The yellow wire is a tiger tail antenna. It may not look pretty, but it dramatically increases the performance of the HT. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter W3ATB
“It’s probably best to just use a length of 19 and 1/4 inches to put you right about in the middle of the 2-meter frequencies.”
A Tiger Tail Antenna Boosts HT Output – HT on Steroids!
A tiger tail antenna is a short piece of flexible wire that connects to the ground side of your handheld transceiver (HT). They are easy to make and this simple additional wire will increase the outgoing strength of your signals.
What Is the Tiger Tail Antenna?
The tiger tail is the other side of a dipole antenna. The rubber duck antenna that comes with most HTs, or a good 1/4-wave high-gain whip antenna, is the positive side of the dipole. You create a high-performance antenna for your modest HT by attaching a matched length of wire to the negative, or ground, side of your antenna post.
How Long is the Tiger Tail Antenna?
You need to match the length of the tiger tail to the frequency you’ll be using on your HT. If you’re transmitting in the allowed portions of the 2-meter band in the USA, you’ll be between 144.00 and 148.00 MHz.
I used the ground plane calculator at Buxcomm.com to calculate it.
Look at the last value at the bottom: Radial Length (inches). That’s what you want. Copyright 2018 Buxcomm.com
Here are the lengths you’d need to cover the entire 2-meter band. It’s probably best to just use a length of 19 and 1/4 inches to put you right about in the middle of the 2-meter frequencies.
A tiger tail antenna requires simple wire, a wire cutter/stripper, a tape measure, and solder. I’m using 26-gauge stranded wire for mine. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter W3ATB
I stripped off 1.5 inches of insulation and twisted the strands of wire together. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter W3ATB
A standard pencil creates the perfect sized loop diameter for the tiger tail antenna. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter W3ATB
The loop is completed by wrapping the excess wire onto itself. All that’s left is to put a drop of molten solder on it so the loop stays intact. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter W3ATB
I still need to solder the loop, but you start your measurement for the tiger tail antenna at the base of the loop, NOT at the far end of the loop at the left. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter W3ATB
The 1/4-wave dual-band high-gain whip antenna is oriented correctly. It’s pointing to the sky. The yellow wire is a tiger tail counterpoise that helps increase the output signal of the small low-powered radio. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter W3ATB
Ham Radio Antenna Orientation – Very Important for 2-Meter Communications
Your ham radio will transmit and receive much better if you have the antenna in the proper orientation. Watch this video to get a good understanding of how important ham radio antenna orientation is.
What is the Antenna Orientation for 2 Meters?
You should hold your handheld transceiver (HT) so the antenna is pointing to the sky. Do not hold it sideways so the antenna is parallel with the ground.
Is It a Bad Idea to Put My HT on my Belt?
Yes, it’s a bad idea to put your HT on your belt. Much of the signal coming from the antenna is driven into your body.
Can You Use an HT in a Car or Truck?
It’s not a good idea to use an HT in a car or truck. The metal body of the vehicle acts like a Faraday cage. The 2-meter wave trying to get out the windows is taller than the windows.
If you must use an HT in a car, hold the radio next to the window to get the best reception and for most of your transmission to get out of the vehicle.
Can You Make a Simple Dipole for an HT?
Yes, all you have to do is add a 19-inch length of wire to the ground connection of the antenna stub. Some call this a counterpoise or the negative side of the dipole.
How to cross band repeat using the Yaesu FT-8900R. Note the left side of the radio is on a 2-meter VHF frequency and the right side is tuned to the UHF frequency of 445.875 Mhz. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
How To Cross Band Repeat – It’s Easy To Do
You may want to know how to set up cross band repeat on your mobile radio. It’s not as hard as you might think.
I happen to have a Yaesu FT-8900R and it only takes about five seconds to set up the radio once you have your receiving and transmitting frequencies set.
How To Set Up Cross Band Repeat Video
Watch this video to see how easy it is to get a Yaesu FT-8900R to be in cross band repeat mode.
Can you Cross Band Repeat on the Same Band?
You can cross band repeat on the same band (2 meters in and 2 meters out) if you have a powerful repeater that might be up on a mountain or tall building, but small mobile radios with cross band repeat functionality are designed to repeat signals on different bands.
My Yaesu FT-8900R has no trouble retransmitting my UHF 440 Mhz signal out on VHF 145 Mhz, the normal 2-meter frequency.
Here’s another video showing you how it’s done.
What Radios Can Cross Band Repeat?
There’s a good chance ICOM, Kenwood and other modern mobile transceivers can operate in the cross band mode. Often it’s buried in the manual and the marketing managers don’t promote it as well as they should
When Should I Cross Band Repeat?
There are all sorts of situations where you can, and should, cross band repeat.
Let’s say you go on a hike and your mobile radio is left at the trailhead. You can set up the mobile radio to hear your handheld radio. If you get hurt on the trail, your tiny HT all of a sudden can reach out via your 50-watt mobile radio to get help.
