Adventures in ham radio

The 7th call area QSO party (7QP) has been a fun mobile challenge for the past couple of years. The first year I did the contest (2011), I went mobile solo, covering central and eastern Washington. At my first fuel stop, in Walla Walla county, I realized I left my wallet at home. Yikes! I managed to purchase more gas, but lacking cash and a drivers license put a damper on the contest and prevented me from traveling further east. I worked my way back toward home, hitting some new counties along the way.

In 2012, my friend Dave and I hit the roadways of Washington and a bit of Idaho in a late model Toyota Avalon. I got the car the Friday before the contest and stayed up late into the night welding up an antenna mounting bracket that would bolt to the car chassis, and installing radios and antennas. Needless to say, I was exhausted even before the contest began. Things didn’t go all that well, but it was a terrific adventure anyway. We ended up with 201 CW QSOs and 73 phone QSOs and 33 multipliers.

This year, Dave and I decided to repeat our adventure with some modification. First, we would use a pickup truck instead of a car. I recently bought a little 1988 Toyota pickup and it was an excellent platform for my solo Idaho QSO Party run. But Dave, justifiably, wanted a little more luxury than a 1988 Toyota pickup truck can offer. You know…things like cruise control, automatic transmission, air conditioning, and comfey seats for the 18 hour drivathon. A generous friend made a 2013 Toyota Tundra, with a honkin’ V8 engine and on-demand 4WD, available to us for the contest. Woo hoo! I, of course, guaranteed a no-holes, no-damage installation.

The second difference this year was some new geography. I had a great time working the Idaho QSO party, covering much of the western half of the state. We decided to start off on the Idaho–Wyoming border and work our way back west, covering some counties that had never been activated in the 7QP. Also, Idaho has a lot of small counties, so this strategy works well for the contest.

Like last year, we did the 7QP as mixed mode, low power mobile. The rules changed this year, though, putting us in the multioperator mobile class.

Preparations: I took possession of the truck on Tuesday evening, giving me, essentially, two days and an evening for the installation. As it happens, things went WAY crazy at work for the entire week, giving me only Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings to get the install done before our Friday morning departure. There are five challenges for any new mobile installation:

  1. Getting high current power capability from the battery into the cab
  2. Getting coax and antenna control cables out of the cab and to the antennas
  3. Physical mounting of antennas
  4. Physical radio mount
  5. Setting up good operator ergonomics

As it turned out, the installation in the pickup truck was surprisingly easy.

Power: Getting power from the car battery to a second battery, enclosed in a fiberglass battery box secured behind the driver’s seat, was simple. Under the rear driver-side floor board was a rubber chassis plug. It was a simple matter to fish the power cable through that hole and to a split in the carpet under the driver’s seat. The rest was a matter of careful routing of the wires to keep them away from hot, sharp, and moving components. Thirty amp fuses were installed on both poles at the battery.

Coax et al.: I used a similar trick that I use for my pick-up truck: A Lexan insert in the rear window. I used a sandwich of two sheets–one in the inside, one on the outside–on the partially opened bed window. A feed-through hole had a short piece of PVC pipe with rubber plumbing splices slipped on on each side. Plastic rebar caps (“mushrooms”) made pliable plugs around the wires to keep wind and water out.

Antenna Mounts: My own pickup truck has no threaded inserts anywhere in the bed, making a no-holes installation a bit challenging. Fortunately, the Tundra comes with a line of inserts along the top inside sidewalls of the bed. A trip to the hardware store yielded two 6′ pieces of angle steel and a handful of metric bolts. All it took was drilling a few holes in the steel pieces that were then bolted along both sides of the bed, forming rails for mounting things. Near the rear of the bed, I bolted antenna support brackets–salvaged from last-year’s antenna mount–onto the rail. Near the front, I made some brackets to install a couple of homemade stalks for hustler resonators.

