ARRL Field Day
Field Day 2010
This year Jane and I spent Field Day with the Pueblo West Amateur Radio Club, Pueblo West, Colorado. My son David, KC0RNI, upgraded to General in June joined us.
Our solar-powered trailer was used, as well as a solar-powered motor home owned by the club's president. Everyone seemed to have fun, and everyone wanted to learn about PSK31. The digital station became more of a training station than a competition station, but the operators still managed 65 contacts on PSK31. Altogether, the club accumulated 3,190 points with the bonus points included and should place nicely in Class 2AB nationally. We felt that was a good effort using QRP. More information can be found at the NA0PW website.
This year it was easier to set up my equipment for Field Day. Hauling several pieces of gear around and having to connected them all wastes a lot of time that could be better spent on Field Day morning. While not yet complete, I built a wooden equipment box for the portable rig. It still lacks front and back doors, but it is very usable as it sits on the breakfast bar next to my small computer center. Jane (KA0USA) said it had to be "pretty," so it will be covered with birch plywood and stained with a pecan color stain. "Pretty" is in the eye of the beholder, I guess, but it passed the test. At least Jane no longer has to contend with wires and coax running across her counter top.
"The Box" contains a Yaesu FT-897D transceiver on its mobile mount, the Yaesu MH-31 hand microphone, the MFJ-1279M Deluxe Sound Card Interface, the MFJ-945E manuel antenna tuner, a Bencher key, an MFJ-281 external speaker, and an atomic clock. There is also a small shelf for the manuals, instructions, etc. There is room in the back for a foot switch and the Heil Pro Set headphone with mic. The power wire for the radio was shortened to about 1 foot including the fuses, and Anderson PowerPole connectors were added. Should it ever be needed, I have an extra standard length power cord. I did not include a power supply in the box, as I wanted to be able to lift it! ;-) Spring-loaded handles on the sides make the box easier to carry.
All the gear is secured in place except for the little clock. The sound card interface has a 2" wide strip of industrial Velcro on top with the fuzzy side up. It allows the operator to rest about 3 fingers on top of it while tuning the radio. The paddles are a bit high, but by folding a towel to rest the arm on, they work fine.
Ground wires from the equipment run to a small Buss bar at the rear, and all the gear that needs power sport Anderson PowerPoles connectors. A grounding bolt, Anderson PowerPoles, coax connectors and a cigarette lighter jack will be added in the rear later, and doors will enclose the unit when it is not in use.
Field Day 2010 Results (NA0PW)
After spending more than a year working on our little trailer, my wife Jane, KE6DCE, and I decided it was time to try it out as a portable communications trailer. The ideal event to use for the test was Field Day. The location was a favorite of ours -- Westcliffe, Custer County, Colorado, in the Sangre de Christo Valley.
Since we were relying on solar power, the weekend forecast for a very wet and stormy Field Day was not encouraging. We would be set up in a field as well, and thoughts of having the truck and trailer stuck in a muddy field filled my mind. But since the object of Field Day is to prove a station can be set up and maintained "in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions," we seemed to be headed towards the true spirit of Field Day experience.
Strong winds buffeted the truck and trailer as we left Pueblo West at 2:35 on Friday afternoon. Running directly into the wind, I knew the truck was gulping gallons of extra gasoline. Our dog Heidi, however, couldn't have been less concerned. She watched intently out the window as Jane pointed out cattle and prairie dogs along the way.
Highway 96 from Wetmore to Westcliffe is a scenic drive, but it seems that about 95% of the time the road is on an upward incline as it winds into the Wet Mountains. While we had lost the wind, the mountain road was now taking a toll on the truck's fuel.
We arrived in Westcliffe to find Stan, KC0OYO, and Ron, K0LZD, waiting to direct us to our parking site east of the Custer County Search and Rescue Building. To our relief, the field was dry and had been mowed. A few minutes later, Leon, N0VWX, and his wife Pauline, KB0VMX, arrived with their travel trailer and set up camp next to the building. Since helping hands were available and we still had daylight, we quickly erected the three band jumpered dipole antenna on a 20' mast. The military surplus 4'-long aluminum mast sections were connected and set into the homebrew tilting bumper antenna mount and guyed from three directions.
