Springfield Layover

I found this thistle on morning walkies. It practically begged me to make the shot. So, I did. Postprocessing in Snapseed on my iPhone.

So much has happened over the last couple of weeks. I changed my mind about dragging the camper to Missouri. I made the repairs the camper needed. I prepared everything for my trip out here, including enough projects to keep me busy for a month. Then, a day late, I made the trip out here, attended my 50th high school reunion, and returned to Springfield to recover.

There were three repairs to the camper.

  1. Swap out the left tire with the spare, check the bearings, and move the worn tire to the spare.
  2. Troubleshoot the electrical problem with the ceiling lights and the Fantastic fan.
  3. Remove the microwave from its cubbyhole and repurpose the area for storage.

I think my tire problem was from chronic underinflation. On reading the sidewall, I think the tires are about at maximum load. Therefore, I need to keep them at 50psi unless I am on-trail and need to air down for ride and flotation.

The electrical problem was not the converter; it was a loose spade connector on the interrupt switch at the front of the camper. There is a switch that disconnects the ceiling lights and Fantastic fan when the lid is down. I was lucky to find it. It is the kind of problem that can be maddening.

I do not use the camper’s microwave. In fact, I do not use a microwave that much at all. I will use it to warm soup, stew, or chili at home. But I generally reheat food in a pan and just watch my fire so I do not burn my dinner. The same is true in the camper. I reheat food in a pot or pan and monitor it so I do not ruin it (or make a mess in the pan).

Removing the microwave increased my storage space by about 30 percent. That was a huge gain and means I can keep more things put away.

All that took me a couple of days. With the smoke, both my health and my energy level were affected. I had a hard time being motivated and feeling well enough to do this work. But it had to be done and I pressed forward.

Then I assembled everything I wanted to bring with me. I have several radio projects that need some attention, including a repair of the PX3 panadapter for my Elecraft KX3 system. The main encoder is worn out. I have a replacement and the tools to make the repair. I just have not had time or motivation at home.

There are several small antenna projects I want to work on. Older Son is a good candidate to help with those because he is both a ham and is interested. Those are good builds for both of us.

I also brought some work with me. I still have work to do on a couple of reports and am guiding work on a new project in the Tahoe basin. I am spending time each day on that work.

Sera, AKA The Girl, also needs attention and exercise. Both of those are good for me as well.

In any event, I got through the preparation, got the camper and the rig loaded, and we left Sunday morning after a walk and a shower. I dry-camped the first night (and that was absolutely gorgeous) west from Ely, Nevada. The second night I planned to camp just north from Delta, Colorado. But when I approached the campsite, I saw that there was work on US 50 east from Montrose. When I checked the website, I learned that the road was open for the weekend, but open only three hours each day during the week.

I knew I would not get through and did not want to backtrack, so we pressed on through Delta and Montrose to Gunnison. There I was too tired to camp so I rented a hotel (Rodeway) for too much money, got a shower, and slept. At least the breakfast was decent.

I used municipal campgrounds the remainder of the way to Missouri. I find many small towns have a small campground where one can rend a space, usually with electricity and often with water, for ten bucks a night. This is good for the community because campers will spend a little money in town and the cost to the town is minimal.

Sera and I spent one night in Springfield, Missouri, with my kids. Then I headed to St. James for my 50th reunion. My best high school buddy and his wife camped at the Meramac Springs campground, so that is where I stayed. It is a gorgeous campground and the camper was comfortable with shore power to run the air conditioner.

I enjoyed a meal with my friends and with another friend from high school. Some of my classmates treated me well when I was in high school. A few were openly hostile. Most just ignored me. It was all good.

We participated in the St. James Grape and Fall Festival parade. Yes, I rode the float with my class t-shirt on. I laughed with a few of my compatriots and waved at a few folks that I recognized along the route. It was worth the effort.

The reunion supper gathering was what I expected. Most of the class have mates and the couples gathered with their respective friends. I sat with my buddy, his wife, and another friend for supper. We talked and told stories and laughed through the meal. I visited with a couple of my classmates that I specifically wanted to see after 50 years. It was good.

Now I am back in Springfield, working a little, enjoying my kids, and enjoying my dog. I am waiting for a contract to be executed so I can make a field visit in south Texas before I think about heading home. Actually, I can stay here for a few weeks if I want to. There is no pressing obligation back home at the moment. I have plenty to do and I have what I need to do it.

For the last couple of days, I have been recovering. It was a lot to get ready and get here. The weekend was pretty intense.

I am really satisfied that I decided to come to the reunion. It was a good thing.

AAR: 2021 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt

My station for the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.

The NJQRP Club hosts an annual event for low-power (QRP) radio amateurs. The event lasts four hours and the objective is to make as many contacts with other low-power operators as possible.

QRP generally means five watts or less for CW Mode (Morse Code) operators and 10w or less for voice (phone) operators. Operations can be home or portable.

With only a few watts to work with, signals can be very weak and operating in a low noise environment with a good antenna becomes important to making contacts. Because of the noise at my home, I usually operate portable. I have some favorite places to set up my portable station and play radio.

This morning I woke about my normal time, rose, made a cup of coffee, and working through my morning routine. I decided to get out and walk Sera, then go up in the Pinion Hills and set up a station and play a little.

It was smoky this morning, but not as bad as it has been. The day promised to be smoky and hot, with afternoon temperatures near 100F. We got in a good walk and then headed for the operating point just after 0930h local.

