2011 Field Day – CW Station (Part II)

Saturday morning arrived, as one might expect for a June weekend, Bright and Early.

Saturday morning arrived, as one might expect for a June weekend, Bright and Early.

(See Part I of this article.)

Much time was spent finding and removing yesterday’s accumulation of the myriad grass seeds, stickers, nettles, fox tales, rocks and other undesired biota from socks, shoes, pants, shirts, and wherever else they had lodged for the evening. Only a few hardy souls had stayed over Friday night. The Twins and their Papa had stayed, and Frank, our visitor from the North, had pitched his wilderness tent on the other (SunRise) side of the field. Perhaps his goal was to catch Dawn before anyone else. The only other souls around were the deer, turkeys, and an occasional lizard or snake in the grass.

Up and an ’em. Shake off the sleeps; make oneself presentable. And then out to see just how Fine and Wonderful all the different stations looked. We had the SSB station with its beam and long-wire dipole just south of CW. A bit beyond and to the East was the Satellite and then GOTA stations, the latter had a fine two-element inverted-Vee Yagi. Across the road and further South of GOTA were the VHF and Digital stations with their towers. West along that road were the Community Service and then Food areas.

Go get some Breakfast and then let’s back to CW and see how it plays.

The CW Station

2The CW station was comprised of an Elecraft K3/ATU at 100 watts, a spankin’ new P3 panadaptor, a laptop running N1MM, some coax switches, and the coax runs to the various antennas. We’ve got two sets of earphones, and the HexKey, just to keep the avid CW’ers happy.

The 80/40 driven elements have short 50-foot runs of the smaller coax down to a 2-way switch, and a long run of heavier coax from the switch to the trailer. We’ll have to walk out with flashlight to change bands tonight. The Mosley is fed with heavy coax too. Each of the runs is about 150 feet. Not bad for FD.

The check of the antennas is done using an MFJ-259 Analyzer. Nifty tool. Portable, easy to use, easy to read in the bright sunlight. Our first look at 80 meters showed it was sitting too low, below the band edge in fact. Clearly the elements are too long — but we’d cut them that way, and aren’t surprised. So out to the array, lower the elements, prune back the tips, and up again. Ahh, much better now. A few smiles, a sigh of relief.

Then we tried 40 meters, and not-so-good was the judgement. 40 meters is our Bread-n-Butter band and we’re pretty concerned. Back and forth goes the discussion. Finally we decide that it is in-fact resonant in the CW portion, just with a 25 ohm resistive impedance instead of the designed 50 ohms. We’re getting paid back for insufficient height in those masts; and looking at it now, the top backbone “beam” line is also a bit low — perhaps too much weight from all that #14 wire and its tensioning. Let’s see. Apex is about 35 feet, just a *bit* off from the design height of 45 feet. Well, it is what it is. Back to the station and see what the K3 has to say—and it says “no problemo, dudes.” That ATU is a dream! So it’s decided that all is well for 80/40.

The Mosley

3Now we look at the Mosley. First 20 meters. Hmmm, doesn’t seem to want to tune. Check the K3—yep, we’ve got the right ANT2 selected. Tuner-in and tuner-out give same result. Check the coax feed-line—that looks OK. Well then, let’s see what 15 meters looks like. Push a few buttons and—viola! Perfect. What about 10 meters? Yep, that’s good too. Around again with 20 meters, and we decide that we’ve got a bad antenna.

[Insert minor PANIC here, as we’d sure like to cover 20 if we could.]

Frank is about this time digging around in the back of the truck. “You got any more of that #14 wire, maybe some spare coax?” Well, as luck (Go-kit luck) would have it, “Yes sir, we do”. So we quickly fabricate a 20-meter dipole. The soldering gun we brought just-incase turns out to be quite handy. That coax? HAH, just guess where that’s been! T’was the coax I bought second-hand in Berkeley, in the mid-1970’s, with which to feed my first fan-dipole antenna at my then newly-installed Novice station. Yeoman’s service—indeed! Ahh, the memories. DX-40 and NC303, straight key and head-phones. Mmmm. But I digress.

“We can slide it up the 80/40 array’s West-end stay-line, so it’s close to the trailer.” And that’s just what we did. Got the apex up maybe 25 feet. A quick test showed it was quite happy on 20 meters. Then it was 11AM!


In the early part of Saturday, until about 3PM, the propagation was rather bizarre. Selective fading—you’d start with an S8 or S7 and just after you copied most of the other guys call-sign, his signal drops to S2. All the while the fella just 30 Hz above is rising to take the now-pristine aural space. Then in another 5 seconds or so, our original signal would come back up. AGN AGN? Lots of fun, good practice, a frustrating experience for some of us newer-at-CW operators.

As the hours moved on, 40 meters settled down and we began to see some good, consistent runs. Smiles all around—the antennas were doing their job. Plenty of fine operators lined up for a go at it: Frank W6JTI and Anna W6NN, Rich KE1B and John AC6SL, Bob K6XX and Greta KI6NTL joined in, and even Tom W6TJK for a bit 😉

4The K3 was loafing. Not hardly warm. The P3, though, seemed to be indicating some bizarre band conditions—broadband noise on the up-end of the spectrum. Strange, as we adjusted the frequency, the display continued to show the same noise. Showed up most when we widened out to 200-kHz display, annoying but less so when at 10-kHz span. Decided to ignore it, and keep after the Q’s. Only later, after all of the FD was becoming a memory, would I discover the problem was an open in the shield of the coax connecting K3-IF to P3!

