Saint Gaudens NPOTA Activation

A little over a month ago the plans to activate Saint Gaudens National Historic Site as part of the ARRL’s National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) year-long event were proposed by Dave Benson, K1SWL and Jim Cluett, W1PID.

Here we are after the successful activation. From left to right: Jim Cluett - W1PID, Tim Carter - W3ATB, Dave Benson - K1SWL Photo credit: 10 second timer on Canon S-95 and tilted tree branch

Here we are after the successful activation. From left to right: Jim Cluett – W1PID, Tim Carter – W3ATB, Dave Benson – K1SWL Photo credit: 10 second timer on Canon S-95 and tilted tree branch

When the NPOTA announcement came out, Dave was quick to recognize there were two, maybe three places in all of NH to activate. We thought we’d have to wait until spring when the warmer weather wandered into our fair state. But Mother Nature served up a tolerable day yesterday as part of her ongoing El Niño performance gifting us with one of the mildest winters in living memory.

You may not recognize the name Saint Gaudens, but you’ll surely recognize some of the creations of this supremely talented American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He created hundreds of pieces of art that are on display around the USA, but his most famous work, many believe, is what he did for the US Mint. He created the design for the historic $20 gold piece.

Screen shot 2016-02-05 at 8.32.11 AM

“Guys, look at the weather forecast for next Thursday, 49 F and sunny!” I sent that email about six days ago to Dave and Jim. Both agreed that we should attempt the activation.

We decided to use my humble 6 x 10 x 6 covered utility trailer to keep us out of the weather. Two small propane heaters were employed to take the chill off.

Jim's in the red jacket moving about and Dave is making sure the halyard will not get tangled. You don't want to get halyards tangles - EVER. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Jim’s in the red jacket moving about and Dave is making sure the halyard will not get tangled. You don’t want to get halyards tangled – EVER. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

It turns out it worked far better than we thought. The trailer was the perfect size for three people and my two small propane heaters made it feel like April inside our portable ham shack on wheels.

Because we decided to do a low-powered operation, it was important to get the antenna as vertical as possible. The trees surrounding the trailer provided plenty of perfect branchs and Jim made sure he got the exact one to give us the best results.

Here's Jim launching the halyard. It takes supreme concentration to get the right branch. You can see the water bottle weight in the air just above his throwing hand. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim launching the halyard. It takes supreme concentration to get the right branch. You can see the water bottle weight in the air just above his throwing hand. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Our antenna was just a simple 29-foot piece of 20-gauge wire connected to a 9:1 unun. Dave suggested we install a thin counterpoise that stretched about 25 feet out along the ground. The combination of the two elements worked well as we logged two European stations and made it out to the west coast of the USA as well!

It only took us about twenty leisurely minutes to get set up and transmit. We used Jim’s Elecraft KX3 and set the power at 8 watts.

Jim's sitting down and Dave's checking some information. We're just minutes from getting on the air. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Jim’s sitting down and Dave’s checking some information. We’re just minutes from getting on the air. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

For the first few minutes, Jim tried calling CQ. Someone was occupying 14.063 that we had advertised on the ARRL website. Jim moved to 14.062 and no one came back after fifteen or twenty CQs.

“This is fun.” Jim is the master of deadpan humor.

Dave took over the key and Jim decided to put a spot out on the DX Cluster website.

Here's Jim spotting us. Be careful what you wish for. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim spotting us. Be careful what you wish for. One of the nifty propane space heaters is next to the trailer door.  Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Days before it was decided to use small laptops to do all the logging. Jim was unfamiliar with the keystrokes required to log call signs in Dave’s program. Frustration bubbled up moments after Jim successfully spotted us.

Within 15 seconds of Jim creating an entry for us on DX Watch, all hell broke loose.

“We let the tigers out of the cage,” was the way Jim described the mayhem that ensued as we drove home later in the day. Watch the video below to feel the intensity of part of the pileup.

Jim and Dave quickly changed seats with Jim on the key and Dave logging. In a period of just 40 minutes we logged 55 QSOs.

“Guys, that was the first pileup I’ve ever worked!”

I couldn’t believe that was coming out of Jim’s mouth. No way was that possible.

“I’ve been one in a pileup trying to get through many a time, but never been the one trying to pull out call signs.”

We took a short break for lunch. Jim and Dave needed to regain energy after pounding the brass for nearly an hour. For the time being, all who wanted to log us had pushed back from the feeding table and the frequency quieted down.

After a few chocolate chip granola bars, Dave jumped on the radio, and it didn’t take long to get us up to eighty or so QSOs.

My CW listening skills are not that well developed to be able to do what Jim and Dave were doing, so I just sat there and soaked up the entire experience. I also helped with the logistics and all of the creature comforts.

After two hours of operating, we decided to pull the plug and head home. We were excited about the adventure and we believe we made another eighty chasers quite happy to have Saint Gaudens in their logbook.

Jim didn’t come down from the clouds for about six hours. He was thrilled with working the pileup.

We plan to go back when the weather is warmer and operate from a fantastic arbor-shaded side porch that’s part of the Saint-Gaudens mansion up on the hill.

The side porch is on the left and gets lots of warm sunshine. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The side porch is on the left and gets lots of warm sunshine. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

 

 

RST Ham Radio Explained

If you’re just getting into amateur radio and Morse code, then you’ll need to get up to speed on what RST means and how to use it properly.

The acronym RST stands for: Readability – Signal Strength – Tone

If you’re operating phone or voice, you’ll give just the first two, the R and the S.

Perhaps you’ve heard a fellow operator come back to you saying:

” (Insert your call sign here) you’re five by nine here in Pie Town, New Mexico.”

