A week ago (yeah, it has been a week) I drove out to Burnt Cabin Summit where my friends Greg and Subrina were camping. Greg asked if I wanted to come help with the antenna we’ve been working on.
So of course I drove out there.
We worked on the antenna most of the afternoon. I think it is working on all the bands (that he wanted) with the exception of 80-meters. For some reason, the element won’t tune properly. We worked on that a long time.
As the sun drifted below the mountains to the west, we put away tools and equipment. I paused for a moment to make a couple of images with my iPhone. To the east, the moon was rising over the northern Nevada desert. I liked the light, so I made this capture.
“How about chicken alfredo for supper?” my friend asked, “I think I have enough wine for two glasses.”
“Of course,” I replied, it didn’t take me long to think about it.
We enjoyed supper in their camper, The Girl resting on the floor where it was warmer than in my 4Runner. The food, wine, and fellowship was fun and I enjoyed it.
The Girl and I then headed home for the evening. It was a little later than I am usually out (about 2130h when we got home), but it was totally worth it.
Thursday night was COLD! Greg told me it was 11F when he rose Friday morning. Diana was tent camping!
I made some coffee and sat down at my table. I had not setup my radio yet so I put on some music, sat, and relaxed a bit before making some breakfast and setting up the station.
I setup my radio on the dinette table, put the (very heavy) AGM batteries on the seat across from my operating position, and then started working outside. I assembled my portable vertical antenna and tuned it for the 40m band. I decided to put up my end-fed wire antenna as well. The intent was to provide both vertical and horizontal polarization for the outbound signal. So I threw ropes over two juniper trees and hoisted the wire antenna up to about 12 ft off the ground.
I setup the solar panel to keep the station batteries charged. As soon as I connected the charge controller to the panel and batteries, the controller showed that current was passing to the batteries. This was confirmed by meters I installed in-line on both the input and output sides of the system. I now have solar power for my station.
I crawled up on the front storage box of my camper and assembled the mesh network antennas and router. We used the Broadband-HamNet software flashed to old Linksys home WiFi access points/routers so we could use a networked contact logging software, N1MM+. In testing, the mesh nodes permitted communications locally through the mesh net and the intent was to allow all of us to work stations and log contacts to a common database and under Greg’s callsign.
After connecting everything else and double-checking all the connects, I powered up the radio, the panadapter, and the station computer. Everything seemed to be working and I was able to check into one of the nets that was operating.
I headed down to the Greg/Subrina camp to see if help was needed down there. They had everything under control so Greg sent me up to Diana’s camp to help setup her mesh node and antenna. This required some jury-rigging to get the antenna up high enough for line-of-sight with minimum interference from vegetation. Duct-tape always works. Because of the relatively high frequency, the cable run from the mesh router to the antenna has to be short, so I had to “hang” the router from the antenna mast.
After some fiddling and a few trips back and forth, we had a working mesh network. It was time for a lunch break and a rest. Then it would soon be time to start operating for the Nevada QSO Party.
For the next couple of days, I played some search-and-pounce (listen/look for signals and then call for a contact) and also called CQ many times. The voice recording feature of my K3 was wonderful because I could transmit a standard call and then call using my voice and microphone every few calls to keep from being bored to death and to provide some variety in my calls.
Friday and Saturday nights we gathered at the Greg/Subrina camp to share meal, take break, and fellowship. Then it was back to the stations and try for a few more contacts.
I slept really well. The camper’s heater kept us plenty warm. The Girl and I got enough exercise walking between camps over the rough ground. Some care was required because we found a few cacti that grow really close to the ground, are almost invisible, and have nasty spines. One of those in The Girl’s foot would have made a very bad day.
As the event wound down Sunday afternoon, the contacts dried up. I had been calling CQ for awhile when a voice broke in during my pause to listen.
“Are you going to answer all those foreign stations calling for North America?” came the call.
“If I could hear them, I would!”
“You goin’ to sit on this frequency all day?”
About that time my noise level came up and I could no longer hear the caller. He did not give his call sign and was therefore in violation of Part 97 of the CFR (the rules that govern amateur radio).
Yes, I did camp on the frequency the remainder of the day. We had been spotted by another station and had as much right to the frequency as anyone else. I made a few more contacts before the end of the event.
Sunday night we gathered at Camp Greg/Subrina, broke bread together, and drank a little wine in celebration of the weekend. It was a successful event. We made contacts. We solved problems. We spent time outdoors with people who matter.
I never could get my wire antenna working. It needs some work and measuring to figure out what I did wrong. I will be working on that.
