Thursday, June 30, 2011

W3AO Field Day

Par End Fedz EF-40 at W8BAE
 Late Sunday morning I threw in the towel satisfied with my 102 contacts on CW for Field Day.  The very last entry in my log was amateur radio station W3AO operated by the Potomac Valley Radio Club located in Maryland.  What threw me for a loop was the part of the exchange that designates the station class.  I had to monitor the frequency and let W3AO run a couple stations to be sure I copied the "25 A" correctly.

The 25 is the number of individual operating positions working simultaneously under the club call sign.  The A designates a portable operation.  Most stations I worked during the Field Day event ranged between 1 and 8 participants under the same call.

Thanks to Jeff, KE9V at for posting a link to this club's Field Day page.  I thought the call seemed vaguely familiar and certainly the "25 A" rang a bell.  I checked my log and sure enough that was the station I worked.

Follow the link: W3AO Field Day Page to see a truly amazing display of logistics and good old ham radio enthusiasm.

Monday, June 27, 2011

ARRL Field Day 2011

This year's Field Day activities were some of the most fun I have had yet as an amateur radio operator.  Because of scheduling conflicts the site we used last year was unavailable so we had to scramble to find a place to set up.  In the end the club did find a great location on private property bordered by highway US 30 on one side and a CSX railroad line on the other.

The place looked like an average campground with the exception of each campsite having it's own working amateur radio station.  There was no electrical service on the property so we used a combination of generator and battery power for our operations.  Using the club callsign W8BAE (That's "Whiskey-8-Bacon-And-Eggs" for you phone guys) we covered 40 meters CW and SSB (single side band voice) , 20 meters PSK-31 and SSB, 15 meters SSB, 6 meters SSB and 2 meters SSB for VHF.  We even had a YL (female operator) gracing the airwaves with her voice on 15 meters.

Here is the 40 meter phone station of Roger WM8I and Wayne KB8ATE.  I love watching these two experienced hams at Field Day.  Besides making lots of contacts these guys are always swapping out equipment and trying different antennas.  This year they deployed a quarter wavelength vertical with a full compliment of ground radials.

I set up on the other corner of the pond where I had access to trees along the CSX right of way to hang my new Par End Fedz  EF-40.  I have no picture of this antenna because it is basically a 65 foot long piece of black wire that all but disappears when viewed against a background of foliage.  The heavy duty tripod is visible that I used to suspend the feed point/impedance matching box about 8 feet above the ground.  The wire then sloped up to a tree top 40 feet above the feed point.

A peek inside my spartan station.  I love the warm glow of a kerosene railroad lantern and with a LED light clipped to the bill of my hat I was able to work stations well into the wee hours.  When I finally heard one too many beeps of Morse code I got out my bed roll and caught a couple hours of shut eye with my head under the table.  Croaking bullfrogs and the rumble of passing freight trains definitely added a unique ambiance to the experience.

By late Sunday morning I had logged 102 contacts with various stations in 30 different states and 2 Canadian provinces.  This is my new benchmark being the most stations I have ever contacted in a single operating event.  A cool bonus from the Field Day rules states that cw contacts count as two points while phone contacts are worth one point.  My efforts proved a great contribution to the club's overall score and I got a huge workout copying fast code on a busy band.  Our main objective(s) was to have a great time, eat lots of good food and play radio.  I'm confident we succeeded on all fronts.     

Thursday, June 23, 2011

SKCC K3Y 2011 -- Special Event

These images are scans of two QSL cards I received this week confirming contacts I made participating in the SKCC's 5th anniversary special event.  Each January club members from the various U.S. call sign districts (see map below) can volunteer to operate under a special club call sign issued specifically for the month long event.  The object of the K3Y event is to work one unique station from each of the ten call sign districts.

Below are the back sides of the two cards listing the contacts I made and a brief history of the club.  I missed a full sweep of all call sign districts by one QSO.  Had I netted a contact with a California or Alaska K3Y station I could have received a certificate for my accomplishment.  I remember hearing a K3Y/6 calling from California and tried to reach him but evidently my signal was not reaching his antenna.  I'll look to nail it down next January and maybe consider even applying to operate as a special event station myself.

The design for the front of the QSL card is chosen by vote from examples submitted by club members.  This year's card featuring an old school drafting style drawing of the NT9K club key is my favorite and was the design I voted for.  My NT9K Pro Pump is the key I rendered in black and white and use as the header photo for many of my amateur radio posts. 

