A Couple of Stories from Field Day 2006

We’re getting better every year as far as being prepared. Two years ago, I’m not sure any of our stations were on the air. Last year, most of the stations were on the air at 1800Z, and the rest were shortly after. This year, all the stations were up and running by 1:30 at the latest, and we were all just standing around waiting for the hour to strike.
We ran 4A again this year, with two phone stations and two CW stations. All four stations bettered their scores from last year,. Overall, it was a pretty good performance.
What I’ve done the last couple of years is to go home after dinner on Saturday, get to sleep by 9 pm and wake up around 2 am so that I can get out to the site by 2:30. Apparently, I was a bit sleepy, so early (late?). When I got home Sunday, I discovered that I’d worn my shirt inside out all day. No one ever mentioned it to me.
Around our club, I’m known as a CW geek. So, when I visited one of the phone stations on Sunday, the two hams manning the station challenged me to sit down and make some phone contacts. So, wanting to impress them with my versatility, I sat down, put on the headphones, and started tuning around. Five Qs into my stint, I turned around to see how impressed they were. They were both sound asleep.

The W3EDP Antenna

I have never operated 80m from my home. I have never had the space for a full half-wave dipole, and haven’t really had the motivation to put up anything else. Well, I’ve stumbled across something that may work—the W3EDP antenna.

The W3EDP is an 85-ft. end-fed wire with a 17-ft. counterpoise. Of course, you need an antenna tuner to make this work, but I already have a tuner or two here. And, if you’re going to operate QRP, a small tuner is even pretty easy to build.

Here are some links:

While Googling for information on the W3EDP, I also found a great article on building a current-type 4:1 balun on the N0SS website. The article was written by W1CG.

UPDATE 11/19/06: This afternoon, I strung an 85-ft. wire up into the trees, connected it to the T-1 longwire antenna tuner, and then put the antenna tuner on it. Several messages in the links above didn’t seem to think that the counterpoise was necessary for 80m, so I left it off.

The first readings were a bit perplexing. The SWR was jumping all over the place, and no matter what position I set the controls, I couldn’t get the SWR much below 3:1. Thinking that the 17-ft. counterpoise might be needed after all, I connected and fiddled with the tuner controls once again. This time, I was able to achieve an almost 1:1 SWR.

At this point, I decided to pack it all up and head back inside. It was gray and cold, had started to snow, I didn’t have an enclosure in which to stick the tuner, and the piece of coax that I had connected to the tuner wouldn’t reach to the shack anyway.

Overall, though, I was quite pleased with this experiment, and I think that it won’t be long before I’m on 80m.

Batteries & QRP

John AE5X has a great article, “Batteries and QRP” on his nicely-designed website. Using a West Mountain Radio “Computerized Battery Analyzer II” and a Fluke 87 multimeter, he simulated conditions that batteries would normally operate under in portable/mobile conditions. The battery types he tested include:

  • AA cells of different chemistries,
  • lithium-polymer rechargeable batteries, and
  • gel cells.

More on the C-Pole

I’ve written about the C-Pole antenna before. A friend, Mark W8FSA, and I bulit a couple of them for Field Day a couple of years ago. They’re vertical antennas, but don’t require any radials. On Field Day, we’ve found them to be good performers.

In the original article, which appeared in the April 2004 QST, the author gave dimensions for the 20m band and up. I thought this might make a good antenna for 40m, too, so I emailed the author, who graciously ran the numbers through his antenna modeling program and sent me the dimensions for a 40m C-Pole. Unfortnately, this was two years ago, and I have since changed computers and lost that email in the shuffle.

Well, Mark has come to the rescue. He found an online C-Pole dimension calculator. Thanks to the Sangamon Valley Radio Club for making this available!

I don’t know that I’ll get around to making this antenna before this year’s Field Day (it’s only a couple of days away), but I do plan to biuld one sooner or later.

Build an Antenna Mast from Irrigation Pipe

For the past several years, my club, ARROW Communications Assn., has been fortunate to have the use of a big hay field at Domino’s Farms. (Yes, Domino’s Farms is home to Domino’s Pizza, one of the two biggest pizza chains in the country.)

One of the cool things about this site is that it’s close to the city of Ann Arbor, yet as the name would imply, out in the country. We set up in a big hay field that they mow for us just before Field Day. One of the features of this hay field is the irrigation pipe, which we put to use as antenna masts. We simply guy 30-ft. sections of this pipe to support all manner of wire antennas.

