Burnt Cabin Summit Moonrise

Just before supper, I captured the moon rising over the northern Nevada desert near Burnt Cabin Summit. Image captured with iPhone XS Max.

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.

NVQSOP Finale

Diana, KJ7GVY, wins the IRON WOMAN award for tent camping at sub-freezing temperatures. Photo credit KG7D.

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.

My campsite and vertical antenna. Photo credit KG7D.

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.

The mesh node and antenna at the KJ7GVY camp.
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.

My operating position, plus some coffee ready to drink. Photo credit KG7D.

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.

Nevada QSO Party Expedition

The county line. Photo credit Greg KG7D.
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.

The view from my campsite.

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.

KG7D and KI7OAL working on their campsite.

Delete Me From the Group…

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.

Portable Ops

I took my KX3 and the GRA-1899t antenna out for a spin to work the local 10m net. The elevated counterpoise (radial) worked.
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.

Three Men, One Dog, One Mountain

I shot this image from the portable operating station for the Mount Davidson SOTA activation. The view was spectacular.

A few weeks ago, my friend and amateur operator suggested we do another Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation. He had chosen a mountain not far from Carson City.

Yesterday, Older Son and I had just started our walk with The Girl out at the Mexican Ditch Trail on Silver Saddle Ranch. I had a handheld radio with me (of course) and called another friend to see if he was walking his dog.

My SOTA-hunting friend responded to my call and we chatted about a group meeting he had been to when he asked if I was interested in the SOTA activation we discussed a few weeks ago.

“When would you like to do that?”

“How about today?”

I looked at Older Son, he nodded. “We just started walking The Girl. We’ll go pick up a sandwich, load up some radio equipment, and give you a heads-up.” We shortened our walk a little because I knew there would be plenty of exercise for everyone. On the way home, we stopped at Subway for a couple of sandwiches, then went home, ate, and gathered up my radio gear.

We met where the pavement ends on Goni Road. After a pause for an introduction and rough plan, we headed out with our friend in the lead. The first part of the road is well-maintained. But it turned to a trail after a mile or so.

The trail varied in condition but was not technically difficult, with the exception of one short segment. Just before we reached the aspen grove, there was a snowbank. At this time of year, the snow is very dense. I had some trepidation about it, watching the Scout cross gingerly. So, I headed down the trail and crossed the snow crabwise with little traction to steer or slow. I knew there was nothing to be gained by hitting the brakes except to exacerbate the slippage and find myself stuck sideways off the trail — or worse.

After traversing the snow, I knew there would be no going back that way for my 4Runner. Our friend called on the radio “We’ll find another way back. We have options.”

We crossed the intersection of Jumbo and Ophir Grades and he told us how the Bonanza writers got much of the history of the area right. Before long we started up the last bit of grade, which had a couple of rough places but nothing the 4Runner could not handle.

There is a turn-around/staging area a couple hundred yards from the summit of Mount Davidson. We pulled up there.

Older Son and I are setting up my portable vertical antenna for the Mount Davidson SOTA activation.
“Should we just haul gear up or go scout first?” he asked.

“I’m always in favor of scouting so there is a plan,” I suggested. So, we added a layer of clothing because the wind was fast and cold and started up the slope.

It is not a particularly difficult hike, but there is some elevation gain and many sharp rocks to deal with. I worried a little about The Girl, because she is sometimes not the brightest bulb in the box and could fall on some of the steeper sections. But she proved to be mostly careful and does have full-time four-wheel drive. She needed a little encouragement/help at a couple of locations and I kept an eye on her the remainder of time lest she wander off and fall.

The summit of Mount Davidson is interesting. There are remnants of a couple of antennas up there, perhaps from either temporary installations or old repeater locations. But of significant interest is an old flagpole that was first installed in the late 1800s. At some point, the pole bent about 10-15 feet above the base and was repaired by placing a second pole (or the remnants of the first) adjacent to the base and tying them together. There are many names and dates embossed on the steel of the flagpole. We spent a few minutes looking at that and then planning our station.

We then humped it back down the hill, retrieved the appropriate equipment from the rigs, and hauled it all back up the hill. Older Son and I began assembling my antenna (a vertical all-band base-loaded whip with a lot of ground radials) while the third component of our little company assembled the station.