Or he might say, “You’re five nine here in Pie Town, New Mexico.”

The first number, “five” is a measurement of readability. It’s how clear your voice is.

Here’s where you can get confused. A completely clear transmission doesn’t have to be strong at the same time. The incoming transmission could be very weak, but you can understand each word said – as if someone’s whispering in your ear. That’s why the operator would deserve a 5 on the readability scale.

The second number “nine” is a measurement of the strength of your voice to the other operator. A nine, the highest value you can assign, would mean your voice was as strong as if you were in the same room with him and talking at a normal volume.

You can see those  “S” scale markings in the photograph below.

Modern radios tend to have digital readout signal strength meters. They can help you with the S component of the report. Here’s a photo of the digital meter on my ICOM 7000 radio picking up a Russian station sending Morse code that was producing an eight for signal strength.

See the green lines and where they stop between the 7 and the 9? That means the signal strength is an 8. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

See the green lines and where they stop between the 7 and the 9? That means the signal strength is an 8. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

When you decide to do Morse code, you add another component – Tone.

As you might expect, assigning values to something you hear is subjective. You may have young ears that didn’t get damaged by 20-plus years of working with screeching circular saws like mine. Back when I was a young carpenter, no one told us about ear plugs or ear muffs so I’ve got both hearing loss and significant tinnitus.

This means that your signal to two different operators sitting is the same room listening to the same speaker might produce two different reports!

Use the following tables that I borrowed from the Straight Key Century Club. They are an excellent source of information if you’re just discovering the magic of Morse code.

Study these and do your best when giving a realistic signal report. Don’t ever embellish a report. Most operators want the truth and they want to know how band conditions are between your station and their location. There’s no shame in giving an operator a 329.

Oh, one more thing. As you enter the world of contesting, the RST report goes out the window. It seems everyone, no matter how weak their signal, gets a perfect report of 599!

R: Readability
1 — Unreadable
2 — Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable
3 — Readable with considerable difficulty
4 — Readable with practically no difficulty
5 — Perfectly readable

S: Signal Strength
1 — Faint signals, barely perceptible
2 — Very weak signals
3 — Weak signals
4 — Fair signals
5 — Fairly good signals
6 — Good signals
7 — Moderately strong signals
8 — Strong signals
9 — Extremely strong signals

T: Tone
1 — Sixty cycle A.C. or less, very rough and broad
2 — Very rough A.C., very harsh and broad
3 — Rough A.C. tone, rectified but not filtered
4 — Rough note, some trace of filtering
5 — Filtered rectified a.c. but strongly ripple-modulated
6 — Filtered tone, definite trace of ripple modulation
7 — Near pure tone, trace of ripple modulation
8 — Near perfect tone, slight trace of modulation
9 — Perfect tone, no trace of ripple or modulation of any kind

Hunkins Pond and Ham Radio Sanbornton NH

If you had asked me two months ago if I’d be out in a snowless field in central New Hampshire kneeling on dry grass with just a partially zipped hoodie on the day after Christmas, I’d have thought you had taken a strong hallucinogenic drug.

You could have spread a blanket and had a picnic lunch it was so warm in the sun. Here we are just four days past the winter solstice. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

You could have spread a blanket and had a picnic lunch it was so warm in the sun. Here we are just four days past the winter solstice. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

By this time of year, the grass is almost always under a blanket of snow, not to be seen again until those luxurious warm days of mid-March when the sun has already climbed halfway up into the sky.

But yesterday I was out once again with Jim Cluett, W1PID, and my gorgeous German Shepherd dog Lady. One of the strongest El Niño weather events in living memory has aimed a fire hose of warm air at us. After the past two brutal winters of day-after-day-after-day of snow and bitter cold, I’m not complaining. I needed a break.

When Jim asked where I wanted to go earlier on the phone, I told him someplace I’d not been before. He was kind enough to share one of his very special places, the open fields just north of Hunkins Pond in Sanbornton, NH.

The tip of the red arrow is where I operated from. The tip of the purple arrow is where the granite bedrock with the continental glacial striations is located. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2015

The tip of the red arrow is where I operated from. The tip of the purple arrow is where the granite bedrock with the continental glacial striations is located. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2015

The red balloon is Hunkins Pond. This is a regional view of the area showing the relationship of Sanbornton to New Hampton to the north and Tilton to the south. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2015

The red balloon is Hunkins Pond. This is a regional view of the area showing the relationship of Sanbornton to New Hampton to the north and Tilton to the south. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2015

Over the past few days we had quite a bit of rain and the Class VI road that leads up to the fields was choked with large puddles of water. Jim tried to use his favorite walking stick harvested by his daughter from a beaver dam to drain one, but I told him he needed a Case backhoe. He gave up after a minute.

Lady’s a perfect hiking partner. She doesn’t run off because she knows she’s away from home and doesn’t want to get lost. Some dogs will chase anything and disappear. When you stop for any reason, she often wants to turn around and head back to the car.

Lady's drop dead gorgeous. She's as loyal as any dog you'd ever meet. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

Lady’s drop-dead gorgeous. She’s as loyal as any dog you’d ever meet. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

On this day, she was doing a good job of getting tangled in the diving string Jim and I use as halyards to get our antennas into the branches of the trees that line the open fields.

Today was the day I would use my new yellow braided nylon line that comes on the most ideal finger spool I’ve ever seen. Jim has had one for two years and he knew it would make the perfect Christmas present for me.

