Schuylkill River Trail Ride

I headed out this afternoon for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail.  I pulled off the trail where it passes through Valley Forge National Historical Park.  I wanted to ride across Sullivan’s Bridge, which opened recently.  This pedestrian and biking bridge crosses the Schuylkill River and provides a connection to other trails.

After riding across the new bridge and back, I made a pit stop in the Betzwood Picnic Area.  I wanted to do some testing with an antenna that I’ve been playing around with lately.  It’s simply a lightweight, 19-foot vertical fed through a 9:1 unun.  It’s built around an inexpensive, lightweight, Chinese fishing pole I bought on eBay.

I set up at a picnic table under a shady tree.  I mounted the vertical on a tripod, using an adapter that I cobbled together from PVC pipe this morning.  The internal tuner in the KX3 tuned it up on every band from 40 meters through 6 meters.

My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.

My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.

I didn’t hear any activity around the 30 and 20 meter QRP watering holes, so I moved down to 40 meters.  Forty meters is the least efficient band for this antenna but I worked a few Ohio QSO Party stations.  I also worked Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation in Ohio (NS78).  I didn’t set out to activate Valley Forge today but I sent Joe the NPS unit number (HP46).  I have to confess that I cranked my power up to 10 watts for the QSO with Joe.  I think that’s the first time I’ve used more than 5 watts on the HF bands in the past 20 years or so.

Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail

Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail

Feeling comfortable that this short vertical seems to be making some radio waves, I packed up the bike and got back on the trail for the ride back.

It was a nice day but I’m glad I got my ride in before it really started warming up.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

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Skeeter Hunt 2016

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt LogoThe NJQRP Skeeter Hunt is one of my favorite QRP field contests.  This year, I planned to do some biking along White Clay Creek but the dire weather forecasts made me opt for “Plan B.”  “Plan B,” in this case, was to activate nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park (HP46) and operate from my truck.  This was my first time back at Valley Forge since I activated it on New Year’s Day.

I chose a parking spot that was away from the trees.  I also made sure to face west, so I could keep an eye on the approaching storms.   I took a few pictures before the Skeeter Hunt started, while the weather was still decent.

I used a 30-foot wire vertical mounted on the back.  This antenna, fed with a 9:1 unun and 18-feet of coax served me well on several NPOTA outings recently.  I set up my KX3 on the passenger seat of my truck.

Bulletin board in the Varnum Picnic Area of Valley Forge National Historic Park.

Bulletin board in the Varnum Picnic Area of Valley Forge National Historic Park.

A few QSOs into the contest, a park ranger rolled up next to me and asked what I was doing.  I mentioned National Parks on the Air and he said, “that’s cool.”  He also warned me about the approaching storms.  I assured him that I planned to shut down if there was any lightning.

At about 20 minutes into the contest, the rain started and never really stopped.  It varied between slight drizzle and torrential downpours. When the rain forced me to roll up my windows, the cab of the truck got unbearably warm.  I couldn’t operate with the truck running due to electrical noise from the engine.  Every so often, I took a break from the radio and ran the air conditioner to cool off.

My "stationary-mobile" set up in Valley Forge. You can see the wind bending the fiberglass pole.

My “stationary-mobile” set up in Valley Forge. This was taken about 15 minutes before the contest started.  The wind is already bending the fiberglass pole.

The bands seemed to be in pretty good shape.  After a little more than two and a half hours of operating, I had 29 QSOs in the log.