You may do public service work and need more power to transmit a much greater distance than your small handheld HT will do. I happen to work the New England Forest Rally every year and cross band repeat allows me to communicate with the Finish Line when I’m miles away at the Start Line.
This is a 180-degree panorama shot of the view from the top of Carter Mountain Road in New Hampton, NH. Unfortunately, because this photo has been reduced in size you can’t really see the majesty of what my own eyes saw. CLICK HERE to see all the high-resolution photos of this adventure to Carter Mountain Road. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 was the second day of glorious spring here in central New Hampshire. Winters are typically long in Northern New England and just one week before we were dealing with a wretched sleet, ice and freezing-rain storm that spanned two days. We thought spring was never going to show up.
Carter Mountain Road – Not My Mountain
The sun was out, it was just about 70 F, ticks were scurrying about, birds were singing and the famous Robinson Falls in Blake Brook could be heard as the remaining patches of snow were being delivered to the pristine Pemigewasset River just three-quarters of a mile away. In other words, it was a day that helps restore the soul.
Jim, W1PID, and I had lunch before we went on the radio adventure. It was our first time eating outdoors since early last fall! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
W1PID and I decided to set up and operate at a new location at the end of Carter Mountain Road in New Hampton, New Hampshire. Unbeknownst to me, as I had only been up this road twice before – and never to the end, it had a stunning view to the west and south.
My guess is the road was named after one of the two bumps you pass on your right as you drive up the road. Some long-ago settler named Carter must have lived in the hollow and one of the high points was named in his honor. If we’re related, I’m not aware of the connection.
The blue dot marks the spot where Jim and I were set up. CLICK HERE to see all the high-resolution photos of this adventure. Copyright 2018, Google, Inc.
Within the past two years, the property owner had clear-cut about forty acres of land sending the trees to the local lumber mills and the power plants that make electricity burning wood chips. Much to our surprise, four trees were left standing in the wasteland. Two were aligned about ten degrees east of true north and were about 85 feet apart.
This was perfect for the 44-foot dipole antenna we had 30 feet up in the air within minutes of arrival. We had decided to just share Jim’s Elecraft KX3. Jim was enjoying the warmth and the view so much that he at first attached his short coax cable to the radio instead of the required small banana BNC connector for the dipole antenna twisted-pair wire leads.
I’ve got my own Elecraft KX3, but we decided to use Jim’s. It’s the gold standard of portable outdoor radios. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Germany, France, and Ohio
After connecting the Bioenno Power 4.5 Ah LFP battery, Jim was turning the large VFO knob hunting for a strong signal on 20 meters. At first, there was nothing. Within a minute or so Jim heard Joe, DL4KCA calling from a suburb of Cologne, Germany.
I’m right at the cusp of being able to head copy Morse, but Jim’s been there for decades. Jim worked him first and got a 549 signal report. I then used Jim’s miniature Pico Paddlesand got a 559 from Joe. Leading a pure and simple life has its benefits I’ve come to discover.
Next up was Bert in France. Bert, F6HKA, and Jim are old-time friends. Bert seems to be on the air from France every day as Jim has talked with him countless times. I’ve had the pleasure of working Bert at least two or three other times from out in the field.
Here’s Jim happy as a clam. The ticks had not yet found him. He was enjoying the day too much to be bothered taking a photo of me operating. Perhaps next time… Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Jim was being his usual polite self and signed off to Bert, “Merci” and then handed the paddles to me.
I wandered off to get my water bottle from my truck and Jim worked another station or two. When I got back to the soft moss we had set up on, I had one last QSO with Bud, W8HOG in Ohio on 40 meters. He was very strong to me and I gave him a 589 but his report about my signal was only 339. I blame Jim for this because his end of the antenna was pointing towards Bud.
We packed up our gear and decided to get on with our day. I had to scurry home to help make a birthday cake and dinner for my wife Kathy. I have no clue how Jim spent the rest of the day, but no doubt he was drumming his fingers waiting for me to publish this story.
I’m lucky to have him as a friend and we do have a grand time outdoors. Usually there’s lots of laughter and anyone who sees or hears us is jealous of the happiness that we generate.
I remember when Meghan, Brent, and I first held you. You had that puppy-fat belly and wanted to get down to run and play with your sister. Do you remember jumping off that retaining wall only to hurt your shoulder?
I remember how happy Mom was to see you at the airport when she picked you up. The Delta Airlines Freight employees thought you were a super cute puppy. Yeah, you were.
I remember Mom telling me how you and she went for walks in French Park down by the creek.
I remember when I’d get home after sixteen hours of driving from New Hampshire to see you and Mom. I’d growl at the back door, you’d do that puppy-courage bark, I’d make the monster sound hiding around the corner, you’d pee yourself and then run back into the family room to huddle next to Mom.
I remember how Mom took you to training classes and you’d do the lazy sit.
I remember how Mom trained you to lay down, turn around and look at us.