You'll NEVER find a better spool for outdoor radio. CLICK this image NOW to buy it. Image credit: Amazon.com

You’ll NEVER find a better spool for outdoor radio. CLICK this image NOW to buy it. Image credit: Amazon.com

I wasted no time getting my antenna up. Neither did Jim as he set up about 200 feet east of me on the edge of the 5-acre field.

I decided to put up my resonant 20-meter dipole antenna and was able to get it to hang vertically with no problem. I connected my MFJ 20-meter Cub radio that’s housed in a water-resistant box. It’s equipped with a digital frequency readout and a delightful electronic touch keyer. Lady was relaxing next to me.

Lady would walk over hot coals for me, I think. She'd do it for sure for a dog biscuit. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Lady would walk over hot coals for me, I think. She’d do it for sure for a dog biscuit. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I heard lots of stations, but no one could hear my 1 watt or so signal. Not wanting to get skunked, I got out my trusty HB-1B quad-band radio. By this time Jim had already completed three QSOs and was hovering over me wondering if I’d ever make a contact. He didn’t say this, but I felt it. He’s so very polite and patient.

“I just worked your buddy Craig, WB3GCK, in Pennsylvania. He asked if you were out with me. He was out too testing an antenna setup.”

Here’s Jim’s log for the day:

  • 1712 HK1MW    18.076 579 599 Colombia
  • 1717 CO90IARU 21.024 599 599 Cuba
  • 1720 WB3GCK   18.072 569 599 PA Craig 2-way QRP

As I tuned the HB-1B, I immediately heard a very strong station and copied his call sign the first time, YV5DTJ. Oh, that would be a nice treat the day after Christmas – a nice outdoor DX log entry!

He was in a QSO with K8EHE. I was waiting for them to finish so I could pounce. I gave up and went hunting.

Within seconds I snared W4AFB, Keith down in Oviedo, FL. I thought he was ten feet away his signal was so strong. He gave me a 559 which I was very pleased with. We exchanged SKCC numbers, his being 7169S. At one point in the QSO he said, “LOTS OF QRN” so I was quite happy he pulled me out of the ether allowing me to avoid the skunk.

By this time it was time to pack up and head back. We walked east along an ancient range road that goes back hundreds of years. Within minutes I spied a piece of exposed granite bedrock in the middle of the road sporting a large glacial striation or scratch.

The deep gouge in the granite bedrock was caused by the massive continental glacier grinding across the stone. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The deep gouge in the granite bedrock was caused by the massive continental glacier grinding across the stone. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Just 12,000 years ago the spot where I was standing was covered under two or three-thousand feet of solid ice that stretched back up to the North Pole. You can read all about this  in a recent letter to the editor I wrote if you’ve got an interest in geology.

Jim, Lady and I walked across another field, down through some woods and across three time-worn stones walls to get back to the car.

It was a fulfilling day and quite possibly the last outing of 2015 as a major winter snowstorm was forecast to hit us in 72 hours. Prior to that rain would be pounding the dry grass and leaves that carpeted the quiet fields above Hunkins Pond.

Do yourself a favor and stroll through them as  we did. You’ll not regret it, especially if it’s a brilliant autumn day.

 

Profile Falls Christmas Eve 2015 and Little Buddy

 

There are only a few days left in the year 2015. It’s already in the record books here in the Northeast USA as one of the warmest autumns and early winters in living memory. An historic El Nino’ weather pattern is blessing us with very warm weather allowing us to get out to do radio. In years past, there could already be 18 inches of snow on the ground and frigid daytime temperatures in the teens.

Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I looked several days ago at the WX (weather) forecast and it called for 60 F weather. I asked Kathy if I could escape and take advantage of the abnormal weather and she said, “Sure, just be home in time so we can make it to church for Christmas Eve mass.”

That was not an issue as I could easily get home by 3 p.m.

Mid-morning it was still dismal as a heavy fog was shrouding everything around my home next to Lake Winnisquam. The lake produces a mircro-environment so maybe it was sunny up on the hills and over by Profile Falls just south of Bristol, NH where Jim and I decided to operate.

The red balloon marks the parking lot next to the picnic shelter. The yellow arrow points to Profile Falls and the purple arrow points to the shelter hidden in the trees. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2015

The red balloon marks the parking lot next to the picnic shelter. The yellow arrow points to Profile Falls and the purple arrow points to the shelter hidden in the trees. Image credit: Google Maps (C) 2015

No such luck. It was foggy and damp as we drove down the gravel road to the picnic shelter next to the Smith River that tumbles across the famous falls about a half-mile before the Smith joins the placid Pemigewasset River.

Days before, I received a new heater that I thought could help us keep our hands warm while we do CW. I decided to bring it, even though the forecast suggested it would be a waste of time.

You can see our new Little Buddy pumping out glorious heat. It floated up around the picnic table and cut the chill. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

You can see our new Little Buddy pumping out glorious heat. It floated up around the picnic table and cut the chill. CLICK this photo to get your own Little Buddy! Photo credit: Jim Cluett

It’s the Little Buddy propane heater and it quickly became apparent it’s aptly named as he was our buddy that saved the day! It’s a catalytic heater that can be used indoors or outdoors. The thermometer failed to get the WX memo and the temperature never climbed above 47 F.

Jim had another perfect throw of his water bottle to get his halyard with it’s 27-foot wire already attached to it up into a branch just above the picnic shelter. The Smith River was engorged with water from the recent two days of rain and was roaring.

