excerpt from the introduction in the operating manual.

“The Argonaut opens a whole new world of excitement and fun in Amateur Radio. We think you will find QRP a welcome change. Five watts are only 2-1/2 S-units below 150 watts for the same conditions. When skip is favorable and QRM light, you will not be conscious of using low power.”

73

Joshua

KO4AWH

The new CW Morse CNC Machined Aluminum Pocket Double Paddle Key

If you’ve watched many of my videos or read my field reports, you’ll know that I use CW Morse paddles during most of my activations.

Up to this point, CW Morse has specialized in 3D-printed paddles and keys: the quality is superb, especially for the price point.

I’m so fond of CW Morse, that earlier this year, I invited them to be a sponsor of QRPer.com and they very enthusiastically accepted (you’ll see their ad in the right nav bar of QRPer.com).

CW Morse has now moved into the world of CNC machined aluminum products.

Last week, they send me an evaluation model of their new CNC Machined Aluminum Pocket Double Paddle Key:

The form factor and size is very similar to their Pocket Paddles I’ve used for the better part of two years.

The feel of the CNC machines paddles, however, is much more solid than that of the 3D-printed key, no doubt because aluminum simply has less play.

Not only can you adjust the action of the paddles (in terms of travel to the center contact), but you can also adjust the spring tension.

The key they sent me also has a magnetic base (you can see the rare earth magnets in the four corners of the base plate below).

As with all CW Morse products, this key is designed and manufactured in the USA.

In the spirit of full disclosure, CW Morse sent this key at no cost to me. They asked for my honest evaluation.

So what do I think? Is this key for you?

This is one of the most solid feeling paddles I’ve ever used. Since this key is built with 6061 billet aluminum blocks and the the main body is made in one solid piece, it feels substantial. To be clear, though, it’s not what I would consider heavy, but it obviously weighs more than their 3D printed pocket paddles.

I believe these paddles could take heavy abuse from ops (like me, I’ll be honest) who are pretty heavy fisted. You may have noticed in my videos that I tend to slap around my paddles and keys. I can tell this paddle will take serious abuse!

If you’re the sort of op who likes a lighter touch, though, you might stick with CW Morse’s 3D printed paddles. The action feels lighter and, again, being 3D-printed, the material is a bit lighter.

I can tell you that these CNC machined aluminum paddles are going to get a lot of use and abuse from me. In fact, I’ve been using them exclusively for about one week in the shack and I’ve been very pleased. I feel like my sending accuracy has been excellent. I can’t wait to take them to the field soon, but first I need to finish a few DIY projects at the QTH–POTA and SOTA activations will be my reward!

Click here to check it out the new aluminum paddles at CW Morse.

Please note that CW Morse is now a sponsor and most links to their site now have a  referral code that gives back a small percentage to QRPer.com. If you’d prefer to order a product without our referral code, click here.

Side trail POTA ATNO at Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier in Québec City

On July 4, 2022, I plotted a multiple park POTA run that included four urban parks all clustered in the Sainte-Foy region of Québec City.

The first park I activated that day was Parc de la Plage-Jacques-Cartier (VE-0970)–click here to check out my full field report and activation video. The second park was Parc Cartier-Roberval (VE-0964)–click here to check out that field report and activation video. The third park was Boisé de Marly Provincial Park–click here to check out that field report and activation video.

My fourth park was Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier which essentially adjoined the previous park I activated. As I mentioned in the previous field report, I could have simply walked through the trail system to this park from my previous site, but I needed to find a different parking spot for my car, so I simply drove to a large lot next to the secondary school I spotted on Google Maps.

Turns out even though that lot was nearly empty, it was a paid parking, so I reserved a parking spot for one hour.

Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier (VE-0958)

When I first parked, I wasn’t entirely sure where the park entrance was until I spotted a bench and park sign at the far corner of the lot.

This park, much like the previous one, seemed to be an urban park with trails for walking and running.