QSO_DATE    UTC       BAND   MODE  CALL    RST-S  RST-R  EXCHANGE
------------------------------------------------------------------------
20160821    1701      40M    CW    K3COD   559    559    NC NR145
20160821    1710      40M    CW    K4YA    569    569    TN NR8
20160821    1716      20M    CW    N4BP    599    599    FL NR173
20160821    1718      20M    CW    N0SS    579    579    MO NR18
20160821    1720      20M    CW    AB9CA   559    559    AL NR57
20160821    1727      20M    CW    WK8S    559    559    CO NR156
20160821    1729      20M    CW    NN9K    559    559    IL NR168
20160821    1732      20M    CW    WB4OMM  599    599    FL NR97
20160821    1737      20M    CW    VE3XT   569    559    ON NR162
20160821    1739      20M    CW    K2WO    599    559    FL NR2
20160821    1749      20M    CW    W4MZA   569    579    MN29 NR60
20160821    1750      20M    CW    KX0R    569    569    CO NR166
20160821    1756      40M    CW    N2CX    589    579    NP51 NR1
20160821    1802      40M    CW    NC4RT   579    559    TR10 NR24
20160821    1808      40M    CW    KG3W    599    579    PA NR160
20160821    1809      40M    CW    AA8WQ   599    569    OH 5W
20160821    1816      40M    CW    AA4XX   569    449    NC NR112
20160821    1818      40M    CW    N3AQC   589    569    TR14 NR76
20160821    1823      40M    CW    KY3P    579    589    NY 5W
20160821    1826      40M    CW    W1PID   559    559    NH NR41
20160821    1835      40M    CW    W4MPS   579    559    NC NR163
20160821    1845      40M    CW    WD8RIF  579    559    HP11 NR46
20160821    1850      20M    CW    K7TQ    559    559    ID NR11
20160821    1856      20M    CW    NF4GA   579    579    GA NR110
20160821    1904      20M    CW    AB4QL   569    569    AL NR149
20160821    1911      20M    CW    AD4S    599    579    GA NR56
20160821    1916      20M    CW    WB5BKL  579    579    TX NR42
20160821    1926      40M    CW    VE3LFN  599    599    ON NR28
20160821    1936      40M    CW    W3BBO   559    559    PA NR5

The rain was really starting to come down heavily, so I put on my rain gear and tore down the antenna.  The park ranger was parked in the lot behind me.  He was probably getting a chuckle out of the crazy old guy taking down his antenna in a downpour.

As I was making the 3-mile trip home, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Go figure!  Anyway, I had a fun time, despite the rain.  Once again, a tip of the hat goes to Larry, W2LJ, for coordinating this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Mid-Week QRP-Portable Fix

My free time has been somewhat limited lately, so I’ve been itching to get out for some QRP-portable operating.  A rare mid-week opportunity presented itself, so I decided to take a quick bike ride and make a few ham radio contacts while I was out.

I threw some radio gear into my pannier bags and headed out on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails.  Before heading back, I made a stop at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.  There weren’t many people around on a Wednesday morning.

My first attempt to put a line into a tree got some great elevation but I missed my target branch completely.  My second attempt caught a lower branch.  Since I was limited on time, I decided to go with that.  My 30-foot wire ended up as a sloper.  I used my bike as a tie-off for my halyard and attached my 9:1 unun to one of the handlebars.

My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail

My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail

I tuned around 30 meters and heard Roger KO5Q calling CQ from Georgia.  We chatted for a few minutes but there was some deep fading on the band.  Roger said my signal came up to 599 for a bit and faded quickly.

I moved up to 20 meters and called CQ.  Enzo VE3VTG called me from the Toronto area.  He had a great signal.  If I copied correctly, he said he was running 2 watts into a beam.

After that, I packed up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead.  The beautiful weather and a couple of QRP-portable contacts were enough to tide me over until the QRP Skeeter Hunt this weekend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

Another Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) is in the books.  This year, I was going to travel to my operating site by bicycle but forecasts for thunderstorms forced a last-minute change of plans.

I ended up in French Creek State Park (PA) near the Hopewell Fire Tower.  This area has good elevation and there usually aren’t many other visitors around.  Dark clouds were moving in, so I opted to set up in the shelter of an old picnic pavilion.  Fortunately, the storm skirted around my location.

Pavilion near the Hopewell Fire Tower, French Creek State Park, PA.

My operating location near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park (PA)

I kept my antenna simple, in case I needed to bail out in a hurry.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a small tree next to the pavilion and set up a 30-foot wire vertical with a 9:1 unun.  I ran 18 feet of coax over to one of the picnic tables.  I had my KX3 set up and ready to go about five minutes before the contest started.