The dreary WX conditions made for a poor photo. The Smith River is just through the trees and down a 12-foot embankment. Jim is trying to warm his hands with the help of the Little Buddy heater. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The dreary WX conditions made for a poor photo. The Smith River is just through the trees and down a 12-foot embankment. Jim is trying to warm his hands with the help of the Little Buddy heater. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

We decided to just use one radio and I was very fortunate Jim allowed me to use his Elecraft KX3 and micro Palm paddles. It’s a dream outdoor QRP radio and I plan to have one before the first day of spring 2016.

Here I am happy to be using an Elecraft KX3 and staying warm with our Little Buddy heater under the table. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

Here I am happy to be using an Elecraft KX3 and staying warm with our Little Buddy heater under the table. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

One of the benefits of using the KX3 is you have so many options. It covers all the bands so if one is dead, you go hunting elsewhere. We were not to be denied on this day.

Jim jumped on the air first while I adjusted the heater to see what worked best to maximize heat flow.

Here's Jim and our Little Buddy. CLICK the photo to get one now! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim and our Little Buddy. CLICK the photo to get one now! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

It didn’t take Jim but a few moments to work Rick, WB4GQA in Virginia on 30 meters. He gave Jim a 599. I worked him next and got a 559. That shows you how Jim is a better operator than I am. :-)

Rick must have looked me up on QRZ.com as I was sending my slow CW and after exchanging the essentials he came back, “Have fun on your hike with Jim.”

I didn’t tell him I was with Jim, but the combination of working Jim just seconds before and him seeing my QRZ page where I talk about going out with Jim on outdoor adventures was all he needed. That’s the magic of the Internet and what you can skim in seconds if you try.

Next up was George, NA9E from ‘Indy’, Indiana on 20 meters. I was weak to him with him only giving me a poor 239 RST. In return, I sent a 559 because he was quite strong to us.

I looked up at one point and across the road in the mist were four women dressed in full riding gear, including helmets, riding wild Christmas Eve stallions. I waved and we exchanged “Merry Christmas” greetings and they headed south down the gravel road towards old Hill Village next to the Pemigewasset River.

Jim and I finished up working Tom, K9DAC in Ohio. I got a respectable 579. Time was beginning to run short and if we wanted to grab a cup of coffee before church, it was time to pack up.

We were blessed to get out and it was wonderful to be in the woods on Christmas Eve. We both wondered if we’d get out again. As it turned out, the weather forecasters missed the forecast by just 24 hours. On Christmas Day, it was a balmy 57 F at my home as I wandered outdoors to look up at my recently raised dipole antenna.

2015 has been a magnificent year for me as I’ve gained more experience and am no longer timid about getting on the air. I looking forward to 2016 and feel it’s the year I’ll transform into a respectable operator.

As Kenny Chesney says in his hit song, “Only time will tell, bit it ain’t talkin’“. Listen for yourself and play the following video!

 

NAQCC December 2015 Mw Sprint

Yesterday, December 16, 2015, I received a message within Facebook from a new friend, K1QO – Ann Byers. She had also included Dave Benson, K1SWL in the tiny direct message.

Screen shot 2015-12-17 at 7.16.23 AM

When I first saw it, I was not too interested. There were a couple of reasons, the first being my track record in contests is dismal. My CW listening speed, on my best day, is just barely 12 WPM.

I did have my first real contest success two months before during the Zombie Shuffle, but my understanding is that it’s just a very low-impact event.

When I turn on the radio on the weekends the exchanges I hear are as fast as a peregrine falcon in a full tuck position as he screams down from the sky to grasp his next meal with his sharp talons.

Contests are not for the faint of heart is how I felt when I read Ann’s message.

The second reason is after 6 p.m. I’m usually brain dead. By 8:30 p.m. on most evenings I’m comatose as I love to get up around 5 or 5:30 a.m. How could I even concentrate on code in that condition?

The Hook

I decided to go to the NAQCC page describing the contest and there it was, the hook.

RULES specific to this month’s sprint:
Operate at 1 watt or less (the lower the better) to be eligible for any awards or prizes. Others welcome to participate and submit check logs.

Date and time:
Thursday, December 17, 2015 0130-0330Z

Okay, you got me. I’ve never operated at one watt, much less milliwatts, so this could be interesting to see if anyone can even hear me, much less I hear them!

0128Z

I was in the shack after having a delicious bowl of fresh home-made Italian vegetable soup Kathy made. Moments before, I completed creating a crude spreadsheet on a cheap school notebook. It had six columns to record the data of each QSO.

I decided to start out on 40 meters and just before the start time I heard someone calling CQ SW on 7.030. I didn’t write it down, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. That wasn’t anyone with the NAQCC sprint because the call out was supposed to be CQ NA.

The moment the clock on my IC-7000 said 1:30 I started sending CQ on 7.033. I got nowhere fast for about five minutes. No one came back.

My initial thought was that my ICOM radio power meter was possibly wrong. I had adjusted the power level to 1 percent which is supposed to equal 1 watt. But maybe I wasn’t transmitting at all. How was I to know? I’m sure there’s a way, but I’m not there yet on my amateur radio journey.

I decided to switch to 80 meters and went to 3.561 as a QSO was in progress on 3.560.

I sent out my CQ NA two times and BOOM someone came back!

It was W2JAZ in NJ.

Then it happened. A pileup.

I’m talking one of those pileups you see each winter on TV when 20, 50 or 90 cars and trucks plow into each other on the interstate highway in a blinding snow squall.

Once I finished up the fast RST, state and power exchange, they descended on me like ticks as you waltz through tall grass in the spring.

There were so many competing signals I couldn’t pull any one out. I sent back a question mark.

That did no good as the vultures just came in that much faster and more aggressive.

I panicked. Not knowing what to do, I turned the dial to stop the cacophony of code.

