Adventures in ham radio

The Salmon Run, a.k.a. the Washington State QSO party, is really my favorite contest of the year.

My first attempt at this contest was 2010 under my old callsign, WB9TCY/M. That was a big experiment, as I had never before done a mobile contest. A home built screwdriver antenna, a new Kenwood TS480, and a home built portable paddle got me into it, I loved it. I think I placed second in the low power mixed mode single operator mobile category.

Then in 2011, I supplemented the Kenwood with a Yaesu FT857, added a second homebrewed screwdriver and a hustler antenna, and shortened the call to WW7D/M. The result was 533 QSOs, 67 multipliers and a first place (single operator mobile) score of 107,298. I had even more fun!

I figured 2011 would be a tough year to beat. In part, because they changed the scoring. Previously, CW QSOs were worth 4 points and phone QSOs worth 2 points. For 2012, CW QSOs were demoted to 3 points. The rules also got rid of power categories for mobiles so, ideally, I would run, like, a KW. Alas, I don’t have the equipment (and, perhaps, the nerve) to attempt that.

My mobile station didn’t change much from 2011. I did add amplifiers for 6 meters and 2 meters (170 W and 200 W respectively), along with magnet mount whips for the bands. But, as it happened, I made zero 6 meter and 2 meter QSOs. I had a laptop wired up for doing RTTY and PSK, but I never really had a chance to hunt for digital signals.

There was one super-useful thing I added to the station: a Winkeyer USB. The USB part of it wasn’t useful—I did all paper logging and didn’t use a computer during the contest. Rather, what the Winkeyer gave me was an easy-to-program, simple to use, push-button contest keyer that could control both rigs. In fact, this contest was the first time I’ve done a significant amount of CW contesting while driving. Provided one is disciplined about dividing attention and prioritizing driving over communication and logging, CW in motion can be easier than phone—especially with the Winkeyer doing most of the sending.

I spent a lot of time planning a route that would give me a few more counties than 2011. Here is a map of the route:

My plan was to spend the Saturday night in a hotel in Clark County and get an early start for the Yakima—Klickitat line before the contest started on Sunday morning. The entire route would have given me a total of 19 counties activated. In the end, I activated 17.

The rules of the contest require that my station, equipment, and vehicle be self-contained and capable of legal street motion. The secret weapon (that I also used in 2011) was a street legal extended ground plane for my car. State law permits overhangs extending 15 feet behind the center of the rear axle and four feet beyond the front bumper. A long rear projection also requires rear-facing and side facing lights (but no lighting required for the front). I welded up brackets and bolted together aluminum pipe and tubing for extended front and rear frames.

Here is the front frame:

The rear frame was a little more elaborate. It consisted of three pieces of telescoping aluminum pipe/tubing on each side of the car, and a cross-member with battery operated lights, reflectors and flags:

Everything comes apart quickly and stores in the car during travel:


Aside from some minor movement on a county line, I did not actually drive on the roads with this contraption, although I certainly could have legally done so. I carried a tape measure and a copy of the relevant height and length sections of the Washington state law, just in case there were any issues ….

Two homebuilt screwdriver antennas were bolted onto a custom made bracket that I usually used to hold a rotor for VHF+ contests (e.g. here):

This worked pretty well, even without the extended ground plane. Higher up would have been preferred, but it didn’t happen this year. (Next year I expect to be using a pick-up truck with higher mounting for the screwdriver antennas.)

In addition to the screwdrivers, I had a homebuilt stalk for hustler resonators on the front of the car. And, I had magnet mount whips for 6 meters and 2 meters.

The station was the TS-480 SAT and a FT-857 with an LDG tuner, amplifiers for 6 and 2. I also monitored 146.58 FM, just in case. The remote heads on the HF rigs were clipped onto the ashtray and cup holder and sat in a nice stack. A cw paddle rested in easy reach on the passenger seat. Here is a picture of “the shack”:

The adventure started out on Saturday Morning at 9:00am. I arrived about 15 minutes early on the King—Pierce line, and parked in the middle of a dirt road whose middle line was the county line. The ground plane went together in about 90 seconds, I snapped photos, and fiddled with things until the contest started.

The location was a bit RF-noisy, but I managed a few 40 meter QSOs. Clearly, 20 meters was the hot band, and I completed a bunch of QSOs, mostly from Washington. There was a Scandinavian contest on. I had forgotten to look up the rules, but I figured out the exchange enough to make QSOs with Sweden and Finland. The location was not overly productive, with about 13 (times 2) QSOs

Fifty minutes after the start, I was mobile again, and working stations in motion until my next stop.

