Tag Archives: Brian (K3ES)

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

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Equipment at K-8773

Equipment at K-8977

Important Update: How to Join the QRPer.net Community

Dear QRPer.net Members,

As many of you have likely noticed, our QRPer.net Discussion Board has recently been targeted by an influx of SPAM users and comments. In response, our superhero administrator, Brian (K3ES), has been diligently working to sort and flag the SPAM comments and users from the genuine contributors.

To address this issue, we are implementing changes to our user registration process.

To address this issue, we are implementing changes to our user registration process.

Moving forward, new user registrations will undergo manual approval to ensure the authenticity of each member. While this adjustment may require a bit more effort, it is essential for protecting the quality of our community.

Here’s what you need to do to join QRPer.net:

  1. Go to https://qrper.net/ and click on the register button, then Follow the prompts to create a username and submit your registration to our admin.
  2. After submitting the registration, send an email to our admin team at [email protected] with the following information:
    • Your full name and callsign (or indicate “SWL” if you’re a listener)
    • The username you chose for the discussion board (exactly as you submitted it)
    • The email address you used in your registration

Once we receive your email, we will process your request promptly and get you set up to participate in our discussions.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation as we work to keep our community SPAM-free. Your support is invaluable in maintaining the welcoming and informative atmosphere of QRPer.net.

We look forward to welcoming you to our community soon!

Best regards,

QRPer.net Admin Team

Brian Activates Allegheny National Forest and Remembers a Dear Friend

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


Activation at Allegheny National Forest:  Remembering a Friend

by Brian (K3ES)

The last few weeks have been rough for the K3ES household.  In past activation reports, I introduced you to our two Boston Terriers.  Molly and Jojo came to us as rescue dogs in October 2022, and we have worked hard to help them feel safe and loved.  Unfortunately, both came to us with unexpected health problems.  We were able to get Molly through treatment for heartworm, and she is thriving.  Jojo always had something holding her back, but we were never quite sure what.  We lost her just before Christmas, and that was a real punch in the gut.

Jojo was a special dog.  When we brought her home, she barely weighed 15 pounds.  Even after we managed to build her weight up to 25 pounds, she was still thin for her frame.  She also came to us hunched, cowering, and emotionally traumatized.  It took months for her to start coming out of her shell.  We got glimpses of her as a feisty, and loving dog, who took real joy from laying in the sunshine.  We were hopeful that she would one day come into her own, and give our jubilant Molly a real run for her money.  Sadly, it was not to be.  She had increasing problems with mobility.  We treated her for a bone infection, for possible tick-borne disease, and for joint inflammation.  Steroids and pain medication helped her quality of life a lot.  It was only near the end that the likely culprit was identified as cancer, but even expensive diagnostic tests failed to confirm that.  Finally, her body just crashed, and we had to let her go…

Jojo supervises a truck activation of Allegheny National Forest in March 2023.

Looking back through pictures of Jojo, I discovered some that were taken during a never-reported “truck activation” of Allegheny National Forest (K-0619) back in March, 2023.

I have never thought that my vehicle-based activations were terribly interesting, so I never spent the time to report them.  Suddenly, that particular activation held new meaning, because one of the few times I got Jojo out with me for a POTA activation happened because I was doing a low-impact drive-up, working from the truck.  She rode shotgun, and sat happily in the passenger seat while I made contacts.  Molly sat in the back seat, napping from time to time.  After the radio gear was packed away, the three of us even managed to take a short trail walk along a Forest Service Road that starts at the parking area.

Jojo and Molly lead the way on the Forest Service Road after the radio gear was packed away.

Last week, I found myself in serious need of radio-therapy.  Since Molly is always ready to go for a ride and a POTA, I decided to take her along to re-create the prior activation that we did with Jojo.  So this is the story of our salute to a departed friend, a tribute activation, as it were.

Activation

Molly and I packed her blanket, picked up my KX2 field kit, and jumped in the truck for a 20 minute drive to the trail-head parking area that we had activated with Jojo last March.  It has trees, a decent driving and walking surface that would not be too muddy from recent rain, and the Forest Service road where we had walked after the previous activation.  This time, Molly rode in the passenger seat, alternating between napping, and looking at the scenery as we drove.  Upon arrival she stayed put, while I used a throw line to put up my Tufteln 35 ft EFRW as a sloper.  I hooked the unun around my 2 meter mobile antenna, and ran coax into the truck through the lower part of the driver-side door seal.  I set up the KX2 on the center console/armrest, prepared my log, and got on the air to start the activation.

Tufteln 9:1 unun was clipped to my 2m mobile antenna, with the 35 ft radiator sloping up to a tree, the 17 ft counterpoise dropping down to the ground, and the RG316 feedline leading into the truck.

