On the road with Ken and Ed

Ken is now N4UK, in SC...this is not a rover story, but thought you would like a good read during the witner months anyway!!

Ed, W3EKT....will at K3MQH for January...too cold to rove for me.




Ken, KH2F asked me to write a few words about our trip to the Quarryville, PA site for the September VHF QSO PARTY. Before I do that, let me say something about how we got to that site in the first place!!

For the June VHF QSO PARTY, Ken was bound and determined to go into the field come hell or high water. With little more than a few weeks of preparation, we THREW together a VERY ambitious expedition - TOO ambitious! Ken had THE PERFECT SITE all picked out - one of his company's microwave towers near Breezewood, PA. "GREAT VIEW IN ALL DIRECTIONS, YOU'LL LOVE IT!" HA!!! Frank, W3LPL had dug some aluminum out of his stock pile and built FOUR 3 el 6 mtr yagis. The plan was to mount 3 over 3 on two opposing legs of this massive self supporting tower such that we covered all points of the compass. I dug out rotors, rope, coax, and borrowed antennas for 220, even got the loan of Norm's (K3LYW) FT-736R! Ken and I went up early Friday morning the day before the contest. This was my FIRST trip to that site. Right off the bat I saw that the site was surrounded by TREES (BAD word for VHF!) and that we had to get above 40 FT to even CLEAR the trees!! Our plan was to get all the antennas up and checked out on Friday so we could concentrate on shelters and RF gear the following morning. FAT CHANCE!! The best laid plans usually GET LAID! What a nightmare. All we got accomplished the rest of Friday was to unload gear, set up my Starcraft tent camper, and mount TWO of the six meter beams! By nightfall, we were beat. More help came Saturday AM in the form of KC3EK, KA3EJJ, K3IXD, and N3___. The crew helped get 2, 220, 432, 1296 1 watt FM, and a ten Ghz Gunnplexer on the air. Ken and I gave up on trying to mount the second pair of six meter beams on a rotator and they went up fixed, one northwest, the other southwest. The whole operation was just too much for us to handle!! Call it a "LEARNING EXPERIENCE!" We learned.

Ken really wanted to go back to that same site for the Sept. QSO Party, and we actually went back there for some testing on two meters and to take another look what was needed to clear the 40 foot trees surrounding the site! After hours of skulling on the problem, we gave up. The damn 293 foot tower is HUGE, the thing fights you all the way! Trying to mount antennas on the one foot diameter legs is hard. And then the tower is STILL going to block you in some directions. Even though the site is in a semi - rare grid, FN00, and up in the hills at 2500 feet IT AIN'T WORTH IT, and reluctantly, Ken finally agreed.


This time I PERSONALLY accompanied Ken to the candidate site near Lancaster, Pa. In the northeast corner of FM19 near Buck PA, the site is only 922 feet ASL. But it looked good. No trees, just farmland. We ran tests with Bernie, WR3E, and made some REAL DX QSO's on two meters - Syracuse, NY, and Boston, MA using Ken's FT-726 barefoot. (10 watts.) Even worked a few on 432. Good. The site is 5 miles east of the Susquehanna River and 15 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay. Great. Perhaps we can get some ducting up and down the coast. Back home to prepare for the contest. More fits, starts, and skull sessions. The darn contest conflicts with the FAR HAMFEST in Gaithursburg! Bummer. Nobody wants to come along for a limited multi-operator effort (four bands). So Ken decides to do 2 meters alone, I'll take 432 and a ten watt 1269 FM rig just for fun. (2 single band efforts.)

I work out antenna supports that Ken and I can get up and down alone, 35 feet high or so. Rotor on the ground with a hinge plate. Just pull 'er up, no sweat. (Sure.) Ken buys and sells rigs and amplifiers like he's made of money and there is no tomorrow. He also buys an 18 foot travel trailer, Jeep Cherokee to pull the thing, etc, etc. My wife and I even GO CAMPING with Ken and his XYL, Diana, near Bedford, Pa to shake down the trailer and scout even MORE possible VHF sites, but that is yet another story!! (Ask Ken about the view from Blue Knob ski resort or the mountain man he asked for directions!) I catch a one week business trip. Time lost I should have been preparing for the contest. Labor Day weekend I go to Toledo, Ohio, for a family reunion - more time lost. I have an old K2RIW amplifier for 432 I had hoped to use, but ran out of time to get it up and running. I decide to use a 50 watt brick laying in the junk box. It works!!


On the morning of September 11, Ken picks me up and we head for Amish country. Great day, cool breeze, sunny, no rain in the forecast. As we drive onto the site we both notice that we are now surrounded by EIGHT foot tall CORN!! (We didn't even think about that when we first saw the site!) It was now so windy that we both had concerns about getting the antennas up. As I am unloading and rigging, Ken informs me that the water pump in the trailer quit. We spend half an hour getting it running again. Great. Now we can take a shower, at least. An Amish kid comes by. He looks like something out of the last century and both Ken and I have trouble understanding his strange accent - almost sounds AUSTRAILIAN. Weird. He asks to look into the trailer to see all the radios. The stuff is like nothing he has EVER SEEN, and he is IMPRESSED! We manage to erect ONE mast with the 2 X 11 element Cushcraft 2 meter FM, 11 element 440 FM, and 28 element loop yagi for 1296. (1296 there was a mistake.) Discover that the hacksaw Ken ASSURED me was in his tool box, IS NOT. It's getting dark anyway. We make a two meter sked with Jim, N3KTV, who is going to come up Saturday morning to help out. HE will bring a hacksaw, forgotten flashlights, donuts. Fine. We go to nearby town, Willow Street, PA for food. (AND a hacksaw, just in case!) We run thru the door of a K-MART just before it slams shut. Buy a hacksaw and film that KEN FORGOT TO BRING for his camera. (Do you detect a theme here?) Back to the site, about ten miles maybe. Ken parks his Cherokee such that the head lights iluminate the side of the camper where the water heater is. Finally gets heater lit (propane) only to find that he has locked his keys in the Jeep with the lights on and the motor running! Damn. We try to get a coat hanger into the window gap to unlock the thing. No way. Ken thinks he can knock off the vent window lock with hammer and a screwdriver. The window shatters. (Of course.) A hundred bucks shot in the ass. DAMN. Off to bed. The corn is rustling in the wind, and Ken keeps thinking that there are "PEOPLE OUT THERE" who may "GET US." The whole thing feels like a Steven King movie and we imagine kids with sickles coming out of the corn to butcher us in our sleep. I have some weird dreams that night.