On the way, I decided to deploy my kit-built EFHW in an inverted “L” configuration using a 10m telescopic mast. I found a anchor point for the mast (an old juniper tree that was cut off at about 4ft. I ran the wire from the wire winder along the mast, tied it off near the top of the mast, and then lashed the mast (and vertical portion of the wire) to the juniper. I tied a bit of cordage to the end of the wire and used that to tie off on another juniper, forming the leg of the inverted “L.”

This is a good antenna and is reasonably tuned to resonate on 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m. The 30m band was not in the band plan for the event, so there was no loss not having access to the 30m band.

I deployed my Elecraft KX2 with power from a 4.5Ah Bioenno LFP battery and a PowerFilm foldable solar panel. (I was not sure of the state of charge of the battery.) Given I was going to run only 5w, I knew that power usage would be minimal. My station was set up in the shade of the open hatch of my 4Runner.

Doggo was tired and hot, so she laid in the dust out of the sun. I moved an old furniture blanket to give her some relief from the dust. I also retrieved water and her bowl from the rig and both of us got a drink.

I was about an hour late getting started. I am not a serious contester anyway. I just like to play some radio. I started by searching for a few SOTA (Summits on the Air) activators, but quickly noticed two things: First, some kind of contest was ongoing and there were a lot of stations on the air. Second, I heard a couple of stations calling “CQ BZZ” and that meant I could hear Skeeters!

So I abandoned the SOTA chase and focused on the skeeters! I had not prepared a digital log, so paper would have to do. I worked the runners steadily, looking for the loudest first since they were easier to copy. The operators were patient with me as my code skills are still developing. I noticed that a few operators were running slowly, so I added some space between characters to give them a chance to copy my callsign and information. Good operators accommodate slower operators. It is the right thing to do.

Over the course of the next three hours, I logged a dozen contacts. The farthest was in Florida, which is not bad for five watts. I spent most of my time on the 20m band as that is where I heard them. I checked 40m and 15m, but heard no skeeters calling.

Tired, hot, and hungry, I shut down about 1350h local. There was only another ten minutes and I was ready to be out of the heat. So was The Girl.

I took my time packing the station, gave The Girl some more water and drank some myself. The smoke had worsened as the day wore on.

I put the transfer case in 4L and we eased back down the trail to the pavement. Then I switched back to AWD and we drove over to DQ for a bite and a treat. Of course, I ate dessert first (love me some Blizzard) and shared with The Girl. (I always share with her.) Then I nibbled at some chicken strips and shared those with her as well.

It was a good day, despite the heat and smoke. Some of the contacts were difficult, requiring multiple repeats. The signal would fade into the noise and I could only copy part of the exchange. But we worked the radio waves and made the exchange.

One operator called me over the runner’s frequency just as I finished working the station. I thought “how rude!” (oh my, that sounded like Jar Jar Binks!) and did not answer the call. I am not quite sure how I should have handled that call. Perhaps I should have sent “up one” and changed the frequency. I do not know but will ask one of my more experienced operator friends.

In all, I made 12 contacts in 10 different states/provinces. The KX2 performed. I practiced my code. I had fun, even if some of the exchanges were a challenge. I think that is part of the fun or radio and QRP (low power).

Random Wire Antenna Build

This is a random wire antenna I built for my Elecraft KX1 kit.

After walkies on Friday morning I met Tom for a radio demonstration. He wanted to see my RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) setup and see my Elecraft KX3 in action.

Tom is interested in portable operations and that is about all I do. Lately I setup my little radio, the Elecraft KX1 (a four-band CW-only transceiver), with a random wire antenna to a 6m mast. I use the counterpoise wires from the Elecraft AX1/AXE portable antenna as the radiator (40m counterpoise) and counterpoise (20m counterpoise) to form the random wire antenna.

So I used this approach with the KX3 setup. When I checked into the 40m Noon Net (7.2835MHz), I noticed the KX3 threw a “High Current” warning and rolled the power back to 5w. That sent me on a hunting expedition later in the day.

I think the 40m counterpoise from the AXE is too close to 10m long, which is one-quarter wavelength at 40m and a half-wavelength at 20m. That’s not going to work because a half wavelength will be resonant and the impedance will be too high at the end of the wire.

I remembered seeing some work on random wire antennas (which really are not so random in length) so I retraced my path through the Internet. Mike, AB3AP (https://udel.edu/~mm/ham/randomWire/), wrote a small C program and a Matlab/Octave script to calculate the wire lengths NOT near a half wavelength.

I tried to get the Octave code working once before, but failed. This morning was too smoky to be outdoors, so I worked on it some more. I was able to get the code working and calculated the wire lengths that will work for my application. I decided on a 17ft counterpoise and a 42ft radiating element. That should work for 10m–40m on the ham bands.

With the target length of wire, I gathered up my materials (wire, open terminals, shrink tube, mast ring, and link) and tools (diagonal cutters, pliers, wire stripper, crimper, soldering gun and solder) and laid my 100ft tape measure on the floor of the garage. The counterpoise (17ft long) was easy and readily completed.

The radiating element required a little more engineering. I wanted to affix a tab that will fit on the top section of my telescoping masts. I also wanted to affix a link and leave a leader so I can add another 42ft of wire if I want an 80m antenna.

