Elecraft KX1 Repair

I have one of my KX1 radios torn down for minor repairs.

One of my wonderful little Elecraft KX1 radios needs a little love. The AF Gain potentiometer is no longer smooth, but drags over certain portions of its range of travel. The RF Gain potentiometer also feels a little rough and its effect on gain is limited to the last 20 percent of its travel. I also discovered that one of the faceplate screws was sheared below the faceplate. So a few repairs are needed.

So I ordered some parts and have been consulting the Elecraft KX Reflector for advice on how to proceed. It seems I might need to peak the receiver section of the radio as well as replace the pots.

I pulled the radio apart yesterday to start work and found that the desoldering pump does not work on the potentiometer pins. So I ordered some desoldering braid (a wick) and will pick up the work later this week.

I have another of these small radios in my inventory that is a three-bander (20m, 30m, and 40m). I bought the four-band module for it and will pull the 30m module and replace it with a 30m/80m module. Then I’ll have a second four-band KX1 in my inventory.

These are Morse Code only (CW Mode) radios. They will receive CW Mode and SSB (both LSB and USB) very nicely, but only transmit in CW Mode. That means one needs to know Morse Code to transmit with the radio.

So I have been learning Morse Code. My copy speed is between 8 and 10 words per minute at this time. I’m continuing to work on my copy speed to get to the point where I can operate well. I’m still several months out. But I am learning.

Field Day 2020

This panorama shows my Dry Lake camp, the 80m OCFD antenna, and a good portion of the area surrounding my camp.

The plans for a Field Day 2020 expedition started a couple of months ago. Greg, KG7D, was (and is) our fearless leader, as always. The plan was to head out to camp at Smith’s Creek Dry Lake on Thursday, set up camp, relax Thursday evening, set up radio stations and test on Friday, rest Friday evening, and commence operations Saturday morning, running through Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon would be an opportunity to rest and socialize a little and then tear down stations in preparation for a Monday morning departure.

I started my preparation for FD2020 a couple of months ago. There was some new equipment I wanted to bring online after my experience last year. So, the equipment was bought and was delivered over the course of a couple of weeks. Then followed several rounds of assembly, testing, and adjustment over the period of a few weeks.

Work intensified during the two weeks before FD2020. I repaired a lot of power and coaxial cables, assembled the power systems (solar panels, charge controllers, batteries, and cabling), and tested everything. I deployed and tested a new antenna a couple of times because of an issue with coupling of the antenna and the new mast.

Then there was food preparation, loading everything into the camper and 4Runner, and making sure that I did not forget some important component. It was all done Wednesday evening, with the exception of loading my personal kit.

Thursday morning I woke, made some coffee and a little breakfast, and puttered around a little bit. Then I hooked up the camper, loaded the dog, and we headed east from Carson City on US50 toward Middlegate, Nevada.

On the way out, I listened to some chatter on the SNARS repeater system. The Mt. Rose machine was available to me all the way past Fallon, Nevada. I heard KG7D call so I called him when he finished his conversation. He was about a half-hour behind me.

I made a brief stop in Fallon to pick up some iced tea (bottled) and a sandwich. I got Sera out for a brief walk and then we passed through Fallon and east past Sand Mountain. After a couple more basins and ranges, we arrived at Middlegate Station, Nevada. I pulled into the lot of the bar and grill, went inside, and ordered myself a bar burger and a beer.

Then I went back to the rig and retrieved Sera. We sat down at an outside table and looked at the surrounding terrain and did a little people watching. A small group of cruiser-riders was gathered at the station, which is common as it has quite a reputation as a great way-stop.

One of the riders wandered over with a beer. He asked (which I really appreciate) to pet my dog. Of course, Sera was all about that. She is such a people person, like all of the APBTs I have known. He asked to sit down as my food arrived and I invited Rick to sit and visit a bit. It was one of those pleasant interactions I often have on the road.

Greg arrived shortly thereafter and came over to visit. Rick asked if he should leave, but we both said “no, that’s not necessary.”

My burger was great, of course, and I shared my fries with Sera. She loves fries and got the last bite of my burger as well.

This is the view of Smith Creek Dry Lake from NV722. It doesn’t look like much.
We saddled up and headed east the short distance to NV722. I think that is the old US50 and it runs through Eastgate, then up into the mountains again. After a few more miles, we arrived at the entrance to Smith Creek Ranch and shortly after that the turn off to the Dry Lake. As one turns onto the access road for the playa it does not look like much. However, there is a group of “islands” that I called “hummocks” near the middle of the playa that provides an excellent area to camp and set up radio stations. Because of the hummocks, it is unlikely that vehicles will be driving out there and that they will be running fast. That is a good thing.