My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.

My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.

Conditions were pretty rough.  There was heavy fading on 20 meters and lots of static on 40 meters.  Early on, most of the activity was on 20 meters but 40 meters started to come alive later on.

Despite the conditions, I managed to eek out 19 contacts in about 3 hours.  I heard a lot of familiar callsigns.  I was pleasantly surprised to work N6GA, Cam, in California.  I guess my simple antenna was getting out OK.  I also worked fellow Polar Bear QRPer, Kelly K4UPG in Florida.  In addition to the contest exchange, Kelly and I exchanged the traditional Polar Bear greeting, “GRRR.” Right before I packed up, I found QRP friends, Larry W2LJ and Carter N3AO, on 40 meters.

My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

It turned out to be a pretty nice day.  The thunderstorms stayed away and not a drop of rain.  I was in the shade and there was just enough of a breeze to make the heat and humidity bearable and keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Thanks to the Adventure Radio Society for sponsoring this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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White Clay Creek Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoBoy, the state of Delaware sure has been good to me this week.  After my failed attempt at activating the Captain John Smith Trail (TR21) in Maryland, I rebounded the other day with great activation at First State NHP (HP12) in Delaware two days later.  I had an even better activation in Delaware today along the White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River (WR39).

This morning I drove down to the White Clay Creek Nature Center near Newark, Delaware.  (Thanks to N2CX for recommending this spot.)  I headed to the side of the parking lot closest to the creek and parked under a large shady tree.  Despite the heat wave we’re experiencing, I had a nice breeze through the truck for the first hour and a half or so.  It took about five minutes to set up my 30-foot vertical and KX3.

My "stationary-mobile" set up.  The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.

My “stationary-mobile” set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.

I got off to a slow start on 40 meters but once I got spotted, things picked up in a hurry and stayed busy for the next hour.  Propagation on 40 meters was interesting; I worked a lot of Pennsylvania and New Jersey stations with the vertical and then worked Florida.  Go figure.

I was getting ready to take a break before changing bands when a park ranger approached my truck.  Apparently, someone reported some suspicious activity in the Nature Center’s parking lot.  I explained to her what I was doing and what National Parks on the Air was all about.  She was very nice and said she would be back if the Park had any problems with what I was doing.  She never came back.

White Clay Creek

White Clay Creek

I spent another hour working stations on 20 meters before packing up.    I ended the day with 58 QSOs in the log, including a park-to-park QSO with N2CX at AA17 in New Jersey.  I took a walk around the Nature Center before heading back to Pennsylvania.  I need to do a non-radio visit here sometime to explore more of the park.

Obligatory selfie at White Clay Creek State Park Nature Center

Obligatory selfie

So, I had a couple of fun activations this week and one not-so-good one.  As the singer, Meatloaf, would say:  “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

72, Craig WB3GCK

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First State NHP Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoAfter my last activation, I sure needed a day like today.  During my last outing just about everything that could go wrong did.  Thankfully, my activation today went off without a hitch.

I made the 45-minute trip down to First State National Historical Park in Delaware and set up in the parking lot of the Smith Bridge Picnic Area along Brandywine Creek.  (Thanks to Joe, N2CX, for recommending this location.)  I operated from inside my truck using a KX3 at 5 watts.  My antenna was a 30-ft vertical fed through a 9:1 unun with 18 feet of coax.  The Jackite pole was mounted on my bike rack mount.

Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park

Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park

I operated for about two hours and the bands seemed to be in decent shape.  Splitting my time between 40 and 20 meters, I wound up with 45 contacts in my log.  I hit the west coast 3 times and worked quite a few ham radio friends.

My antenna drew a lot of attention today.  Several people came up to me to ask about the 31-foot pole.  A few times, it happened while I was sorting through pileups.  One fellow couldn’t believe ham radio still existed.  Another said, “No wonder you use ham radio; the cell phone coverage around here is lousy.”

My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.

My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.