(Map attributed to Chris Ruvolo, Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Road Bike Ride

Grain Elevator at Bellville, Ohio

On the last day of my extended weekend I decided to go for a midday ride on the B & O Trail.  I always enjoy putting in a good effort aboard the road bike especially a day or two after a long recumbent ride.  The section of trail I rode connects the small towns of Lexington, Bellville and Butler Ohio.  In order to reach my half way point at 12.5 miles I had to extend my ride a mile past the end of the bike trail.  The road I chose was mostly an uphill climb out of the village of Butler.  I estimate a couple hundred feet of elevation maybe a bit more.  Once turned around I rocketed back down the hill and set a new top speed record on my road bike.   

B & O Trail -- Lexington to Butler

Bike:  Motobecane
Ride Time:  1:39:07
Distance:  25 miles
Average Speed:  15.1 mph
Max Speed: 44.4 mph
Motobecane Odometer:  212 miles

Father's Day Weekend

I spent Father's Day Weekend with my Dad at his place on the top edge of Ohio.  The Lake Erie shoreline is an interesting place no matter what the season or weather conditions.

Fowl Weather?
1 Seagull
4 North American Vultures
27 Canada Geese

An afternoon thunderstorm drifts across the lake.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

The Cuyahoga River Valley winding it's way approximately 40 miles between Cleveland and Akron Ohio is great place to enjoy nature and soak in some history from Ohio's early statehood.  The key historical feature of this area is the evidence of  44 locks that were used to raise and lower canal boats the 395 feet in elevation between Cleveland and Akron.

The Northern end of the Ohio & Erie Canal was completed in 1827.  The final 300 mile stretch south to the Ohio River at Portsmouth was reached in the the 1830's.  The canal was the young state's first infrastructure and was the key catalyst to Ohio's early economic and industrial growth.  The opening of the canal also provided the final link in a waterway leading from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Parks Service maintains a twenty mile stretch of the canal way and surrounding natural areas known as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  The unique feature is the crushed limestone towpath that visitors can hike or bike.  This is the very same path that was used by draft animals to tow the canal boats laden with goods to and from market.

I knew I was in for a long day on the bike so I rode the recumbent.  The crushed stone surface while relatively smooth was marked with occasional bumps and erosion irregularities so the full suspension of my bike was welcomed.  However I did spot all types of bikes on the trail from road to mountain and even a recumbent trike rider I encountered near Cleveland.

On average the locks would raise the boats about nine feet although one lock appropriately named deep lock elevated a whopping 17 feet.  In many of my photographs the lock structure appears to be cement.  The concrete was added in the early 1900's and covers the original building blocks hand hewn from local sandstone quarries.

For most of the canal way the towpath is nothing more than a strip of high ground between the canal and the Cuyahoga River.  The Cuyahoga was the water supply for the canal and a clever system of feeders and  water control gates were utilized to fill and drain sections for repairs.

Water Control Gate

The Cuyahoga river twists and turns like a serpent and at lock 29 the canal and the river crossed paths.  In the picture below is a bridge with arched sides.  This bridge crosses the Cuyahoga where it is constricted to a narrow channel constructed from the same blocks used to build the locks.  An aqua duct constructed of wood and steel carried the canal boats over the river.  

View looking down into the river channel from the bridge.  This would be the same view that passengers on board the canal boats would have seen as they passed over the aqua duct.

In the visitors center I found an excellent replica of the stern section of a typical canal boat and some great old photos depicting life on the canal.

The canal was owned and maintained by the state but the boats were operated by private captains who lived with their families aboard the boats.

As lost in time and nature as I felt riding along the green pathway in the valley large spans overhead remind that progress marches on.

Towpath Trail and the Cuyahoga River flowing north to Lake Erie.

Many sections of the canal look like this with nature slowly reclaiming the man made channel once 40 feet wide by 4 feet deep.  Other parts are completely overgrown with nothing more than a dry linear depression through the woods.

This trip was a great way to spend a Friday afternoon and it did not feel like 5 hours on the bike at all.  I really felt great and wished to ride more but it was nearing six o'clock and I still had an hour drive in the car to get home.  The Cuyahoga Valley is a magical place full of natural beauty and history nestled right in the middle of Ohio's oldest and largest industrial complex.

Friday Ride -- Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail

Bike:  HP Velotechnik Street Machine
Ride Time:  4:59:34
Distance:  62.04 Miles
Average Speed:  12.4 mph
Max Speed:  27.1 mph

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Power Supply Test at KD8JHJ

To facilitate portable operations with my Icom 718 high frequency transceiver I needed an alternative to the heavy and bulky traditional power supply used in my basement ham shack.  The latest addition to my station equipment is the Astron Model SS-25M switching power supply.  The rated output is 13.8 VDC @ 20 amps continuous duty.

Traditional non-switching power supplies use big transformer coils to produce very linear and "clean" power.  Because of the circuitry involved some switching power supplies can generate unintentional radiation that manifests itself in the form of hash or static that can be heard on high frequency receivers.  Obviously no good if you are trying to use that particular piece of radio spectrum for communications.  After the initial voltage check I found that the Icom's receiver was just as quiet as when powered by my other supply which not incidentally is an Astron RS-35M.   