Two other members of our party were already on-site and set up. Wes and Eric had their camps established and I saw antenna masts as were approach the camp area. Greg pulled in to a likely location and I moved on toward where I camped last year. It did not take me long to set up my camper and deploy the solar panel to keep the house battery charged.

I climbed into my camper and moved the equipment stowed inside my “house” outside to make my space livable. Once that was done, Sera and I walked over to the other camps to check in with our compadres. We had a short visit as everyone was busy getting organized and then returned home to our camp.

I set up my solar panels so that the batteries would charge. The house battery is charged by a single 160W Renogy panel through a Genasun GV10 configured for lead-acid battery chemistry. The station battery is charged by a pair of Bioenno 60W panels through a Buddipole Mini that was part of my new equipment acquisition. The Mini will display the input voltage, current, and power from the panel and the battery voltage, current, and power used by whatever is attached to it. I am an engineer and I want to know these data so I can evaluate how well my system is working and whether adjustments are needed to improve the performance of the power system.

I also pulled out my radio equipment and station computer. It did not take long to set up the station inside the camper. I had time to deploy the vertical antenna so I could play a little radio in the evening after sunset. The remaining equipment — a military mast and 80m off-center-fed-dipole — would have to wait until Friday morning for setup.

For this deployment I brought the Elecraft KX3 with the PX3 panadapter and the KXPA100 amplifier. This system is completely integrated and operates as a signal unit. It can produce up to 100w of radio frequency energy and the radio operates in all modes and on all the standard amateur bands. The radio has an excellent receiver as well.

Even old men deployed on Field Day have to eat! This is my station and operating position for Field Day 2020.
All that done, I warmed a little supper of chicken and rice and sat down at my operating position to listen to the radio while I ate supper. Supper was cooked before departure, the chicken in the slow-cooker and the rice in my relatively new rice cooker. I recently bought a Japanese rice cooker and it does such a great job with the rice. There are a few appliances in my inventory that I consider essentials — a slow-cooker (crockpot), a toaster oven, and a rice cooker. The remainder might be useful, but they are not essential. While I ate, Sera ate her kibbles (seasoned with a little chicken and rice from my supper, of course), then climbed onto the bed to watch me eat (and hope I might drop something).

I tuned the bands a little while eating my supper. I heard a ZL station (New Zealand) calling and talking to other operators. He was working the pile-up well. During a pause in the action, I answered his call and he heard me! So, I worked my first New Zealand station the first night out.

After supper, I stepped outside to look at the sunset and stretch. This also gave Sera a chance to exercise a little and relieve herself before we settled in for the evening.

Friday morning started early. I woke with the opening of morning twilight and stepped outside to look at the morning sky. It was cool, so I was happy I brought a heavy sweatshirt. Sera looked up at me as I opened the door and went back to sleep. I can only imagine what she must have thought.

I made some coffee to help me wake and listened to the radio a little. There was not much traffic, but I heard a few stations chatting, particularly on the 80m band. That is a noisy band much of the day, but it is often quiet in the morning. I heard the usual Asian broadcast stations on the upper part of the 40m band. I cannot tell if they are Chinese or Japanese from the language. I do not know the differences well enough to identify them.

We had a bite of breakfast and then I started the last of my setup. I put up the military mast, which is a repurposed support for military camouflage. My kit is about 32ft tall and is raised by pivoting on a spike driven into the ground. I guy off two of the three lines, walk up the mast (with additional guys and a pulley to raise the wire antenna), then walk out the third guy line and tie it off. I can then walk the three guy points to tension and straighten up the mast.

With the mast erected and secure, I raised the 80m OFCD antenna. I checked the antenna for resonance and it was not working correctly. I made a couple of adjustments but could not get it working. So I did what any intelligent operator would do. Sera and I walked down to Greg’s place to confer with my smarter brother.

Wes and Eric were already there, visiting a little. When I described my problem, Wes said “it is your coaxial cable.” I was fortunate that Greg had a 100ft run of spare cable along, so I took that and Sera and returned to camp for me to try again.

Sera enjoyed hunting these hummocks all around the campsite. She ranged over the entire group of them and only once ventured out into the open area of the lake.
That fixed my problem. The antenna does not have great SWR, but it is certainly good enough to operate.

The remainder of Friday was spent playing a little radio, resting, walking Sera through the hummocks, and visiting with our friends. In the late afternoon, a meeting was called to partake of some QSO-enhancing elixir made by and provided by Greg. We also spent time relaxing and shooting the bull.

