Wednesday, October 8, 2014
In addition to our monthly breakfast meetings with the local NAQCC WV Chapter group, Steve (KC4URI) and myself (N8ZYA) continue our radio camping trips to isolated places in West Virginia. On the first day of October, we both made a three hour drive (from different directions) and met at the Bear Heaven Campground near Elkins WV. We set up camp near the Bickle Knob Fire Tower which is just above an elevation of 4,000 feet on an isolated ridge high in the Monongahela National Forest.
We used Steve's Elecraft K-1 CW radio for our time at this campsite. Despite a shady location, Steve's solar panel worked well to keep the marine battery charged. I was able to place the dipole antenna at least 40 feet in the trees; it could barely be seen from the campsite.
It took little time to work NAQCC Club Member KB8FE on 30 meters. Keith lives near Lake Erie in Ohio. I don't know if he was using this key but I find it very unusual. He calls it his "letter opener key". I like resourcefulness and creativity. This key certainty fits the bill.
Soon afterwards I worked K2XN in Rock Hill, South Carolina on 40 meters. I then worked WA8KOQ in Tennessee and it was time to put the finishing touches on the campsite and think of dinner. Steve worked KC4NN in Weaverville, North Carolina as the sky started to darken and the temperature began to drop at this 4,000 foot elevation campsite.
I'm amazed at Steve's cooking skills. We had great food on the last radio camping trip and this trip was no exception. As he arranged the menu items on the picnic table, he made a great cup of "campfire coffee". Boiling water with freshly ground coffee beans thrown directly into the kettle, simmered for exactly four minutes, and strained with a "french press" is something not expected in the wilderness. I'm a coffee addict and this process makes a GREAT cup of coffee.
A few minutes later, I was amazed to see Steve creating a dinner of "biscuits and stew". He did this by mixing the properly measured (top secret) ingredients of "Steves Biscuit Mix" directly in the large zip lock bag. The stew was added easily in the same process and it turned out perfectly.
This little item is the key to everything. It works like this: 1. Place mixed (top secret) ingredients in plastic bag. 2. Carefully place zip lock bag on the circular inner ring, 3. Add water to just below the inner ring. 4. Place lid on large container 5. When the steam starts to rattle the lid, continue for 10-12 minutes. This thing makes great cobblers and pies too!
I haven't seen one of these used since my youthful days of working with the Boy Scouts.
As the skies continued to darken and the temperature continued to drop, I noticed this creature sitting in the distance. Steve called it the "Cookie Monster Big Foot". While at this campsite (appropriately called "bear heaven" for good reasons) I never expected to see this unusual sight. I heard it utter the phrase "peaches are good".
This creature must have kept all "bears" at a safe distance because we never saw any of the those "big black fury puppy dogs" on this trip. Don't get me wrong; bears should be taken seriously, but it's rare to have problems with them in the back country. Our philosophy was "leave them alone, and they will leave us alone". It's worked every time for me, and both of us have seen plenty of black bears over the years. They're normally docile creatures that forage on roots and berries.
As darkness fell, I started a nice fire with my favorite "wood stove". This little contraption creates a roaring fire with only small twigs and sticks. It can burn anything from wood, charcoal briquettes, or alcohol, and does it quite well. I really like it because it eliminates the need for liquid fuel. The "Firebox Stove" is a quality stove designed uniquely for simplicity and portability.
I next worked N2ANL in Newburgh New York. When traveling back and forth to NYC, I've often landed there, at an old Air Force base, rented a car, and drove into the big city. Garry was QRP, by the way, at around 450 miles distance.
As the sounds of the night forest became more prominent, and chipmunks scurried through the leaves, we both expected frosty conditions that night. But the temperature never dropped below freezing. The sky was cloudless and the moon shown brightly through the tall trees. I left a small candle lantern on the table which burnt most of the night.
The next morning, I was able to work a NAQCC QRPp station (K3PXC) in Manchester Pennsylvania running less than a watt into a G5RV antenna. Both Steve and I had nice conversations about camping near the fire tower with him.
I feel more comfortable about outdoor radio camping all the time now. Believe it or not, I'm seriously considering downsizing my tent. The next camping trip might be with nothing but a bivy sack and a tarp. The modern fabrics and insulation materials of today make camping with the barest of necessities very comfortable. I'm looking forward to the next trip!