I decided to use a larkshead knot with shrink tube to make the antenna-to-mast connection and also a larkshead knot and shrink tube to fasten the tag to the link. If I add another section of wire for 80m, then I can use the link for strain relieve and an Anderson Powerpole connector or a pair of alligator clips to connect the two segments. I think the 80m add-on radiator will be something I deploy occasionally so I want the ability to attach and detach it when needed.

After a couple of hours of work, I had the antenna assembled and ready to test. It was too hot and smoky this afternoon, so I will probably test it in the morning after we walk.

It was a fun little project to build. I have a couple more of these planned, including a lightweight end-fed halfwave antenna. I have the matching transformer for that antenna. I just have to work out how I want to engineer the remaining parts.

Activating Prison Hill, W7N/TR-075, 27 July 2021

This is one of my favorite radios — the Elecraft KX1. It is code-only, will operate on four bands (20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m), has an internal antenna tuner, and makes about four watts.

On Tuesday, 27 July 2021, I woke to relatively clear air. The smoke was so bad for so many days (and nights). There were nights when I either would not open the windows or when I woke during the night smelling smoke. On those nights, I rose, walked the house, and closed any open windows.

I know we do not have it as badly as those either near or directly affected by the fires. Yet I am careful with my respiratory health having had asthma as a child.

I miss those evenings with the windows open. It cools here about 2200h local and I can shut off the air conditioner and let nature cool the house. So many mornings I will need a blanket because of the wide temperature spread of the high desert. It is one of the things I love about the west.

So Tuesday morning was better regarding smoke. Some overnight clouds kept the temperature from falling as much as it might. But the lingering clouds meant that the sun would not be beating down during morning walkies. So I rose, made coffee, and began my day.

I got The Girl out about 0700h to go walk. She is always excited about our walks and I really enjoy walking her and working with her. We had a good walk, pausing a few times for a little water before we returned to the rig.

With our walk done early and the pleasant morning, I decided to go play radio a little. It was a year ago that I activated Prison Hill, which is not far from my home. I decided it might be fun to do it again this year. So off we went.

This was the view from my operating position on Prison Hill on Tuesday, 27 July 2021. We had some clouds and smoke is visible in the distance from the Tamarack Fire. But the air was much better than on previous days.
I inadvertently took the long way up to the top of the hill and traversed a few parts of the trail that a pickup truck would not be able to do (too long). But the 4Runner is a beast and had no difficulty making the slope changes and crawling up the steep parts. It was a little nerve-wracking though as I intended to find a place to operate the radio and not play on the trails.

Nonetheless, we made it to the activation zone about 1000h. I decided to go simple, so I got out the Elecraft KX1 (a code-only radio), a telescoping mast, and some Bongo ties. I keep a couple pieces of wire in the case with the KX1, so I used a random wire antenna, with one end affixed to the top of the mast with a Bongo tie and the second connected directly to the radio. A short piece of wire served as the counterpoise (the other part of the antenna).

I called QRL? (is the frequency in use) a couple of times on 40m at 7.060MHz. Hearing nothing, I began the process of spotting myself. I knew with only four watts I would not be loud. So some Internet assistance would be useful.

Then I thought the 40m noon net might be warming up, so I tuned to 7.2835MHz. Sure enough, they were taking early check-ins. So in a gap, I sent my callsign. Someone stepped on me. So I sent it again. The Net Control Operator heard me calling, so he said “There’s a CW station trying to check in. Everyone else be quiet while I try to copy him.” It took a few tries before Net Control copied my signal and signed me in. That meant that everything was working well enough. Those 40m Noon Net operators are all very good operators.

So I returned to 7.060MHz, listened a bit to ensure the frequency was not in use, and spotted myself on the SOTA website. I took a deep breath, and called CQ CQ CQ SOTA de AG7TX AG7TX AR. That means I’ll take a call from anyone working SOTA stations and am waiting for a call.

It did not take long before my call was answered. A small pile-up got started and I worked the stations one by one. I admit I was a little bucky and had to call for a few repeats.

I heard an S2S, which means summit-to-summit (highly desirable) so I sent S2S in return and waited for the callsign. He was faint, so I adjusted the filter to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. He was very readable and I recognized the callsign as an active SOTA operator. We made the exchange (which made me quite happy) and I sent TU 73, which means thank you and best regards.

This was my view of Carson City from my operating position on Prison Hill on 27 July 2021. There is some smoke up towards Eagle Valley and Washoe Valley, but Mount Scott is visible and the air was so much better than on previous days.
This went on for awhile. My code copy was pretty ragged as was my sending. The copy was because I have not been doing much radio the last couple of months. The sending was just ragged.

I logged 11 contacts. I decided to stop for the morning and not switch to another band. Had I more time, I would definitely have run 30m and 20m. That would have given some chasers an opportunity to hear me and then call. But I had a 1300h appointment and did not want to be pressed for time. I knew I still had to get down off the hill, get home, and prepare myself for my appointment.

So what did I learn?

  • I need to make a lapdesk or something similar. That will give me a better platform from which to send.
  • A lapdesk would also make logging with either my iPhone or a paper log easier.
  • A short length of coaxial cable (maybe even three feet) would take some pressure off the BNC connector of the radio and I would not feel like the antenna was trying to drag off the radio.
  • A lapdesk would also provide a solid place to hold the radio.
  • I could wind the antenna wire around the mast to stabilize the wire. The short length of coaxial cable would permit me to sit near the base of the antenna and everything would be more secure.
  • I should sit in my chair. I would be more comfortable. I know this would improve my sending and might improve my copy as well.
  • I need to get back to practice copying Morse Code. I also need to operate more.