Sufficiently elixed, Sera and I headed back to camp to make a little supper and settle in for the evening. I walked her to the north edge of the hummocky-area so she could exercise and burn of some energy. The walk is always good for me as well. I had done a lot of heavy lifting the last few days in preparation for the trip and in the morning wrangling the military mast and antenna.

As the afternoon waned into evening, I stepped back for a few moments to reflect on the beauty of the location. Sera continued her hunt for the local rodents while I ruminated a bit. I also just enjoyed the view and listening to her chuff and run about.

This is my campsite Friday evening before Field Day. I really like the Dry Lake area. The moon is visible in the upper left.

I decided to test the tiny shower in my camper, so I turned on the water heater and assembled the shower curtain. There is not much room in the latrine and it feels even more claustrophobic with the curtain installed.

Unfortunately, I did not wait long enough for hot water, but it was not well-water cold. I was able to get wet, soapy, and rinsed without using much water. I am really spooky about water use in the desert, but it was so good to be clean.

The shower works.

This is the view of our campsite in the middle of Dry Lake. My camp is almost directly below the drone.

Saturday morning came, with much the same routine as Friday morning only without the work. I rose, started water for coffee, and stepped outside to greet the morning Sun. I made some breakfast and poured most of my bacon fat over Sera’s kibbles. Yes, she is spoiled — just a little. We got out of the camper and walked the hummocks, giving Sera a chance to hunt and burn off her morning energy. We visited our fellow operators’ camps and enjoyed the companionship.

A little before 1100h local, I started listening for calls. I worked CW mode for quite a while. I am not very fast, but given enough repetitions I can get a callsign and exchange. Then I can send my callsign and see if I can make the exchange.

I do not make a lot of contacts this way because it takes time to get the information before making the call. But it is a way for me to learn Morse Code and so it is worth the investment.

I worked CW until my brain rebelled and switched over to phone. I could have set up on a frequency and ran the frequency, but I was having fun just searching-and-pouncing. I worked phone until I broke for a bite of lunch.

The wind was coming up, as forecast. I knew it was going to be windy. I did not know how windy it might be. Well… it got WINDY… and DUSTY. The wind blew so hard that I stepped out of the camper to check the guy lines on the mast. I walked the anchors and tightened up the taut-line hitches I had tied. I also made sure (I thought) that the solar panels and other equipment outside were properly lashed down. Then I went back to operating.

I cannot remember if it was lunch or supper, but I received an invite to share a meal with the group at Greg’s Place. I had not expected a communal meal, but I did have an extra bottle of Cabernet along with me so that was my contribution to the event. Again, it was good food and fellowship.

It was also hot, particularly in the small camper. I decided to fire up the generator and run the air conditioner a little to keep my camper cool. Sera was panting and I was sweating, so it seemed the thing to do.

But the generator would not start. Fortunately, Greg came up and gave me hand diagnosing the problem. After futzing about for a bit, he suggested I check the oil. I had changed the oil before the trip and was fairly sure I had put enough in it, but we had eliminated everything else and the Honda does have an oil sensor.

It was a D’Oh moment for me. The oil level was just low enough to trigger to the low oil sensor and prevent the engine from starting. With the oil topped off (yes, I had some), the engine started and so did the air conditioner. I was grateful for my friend and for the cool air. So I went back to operating.

I worked until about 2300h local then called it a night. With the falling of the Sun, the wind fell as well. I slept well as did Sera.

I flew the Mavic Mini once over Dry Lake. The altitude was too much for the little drone, but I managed a few captures before it decided to land.

I woke early Sunday, again. When the light rises, so do I. As before, I started water for coffee and stepped outdoors to greet the day. Although the image was made early Monday, this was my view each morning on Dry Lake.

I turned on the radio, enjoyed my coffee, and made a couple of contacts. I made breakfast for us again and got Sera out for a short walk and some exercise. I knew it was going to be windy again Sunday, perhaps worse than Saturday. So I check my equipment again to be sure it was secure.

I operated a combination of phone and CW the remainder of the morning. About 1030h local I was tired and done. I shut down the radio and Sera and I got out for a walk and a visit. The others were gathered at Greg’s Place and the wind was UP!

It was a good visit. Eric and Wes were mostly torn down and getting ready to leave for home. Greg and I were not about to wrangle out camps in the wind and dust so were prepared to stay over until Monday. I contemplated staying and extra day and enjoying camping. I was not really ready to go home.

Sunday afternoon was pretty rough. The trailer rocked and buffeted in the wind. There was a lot of dust blowing in great clouds as well. My part of the event ended at 1100h local, so I turned on the generator, ran the air conditioner a little, took a nap, listened to music, and read.

