Joshua Tree NPOTA Amateur Radio Activation W3ATB

Two weeks ago I was in southern California. I was starting day eight of a ten-day vacation with my youngest daughter Kelly. We were going to see as much of Joshua Tree National Park as possible and I was going to try to activate it as part of the National Parks on the Air year-long celebration the American Radio Relay League was sponsoring in conjunction with the National Park System.

Just days before I had activated Yosemite National Park and Death Valley National Park. Basking in the success of those two activations, I was excited about the possibility to set up my Elecraft KX3 and my 29-foot wire antenna that connected to a 9:1 unun somewhere in Joshua Tree. I need a tree to put up my stealth antenna.

I’m used to tall trees where I live in New Hampshire. Many are over 100 feet tall. The trees at Joshua Tree National Park are more like saplings. Most are maybe 15-feet tall at the most.

Here's a typical joshua tree. It's perhaps 16 feet tall maybe. They love to grab onto string and not let go. Voice of experience talking. Photo credit: Tim Carter

Here’s a typical joshua tree. It’s perhaps 16 feet tall maybe. They love to grab onto string and not let go. Voice of experience talking. Photo credit: Tim Carter

But first and foremost it was more important to me to make sure Kelly got to see everything she wanted to see. This national park was to be the highlight of the entire trip, so I was determined that radio would take a backseat and if I didn’t get the chance to operate, well, there’d be another day perhaps.

This might be the last time ever I’d have a chance to be here with Kelly, and there are always radio waves in the ether to capture. It was an easy decision to make.

We were staying at a rental home just two miles from the west entrance into Joshua Tree. I’ve been to many national parks out west in my life and I have to tell you it was the oddest national park to enter I’ve ever seen.

As you drive up Park Boulevard from the visitor center in downtown Joshua Tree, CA to get to the entrance gate the road changes its name to Quail Springs Road. It’s just a normal residential street with all sorts of houses and driveways feeding off the main road. Then all of a sudden you’re at the park gate. There were normal residential houses within a stone’s throw of the park boundary. Crazy but true!

See that red line? That's the park boundary. See all the houses? Amazing. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2016

See that red line? That’s the park boundary. See all the houses next to it? Amazing. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2016

It was to be a perfect day. The weather was to be sunny with a temperature ranging from 70 to 90 F. The temperature difference happens because parts of the park are much higher in elevation than others. The higher you go, the cooler it gets.

A waitress at a local restaurant told us we were here at a good time. In just a month it starts to get uncomfortably hot. She said, “It can be 90F at 6 am and can easily get to 115 F or higher in the park by midday.” That’s deadly heat in my opinion.

After touring the park for about four hours, Kelly and I found a great place to eat lunch in the center of the park on some picnic tables. There was no shade, but we survived. She decided to find some shade in a jumble of tall rocks and suggested I try to get on the air.

The biggest problem at Joshua Tree national park is the trees. As I said before, they’re all about 16 feet tall or less. I need tall trees to get my antenna up in the air.

Here is my FAILED attempt at midday to try to activate Joshua Tree National Park. It was a horrible failure. No wonder - look at the wretched antenna. Photo credit: Kelly Carter

Here is my FAILED attempt at midday to try to activate Joshua Tree National Park. It was a horrible failure. No wonder – look at the wretched antenna. Photo credit: Kelly Carter

There were no decent trees where we were eating lunch so I tried to use a telescoping fiberglass fishing pole I brought to create a sloping antenna. I set it up in a crack in a rock that had a slight overhang creating a small spot of shade.

It was a complete and utter FAILURE. My antenna had to be the most wretched one ever deployed by a radio operator. I couldn’t hear one signal and tried, with no success whatsoever, sending CQ to get one QSO.

Nothing happened except me generating a considerable amount of frustration that I hid from Kelly.

I packed up and we continued to see all the sites we could. The best scenery in the entire park was at Barker Dam. Kelly and I both agreed on that. It’s a medium-sized canyon that has a natural narrow spot in the bedrock that allowed an early cattleman back around 1900 to build a small dam.

You can barely make out the dam in the upper left corner of this photo. But you can no doubt see the water marks on the large rocks! The water gets to be at least 15 feet deep at the dam creating a small lake perhaps one acre in size when this area gets rainfall. Photo credit: Tim Carter

You can barely make out the dam in the upper left corner of this photo. But you can no doubt see the water marks on the large rocks! The water gets to be at least 15 feet deep at the dam creating a small lake perhaps one acre in size when this area gets rainfall. Photo credit: Tim Carter

It was close to 5:30 pm when we finally got back to our rental home. We were both tired.

“Dad, why don’t you go back up into the park and try to do your radio thing again?” Kelly knew I wanted to activate the park.

I was tired, dusty and my stomach was starting to remind me that the peanut butter sandwich hours ago was a meager offering to the waistline god.

When we had gotten in the door to the rental, Kelly had asked for my camera to see the photos I had taken during the day. It was on the dining room table where she left it.

In my haste to leave, because I knew I’d eat up at least an hour, I burst through the door without my camera. To add insult to injury, my cell phone battery had been sucked almost dry of power because I had failed to turn it off while in the park.

I could see the red danger level in the battery and plugged it into my car charger for the short trip up the road to try to get some electrons back to where they belong in the battery.

Soon I was to regret not having a camera.