I remember when you’d play orange ball but not give it back.
I remember when you’d bark and bite at the waves in the lake.
I remember you scratching me while we swam together.
I remember you crying like a baby when we locked you in the house as we’d walk down the hill to go kayaking. You knew you couldn’t swim that far silly dog!
I remember when you’d be a troll at the top of the steps not letting the cats up to their food.
I remember you being Nala’s tool. She’d peer at you looking under the couch, see what way you were facing and then dart right past you like greased lightning. Your whimpers, while you chased after her, were pathetic.
I remember you licking the empty peanut butter jars and you warning me not to try to take it away from you. I knew better. But you let Mom have the jar anytime she wanted it. You trusted her.
I remember you taking naps on frosty winter mornings as the warm sun would stream into my basement office.
Meghan remembers how much you loved swimming in the lake, even when the water was freezing cold.
Meghan and Brent remember you swimming far out into the lake as they paddleboarded. When you were tired, you tried to climb up on their boards to rest.
Achilles, Meghan and Brent’s fierce cat, had no use for you.
Meghan remembers how happy you were to see her when she’d come back home to visit. You’d not stop jumping or nipping at her for close to half an hour it seemed like.
Meghan remembers when she’d come home, you’d sleep right next to her like you were her own personal bodyguard. And if Meghan woke up during the night, you’d nuzzle her to be pet.
Meghan remembers sneaking treats to you.
Tristan remembers when Mom and I would leave you for a week to travel back to see Grandpa. Right after we left, you’d lay up next to the front door for hours. Tristan said eventually you’d come down and lay quietly next to him until we got back.
Tristan remembers you laying on the warm basement floor in your cozy dog bed.
Tristan remembers you trying to mooch peanut butter after midnight. Holding up your paw was a dirty trick.
I remember you tangling with the porcupine the day Kelly and I took you for a walk.
I remember you getting too close to the skunk.
I remember you chasing deer.
I remember you chasing squirrels.
I remember the chipmunk chatter driving you crazy.
I remember you digging to China to get the chipmunks. That’s how you skinned your nose.
I remember you biting bees.
I remember that dark night you went chasing after some animal up the big hill above the house. Your barking became fainter and fainter until I could barely hear you. I whistled and whistled for you to come back. I thought you lost your way. But you didn’t. I was so very happy to see you on the porch.
I remember you barking each night at the invisible animals outside.
I remember making hoot owl sounds that would make you bark. Mom wasn’t happy when I did it inside.
I remember us playing snow.
I remember us playing water.
I remember you making it very hard to wash my truck.
I remember you making it nearly impossible to shovel snow.
I remember how you used to tell us how hard it was snowing by the amount you brought back in on your jet-black fur.
I remember looking through the man-cave window down at your tracks in the fresh snow. Some days you’d roll in the snow taking a snow-bath. Now nothing’s going to disturb the white carpet.
I remember how angry you got at the central vacuum. You would bark and want to bite the brush. I think you didn’t like the rushing air.
I remember how many thousands of times I opened and closed the gate so the cats could rest without you bothering them.
I remember how much you loved romaine lettuce stalks.
I remember how well your hearing was. No matter how slowly and carefully I’d try to open the stiff cellophane bag of mini-pretzels while you were downstairs or in the other room, you’d be next to me within seconds looking up at me for your share.
I remember how you’d loiter in the kitchen each night as dinner was made wandering ’round and ’round the island. You knew someone would drop something.
I remember never having to sweep the kitchen floor because you ate every crumb and morsel that ever touched the floor.
I remember you helping me load the dishwasher. You’d lick the plates and silverware trying to do your best to keep the septic tank in great shape. The men at Rowell’s told me you did an excellent job.
I remember being upset with you some days telling you to run away. You know I didn’t mean it and you always forgave me.
I remember when you, Mr. Cluett and I went for a hike. Mr. Cluett loved you too.
Mom remembers that you weren’t really a Lady, but more like a bull in a china shop.
Mom and I remember when you’d go outside just to eat bird food.
I remember you making your nest in the mulch at the end of the sidewalk to lay in the warm sun.
I remember you jumping up into Brian’s UPS truck.
I remember you having no manners with Brian insisting he give you three or four dog biscuits. He’s going to miss you too.
I remember boxes on the front porch with a dog biscuit left on top for you.
I remember you coming up in the morning with me to the man cave and putting your head against my leg.
I remember how forlorn you’d look when you saw me come out of the bedroom with my carry-on bag. You were so smart and knew I was leaving, but not for how long.
I remember getting back from business trips and how you’d knock me over on the front sidewalk you were so happy to see me. Not once did you ever scold me for staying away so long.
I remember all your fur. Everywhere.
I remember you being my shadow.
I remember you always pushing the door open. You just had to be first to check out what the cats had been doing.
I remember you and me sitting in the living room waiting for Mom to come up and start dinner. It was always so quiet there with you at my feet.