I’m going to attempt one more activation this week.  I hope it goes as well as today.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Captain John Smith Trail Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoIt had been a while since I did a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation,  so I decided to activate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (TR21).  The Captain John Smith Trail is a water trail that includes the Susquehanna River up to the Conowingo Dam.  Since I’m a member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I thought I would explore the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail and activate TR21 somewhere along the way.  Despite my best efforts, things didn’t go as well as I had planned.

After suffering through a huge traffic jam due to a downed tree on a major highway, I arrived at the trailhead later than planned.  As I pulled into Fisherman’s Park just below the Conowingo Dam, I was greeted by a large group of vultures.  I think they foreshadowed the type of outing I was about to have.

A group of vultures at Fisherman's Park

On arrival, I was greeted by a large group of vultures. An omen, perhaps?

I unloaded my bike and headed out down the trail.   During my ride, I scouted out potential operating locations along the trail.  The pickings were slim.  For most of its 2.5-mile length, the trail parallels the Susquehanna River.  There is a very dense tree canopy over the trail.  On one side of the trail, there’s a sharp drop-off  down to the river.  The inland side of the trail is mostly wetlands.  I found a picnic table off to the side of the trail and stopped there on the ride back.

Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.

Remnants of the old railway line along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport construction materials when the Conowingo Dam was being built.

The temperature today was in the low 90s but it was comfortable while I was riding.  Once I stopped, though, the humidity under the dense tree canopy was unbearable.  I decided to ride back to the trailhead and operate from the parking lot.

This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.

This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.

I parked in the only shady spot I could find and set up my trusty 29.5-foot vertical.  My chosen spot had three major problems:  1) The shade was only short-lived, 2) the noise levels were very high,  and, 3) there was a steep hill behind me.  Undeterred, I started out on 40 meters and immediately got a call from  a station in South Carolina.  I continued to call CQ with no takers.  After that, I switched back and forth between 40 and 20 but no luck.  I made some changes to my antenna but still no luck.

My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.

My eventual operating site. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.

The heat was starting to become too much for this old man.  My cell phone was overheating and going into some sort of self-protection mode.  Even though my KX3 was only set for 5 watts, it started feeling a bit warm.  On top of that, some biting flies decided to have lunch inside my truck and I was the main course.   After an hour or so, I had enough and packed up.  I waved goodbye to my vulture friends and headed home.

The Conowingo Dam

The Conowingo Dam

Although it wasn’t a successful NPOTA activation, I at least had a nice bike ride on an interesting trail.  I didn’t make the minimum number of contacts for a valid activation but, then again, I didn’t get skunked.   I’ll have to give TR21 another try later this year.  Next time, I’ll move further downstream from the hydroelectric plant.

I plan to do two more activations this week.  Hopefully, my luck will be better.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

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Backyard-Portable in Central PA

My XYL and I spent the weekend with our daughter and her family near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  I spent most of my time enjoying the company of my grandson but I did manage to get on the air for a bit this afternoon.

I set up my KX3 and AlexLoop antenna out in the backyard at the picnic table.  Since the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest was going on, I hooked up my little MS2 straight key to make a few contacts.

Operating "backyard-portable" near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)

Operating “backyard-portable” near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)

This was my first time using the AlexLoop with my KX3 and it worked well.  Operating “search and pounce” during a contest was tricky with the AlexLoop but not impossible.  I just tuned the KX3 about 500Hz off of the station I wanted to work, tuned the loop and then moved back to the station’s frequency.

I worked a half-dozen SKCC stations from Maine to Florida and as far west as Missouri.  The last QSO was with W3CEI.  His signal was so strong I had to turn the KX3’s preamp off and kick in the attenuator.  As it turns out, Larry was only a half mile away or so from me.  That was my big DX contact of the day!

It was a short outing but it was a beautiful day to be out playing radio under a shady tree.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Holiday Weekend Bike Ride

For a long, holiday weekend, it’s been pretty busy around here.  I managed to get in a bike ride this morning on the nearby Perkiomen Trail.