Interesting using the P3 for Search and Pounce. Easy to zoom out to spot the clumps, zoom in to target an opening. A quick knob turn and a click and there you are. Neat! On through the afternoon, and into the night. Only stopping to turn off all the gear, switch off the generator for refueling, then back on and run again. A break for dinner? Heck NO! Oh, wait a minute, they were going to barbeque some Turkey!

5OK, one of us will go and get some for the crew. A quick trudge across the grass field (it’s beginning to look familiar, I know where the gopher holes are!). Up to the Eatery and … “Hey, where’s the turkey?” We were assured by all those wonderful folks that “Ted did a great job on the bird” and “It’s really good, you should try some” and then “Where were you guys, anyway?” Gosh, I wonder.

Food Meisters—Becky and Ted.

Food Meisters—Becky and Ted.

Nonetheless, plenty of BBQ chicken, salad, garlic bread, and dessert. Becky truly outdid herself. She was everywhere, making sure meals were organized, plenty of sodas to ward off the heat, all manner of special goodies to feed the engines of communication. Most everyone brought something for the potluck dinner, and oh what a feast. A good thing that FD comes but once a year. Now to kick back a bit.

“How’s Digital going. Really!? He isn’t even a Ham and he’s banged out 50 RTTY Qs!!”

Yes, CW by Satellite.

Yes, CW by Satellite.

“What’s in the sky with Satellite? CW by Satellite?! You kidding me? We have got to check that out!”

And GOTA—amazing! Lines of folks wanting and getting to operate, and make Q’s. Smiles all around. Reed N1WC is all grins. Brad N6BHT is soon to spend his evening there—running GOTA full on till past midnight!

8Soon it was back to the trailer with the Coffee, Cheeze-Its, and Fruit—our jack for the evening. Later Becky would be coming by with Hershey’s Kisses and some other goodies.
The evening grew long, the bands started to open up. Rich and Anna took a turn, lit up the aether with some brisk Q’s. Up next was Frank, and he really leaned into it. Very interesting watching and listening. Alternating between the keyboard and the HexKey, he seemed to float through the Q’s, one after another. Only later, did I realize he was listening and copying ahead the next caller while he was recording the last contact! And then he turned and asked “You want a run at it, kid?” You Betcha!

This was to be my first sit-down knock-down attempt at contest-style operation. Into the chair, on with the cans, and press the magical F1 key.


9And then listen to . . . Cacophony—sheer indecipherable noise. Aurrggghhhh. OK, relax. Relax. Listen, calm and listen. And, . . . there’s one we can copy. Got it, and then we hit F5 and F2 to return his call with our report, and he comes back with his report, we copy that and hit F3 for the final TU—woo hoo. My first CW Q on any Field Day—EVER!!!

On into the night we went. The generator humming, the P3’s traces dancing like fire-maidens. The Q’s piling up in the N1MM log. Out the window, we could hear and occasionally see the other stations—SSB, SatCom still busy. We try 80 meters and then 20 meters for a change, then back to 40. Stop again for re-fuel, then off again.

Now past midnight and a breeze is coming in, pushing on the trailer then letting go, then pushing again. We take turns getting out for a leg-stretch. Still some CheezIts left, and a few chocolates. No more coffee though. Keep going, more Q’s to make.

What’s our rate? Humming along now, maybe, just maybe, getting a little tired. Wind keeps thumping the trailer. Toms wrapping up a run, passing it off to Frank. “Let’s change bands, see how 80 meters is doing”.

A few buttons to push on the K3, and . . . ? Hmm, OK, push the ATU again. whirr— click, click. It’s always neat to hear the K3’s ATU do its thing. Very fast to find the best tuning point. But we’re now way too long a-listening to the clicks.

“Let’s try it on 20 meters.” That’s fine, so “Nothing wrong with the radio.” Then back to 40 meters, and . . . nada. You go around this circle enough times, and then someone gets the bright idea: “How about the antenna?”

Mast Collapsed

10So, flashlights in hand we up and out the door. Over to the Big Top, with all the ropes and pulleys, masts and wires, coax and stakes. It’s dark, and that breeze is still blowing. Our two little torches fight up into the night sky, and . . . catastrophe! Two masts have snapped, the Center and the East end. Wires and ropes and coax and all manner of dreams have come crashing to the ground. Frank and Tom are momentarily at-a-loss. Then, a brilliant thought, “We can fix it”. But Reality and Exhaustion respond, “No, not tonight.”

We walk back to the trailer—”Still have 20 meters though!” But even that is insufficient to rekindle the pyre. It’s time to QRT, tell the SSB station to switch off the Generator when they are finished. That old sleeping bag never felt so good.

Image Credits

Sunrise: http://www.boggled.us/Sunrise.jpg

manson @ marconi: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Donald_Manson_working_as_an_employee_of_the_Marconi_Company.jpg


monkeyRadioPhones: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_M6eMDd8spYw/SY3jFk1anII/AAAAAAAAAIs/Q3SsZpSGc1M/s320/lgmp0934%2Bmonkey-withheadphones- thinking-by-steez-mini-poster.jpg

tower collapsed: http://f6aoj.ao-journal.com/crbst_capture_04012011_0454060.jpg