One of the solar panels blew over, even though it was lashed to the camper. The second set of panels blew over as well, damaging the props a little. Everything still functioned, but I laid them flat on the ground to prevent them falling again.

Greg came up for a visit, bringing cookies! I shared some of my treats with him and we visited about the weekend and things. It was a good visit, again, and one of the reasons I continue to go out on expeditions with these friends. They are good people and good operators.

The wind fell a little with the Sun, so I got Sera out and we made another pass through the hummocks for some exercise. The sunset was gorgeous again and I saw a smear of smoke to the northwest, at a high altitude. That meant there was a fire out there somewhere.

Fire is a big hazard in the west. I remember them from my childhood in California. There have been several since I came to Nevada. It is a danger of living here and one to take seriously.

I listened to the radio a little more Sunday evening. I heard an Australian station calling and taking calls. After he worked a big pileup, I called and he answered. We had a nice chat for a few minutes. He asked a lot of questions about Nevada. It was fun.

I turned in, satisfied with the Field Day operations and thinking about whether to stay another day or go home.

As Sera and I made our last circuit around the camp area for this trip, I stopped and made this capture of the area and my rig, all ready to go.

Monday morning came and there was little wind. I made coffee and breakfast and then dressed to go take down the military mast and wire antenna. I decided to go home while sleeping Sunday night. I could tell that Greg was ahead of me and sure enough he came by about 0930h to check on me. After confirming that my 4Runner would start, he headed out for home.

Sera puttered about the hummocks while I finished taking down the equipment. In the process of lowering the mast, it got away from me and split two of the fiberglass segments. They will have to be repaired or replaced. But everything else went fairly well, if a little slowly.

These old bones were at the camp area last year. They are a little more scattered this year. Sera enjoyed them.
With everything loaded up and the camper hooked up to the 4Runner, I decided to make one last walk around the campsite. Given we were alone, I took off my shirt to get a little sun on this old white body and started my tracker. Sera was so excited. We started off toward the south and walked along the perimeter of the hummocky-area. She darted from hummock to hummock, returning on call. She is such a happy dog and a joy to have in my life.

With the work done, I could relax and just enjoy the site. So, that is what I did. The weather was about perfect. The sun was warm, but the air temperature was about 55F. Without the sun I would have been cold without a shirt. With the sun shining so brightly, it was wonderful.

I noticed this “monument” last year. I do not know what the significance might be.
After the boneyard, we came across this monument. It was there last year when we camped here at Dry Lake. I do not know what the significance might be. But it is certainly interesting and worth a photograph. I actually think this would be a good site for a geocache.

Sera ran all over the hummocks. I followed along, keeping an eye on her and enjoying watching her run to and fro. When called in, she got a little scratch or pat on the head or butt (or both), then ran away again to go back to the hunt.

I enjoyed walking the perimeter. I stopped and made a few photographs with my iPhone as we walked. The sky was just gorgeous and the contrast of the white clay with the blue sky was striking.

I also thought about the lessons I learned from the trip. There are always lessons to be learned. Here are some lessons I learned:

  • Be sure that the generator has enough oil in it after an oil change.
  • Bring extra oil for the generator (I did).
  • Bring spares for the generator. (I have them; put them in the kit.)
  • Assemble a small mechanics toolkit for the camper. It should include both SAE and metric wrenches and sockets. Some appropriate screwdrivers and maybe some simple test equipment would be useful.
  • Work on my technique for lowering the mast. I think it was more operator error than anything else. I also think I can do better on lowering the mast.
  • Bring spare charge controllers for the camper and the station. I had a spare for the station and that was a good thing.
  • Have a set of jumper cables in the 4Runner.

The failure of the Buddipole Mini was not expected. I knew I would have to call about that. I also knew I would want that unit or a similar unit in my inventory so I can track my station power usage and determine if I have enough battery and charge capacity for my application.

As we drew back to the 4Runner and camper, I knew this trip was about over. Sera was ready for some water and to get into the rig. I was ready for some water and to head home. I would not be satisfied until the rig was unloaded, or mostly unloaded when we got home. I also wanted a shower and some downtime after all the busy-ness of the last few weeks. But, I was (and am) a happy old man.

After Greg’s departure and me finishing the loadout, Sera and I walked around the campsite one last time. The sun was warm and no one was around, so I went shirtless.

Prison Hill SOTA Activation

Although this image was a couple of days earlier than my SOTA activation, I am setup on Prison Hill with the KX1 radio and the AX1/AXE1 antenna for a noon-net check-in.