I remember you telling me you were hungry. Those were the only times I ever heard you complain.
I remember Mom getting angry at me because we’d sham fight before dinner. “Take it outside you two!”, she’d shout.
I remember you biting me when we’d play, but only so hard to let me know you could tear me apart if you wanted to.
I remember you being outside the bedroom door laying on your back against the wall in the morning.
I remember when you’d go for a morning swim.
I remember you laying in your comfy bed chair.
I remember how you hated getting your picture taken by me, but Kelly could do it anytime she wanted.
Kelly remembers how much you loved to go to the beach with her, especially to watch the sun kiss the clouds goodnight.
Kelly remembers taking lots of photos with you, especially toe-to-toe.
I remember whenever I’d lace up my boots, you’d come over and nuzzle against my hands because you knew we were going outside. You love love loved going outside, didn’t you?
I remember saying, “Let’s go up to the mailbox!” and you’d follow me each time.
I remember how you smelled like dog. I know you don’t believe me, but I’m going to miss that too.
I remember how every winter morning when we’d go into the garage so I could get up to the man cave I’d have to tell you why I couldn’t leave the garage door open for you. You always turned left wanting to go outside. You were so predictable. 😉
I remember how each Sunday when I pulled the car into the garage after arriving home from church Mom would make me wait for you. She’d open the front door, let you out, and you’d come bounding around the corner saying in dog speak, “Welcome home! I thought you’d never get back!” Your ears were flattened and you were so happy to see Mom and me. I was so very happy to see you too. That’s why I always waited and exclaimed, “What took you so long to get here?”
I remember how much you loved me to massage your paws in the morning.
I remember how each morning you go outside and anytime you came back in you’d want to follow me. But lately I noticed you had a tough time climbing the steps to the man cave. I just thought your hips were bothering you. I now think you didn’t have the energy.
I remember saying goodnight to you before I’d go to bed.
I remember many a day before dawn when I was in that halfway place between sleep and awake you’d move to a new resting position outside the bedroom door. You’d let out that slow groan from sleeping on the hardwood floor for who-knows-how-long as you protected Mom and me from intruders. As you got to a new comfortable position, your dog tags would jingle and clank on the floor.
I remember coming out in the morning most days, kneeling down next to you in your bed chair and stroking your nose. I’d whisper to you how it was going to be a great day. You always looked me in the eyes and agreed.
I remember your unconditional love and affection.
I remember this last sunrise we shared together. We both stood so quietly on the deck. I had no idea days later you’d be gone.
I remember the happy look on your face when you grabbed the green ball from the snow minutes before you collapsed and got dizzy.
I remember you walked to the end of the sidewalk because you thought I was leaving you forever without saying “Goodbye, sweetheart”, didn’t you? I was just moving my truck so we could race you to Dr. Julie. You had such a relieved look in your eyes when you saw me walk over to pick you up and lay you gently in the back of Mom’s car.
I remember you crying one last time in Mom’s car as we rushed you to see Dr. Julie.
I remember Mom softly stroking your head as you took your last breath. I stood helplessly hoping in shock while Dr. Julie did all she could to save you.
I remember how warm and peaceful you were when I held you that last time.
I remember that loving look in your eyes before Mom and I walked out of the room.
I remember thinking how dreadful today would be.
I remember trying to eat dinner and looking for you under the dining room table before I moved my legs. But you weren’t there and my heart sank.
I remember not wanting to come out of the bedroom the next day because I knew you’d not be there.
I remember thinking how hard it would be not to see you, but not this hard.
I knew I loved you, but didn’t quite understand how much until now.
I’ll never ever forget you Lady the Dog.
I can’t wait until I see you again.
Kathy, the kids and I want to thank Dr. Julie and the entire staff of the Interlakes Animal Hospital for their great skills in doing all possible to save Lady the Dog. We deeply appreciate their compassion and love in allowing us to say a very private goodbye to Lady. Thank you Dr. Julie.
Potter Place station. The railroad tracks for the old Boston & Maine RR were between the picnic table and the station. It’s a remarkable preserved building including the telegrapher’s desk! The snow was deep! It was almost up to the heght of the table bench seats. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
“Listen, I’ll get on your shoulders and I can reach it using the shovel.”
Jim Cluett, W1PID, was serious. But keep in mind he’s 71 and I’m a spry 65 years of age and there were at least 12 inches of snow on the ground.
No, we weren’t reenacting a segment of some old Laurel and Hardy movie, but anyone watching us might have thought so.
Jim, Dave Benson, K1SWL, and I had decided a few days earlier to take advantage of the balmy 43 F weather in central New Hampshire. The first thing to realize is temperatures like this might not be felt until the end of March so we didn’t hesitate to do our first outing of 2018.