We broke camp lazily Monday morning and headed for home. The trip home was largely uneventful, with the exception that Diana’s handheld radio stopped working.
I parked the camper in my driveway and then unloaded. It was nearly dark but I do not relax well until the bulk of the unloading is complete. But once I was done, I poured myself a Cognac, sat in a comfortable chair, and relaxed.
It was a good trip and a good experience. And now that experience is shared.
A few days ago I reveled in the luscious colors of fall along the Carson River. The Girl and I walked the Mexican Ditch Trail nearly every day. Those times we could not do the long walk, we drove over to Riverview Park and made a shorter walk, but still near the river.
Then, seemingly overnight (actually a day or maybe two), the cottonwoods shed their color, but not their leaves — at least not all of them. The trees took on their winter colors, conserving their energy for the coming spring.
I love the turn of the seasons. The extremes of summer and winter are harder, but I love the change and I can keep cool or warm as the season demands. There is something magical in the seasons and when I am aware I marvel at that regular pattern and am grateful to experience it.
A few weeks ago, Greg KG7D, mentioned to me and Diana KJ7GVY that it was time to plan our expedition for the Nevada QSO Party. He is very organized (a good thing) and selected a potential campsite/radio operation site in eastern Nevada.
For those who do not know what a QSO party might be, here is an explanation. The Q-code, QSO, stands for a contact or conversation between to operators. It derives from the telegrapher’s shorthand. A QSO party occurs when a group of operators put together a plan for operations on the amateur radio bands with the intent of making many contacts, receiving points for each contact (depending on location and operation mode), and then competing for the most points collected over the party period.
This is similar to the radio contests but has a little less pressure associated with it. It is newbie-friendly in that regard. It is also an opportunity to practice radio operation and copy skills under varying conditions. These are good skills for radio operators for those times when normal communications are interrupted and amateur operators are called upon to pass traffic.
So we were headed east to the White Pine/Lincoln County line. Each contact we made was worth two because we were activating two Nevada counties. We were also operating in an area where there are not many amateur radio operators. We should have been rare DX (desirable contacts).
It took me a few days to prepare the camper, collect necessities and food, and gather/pack the equipment I would use.
I intended to go out to the area a couple weeks before all of us headed east to scout for a good campsite. But work kept me from my intention and we headed out blind.
We gathered at the staging area about 0600h on Thursday 10 October. After milling about a few minutes, we mounted up and headed east on U.S. Highway 50, America’s Loneliest Road. All of use have VHF radios in our vehicles, even if only handhelds connected to external antennas. So there was plenty of chatter as we drove east through the gathering light. There were no mishaps on the route out and we made a few stops to pay the rent on coffee and to take on fuel.
At Ely, Greg called, “ Do you know a good place to eat. We’ll stop at Love’s for fuel.”rdquo;
“Let me think a moment.” I spent some time in Ely a couple years ago and had a couple of places in mind. “There’s a Mexican place a half-mile before Love’s that is pretty good.”
“Is there parking for the trailers?””
“I think there is.” And we moved through Ely toward the east side of town. Sure enough, I called the location of the restaurant. Greg and Diana turned off into the residential area near the restaurant. I pulled ahead to the Ramada Inn and casino, found a large graveled area suitable for parking semi-trucks, and called out the location while I parked my rig.
All of us parked, we walked across the highway to the restaurant. It was as good as I recalled.
Fed and rested after the break, we remounted, drove to the fuel depot, and refueled the vehicles. We were then off to the east to find our way to the operating point. An hour later (and after some rough roads), we were at the White Pine/Lincoln County line. Unfortunately, the original location was not acceptable for camping. There was not enough room.
We sent Diana to scout a trail we saw that broke off the main road to the northeast. The topographic map on Greg’s GPS unit showed that the trail crossed the county line about a half-mile east from the original choice. After a few minutes, Diana called that the road was rough but passable and that there were reasonable campsites located in the pine and cedar trees. So Greg and I turned our rigs around and headed for the trail. A couple hundred yards in Greg suggested I move ahead and check the trail to be sure he could get his rig turned around. (He was driving a 1-ton Ford truck and pulling a toy hauler.)
I found a place where I thought he could get turned around, although it might take several moves and I found a place where I could park my camper. Greg came up the trail. I was right about the several moves. After a half hour of work, some clearing of brush, and many moves, he got his rig turned around and parked in a decent place.
He helped me get my camper located and then walked back down the trail to set up his camp. It took me a few minutes to get myself situated. Subrina brought a level up to my site and I dug a small hole to level my rig side-to-side. I completed the leveling with the tongue jack. I had my rig setup in about a half-hour.