Results

As with almost all of my activations, I ran this one entirely CW QRP.  Beginning just after 1900z (2 pm local), I decided to start on 15m and work my way down the bands.  The HF bands were in good shape, and 15m netted 2 quick contacts, then 17m yielded 6 more.  The pace picked up when I moved to 20m (12 contacts in 22 minutes), and got even faster on 30m (17 contacts in 19 minutes, before it was time to call QRT).  While I was on the air, Molly did some supervising and some super snoozing.

Molly is an interested supervisor…
But supervising is tiring work.

Working steadily for an hour and a quarter, and finishing with 37 contacts was just the kind of break that I needed.  I want to sincerely thank the hunters who made this activation a success.  For just a short while, I was focused on CW, call signs, and signal reports, and the sense of loss receded a bit from my consciousness.

A map of 37 contacts on 4 bands.

Equipment

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Molly and I walked along the Forest Service Road.  We felt incomplete…

Conclusion

After I packed up the station, Molly and I repeated our walk along the Forest Service road.  With just the two of us, it was definitely a bittersweet experience.  I think Molly felt our loss, too.  I like to think that Jojo would have been fine with missing this activation.  The weather, while not raining, was cool, overcast, and a bit gloomy.  The sunshine that she treasured was absent for us that day.  Hopefully, she has found a place in perpetual sunshine, and is soaking up the rays.  Good bye sweet pup.

We will always remember Jojo in her natural element, bathing in sunshine…

Hold on tight to those you love, and do something special with your four-footed companions.  I wish you all the best in 2024.

Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

K3ES Activates Waco Mammoth National Monument

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


The National Park Service welcomes you to Waco Mammoth National Monument

Activating K-0975, Waco Mammoth National Monument

by Brian (K3ES)

At the end of November 2023, my wife and I loaded her minivan, and headed out into the first significant snowfall of the season.  I had already been out that morning in my 4WD truck to pull a friend’s car out of a ditch, so I was driving carefully.  Our drive took us from our home in northwest Pennsylvania to Baltimore, MD.  Happily, weather conditions improved as we went south and east.  We were meeting our son, daughter-in-law, and 2-1/2 year old grandson for a family trip to Waco, TX (we flew out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport early the next morning).  My wife and daughter-in-law are particular fans of Fixer-Upper and Chip and Joanna Gaines, all based in Waco.  Us men-folk were to be educated in the finer points of appreciating this pop-culture phenomenon.  Ultimately, we certainly did appreciate the finer points of dining in Waco.

One side-trip that amazed us all was a 10 minute drive up the road to Waco Mammoth National Monument.  This relatively new addition to the National Park system is also listed as Parks on the Air (POTA) entity K-0975.  Back in the days when the area occupied by the National Monument was private land, two exploring teenagers, who may not have had proper permission, found a bone, a big bone.  This bone was delivered to a local museum for identification, and ultimately determined to have been the femur of a female Columbian Mammoth.  Legalities being as they are, it took a while longer for the location of the discovery to be made public.  An interested and civic-minded land owner made the process less traumatic than might have been, particularly for the wandering teenagers.  He also started the process to preserve the site and its archaeological treasures for the public, ultimately leading to its designation as a National Monument.  Over subsequent years, archaeological excavation discovered a lot more bones – skeletons from an entire nursery herd of Columbian Mammoths, along with skeletons from other species that visited what was apparently a dangerous waterhole during the last ice age.

A view of the interior of the building constructed to protect the archaeological site.  Near the entry door is a full-sized artist’s rendition of a Columbian Mammoth.  Standing up to14 feet high at the shoulder, Columbian Mammoths were significantly larger than their better known Woolly Mammoth cousins.  This site is unique in that the bones of an entire nursery herd, including multiple females and their young, were found together here.
Some of the partially excavated mammoth skeletons contained in the enclosure building.
Also found in this excavation site was a Western Camel skeleton.  It is thought that the large number, numerous species, and wide range of ages of the skeletons discovered at this site resulted from entrapment in thick mud that formed the bottom of a persistent waterhole.

Since the discovery, many skeletons have been excavated and removed for study, but many more remain at the site awaiting future recovery.  A building has been constructed to cover the excavation and protect the remaining skeletons, and this building is the amazing focal point of the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  Ranger-led tours are available, and very much worthwhile.

Operating QRP CW on a beautiful afternoon at K-0975, Waco Mammoth National Monument.  My station is set up in a grassy field sometimes used for overflow parking.