I walked the main path into the park and looked for a park bench like I found at the park entrance (above). I thought it might be nice to set up along the path and do a park bench activation much like I did at another urban park in Québec City.

I walked for a decent distance and couldn’t see a bench in sight.  The path was fairly busy with walkers and runners, so I was very pleased when I found a side trail cutting through the middle of the park.

I could tell that this path–while very well-worn and obvious–was not one maintained by the park admin. It looked more like a simple foot trail that local children have probably used in the past (I spotted a little wooden fort/lean-to in the woods.)

Keep in mind that this was my fourth park activation of the day and by this time, I was running behind–no surprise there. After the activation, I had two errands to run in QC before heading back to our condo and enjoying dinner and a movie with the family.

Continue reading Side trail POTA ATNO at Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier in Québec City

Joshua’s ATU-10 review update after new firmware upgrades

Many thanks to Joshua (KO4AWH) who shares the following update to his previous guest review of the ATU-10 automatic antenna tuner:


Update on the ATU-10: new firmware released

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

The short story is that David N7DDC has a Firmware update with a new tuning algorithm that seems to fix the previously seen failure to find a decent match. As noted earlier in comparison with the Elecraft T1, the ATU-10 still does not necessarily get as close a match to 1:1 SWR but it now does indeed find a good match making this tuner my go to for use with my IC-705.

Not previously mentioned, the ATU-10 is also designed to work with the IC-705 for tuning commands when connected with a TRS 3.5mm cable, not just as an auto tuner when given a signal. And, in practice it works just as it should. I actually took the IC-705 and the ATU-10 and worked a SOTA/POTA with the beta version of this new firmware. I ran a 35’ wire and it worked great allowing me to work 40m, 20m, 15m and 6m for a total of 26 contacts. As a followup to my previous testing with the prior firmware 1.4, below are my results with the current new 1.5 firmware.

Testing on August 20th, 2022

The only difference from the original testing is the 31.5’ radiator was replaced with a 35’ and I did not tune and record results with the T1.

Conclusion on the ATU-10

I now feel very comfortable recommending this ATU. newdiytech.com has a great price and the build quality seems just fine. With the new algorithm update, a good match is found. The ATU-10 works great stand alone and also works fully automatically when used with a IC-705. This configuration means you can put the ATU at the antenna feed point and run a control cable back to the IC-705 and have a 50 ohm across the coax to help minimize loss, making for a nice portable setup with great band hopping flexibility.

Of course, if interested, I sell a protection cover for the ATU-10 just as I do for the T1.

If your curiosity is strong, here is some testing I did for David as he was updating the Algorithm now used in firmware 1.5.

UPDATE August 3rd 2022:

David Fainitski N7DDC has released a test firmware with a new tuning Algorithm with some promising initial results. A quick test on each band in the table has been added to reflect the new algorithm. This is not a firmware update yet but I suspect it will be soon. Results are great as tested. I hope to see this in a new FW soon.

August 6th, 2022

A second test firmware from David Fainitski N7DDC with the ability to increase or decrease the L and C manually allowed me to verify if a better match could be made. Turns out in a few cases it could. After testing again with a Tufteln 9:1 T80-2X2 on a 41ft sloping radiator I was able to achieve much better results than with the current version 1.4. In two cases I was able to find a better match manually. I realized later that if I were to tune a second time the ATU-10 would find the same, better match, on its own. Again, not a full firmware update, i.e. you have to flash back to 1.4 if you want to be able to turn off the turner.

(Click to enlarge.)

August 7th, 2022

Another test firmware David asked me to check. This version seemed more likely to find the best match. I did have the ATU go to L0, C0 twice but then find a match on a second try. This happened once on 40m and once on 10m. Almost like it faulted but there was some switching/clicking involved before stopping, it just landed at a 3:1 or higher with 0 for L and C. A second tune however straightened it out. I did not record those two cases. Below are the results. I was able to find a slightly better match twice but I am sure one would never notice the difference during normal use. The improvement both times was within the error of SWR across the three device measurements.