The excitement started to build as I drove to the park entrance. Would I be able to find a tree near the road that might work for an antenna?

I had to drive about two miles or so up into the park before I located a small turnoff on the north side of the road that had a somewhat decent tree that might work.

Within ten minutes I was set up, but mumbling the entire time, “This is a WASTE OF TIME. There’s no way this antenna is going to work.”

The tree was maybe 15 feet tall. It was child’s play getting my halyard line up and over a branch. I knew the best thing to do was to slope it to the east to have any chance of getting out with my meager 10 watts.

I was just about ready to go and fortunately I had one bar of cell service and texted my CW mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, in NH. I told him I’d be on 14.060 in about a minute.

The last thing I had to plug in was my micro Pico paddles. I did that and in the rush I touched the ‘dah’ paddle generating a tone.

INSTANTLY Jim came back with his call sign. It was so strong it was if he was next to me with his volume up as high as possible.

I was stunned. Magic may happen.

It did.

I made 14 QSOs in about 45 minutes with several to New Jersey and one down in Puerto Rico!

Here’s my log:

  • W1PID  05-04 00:09
  • W5GXV 05-04 00:12
  • K2DBK 05-04 00:16
  • AA5C 05-04 00:18
  • K5LS 05-04 00:20
  • KQ2RP 05-04 00:22
  • W8NWG 05-04 00:25
  • WK2S 05-04 00:26
  • W9RF 05-04 00:28
  • K8JH 05-04 00:30
  • WP4JT 05-04 00:33
  • K5TTE 05-04 00:36
  • NS7E 05-04 00:38
  • N4KC 05-04 00:40

All the while I was constantly checking for scorpions and rattlesnakes as I was sitting on the sand right in the middle of scrub, cactus and the setting sun.

I decided to take a photo of my setup. Once again I had made a mistake. While on the air, I had left my phone on and it was now completely dead. There was to be no photo of this activation.

However, I was beaming with happiness having activated each of the three national parks. I packed up my gear as fast as possible and got back to the house for a fast shower and some dinner.

Later that night I transferred my hand-written log notes to my tablet where I have HamLog running.

My biggest regret was not being able to get a photograph of the horrible antenna setup.

My biggest takeaway was a sloper antenna, just 14 or so feet off the ground is plenty to pull the elixir out of the ether.

Try it yourself and see.

Death Valley NPOTA Amateur Radio Activation W3ATB

Your vision of Death Valley National Park might be like the one I had if you’ve never visited it before. I equated the name to a place so harsh nothing lives there, not a bush, tree nor creature of importance.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Here's my youngest daughter admiring a flower from the Dante's View high above Badwater Basin several thousand feet below. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s my youngest daughter admiring a flower from the Dante’s View high above Badwater Basin several thousand feet below. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Believe it or not, there’s a natural oasis, probably more than one, within Death Valley National Park and I happened to be staying there for two nights. It’s the The Ranch at Furnace Creek. I was there with my youngest daughter. We were on a whirlwind six-day trip through three of California’s national parks – Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree.

This vacation was special for me for a number of reasons. First and foremost I was going to be spending time with my two daughters. Second, I had never before been to Death Valley nor Joshua Tree National Parks. Both somehow escaped my attention on my many past forays out west over the past forty-five years.

Here's a 3D shot of Death Valley National Park and the surrounding desolate desert in southeastern California. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2016

Here’s a 3D shot of Death Valley National Park and the surrounding desolate desert in southeastern California. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2016

Within thirty minutes of arriving within the boundary of Death Valley, I knew that it was going to be jaw-dropping beautiful. We were nearing the end of a punishing 9-hour drive from Yosemite National Park. The drive would have been just a little over four hours had the Tioga Pass road at the north end of Yosemite been clear of snow.

My college degree is in geology and there’s more geologic eye candy here than any place I’ve ever seen. The variety of rocks and the range of their colors took my breath away.

Here's some rocks colored by volcanic activity and enhanced by the setting sun. I took this photo in the magic hour before sunset at the Artist's Palette loop road south of Furnace Creek. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s some rocks colored by volcanic activity and enhanced by the setting sun. I took this photo in the magic hour before sunset at the Artist’s Palette loop road south of Furnace Creek. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Before we left New Hampshire on this ten-day vacation, my daughter agreed that she’d have no problem me playing radio for several hours at each park. Just a little over 48 hours before I had successfully activated Yosemite National Park. I was anxious to try to activate the three parks we’d be visiting as part of the year-long NPOTA event.

Once we checked into our two-unit spartan room at The Ranch at Furnace Creek, Kelly and I took a walk through the compound. Just 600 feet to the west of our room was the swimming pool, golf course and a very large lawn area that was available to a motel-like structure where more guests put their heads on pillows.

I was astonished to see two massive salt-water cedar trees in a large patio area next to the lawn. Each had to be at least 40-feet tall – more than enough to string up my thin wire antenna.

Can you believe these are thriving in the center of Death Valley? Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Can you believe these are thriving in the center of Death Valley? Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

The next day I set up once early in the morning before Kelly and Ieft to explore the park. I got skunked. The band simply wasn’t open.