Setting Up to Activate K-0975

After the tour and a look at the excavation site, I excused myself and set up to activate K-0975.  Before the trip, I had sent an email to Phil – WA5PQL, who is the most frequent activator at K-0975.  He was gracious and helpful in providing information about the park, the staff, and the locations most suitable for activating.  His assistance made a quick, low-stress activation a near certainty.  After checking in with the Park Rangers, I had directions and permissions, so all that remained a concern was HF propagation.

While the previous day had been overcast with drizzle, Friday, December 1, 2023, was sunny and warm.  It was perfect for walking around the site, and for an outdoor activation.  Unfortunately, the same sun that gave us the bright, warm day, had been active producing solar flares that could interfere with radio communications.  The only way to know for sure that I could make contacts was to set up my station and call CQ, so that is the path I chose.

Field kit contained in a re-purposed Peltor 4” x 6” x 9” padded headset pouch.  This compact kit was easily packed in a carry-on backpack for airline travel.  The pouch’s integral handle also made for easy transport to the activation site.

Field kit contents from the upper-left (click image above to enlarge):

  1. 33 gal trash bag for dry seating,
  2. 15 ft RG316 feedline with BNC male connectors,
  3. Two pieces of nylon cord,
  4. Medium-sized pill bottle to be filled with dirt or stones and used as a throw weight,
  5. 80 ft of Marlow Excel 2mm arborist’s throw line,
  6. BaMaTech TP-III paddles with connecting cable carried in an Altoids tin,
  7. Nail clippers as a TSA-approved tool,
  8. Elecraft KX2 transceiver with SideKX end-panels and polycarbonate cover,
  9. Tufteln 9:1 end-fed random wire antenna with 35 ft radiator and 17 ft counterpoise,
  10. Generic ear-bud headphones,
  11. Homebrew VK3IL-designed pressure paddles with adjacent protective sleeve sitting atop a plastic ziploc bag,
  12. Rite in the Rain notepad for logging,
  13. Pentel Twist-Erase 0.9mm mechanical pencil,
  14. Miscellaneous cable ties.

Not pictured is a Packtenna 10m collapsable fiberglass mast that was available, but not used for this activation.

I brought a very small, but capable, field kit based on my Elecraft KX2 and a Tufteln End-fed Random Wire antenna.  A couple of CW keys, a short feedline, and generic earbuds completed the station.  I also brought a notepad and a pencil for logging, a plastic garbage bag for seating, and some cordage.  The most peculiar part of my kit was a small pill bottle with a hole in its lid.  I filled the pill bottle with dirt, passed the end of a 2mm line through the lid and secured it with a knot.  I was able to use the dirt-filled bottle as a throw weight to get the line over a tree branch for raising the antenna, then I detached the bottle and returned the dirt.  All elements of the kit worked as intended, and TSA asked no questions during my trips through airport security. Continue reading K3ES Activates Waco Mammoth National Monument

Beyond the Basics with CW Innovations

Many thanks to Brain (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


CW POTA activations can be enjoyable, and theraputic.  This photo shows the me activating from a picnic shelter on a beautiful spring day.

Learning CW:  Beyond the Basics

by Brian (K3ES)

I just finished my last class ever for learning Morse Code.  It was a lot of work, but it really improved my ability to communicate using the CW operating mode.  More importantly, this class taught me how to actually learn CW, by diagnosing the problems and barriers that inhibit improvement.  Then it gave me tools I can use to overcome those problems and barriers at any stage of my CW journey.  You see, I am not yet where I want to be, but I have made a giant leap forward, and I now know what I have to do to keep improving.

I guess it might help to tell you a bit about myself as a radio amateur, about the start of my CW journey, and about what motivates me to improve.

I got licensed in 2020, when I was working from home, and spending way too much time locked away from the rest of the world.  I saw a video about amateur radio, and thought it might provide an opportunity for increased personal contact despite social distancing.  I studied during my plentiful spare time, and passed the Technician, General and Amateur Extra license examinations in short order.  Once I was licensed, Elmers at Skyview Radio Society near Pittsburgh, PA helped me to learn and explore the hobby, encouraging me to be radio-active.

I found a compelling niche hunting for Parks on the Air (POTA) activators, and I started hearing about all the benefits that CW brought for activating parks:  tiny radios, efficient use of power, and automatic spotting via the reverse beacon network.  That motivated me to work on learning Morse Code.

A full CW station packed for a hike weighs just a few pounds.  This kit, based around an Elecraft KX2, fits in a small shoulder bag, includes all needed components and some spares, along with creature comforts for the activator.

I started my CW journey using a variety of apps and online tools.  I practiced with club members.  Thomas Witherspoon’s YouTube channel became a staple in my CW diet.  Every character copied was a victory.  All of this helped my ability and confidence.