Last Saturday Older Son and I drove the 4Runner up to the Prison Hill summit to setup and activate Prison Hill for Summits on the Air. SOTA is a game played by amateur radio operators who operate from designated mountain/hill tops for chasers to contact and make a pre-defined exchange. Both activators and chasers receive points for the contacts.

But the real fun is getting outdoors, setting up for portable operations, and making a few contacts with other radio operators. I enjoy the activation part of the game and try to get a few activations in whenever I can.

The image is one from our hike up Prison Hill (and helluva hike, by the way) where I setup the Elecraft KX1 radio and the Elecraft AX1/AXE1 antenna and checked in to the 40m noon net using Morse code. That was a good day. On Saturday, we setup my KX3 portable station a few tens of feet from this location and put up a proper wire antenna. I listened to the 40m band for awhile and picked out a couple of CW stations callsigns. But I was too chicken to respond. I am still learning Morse, so am not up-to-speed (literally) yet. But I can copy and send a basic exchange if the other operator is patient.

So I moved to the phone portion of the band, found a quiet frequency, and asked if it was in use three times. That is good operating policy. Hearing nothing, I started calling “CQ” and then spotted myself on the SOTAwatch website.

In just a few minutes I was working a pile-up. A pile-up occurs when there are multiple stations calling a running stations to make a contact. It is difficult to separate out the calls and get callsigns. So, one has to work a pile-up. This was my first time working a pile-up, but I have heard them worked plenty of times so I knew the basic procedure.

In less than half an hour I had almost a dozen contacts, including three summit-to-summit contacts, which are highly desirable. After a few more calls, I heard no more stations. I thought for a moment about switching bands to 20m and doing it again, but decided that I had achieved my objective and would tear down and go hike a bit and search for a geocache.

Older Son and I had one in mind. We hiked the few hundred yards to the site and searched for almost an hour before deciding that it was no longer there. The last log was four-years earlier. So we were not particularly surprised that the cache had gone missing.

The hike back up to the rig was strenuous, given it was a big climb. But that was good for me too and I don’t mind the exercise.

We put away our things and started back on the trail out when a good friend and amateur operator pulled up in his rig. So, we practiced social distancing and visited from our respective vehicles for an hour before calling it a day and heading back down the trail.

It was a really, really good day. I am so very thankful and grateful for it.

Prison Hill Hike

Older Son taking a break by the operation point on Prison Hill.

Older Son and I hiked up Prison Hill yesterday. We parked the 4Runner at the staging area, donned our packs, and headed up the hill. The summit is about 1.7 miles from the staging area and the elevation gain is about 1,000 feet. The hike took us a bit and we were pretty hot and winded by the time we made the summit.

It was about noon, so I put up the Elecraft AXE1 and AXT1 antenna and coil for the 40 meter band. I brought the Elecraft KX1 transceiver along with me and hooked it up. The little radio was featured on my Instagram feed some time ago, but it is a Morse Code only transceiver and makes about four watts of power.

I tuned the band and found the frequency for the noon net. I heard the net control station calling for any check-ins. So, I sent my callsign.

“Who’s the CW station? Come again.” came the direction from net control. So I sent my call again. The operator got part of it, “I heard ‘TX’… is that a thanks?”

I sent my call again, twice. “A something TX, you’re fading old man. Come again.” So, I sent my call again.

“AG something TX, is that AG7TX? Send a roger if so.” I sent two ‘R’s to indicate ‘Roger, roger.’”

“I didn’t get it. Did anyone get that?” Another station came in (one of the relay stations) “He rogered! That’s the only code I know.”

“You’re in the log Dave. Next station…”

I was so pumped up that I could get into the noon net using Morse Code and a four-watt radio. My study of Morse Code is beginning to pay off. I can send a few important bits of information with some confidence. I am learning to copy Morse by listening to it. I hope to be a proficient code operator in a few more months. It is a useful skill to know.

Older Son and I puttered around the summit for a few more minutes. We found several locations that would make good places to hide a geocache. I think the next time we go up there (maybe Saturday) we will take some materials and make a hide. The area deserves to have a geocache.

After drinking some water, we started back down. I chattered quite a lot, being excited to be heard using Morse Code.

As we walked down the hill, I remarked “There’s only one thing that would make the day better… The Girl would have loved poking around up there. ‘What’s this? What’s this?‘ She would have been all over the place and had a blast.”

Yes, I still miss The Girl. Her cremains were returned last Friday and have a memorial on my bookcase next to Wife’s memorial.

It was still a good day and I am thankful for it.

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.