Here I am under the giant tree. I moved out of the shadow just long enough to get the photo. Photo credit: Unknown Motorcylce Tourist from San Francisco

Here I am under the giant tree. I moved out of the shadow just long enough to get the photo. Photo credit: Unknown Motorcycle Tourist from San Francisco

Later in the afternoon, I came back around 3:45 PT and set up right under the one giant salt-water cedar tree. Magic was about to happen.

I went to 20 meters, texted my outdoor radio mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID that I was on 14.060 and he spotted me. Spotting is everything if you want a successful activation as part of the NPOTA. I’ve got a few other tips below.

The comfy chairs that set out around the fire rings at The Ranch made this the most comfortable activation of the three. At the others I was on the ground wondering about scorpions and snakes. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The comfy chairs that set out around the fire rings at The Ranch made this the most comfortable activation of the three. At the others I was on the ground wondering about scorpions and snakes. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Once I was spotted, my Elecraft KX3 was put to work. I had it attached to a 29-foot wire that hung vertically from the massive salt-water cedar tree. The end of the wire was connected to a 9:1 unun and a 25-foot coax cable snaked across the ground to my radio. My understanding of the connections within the unun lead me to believe the coax cable acts as a counterpoise in this configuration.

Here are the stations I made contact with at Death Valley:

  • K5RK      05-01 22:58
  • K8NWD  05-01 23:03
  • W7OM    05-01 23:03
  • W1PID    05-01 23:04
  • W0IS      05-01 23:08
  • W6LFB   05-01 23:08
  • W4OV    05-01 23:15
  • N1IX      05-01 23:17
  • WT8C   05-01 23:18
  • KE0HWZ 05-01 23:20
  • KD8DEU 05-01 23:23

Once I put the micro Pico paddles down after my last QSO, I was elated. Never before had I done that many QSOs in such a short time outdoors. It was a balmy afternoon and I realized I had reached yet another new level in my amateur radio journey.

I'm at BadWater Basin - the lowest spot in the USA. Kelly and I walked out about 3/4 mile out onto the salt flat behind me. Don't tell anyone how beautiful Death Valley is. Talk up all the scorpions and rattlesnakes. Photo credit: Kelly Carter

I’m at Badwater Basin – the lowest spot in the USA. Kelly and I walked about 3/4 mile out onto the salt flat behind me. That’s very close to the epicenter of the actual lowest spot in the USA. Don’t tell anyone how beautiful Death Valley is. Talk up all the scorpions and rattlesnakes. Photo credit: Kelly Carter

If you plan to do an activation at Death Valley, I highly recommend working under the giant trees I used. The area is fairly private and the tourists shouldn’t bother you. Don’t think about putting up a tripod antenna setup. Just put up a simple wire antenna as I did. It’s stealthy and it works.

You’ve got cell phone service at The Ranch so you can have a friend back in civilization spot you. Take advantage of that. Forget about activating this place between June 1 – September 30, 2016 unless you bring some eggs you want to fry on the stamped concrete next to where you’re operating.

Here's a panoramic shot from Dante's View. Sorry it's so small! Photo credit: Tim Carter W3ATB

Here’s a panoramic shot from Dante’s View. Sorry it’s so small! Photo credit: Tim Carter W3ATB

 

Yosemite NPOTA Amateur Radio Activation

 

 

On Friday morning, April 29, 2016 I had the distinct pleasure to be high on a ridge just a hundred feet inside the southwest border of Yosemite National Park. I was there with my Elecraft KX3 ready to communicate with at least ten other radio operators. If this happened, I’d successfully *activate* Yosemite National Park.

The red balloon in the lower left shows where I was. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2016

The red balloon in the lower left shows where I was. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2016

I was in Yosemite on vacation with my two daughters and my son-in-law Brent Walter. Yosemite was the first of three national parks I’d see with my youngest daughter over the next five days. Once we finished at Yosemite, we were off to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. It was my goal to set up my radio in all three parks as part of the year-long National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event that’s celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park System.

Yosemite West is an interesting location. It’s a private single-family housing development that abuts the national park. One of the small dead-end streets in the development ends where a dirt road leads up to a park fire-watch tower and cellular phone tower.

The owner of the house I was staying in revealed this perfect operating location to me the day we arrived. Without his guidance, I would have never known about this ideal operating location. Previous amateur radio operators had tried to activate Yosemite setting up down in the steep-walled granite valley and had very limited success.

I knew I needed to be up and away from the valley walls for my meager 10 watts of power to get the attention of other operators. It worked, just barely.

The following photos and video should do a better job of communicating where I was and what I was doing that gorgeous sunny morning in the crisp mountain air.

IMG_8526

My rental car is parked at the end of the development street. Straight ahead through the gap in the trees is the start of the access road. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

 

As you walked up the access road, you were surrounded by giant trees and silence. Photo credit: Tim Carter W3ATB

As you walked up the access road, you were surrounded by giant trees and silence. Photo credit: Tim Carter W3ATB

 

I'm getting ready to launch my water bottle up into the tree. Attached to the line is a cord I use as a halyard to then pull up my antenna. My first throw was perfect. It's not always that way. Photo credit: Brent Walter

I’m getting ready to launch my water bottle up into the tree. Attached to the line is a cord I use as a halyard to then pull up my antenna. My first throw was perfect. It’s not always that way. Photo credit: Brent Walter

My antenna wire is tied to the halyard. I'm ready to hoist the antenna up into the tree. Photo credit: Brent Walter