On my way back to the trailhead, I stopped for a brief QRP session.  I tossed a line up over an opportune branch and hoisted up a 29.5-foot wire.  It wasn’t the highest branch but it let me operate under a shady tree.  I laid another 29.5-foot wire out on the ground for a counterpoise.  I’ve had very good success with this configuration on many occasions, while feeding it through a 4:1 unun.  Today, I tried attaching the wires directly to my KX3 using a BNC-to-binding post adapter.  The KX3 managed to tune it with an SWR less than 2:1 on 40 and 30 meters.  On 20 meters, however, I couldn’t get it below 5:1.  So, I quickly hooked up the 4:1 unun and about 6 feet of coax.

Once again, my bike was pressed into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna. The green sit pad was nowhere near thick enough. Next time, I'll bring two!

Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.

Not hearing much activity on 20 meters, I tuned around 30 meters and heard W9CBT calling CQ from the Chicago area.  The QSB was bad and we just couldn’t complete the QSO.

My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.

My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.

Down on 40 meters, I had a quick exchange with K2D in Connecticut, one of the 13 Colonies special event stations.  I called CQ on 7.030 and wound up having a nice two-way QRP QSO with John, W3FSA, in Portland, Maine.  We managed to hang in there despite some deep fading at times.

After that, I quickly packed up and rode the last few miles back to the trailhead.  The weather was perfect and I would have liked to stay longer.  However, I needed to get home to put some ribs on the smoker.  I have my priorities in order!

I wish all of my U.S. ham friends a happy and safe 4th of July.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Field Day 2016

Boschveldt QRP Club patchAnother Field Day is in the books.  This year, as in past years, I operated with the Boschveldt QRP Club.  The Boschveldt QRP Club is a small, informal group of QRPers who share a love of portable QRP operating.  Basically, we get together twice each year.  In January, we converge on a cabin in the Delaware Water Gap.  In June, of course, we get together for Field Day.

Our Field Day site was a group tenting site in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania.  Our Field Day crew consisted of Ed WA3WSJ, Glen NK1N, Ed K3YTR, Ron WA8YIH and me.  After arriving on Friday afternoon and setting up our tents, we headed into town for dinner.  After that, we set up a few antennas and it was soon time to get a campfire going.

WB3GCK CW tent

My sleeping quarters and operating position

My Field Day station

My Field Day station

After breakfast on Saturday, we finished setting up the radio equipment.  After a lunch of cheddar-stuffed bratwursts cooked over a fire, we drove over to visit with members of the Pottstown Amateur Radio Club (PARC) who were operating from another site in the park.  We got back to our site in time for the start of Field Day.

Ed WA3WSJ operating from a chair instead of his usual pedestrian-mobile operating

Ed WA3WSJ operating from a chair instead of his usual pedestrian-mobile operating

Once again, we operated class 4AB (QRP) using our club callsign, W3BQC.  I ran a CW station on 40 and 80 meters.  NK1N operated CW on 20 meters and SSB on 40 meters.  WA8YIH operated SSB on 20 meters and up, while WA3WSJ ran CW on 15 meters and up.  K3YTR operated 6 and 2 meters SSB.

Glen NK1N operating SSB on 40 meters

Glen NK1N operating SSB on 40 meters

Now I have to point out that the Boschveldt QRPers run a very informal Field Day.  In fact, we probably spend as much time socializing as we spend operating.  When the sun goes down, things come to a halt.  We gather around the campfire to relax and just enjoy being outdoors.  One of our traditions is roasting marshmallow Peeps® over the campfire.

Ron WA8YIH working 20 meters SSB

Ron WA8YIH working 20 meters SSB

This year we had a large group of Boy Scouts camped across the road from us.  A few of them stopped by Saturday night for a ham radio demonstration by WA8YIH.

Ed K3YTR operating on 6 meters and 2 meters from his car

Ed K3YTR operating on 6 meters and 2 meters from his car

Our logs haven’t been consolidated yet but I’m guessing we had something like 300 contacts between the five of us.  Although band conditions weren’t all that great, the weather was a lot better than the rain we had last year.

I always enjoy getting together with the Boschveldt guys for Field Day.  We’ve already started planning our January trip.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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