As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m starting to sort out the gear I’ll take on a long road trip this summer. I still haven’t quite decided which radio will accompany my Elecraft KX2, but the lab599 Discovery TX-500 is on my very short list.
I pulled the TX-500 yesterday to do a firmware update and found my logbook for an activation I made on February 16, 2022. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember writing the field report for that activation.
I checked my YouTube channel and, sure enough, buried at the bottom of my video list was the activation video marked as “unlisted.”
That bit of time between mid-February and mid-March was crazy for me. I was in isolation for a week (thanks Covid) and had a very hectic family schedule. I accumulated a small backlog of videos then and this one was lost simply lost in the shuffle.
Here’s the report and video from that activation:
Clear Creek Trail
It was Wednesday, February 16, 2022, and I was driving to my parents’ house to help them with a few projects. I had enough time to make a little detour to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (K02753) and had two things in mind: a good hike and trailside activation.
The weather? Man oh man was it was fickle.
On the interstate, I got caught in a proper downpour and traffic slowed to a crawl.
I thought about throwing in the towel then, but I made a promise to myself that I would continue driving to the park if it wasn’t raining when I approached the park exit on the interstate.
The (tr)uSDX has been a much-anticipated QRP transceiver for those of us who love playing radio in the field.
What’s not to love? It sports:
Up to 5 watts output power
CW, SSB, FM, and AM modes
A built-in microphone
Five bands: 80, 60, 40, 30, and 20 meters
A super compact and lightweight form factor
An open-source hardware and software design
Super low current consumption in receive
A super low price of roughly $89 US in kit form and $143 US factory assembled (via AliExpress, but there are numerous other group buys and retailers)
Frankly speaking, this sort of feature set in such an affordable package is truly a game-changer. Back when I was first licensed in 1997, I could have never imagined a day when a general coverage QRP transceiver could be purchased for under $150 US. The price is almost unbelievable.
My initial impressions
On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, I took the (tr)uSDX to the field to attempt a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. I had only taken delivery of the (tr)uSDX about 15 hours beforehand and had only had it powered up for a total of 30 minutes the previous day. Most of that time, in fact, was checking the power output at various voltage settings into a dummy load. I did make one totally random SSB POTA contact shortly after hooking the radio up to my QTH antenna.
A few months ago, Mike (KE8PTX), contacted me with info regarding his latest 3D-printed creation: a compact housing for an end-fed half-wave balun.
He called it the “Oreo Balun.”
Once printed, and after he wound the coil and installed the BNC, he sent this photo:
It’s cute, isn’t it?
He then surprised me by putting it in a padded envelope and sending it to me as a gift. Wow–thanks, Mike!
End-Fed Half-Wave antennas are popular portable antennas for a reason: they’re effective!
They’re compact, easy to deploy, and resonant.
I only needed to attach some wire to the Oreo Balun, trim it, and hit the field!
Earlier this year, my buddy Vlado and I built two doublets with some scrap wire I had in my antenna parts box. I measured the amount of wire I had left from that same spool. I knew it wasn’t enough length for a 40 meter EFHW, but I did think there was enough for 30 meters.
After giving it a bit of thought, I liked the idea of having a dedicated 30 meter EFHW. For one thing, 30 meters is a great band for field deployments and in the past this band has saved my bacon when either 40 meters or 20 meters was wiped out. Thirty meters is also a refuge WARC band during contest weekends. In addition, a 30 meter EFHW is short enough that it could be deployed on most SOTA summits (which often have shorter trees).
Fortunately, I had just enough wire for 30 meters. IN fact, after trimming the antenna, I only had about two feet of wire to spare. It’s as if I had planned it! I would have never guessed that spool of scrap wire would have made two doublets and one 30 meter EFHW.
On Friday, January 28, 2022, after a total of six individual park activations during the previous two days (a POTA RaDAR run and my first 2020 Antenna Challenge activation) driving back to the QTH I thought, “surely I can skip doing an activation today.”
That quickly turned into, “Wait a minute…I’ve got enough time to fit in both an activation and a hike!”
So I made a quick detour off of I-40 to visit the Clear Creek access of South Mountains State Park.
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
I pulled into an empty parking area; not really a surprise on an early Friday afternoon. In addition, I figured many were out grabbing bread and milk since winter weather was in the forecast.
On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.
I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.
This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.
Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!
Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!
First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.
I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!
The new N6ARA TinyPaddle
This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.
He calls it the TinyPaddle:
An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:
As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.
He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.
Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:
Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.
I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.
Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.
On The Air
Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.
I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.
The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.
Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.
I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.
I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.
A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S, WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.
With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.
Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):
Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!
Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.
The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.
That time the KXPD2 failed me…
I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.
This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!
I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out. They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).
I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations. Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.
A proper backup!
But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!
When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!
I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.
I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support.
My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!
I mentioned in a previous post that I recently purchased a Ten-Tec Argonaut V transceiver. It was–being honest here–an impulse purchase. This is what I get for randomly browsing the QTH.com classifieds!