My antenna wire is tied to the halyard. I’m ready to hoist the antenna up into the tree. Photo credit: Brent Walter

After you hoist up the antenna wire into the tree so it hangs as vertical as possible for great radiation in all directions, you tie off the end of the halyard to a special carabiner made to hold onto the cord. See the jagged teeth and hook setup? Photo credit: Brent Walter

After you hoist up the antenna wire into the tree so it hangs as vertical as possible for great radiation in all directions, you tie off the end of the halyard to a special carabiner made to hold onto the cord. See the jagged teeth and hook setup? Photo credit: Brent Walter

A 29-foot wire is the antenna. The one end of it is connected to a 9:1 unun that reduces the impedance of the wire. This unun and the internal automatic tuner inside the Elecraft KX3 radio allow you to transmit on just about any band from 160 down to 6 meters with the single 29-foot wire. It's a critical combination to allow the magic to work. Photo credit: Brent Walter

A 29-foot wire is the antenna. The one end of it is connected to a 9:1 unun that reduces the impedance of the wire. This unun and the internal automatic tuner inside the Elecraft KX3 radio allow you to transmit on just about any band from 160 down to 6 meters with the single 29-foot wire. It’s a critical combination to allow the magic to work. Photo credit: Brent Walter

This photo tells the tale. You can see me laying out the coax cable from the 9:1 unun that will eventually connect to the radio. Next to me is my backpack where the yellow halyard line is tied off to the carabiner allowing the antenna wire to dangle from the tall pine tree. Photo credit: Brent Walter

This photo tells the tale. You can see me laying out the coax cable from the 9:1 unun that will eventually connect to the radio. Next to me is my backpack where the yellow halyard line is tied off to the carabiner allowing the antenna wire to dangle from the tall pine tree. Photo credit: Brent Walter

I was just about ten miles to the south southwest of these magnificent falls. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

I was just about ten miles to the south southwest of these magnificent falls. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I'm moments away from getting on the air. Here I'm getting ready to show Brent how to use the logging software on my tablet. It worked well! Photo credit: Brent Walter

I’m moments away from getting on the air. Here I’m getting ready to show Brent how to use the logging software on my tablet. It worked well! Photo credit: Brent Walter

I'm completing a conversation with another operator here. You can't see the very small iambic paddles in my hands that allow me to do Morse code. I was happier than I seem in this photo as I made eleven contacts to successfully activate the park! Photo credit: Brent Walter

I’m completing a conversation with another operator here. You can’t see the very small iambic paddles in my hands that allow me to do Morse code. I was happier than I seem in this photo as I made the required ten contacts to successfully activate the park! Photo credit: Brent Walter

Here's upper Yosemite Falls lined up with Lower Yosemite Falls. I lucked out being in the park with water flowing this much. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s upper Yosemite Falls lined up with Lower Yosemite Falls. I lucked out being in the park with water flowing this much. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Here's my two daughters trying to hold up Nevada Falls I believe. Poor photography skills are the cause of the proper hand orientation. "I got it." I replied when asked. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s my two daughters trying to hold up Nevada Falls I believe. Poor photography skills are the cause of the improper hand orientation. “I got it.” I replied when asked. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

 

Here’s the list of the radio operators I was able to contact:

  • WG0AT
  • VE6UX
  • WL7DN
  • N3AO
  • W6ZQ
  • WB0WQS
  • N3KN
  • WB6QPG
  • K1ZE
  • KF7WNS

Jim Massara N2EST

 

Jim Massara, N2EST, is a talented artist. I’ve never met him in person, but hope to one day.

I’ve created this post because if you’re an amateur radio operator who loves the QSL card aspect of our hobby, then you need to know about Jim.

Just a little under three weeks ago I became aware of his work. Jim creates unique one-of-a-kind QSL cards using cartoon art. He extracts from you what your passion is about the hobby, your favorite colors, etc. and uses that to create a vibrant card that screams to the recipient who you are.

My passion happens to be QRP outdoor radio in New Hampshire. Fall is also my favorite season. I love to take my dog with me on adventures when possible. I do primarily CW. That’s pretty much all Jim knew about me. Look what he created:

W3ATB QSL 300 dpi

Here’s the crazy thing. When you do the math, it costs less than a penny per card extra for Jim to create a unique one-of-a-kind QSL card that undeniably gets the attention of any operator you send it to.

My guess is that many of the cards that Jim has created adorn the walls of radio shacks all over the world while standard beige manila cards languish inside dark drawers or shoe boxes or end up in trash cans.

Let’s do the math. At the time I wrote this post, Jim charges a one-time fee of $200 for a color cartoon of you.

If you order 1,000 QSL cards that means you’re paying just two TENTHS of a penny extra for your one-of-a-kind card.

Don’t you feel it’s worth that to get a stunning QSL card when you don’t seem to hesitate to spend $1,000 or more on a radio, antenna, or who-knows-what?

CLICK HERE now to get your own special card from Jim. Once again, I’ve got no pecuniary interest in Jim or his business. Be sure to contact me after you get your card from Jim. I’d love to see what he did for you!

STEM Day at Belmont NH Middle School

I spent the better part of yesterday with three other club members, Jim Cluett – W1PID, Glen Aldrich – KC1AAI, and Jim Robinton – N1CRZ in a classroom at the Belmont Middle School in central New Hampshire.