(Click to enlarge.)

An Urban POTA ATNO at Boisé de Marly Provincial Park

I’m very grateful to Canada for taking me a little outside my comfort zone in terms of park activations.

You see, by and large, I activate large national and state parks in rural areas of the US. I’m used to having lots of space and loads of activation site options. Even on a busy day, if I choose, I can pretty much disappear in some far-flung corner of a park. No one would ever know I’m there.

Urban parks are still rather novel to me.

On July 4, 2022, I plotted a little multiple park POTA run that included four urban parks all clustered in the Sainte-Foy region of Québec City.

The first park I activated that day was Parc de la Plage-Jacques-Cartier (VE-0970)–click here to check out my full field report and activation video. The second park was Parc Cartier-Roberval (VE-0964)–click here to check out that field report and activation video.

The third park I scheduled for the day was Boisé de Marly Provincial Park. I could find very little information about this park online and even Google Maps satellite view didn’t give me an idea of what to expect once I arrived.

I could tell, though, that it was an urban park nestled between neighborhoods, roads, and commercial buildings. I could also tell that it had trees, so I planned to use the same transceiver-antenna pairing I used at the previous park: the Elecraft KX2 and Tufteln 9:1 random wire antenna.

Boisé de Marly was basically across the road from Parc Cartier-Roberval, but I needed to find a pedestrian access point and a parking spot, so I drove around the southern perimeter of the park until I found a side road with an access point and what appeared to be free parking on the road.

In truth, I wasn’t entirely sure if I needed a permit to park on the street, but I felt it was likely okay based on lack of signage. In any case, the street was quiet and I parked with a couple of other cars. I hoped that if I was mistaken, the person planning to write me a parking ticket would see my North Carolina plates and the RAC sticker and decide to give me a break. 🙂

Besides, at this point I was on a tight schedule if I wished to hit all four scheduled parks that afternoon, so I didn’t plan to hang around long enough for a ticket anyway.

Boisé de Marly (VE-0956)

At the neighborhood street entrance, I found the sign above that gave me a quick overview of the park. From what I could tell, this park primarily consisted of a trail network meant for walking and running.

I didn’t see any signs of picnic tables or even benches, at least at this end of the park.

I walked into the park maybe 100 meters or so and looked for a spot to operate.

Continue reading An Urban POTA ATNO at Boisé de Marly Provincial Park

QRP DX! Pairing the Elecraft KX2 & Tufteln Random Wire at Parc Cartier-Roberval.

On July 4, 2022, I plotted a little multiple park POTA run that included four parks all clustered in the Sainte-Foy region of Québec City.

The first park I activated that day was Parc de la Plage-Jacques-Cartier (VE-0970)–click here to check out my full field report and activation video. I managed to complete that activation in record time, during poor band conditions with the Elecraft AX1 antenna. In short? It was a blast!

I knew, however, that band conditions would likely only deteriorate that day and each subsequent activation could become more difficult to complete (spoiler alert: it did).

I scheduled Parc Cartier-Roberval (VE-0964) to be the second park of the day and was prepared to slog it out, but fortunately, the bands had not collapsed yet and this activation had a few surprises in store!

Parc Cartier-Roberval (VE-0964)

This park practically adjoins the previous park I activated. Indeed, if I had the time in my schedule (I did not) I would have walked the St. Lawrence river trail to Parc Cartier-Roberval.

My family actually visited Parc Cartier-Roberval the previous week while in the Sainte-Foy area.

The park is chock-full of history as it is also associated with an archaeological site exploring the first French colonists to arrive in America by Jacques Cartier and Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval from 1541 to 1543.

There are some beautiful and informative displays on the west side of the park, near the railroad tracks.

There’s also a beautiful, immersive display that ends with a stunning overlook.

I could have spent all day soaking in the history.

The suspended glass encasement containing figurines of the first colonists is not to be missed.

And, again, the views from the overlook are most impressive!

Since I was on a schedule, I left the overlook and walked to the eastern part of the park.