I completed my first CW-only POTA activation in July of 2021, and have not looked back.  But, during one of my early park activations, I had a defining experience.  I could copy callsigns and standard exchanges with ease, but something off script would throw me off balance.

When a hunter finished his exchange and sent something followed by a question mark, I was lost.  We worked through it, and after several slow repeats, I understood that he had sent “COUNTY?”.  He wanted to know what county I was operating from.  I easily sent him the name of my county, but the experience left me certain that I needed to improve my copy skills.

It doesn’t get much better than this.  Operating CW under my favorite tree duing an activation of K-1345, Cook Forest State Park, in northwest Pennsylvania.

That certainty started me on a new phase of the journey, one involving formal training classes.  I took a few classes, and each class helped – I could look back and see the progress.  But none of them left me ready for CW communication beyond predictable exchanges.  I knew there had to be an approach to me get there, and there had to be something more efficient than working endlessly to copy code bulletins or on-air QSOs between other operators.

CW Innovations provided just that method with their Comprehensive Instant Character Recognition (CICR) Course.  CICR is not just a class, but a structured process for improvement, which includes self-diagnosis, targeted practice, a supportive learning environment, and partners working together to put new skills into practice on the air.

This figure provides an overview of the Comprehensive Instant Character Recognition Course.  Modules focused on each of the elements are introduced as the 10-week course progresses. (Click image to enlarge)

Instantly recognizing a received character is liberating.  Rather than performing mental translation, you learn to recognize each code sound pattern as a letter, number, or punctuation mark; in much the same manner that you immediately recognize the printed symbols making up the text on this page.  CICR provides the tools and methods for achieving instant character recognition, but also emphasizes that new weaknesses in character recognition will continue to appear as your copying of code becomes more challenging.  When that happens, it is time to circle back and further improve your recognition skills.  The same tools continue to work. Continue reading Beyond the Basics with CW Innovations

N2YCH’s Top Band POTA Activation Field Report

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


Top Band POTA Activation Field Report

By: Conrad Trautmann (N2YCH)

November 15, 2023

In February 2023, Brian, K3ES, wrote here on QRPer.com about designing and building his own QRP portable random wire antenna he called the VK160 to work on 160 meters to make parks on the air contacts. This was in order to achieve his goal of getting the James F. LaPorta N1CC award where activating on 10 bands at 10 parks is needed. It’s not as easy as it sounds. As an avid parks on the air activator myself wanting to try activating on 160 meters, I built my own antenna based on Brian’s design and used it to get my first contacts ever at a park on the “Top Band.”

The Antenna

Brian used a 9:1 unun that he built himself in his design. Rather than build my own from scratch, I took a short cut and bought a QRPGuys 40m-10m UnUnTenna to use as the starting point for my VK160. Even though it says 40m-10m, it works on 160 meters, as you’ll see.

With shipping, it cost $36.00. It comes with all of the parts you need to assemble the antenna except for the wire. The main thing I liked about the QRPguys design was that the circuit board also doubles as a wire winder, so it’s all self-contained.

I sourced the wire from Davis RF and ordered 200’ of “POLY STEALTH – 26 AWG, 19 0.22000 44.00 STRAND COPPER CLAD STEEL, BLACK PE JACKET.” It cost $50 including shipping. The polyethylene insulation prevents the wire from knotting up. I measured out 144’ for the radiator based on Brian’s design and used the remaining wire as the counterpoise.

The completed antenna

I did a back yard test once it was all assembled and it worked great. For $86, I had created my own VK160. I encourage you to read Brian’s detailed design/build report here.

The POTA Activation – November 14, 2023

Now that I had completed building and testing the antenna, the next challenge was how to actually put it to use at a park. 160 meters doesn’t really come to life until dusk or after dark. In Connecticut, most state parks close at dusk. The park rangers clear the parks to close them at the best time to activate the band. However, there is one park nearby my QTH, the Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, K-0228, that has an annex called the Great Meadows Unit in Stratford with a nice parking lot that is not gated and has no posted hours. I arrived and set up at sunset, around 4:30 pm ET and operated from 5 pm until 6 pm. It gets dark here early in the Northeast US in November.

Another challenge is how to manage and string up 144’ of wire. Brian suggested an inverted V over a tree branch in his write up. There were no trees nearby, so instead I used a Spiderbeam fiberglass pole secured to my Jeep to get the feed point up in the air about 25 feet. I used RG58 cable from the feed point to the radio.

Spiderbeam fiberglass pole supporting VK160

Finally, I used one of my $3.00 Home Depot electric fence posts to secure the far end to keep it tight and up in the air and set up the antenna as a sloper. I laid out the counterpoise on the ground under the sloping wire.

By the time I had all of this set up, it was getting dark. I connected my Elecraft KX3 to the other end of the RG58 cable and to my surprise and delight, I was already receiving stations.