We were invited to the school to participate in the STEM day of fun learning. Over twenty regular citizens like us came to the school to enrich the children’s live with all sorts of things ranging from glider planes, amateur radio, speaking Gaelic, operating drones, sitting in a real helicopter and any number of other real-world things that incorporate the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) the kids are being exposed to in the classroom.

Here's a one-person glider that costs about $30,000. Photo credit: Glen Aldrich - KC1AAI

Here’s a one-person glider that costs about $30,000. Photo credit: Glen Aldrich – KC1AAI

I’m the current president of the Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club and we were approached by one of the STEM teachers, Ms. Karen Gingrich late last year. She wanted to know if we’d be willing to share our passion for the hobby with the Belmont Middle School students.

The club vice president, Glen Aldrich, loves to do public service events and he immediately decided to take ownership of this opportunity. He visited the school, met with Karen and a fellow teacher Joe Werning. We decided to do three 45-minute presentations, two in the morning and one immediately after lunch.

We arrived about an hour early before the first presentation and set up our equipment. Jim Cluett has the most operating experience and we tried to snare some long-distance (DX) radio signals from the air, but a solar storm must have been in progress.

Jim Cluett, W1PID is on the left and Tim Carter, W3ATB is trying to sooth a headache caused by too much laughter. Photo credit: Glen Aldrich - KC1AAI

Jim Cluett, W1PID is on the left and Tim Carter, W3ATB is trying to sooth a headache caused by too much laughter. Photo credit: Glen Aldrich – KC1AAI

The ionosphere was in a very cantankerous mood and we only were able to make one wretched contact with K3SEW in Pennsylvania. This happened before the kids came to our first presentation.

We did our best to explain our complex hobby in a language sixth and seventh-graders could both understand so as to maintain their interest. It helps to ask them if they can burp and if they’d like to have recliner chairs instead of hard-plastic chairs!

Jim Robinton in the teal shirt on the right has the kids wrapped around his finger with an animated answer to a question. Tim Carter on the left, looks on in awe! Photo credit: Glen Aldrich - KC1AAI

Jim Robinton in the teal shirt on the right has the kids wrapped around his finger with an animated answer to a question. Tim Carter on the left, looks on in awe! Photo credit: Glen Aldrich – KC1AAI

The four of us did a tag-team approach to teaching with each of us talking about different things and injecting interesting commentary when we could. We discovered the best way to keep the attention of the polite and well-behaved students was to simply answer their excellent questions.

Much to our surprise each of the three groups of students were most interested in Morse code. Just about everyone of them wanted to hear Jim Cluett spell out their names in Morse. This demonstration brought lots of smiles to their faces.

The three sessions seemed like they were only ten minutes long even though 45 minutes had passed. I had a blast and I’m quite sure that Bella, one of the sixth graders in our first session, will become an accomplished operator one day. She asked so many great questions, I lost count!

 

PD9ZM, A CW Video and Inspiration Magic

 

This afternoon, after I finished taping a video about installing expanding foam under a concrete slab, I opened my email to discover a letter written by André Erkelens who lives in Arnhem, Netherlands.

I only made it about one third of the way into it before I got choked up. A tsunami of emotions overwhelmed me. Awe, thanks, wonder, and joy were all tumbled together.

I’m not ashamed to say André’s letter caused more than a few tears to roll down my cheeks.

Once I collected myself I forwarded André’s letter and email to my very good friend and CW mentor, Jim Cluett, W1PID. He’s a professional writer and very much in tune with how humans should act towards one another. I knew he’d appreciate what André had to say.

Please read André’s letter. The video he talks about is just below his words so you can see what he was talking about.

I can’t begin to tell you the enormous pleasure this hobby of amateur radio has brought to me. It’s even more perplexing that a disjointed talk I gave at my radio club was able to provide inspiration to a man thousands of miles away.

Thanks André for taking the time to write to me and believe me, your English is far better than my Dutch!

Arnhem- The Netherlands April 2016

Dear Tim!

After a long period of almost 28 years I picked up my radio hobby again. And it makes a lot of fun!

First of all I asked back my old SWL number which I have had when I was 18 years old. Then I could buy a Kenwood R-5000 rx (only 250 euro!) which really was something I only could dream of when I was young. It´s an amazing receiver!

Then I also started to learn for my novice licence. I got it in September 2014 and that was also a boy’s dream that came out! Now I can transmit on 40 meter (7.050-7.100khz)(5watt), on 20 meter (14.000-14.250khz)(2,5 watt) and the whole 10meter band.

For that last band I don´t have a transceiver. I am saving money for it now.

The reason why I write this mail is to say THANK YOU for your YouTube movie about CW. I think you gave a lecture there for other hams and it really inspired me!!

I really really like to learn CW and now I am more inspired than ever!!

I have an app on my I-pod touch which is cw light an that works really nice. I practice on 18 wrts per minute.

I read some articles from your hand on your website they are also good! For a few months I also bought a CW key from tsechoslowakia and it feels very nice. But I can’t use it yet. I will build myself a little rig for CW for 20 meter band maybe something like tuna tin or similar.

A picture of me and my rig is on qrz.com so you can take a look on it. My Call is PD9ZM, the last letters are the initials of my wife’s name.