The Girl stayed on overwatch and made sure no gnarly squirrels or other riffraff ambushed the company.

We tuned up the antenna for the 40-meter band and gathered around the radio. Fortunately, I brought log materials and Older Son brought water, so we were ready to go.

This is the operating point for the Mount Davidson SOTA activation. The Mount Davidson repeater is in the background.
As we prepared to begin operations, Older Son pulled a packet of Lorna Doones from his kit. Before he could get the wrapper opened, The Girl was sitting in front of him in her please sit, looking at him, and humming. We know what that means, “I can has cookie???”

Of course. We all shared some of the cookies.

Our leader called CQ-SOTA several times and got an answer from a British Columbia station. I had log duty and made the log entry. He called several more times and then offered me a shift on the radio.

The Girl came back in from perimeter duty and sat next to us, shivering a little. Older Son called her over to snuggle and warm up. We had some sun and shelter from the wind, so it was cool but not cold.

While I called CQ-SOTA, he logged into the SOTA website and “spotted” us. That means he logged an entry that we were working the Mount Davidson SOTA site so other operators could find us. I then proceeded to make five contacts, some of them contacts I had made before, some of them new contacts. I needed four contacts to log the activation (and get the points).

I handed the microphone back to our leader and took up my position with the log.

Not long after he took up operations, The Girl sat on a flat spot and looked at Older Son and I. I know my dog. She was sending a definite message. She said “I’m done now. The perimeter is patrolled and there is nothing to do. I’m ready to go home. Why are we still here? Don’t you understand, I’m done — I’m ready to go home. Take me home.”

He made another contact before the battery went dry. He and Older Son started over the hill to retrieve my battery. I stayed on the summit with The Girl and the gear. It was not long before their voices grew louder. I knew they were returning.

“We’re losing daylight,” our leader said, “I hate to give up, but we better tear down and pack out.”

On the way down from Mount Davidson, we paused at potential operating area to look back where we had been. The staging area is to the left of the rocky outcrop and we operated from near the peak.
On the way down from Mount Davidson, we paused at potential operating area to look back where we had been. The staging area is to the left of the rocky outcrop and we operated from near the peak.[/caption]It did not take long to pack up the gear and haul it down to the staging area. It was portable operations, after all. I have enough repetitions with my gear that I know what order to do things and how to pack it up. Before long we were headed back down the trail. At the Jumbo-Ophir junction, we turned east toward Virginia City on the Ophir Grade.

We chatted over the radio now and again as out leader pointed out various sights along the way. At the bottom of the hill we pulled up. “I’m whooped,” he said, “coffee will have to be another time.”

We said our goodbyes, he teased me about “stealing the glory” on this one, and we headed down the hill.

I still wanted coffee and pie, so Older Son and I drove through Carson City to Bodine’s Casino and hit the restaurant there. I like it because the coffee is good and they have a wonderful berry cobbler. I was also hungry, so I ordered off the plate menu (and bargain) and gobbled my food. It was a lot of work in the cool air to set up and run that SOTA activation.

Filled with warm food, coffee, water, and cobbler, Older Son and I headed home to pack it in. We got home about 2200h. It was a good day.

Meanwhile…

This is my view from one of my favorite portable operations locations.

To say that I have been absorbed the last few weeks would be a minor understatement. After my amateur operator’s license was issued (finally) I have been spending much of my time learning how to use the equipment and, well, operating.

On weekends I generally drive up into the Pine Nut Mountains where I have a wonderful place to setup my portable radio and operate outdoors. This satisfies me in so many ways. I really like to be outside, but I need to be intellectually engaged or I chafe with boredom. The radio provides that engagement and I spend a lot of my time listening and a little bit of my time talking.

It is difficult to operate my radio here at the house. There is so much interference from as yet unidentified sources that I can hear only the strongest signals. There is a local net that meets six days each week on the 10m band for a local chat. Because most of the signals are so strong, I am able to participate in that meeting. Yet I still cannot hear several of the stations that regularly participate.

