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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.