Having had some experience with the use of irrigation pipe as an antenna mast, I was happy to find the website, APRS Antenna Mast. This site explains how to build a 55-ft. portable mast from damaged sections of irrigation pipe. Very cool and very cheap.

The Elmer Kit

In amateur radio circles, we often hear of “jump kits” or “go kits.” These kits contain supplies and gear that amateur radio operators will find useful if called upon to provide emergency communications.

They include not only radio gear, but personal items, such as toothpaste and toilet paper. The idea is to have this stuff prepared so that in an emergency you can just pick up the kit and go.

In that same spirit, I’d like to propose that Elmers have their own jump kits. Some of the stuff you might carry with you all the time (or at least to all amateur radio events), and then the rest of the stuff you’d have on hand to help other hams when required.

For example, whenever I go to an amateur radio club meeting, I always carry copies of the K7QO Code Course on CD-ROM. You never know when you’ll run into someone that claims he or she wants to learn the code. You get the jump on them if you can pull out a CD-ROM and hand it to them.

You might also want to carry a General Class license manual around with you. Then, when you identify a Technician who is likely to upgrade with a little prodding, you can hand him the manual and tell him to get cracking. To keep your costs down, you can ask people who have taken your General Class courses to donate their license manuals to the cause after they pass their test. If they protest that they want to keep their license manual as a reference, steer them towards the ARRL Handbook, which is a much better reference and probably something they should have anyway.

I have also started collecting equipment that I can loan out or resell at very low cost. I think making available low-cost, but decent quality, gear could spur someone to try a new mode or even upgrade their licenses. For example, in March, I found a Bencher BY-1 at a hamfest for $40. I promptly re-sold this paddle (for the same 40 bucks) to a ham in our club who expressed an interest in working CW. I picked up another one at Dayton, and hopefully, it will find a new home soon, and help someone get on CW.

Earlier in the year, I sold my old Icom IC-735 to a guy who had been in my General Class license course. I made him a deal he couldn’t refuse ($250) with the proviso that once he upgraded, he sell it back to me for the same price. I have since used the money to purchase another IC-735 (I paid $275 for this one) that I hope will find its way into the shack of some other ham who has recently upgraded to General.

I think the IC-735 makes a great starter rig. It has a great receiver, is simple to operate, and if you shop around, the price is certainly right. Not only that, it’s a radio that the average ham can work on, and there’s a great mailing list on which you can ask questions.

Finally, there is some gear that you’ll want to have on hand for use in helping other guys get on the air. One of these is an antenna analyzer. I always encourage guys to get one, but if they don’t, then you can help them tune up their antennas. You might also want to have an EZ-Hang, or some similar device to help them get their antennas up into the trees.

I’m interested in what else I might include in my “Elmer Kit.” Any ideas?

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

This weekend, I didn’t do a heck of a lot of operating, but I did play radio repairman.

The first thing I tackled was the IC-28A. This repair went a lot easier than I thought.

This radio had a push-on/push-off type of power switch that had quit working. You could push the switch and turn it on, but unless you held switch down, it didn’t stay on. Fortunately, the part was still available ($14) from Icom. I ordered it over the phone, and it arrived within a week.

When I first looked at the switch/volume control combo, I thought, “Oh, no. This is going to be a bear to replace.” There were three contacts for the volume control and four for the on-off switch. I could just imagine trying to get the solder out of all seven holes without damaging the board.

Fortunately, it was a lot easier than I thought. Instead of being installed on the main board, the control was mounted to a small, single-sided board and connected to the main board via a small cable. It was a little tricky wiggling the control out to where I could work on it, but since the board was single-sided the solder sucked off quite easily. I pulled off the old one, popped in the new one, soldered the new control to the board, and then wiggled it in again.

Total repair time was about a half hour. Cool!

NEXT: Heakthkit keyer
Next on my list of repairs was replacing the batteries in the Heathkit keyer. These batteries provide the power to the memory chips that hold the recorded messages. These batteries finally gave up the ghost after more than 20 years!

Now, you’d think that changing batteries wouldn’t be a big deal, but noooooooooo. Heathkit didn’t really design the keyer to be easily maintainable. The problem is with the way that connectors and the keyboard connect to the main board. It’s all very cramped.