I was very embarrassed because everyone knew who I was and no doubt they were about ready to send “LID”.

I took a breather and immediately texted my CW and outdoor radio mentor W1PID. He said to go to 3.563 and we worked each other. We’re only about seven miles apart and his signal was a mere whisper as mine was to him, but we did complete the exchange.

The Log

I was excited! I was working stations, they were hearing me and I could understand what they were sending. Maybe, just maybe I can do a contest or two!

Here’s my log:

Freq Call Sign RST State Power/# Time – UTC
3.561 W2JAZ 579 NJ 700mW 1:39
3.563 W1PID 519 NH 1W 1:44
3,561 K3WWP 559 PA 2 1:57
3.561 W2SH 599 NJ  ??? 2:04
3.561 K1SWL 579 NH 1W 2:05
3.561 W8RTJ 539 OH ??? 2:10
3.561 N4FI 529 VA 104 2:15

I was unable to copy the power or NAQCC number of two of the operators due to my excitement, the floor noise and my tinnitus. But it doesn’t matter to me because I was stoked about my success!

I decided to call Jim Cluett, W1PID to tell him about what had happened.

“You’re fibbing.”

“No! I did work seven stations including you!”

“I only had one. I couldn’t hear anyone and shut off the rig. I guess now I have to call you ‘sir’.”

We hung up and I sat and collected my thoughts basking in my success.

I pondered for a moment. I wondered if I hadn’t discovered a new trick with respect to contesting.

Jim has taught me over the past three years his search and pounce method of operating. He turns the dial of his KX3 out in the field and if he hears a strong station, he pounces on them getting a QSO.

Well, what if everyone is doing what Jim does? If everyone is listening and no one is transmitting, then I guess you wouldn’t hear anything.

Jim told me I was holding court on 3.561 and that’s not a bad thing to do when contesting.

Now I just have to figure out what to do when they come. It’s sort of like the classic movie Field of Dreams.

“Send it and they will come, Tim.”

We shall see as I now am much braver and feel I can compete in a contest.

Thanks Ann for telling me about this contest and maybe next time you’ll be in my log!

New Hampton NH Old Bristol Road Ham Radio

Yesterday was a stunning early December day in central New Hampshire. The sky was blue and the temperature soared over 50 F. With no wind it felt like spring, not late fall with winter on the doorstep.

This is the main field on my 90 acres. You're looking roughly south southwest. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

This is the main field on my 90 acres. You’re looking roughly south southwest. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

Jim, W1PID, and I went to hike and do radio on a 90-acre parcel of land I own.

We headed up a small path used by neighbors who ride ATVs. The first 200 feet were a steep climb up across some bare granite bedrock ledge.

It didn’t take long for us to locate a nice spot in the forest to set up. There was no real clearing so throwing the halyard up into the tree to a particular branch was a challenge. After two, maybe three, attempts I convinced Jim that his antenna would be only 15.7 degrees off vertical. He succumbed to the frustration and sat down to operate his fine KX3.

The leaves were dry and it was so warm in the sun! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The leaves were dry and it was so warm in the sun! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

As usual, it doesn’t take long for him to snag someone.

He found Bob in the Bahamas. Bob was sending CW faster than I could hear, but I did make out some words while he and Jim were chatting. I heard “woods”.

I continued to listen and told Jim I had his call sign. It took me five times with me just getting one character per pass.

C6AKQ

But by gosh I got it with no help from Jim.

Jim handed me the micro Pico Paddles and I got to work Bob next. This was the first time I’d ever use an Elecraft KX3! Jim was at the controls, I just had the key.

I threw out my call sign and Bob heard it.

He came back right away with “W3ATB 599”.

I sent back “R R 599” and hesitated. I didn’t know what else to do!

There was a pregnant pause of dead air and Bob went on to work someone else.

“Listen. Bob’s a serious operator and he just moves on. It’s just about call signs and RST.”

Jim was teaching me yet another thing about radio magic.

We packed up and hiked a little deeper into the woods before heading back to a large open field.

Here's a wider view of the large meadow. I'd say it's about four acres total in size. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here’s a wider view of the large meadow. I’d say it’s about four acres total in size. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

By the time we got back to the field, it was even warmer. So warm I took off my hooded sweatshirt. I was basking in the gift God gave us on this warm December day.

Jim set up in no time and I was about 100 feet away getting up my resonant 20-meter dipole antenna. My first throw with my halyard was perfect. It was an easy throw with no obstacles. The key thing is to lay out the micro-cord on the ground so it doesn’t snag on a branch or any other piece of vegetation.

Within a few minutes I had my RG-174 coax cable connected to my MFJ 20-meter Cub that puts out maybe 1.5 watts on its best day.

You'd think from this photo that I'd resorted to praying to God for help to avoid the skunk! Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

You’d think from this photo that I’d resorted to praying to God for help to avoid the skunk! Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

I heard stations and told Jim I wasn’t leaving until I avoided getting skunked. Within minutes I had my first QSO. I’m getting better, there’s no doubt about it and the little Cub’s power was fine and dandy. Who said you need 25, 50 or 100 watts?

My first QSO was with Rob, K3COD. He gave me a 569 which I was thrilled with. Way to go little Cub! You were doing good down into Apex, NC!

Next up was Jorge, KP4GC in Puerto Rico! I also got a 569 from him.

You bet I was happy. A year ago I'd STRUGGLE to get one QSO and here today I'd get four! Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

You bet I was happy. A year ago I’d STRUGGLE to get one QSO and here today I’d get four! Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

I was tuning around and there was AF4K finishing up with someone in France.

Jim wandered over and was listening over my shoulder.