Posted by Jspiker at 7:29 PM
Friday, September 26, 2014
On Sept. 24, 2014, our NAQCC WV Chapter club member Steve Ashcraft (KC4URI) and I met near Grantsville, WV for some quality radio and star gazing time. Steve knew this place because he's been here to star gaze with a local Amateur Astronomy Club. This site is known as the "darkest" place in West Virginia for good reasons. It's isolated and located nearly the "center" of the state. The Calhoun County Park was once a golf course. The grounds are still neatly trimmed. This particular spot, at the highest knoll in the area, was the perfect place to set up an Inverted Vee cut for 40-20- and 30 meters. Steve's 30 foot fiberglass pole worked nicely from here.
It's been many years since I've camped like this, and I was apprehensive about sleeping on the ground in a small tent. I'm happy to say I survived the night, with no fatal aches and pains, but I'm sure it was amusing as I crawled out of the tent the next morning. It would have made a good video with all the snap, pop, and crackling of bones in the lower back.
After the sun set over the horizon, we saw millions of stars. The Milky Way was visible from horizon to horizon. The sky was so dense that I could only recognize Scorpio, and Sagittarius low on the horizon. The Big Dipper was there but the top part of the sky towards the North star was a mass of galaxies. Looking at this dark sky is a humbling experience when one realizes we're on such a small planet in the midst of such a large universe.
Steve built this little Elecraft K1 and put an antenna tuner and extra filters it. He also built the variable speed keyer. I was impressed with both those features; especially the filters. That's also a beautiful brass K4QU "March" Iambic paddle. Steve also brought a solar panel and a large deep cycle battery. We could have literally ran this rig for days under these circumstances.
While Steve cooked dinner with a little butane stove; this fellow was my first contact,
For those of us in the NAQCC Club, I'm sure you recognize Paul Huff. (N8XMS) Paul had just set up on the patio of his daughters home in Ann Arbor Michigan and transmitted his first CQ.
Making my first contact with Paul, on his first CQ, with another portable QRP station, and the leader of the NAQCC club was a special treat for me.
Paul said: "That was a lot of fun! 2XPortable, 2XQRP, 2XNAQCC, 2XFirst QSO"
His daughters home is in the country near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Paul was using his KX1 running about 3 watts. He had a wire tossed up in a tree and a counterpoise on the ground.As the skies got darker, I soon worked club member W3ZMN in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
We were getting contacts at distances around 300-400 miles at the time. The stars continued to mesmerize us. The call of a whip-poor-will was near and the sound of a hooting owl, exchanging greetings, echoed around the fields.
Steve took the key and soon worked club member K8FAC in Youngstown Ohio. The temperature was dropping by now and the air was becoming crisp and clean as I took the key once more.
The next QSO was eerie as I talked to W8HOG in Lynchburg, Ohio. Jerry and I have talked several times previously. He just happened to be looking at my bio on the QRZ site. My electronic QSL card pictures me sitting on the back porch of a cabin with my 1970 EKO acoustical guitar. His daughter wants to learn to play the guitar and I made suggestions about what to buy for the "first guitar".
After a nice chat, he promised to shift back to 40 meters latter during the night. As the sky turned nearly pitch black, both Steve and myself had nice conversations with him for the second time.
Steve worked W8KM in Parma Indiana shortly afterwards and just before pulling the plug for the night, I worked WB7PNC in Metropolis, Illinois. Bill was astounded with a nearly 599 signal to him.
I like his card:
I'm also a Navy veteran, and a former destroyer sailor.
This was a great trip, and we plan to do another "radio camping excursion" soon. We're looking for another in mid October just before the snow starts to fall. We're thinking about a campsite near Elkins WV which is above 3,000 feet. It's dark there too, so should be little electrical noise and a good radio transmission spot.
This was a fun trip, and I'm happy to say that I now have confidence in my camping skills once more. My old bones wont tolerate carrying anything of weight on my back, but the car can carry it all for me. As many of those we spoke to on the this trip sat inside a stuffy room, our CW transmissions from the great outdoors, under the stars, with a small QRP radio was exhilarating. You can only do this kind of radio by using small portable gear. It's a hoot!