I’m on the left, Dave Benson, K1SWL, is in the middle and my mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID is on the right. Jim loves Potter Place and visits here regularly with his wife to ride bikes along the old railroad line that’s now the delightful 60-mile-long Northern Rail Trail. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
PotterPlace Is Perfect
We agreed to operate at the restored PotterPlace railroad station in Andover, NH. Not too many decades ago quite a few Boston and Maine steam trains would race by or stop at the station platform just a few yards from where we were set up on a picnic table.
On this day, we just had one or two snowmobiles putter by on the railroad bed that’s now the Northern Rail Trail bike and hiking path stretching from Franklin NH to Lebanon, NH.
PotterPlace is a great halfway point for Jim and me to meet Dave as he lives west of Andover and Jim and I live east.
The Errant Water Bottle
Jim decided to set up on a box under the roof overhang of the station. Dave and I chose to use a picnic table Dave had cleared of ice and snow the day before as he happened to drive by PotterPlace.
It’s important to realize it was my job to deploy my 29-foot vertical wire antenna attached to a 9:1 unun and a 15-foot counterpoise wire. I got out my bright green halyard line, spread it out and tied it to my handy 8-ounce water bottle. Rotating it with my arm I made a perfect launch up into a bare oak tree. The bottle soared up about 45 feet and I expected it to fall to the ground as it always does.
You can see me starting to swing my rock-filled water bottle. I’ve spied the perfect branch and this should be a routine halyard deployment. Rarely do I have an issue. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
It didn’t. Somehow the line got snagged on some tree wart on a branch. Jim had taught me years ago to tug gently on the line to try to get the bottle to overcome the resistance.
It didn’t work. I got frustrated and started pulling hard on the polyester cord, the bottle jammed in a notch about 35 feet up in the tree and the cord broke.
Damn it! I hate losing water bottles.
The same thing happened to me at my own house back in October as I was relocating my shack dipole antenna. That’s a story for another day.
Dave got out his padlock and parachute cord and moments later the antenna was up, but I wasn’t a happy camper.
We decided to use my Elecraft KX2 and within a few minutes, we were on the air. Jim had already scored at least two QSOs as I struggled with the antenna setup.
Here’s the radio setup. It’s an Elecraft KX2 powered today with a BioennoPower 3 Ahr LiFePhos battery. I store everything in the orange Pelican 1200 case. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
After a few minutes, Dave said, “Hey look, the water bottle’s almost down!”
I couldn’t believe it and rotated my head to see the rock-filled bottle about 12 feet up in the air!
Dave had a round-point shovel in his truck and the game was on.
Jim came over from the train station and started to toss the shovel up at the bottle hoping to coax it down the rest of the way.
His throws didn’t work and I tried to do the same with hapless results.
“Listen, if I get up on your shoulders that will give me enough height to swat at the bottle,” mused Jim.
I thought, “Hmm. I think I can support his weight in this snow. I want the bottle back. Let’s go for it.”
Moments later Jim climbed up onto the picnic table and a moment later he was balanced on my shoulders. I only did this because if I dropped him, we’d both fall in the soft 12-inch snow cover.
Jim is about to grasp the shovel out of the snow to bat at the water bottle. We were crazy to do this for a $3 water bottle. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
The bottle was dangling about ten feet away from the table and I made my way over there. Jim was bobbing back and forth on my back as his outstretched arm with the shovel in it tried to hook the bottle so he could pull it down.
It didn’t work and I was rapidly running out of muscle power to continue to hold Jim up. I kneeled down and no one got hurt, including the water bottle.
The Garbage Can
“Listen, let’s stand on the garbage can that’s over at the station. Surely that will give us enough height.” Jim always has good ideas.
He went over, pulled out the plastic liner and brought the heavy can to the bottle retrieval area.
All the while Dave was just immersed in watching us bumble about trying to snare a $3 water bottle. No doubt he was laughing, but being the polite soul he is, he kept his thoughts to himself.
Jim clambered up onto the can first and had no luck. I got on and within a few moments was able to swat it with enough strength to bring it down out of the tree.
After the celebration ended I finally got on the air and made three QSOs, two of them DX.
Here I am spinning the VFO dial on the Elecraft KX2 trying to find a strong signal. This photo was shot by Dave Benson, K1SWL. I’ve notified him that there’s a defect in the camera that seems to create round fleshy-colored spots in the photos. I didn’t have time to photoshop this image to produce a true representation of what the camera saw. (cough, cough) Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Here are my three contacts.
Dave and I shared the KX2 and had great success on 30 meters.
Just before packing up we were very lucky to hear Joe Everhart, N2CX, who was outdoors as well in New Jersey doing a Parks on the Air activation.
All three of us each had a short Morse code conversation with Joe exchanging signal reports and pleasantries.
We were all in a great mood and the outing was far better than any had guessed it might be. I feel we would have been happy having just two contacts each and not getting back in the car and truck frostbitten.
I never was cold at all and am blessed that I can still continue to learn more about outdoor radio and QRP from the two legends that allow me to tag along.
Words of Wisdom From Jim Cluett
Driving home Jim said, “Water bottles are like old friends. They’ve worked hard for you on past outings and it’s hard to leave them alone stranded up in trees.”