Truth be told, I’ve always loved the design of the Argonaut V and I knew, being a Ten-Tec, it would be a proper CW machine.
As soon as I received the Argonaut V, I put it on the air and chased a few parks and summits from the shack. It seemed to work brilliantly, but of course I was eager to take it to the field!
Around the same time, my buddy Max (WG4Z) mentioned that he’d discovered a new access point for South Mountains State Park and had enjoyed performing an activation there. He wrote,
“It is a part of South Mountains State Park custom made for a Thomas Witherspoon visit. A great site for an activation, video, and photos. If you haven’t been there, please put it on your list!“
One of the closest parks to my parents’ home in Hickory, North Carolina (where I travel most weeks) is South Mountains State Park.
Despite its convenient location, I haven’t activated South Mountains many times and, in fact, the times I have activated it, I’ve always found it a struggle to log the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation. I suspect it’s had less to do with the physical location of my operating spot (which has admittedly been in a bit of a “bowl” surrounded by hills) and much more to do with the fact that propagation has been crappy on the days I tried to activate.
Ironically, I’ve activated the adjoining South Mountains Game Land numerous times with wonderful success. It’s funny how that works.
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
I had a good reason to hit South Mountains on September 9, 2021. My buddy Max (WG4Z) had just purchased an Elecraft KX3 at the Shelby Hamfest (at an incredible deal, I might add). He plans to pair it with a Chameleon CHA TDL (Tactical Delta Loop) he has on order.
On Tuesday (Nov 17, 2020), I decided to activate South Mountains State Park (K-2753) for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program. As with my activation at Lake James the day before, it was impromptu. Basically, the weather was beautiful, so I couldn’t resist.
In fact, the weather was so nice, on my way to South Mountains I passed by Bakers Mountain County Park and hiked their full trail including the summit. While on that hike, I ran into Kenneth (W4KAC) who had just activated Bakers Mountain for Summits On The Air (SOTA). This was a bit of serendipity because I, too, plan to activate Baker’s Mountain for SOTA and Kenneth provided some great details for finding the summit (which is not actually on the park grounds). It was great running into a fellow QRPer and talking shop, too! I hope to meet Kenneth again in the field.
I arrived at South Mountains State Park mid-afternoon and set up near one of their large covered picnic shelters.
Although I’ve activated South Mountains State Game Land numerous times in the past, I’ve never activated the actual park. The last time I popped by the park, there was already another ham there in the middle of an activation, so I moved to the adjoining game land that day.
South Mountains State Park is a very popular park–indeed, it’s currently the second most activated park in North Carolina. Although I didn’t realize it at the time because I had no internet access, there was actually another operator somewhere at the park on the air at the same time I was.
Once again, I set up the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antenna for this quick activation.
Besides being such a quick and easy antenna to deploy, I love how stealthy it is, essentially disappearing against a background of trees.
As you might imagine, activating a park while someone else is also activating it is not ideal. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why contacts were coming in so slowly, but no doubt many hunters probably thought they’d already worked me because they worked the other activator.
In the end, though, my biggest problem at South Mountains was the fact my battery died in the Elecraft T1 ATU after finding a match on the 20 meter band. A 9 volt battery should last months in the T1, but the battery I put in it several weeks ago had already been used in another device for a few months. I had meant to replace it with a fresh cell. I actually packed a new 9V battery in my main radio pack, but I didn’t have it with me on this trip because both South Mountains and Lake James were unplanned activations.
I spent a good half an hour on the 20 and 30 meter bands where I had a decent match, but only logged three or four hunters. Conditions were not ideal on the higher bands.
I really needed to move down to the 40 meter band knowing it would be more productive, but I had no way to find a match for the IC-705. (Lesson learned: I’ll never again leave home without my Emtech ZM-2 as a backup!).
Fortunately, I remembered I had the Elecraft KX1 field kit. The KX1 now permanently lives in my car so I know I always have a complete radio kit for impromptu field activations.
The KX1 has a built in ATU, but it’s not as robust and versatile as the T1 or the internal ATUs in the KX2 or KX3.
I tried loading 40 meters and got a 2.5:1 match. I’m sure the KX1 would have plugged along, but I don’t like pushing much over 2:1 when I don’t have to.
After tinkering with the CHA MPAS Lite counterpoise for ten minutes, I finally found a length that, if half suspended, allowed the KX1’s internal tuner to achieve a 1.9:1 match. Good enough!
I started calling CQ on 40 meters and within a few minutes, I logged a total of 12 contacts.
The KX1 saved my bacon that Tuesday!
All in all, I really enjoyed the time at South Mountains State Park. It was beautiful weather and I had an idea spot to set up and operate. I’ll certainly come back here in the future.
I’ve also decided that I’m going to start packing a resonant antenna option in the car with my KX1 field kit. It’s only this year that I started using multi-band and random wire antennas that require an ATU; they are mighty convenient indeed, but it’s always nice to have a resonant option on hand as well.