All in all, I still had fun. I had only one station who called that I just could not get an exchange. It was not all my fault either. His/her sending was choppy and irregular, so I suspect he/she was not an experienced operator… or they were having a rough day like I was.

What a good day it was. The air was much clearer than it had been. The temperature was pleasant. The sun was at bay. Sera was wonderful.

Life is good.

The Ghost

This old farmhouse was a place of life and love. Now it’s just a ghost.

This old farm house, now abandoned, falling apart from the mistreatment of the previous occupants, is a ghost. I recall there was so much life in this house. It was the home of a family — a father, mother, and three girls. Now it is only an empty shell.

As far as I know, the Deans built it in the first half of the 20th Century. I seem to remember a mark somewhere on the concrete with a name and a date. But that memory has long departed. The father and mother bought the house and surrounding farm sometime in the 1950’s.

There they raised three girls, one of whom became my wife. I had no idea when I first met them. Neither did they… I was just a boy from California.

One morning, not long after we moved to the place just west from them, the two younger girls walked up past our place. Dad and I were headed out to work on fence on the tractor. At 15-years old, I was not (yet) much interested in girls, so I paid little mind.

But Dad would not let it go. He nudged me with his elbow, “What do you think, son?” he asked with a nod towards the two girls, a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye.

“They sure grow them big back here,” was my terse response. Dad laughed and laughed as we rolled down the road on that old Case tractor.

I do not recall exactly how my relationship with that family first developed. I know I eventually met them and the oldest became the object of my affection. I started helping Wife’s dad in the hayfield the best I could, given I was not a big boy. But I could help load the bottom tier of hay and I could drive a tractor. I could help pitch bales off the wagons and trailer. And I did.

I spent a lot of time in that house. Moreso as I became part of the family.

After Wife and I married, we spent a lot of time in that house. She loved her family, as did I. When I was at university in Rolla, during hay season I would head out to the farm after my university obligations were finished and start in the hayfield. I learned to rake hay into windrows so Dad could run the bailer. Once he started bailing, I would get the other tractor and a wagon or trailer and start picking up the bails. We left the outer row for after Dad finished bailing because those bails were always extra heavy and took two men to lift them to the trailer.

The youngest of the three sisters sometimes drove the tractor. It was better if Wife did not.

This path is cut through the garden plot of the old farmhouse. In it my family grew vegetables for the table. There was even a small strawberry patch that yielded a few berries every year. Now it is only a mess of weeds.
I sure enjoyed the meals and fellowship of that time. Mom was such a great cook and Dad and I shared a lot of laughs while we ate supper and rested for a few minutes before heading back to the field to finish the job.

I recall watching the women cleaning up after supper one evening, all with the backs turned to us. “I can sure see the family resemblence,” I mentioned to Dad. He said nothing, but howled with laughter, slapping his knee as he sometimes did.

Somehow I survived. Perhaps they did not hear me.

After our first child was born, we spent a week or two with Mom and Dad so Mom could help with Daughter. Wife was recovering from her C-section and we had no idea of what we were doing.

I was convinced that I would never sleep again. We were up every couple of hours dealing with a colicky baby.

One night Wife checked Daughter and then headed for the lavatory. Of course, Daughter began screaming as soon as Wife departed. I sat on the edge of the bed, doing my best to comfort Daughter, knowing she wanted to be fed.

Mom stepped to the door and exclaimed “Oh, David!” noticing me sitting there in the tighty-whities. Exhausted and never having been very modest, I turned to her and said “I’m covered and I don’t care. I’m just not sure what Daughter needs…” The thought occurred to me that it was not like Mom had never seen a man before. She came over and retrieved Daughter to check her, comfort her, and walk the floor a bit. I think I fell back asleep.

After our initial foray into parenthood, we returned to our apartment. When Wife had to return to work, Mom spent part of her days at our apartment and we took Daughter out to the farm on other days. Daughter spent a lot of time with her grandma and grandpa and I still think that was a good thing.

Soon came graduate school and Older Son. My mom and dad moved from the farmhouse up the road to Kansas City where Dad worked. So we moved into the farmhouse while I worked on a Master’s degree.

We spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad. Dad and I worked the hayfields in the summer and cut heating wood in the fall and winter. We hunted and fished whenever possible.

My in-laws were the most supportive people I have ever known. They were, and are, just as much family as my blood.

Soon university ended and it came time to work, so we moved to where the work was. But we were always drawn back to that old farmhouse where the family lived. Holidays were almost always spent there. I made sure that Wife and kids got plenty of time there with the family every summer. I would take a couple of days, drive them all there, visit as long as I could, then return home to work.

I have always loved the view of this hayfield across from the old farmhouse. I cannot recall how many times I saw white-tail deer at the far treeline. I also cannot recall the number of bumblebee nests we found in the field while making hay.
There was so much life and love in that old house.

Later, Mom and Dad decided to put a manufactured house on a basement just up the road from the old farmhouse. They wanted a little more modern place and they loved the spot next to the pond. So they rented out the old farmhouse. The new place became the gathering point for family and friends and served just as well.

But I still loved that old farmhouse. I loved the view of the field across the county road.

As Mom and Dad grew older, it came time to move to town where there was not so much work. Eventually, they needed more care and that involved another move.

Now Mom is gone. She lived her life on her terms and we all love her and miss her. I expect Dad will follow soon enough, missing his beloved as much as he does. When he goes, a great hole will be left in the world as the two of them lived their faith; they did not talk about it.