Aside: A net is a gathering of operators at a particular time on a particular frequency. They are usually directed, that is coordinated, by a net control operator who acts as a master-of-ceremonies to ensure that the conversation is orderly and that stations are not transmitting at the same time.

Nets have many purposes — some are informational, some are rag-chews, and some are for passing traffic between stations to be delivered to other places. They can be a lot of fun because of the organization and the chance to operate the radio.

Most of my voice operations are on the weekends when I’m up in the mountains where it is quiet (both in the audio and the radio sense of the term). I really like that.

The image is from one of my favorite locations. I expect to spend many weekends at this location and others, operating my radio outdoors and enjoying it a great deal.

Playing Radio

Lucas the Spider is one of my favorite cartoon characters. Therefore, I have a plushie at my workstation.
A friend asked about my weblog a few days ago. It reminded me that I need to give some attention to this space as well as the other things I do. Of course, I was locked out of my own weblog. The overwatch software was doing its job.

My call sign was issued on 15 April, finally. I guess whatever list on which there was a name similar to mine was reviewed and my application for a amateur radio operator’s license was approved. I downloaded the PDF of my license, printed a copy (both for the station and my wallet), and took it over to FeDeX Office to have it laminated. I carry the wallet card and the larger version is on my radio table.

That is when the work started! Assembling a working station is a significant task. There is a lot more to it than buying an appropriate radio. There is a workspace to set up that can accommodate the radio and its support hardware (mostly a power supply, but a computer is helpful too). There is at least one antenna to set up. For the high frequency bands, there is a lot of spectrum to cover and do-all antennas are not always the best (or even a good) solution.

I have a random wire (well, pseudo-random) stapled to the top of my fence and fed with a matching transformer. It is working OK for local communications (I participate in the daily 10m net) and for digital contacts on the 40m band.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I earned my license at the bottom of the sunspot cycle. That means that propagation is about as bad is it gets at this time. The bad news is that making distant contacts will be challenging. The good news is that it only gets better from here!

I have been using a handheld radio to talk to the local VHF nets. There is a repeater located in line-of-sight to my home and five watts is enough to open the repeater so I can participate — if I stand in the right place in the house!

I bought an external antenna and yesterday afternoon was spent working out the install, procuring the materials for the install, and then installing the Diamond X50-A VHF/UHF antenna on my roof. That meant buying a ladder, hauling all the stuff up the ladder, being careful not to fall off the ladder (or the roof), and completing the installation. I tested it with my backup handheld radio (I would rather blow a $50 handheld than my desktop station) and was able to open the repeater and get confirmation that my signal was received.

In the time between the submittal of my application and the issuing thereof I spent a Saturday afternoon in an antenna design class offered by the Northern Nevada ARES coordinator. It was a good class, I learned quite a bit, and the result was my random wire antenna. A better replacement will follow as I work out the next step for my station.

Last Saturday afternoon I sat a class (the same instructor) on use of a software called fldigi. It is actually a suite of programs that work together for both digital communications and for transferring files between stations and/or via a net of stations. This software is used by some ARES units for coordination of traffic during emergencies. Therefore, I wanted to learn how to use the software.

The theory is done. Now I need to get some practical experience with operating the software and my station. The instructor is planning a local net for his students to practice over VHF. Therefore, I was highly motivated to get an antenna up so I can run VHF from my station. That task was done yesterday. I will set up my backup radio to run VHF from my station and then get my MacBook Pro talking to the radio so I can run the fldigi suite and get on the air.

In the meantime, I have playing radio a little. I am able to participate in the afternoon 10m net. Most of the stations can hear me and I can hear most of them. I am able to make some contacts using one of the digital modes, FT8, which is a weak-signal mode. I have a significant noise issue here at the house, so I have been operating portable in the hills east of Carson City on the weekends. I like being outside. It is quite there, both from an auditory perspective and from a radio perspective. I can hear much better. I am able to check in to the noon 40m net that operates out here in the west and was able to check in to the High Noon Net that operates from Colorado (I think). This is good operating practice for me and is building confidence that I can actually get out, be heard, and hear other operators.

There is more and I will write about it. The image this morning is from my archive. Lucas the Spider is an animated character I follow on Instagram and on YouTube. He is a funny little guy and is one of the few plushies that I would have. He is perched on top of one of my speakers to remind me to have fun and be kind.