After AF4K sent his “di dit”, I threw out my call. My Cub’s touch keyer speed was set up to about 18 WPM, much faster than I could hear. I made a critical mistake and forgot to bring the manual with me that shows how to reprogram the keyer speed. OUCH!

Believe it or not, I did copy Bry as his name! But I didn’t hear him say, “DN 1”.

“You need to go down one!” Jim was referring to one KhZ.

What I didn’t know is that Bry was working Bert in France – Jim had heard that – and Bert owned that frequency.

If I all of a sudden started talking to Bry, then Bert would be none too happy!

We adjusted the dial and finished the QSO. Bry gave me a solid 579.

After that it was time to pack up and get home. I was running late as I told Kathy, my wife, that I’d not be out too long today.

But Mother Nature tugged way too hard and it was impossible to leave the majestic 90 acres I’ve worked so hard to acquire.

Kathy understood, after about three hours, once I got home.

It was another amazing day of outdoor radio in the woods of central New Hampshire!

 

 

Mt. Kearsarge Ham Radio W1PID, K1SWL and W1JSB

Yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving, I had the rare opportunity to do outdoor radio with three seasoned QRP operators: W1PID – Jim Cluett, K1SWL – Dave Benson and W1JSB – Hanz Busch.

Here I am with Jim Cluett and Dave Benson. Photo credit: Hanz Busch - W1JSB

Here I am with Jim Cluett and Dave Benson. Photo credit: Hanz Busch – W1JSB

We decided to meet at Winslow State Park on the northwest flank of Mt. Kearsarge in Winslow, NH.

The tip of the red arrow points to a rare flat spot on the flank of Mt. Kearsarge. The view to the west, north and east is dramatic. Image credit: Google Maps

The tip of the red arrow points to a rare flat spot on the flank of Mt. Kearsarge. The view to the west, north and east is dramatic. Image credit: Google Maps

The WX was forecast to be extremely warm, as much as 15-20 degrees above normal. It was warm down in the valleys, but it was quite windy and chilly as we settled in to have some fun.

The last time I operated from this picnic area the black flies ruled the day. I suffered for a month from the bites of those little devils. Today, there were no bugs, and we were rewarded with some very good contacts.

It didn’t take long for Jim to set up. He’s been doing outdoor radio for so many years he knows how to set up his 28-foot wire in a tree faster than you can say “Practice fifteen minutes a day every day and you can be a respectable CW operator in six months or less.”

Here is Jim Cluett, W1PID, setting up his halyard. He can almost always get the right branch first throw. Photo credit: Hanz Busch W1JSB

Here is Jim Cluett, W1PID, setting up his halyard. He can almost always get the right branch first throw. Photo credit: Hanz Busch W1JSB

Dave and Jim decided to operate at the end of the flat prominence while Hanz and I selected a picnic table about fifty feet south.

Here I am about ready to release a small piece of railroad ballast that's tied to a 3-foot length of 3/16-inch parachute cord. Photo credit: Hanz Busch

Here I am about ready to release a small piece of railroad ballast that’s tied to a 3-foot length of 3/16-inch parachute cord. Photo credit: Hanz Busch

It was partly cloudy with a strong wind. At first I thought there’d be enough solar radiation to keep me warm, but I was wrong.

I had an excellent throw my first time up into the trees next to the picnic area. I’ve discovered that you must use a thicker piece of cord that’s attached to a partially filled water bottle, a rock or some other weight. If you just use thin, 1/16th-inch, micro cord only you’ll get a nasty rope burn as the twirling object releases and sails to the sky.

While Hanz and I set up, Jim was busy. He wastes no time making DX contacts. Here’s his list of contacts for the day:

VP5/W5CW Turks and Caicos
PJ6/OH3JR Saba Island
CT9/LZ2JR Madeira Island
CN2R Morocco
EA8/RC5A Canary Island
PJ4/KU8E Bonaire

Hanz and I started out with my reliable YouKits HB-1B, but soon we switched to the MFJ 20-meter cub radio Hanz helped me build over the past two years.

Here's a dandy QRP radio. The MFJ 20M Cub. It's 1.5 watts or so is more than enough power to have fun. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a dandy QRP radio. The MFJ 20M Cub. It’s 1.5 watts or so is more than enough power to have fun. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

This radio, in my opinion, is a true QRP rig. On its best day it puts out just under 2 watts. It didn’t let us down as we worked two DX stations with the attractive radio and my resonant 20-meter dipole antenna hanging perfectly vertical from the tree next to us.

Before switching to the MFJ 20-meter cub Hanz said so very politely, “Tim, I don’t think your antenna is working as well as it could.”

Here's W1JSB, Hanz Busch. He's quite serious in this photo. When you meet him, he's got an infectious laugh. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s W1JSB, Hanz Busch. He’s quite serious in this photo. When you meet him, he’s got an infectious laugh. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

He had been hearing strong signals coming through the HB-1B, but no one could hear him come back.

“I know the antenna is tuned just about perfectly for the part of 20 meters we’re working. We can set up my Par EndFedz antenna if you want,” I replied shrugging my shoulders. It didn’t matter to me what antenna we’d use.

“Let’s get out the Cub you helped me build and try it first.”

Hanz was agreeable to that as it took just ten seconds to disconnect the BNC connector to my RG-174 coax cable from the HB-1B and put it on the Cub. We rotated the power button and the Cub came alive!

Within thirty minutes the magical little Cub did some magnificent DX with the resonant 20-meter dipole. It turns out that sometimes you just have to put the blame on the propagation instead of the antenna. I had put the antenna on a tester, so I knew it was rock solid.