As I stood at gate to the yard of that old farmhouse, I saw the derelict it is and the vital home it was superposed in my mind. I made the image as a testament to the family that lived and grew there. But the old house is no longer that vital place; it is only a ghost that contains all those memories.

Stampede Reservoir

This is the view from my OP at Stampede Reservoir. It was a nice view, even with the smoke.

After being gone for more than a month, it took me nearly two weeks to regroup. At first, the heat was oppressive here in Carson City. I have one cool room in my house, the living room. The portable A/C is sufficient to keep that room cool, but not the remainder of my house. In general, I am able to cool the rest of my place by opening the windows at night and drawing in the cool evening air.

But on 16 July 2021, the Tamarack Fire bloomed from a single isolated tree to a raging wild fire. I happened to be in Gardnerville to have Sera’s ears checked. I could not get a vet to see her, so we left. As I stepped outside the office, I saw the plume rising in the south and the winds blowing it over the Pine Nut Mountains. I had no idea how bad it would get.

Over the next few days the fire grew as the crews sought to protect structures in and around Markleeville. The aggressiveness of the fire and the rough landscape made fighting it difficult. Winds from the southwest blew the smoke into Carson Valley, Carson City, Washoe Valley, and Reno. At times, Mount Scott is invisible from my house, just a couple miles away.

The air quality has been in the very bad range. We had a few reprieves when the winds turned westerly and moved the plume to the east (poor folks east from us). The management team projects they will have things under control by the end of August. That is a long time to deal with this smoke.

We continue to walk in the morning. I am rising earlier to get us out before the heat rises. Sera does not handle the heat well. So I carry water for her as well as myself. So far, I have not felt the impact of the smoke too much. I can tell it affects me, but not badly.

My friend called and asked to to meet him, his bride, and another couple at Stampede Reservoir Saturday. I was concerned that the smoke would be bad, but agreed anyway. The worst case scenario would be I turned around and returned home. So I agreed.

Sera and I got an early walk Saturday, then I loaded the rig. I made a mistake of driving SH 28 along the northeast side of Lake Tahoe. Traffic was awful and unnecessarily slow. I knew much of the route because I have a project on the Truckee River near Boca Reservoir. It is a pleasant route once off the Interstate.

Boca was very busy with the campgrounds and dispersed camping fairly full. However, because it is a little farther out, Stampede Reservoir was not bad. There were a few rigs down by the water and a few watercraft on the lake.

I found a copse of trees to shelter in. The smoke was bad, but less so than at home. I parked the rig, set up my radio, and watched Sera chase the local squirrels. I made a couple of contacts with SOTA activators before my friends arrived.

I turned off the radio and visited the remainder of the afternoon. We got a little westerly wind and the smoke was a little better. The wind also provided a little cooling.

Before we broke up to head back home, I made a capture of the lake through the trees. It was my only photograph of the day.

It was a good day.

AAR: Field Day 2021

Setup under the pavilion at the Salvation Army gymnasium, I worked Saturday of Field Day outdoors with my portable radio and Morse Code only.

Field Day 2021 was different than the last two years. The previous years involved an expedition to a relatively remote location. The expedition involved significant planning and preparation to ensure everything needed (for both radio and camp) were assembled and loaded into the rig/camper. Once at the operation point, we setup camp and stations far from the noise of civilization. There was much fun and fellowship.

This year I was in Springfield, Missouri, visiting family. I had no plan. I did not even know if I wanted to do any radio activities so far from my friends. After waffling about what I should do, I elected to visit the Southwest Missouri Amateur Radio Club (SMARC).

But first, I need to present a little backstory.

While in Springfield, I programmed two of the local repeaters into my HT — the SMARC repeater and the Nixa Radio Club repeater. Older Son, who has a license, told me he tried several repeaters and did not hear much traffic, with the exception of a Skywarn net during a heavy thunderstorm.

After programming my HT, I regularly listened for traffic and heard little. When in the 4Runner, I called on both repeaters to see if anyone was monitoring them. I knew my programming was good because I could hear the repeater radio respond to my transmission. What I learned is that these repeaters are not heavily used. More on that below.

I checked into the Friday evening SMARC net. There were a few stations checking into the net, but even Net Control remarked that traffic was light. However, Net Control took my call and asked a me a few questions. He was curious about my visit and my background. He also invited me to attend their Field Day operation. It was to be held at the Salvation Army gymnasium not far from my kids’ place.

Saturday morning, I took Sera and we navigated to the Salvation Army gymnasium. When I arrived, I gave Sera a little time to sniff around and eliminate. (I did police up after her.) Then we entered the gym and looked around. There were about dozen folks inside, some working and some just chatting. An additional dozen personnel were outside wrangling a couple of multiband beam antennas.

No one greeted me. No one asked me to pitch in to help and showed me where. I was not quite an invisible person, but close.

After trying to start a couple of conversations without success, Sera and I stepped back outside where we surveyed the scene. The two groups wrangling beam antennas were still wrestling with their prey. Another group started erecting a vertical antenna. A young man was working on a wire antenna. He was raising a fan dipole for the 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m bands using a hitch-mounted telescoping mast. (I thought “Ah, a portable operator.”) He introduced himself as Mike, but I cannot remember his callsign. I helped with one end of the antenna and another person pitched in on the other end. We helped Mike get his antenna deployed and then joined him in the gym where he began assembling his station.