Truer words have never been spoken. I’m glad my water bottle is safely in my backpack waiting for the next outing!
Jim Cluett, W1PID (messages in green) wanted to go to the Pemigewasset River just east of Profile Falls on this late winter day. The temperature was already above 40 F, so it shouldn’t be too bad. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Just as I was getting ready to move two water softener drain lines, I got a text message from my friend Jim Cluett, W1PID.
The plan was to set up along the shore of the Pemigewasset River just east of Profile Falls. Profile Falls is one of New Hampshire’s many dramatic waterfalls and is located about two miles south of Bristol, NH.
The weather was warm for this time of year in central New Hampshire. It was above 40 F by mid-morning when Jim texted me.
The Icy Trail to the Pemigewasset River
Late February in central New Hampshire can be icy. Daytime thawing freezes at night. Add to that we were going to a Corps of Engineers flood control basin where January flooding created massive sheets of ice we needed to navigate to get to the river.
Hundreds of acres of land next to the river had flooded seven weeks ago during bitter cold WX (weather). While the water as still at flood stage it froze. The fractured ice you see is about six inches thick. When the liquid water under the ice receded, the ice sheets collapsed down to the soil, but there are many places where there are voids. You can see all the footprints in the snow on the trail. That’s a woman dressed in orange walking her dog. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
The Towering Pine Tree
A towering majestic pine tree that’s at the top of the riverbank is about 1/3 of a mile from the parking lot. Jim and I were headed there to sit at picnic tables. The trail is very level, but had a layer of soft snow covering the ice that was suspended 16 inches or more in places above the frozen soil.
This friendly pine tree loves to help us harvest QSOs (QSO = a conversation with another radio operator) out of the ether. It’s hard to get a halyard line tangled in this tree. Jim is being careful on the slippery trail. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
I didn’t waste any time getting my antenna into the huge pine tree. On my first throw, my water bottle soared over a branch about 40 feet in the air and dropped down perfectly straight just 7 feet from the corner of the picnic table.
“What’s he doing? For goodness sake, I’ll have my first QSO before he even gets his radio out! This will be a first. He’s ALWAYS beat me in the past getting set up and making a Q (a singular QSO).”
That’s the thought that popped into my head as I was turning on my radio all while Jim was mumbling and cursing as he walked back and forth and back and forth across the ice between two trees.
Minutes after this photo was shot, Jim would be staring up into the branches contemplating how he was going to get a wire up, down and sideways in all these branches. You can see the glare ice he had to deal with. I’m sure that slowed him down. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Sure enough, my first QSO happened within three minutes of getting on the air. It was a DX (international) contact with Bruno, F5NTV in France. Thousands of operators in the Midwest and Western USA are jealous of us because we can get international (DX) contacts as easy as we work those west of us across the fruited plain of the USA.
Jim’s worked Bruno many times before, but he wouldn’t today.
Here I am happy as a clam after my QSO with F5NTV. I’m keeping my hands warm with my Morse muff made by Ms. Margaret Lohmann, one of my AsktheBuilder.com newsletter subscribers. My head is warm with my SOTA (Summits on the Air) hat. It’s amazing Jim had the composure to take this photo after futzing around for fifteen minutes with his antenna. Copyright 2018 Jim “Grumpy” Cluett
The Howling Wind By the Pemigewasset River
Walking to the river the air was calm, we were both warm and it was delightful. But once I started to set up on the one table, I noticed the wind.
It was gusting and biting. When the WX starts to get your attention, it’s never a good thing. At one point a gust blew my Rite-in-the-Rain log book and launched my pen into the mud.
Within 30 minutes Jim and I were packing up to walk back to his car. My hands got cold because I had to take them out of my wool Morse muff to spin the VFO dial and write in my log book. Jim complained that everything on him was cold.
I made three QSOs in just under twenty-five minutes and was thrilled. Here’s my log for the outing:
Here’s the mighty Pemigewasset River as it flows next to us when we come to this peaceful place. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Even though we were chilled, Jim and I agreed it was great to get out. The weather forecast for the next two weeks is promising. Let’s hope for some sunlight next time!
Winter field day 2018 at Acadia National Park started gloomy, but ended quite well. Wind and a balmy temperature of 42 F took away some of the pain. Minutes after taking this photo I had my 29-foot wire antenna hanging from the top of the birch tree with no leaves. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Winter Field Day 2018 – All Alone at Acadia National Park
Today was another first for me in this amazing hobby. I was one of a handful of people at the most magnificent USA National Park east of the Mississippi River – Acadia National Park.
There was no doubt in my mind I was the only amateur radio operator there planning to participate in Winter Field Day.
I decided to setup operations with a view to the Atlantic Ocean and found a deserted parking lot just south of the Gorham Mountain trailhead along the stunning one-way ocean drive. I was about one mile south of Sand Beach.