I was anxious to see if the new jumpered dipole that Jane and I made would work. I found a station in Utah on PSK31. He was checking out the equipment he would be running for Field Day and using 5 watts. At least I knew our antenna tuned easily on 20 meters with the MFJ-949E tuner. Tomorrow we would try the 40-meter section.
Not long after the sun was down we had lightning, wind and rain. What a wonderful lightning rod we presented to the heavens, but we were spared.
Jane and I were up early Saturday morning and set up the solar panels. We didn't use the "solar trackers" I had made, electing instead to set the panels up at about a 60 degree angle and facing away from the sun at about the same angle early in the morning. We were still getting about 4 amps input to the battery at first, and this increased to 10 amps or more as the angle to the sun decreased. We only moved the panels twice during the day and had plenty of power available for the radio gear and the trailer.
Westcliffe newspaper didn't print the press release I sent, we
figured not many people would stop
by to see what we were doing. Leon (at right) and I decided to erect
the 6' Cushcraft AR-270B VHF/UHF antenna to be used to send the
required message to the Colorado Section Communications Manager. It
would be sent to a traffic net via two meters using the statewide
Colorado Connection repeater system on Saturday night. The antenna
was supported by 13' 1-1/2" ID Schedule 40 PVC pipe near the
front left corner of the trailer and guyed at 8'. We made the mast
16' long in the beginning, but we could see we were going to have to
run three more guy lines if we left it at that height. It was easier
to substitute a 5' top section for the 8' section. With the winds we
experienced later that evening, it turned out to be the right choice.
While the antenna and mast bounced around in the high winds, they
stayed in place, and the message made its way into the National
Saturday morning we pulled out the trailer's new awning, set up some chairs and a table for visitors. Saturday's visitors included KC0WYK, KD0HIS, KD0BVJ, N0MIK, and KC0WYK. We used the opportunity explain our solar power system and to demonstrate PSK31 running only 5 watts. Handout sheets about the station and ham radio in general were given out. Hopefully we inspired a few to work to upgrade their licenses and take up a new facet of the hobby.
Conditions were horrible on 20 meters Saturday afternoon. The bands were packed, with stations on top of stations on top of stations. It was very difficult to make contacts running only 5 watts in that crowd! I tried calling stations; I tried calling CQ; I tried working the edges of the PSK31 frequencies being used....
Heidi was bored with band conditions on Saturday too, but she enjoyed sleeping in front of the fan bringing in outside air from the window behind me. The little folding table I made from bar stools worked quite well. It was sturdy and provided plenty of room for the laptop and more. Only 30 contacts were made from noon to 7 p.m. when the panels were no longer charging the batteries and I called it quits for the day.
With Leon's help, we barely got the awning secured and the solar panels stored away Saturday night before a strong wind came up and it started lightning and raining at about sunset. It rained steadily for at least an hour.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the ground still solid on Sunday morning. Jane and I set up the solar panels again and changed the jumpers on the Inverted "V" to 40 meters. The 40-meter section tuned easily, and I was on the air by 7:00. Conditions were better there until about 10:00 when we changed the antenna back to 20 meters. I didn't try 10 meters or 15 meters, though I probably should have.
When the competition ended at noon, I only had a total of 74 contacts. My goal was 100, so I was somewhat disappointed. However, my score was better than the top scorer in the Class 1B1B entry from the Colorado Section last year, so I felt good about that. The map below shows the sections that were worked.
Although I didn't set the world on fire with my score, all the experiments we tried except for one worked. This was my first QRP Field Day, the first time for the rig to be run portable, the first time the homebrew tilting antenna mount on the bumper was used, the first time the solar power system was used, the first time the trailer awning was used, the first time the homebrew jumpered dipole was hooked to a radio, the first time the MFJ battery booster was used... the list of firsts could go on and on. All went extremely well. We did learn a few things though to make our next portable adventure a bit better.
The only problem we encountered was in powering the laptop. The Chinese-made converter we had produced too much RFI, as did an 800-watt inverter. Luckily, Leon had a small inverter designed to be plugged into a cigarette lighter jack. It was surprisingly clean of RFI, and it had an internal fan to keep it cool. This was the first item I looked for on eBay when we got home, and the first purchase.
All in all, the outing was quite successful, and we had a good time. It was good to see old friends again and make some new ones among the newer Custer County hams. Thanks go out to Stan, Ron and Leon for all their help on Field Day weekend.