I walked down the trail to help Greg and Subrina with their campsite. Subrina worked inside while I helped Greg outside.
We nearly ran out of daylight before camp was setup. As the sun fell, the temperature fell rapidly as well. I think it was at freezing about the time the sun set.
Everyone was tired and ready to turn in. But we gathered at Greg/Subrina’s camp to share a meal and some fellowship before retiring for the day.
The fall colors were sure pretty this year. A couple of days ago The Girl and I were walking the Mexican Ditch Trail along the Carson River. She enjoyed doing doggie-things and I enjoyed being outdoors and the fall color.
When I reached the Mexican Dam, I was treated to a combination of color and reflection. I was carrying the Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens. It’s a good combination.
I recently joined a Groups.io list dealing with Elecraft KX3 radios. There is a bit of traffic on this list. One of the first messages that arrived in my list folder was:
Dear Admin… Please remove me from the group….I’m heading off to the land of silent keys soon and have sold all my ham gear.
I am not sure why this short, succinct, and direct statement hit me so hard. But, there it is… the direct acknowledgment that a man’s life is ending soon. He has recognized it, accepted it, and accommodated it.
He will soon be… in the land of silent keys… where we all go.
And so it is for all of us. None of us get out alive. I hope to go with such poise and dignity when my time comes.
After working so hard on a numerical model Friday, then early Saturday morning (0-Dark-Early), I decided to take a break and work the local Carson Valley/Eagle Valley 10m net from the old state school park. The net begins at 1800h (local) and is an informal social net. But, it gives me practice operating and the OM who participate are a good group of experienced operators.
The Girl was demanding an outing, so we drove over a bit after 1700h. I parked the 4Runner and got her out. We did a walk around the park and I started setting up about 1735h. I had everything setup in about ten minutes.
On my first test transmission, I was told that my signal was Q5 (perfectly readable) but weak. So, I lifted the counterpoise (red wire), changing it into a radial element and pinned it in the back of the 4Runner with a bucket of miscellaneous field “stuff” I keep handy.
My signal level came up a lot. So, I knew I had an operational station. I also learned that the counterpoise wire needs to be elevated (making it a radial element). I should have known this because my design and testing was with the wire elevated, not on the ground. The counterpoise is “tuned” with it elevated.
It was a “Well-duh!” moment. But I learned something (a good thing). I was able to work the evening net with just 12 watts of power and was able to hear everyone, which I cannot do from my home station.
A few days ago I received an offer from Drop (used to be Massdrop) for a set of Tin Audio T3 in-ear headphones. I checked them out on the Drop website and did a little extra reading and decided that they might not be for me.
Then, yesterday Steve Gutenburg (the Audiophiliac on YouTube) reviewed the Tin Audio T2Pro headphones. He did not quite rave about them, but he indicated that they are much better than their price point. The sound was slightly treble emphasized, but not piercingly bright.
Well, this old man has some hearing loss in the higher frequencies (no surprise there). So I thought they might be a good match for me. In addition, they are smaller than my KZ in-ear ‘phones and might be more comfortable when I listen to music/nap in the afternoon.
So, I ordered a pair from Amazon yesterday. They arrived in the mail today.
The build quality appears to be very good. The cables are high quality. The shells appear to be machined aluminum. The buds seem OK from my initial wearing of them.
The sound is very good, better than my KZ ‘phones. There is plenty of bass on most of my recordings. There is a lot of detail that I can hear. They are not overly bright, but about right for my taste and hearing.
I think they are keepers and at about $60 are a bargain.
I listened to a variety of tracks this afternoon while resting. One of my favorite recordings is Andy Timmons’ Ear X-tacy. This recording has been in my library for more than 20 years. It comes up regularly when I am listening to music. There is a newly mastered release from Timmons. I ordered a copy this afternoon and should have it next week.
It will be interesting to listen to the remaster and hear if anything changed (that I can perceive).
Now that I am back home again, I can write about my long roadtrip and the first long trip out with the new (to me) camper.
Much earlier this year, I started seriously looking at a camper. The requirements were straightforward — housing for The Girl and me, perhaps one other (most likely Older Son), not too heavy for my 4Runner, a galley, and a bathroom.
I did not want a pop-up camper with the tent bedrooms. I wanted a hardside.
I looked at a new Forest River Rockwood hardside, but did not want to pay new price only to find out I did not like it. But I found a used unit in Los Angeles, so I bought it. Older Son and I did a short, fast roadtrip to LA and back to pick it up.
We used it on Field Day as housing for our operation. It was only a couple of days in the field, so that outing was not a proper test.