Here I am trying to stay warm in the windy conditions. The 20-meter Cub would not let us down on this day. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am trying to stay warm in the windy conditions. The 20-meter Cub would not let us down on this day. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

Our first contact was YT1AD in Serbia. He must do CW as a profession as he’s got over 117,00 lookups on QRZ.com! Some of that must be automatic contesting lookups from those operators who have their radios connected directly to QRZ or other databases.

Next up was WQ9H in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Hanz had a short rag chew with Mike and he wished us well on our outside adventure.

It was time for more DX. Hanz snared a Ukrainian operator who was in the Canary Islands. It was: EA8/UA3RF. He was going fast – probably 35 WPM or better. That’s far beyond my humble current listening speed.

We finished up with Dick, W9AK in Wisconsin. He gave us a 589 signal report so the little Cub was doing just fine with its 1 or 2 watts.

While Hanz was operating I took a break and went down to visit Dave Benson, the founder of Small Wonders Lab. Dave’s got an admirable legacy with many QRP operators who have his creations in their shacks.

Here's Dave Benson, K1SWL. He loves the outdoors and doing radio. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here’s Dave Benson, K1SWL. He loves the outdoors and doing radio. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

It was a fun outing and everyone there worked stations. Jim and Dave had the most flexibility with each of them using their Elecraft KX3 radios. The KX3 can cover all the HF bands so if one is dead, you try to go hunting elsewhere. Hanz and I could only do 20 meters and weren’t disappointed.

This gives you a feel of the great location we had at Mt. Kearsarge. Photo credit: Hanz Busch - W1JSB

You’re looking due north and can see Jim and Dave grabbing code from the ether. Photo credit: Hanz Busch – W1JSB

After about an hour, we decided we’d had enough of the wind. We packed up and went down the mountain for a cup of coffee. Another successful outdoor outing!

As you can see from the map below, we have our choice of great mountains to operate from here in New Hampshire. We’re blessed with striking scenery and wide-open vistas.

The red ballon shows Mt. Kearsarge in the lower left corner. That green patch of hills, well that's the famous White Mountains of New Hampshire. Image credit: Google Maps

The red ballon shows Mt. Kearsarge in the lower left corner. That green patch of hills, well that’s the famous White Mountains of New Hampshire. Image credit: Google Maps

 

Ham Radio in the Brambles at Profile Falls NH

Today I was bumbling in the brambles next to the rushing waters of the Pemigewasset River adjacent to Profile Falls just three miles south of Bristol, NH.

Here I am sitting on a small flood-plain shelf on some remarkable dry leaves. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

What is that bright dot of a person doing sitting on a small flood-plain shelf next to the rushing waters of the Pemigewasset River?. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

Jim Cluett, W1PID, provided that apt description above of me setting up my resonant 20-meter dipole antenna as we drove back away from the falls.

When we made plans to go out just 90 minutes before, it was mostly sunny and about 47 F with no wind to speak of. It was much different from when we were out just four days before at the Newport, NH airport.

Just above where I was sitting in the brush, there are three wonderful picnic tables under a majestic giant pine tree. It’s wonderful to sit at the tables and look down at the river.

I tried to get my halyard micro-cord up to the perfect branch, but I released the swinging cord two tenths of a second too early and the throw went low. But as the rock on the end continued to soar towards the river, it went higher in some trees by the riverbank.

Frustrated and in no mood to throw the line again, I noticed once I was down in the brambles that the micro cord was falling straight down. This side of the cord was perfect all except I was not going to be sitting at a table, but in some dry leaves.

Immediately I scrambled up the hill and retrieved my waterproof box that had my HB-1B and all my other gear to get on the air. Minutes later my earphones were in, my micro pico paddles in my hand and the radio was on with 11.4 volts showing. I was all set to start hunting.

Most everything I need to operate fits inside the small clear waterproof Outdoor Products plastic box. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Most everything I need to operate fits inside the small clear waterproof Outdoor Products plastic box. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Within ninety seconds I contacted N8ZYA. My signal report from him was only a 349. John told me he was at 5 watts on his ICOM 703 and was happy to hear I was outdoors doing QRP too. “FB ON 4 WATTS POWER. HAVE FUN OUTDOORS.”

I told John I was on a hike and that I’d send him a link to this story.

I started doing this recently because Jim told me the operators he’s contacted for years love seeing the photos of where he’s operated outdoors. One of his friends in Europe described it as putting “flesh on the skeleton”.

After I finished up with John, Jim hollered down to me about a huge contest happening over in Europe.

“They’ll be going really fast. All you need to send back is 599 and 8.”

I took a small break and just gazed across the fast flowing water. The Pemi was up perhaps two feet from it’s normal level from a heavy rain two nights before.

It seemed like I was closer to the water than I was. Even if I fell in, the water at the edge is probably only 2 feet deep. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

It seemed like I was closer to the water than I was. Even if I fell in, the water at the edge is probably only 2 feet deep. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I tried to go down the band towards 14.025 deeper into the jungle. This is where I have to be brave, but I heard no one. My General privileges only allow me to go that far. This winter I’m trying to get my Extra privileges so I can explore the entire portion of 20 meters allowed to amateur operators here in the USA.

Twenty minutes later after hunting around the band and talking with Jim I heard N9ZXL calling CQ. His signal wasn’t as strong as I’d like, but I felt I had nothing to lose answering him.

Sure enough Dave heard me and gave me a respectable 549 signal report. My hands were starting to get a little cold by this time, so it’s possible he gave me a 459 and I transposed the numerals. I returned a 559 and told him, “WX MOSTLY CLOUDY TEMP 45 F”.