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the smallest raptor in North America.

I am still waiting for my amateur radio operator’s license to be issued. My name is similar to one on an “alert list” so the automatic system pulled my application and put it in queue for review by a real person. The estimated time is weeks. To say that I am a little bummed by this outcome would be an understatement.

But I have plenty to do. I am working on my station and there is a lot to do to set up an HF station. I have equipment, but antennas are an issue. I built a simple 40m dipole and erected it in my backyard. The matching transformer arrived last week (I will learn to build them as well), so I need to attach it to the mast and then tune the antenna to resonate at the middle of the 40m band.

In the meantime, I just put up a random wire antenna, stapled to the top of the fence along my backyard. I ran the feed line into my workroom and attached it to my transceiver last night. Reception is better than with the previous instance and I can hear traffic on the 80m and 40m bands. The bands are not open much right now because we are at sunspot minimum and so there is not much energy to drive the ionosphere, which is where much of the long-distance propagation occurs.

Morse code and the digital modes are going to be the mechanic for making contacts until the Sun becomes more active. I decided to make a real effort to learn Morse code while I wait for my license. I also will work on my portable station so I can operate away from town and all the noise here. I have plenty of access to quiet areas with elevation so low-power operation is viable. Besides that, I will get away from the house, be outside, and can camp a little. Both The Girl and I will like that.

There is plenty of other work to do, too. I have a bunch of images to review and process. The little raptor above was one of my recent captures. He/she flew up near me and posed prettily while I ran the camera. The Carson River floodplain was where I saw my first Kestrel and I see them often. They are furtive, though, and do not often provide me much time to capture an image.

I am enjoying the better weather lately. The Girl and I are walking the Carson River daily and the trees are about to leaf out. I hear blackbirds calling, woodpeckers drumming, and the geese are still honking. The river is up a little as the snow begins to melt and it looks like there will be abundant water this year. I heard one of the ARES members talking about releases from Lake Lahontan in anticipation of snowmelt and they are spilling excess water into the desert down near Fallon.

The Girl just wandered in. She is looking for breakfast and an outing. I need to retrieve the Fuji’s batteries from the charger and prepare it for another wander. I want a bite, too, but do not feel like cooking this morning. Subway has some decent breakfast sandwiches, so I think I will wander over there and pick up something. Then we can drive out to river, enjoy some sunshine, and spend some time outdoors. Perhaps Mother Nature will bring me a treat.

Amateur Radio Service Examinations

These license manuals occupied most of my off-time for the last several weeks.
Several weeks ago I was sharing breakfast with a friend when he mentioned that he was preparing to sit the Amateur Radio Service Technician Class examination. He had purchased a software defined radio receiver and found himself an Elmer (radio slang for mentor). I was intrigued.

Several years ago I picked up a copy of the ARRL Technician Class license manual. It occurred to me that if the mobile telephone system were to go offline that I would have a difficult time getting word out to my family that I was alive and well. I knew that unless something deeply catastrophic occurred the amateur radio bands would be open and that I could get a message out to my family via that avenue.

But, life being what it was, I set aside the manual and did not pursue the license required to operate radio equipment on the amateur bands. My friend’s revelation motivated me.

“I’ll do it with you,” I said. I reflected my initial interest from a few years before. I also mentioned that I played with radios when I was a teenager and remembered something about them.

I quickly learned that my license manual was out of date. I ordered a fresh copy and began working in my old copy. When the new version arrived, I picked up the thread.

After a week, I decided I could probably do enough work to pass the General Class examination as well. General Class privileges include a lot more of the HF (high frequency) bands. While I was buying books, I went ahead and ordered the Amateur Extra Class license manual as well. I knew that the questions were valid for another year, so I thought I would work on that after working through the other two levels.

About the end of February I attended my first SIERA radio club meeting. The exam coordinator belongs to this club and invited me down to visit. While I was visiting him, I mentioned that I thought I might attempt all three examinations. He said “That’s very difficult. I can be done, but I don’t recommend it.”

A few minutes later, the club secretary wandered by. “What was your name?” she asked. I told her. “You are going to attempt all three examinations in March?”