But on this trip I left the house on 10 July. I returned home on 05 August and I think that was a suitable shake-down trip.
The first leg was from Carson City to Lubbock, Texas. On the way out I stayed at KOA campgrounds. I made the choice, but it was expeditious. My friends in Lubbock were planning a get-together of old friends and I wanted to be there on time.
Of course, I did not plan well and did not understand how long it would take me to assemble the kit for the new camper. So I was a day late in my departure. The trip out took me through Ely, Nevada (a favorite place), where I spent my first night. It was then off through Green River and Moab, Utah, and on to Cortez, Colorado where I spent my second night. Both KOA campgrounds were better than expected. I also began learning how to setup my camper quickly so that it would be easy to take down the next morning without too much fussing.
My third night I stopped at a state campground, Oasis State Park, near Portales, New Mexico. That was a real treat. The sites were much farther apart and it was very quiet. I liked that quite a lot. The showers were nearly new and because there are not too many sites at the campground, they are not heavily used.
I set up my radio and listened to a number of calls. I made a couple contacts before settling down for the night.
I set up the camper in my friends’ front yard between Lubbock and Tahoka, hooked up to their electricity and water. It was a hard test for my camper because it was in direct sun. I learned that the camper air conditioner will struggle with temperatures approaching 100F and when the unit is in direct sunlight. But it does fine after sunset even with elevated temperatures.
I was busy almost the entire time in Texas. I scheduled meals with most of my closet friends, missing only a couple of those I wanted to see. I will go again, God willing, and spend a little more time there. I really need to stay at least two weeks, but a month is better.
I learned that my favorite pastor and wife team, John and Sylvia, sold their place and bought a motor home. They were in Lubbock for medical care before heading out on the road. I got to spend some time with them, time always well spent.
Older Son was in Lubbock visiting with DiL’s family. I picked him up and we headed for Durant, Oklahoma, to spend time with my youngest and his girlfriend. It was a hot, uneventful leg from Lubbock to Durant. We spent a few days in Durant, went to the movies a couple of times (rare for me), and had a great visit.
We left Durant and went north across Oklahoma to the southeastern corner of Kansas, where we found a municipal campground with power and water for a ten-buck fee. The power at the first site I chose did not work. On closer inspection, the utility box appeared to have been submerged, probably over the winter or with spring floodwaters in the adjacent river. A quick check revealed another site that was slightly (a couple of feet) higher with a clear utility box. We moved the rig and had power and water. Those jurisdictional campgrounds can be very inexpensive and have decent services. Plus they are not as developed as the commercial campgrounds, meaning the spaces are generally farther apart.
We met my uncle in Springfield, Missouri for breakfast the following morning. It was a good visit and I try to pass through there anytime I’m in the area to check in with my extended family.
The drive to Rolla was short (a couple of hours) and uneventful. Older Son and I found a decent spot at my SiL’s place and got the camper setup. We were able to get it level and used my generator to power the air conditioner. The weather was really humid, especially for a desert boy.
It was good to see family and I had all three of my children and both of my grandchildren together for the first time since Wife died. We had lots of laughs and lots of talk.
Too soon it was time to leave. We said out goodbyes and headed out. Older Son and I crossed Kansas on U.S. and state highways. I dropped him in Denver, said “hi/bye” to DiL, and headed north towards Wyoming to avoid the steep grades in the front range of the Rockies. Of course, there was an accident on I-25 north from Denver, so I stopped for the night at the KOA at Wellington, Colorado.
The camp is too close to the Interstate. Although I do not know if there was anything management could do about it, the campground was infested with common houseflies. It was bad enough that I had several get into my camper during the short time it took to raise the roof and sides. But the campground was available (I got the last spot) and I was tired. So it was a good stop.
I took US 287 north to Laramie, Wyoming the next morning. It is a stretch of road I love and the grades are not too steep. I took a few minutes to drive through Laramie, wondering if it was a place I could live if I decide to leave Nevada. Who knows, I might (leave Nevada)…
I had planned to stop for the night in Lyman, Wyoming. There is a KOA campground there. It is one of the smaller KOAs I visited, but was far enough away from the highway to be quiet. It was also not full and that added to the quiet. It was nice enough that I spent an extra night to recharge a little.
I drove on to Wendover, Nevada then turned south to Ely, Nevada where I spent my last night on the road. The Ely KOA is pretty good. It is clean, quiet, and the spaces are far enough apart (not far, but far enough). I did a hasty setup and did not unhook from the 4Runner because I knew I would leave early to get home.