Mike was personable and engaging. He is an active Parks on the Air (POTA) activator and often operates portable. He is a doer.

I didn’t get the other young man’s name, but he works in the SKYWARN (storm spotter) network. He needs his General license and wants to get it. He is also a doer.

After giving Mike a ride to a nearby convenience store to get a drink and some lunch, Sera and I met the kids for lunch at a local Italian restaurant. I really like it and will visit again. Then we returned to the gym to see what was up.

There was not much. Mike was one of three operators who were working the bands and was focused on what he was doing. So, Sera and I left the building and walked the perimeter of the large field adjacent to the gym building.

When we returned to the parking lot, we found another ham, Patrick, assembling a portable antenna. He uses a vertical wire either wrapped around a Black Widow mast or suspended from a tree limb. He uses one of two low power radios (QRP rigs). As he prepared to setup his station in the back seat of his vehicle, I asked him if he thought the pavilion with a roof and shade might be more comfortable than the back seat of his vehicle.

“Maybe,” he said.

I moved my rig near the pavilion and then got out my Elecraft KX2, a telescoping mast, my end-fed halfwave antenna, and a battery. I had my station set up in about fifteen minutes. Patrick was working on his as well. He had moved to the pavilion.

“I won’t bother you will I?” he asked.

“No, I often operator portable with other operators.”

“Do you have a log?” he asked, “I’m going to see if I can get some sheets of paper to keep my log.”

“I think I’ll use my iPhone. I don’t think I’ll make that many contacts.”

I ran my KX2 at about 10w. I started searching and pouncing and after a couple of hours had 15 contacts or so. It wasn’t bad.

Now and again I heard Patrick transmitting or one of the stations inside the gym on my radio. But there was not a lot of interference.

I decided to walk Sera around the perimeter again before calling it a day. Patrick offered to watch my rig while I walked.

As we walked along the back lot line of the nearby houses, three dogs ran up to their fence aggressively and Sera got away from me. When she turned to respond to me, one of them nailed her hip through the fence. If I had realized that it got her, I would have kicked its teeth in. I should have carried my pepper spray and hosed them down.

Tired, soaked to the skin from the humidity, and hungry, we returned to the pavilion and I tore down my station. I said good evening to Patrick and Mike and we headed home.

On the way home, I heard an operator call on the Nixa repeater asking for help with the Field Day exchange. No local ham answered his call. He called again and no one answered. So I answered his call and we had a nice chat. He had been away from the HF bands for awhile and wanted to play during Field Day. But he could not figure out the exchange and was having trouble navigating the ARRL website. I think I got him straightened out. At least he had an idea of what to do.

This was my station at the kids’ house… my KX3, N3ZN key, and magnetic loop antenna.
Sunday morning I thought about visiting the Nixa club to see how they were doing. It was threatening rain, so I stayed home.

I sat at my Elecraft KX3 station running 15 watts into a magnetic loop antenna. I tried several times on previous days to raise a call, but no one answered my call on any band that I tried. Sunday morning I worked another slug of stations with the KX3. I logged my contacts on my iPhone as they were made. I quit about 1000h local.

On Monday morning I moved all of my contacts (36 of them) to my computer. Then I prepared the log for submission to ARRL as my contribution to Field Day. It was quite different than my previous Field Days, yet I still had fun — even with the disappointment in the club.

I learned a few things again this year.

  1. Amateur radio clubs are their own worst enemies. Survival of the service requires new people participating. New operators need a community where they can receive instruction (answers to questions as well as more formal work) and fellowship. They need a place to belong.
  2. Clubs that don’t dedicate personnel to capture new people and greet visitors are not going to add members. This is a critical issue to bringing in new operators and getting them active on the bands.
  3. I still have work to do on my Morse code skills. I was uncomfortable with the idea of running a frequency. I would have made more contacts if I had. I still had fun and it was challenging.
  4. It’s a good idea to have a computer that can run logging software and reads data from the radio. A phone logging program can be used, but all the data fields have to be entered manually. N1MM+ will read the radio if connected via USB. Even a low power Windows computer can run N1MM+.
  5. I was not prepared for this Field Day. Normally I prepare a few weeks in advance. I have my station organized, know what I am going to use and what I am going to do, and I have the rules and supporting material printed and in a notebook for reference. Still, I had fun and made a few contacts. So it ended well.

Next year will be different again, I suspect. I am sure I will learn more on the next Field Day.

Wild Oat Mountain, W7N/TR-065 SOTA Activation

The Wild Oat Mountain operating point and station. The CalTrans benchmark is visible near the station.

A few weeks ago (seems like forever now), after the Nevada QSO Party, I was not ready to settle down for very long. I started working up a new outing almost as soon as I had the camper unpacked and the laundry running. My friends suggested that I was not working hard enough, but I am not quite sure what they meant.

Given that everyone in our little group was tied up or busy doing other things, I planned a little outing to a SOTA summit south of Carson City near Lake Topaz in Douglas County. I posted an alert on SOTAWatch that I would be attempting an activation and emailed a few of my CWOps Academy friends to be on the lookout for me.

Saturday morning arrived and I loaded up the rig, put some dog food in a baggie (The Girl will not eat before an outing), and made sure we had plenty of water. The route was in the GPSr and I had everything needed. So, out the door we went.

I stopped at McDonald’s for a biscuit and a coffee. I ate on the way south, saving a bite of my biscuit for The Girl, who was watching me like Snoopy on his doghouse.