Morning comes and we are still alive! (Surprise!) Jim arrives with donuts. We get Ken's pair of Cushcraft 13B2s up and working. I rig the box of 4 X 19 el K2RIW 432 antennas only to find out that the upper support mast is too weak when we try to raise the thing. I fall back to plan B, 2 X 19 el, using the 2 way power divider which I DID REMEMBER TO BRING. A connector on coax is bad, we see infinite SWR on 432. Ken repairs a type "N" connector, one of his FAVORITE JOBS. We get 432 antennas up and checked out. Jim leaves, and we are ready to roll about an hour before the contest starts. We discover that the trailer is really CROWDED. I keep hitting my head on various doors, bunks etc. The contest starts.

Thank GOD for DVK's. It would have been hopeless without them. Ken had bought one from WR3E, I BORROWED one from Ed, K3IXD. (I'm cheap!) Next, we're attacked by ANTS. They're all over the place, crawling out of the front panels of the radios! We put most of our food in the refrigerator, which seals out ants. About an hour into the contest we both notice that Ken's metal folding chairs are HARD AS HELL and that the back is at the wrong angle! We wind up sitting on blankets, pillows behind us trying to get comfortable. Helps, but our buns are still sore, and our backs a mess. The rotor indicator for the FM/1296 antennas goes south, literally, - IT READS SOUTH ALL THE TIME! We look out the DOOR to see where the thing is pointed! A few hours later I tape a stick to the mast which is visible from a WINDOW. Much better. WE ROLL!! Ken complains about a burning smell. He finally determines that the stench is emminating from the power supply for his 400 watt 2 meter amp. I suggest placing it OUTSIDE the camper but the cord is too short. We finally put the damn thing ON THE COMMODE in the bathroom, open the overhead vent and close the door before the TOXIC FUMES KILL US!! It works and we continue contesting. But now we can't use the HEAD 'cause Ken's power supply is on the THRONE!

The openings on 2 are FABULOUS! Ken is running 8's and 9's at times. I hear none of it on 432. (Need a preamp!) I crash at 1:30 AM or so. Ken continues into the night and takes a short nap about 5 AM. We're back up at 6:30 and on the air. I have worked a few on 1296 FM, ten watts, 50 feet of RG8, talk about feedline loss. Many stations do NOT BELEIVE we can QSO on FM. Weird, again! At 3 PM Sunday, Ken catches an hour midwest opening on two. UNBELEIVABLE! W2SZ/1 is on 432 begging for 903MHz and up QSOs. I'm a bit hesitant, but Ken says "Give it a shot". I call 'SZ on 432, they give me a 5 minute slot about five minutes away. They call on even minutes, I call on odd. I listen for one minute, nothing. I call, giving the complete exchange every 15 seconds and stand by. Nothing. I do it again. This time the squelch breaks 3 or 4 times and the YAESU FT-912 LEDs flicker. 30 seconds into the minute W2SZ/1 pops up to S7 saying "QSL, QSL, FN32, FN32," etc, and disappears back into the noise. We made it, about 200 miles! I'm SURPRISED. KEN'S surprised! Later in the evening I hear 'SZ on 432 telling some one that they had worked FL on 1296 and Charleston, SC, FM02 on 2304!! Their op gives the FM02 stations call, K4KAE. Since I'm pointed southwest calling CQ (and 'SZ is S9 off the back), I move the antennas a bit further south and continue. On the third call or so I hear K4KAE and he's calling ME. I work FM02 on 432 MHz with 50 watts. Amazing. Later in the evening I do catch some short openings to the west and work K3SIW/9, EN51 somewhere in Wisconsin. Wow. Pretty good stuff, too bad openings are not longer, that I cannot "hear" better, that I did not get the BIG amp going, etc. etc. We close out the contest with a burst of activity and shut down on time.

For my efforts on 432, I have 133 Q's in 37 grids. Playing around on 1296 with the FM rig has netted 11 QSO's in 5 grids. Ken has about 550 in 77 grids, great showing. The gathering on .200 is impressed. Ken moves off freq with W6AXX only to have someone break in on them. It turns out to be TWO FLORIDA stations, in EL88 and EL89. Where WERE THEY during the contest? Damn.

All in all, the contest was a success. Ken and I learned a great deal about VHF contesting and EACH OTHER! We had more gear than needed. The 1296 antenna should have been mounted on the same mast as the 432 beams. That surely would have made pointing easier. We need to prepare MONTHS in advance, not weeks. My CAREFULLY ENGINEERED antenna supports were not strong enough to go to 40 feet, so all of the antennas were only 20 to 25 off the ground - back to the drawing board.



___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________