Screen shot 2016-04-06 at 6.10.59 PM

We are married for 24 years in Hungary, there she lived and there I met her when I worked there as a volunteer for Youth for Christ in a home for mentaly ill boys. She was a nurse there. We have four children: Noémi (23), Henk (21), Hannah (19) and David(almost 16).

I am 47 years old and work as a teacher (German language) at a secondary school. Before that I worked in a factory and repair welding machines, before that I worked as a service technician for BP gas stations and before that I worked as a nurse with mentally ill people and before that I seld an repair laboratory equipment. You see that I have switched a lot with jobs but I al enjoyed it very much!

Sorry for my English ist very poor I know.

Thanks again Tim and al the best for you and your family!!

73, de PD9ZM André Erkelens

Arnhem, The Netherlands

LZ2RS Magic from Bulgaria

 

In my last post I mentioned how I made a new goal to do at least one QSO a day. So far I’ve had no trouble meeting the goal. Surprisingly I’m getting lots of great DX contacts.

It really helps to keep the radio on while I’m working and when I hear a strong station calling CQ, I answer her / him as long as I feel I can keep up with their code speed.

Two days ago I had the pleasure of hearing LZ2RS,  Rumi who lives in Bulgaria.

I can’t remember now if I was calling CQ or he was. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I once again was in awe of the magic intertwined with this hobby.

My very good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, likens it to ” …sitting in a room by yourself and talking with people you can’t see”. He’s not far off.

But sometimes you get to see these new acquaintances and the beauty they surround themselves with. Today was one of those days

Lately I try to send an email after a QSO when I experience fading, interference or deteriorating conditions. Once my QSO with Rumi was underway, all of a sudden the band dropped out from under us. Fortunately I had clearly heard my RST, Rumi’s name and a few other parts of the QSO. It was an official one I could log.

I logged Rumi and proceeded to email him. About thirty minutes later I received a special gift. What you’ll see below is one of the powerful draws of this hobby. I say this because I’m a very social person and love talking to people and hearing / seeing what creates their daily reality.

Rumi over delivered.

Are you as proud of your country as Rumi is his? Would you invest the time to write all what’s below to a complete stranger you’ve never met before? Would you send photographs to help tell your story?

This is just part of what makes this hobby so fascinating to me.

Here’s what he sent and once I read it, I immediately asked for his permission to reprint it here along with his stunning photographs. I thought you’d enjoy it too:

Dear Tim in NH,

It was nice to meet You on 20 m CW   – Your QRP signal was good here / even some QSB / – at the Balkans, Eastern Europe!

Today I was 5 watts -Elecraft K3 and a A4S by Cushcraft – 4 el 3 band at 32m.

Later I wkd W2WC – Dick from NY- I was 1 watt only and got RST 559 QSB.

I can send QSL via the Bureau also.

I am most the time on QRP, on CW. I use my home brew one-paddle key 1976 – then I found an old German relay “Siemens” 1938 and on that base I made my one paddle – still I use the same key and like QRQ to 38 – 40 wpm.

Have already confirmed all of the US states on CW – two way power below ONE watt. I am also US County hunter on CW QRP – 1273 to now.

QRP contest man – I have got very good places last year in WPX,WWDX, IARU HF, Russian DX, German DX and other contests – also in QRP category.

I am 15 times Winner in RSGB 21/28 Mhz contest in QRP section, recently I have received award from New Zealand –  Worked All Pacific  – WAP on CW QRP.
I use Russian, English and a little Japanese.

===============================

Tim,
You probably have not heard much about Bulgaria as country. We were on 3 Seas at about 1200 year, one of the bigest EU countries. But We were under Byzantium yoke about 200 years and later under Turkish yoke about 500 years.
 
March 3rd here was holiday. We celebrated 138 years from our Liberation. The main battle was near here – that place is high about 1300 m a.s.l. in the Balkan Mnts, abt 25 km South of my QTH.
The monument there is made at the beginning of the last Century in memorial of the victims in the most important battle during the war for Bulgarian liberation from Turkish yoke 1878.
The yoke was about  500 years /1396 – 1878/. On that place were killed many Russians, but also Ukraineans, Romanians, Polish, Finlands and Bulgarians, but also many Turkish soldiers
The ratio was 5 to 1 soldiers for the enemy.
Other big holiday here is coming the month of May 24. We celebrate national St.Cyril / Kiril / and Methodius day – founders of Cyrillic alphabet. The Bulgarian language belongs to the South Slavic branch of the Slavic languages and uses the Cyrillic alphabet.
The history of the language covers three periods: old  / 9th century – 11th century /, middle / 12th century – 14th century /, and modern / 15th century through present day /.
The modern literary language was formed during the Bulgarian National Revival / 18th – 19 centuries /. The Cyrillic alphabet was developed by St. St. Cyril and Methodius and they have created the alphabet on which the modern languages of Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and of the former  Soviet republics are based.
Before the 7th century Bulgaria and other parts of the area around the Mediterranean and Black sea, were parts of the Roman Empire. While the Romans were losing power / 3rd to 4th Century /, tribes from Asia started an invasion of Europe. One of these tribes, called the Bulgars, reached this area and gradually mixed  with the local population.
The Bulgar king united all the different tribes into the first Bulgarian empire in 681.
 Cyril and Methodius were two brothers , who lived during the  9th century / over a thousand years ago when Bulgaria was being shaped as a country.
The people spoke in Bulgarian,but didn’t have an alphabet and couldn’t write. The brothers were Christian monks of the Orthodox  Church who taught their students a new alphabet that they could use to read and write in Bulgarian.
In 863 they created the alphabet by mixing Latin and Greek letters, which became the basis of the Bulgarian language. The ” Cyrillic alphabet “,as it is now called, became very popular in the  9th through 11th centuries when it helped spread Christianity to other parts of Eastern Europe.
“Old Church Slavonic”, another name for the early alphabet, is an important part of the literature of the Orthodox Church. The Bulgarians are very proud of the two brothers, who have created the base of the modern Bulgarian language.
One of the biggest Bulgarian holidays celebrates the honor of Cyril and Methodius. May 24th is also known as “Day of Bulgarian Culture” and is a time for concerts and celebrations. The students, school kids, go on the street and sing. Also they give flowers to their teachers in the school. We all enjoy our great holiday!
 