I did not miss the turnoff for the trail and it was a fairly easy trail drive to up near the summit. In the spirit of SOTA, I schlepped my radio equipment to my selected operating point and then paused to give The Girl a short walk around the summit to burn off some energy.

We found a CalTrans benchmark on the summit. I thought that was pretty cool. I never tire of finding the old benchmarks on top of mountains or near highways as I travel around.

The Girl is also a SOTA Dog. She is learning to sit on command and loves to have a mat for said sitting.
The Girl settled down a little, so I put out her mat and assembled the station. I have put together the little Elecraft KX3 station so many times that I think I could do it blindfolded. I tested the setup and everything looked to be operating normally.

I did not connect the microphone to the radio. I determined that I would operate code only and do my best. I found a frequency on the 40m band that was quiet and asked a few times if it was in use. Nothing heard, so I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and posted my spot on SOTAWatch.

Then I began calling CQ (general call) SOTA (identifying myself as a SOTA activator), sent my callsign, and listened. It took only a few calls before a pileup of stations were returning my call. My hands shaking and my breath a little ragged, I responded to the fragments of callsigns I could pick out, sending the fragment plus a question mark indicating that the calling station should send their callsign again so I could copy it.

My radio, power supply, key, log, and Topaz Lake from my operating position.
One by one I worked these stations, putting each one in my log (on my knee) with their signal report, my signal report, and the time. I heard a few S2S calls (summit-to-summit, cherished contacts for double points) and worked those stations the best I could. Some were just too weak for me to hear, but I worked everyone I could hear, including one of my CWA instructors.

I made a dozen or so contacts on 40m, more than enough to qualify my activation. As I fished out the hole, I called a couple more times “last call before I change bands” and listened. I cleared the frequency and moved to the 30m band.

Again I called CQ SOTA and listened. Several station returned my call, but not as many as on 40m. Many chasers had their contact for my activation and were looking for other activators. I worked another of my CWA instructors and that was a treat. With that hole fished out, I cleared the frequency and moved to 20m.

I worked a few more chasers on 20m, but I could tell that the herd was thinning. Then I heard a call that sounded like “EA2…” and listened a couple more times. The station was fading in and out of my noise floor and I had trouble getting a full callsign. I returned the call and we worked and worked until I got the callsign. I was reasonably sure I also copied the signal report.

At that point I decided to call it a day. I cleared the frequency, looked over my log, and shut everything down. The Girl was ready for some movement so we walked the area again a couple of times. I took her to the rig and got her some water. She was ready to go home. So I tore down the station, stowed my gear in the rig, and then did one last walk-around to be sure nothing was left behind. I paused one more time to take in the view, even with the smoke. I made sure I had captures of the area.

Then we returned to the rig and headed down the trail. I was tired, hot, and sweaty, but deeply gratified that I had completed my SOTA activation in CW mode only. It was good to be home, get a shower, enjoy a little cooler air in the house, and settle down for the remainder of the day. With a shower and some food, I was nearly done. But I worked on my log a little, played with The Girl a little, and then called it a day. It was a really good day.

I learned a few things as well:

  • I should tie my pen to the kneeboard. I kept dropping my pen in the dirt.
  • I got hot in the sun even if it was a little cool when we got to the OP. I should have setup the station in the shade even if I needed a cover to be warm. It was too much sun that day.
  • Headphones would probably make copying the calling stations a little easier. I do not like to be isolated from my surroundings, so perhaps just one phone or earbud would help without disconnecting me from my environment.
  • I should determine my own pace. Chasers will either wait to work me or they will not. I only need four contacts to make the activation. I can afford to slow down my pace a little so I can breathe and have fun. I had fun anyway, but I let myself get stressed.
  • I had plenty of power with the 15w that the KX3 makes. I might have worked a few more stations with a few more watts, but I made my activation and it was a lot easier without having an amplifier along too.
I stepped away from the station as I started tearing down for this view. It was still a little smokey from the fires and it was fairly hot in the sun. Still, it was a good day.

Fall

The leaves are mostly gone, with just a few stragglers hanging on. Between the sub-freezing temperatures and the recent winds, the trees have shed their fall colors and donned their winter garb.

Late last week, The Girl and I got away a little late for our daily walk. Work kept me busy much of the morning. Yet I wanted a walk and The Girl was insisting on a walk and I knew that cold weather was on the way. So I put us into the rig and we headed out to our favorite area, the Carson River at Silver Saddle Ranch.

There was almost no one on the trail that day. I guess the cooler temperatures and the wind were keeping them away. As we approached the trail, I could see that much of the fall color was gone. There were still a few stragglers, hanging on to their leaves while others had given up and dropped theirs. The riparian area is taking on the colors of winter — more browns and grays, more earthy looking, more like waiting for the winter snow.

Yet we had a good walk. There were periods of sun and shade as the clouds blew in, foreboding the coming colder temperatures and the prospect for rain or snow. When the sun shone, it was plenty warm and I was tempted the shed my outer layer. But then a cloud would obscure the sun and I felt chilled. I elected to keep the outer layer on.

The Girl ran from place to place, hunting lizards. “They’ve all bunkered in,” I told her. But she hunted anyway, enjoying the activity as much as the prospect of jumping something to chase.

We jumped a brace of mallards from the Mexican Ditch and she started off in chase. “Come-on back; you can’t catch those…” I called. She broke off her chase, and returned, bright-eyed and wolfy-looking.