CLICK THIS IMAGE – orCLICK HERE – to watch a video of what I saw and where I was set up. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
“Well that’s odd. Why won’t the connector attach to the radio?”
I thought that as I tried to rotate the outer ring of the male BNC connector to my Elecraft KX2. Normally the BNC connector slides on, rotates and locks into position.
After two attempts, I took it off and looked at the end.
“How did the center male pin get bent? No worries, I’ll straighten it with my knife.”
I pulled out my Sog Flash II and proceeded to not only straighten the center core of the connector but then snap it off completely. It’s my favorite pocket knife of all time and I’ve yet to tame its power.
“Are you kidding me? (Shaking head, but maintaining my cool.)
It all happened so fast I was still in shock. Don’t tell me I’m not going to be able to get on the air! I didn’t have a spare PL-259 female / BNC male adapter even though there’s more than enough room in my Pelican 1200 case for one.
Something inside me said to text my mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID. God does work in mysterious ways. Little did I know it but he was minutes away from walking out his door back in central New Hampshire to go on a walk with his lovely wife Judy.
I moaned in the text what had happened and how my day was now ruined.
Seconds later my phone rang.
“Listen. You can just use a piece of wire to save the day. Strip the end and shove it into the tiny hole on the side of the radio. Wrap the other end around the center of the large coax cable. Take another piece of wire and attach it to the side screw on the body of the KX2 for a counterpoise. I’ll call you when I get back from my walk.”
Here’s my hack for the broken BNC connector. Believe it or not, it worked and worked well. The small stub of yellow wire is the counterpoise that extended from the radio out on the ground about 15 feet. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
It worked! While it took about 15 minutes to get the right combination of folded wire strands to fit snugly into the female receptor on the side of the radio, it was worth it.
I powered up the radio and it tuned perfectly on 40 meters. There were quite a few stations calling CQ WFD. It was time to hunt.
I’m all set to make a few contacts just 250 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. The only thing that could have been better was blue sky and 75 F. Oh, it would be great if my wife Kathy was there too! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Within a few minutes I scored my first QSO and just over the border to Canada. What fun!
After an hour of fun, I looked at my watch and thought I’d better break down. With the deep overcast, it was going to get dark in a hurry.
This was my view from my truck. The bright yellow cord is the halyard holding up my thin 26-gauge yellow wire. The wire is attached to a 9:1 unun. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Moments later my phone rang and it was Jim.
“How’d you do?”
I told him it was a successful day and that just three years ago I’d never have been able to do a contest like this.
“Hah, three years ago you would have had negative QSOs. Operators would have told you NOT to send them QSL cards because you were such a poor operator.”
We both laughed quite hard. Jim can get away with ribbing me because he labored through the dismal times of me clawing my way up on the CW curve. He’s earned the right to poke fun so the memory of my single-digit word-per-minute (WPM) speed never fades.
But now I’m not such a dreadful operator . Am I great?
Am I respectable?
I think so but absolutely have a long way to go.
Am I having fun and getting better each outing?
Yes you bet I am.
Fun and not getting skunked are my primary goals each time I operate outdoors. If I make it to 20 WPM some day, all the better.
Here’s a screenshot from the K3Y SKCC event webpage about the K3Y Special Event. 2018 Copyright 2018 SKCCGROUP.com
I’ve always wanted to master sending Morse code using a traditional straight key like the operators of old. It’s a deep-rooted feeling I’ve had for decades.
K3Y SKCC Event – A Safe Place To Hone Skills
I started transmitting and receiving Morse code in the late winter of 2013. Jim Cluett, W1PID, has been my mentor on this magic journey. It all started on a frigid dark winter night in central New Hampshire at a Boy Scout meeting.
Watch this video of the meeting to see what re-ignited that decades-old smoldering fire inside me about sending Morse code:
I drove home alone from that meeting bound and determined to become a Morse operator. Little did I know how arduous the journey was to be and how many plateaus I’d rest upon as I transformed from an apprentice to a journeyman.
Straight Keys Create Music
I’ve use a Bencher paddle the past five years to send Morse. Paddles and the electronic counterparts in modern radios do all the heavy lifting when it comes to sending Morse.
A point often overlooked is how they work together to create what I call droid code. It’s plain, it’s blunt and it has little character.
Here’s the simple straight key I used today for the K3Y SKCC event. Looks like I didn’t get all the dust off! You can see my Bencher paddles farther back on the green rubber pad that keeps everything from moving around. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Listen to a straight-key operator hold down the contacts on the last “dah” of the letter K and your head will be on a swivel.
Sooner or later, the cadence of a straight-key or bug operator will be music to your ears. You don’t get much of that using a paddle.
Straight Key Night Turns Into a Passion
I’ve come quite far in my Morse journey. I could write about that for another hour.
It’s important to realize that as you get better with Morse code, it’s like going up a set of steps. You work hard to get to a flat spot.
The stairway is very long and I’ve got many more steps to take, but I got to a landing just three days ago when I dusted off my straight key and participated in the ARRL’s Straight Key Night.