My KX3 has a built-in ATU and one tap of that ATU button and it tuned to 1.0:1. I started the activation right at 5 pm local time and in about 15 minutes, I had six QSO’s on 160 meters.

The PSK Reporter map showed me being received by stations on the dark side of the gray line in the Northeast. It was pretty much what I expected for QRP power on the low frequency. Then, the next ten minutes things were quiet. It appeared I had gotten everyone who could hear me.

Since this is a random wire antenna, it should work on all bands so I decided to test it on 80 meters. Again, the KX3 tuned right up and I got six more QSO’s. I was surprised to see Del, N2NWK from Washington, DC pop up on JT Alert. I have a an alert set for stations calling CQ POTA. Del was also at a park. I called and he answered and we ended up with a park to park. Anyone who knows Del knows that when you hunt him, he’s usually activating at a two-fer, at least. When I checked my hunter log afterwards, I saw four parks listed from him (a four-fer?).

At this point in the activation, I had gotten the ten QSO’s that I needed to call the park activated. I thought, let me try the VK160 on 60 meters. I re-tuned the KX3 and got five more fast QSO’s. The antenna worked great.

Before I packed up, I decided that I really wanted at least ten contacts on 160 meters, which was my original goal. I went back to 160 meters, now close to an hour later than when I began the activation, and easily added five more new QSO’s to the log. Maybe propagation had changed the later/darker it got or some new hams were on the band who weren’t on earlier, but I was satisfied to have gotten more than 10 on the top band.

The Results

Here’s how I did. Green pins are QSO’s on 160 meters, blue pins are 80 meters and the pink ones are 60 meters (click image to enlarge).

Equipment List

Conclusion

The “Top Band” activation was a success! The VK160 worked flawlessly, thank you Brian, K3ES for posting your design and providing the inspiration to activate on 160 meters.

My POTA “My Stats” page now shows 11 digital QSOs on 160 meters that I didn’t have before. I love conquering new challenges and given the challenge of going mobile with an antenna that will actually work and tune up on that low of a frequency at a park that won’t make you leave at sunset, well… that was quite an accomplishment!

Thank you to the 22 hunters (11 on 160 meters) who helped make it a success, including my friend Del, N2NWK in Washington, DC.

Conrad, N2YCH and Del, N2NWK

K3ES’ Hike with Molly: The POTA Dog In-Training!

Many thanks to Brain (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


“Hey!  I can be a POTA Dog.  Let’s go on a hike!”

A Hike (and Activation) with a POTA Dog In-Training

by Brian (K3ES)

PA State Route 66 Trail-head on K-4239

A plan for a Hike and an Activation

A couple of Wednesdays ago, I decided to take a hike along the North Country Trail.  It would not only provide some needed exercise on a beautiful day, but it would also take me into Pennsylvania Game Land #024, enabling a 2-fer activation of K-4239 and K-8725.  I had hiked this stretch of the trail several times before, so I figured it would be safe taking one of our dogs along for the trip.

Jojo (front) and Molly (back) are not happy about this staged picture.

Molly and Jojo are two rescued Boston Terriers, who have made our home their own since October of last year.  Each has her own character.  Molly is exuberant, very friendly, and frankly, a bit of a bulldozer.  Jojo is pure sun bunny, preferring to find a bright patch of lawn, then lay there soaking up the heat.  Once installed in a sunny spot, Jojo doesn’t like to move.  So, it seemed natural to invite Molly along for the afternoon hike.  The only potential issue was the planned stop for a park activation.  I was almost certain that Molly would enjoy the walk, but how would she handle the period of inactivity?  There was only one way to find out.

Jojo in her natural habitat:  sunbathing in the back yard.
Molly on the run.

Since solar conditions had been keeping the radio bands rough and unpredictable, I decided to start my QRP CW activation in the middle of the afternoon.  Beginning the activation at 3pm EDT meant that my first hour would overlap with the popular CWT sprint, so I planned to start on the 30m band to avoid trying to compete with my 5 watt signal.  More importantly, the timing would let me finish on the 40m band later in the afternoon, when I have always found it to be productive.

Molly supervises CW operations during the 2-fer Activation.

The plan was set and an activation was scheduled in POTA.app to begin at 3pm EDT, so detection by the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) would assure automatic spotting.  We left home just after 1pm, drove to the trail head, and started our hike to the activation point.  Our travel and the station setup went quicker than expected.  Even after securing Molly on her leash, with space to move around and drinking water in reach, all was ready to begin by 2:30pm.  Fortunately, there was sufficient cell coverage to let me directly enter an early spot.  Despite the early start, I stayed with my original plan to begin on the 30m band.