And so it went. The Thurston–Mason county line was my next stop. The yield was a bit higher with 17 (time 2) QSOs. Things really took off as I headed for the Grays Harbor–Pacific county line. While in motion in Grays Harbor I worked 12 stations. On the county line things exploded with 30 (time 2) QSOs, mostly on 40 meters. And Pacific, while in motion, gave me another 26 QSOs in a 30 minute period. After that, I hit Lewis county and made 21 QSO before hitting the Lewis–Cowlitz boarder and adding about 40 QSOs, most of them doubled for the second county. A spur into Wahkiakum county gave a couple of dozen 80 meter QSOs, and travels in Cowlitz county before and after gave another two dozen, primarily on 80 meters.

The next stop was the Clark–Skamania boarder. It was dark and late and I was on a well-traveled climbing windy rural road following the Washougal River. Unfortunately, a bridge over the river was out, just short of the county line. I found a nice pull-over spot and worked Clark county on 80 meters until the mandatory break. Clark was productive, with 40 QSOs.

After another 30 minutes, I was in a hotel sleeping. I needed to get an early start on Sunday morning.

I arrived a few minutes before the contest restarted on the Klickitat–Yakima county line. Here we are counting down the seconds:

I spend two hours here, and the calls kept coming, although not as fast as I would have preferred. When I left the county line, I had made 72 QSOs (times 2). There were 25 more Yakima county QSOs to be had on the long drive to Benton county. I sat on the Yakima–Benton line for an hour and made about 64 QSOs total, mostly with stations needing Benton county from me. Another 14 Benton QSOs came while in motion on the way to my next stop. By now, 20 meters was really hot. I decided to skip Walla Walla, because time was short, and I could maximize my county count proceeding directly to Franklin. Once I hit the Franklin line, it was 50 minutes to the Franklin–Adams line. I worked 34 QSOs on 20 meters CW.

On the Franklin–Adams line I worked an additional 31 pairs of QSOs, almost entirely on 40 meters. Here I am, set-up for action. Notice there are two county line signs in this picture. One you can read, and the back of another that is across the road and directly in line with the closer sign.

The rest of the contest was a mad scramble to maximize QSOs in Grant county and then get what I could in Kittitas county. First, Adams county gave me 16 more 20 meter CW QSOs in motion. I spent 55 minutes in Grant county and snagged 44 more QSOs. I crossed into Kittitas county with less than 8 minutes left, and got eight more QSOs for the effort. I ended a little early, as I scrambled to get a clock displaying seconds on my cell phone. I should have been prepared with that in advance, and probably missed a QSO or two for this failure. As I announced going QRT, some of the friends who had been following me from county to county for the weekend said goodbye and thanked me. I returned the thanks. I realize everyone really appreciates mobiles. But from my perspective, I am at a power and antenna disadvantage to many participants. Therefore people who track me across county lines and maximize the number of QSOs with me are truely heros!

The trip back was uneventful, except for one thing. Climbing out of the Columbia gorge, a gust of wind, augmented by the buffeting of a truck took out the right-side screwdriver. The base of the antenna had shattered and I was dragging it behind me, connected by the ground wire and coax with the whip bouncing along the highway. I stopped at the next rest area, cut the ground wire, removed the coax and control wire and stowed the antenna. Aside from the piece of fractured PVC, the antenna was fine. Here is a picture I took after I got home:

I’ve since improved the design and repaired the antenna.

Overall, I had a lot of fun. I feel things went even better this year than last year, and fewer things went wrong.

The less rewarding part of the contest was decoding and entering the numerous hand-written log sheets. I ended up with 274 PHONE QSOs and 479 CW QSOs, for a total of 1985 points with 85 multipliers. With the bonus of 1000 points for working W7DX on phone and CW, my score ended up being 169,725. Quite an improvement on last year’s score, especially considering the different weightings for CW QSOs between the two years.

The score put me in first place for mixed mobile, for the second year in a row. The only catch is…I was the only log submitted in that class. I just missed the “Top 10 In State” list…mine was the eleventh highest score in the state. Cracking that list will definitely be sufficient motivation for next year’s Salmon Run!

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Comments on: "WW7D/M does the 2012 Salmon Run" (2)

  1. […] “extended ground plane” to the pickup truck. I used this during the 2011 and 2012 Salmon Run at some locations, and it seems to have made a huge difference. The setup could be even simpler in […]

  2. […] year running /M in the Salmon Run, and it was my most ambitious effort to date. Compared to the 2012 Salmon Run the mobile platform was improved, the route was refined to be more efficient and cover more […]

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