The terminal blocks on the back of the SS-25M have pin holes with set screws.  When I made pins from a couple brass machine screws I left them a bit long intentionally so a few threads remained exposed past the tops of the thumbscrews.  The screw tips make a good place for my test leads to hook up.

The SS-25M does have a fan for cooling mounted on the back of the chassis.  With my transceiver set at 50 watts of power the fan would start after 5 minutes or so of 20 word per minute cw (Morse code) transmission on 40 meters.  It would shut off after a minute or two or quicker if I stopped transmitting.  I'm sure the fan's cycle would change proportionately to the load placed upon the supply.  While noticeable I did not find the fan's sound objectionable even operating without headphones using the radio's speaker.  

The big advantage to this power supply is the light 4 pound weight and compact dimensions.  Another feature I don't mind paying a little extra for is the separate volt and amp meters for monitoring output voltage and current.  Electricity is invisible and dangerous and I like gadgets that tell me it's where it's supposed to be.

Monday, June 13, 2011

SKCC Week End Sprint

Last month I missed the Straight Key Century Club's Week End Sprint for some reason.  This weekend I made it a point to power up the station and get some contacts in the log.  What I really enjoy is the laid back and casual style of this CW sprint.  There are slow straight key brass pounders and speedy semi-automatic bug operators so it is easy to find contacts whatever your skill level.  Since I have the NT9K straight key (pictured above) and a Vibroplex bug both connected I will jump back and forth and use which ever key I hear the other op using.  In my opinion there is no sweeter music than that of a well executed bug to bug exchange.

I did no CQ calling or runs this time around but just wandered about handing out my number and saying hello to other club members around the country.  I even found my friend Bill, KB2RAW transmitting CQs up on 15 meters (21 MHz).  His signals were booming in loud and clear from New York State.  Increased solar radiation from the sun has the ionosphere charged up allowing for propagation on the higher frequencies.   A savvy contester knows to take advantage and check all the bands for activity.

June 12, 2011 SKCC Week End Sprint Log 

14.053    N4SR    Tennessee
7.108    WI0S    Minnesota
7.114    K4NP    Tennessee
7.115    NW2K    New York
7.055    WA3SLN    Pennsylvania
7.054    W4FOA    Georgia
7.050    WD9DWE    Indiana
7.049    KA2FIR    New Jersey
7.052    W1LVT    Vermont
7.052    W3NP    West Virginia
7.054    KJ4LEN    Florida
14.055  KD2JC    New Jersey
14.050    W5ZR    Louisiana
14.054    W7GVE    Arizona
14.057    N3MVX    Pennsylvania
21.053  KB2RAW    New York
14.054    WD0ECO    Missouri
7.052    K2NPN  New York
7.056    N4SR    Tennessee *
7.050    W5ZR    Louisiana *
7.054    K2OGT    New York
7.059    W1WIU    Rhode Island
7.052    KG4W    Virginia
7.112    WA0BGV    Missouri

* Denotes 2nd band contact.  During the sprint if the same station is contacted on another band that contact may be counted as an additional QSO (radio contact).  Contacting a station for the second time on the same band is known as a "dupe" or duplicate.  This QSO cannot be counted in scoring.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Insulator Post -- Bridge Standoffs

Wyatt gets the credit for spotting a couple small chunks of green glass remnants from the age of telegraphy as we were traveling by car through Mt. Vernon, Ohio.  Luckily there was convenient parking so we could stop and get a closer look. 

The bridge was posted off limits but from the grassy bank we could get close enough to see the last two insulators left on the old four arm stand off.  Probably the ubiquitous Hemingray-42 so common to my neck of the woods.  Be sure to enlarge the photograph.  The broken insulator on the left still has a length of copper and the tie wire attached.  The water below is the Kokosing river passing just south of the downtown area.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Commuter

Front Row Parking

My Friday trip to work was extra comfortable thanks to my fully suspended recumbent bicycle.  Railroad tracks, crumbling pavement and other surface irregularities are a non-issue on this bike.  With the factory rack and a set of under seat panniers the Street Machine would be the ideal commuter.  As it is I have room for lunch and the mail in seat bag so I get along fairly well.

Today's ride both to and from work were trouble free and enjoyable as usual.  Two hours of steady rain around midday had me ordering in for lunch instead of the quick jaunt across town for chow that I was looking forward to.  In the event I am caught out in a shower the bike's fat main tube acts as a giant fender catching all the spray from the front tire.  At least this keeps the gritty stuff out of my face.  The shape and position of the seat catch a majority of the water thrown off by the rear.  If the recumbent was my only bike or I was a serious tourist I probably would have fenders installed.