Posted by Jspiker at 10:29 AM
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Oman has been one of my most "memorial" contacts; so I was happy to find this card in my electronic mail box last night. I'm sure Chis (A45XR) has made hundreds of contacts into the USA with his "double element" Delta Loop antenna. He has the best 5,000 mile signal I've ever heard from that part of the world. I worked him in February of 2013 with 3 watts of power into my indoor random wire antenna. As usual, with most DX stations, my signal was 599 (if you know what I mean). Surprisingly, his signal really was 599! Go figure....
This month has been terribly busy for me. I've been in Iowa for a 50th Wedding Anniversary, and also to New York where we visited with a new grand daughter. When we were in Iowa, on the bad side, we ended up being way too close to a tornado. On the good side, I bought a Ukulele, due to the inspiration of the relatives, and am quickly learning to play it. (it's great for traveling) Also on the very good side, the grand daughter was beautiful and we enjoyed the visit very much.
There is nothing like New York City in the entire world!
My time is very limited now and my posts are more scarce; but I still have my love of Morse Code and QRP radio. My father, being 94 years old, and still living by himself, demands more of my daily time. Sometimes there's just NOT enough hours in the day. I'll post when I'm able to do so.
Posted by Jspiker at 8:05 AM
Friday, June 20, 2014
Wikipedia Image of Miniconjou Lakota Chief Lame Deer
Several weeks ago, I worked KF7YRL in the state of Montana. One of the great things about ham radio is learning about the people and places they live in the world. I love this aspect of the hobby. It's absolutely amazing to me that folks, over a thousand miles away, can communicate in "real time" with simple "dots and dashes". Often times I wonder what life was like before the modern conveniences we've learned to take for granted in the complex world of today.
While talking to Steve, it became apparent that, like myself, he was a guitar player. Much of the conversation revolved around acoustic music. He uses an "Aspen" guitar. I use an Italian made "EKO" guitar which I bought in Naples Italy in 1970.
Guitars are "special" things which "fit" the hands of different people in unusual ways. Over the years, I've discovered there isn't a "right" guitar for every musician. Every guitar has a different "neck" and this part of the instrument is "critical" to every player and every guitar plays differently. We're both happy with our choice of guitars. That's part of the joy of music....the universal language.
Steve lives on a ranch in Montana (Sonntag Ranch and Wildlife Preserve) and is an "emergency physician" on a "Cheyenne Indian Reservation" in that state. He lives in a town which is named after the Miniconjou Lakota Chief "Lame Deer" who was killed by the United States Army in 1877, by the way, under a flag of truce just South of this town.
Not too long ago, I had the privilege of seeing the "northern" part of Montana and experiencing the rolling prairies which seem to extend forever, rolling along endlessly in a sea of golden grass. It's breathtakingly beautiful in the summer months but brutally harsh in the winter time.
The Native Americans have always inspired me due to their relationship and respect for nature. Being active in the Boy Scouts during the days when I worked on heavy equipment in the coal fields here in West Virginia, the American Indians (slang) were looked upon with great respect for their skills in outdoor living. I also hold that value and respect for "true" Native Americans.
Lets face it folks, the American Indians were here long before us, and they used the land a lot more wisely than we do now. It's becoming more and more difficult each day to find a "quite" place where the relationship with the earth, it's wildlife, and it's people are viewed as harmonious and not a commodity.
I chuckle every time I hear complaints about immigration in America these days-- all those complaining about being invaded by foreigners, free-loading, and being just plain "Un - American". Yes.... it is laughable and probable to use much harsher words.
I think living independently and "off the grid" is an admirable characteristic. Although I'm too old now for traveling long distances by foot, horseback, or even bicycle; in past years I've actually "lived' out of a backpack, or the panniers carried on a bicycle, and I loved every minute of it.
Society at large should experience this humbling experience. It makes a person realize the really important things in life; like food, shelter, and clothing. The rest of life is what you make it and I've found that keeping life as simple as possible is a good way to live life.
QRP radio, in many ways, has these qualities. A simple radio, with a simple battery, with a simple wire in the trees for an antenna, sitting under the stars, around a campfire, with a set of earphones, so as not to disturb the neighbors.
I look forward to more conversations with Steve (KF7YRL) in the future. He provides an extremely valuable service to this part of Montana. I can visualize this part of the country easily and I like what I see.
Posted by Jspiker at 1:29 PM
Friday, June 13, 2014
Photo by Evan-Amos- Wikipedia
I've worked WB5QYG in McAlester, Oklahoma a couple of times lately, and did a quick search of his home town. Mc Alester is in what's known as "Tornado Alley" where severe storms are always a certainty in the summer months. It's also the home of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary . --The local people call it "Big Mac"-- That's the reason for the first picture in this entry.