The Girl and walked a few rounds around the perimeter of the campground. Both of us needed some outside time.
I woke early, of course, hit the head, then got The Girl out (who looked at me like I was crazy being up so early). She brightened when she learned we would walk as we made a round about the campground perimeter. I finished loading out the rig, dropped the camper into travel mode, and we headed into town. It was a quick stop to refuel the 4Runner and grab a biscuit from McDonalds before we left town.
The drive home was uneventful. I turned on my handy-talkie when we approached Fallon, Nevada, thinking I might be able to hear the Mount Rose repeater. I was just in time to hear the Sierra Nevada Amateur Radio Service noon net. I was surprised that I could talk to the repeater with my HT and the magnetic antenna mounted to the roof of my rig.
I was able to check in and confirm that we would run the new operators workshop the following Saturday. My signal was not great (a little scratchy, no surprise), but copyable.
Another operator and I run a workshop for newly-licensed amateur operators every couple of months. We give them a chance to operate their handheld radios with assistance (and encouragement) from a couple of more experienced radio operators. It is common for new licensees to have mike fright. The only way to gain experience operating the radio is to operate the radio. The regular nets are there partly to provide operators experience in running their radios.
After another hour or so, I backed the camper into my driveway and unhooked. Before I unloaded, I got my air conditioner out of the garage and put it in my workroom. I do not need central air conditioning so long as I can keep one room cool. If I have a place to cool off, I am good.
I am sitting in my (new-to-me) camper at the KOA Journey in Lyman, Wyoming this afternoon. I am heading home after a long roadtrip that took me to Lubbock, Texas, to Duran, Oklahoma, to Rolla, Missouri, to Denver, Colorado, and now the last leg back to Carson City.
I have been on the road for more than three weeks. All of my nights were spent in my camper, a 2017 Forest River Rockwood. It is an A-Frame that folds down and is compact in the down position. The 4Runner pulls is pretty will, slowing only on the steepest hills. I will write more about it later.
I am learning a lot about the camper lifestyle. There is a lot for me to learn about setting up my rig. It is interesting to think about a small house and how to make it work for me efficiently.
One thing I learned is that there are many campgrounds operated by county and municipal governments that are very inexpensive. I stayed at a number of municipal campgrounds where I had both electricity and water for about ten bucks a night. That is a bargain compared to what I was paying for lodging.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I want to write about an interaction I had with Marylinn and Anna, who work the floor at the Mead Cafe. The Mead Cafe is located between Durant and Lake Texoma. Older Son and I stayed at one of the Corps of Engineers campgrounds at the lake. That was an interesting experience in and of itself that bears some additional writing, too.
We met Young Son and his girl at the Mead Cafe on a Saturday morning for breakfast. I was sufficiently impressed that it became our go-to breakfast place during our stay there.
On our last morning in Oklahoma, Older Son and I stopped in for breakfast. It was a quiet morning and both women working the floor stopped to chat several times while Older Son and I drank coffee and prepared for our day.
The younger, Anna, told us about the dog she lost to an automobile and the new dog she had taken in. She asked many questions about The Girl and her service work. It was my pleasure to listen to her story, share her grief for her lost companion, and share her joy with her new companion.
The older, Marylinn, told me stories about “service dogs” — one in particular about a dog whose handler put her plate on the floor for the dog. (Yes, that caused even my eyebrows to rise!) She asked many questions about The Girl, as well. She told me that she would not have known The Girl was there but for Anna telling her there was a dog under our table.
The Girl is the real deal. She is not perfect, but neither am I. We are a good team. She knows her job and she knows me, sometimes better than I know myself. She knows what I will do before I do and anticipates our comings and goings. She knows to stay out of sight when working and she knows to play like all hell is loose when we play.
Again this morning, while I had breakfast at the Cowboy Cafe near my campsite, one of the young women working the floor came by. She told me “If I had not seen her come in, I would not have known there was a dog in here.” The Girl looked at her from the top of her eyes, staying on the flood near my feet like she always does.
After breakfast, The Girl and I drove to the Lyman Cemetery. I figured there would be a geocache there and we both needed some outside time. While I was searching for the geocache, The Girl got all rowdy, running around me on the grass like a crazy dog.
I paused my search, crouched, and said “I’m gonna get you…” and we had a great chase there on the grass. Finally, exhausted, she laid on the grass, panting and enjoying the coolness of the green.
I found my geocache, signed the log, and we headed off to Fort Bridger to walk the site and enjoy some of the history of the area.
Yes, she knows how to work and how to play. She is a good teacher for me and the best companion I could ask for.