Activation

Contacts on 30m came slowly, but I was able to confirm the activation with 11 contacts in just over an hour.  Since the CWT sprint was continuing, I moved over to 17m to see if I could pick up some more distant contacts, but it was not to be.  I heard one strong signal on 17m – calling CQ over me.  I am confident that the operator did not hear me on the frequency, particularly since he did not pick up my call when I responded to his CQ.  Not only that, but my 5 watt signal did not even manage to attract the notice of the RBN.  I took that episode as a sign that it was time to QSY.

Logs from the activation filled up the last 2 pages of one notebook, and the first page of a second notebook.

Since it was past 4pm EDT, and the CWT sprint was finished, I moved over to 20m. Continue reading K3ES’ Hike with Molly: The POTA Dog In-Training!

K3ES: Activating Allegheny National Forest with Friends

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


Green trees and blue sky in Allegheny National Forest, K-0619, makes a perfect backdrop for a POTA activation.

Activating Allegheny National Forest with Friends

by Brian (K3ES)

An Opportunity

I will confess.  It has been a couple of weeks since I activated a park.  With some much needed days of rain, and an otherwise busy schedule, things have conspired against me.  So, when a bright, sunny day, without other pressing commitments came along, I jumped at the opportunity!

Mid-afternoon on Wednesday, July 5 was my time to head to the woods for a few hours.  I decided to stay close to home to minimize travel time.  In fact, a 10 minute walk up the road from my house gets me to a small piece of K-0619, Allegheny National Forest.  I took my lightest kit, added a camping chair and water bottle as creature comforts, and slung it all over my shoulder for the trip to a favorite operating location.

Once there, I got out my throw line to get the antenna set up, but things did not quite work as planned.  My toss sailed high, really high.  So high, in fact, that the line was not long enough for the weight to return to the ground without taking the small storage bag for my arborist kit up in the air.  Hmm…  I tried some different fixes, including tying additional cordage to the storage bag and letting it rise into the air while the weight descended.  Not sufficient.

Finally, I untied the tail end of the throw line from the storage bag (it normally stays tied, just in case the throw finds a branch that is a little high…), and let the weight drop.  Then I had to coil the line up again for another throw.  Fortunately, my second toss found a workable branch, and I got my antenna in the air.  For this activation, I used a Packtenna 9:1 with a 71 ft radiating wire set up as an inverted V.  Next, it was time to get my station set up, prepare my log, and start operating.

My operating station at K-0619, a clipboard with KX2, log book, pencil, and VK2IL pressure paddles balance on my knee.

Activation

The solar forecast predicted best propagation on higher bands, so I decided to start my 5 watt CW activation on 15m.  After 10 minutes of calling CQ POTA, with neither a response, nor an RBN spot, I moved to 17m.  Once again, nothing, so I moved to 30m, where the RBN picked up my call, but it still took more than 20 minutes to log 2 contacts.

When activating on Wednesday afternoons, I try to stay away from the 20 and 40m bands, because CW frequencies fill up quickly when the CWT sprint starts at 1900z, but with just over 20 minutes until before the CWT started, I decided to see if I could pick up enough contacts on 40m to validate the activation.  The 40m band has always been good to me.  Even with the solar forecast predicting disaster, it still proved to be productive.  I had 12 additional contacts in the log by 1859z, giving me more than enough to validate the activation.

A bit of the view from my shack.  Area deer came from my left and from behind.  They did not hesitate to share their displeasure about finding me there.

While logging those contacts on 40m, which kept me focused and busy, I became the subject of some animated discussion among the local residents.  I did not have time to do more than listen and glance, but I heard numerous snorts, and saw a few white tails raised in alarm.  Several of the local deer were not pleased that I was intruding in their domain.  Even so, I had a bit more time available, and decided to press on.  Continue reading K3ES: Activating Allegheny National Forest with Friends

Brian’s Reflections on Activating a Not-so-New Park

Many thanks to Brain (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


The Visitor Center at Kinzua Bridge State Park (K-1366) is well worth a visit.  It provides an excellent overview of the history, use, and collapse of the railroad bridge that gave the park its name, and it provides an excellent view of the pedestrian skyway built on the portion of the bridge that remained standing after the tornado that caused the collapse.

Reflections on Activating a Not-so-New Park

by Brian (K3ES)

Monday, April 3 was one of those beautiful, warmish (60ºF or 16ºC) sunny days in northwest Pennsylvania that remind us that spring is really here.  Only a week earlier, we had an unexpected snow fall that covered the ground (and it will likely not be our last snow of the season).  So my wife, her father, and the dogs all looked forward to getting out of the house to enjoy the weather.  We packed for a picnic, and drove through bright sunshine to Kinzua Bridge State Park.