So,dear Tim, I hope it is interesting for You. You can hear some facts of Bulgarian history.
73/72 !  You take care and many DX on QRP!
Rumi  LZ2RS  age of 61- ham operator for 48 years. I go some time to fish, fitness and tourism in the Mounts here.

I hope you enjoy Rumi’s photographs as much as I did. Thanks Rumi for sharing your wonderful story and photos of your beautiful country!

Rumi Shack
Rumi Antenna
Rumi QSL
Bulgarian women
Bulgarian Mountains
Bulgarian Winter
Bulgarian Shepherd
Bulgarian Summer Waterfall

GM0LVI and the Czech Army Pump Key

 

Just about five years ago, in June of 2011, I was re-introduced back into amateur radio. For the first two years I used my Technician’s privileges at outdoor public service events.

I had never done any HF and was unaware of its mystic power. That all changed in February of 2013 when I saw a Morse code demonstration put on for a small number of Boy Scouts.

Since then I’ve traveled far down the amateur radio pathway with a great friend who’s helped me become an HF operator who enjoys Morse code. A few years ago I sat for the General exam and recently I was fortunate to earn my Extra privileges.

Each day I’m discovering more happiness and magic that’s out there in the ether. A tiny wire high above my roof snags it and delivers it into my radio at the speed of light.

Last night was one of those nights. It was just before dinner and I was finished working for the day. I decided to turn on my radio to try to get three QSOs completed before it was time to bound down the stairs from my man cave / ham shack.

I’ve been attracted to low power, so I adjusted my IC-7000 to five watts and started calling CQ on 14.060 MHz. I tried for three minutes and pretty much gave up. The reverse beacon network report was pretty dismal.

About twenty seconds after stopping, I heard a faint station calling me! I clearly heard his call sign the first time and sat straight up. It was GM0LVI.

I scored a nice DX contact with the amount of power the night light in my hallway puts out!

The QSO was not too long and there was some fading. I signed off and sent Dave a quick email thanking him. Here’s what I got back minutes later:

Hi Tim,

Just a quick email to say thanks for the QSO this evening. It may not have been anything special for you, but for me it was the first time I’d used a pump key for about 20 years. No doubt it showed too!!

The key was a Czech army key about 50 years old that arrived today in the original wax packing and I’d just finished adjusting the gap and tension and decided to give it a try. I still need a good few hours to get back to where I once was on a straight key, but will keep plugging away.

You were a good 559 on peaks, but QSB and latter QRM made things a bit difficult. I was running 5 Watts from a KX3 to a 2 el Quad.

Anyway, thanks for an historical QSO!!!

73,72, – Dave GM0LVI

First and foremost, I feel emails like Dave’s add so much to the overall radio experience. They often fill in some very important details one might never know that are surrounding the dits and dahs or voice QSO you might have.

I felt quite special to be the one-in-a-million operator that would make the historic QSO with Dave. I had never even heard of a pump key before.

How much magic is out there to still to experience? My guess is more than you’d ever expect. Here are two photos of that special Czech army pump key Dave was using.

Thanks Dave for allowing me to publish your photos!

Czech pump key Czech pump key inside

 

Saint Gaudens NPOTA SSB Activation

Yesterday Dave Benson – K1SWL, Jim Cluett – W1PID, and myself traveled once again to the peaceful Saint Gaudens National Historic Site. We were there just over a month ago when the harsh New Hampshire winter was interrupted by a warmer day. CLICK HERE to read about that adventure.

The large white house on the right is where the sculptor lived. We operated in the parking lot about 300 feet to the right of the house. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The large white house on the right is where the sculptor lived. We operated in the parking lot about 300 feet to the right of the house. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Typically it would be 41-43 F in early March here in this part of the Northeast. It’s not uncommon for 2 feet of snow to be on the ground. Yesterday there were just small patches of snow, mostly in places where it had been plowed into piles or shaded from the increasingly intense rays of the sun. Believe it or not, the temperature climbed to 70 F by mid-afternoon.

We decided to work 20 meters and do phone or single sideband. Our last time we did CW and it was thought it would be nice to give the phone, or voice, operators a chance to score a relatively rare location on the NPOTA list of activation sites.

Dave registered us on the NPOTA page telling the world we’d be there operating between 16:00 – 18:00 UTC. We decided it was best to use his call sign so as to not cause confusion.