I was instantly hooked and Jim told me the next day about the K3Y SKCC event.
Pileups At Your Speed – Great Training
The year 2016 was instrumental in my Morse journey. I was very active in the ARRL NPOTA event. Throughout the year I activated national parks in several states. On sacred and hallowed ground in southern Pennsylvania I managed a 90-minute CW pileup I had only dreamed of doing.
For one thing when the event ended, I felt an emptiness. I loved the thrill of working a pileup.
Last year I got involved in the Parks on the Air event to fill the vacuum. What fun I had! My most exciting POTA activation happened deep in the coastal redwood forest of northern California. I was at Mendocino Woodlands State Park.
My takeaway from all those events was that if you want to get better at something, say using a straight key, then do it in a setting where it’s just for fun and there’s minimal pressure.
That’s what this morning was all about.
Just two days ago I signed up to do a one-hour shift for the K3Y SKCC event. I had a blast and worked 13 operators in an hour.
Here’s my scratch log I kept as I was on the air for an hour. What fun! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
Yeah, that’s a pretty slow pace, but it doesn’t matter.
All that matters is that I had fun and my confidence jumped up to the next step.
Be brave. Become an operator in a fun event to hone your straight-key skills. You’ll never regret doing it!
Here’s my humble straight key. I got it for free from Dick Christopher, N1LT. It does the job assuming you can scrape the rust from your fingers! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter
“I need to call Jim and thank him!”
Jim Cluett, W1PID, is my very good friend and amateur radio mentor. He always loves hearing how I harvest happiness from the hobby.
Moments before I had just completed a fun conversation with Pete, AA2AD, in Pennsylvania using an old-fashioned straight key sending Morse code.
The way radio communications were done one-hundred years ago.
Straight Key Night – It’s Popularity Is Growing
The American Radio Relay League ( ARRL) sets aside January 1 of each year to honor the deep legacy of Morse code and the humble straight key that was used by millions of radio operators through the years to send simple dihs and dahs.
A dih is the short sound you hear in Morse code while the dah is the longer tone.
Straight Key Night begins on New Years Eve in the USA because radio operators across the world use Universal Time, a modern name for Greenwich Mean Time. When it’s 0:00 January 1, 2018 in England on the prime meridian, it’s 7:00 PM ET here on the East Coast of the USA where I live.
Believe me, there is. More than you can ever imagine.
What does all this have to do with Straight Key Night you wonder?
My straight key conversation, operators call them QSOs, with AA2AD gave me the same thrill a mountain climber must feel when she/he summits a particularly tough peak.
Or the thrill a student must feel after winning the state or national spelling bee contest.
Perhaps you’ve worked hard at some task that’s taken weeks, months or years and finally achieved your goal. You know the feeling.
Modern Radios Do All the Keying Work
Straight Key Night is special because you cast aside your modern electronic keyers like you see Jim use in the video above. Most modern radios contain computer chips that create perfect spacing of the dihs and dahs. Some computer programs will send Morse for you through your radio if you just type the words you want sent.
This is sterile and stale Morse in my opinion.
Straight Key Night puts you into a time machine.
You go back in time and send Morse using your brain and precise movements with your hands and wrist. Spaced bursts of electromagnetic energy are thrust up into the atmosphere awaiting someone to answer you.
When they do, the fun begins.
It’s important to realize that sending Morse code using a straight key is an art form. What’s more, it’s not easy to send Morse using a straight key if you do it just once a year.
While it’s like riding a bike, you can get rusty. During my QSO with Pete I sent something like, “Sorry about my rusty code.”
“No rust to my ears. HI.” Pete replied. The HI is a Morse acronym for laughter.
Don’t Bother Me!
Using my modern smart phone I touched the photo of Jim to call him about my QSO with Pete. I couldn’t wait to tell him how much fun I had. After all, Jim’s determination pushing me down the Morse pathway was directly responsible for my transformation into a somewhat respectable radio operator.
The phone started to ring, but all of a sudden I heard through the radio faint Morse.
“W3ATB de WB3GCK”
Someone’s calling me! I immediately cancelled the call so I could converse with a fellow low-powered outdoor radio operator Craig La Barge, WB3GCK, who also lives in Pennsylvania.
Twenty seconds later my phone started ringing. It was Jim. I sent him to voice jail so I could have an extended conversation with Craig.
Be Brave – Just Do It
I finally called Jim after finishing up with Craig and we had a great conversation. I thanked Jim for exposing me to the magic of Morse and for his unending patience with me.
“When using a straight key, slow is better. It’s easier to form the letters the way they’re supposed to be done.”
Jim was so right as I noticed that when trying to speed up, I had a tendency to chop off the last part of a dah.
My advice to you is to get out that straight key and scrape the rust from your fingers.
Within minutes I’ll bet you have a wide smile on your face. If so, tell your story in the comments below to encourage other operators!