After a picnic lunch, and while Becky and her dad explored the visitor center and walked the dogs, I set up for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of K-1366.  This would be my first activation of the park, but not my first visit.  I have been there several times before, including an excursion trip behind a steam engine that took me across the railroad bridge over Kinzua Creek and back.

A view from the visitor center of the pedestrian skyway.  It was constructed on the structure that remained after the bridge was struck by a tornado in 2003, causing its partial collapse.

An Historic Park

Kinzua Bridge State Park has an interesting history.  The railroad bridge that gives the park its name was originally built of wrought iron in 1882.  At the time it was built, the 301 ft (92m) high and 2052 ft (625m) long railroad bridge was the highest in the world.  It was rebuilt in place in 1900, replacing iron with steel, to strengthen it for the heavier trains that needed to cross.  The bridge remained in commercial service until 1952, and was later sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a State Park.  The bridge continued to support excursion trains and pedestrian traffic until 2002, but was struck by a tornado in 2003, causing its partial collapse.  Today, the remaining part of the bridge has been rebuilt as a pedestrian skyway, complete with a glass floor at its end to look down at the valley far below.

The visitor center provides an excellent multimedia overview of the economics, technology, and history of the structure.  It is well worth a visit.  Similarly, the skyway gives a spectacular view of the structure, the collapsed towers, and the surrounding Pennsylvania forest.  The park has picnic facilities and hiking trails, and a trailhead for the rail trail that has repurposed the old railroad right-of-way.

This is a view of the picnic pavilion from my operating position.  The picnic area also has a number of other open picnic tables and a playground area for the younger crowd.

The Setup for Activation

I stopped into the visitor center to let the staff know of my intention to activate.  I found them to be friendly and accommodating, which always makes activating a pleasure.  I do my best to be a good ambassador for amateur radio and the POTA program.

For activating, I set up at a remote picnic table.  Three tosses got the throw line over a good branch to support my Tufteln 9:1 random wire antenna.  A 15 ft RG-316 cable connected the antenna to my Elecraft KX2.  Completing the station were a 3 Ah LiFePO4 battery, a set of generic earbuds, and VK3IL pressure paddles.  I used a clipboard to keep my notepad from blowing around in the breeze, while I logged with a mechanical pencil.

The picnic table operating station used to activate K-1366.  Included are the KX2, VK3IL pressure paddles, clipboard and log.

The Activation

As I finished getting the station ready to go, it occurred to me that I had a frequency-agile-antenna and rig, a bit more than an hour to operate, and no other operators in the area.  So, I took the opportunity to try for contacts on as many bands as possible, inching my way toward the POTA N1CC Activator award for making contacts on 10 bands from 10 parks.  The park has good cell coverage, so I was able to use my phone to spot myself.  After that, I mostly left things to the Reverse Beacon Network and the POTA spotting gateway, but I was able to use the phone to confirm that my changes in frequency were picked up.

In 70 minutes of CW operation at 5 watts, I made total of 26 contacts, including at least one contact each on the 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, and 40m bands.  An apology to the hunters may be in order, because I was harder-than-usual to contact.  After making a contact on each band, I would QSY to the next at the first significant lull in the action.  I look forward to another trip back to K-1366 to try for contacts on the 3 additional bands needed to complete its activation toward my N1CC.

As you might guess, by using multiple bands, the contacts came from both far and near:  as far as Spain to the east and Oregon to the west, and as near as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.  Middling distances were also well represented in the log.

It was a good day in the park, and here is the contact map from a 7-band activation of K-1366.

Equipment

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Conclusion

This outing made for a fun and productive afternoon that was all the more enjoyable for sharing it with my family.

It also made for a great opportunity to shake off the winter blahs, and it held the promise of beautiful spring and summer days for more park activations.

Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

Here is a bonus picture of another semi-famous bridge in northwestern Pennsylvania (it actually has its own Facebook page).  This is Nebraska Bridge, which provides a convenient shortcut across Tionesta Creek.  We knew we would have to take the long way around, but stopped for a look anyway.  Unfortunately the bridge floods several times a year (sometimes becoming completely submerged), because it is located in the upstream end of the reservoir behind the Army Corps of Engineers’ Tionesta Creek Dam.  We had over an inch of rain last week, so the bridge is partially under water.  On the brighter side, 100 miles downstream, the City of Pittsburgh did not flood.

In Pursuit of the Top Band: Brian describes how he built and tested a field-portable 160 meter EFRW antenna

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


The VK160 Antenna packed on its Winder/Feedpoint for storage, transport, and deployment.

