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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.