We used Dave’s 1/4-wave antenna made with a Buddipole collapsable whip attached to the end of a fiberglass painter’s pole with two dandy bare copper radials sloping down at a 45-degree angle. The tip of the antenna was a good 27 feet up in the air and it worked well. We were able to log chasers all across the USA and into Europe. All told we had 92 QSOs, almost all of them SSB.

About two weeks before this activation I had taken delivery of a very nice 12-volt 15 amp-hour lithium iron phosphate battery from BioennoPower.com. It’s very light and we wanted to see if it would power Dave’s ICOM 706 100-watt radio. We only transmitted at 25 watts and the battery did a magnificent job for the one hour and fifteen minutes of hard work.

Here's the great Bioenno battery and Dave's IC-706. CLICK the image to BUY Bioenno batteries.

Here’s the great Bioenno battery and Dave’s IC-706. CLICK the image to BUY Bioenno batteries.

Dave was on the air first and being a pro he marched right through the pileup we knew would happen once Jim spotted us. Dave’s been an operator for decades and it shows.

I didn’t operate the last time we were out and I’ve done very little HF phone work so far in my amateur radio career. This would be a first for me.

The chasers calling us were very patient and I only stumbled from time to time using Dave’s call sign instead of mine. I can tell you it’s very important to have a good logger with you and as the control operator, you should be writing down the call signs of those stations you’re working. That helps you confirm the chasers’ call signs.

Left to right: Jim Cluett - W1PID, Dave Benson - K1SWL and Tim Carter - W3ATB Photo credit: Canon S-95 on flat sign post with 10-second timer

Left to right: Jim Cluett – W1PID, Dave Benson – K1SWL and Tim Carter – W3ATB Photo credit: Canon S-95 on flat sign post with 10-second timer

Many chasers are taking this event seriously and within 18 hours of Dave posting our log on Logbook of the World (LOTW) we already had 62 chasers confirm QSOs. That’s remarkable!

I like to add a little spice to conversations and at the end of one of the short QSOs with a man who lived in southwest Indiana, I said, “Thanks and  keep growing corn for us!”

Jim got an odd look on his face and said, “Corn?”. It became the joke of the day. Corn was on my mind as it was the topic of discussion as Jim and I drove to the Saint Gaudens site. We were wondering about imitation and real kettle corn. I’m tasked today with trying to discover the first use of the phrase kettle corn.

That’s what these outings are all about. They’re supposed to be adventures, they’re supposed to be filled with laughter and they’re supposed to be relaxed.

We scored on all three yesterday. Realize we can still get snow here in New Hampshire this time of year, but with it being March already it’s just an annoyance as the sun will send it back to the ocean in no time. The warming rays of the spring sun are much anticipated here in New England and believe me we soaked them up.

We’ll be activating more sites here in New England as the year progresses, but any in Massachusetts will be sans Jim. He doesn’t like going south, unless of course you want to go north to Maine.

Yes, that’s another inside joke and nice-to-know information, not need-to-know. There’s nothing more to see here, so kindly move along.

Profile Falls Ham Radio February 2016

Today it was 54 F in central New Hampshire at Profile Falls, just south of Bristol, NH when Jim Cluett, W1PID and I decided to take my new Elecraft KX3 radio out for it’s outdoor christening.

Normally the outdoor temperature would be 20 F or lower and there could be 3 feet of snow everywhere you look.

Experts say it’s been the warmest winter in living memory. Overnight a strong storm blew through the area bringing heavy rain and rising temperatures.

We decided to set up in the nice picnic shelter knowing the tables would be dry. The Smith River is immediately adjacent to the shelter and it was swollen with icy raging water from all of the overnight rain and melting snow.

IMG_20160225_122919

We used Jim’s 29-foot wire antenna and 9:1 unun. It was hanging from a branch right over the shelter. Fortunately the air temperature was warm so Jim’s fingers didn’t get cold as he was putting up the antenna.

Prior to leaving for the outing, I had contacted Carter Craigie, N3AO and asked if he was going to be around. He responded he would and he’d listen up for us on or around 14.060.

After a few minutes of me hunting for anyone on the air and calling CQ a few times, I heard N9ZXL calling. I answered back, but he didn’t hear me. Such is outdoor radio!

Here I am copying what N3AO is sending. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am copying what N3AO is sending. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

Jim took over and made a few adjustments on my radio.

I got up and stood in the glorious sunshine looking down at the raging water of the Smith River.

Here's Jim pounding brass. He's pretty good - to put it mildly. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim pounding brass. He’s pretty good – to put it mildly. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Within a few minutes, Jim was on the air with Carter Craige.

“Where’s Tim?” Carter sent.

He wanted to chat with me, not Jim. Jim’s worked him countless times.

I sat down and Jim handed me my mini Pico Paddles.

Carter slowed down for me and I could hear every character.

After our quick QSO ( an amateur radio acronym / slang for conversation) ended, Jim took over and tried to work a very strong DX station from Kuwait, but it was not to be. Jim had worked the operator before, but today he couldn’t hear Jim’s return signal.

We decided to pack it in and it’s a good thing we did. Within the hour a brief rain shower was upon us.

It was exciting to work Carter Craigie, a new friend I met eighteen months ago at the ARRL Centennial Convention.

If all goes well, my new KX3 is going to get lots of exercise in the upcoming warm months that are just ahead!