When I visited the park the previous week, I had no time to perform an activation–in fact, we were in the Sainte-Foy area to visit a CLSC (regional medical center) and didn’t want to miss our appointment time.

Side note: Why were we visiting a CLSC the previous week? My wife cut her finger a few days prior; it was severe enough to require a visit to the hospital and six stitches. Our CLSC visit was to have a nurse check out her finger and change the bandage. The medical care we got was first class–within a week (two days after this activation) the stitches were removed and we were given the green light to do some camping up the north coast of the St. Lawrence. She had to change her bandages frequently for a full month, but looking at her finger now, you’d never know she’d cut it. Turns out, Québec is a great place to have a medical emergency!

But back to the activation…

Continue reading QRP DX! Pairing the Elecraft KX2 & Tufteln Random Wire at Parc Cartier-Roberval.

Poor Propagation: Can the Elecraft AX1 handle band conditions during this urban POTA activation?

Typically, when I do field activations while on vacation, I squeeze them in and around our family activities and travels. This is quite easy to do because our family enjoys a good hike and we love our parks.

On July 4, 2022 (Independence Day in the US!) my wife and daughters had their own activities planned for the day which opened up nearly a full day–at least a good 5-6 hour window–for me to do park activations solo.

Château Frontenac in Old Québec

I had numerous park choices in/around Québec City–an area rich with POTA sites.

I thought that I could either spend the day hitting one park further afield or hit multiple parks clustered together.

I chose the latter, so I started researching the POTA Map for Québec City.

In truth, pretty much any of the parks in Québec City could have been pieced together for a multiple park run. In fact, there are a number cluster in the city center and in Old Québec, but I was keen to explore a little cluster of parks I noted in the Saint-Foy area west of Québec City:

The map below shows just how close these four parks are to each other. Very doable!

These parks were so close to each other, I considered parking in the middle and simply walking to each site, but after reviewing the distance between the potential activation sites at each parks more carefully, I realized I wouldn’t have the time to activate all four parks if I walked it.

It was this activation that reminded me how brilliant it would be to own a folding bike like by buddy Jim (N4JAW) uses on each of his nearly daily POTA activations. With a bicycle, I think I could have actually activated these more quickly than I could with a car because there’d be no need to find a parking spaces at each site.

The Plan

I decided I’d try to hit my four parks in this order:

The only park I’d visited in advance was Parc Cartier-Roberval so I knew I’d need a little time to find activation sites, etc. at the other three. If the activations took longer than expected to validate with 10 stations logged, I might have to skip the final park.

Interestingly, three of these four parks were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) thus had never been activated for POTA. Continue reading Poor Propagation: Can the Elecraft AX1 handle band conditions during this urban POTA activation?

Activating Parc National des Grands-Jardins as a POTA All-Time New One!

When I first started doing activations in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program, many of our regional parks in North Carolina were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones).

An ATNO is what it sounds like: a park that is in the POTA network but has never been activated.

ATNOs were plentiful in the early days–before the rise of POTA. In those early days, I found that if a park was even slightly inconvenient to access, it would be an ATNO.

In fact, I reckon that nearly 40% of the parks I activated in 2020, were ATNOs. This wasn’t because I made a particular effort to hit ATNOs. Rather I made an effort to activate unique parks that year; it was the beginning of the pandemic and this was a fun activity for me–an excuse to explore regional public lands–so ATNOs were among them.

With POTA participation having grown by orders of magnitude in the past few years–a very welcome thing indeed–ATNOs in North Carolina are extremely rare. I just checked and we have two ATNO parks out of 230 parks in NC. I can pretty much guarantee that our two ATNOs have either just been added to the database, or they’re very difficult to access.

POTA hasn’t been in Canada as long as it has in the US and, in some regions, it’s just catching on.

Another discovery was the Domaine de Maizerets–a very popular urban park in Québec City/Beauport that I activated as an ATNO in June 2022.

I was surprised to find that there were still a lot of ATNOs in/around Québec City because the area has a very active ham radio community.