Here I am happy as a pig in mud avoiding the skunk. Jim says I'm getting better, but I know I still have a very long way to go. Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

Here I am happy as a pig in mud avoiding the skunk. Jim says I’m getting better, but I know I still have a very long way to go. Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

As often happens I hear others calling CQ but they can’t hear me. I clearly heard AA7FV, KK4UOE and W2NRA. Perhaps I’ll connect with them another day.

With less and less daylight each day as we approach the winter solstice, it was time to pack up and head back. Jim got eight or more QSOs. A few of them he snared on 20 meters in the European contest while I was playing patty-cake with my antenna halyard.

Each time on the air my skills improve. I’m excited about that.

 

Newport NH Airport Ham Radio Outing

Today the signals radiating off my 20-meter resonant dipole antenna were really taking off. It was hung straight down from a majestic pine tree branch next to the grass runway at the Newport, NH airport.

The end of the grass strip is adjacent to the Sugar River which you cross using the historic Corbin covered bridge.

Here's the stunning Corbin covered bridge built in 1835 and restored 159 years later! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the stunning Corbin covered bridge built in 1835 and restored 159 years later! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

It was a remarkable late fall day and Jim Cluett, W1PID and Dave Benson, K1SWL joined me to bask in the intense sunshine of this cloud-free day. November in New Hampshire can be day after day of cold, penetrating rain.

Jim is well known in the outdoor QRP radio community. Dave is the founder of Small Wonder Labs and is responsible for inventing many tiny low-powered radios not the least of which is the famous Rockmite.

Jim and I decided to travel west to see Dave because Dave’s traveled the sixty miles to the Lakes Region to play radio with us. We keep thinking we’ll have our last outing for the year, but the weather continues to be unseasonably warm and sunny.

I asked if he caught anything and the fisherman grunted at me. He wasn't too happy. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

I asked if he caught anything and the fisherman grunted at me. He wasn’t too happy. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

While I was walking near the bridge looking at the placid water of the Sugar River and watching a fly fisherman, Jim was busy setting up his antenna. He’s such a pro and rarely gets his halyard line tangled. I believe today he got the branch he wanted on his first throw.

Here's Jim just after getting his halyard line up into a gorgeous pine tree. You can see the runway markers. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim just after getting his halyard line up into a gorgeous pine tree. You can see the runway markers. I set up just to the left of Jim’s head where you see the third pile of pine needles. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I decided to wander about 200 feet east of Jim and Dave along the north edge of the grass runway. The sky was so blue it almost hurt your eyes to look at it.

Today was not my day and I struggled to get my halyard line up to the branch 40 feet up in the air. I believe I had no less than six pathetic attempts at getting my thin micro-cord up to the correct branch.

It’s not as easy to throw the line up as you might think. Release too early and the rock and line goes at too low an angle. Release a fraction of a second too late and the rock and cord goes vertical.

While I was making a fool of myself, Dave and Jim were gathering QSOs and no doubt talking about old times. They seemed to be very relaxed today.

You're looking at two giants in the QRP field - Dave Benson is on the left and Jim Cluett is sitting in the chair. I'm so lucky to be able to learn from both. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

You’re looking at two giants in the QRP field – Dave Benson is on the left and Jim Cluett is sitting in the chair. I’m so lucky to be able to learn from both. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Jim and Dave are experienced operators. They were sharing Jim’s Elecraft KX3. Here’s a video of them having some fun. Dave decided to try to get a QSO for me as I was shooting the video. Listen to the code he sends! This was a last-minute idea and no planning was involved so the video could have been much better.

Jim had just worked FG/F6ARC in Guadeloupe. The video may be confusing, but I think it will give you a flavor of the afternoon and the surroundings.

Once I put up my antenna, I wasted no time getting on the air. It didn’t take me but three minutes to avoid the skunk! I heard N4NQ, Sid, finishing up a QSO and jumped right on his di dit (shave and a haircut) throwing out my call sign.

Sid came right back from Lawrenceville, GA. He was blistering fast for me, but I heard my RST and I gave him the 599 he deserved as his signal was loud and crystal clear in my tiny HB-1B radio.

Bingo! There I am in Sidney's log! TNX Sidney for your patience with me. Image credit: QRZ.com

Bingo! There I am in Sidney’s log! TNX Sidney for your patience with me. Image credit: QRZ.com

I’m trying to get more and more practice so I can hear Morse above my turtle-slow 11 WPM.

Next up was Ken, KG4LLQ in Asheboro, NC. Obviously my signal was strong to the south. I experienced some significant fading, QSB, during the exchange, but was able to copy my RST of 559. I gave Ken the same signal report.

Here I am concentrating trying to hear Ken, KG4LLQ. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am concentrating trying to hear Ken, KG4LLQ. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

Ken was interested to discover I was QRP. My HB-1B was only showing 10.8 volts rather than the 12 it normally shows, so that means less output. I may have only been at 3 watts.

Last up was Jim, W8RTJ from Amherst, OH. He was kind enough to slow down for me and we did a quick exchange. He gave me a 559, but I sent him 599 back as he was so very very strong into me.

It was time to pack up and head back home. Sometimes Jim and I go browsing at firearms stores on our adventures and there were two gun shops on our way home.

I felt very lucky to be with Jim and Dave today. The are very patient with my developing skills. If you’ve never operated outdoors, I highly recommend it. It’s even more fun if you bring along a buddy or two!

I took some extra photos of the covered bridge because it’s one of the gems of New Hampshire. She’s 180 years old!

corbin bridge plaque bridge inside bridge pegs