Then, after I managed to wrangle the old batteries out and the new batteries in, I had a hard time getting it all back together again. Part of the problem is that the voltage regulator is mounted to the keyer baseplate for heatsinking. The leads stick up through three holes in the main board and connect via a small Molex connector. Well, as you’re putting the thing back together, you have to align the regulator leads properly and then make sure that the Molex connector fits down over the leads.

Well, yesterday evening, I just couldn’t seem to get it right. and it took me three tries before I got it all together correctly. Total repair time was about an hour! Who’d have thought that it would take longer to replace some batteries than to replace a volume control?

IC-730 Waiting in the Wings
The Icom IC-730 is next on my list. I’ve gotten several good suggestions from the IC-730 mailing list for repairing the preamp relay. And apparently the fix for low S-meter readings is contact cleaner on the band switch. So, I’ll be digging into that sometime soon.

Monroe Hamfest
Yesterday, I rode down to the Monroe Hamfest with Ralph KB8ZOY. All we bought was the “requisite handful of connectors,” but it was fun. Ralph knows quite a few people, and I know a couple, too, so between us, we talked to quite a few.

I did manage to solve one problem. In the course of cruising the hamfest, I ran across Donnie W8RIF, who was complaining about the lack of response to his request to being appointed a Local Government Liaison. He had contacted someone at the ARRL, who had referred it to someone here in the Michigan section, but somehow it had gotten lost in the shuffle.

Well, fortunately our section manager is a member of the Monroe County ham club and was at the hamfest. I took him over to see the SM, and we cut through a lot of red tape. I also happened to spot Val N8EVX, who is also involved with lobbying. I introduced him to W8RIF, and they went off to talk about politics. My good deed for the day done, I got to go home.

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I’m going to be totally honest here. I’m as vain as the next guy—maybe even more so. Why else would I persist in writing this blog and continually look for new things to get even more people to read it?

Having said that, here’s the latest vanity. Now, you can subscribe to an e-mail list that will send you periodically—I’m thinking weekly—a list of the latest blog entries. All you have to do is to enter your name in the appropriate box below and click “Submit.”

You can also subscribe to an RSS feed for this blog. To do that, copy one of the RSS URLs that you’ll find in the right-hand column into your favorite RSS reader. (If you don’t know what RSS is all about, e-mail me and I’ll tell you all about it.)

Another QSL Collection?

I’ve written before about my collection of QSL cards from stations whose callsigns spell words. Now, I’m thinking of another–QSLs from stations whose callsigns are three-letter acronyms. Three of my last four QSOs fall into this category:

  • K2NPN
  • VX2FET
  • WA1UFO

How’s that for a start?

An Extra Class Course/Net?

At Dayton, I ran into someone who was in my 2005 General Class license course. I mentioned to her that I’d just passed the Extra Class test, and she asked if perhaps I might teach an Extra Class license course in the future. At that time, I said that I didn’t have any plans to do so, and that an Extra Class course would be quite an undertaking.

This afternoon, I received an e-mail from another guy who asked if I could help him pass the Extra test. Apparently, the need is there, so it got me to thinking about how to approach this.

To prepare myself for the Extra test, all I really did was to take a bunch of practice tests. A friend lent me his copy of the Extra Class license manual, but I rarely opened it. After taking 30 or 40 tests, I convinced myself that I could pass the “real” test, and actually did so.

Now, I had several advantages:

  • HamTestOnline gave me a free subscription because I am a registered instructor, so it cost me nothing to do this.
  • I’ve been a ham for 35 years, so have lots of practical experience.
  • I have an electrical engineering degree and have done logic design professionally. Being intimately familiar with logic diagrams made all the digital logic questions a snap.

Even so, taking the practice tests was very valuable. I actually learned quite a bit about stuff I didn’t have any experience with and a lot about some of the more arcane rules and regulations. Thinking about this a bit more, it occurs to me that one way to approach an Extra Class license course would be to have the students take a bunch of practice tests, identify the areas in which they need help, and then have them have them gather on a repeater or via EchoLink once or twice a week to review these particular topics. Furthermore, if we did it this way, I could invite other people–both teachers and students–to participate.

Have any of you tried something like this? If so, was it successful? If not, do you think it could be successful?

If you’re thinking about getting your Extra license, would you participate?