On the afternoon trip home I took the long way and added a few miles to enjoy the sun before the next onslaught of thunderstorms.      

Thursday, June 9, 2011

KD8JHJ Antenna Test Continued

A few days ago I cut the aluminum tubing of my home brew vertical antenna down to the dimensions specified by W9SR in the plans for the top loaded low band antenna.  After I established the fact that the resonant point was so far off the mark in my initial testing I thought it best to get all my ducks in a row and set up the antenna closer to the receipe outlined in the ARRL handbook.

Reducing the length of the antenna mast by 24" makes it possible to load the disassembled parts into the passenger compartment of my car and close the rear hatch.  This was a major factor that led to my decision to cut the length down.  I want to be able to travel with the antenna secured inside the vehicle instead of lashed to the cargo rack on the roof  exposed to possible damage or vandalism.

Wednesday afternoon I had some spare time so I loaded everything up and headed to my favorite QRP portable operating sight.  This is the same park just outside of town where I held my earlier testing sessions but I set up in a different area to take advantage of some shade trees.

I erected the antenna in a steady wind I estimate was blowing about 10 mph.  At 13 feet tall the radiator was much easier to hold steady while inserting the fiberglass foot section into the tripod base.  I deployed the four elevated radials same as before.  I left the loading coil where it was from the last session at 16 turns.  Once the radial ring terminals had been connected I raised the telescoping section of the tripod to position the base of the antenna at approximately 8 feet.  I have been careful to duplicate the conditions of the test sessions from one to the next for the sake of accuracy. 

After connecting my 50 foot coax and the MFJ-259B analyzer I noted that the SWR reading had dropped another full point to 6.5 but still unusable on the 40 meter band.  I did not add the four turns back to the loading coil because I was pressed for time. That will have to be an experiment for another time.

What I like about the 259B is how I can sweep with the tuning control across huge expanses of  HF spectrum and watch how the antenna system reacts to the tiny signal generated by the analyzer.  I have been doing this each time I have set up and tested this antenna and last night was no exception.  I was surprised to discover a large dip in the SWR at approximately 18 MHz that was not present during my last test. 

1.2 : 1 SWR Bandwidth:  18.088 - 18.220 MHz
2 : 1 SWR Bandwidth:  17.700 - 18.585 MHz

This means that my homebrew 40 meter vertical would be an excellent radiator when used for the amateur allocation of the 17 meter band (18.068 - 18.168 MHz).  Definitely an interesting finding and now I'm curious to cut a set of resonant radials for 18 MHz and see what happens.  My first contact using the antenna could very well be on 17 meters instead of 40 as I have planned.

While frustrating at times this project has been very entertaining and a learning experience as well.  The farther I go the more questions seem to pop up but therein lies the fun of experimentation.  For now I am going to take a break from it and consider what I have accomplished so far.  If there are any antenna gurus out there that have been following along I would love to hear any input.  This can probably be considered an advanced antenna project and it certainly is to me.  Figuring this thing out is not as easy as trimming the ends of a simple dipole.   


Sunday, June 5, 2011


Saturday our goal was to meet some friends in Ohio's capital city and attend the Columbus Arts Festival.  
We met at our predetermined location for drinks and snacks.  Afterwards we set out on foot to the arts festival but never got more than a couple blocks from our car.  Luckily when the storm hit we were able to seek refuge under the overhang of a parking garage.  Thunder crashed and echoed through the downtown streets and half inch hail rained down at our feet.  The link above shows pictures of the extensive damage at the festival sight.

My pictures are of the retreating storm from the ninth floor parking garage where we left our vehicles.  
The classy looking structure in the photographs is the LeVeque Tower.  Being a country boy skyscrapers are not something I've thought much about.  When I look at the Columbus skyline it's the art-deco style of this building that always catches my eye.  

Friday, June 3, 2011

Field Test -- KD8JHJ Home Brew 40m Antenna

The data from the MFJ-259B:  7.050 MHz  =  10.5 : 1 SWR

5.914 MHz  =  2.1 : 1 SWR

5.818 MHz  R = 37    X = 37

The good news is as I swept the band with the analyzer I detected a well defined dip in the SWR readings.  Unfortunately the bottom of the SWR curve did not coincide with my required frequency range.

At this point I believe it necessary to discuss some technical details concerning the construction of this antenna.  The greatest length aluminum tubing I could receive via UPS was a 6 foot section.  Great! I thought.  I could make an antenna mast 12 feet tall -the bigger the better.  While I was at it and had extra material I made the top mast 3 feet long instead of the prescribed 2' 6".  The coil winding data is intended for use with a 10' steel TV mast pipe.  I did not expect a match right away because of my deviation from the plans.  The interesting question now is what to do? start messing with the loading coil or maybe cut the aluminum tubing down to match the plans?