“Well, yes I am” was my response. “I might not pass all three, but I think I’m going to try.” So, my intent was logged into the club minutes. There’s nothing like a little pressure, is there?

The technical level for the General class is a bit greater than the Technician level, but it was not awful. I started work on the General Class material when I started passing the Technician practice tests with scores in the 80 percent range.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself passing the General Class practice tests in the 80-90 percent range. So, I thought to myself, I might as well start on the Extra Class materials.

Those materials were quite a lot more technical. There was a lot of basic circuit theory, radio equipment theory, antenna theory, propagation theory, and operational policy. The Extra Class examination comprises 50 questions; the other two classes only 35. The pass rate for all of them is 74 percent.

I failed my first practice examination. “I don’t know if I can be ready for this in time,” I thought. Yet, I continued plugging along, working through the material, working all the example problems, and preparing for the next practice test.

I passed the next practice test. My score was not great, but it was sufficient to pass. The HamStudy website and iPad application provided a lot of practice. The app indicated that I had seen about 65 percent of the questions in the pool and my aptitude was less than 50 percent. I still had work to do and only a week to get it done.

I kept after the material. Once I made it through the book, I continued using the Hamstudy flashcards and practice tests. A few days before the examination date I was passing the Amateur Extra practice tests with results in the 80–90 percent range. I stopped trying to learn new material and spent my last few days reviewing, adding to the holes in my knowledge, and practicing problems.

Saturday morning, I met my friend for an early breakfast. “Are you ready?” he asked. “About as ready as I can be,” I responded. We continued chatting about the radios and the world over breakfast and then headed for the venue.

We gathered with a fairly large number of other attemptees. After a few minutes, Greg, the coordinator, called us to attention and began handing out the paperwork. There were some forms to complete and then we were to hand in our forms and pay the examination fee.

One of the proctors looked at me, “Are you the guy attempting the trifecta?”

“Yep, that would be me.”

“There are about 12-hundred questions in that pool. There’s no way anyone could memorize that many questions,” he remarked.

“Well, I studied all the material,” I responded.

“Good luck…”

The first exam was distributed. I wrote my test number on my answer sheet and opened the examination. Ten minutes later I handed in my examination. Then I waited while the proctors reviewed my answers. The second proctor looked over the shoulder of my inquisitor, then gave me a thumbs up and took my answer page to check.

A few minutes later I was handed the second examination (General Class) and answer sheet. I repeated the process. I spent a little more time on the General Class examination because I wanted to be sure I caught all the words. I handed it in after maybe 20 minutes.

A few minutes later I received another thumbs-up. I waited for the third examination, knowing it would be more challenging. Soon I had the examination booklet and answer page in hand. Again I filled out the required information and opened the examination.

I do not know how long that exam took me. I know that one of the new proctors (they had two new guys sitting in for experience) was watching me carefully. It was not that he thought I was cheating, he was curious about my approach to the work.

In the 50 questions, there were some I could not remember. (Some of the material is rote memorization.) There were quite a few soft-balls in the lot that were easy to answer. There were a number that I knew, not just from remembering, but I new the material.

I handed in my exam. Again, I got a thumbs-up from the second proctor as the first finished correcting my examination. I did all three classes in one sitting. I was told that does not happen often.

The man watching me smiled. He said “I knew you were going to pass the last examination. You were very focused on the work. Congratulations.”

I am an engineer. Most of my life has been spent figuring out ways to solve problems. Some of them are amenable to mathematical solution. Others require a more intuitive approach. All are based on my understanding of math, physics, and chemistry. This exercise in the Amateur Radio Service licensing examinations was no different. They were not as difficult as my engineering license exams, nor my Master or Ph.D. exams. The Extra Class examination was challenging and there was a real risk I might not pass.

But, I did. I was reminded of an aphorism another operator shared with me. “Do you know what the call the person who graduates at the bottom of their medical class… doctor.”

All I had to do was pass. Once my license is issued, then the practicals begin. I have to learn to operate the radio in real space, not in book space.

I am pleased the ordeal is over. I am looking forward to the issuance of my license and call sign. Then I can operate my radios. It is fun stuff.