Building and Testing the VK160 Antenna

by Brian (K3ES)

The ability to set and achieve long- and short-term goals keeps me interested and active in the Parks on the Air (POTA) program.  Often these goals are associated with POTA awards.  Currently, I am working slowly to complete the activator version of the James F. LaPorta N1CC award, which requires an activator to make QSOs on 10 amateur bands from 10 different parks.  With my operating style, I have found it achievable to make QSOs on the 9 available HF bands (80m, 60m, 40m, 30m, 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m, and 10m), and this has become easier with the rising solar cycle.  I have completed QSOs on non-HF bands using 2m and 70cm simplex.  The other options to pick up 10th band QSOs include the 6m band and the 160m band.

I have found it difficult to make unscheduled POTA contacts on 2m and 70cm, and scheduled contacts can be difficult to arrange in parks that are remote from population centers.  I have built a 6m antenna, but contacts are seasonal (and for me very elusive).  So I started looking for a way to add 160m capability to my portable station.  Ultimately that resulted in homebrewing a new antenna that I now call the VK160, and here is its story.

Objective

I needed a field-deployable 160m antenna.  My operating style requires that the antenna system be both light and compact.  QRP power levels are sufficient for my purposes.  I am very comfortable deploying wire antennas in the Pennsylvania woods, and QRP wire antennas can be both light and compact.  I have found that end-fed antennas are simpler to deploy in the field, because they can be configured as an inverted V or as a sloper, using only one point of support.

An end-fed half wave (EFHW) antenna would be naturally resonant, but would need to be over 250 ft (76m) long.  A wire antenna of that length would be challenging to deploy, even in more open areas.  So, I decided to pursue a 9:1 unun-based end-fed “random wire” (EFRW) antenna.  In fact, I have two commercial EFRW antennas available, but have never been successful in tuning them for 160m using the ZM-2 tuner in my field kit.  So, I concluded (probably incorrectly, but more on that later) that I needed to build a 9:1 random wire antenna with a longer radiating element than the 71 ft wire built into my largest existing EFRW.  I also wanted to build this antenna myself, using available components, so that it would be both inexpensive and customized to my needs.

I broke the task into four parts:

First, I needed to build a 9:1 unun suitable for use at QRP power levels.  The 9:1 unun is an autotransformer that reduces antenna feedpoint impedance by a factor of 9, hopefully a level that a wide-range tuner can match to the 50 ohm transceiver impedance.

Second, I had to design and build mechanical elements of the antenna system, incorporating the electrical components needed for the feedpoint.

Third, I needed to select a suitable non-resonant wire length for the radiator.

Finally, I needed to deploy and test the finished antenna on the air.  If successful, testing would culminate in completing an on-air QSO with the antenna being driven at 5 watts or less.

Building the 9:1 Unun

While I have built successful 49:1 ununs as the basis for EFHW antennas, I had no experience building 9:1 ununs.  Accordingly, I started with the ARRL Antenna Book, then a web search.  VK6YSF’s excellent web page provided very detailed instructions for 9:1 unun construction. His 9:1 Unun design was based on a FT140-43 toroid wrapped with heavy gauge magnet wire, with design power rating around 100 watts.  My application was focused on 10 watts maximum, and I wanted a lighter-weight solution to the unun design.

Looking at the components I had available, I found FT50-43 toroids and 24 AWG magnet wire in my inventory.  I had used those during construction of successful 49:1 EFHW antennas.  The VK6YSF design, built with the smaller toroids and lighter magnet wire, seemed to be a good (and cheap) starting point.

The “50” portion of the FT50-43 toroid designation specifies its 0.50 inch (1.27 cm) outside diameter.  The “43” portion designates nickel/zinc composition that is suitable for high frequency inductive applications.

The next problem that presented itself was a problem with translating the winding technique to smaller wire and a smaller toroid.  Put simply, my fingers do not have the dexterity to wrap three parallel 24 AWG wires around a ½ inch OD toroid without getting them crossed, twisted, or worse.  So, why not twist the three conductors from the start, and wrap the toroid with “trifilar” windings?  It would be simple enough to identify the mating wire ends after wrapping, just with a set of continuity tests.  That would facilitate proper connection of the wires to yield the final auto-transformer configuration.

FT50-43 toroid with three-10 inch (25.4 cm) segments of 24 AWG enameled magnet wire staged for construction of the 9:1 unun.

I posed the “trifilar” winding question to my friends over on the QRPer.net discussion board.  Nobody identified a significant flaw with the proposed method, but neither did anyone have experience that would assure success.  So, I decided to use the “trifilar” winding technique to construct my 9:1 unun, with the full recognition that its success would be uncertain, and only proven by testing the finished product. Continue reading In Pursuit of the Top Band: Brian describes how he built and tested a field-portable 160 meter EFRW antenna