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!

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!