Photo by Charles Duggar- Wikipedia
We have an enormous prison population in this country- more than any other country in the world. Just say'in....those are the facts, and an inordinate number of those are for non-violent crimes. I hope this situation changes because it costs a LOT of money to maintain these places. This is true in all 50 states. West Virginia is no exception, we have more than 7,000 incarcerated in our state.
I wonder how many of these inmates might be interested in radio? Perhaps a good hobby would have required a better use of idle time and therefore a more productive life, and the decreased need for nationwide prison facilities? If not ham radio, short-wave listening is a good pastime. I know that's just wishful thinking; but I'm an optimist.....
Too many people today find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many times it's due to being born in unfortunate places where there's little opportunity for a decent job, or little opportunity for getting a decent education. Sometimes social obstacles are much too difficult to overcome. The really unfortunate thing about these "casualties of life" is many of them have the intelligence to be productive members of society. To waste a good mind is a terrible thing.
Posted by Jspiker at 9:31 AM
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
The last time I saw the USS New Jersey was in 1968. This battleship was in the Tonkin Gulf, along with us, during the Tet Offensive. We used "red lights" to preserve our "night vision" on the signal bridge, and on a clear moonless night, after an hour or so in the dark, I could see like a hungry cat searching for an elusive mouse. If you're looking closely, you can see a slight curvature of the earth on the horizon at around 10 miles and the protruding masthead light from another ship. The white "bow" and "stern" lights of this large ship were easily visible as soon as they appeared just above the horizon.
It was important to know "who" was in the area at that time, and we had a method of identifying every new "light" on the dark sea. I focused my search light and sent the Morse Code pro-sign equivalent to "halt, identify yourself, or be fired upon" and after a brief pause, they replied "This is the USS New Jersey -- fire at will". I turned to my shipmate and said "wow....I just told the New Jersey to identify herself or I was going to blow her out of the water". I never forgot that "challenge" even tho it was 46 years ago.
I have many memories from that period of time, some of them not so good, but when I heard the New Jersey (NJ2BB) last weekend, and was finally able to work her again, (in civilian life) it was like speaking to a ghost for me.
Photo by Greg Hume-Wikipedia
This weekend, I was also able to work several more ships. The most memorial to me was LST-325. I have a personal history with this ship; it was in our home town of Charleston WV last year. The previous year, I found this ship in Marietta Ohio and was able to use their ships radio to work a Coast Guard Museum radio station near Los Angeles California. A few weeks ago I worked one of the LST 325's crew members (W8AU/M) who was driving along the interstate near Columbus Ohio. It was a long and enjoyable QSO.
Wikipedia Public Domain Image
The Nuclear Ship Savanna is the first ship of it's type I've worked. I had no idea some cargo ships were nuclear powered? This was a big surprise to me.
I also worked this Canadian warship on the Great Lakes.
Photo by Rick Cordeiro- Wikipedia
This was the warship Haida located near Ontario Canada. (a fantastic signal by the way).
I've changed my "radio" focus since getting both my DXCC and WAS awards. (QRP at five watts or less of power and indoor stealth wire antennas). I work an occasional DX station with my "new straight key" but get my most joy from long conversations at a slow 15 wpm speed.
There are several hams that I enjoy talking with very much. I like the "Special Event Stations", and will continue to work them, but I will be writing about friends and interesting places in the United States for awhile.
My "free time" has become very limited with my father approaching his 93rd birthday, and my five grand kids growing like billy goats. There's just not enough hours in the day......
Posted by Jspiker at 2:51 PM
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Are there new changes in ham radio from Cuba now? I was under the impression their operators were limited to 10 watts of power and a simple wire antenna. To my surprise when I worked CO8RRM on 40 meters a few evenings ago, he said his power was 50 watts. He sounded great all along the east coast with his vertical dipole antenna.
Perhaps the extra letter in the call-sign is a designation for higher power and extra privileges? This is my first contact with a Cuban station with five letters......
License requirements in Cuba today resemble the challenges of early ham radio in the United States. My congratulations to Rafael from Baracoa, GITMO for his accomplishment and the great signal into West Virginia. Keep up the great work and I'll be listening for more of those five letter call-signs.
Posted by Jspiker at 9:26 AM