Parc national des Grands-Jardins (VE-0499)

One of my favorite parks in Québec is Parc national des Grands-Jardins. This is a SEPAQ park located in the Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve.

As we were plotting our summer trip to Canada, I made a list of the parks I wanted to activate and Grands-Jardins was at the top of that list.

When we spend the summer in Québec, we always fit in a few visits to Grands-Jardins. The mountains there are beautiful with rounded tops and rocky faces. Via ferrata is a very popular summer activity in the park, but our family enjoys the hikes, the overlooks, and I especially love the back country roads!

I didn’t realize until a few days before attempting this activation that Grands-Jardins was still an ANTO Continue reading Activating Parc National des Grands-Jardins as a POTA All-Time New One!

Arborist throw lines: Ideal lengths, weights, and packs for field radio

Many thanks to Barry (WD4MSM) who writes:

Thomas,

I thoroughly enjoy the website and movies!

Could you answer one question?

How much arborist throw line do you take into the field? 150’ – 100’ – less?

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

Barry WD4MSM

Great question, Barry!

I basically have four variations of throw line kits.

You’ve asked about line lengths, but I’m also asked frequently about the throw weight sizes and throw line bags as well.

First, let’s take a look at my kit variations, then I’ll share my thoughts on throw line lengths, weights, and bags. Note that many of these products are Amazon so there are affiliate links:

Throw Line with folding cube

One is my original Weaver throw line kit made up of two parts:

The line length is 150 feet (45.72 meters).

I tend to use this throw line when I’m doing a POTA activation very close to my vehicle. It’s lightweight, but a bit bulky to take on a long hike.

Compact Arborist Throw Line Kit

This kit is identical to my large folding cube kit above, but the throw weight is 12 oz and I store it in a small Weaver stuff sack.

Continue reading Arborist throw lines: Ideal lengths, weights, and packs for field radio

Fighting mozzies and logging POTA hunters at Cap Touremente

One of our favorite national parks in the Côte-de-Beaupré region of Québec, Canada is Cap Tourenemente National Wildlife Area.

When my family spends the summer in Québec we typically visit it several times, especially since it’s never far from where we stay.

Thing is, each entry into Cap Touremente costs about $20 or so (unless we purchase an annual pass), but it’s worth it for the hikes, and the scenery. We also like supporting parks with our entry fee.

For a POTA activation–? I don’t need access to the main park, especially if the family isn’t with me. I did a little research and found a spot within the NWA on the “free” side of the park gates.

The spot is a basically a wildlife viewing area with a small grass road that is flanked by marsh land near the town of Saint-Joachim.

Of course…

Marsh Land = Mozzies

Before heading to Cap Touremente on Monday, June 27, 2022, I sprayed a “healthy” dose of insect repellent on my clothing. Having been to this spot several times in the past, I knew what awaited me: mosquitos. Lots of them.

We have mosquitos back home in the mountains of North Carolina, of course, but not in the quantities you find in marshy areas along the north shore of the St-Lawrence.

That Monday, though, it was very gusty. In the morning we had heavy rains, then a front pushed that through in the early afternoon opening up clear skies and very gusty winds. Mosquitos don’t do well in the wind, so my hope was the wind would offer an extra layer of protection.

Spoiler alert: The winds did help to some degree, but Canadian mosquitoes are heartier than our Carolina varieties.

Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area (VE-0012)

I had been on the air earlier in the day and conditions were truly in the dumps–at least, at my latitude. I knew it wouldn’t be a quick activation, so I allowed myself extra time to complete the activation.

On the 10 minute drive to the site, I decided to pair the Elecraft KX2 with the TufetIn 9:1 random wire antenna that I configured with a 31′ radiator and a 17′ counterpoise. I found this combo very effective in the past and I love the frequency agility of random wire antennas especially when the bands are rough and it becomes a game of band hopping to see what portions might be open. Continue reading Fighting mozzies and logging POTA hunters at Cap Touremente