Near the Mexican Dam, we paused for a moment for me to look out over the river. She stepped up onto the spoil berm and I noticed. She stayed long enough for me to make the capture. We walked on a few more steps to within spitting-distance of the dam, then turned and headed back.

I was struck by the quality of the light and the mix of clouds and blue sky. So I paused to make another capture, which went to my Instagram account.

The Girl rushed me on, “There are lizards to hunt…” she seemed to say.

We had a good walk back to the rig. She was ready to hop in and head home, as was I. I came away with two good captures, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and a tired dog. It was a good day.

On the way back from the Mexican Dam, I saw this scene. Fall images do not get much better for me.

Playing a Little Radio

The Elecraft KX1 is small enough to hold on my knee for operating.

Last weekend I really wanted to get out and play some radio. But, I also wanted to get my 4Runner cleaned up after a full summer of desert running (and the ensuing layers of dust) before the fall snows/rains come.

So, Saturday I worked some in the garage, at least enough to create a staging area for the radio equipment carried in the 4Runner. In the process, I opened a couple of the remaining cartons from my move to the duplex. I found my Garmin Montana 650t, which I planned to sell but now think might be a good GPS receiver to keep for trail driving.

I set the GPS unit and dash mount aside. I would deal with that later.

The Girl played around in the front and back yards while I unloaded the gear from the 4Runner and staged it on and around a folding table. With the 4Runner empty, I closed up the house, put The Girl in the rig, and we drove down to Minden to let Melvin’s do their thing. When I pulled into the queue, the operator gave me my ticket and said “That’s a lot of dust. I don’t know if we can get it all.”

“I will pay extra…”

“We’re just so busy…” He was right — I was probably sixth or seventh in the line.

“That’s OK, I’ll take what I can get. I’ve been in the desert a lot.” I left the keys on the dash and The Girl and I went into the shop to pay our bill. Whatever I got for my 25 bucks would be so much better than what I had.

Next for the 4Runner is getting the replacement tire in the shop and on the ground. (That was a left-over from the Bald Mountain activation. I broke a sidewall on a tire coming down the trail.) I am looking into a roof rack and air bags for the rear axle and the passenger’s seat has a parting seam in the leather that needs attention.

We waited outside (what a beautiful afternoon) for the rig to be washed. I listened to the local repeaters while folks chatted about small matters. There is a jammer in range of the Carson Valley repeater who was interfering with a couple of local hams. So they switched to another repeater that has coverage. I switched too so I could follow the conversation.

There was also some chatter on the CARLA network. A group of California hams assembled a complicated but useful network of repeaters that will cover most of the state and a lot of Nevada and Oregon. I monitor that network regularly as well.

The rig clean, The Girl and I visited Ronnie McD’s place and headed north toward home. She was antsy, but settled as I shared my fries with her. We pulled into the Koontz Avenue access to the Prison Hill Recreational Area and parked. I finished my late lunch (sharing of course) and then we got out for a walk.

It was a good day.

Sunday was rather a repeat of Saturday, except that I worked on some battery packs for my portable operations. I am reorganizing my portable radio kits and had some new materials in hand. I used some velcro to attach a power distribution box and a solar charge controller to the new 6Ah LFP battery. The velcro will permit (difficult) removal of the attached pieces if I decide that I do not like the setup. I also attached a distribution box to the 15Ah LFP battery, which is used when I want to run a 100w radio. The 6Ah battery will power my radios (and maybe a computer) with up to about 35w of power (or barefoot if I do not want to run power).

That only leaves the little 3Ah LFP battery to work with. I will probably add a charge controller and power distribution box to that pack as well. Or I might leave off the distribution box because I’ll likely be running on a barefoot radio.

I also got the Montana 650t updated and put onto a charger to see if the LiON battery is still serviceable. The unit has been in storage for several years so I am not sure about the battery.

The Girl was pestering, so I loaded her into the rig and we headed off to get in a walk. At the upper Silver Saddle Ranch staging area, I let her out, donned my EDC pack, and we headed down the trail. She ran herself hot and returned to me several times asking for a drink. But I knew that we would be at the Mexican Ditch in a few minutes and would not be on the trail that long before returning to the rig, where I can a water bottle for her.

She jumped into the ditch, of course, cooling herself and getting a drink. Then, as usual, she trotted past me and shook, giving me a shower as well. I always thank her for the shower and then we walked on.

At the ranch compound, I put her on-lead because there were a bunch of horse trailers parked in the lot. She is not sure about horses and I do not want an incident. But we saw no horses, yet the leash time was good because it gave us some practice working on-lead.

I gave her a bowl of water back at the rig and put her inside. I retrieved the KX1 go-box from the rig, threw a wire over the sage and bitter brush, and thew a counterpoise wire out on the ground. I sat on an old cottonwood stump, put the KX1 on my knee, and started chasing POTA (Parks on the Air) and SOTA (Summits on the Air) stations.

The Elecraft KX1 is a code-only radio, so I was using my newly acquired Morse Code skill. I worked five stations, including a park in Alabama being activated by one of CW Academy instructors, Ken K4EES with only about 3w of power. It is amazing what can be done with a little wire and a radio.

I thought about chasing a few more, but decided it was a good day. So I packed up my gear, got The Girl out for one last short outing, and we headed home. I made some early supper and fed her, then settled in to update my log and relax before the week started. It was a good day and a good weekend.

I keep the little Elecraft KX1 in this sealed box. In the box are the radio, battery, key, headphones, and an antenna.