One stalk held 40, 20 and 15 meter resonators tuned for the phone portions of the bands, and the other held 75 phone and 40 meter CW resonators. Unlike the Screwdrivers, which are tethered by a heavy ground wire, coax, control cable, and a shunt coil, the hustler stalks are not naturally tethered in the event the mount point fails. Therefore I ran a piece of fish line from the top of the stalk to the screws on the third tail light above the cab. I should point out that I also had mag-mount 6 meter and 2 meter antennas on top of the cab. They were connected to 2 meter and 6 meter FM rigs scanning common simplex frequencies…just in case. This yielded zero extra QSOs, but added almost no time to the installation.

Radio Mount: After my experience with last years 7QP and a bunch of VHF contests, I realized the utility of racking my radios. I built a small rack out of angle aluminum that gets configured in the comfort of my shack with the radios and accessories needed for a contest. (This also allows me to move radios quickly between my car and airplane for VHF contests…like this.)

The 7QP rack consisted of an FT-857D and a TS-480SAT for HF, an Alinco DR-M06 for 6 meters FM, and a Alinco DR-590 for 2 meters FM. The rack also held a LDG Z100plus antenna tuner for the FT-857, a N8XJK boost regulator, a Tascam DR-1 digital recorder, an Anderson Powerpole power distribution box, and an antenna switch to switch between the two Hustler stalks. The rack was bolted to a piece of plywood and secured by seat belt in the center of the rear seat.

Operating Position: Panels were cut out of 18″ pieces of high grade 1/4″ mahogany plywood. One fit over the center console, using wooded inserts in the cup holder to keep it secure. This one held the remote heads for the TS-480SAT and FT-857D as well as the antenna control box and WinKeyer. A smaller panel fit over the over-sized door closing handle that held the CW paddle. A foot switch was positioned on the floor for phone PTT operation.

Four of the six memories of the Winkeyer were programmed with messages. One memory held my call and another held the current county or counties. The messages would “call” the county memory to report the county. That way I could quickly reprogram only a single memory when changing counties and all the messages would work correctly.

Besides radio stuff, temporary mounts were used to hold three cell phones and a stand-alone GPS, preprogrammed with our route. My Android cell phone ran a program called “Where Am I” that displays, among other things, the current county. I also was running the Android MapQuest app; it is somewhat like Google Maps, but shows labeled county lines on the map. Both of these apps only function correctly when data service is available. And it wasn’t for parts of our route. I used the GPS capabilities of an old Droid2 phone with the GPS Test Plus app to provide a 24 hour clock and, for fun, show our altitude.

Overall, the installation worked very well! We had minimal problems that can be blamed on the installation.

The Adventure: We left early Friday morning for Driggs, Idaho, located in E. Idaho, near the Grand Teton National Park. At the cost of an extra 30 minutes of travelling, we chose to take a southern route, through NE Oregon. I drove from Redmond, until sometime after hitting Boise, and Dave took over for the duration.

Driggs is surrounded by nearby mountains on all sides, making for spectacular scenery in all directions the next morning.

On contest morning, we drove a few minutes to the Teyton, WY / Teton, ID border, on State Line Road, arriving just as the contest began. After a brief stop for some QSOs, we drove north along the road for about five miles, while I kept working stations. The road went from paved to a good dirt road, and from a good dirt road to a lousy dirt road, and from that to a really crappy dirt road. Dave drove slowly, carefully navigating around the gigantic pot holes, sometimes stopping when I said I needed to send CW. Then, about 100 feet from the waypoint that would take us west, we came across a stream cutting through the road.

Not interested in going from /M to /MM, Dave painstakingly turned the truck around and re-traversed the worst part of the dirt road until we came to a westbound road. What we thought would take 20 minutes ended up taking 50 minutes. From a contesting perspective, it was a pretty good problem. I mean, if you are going to be delayed, you want to be delayed on the border of two pretty rare counties! An hour and twenty minutes into the contest, we finally hit Madison county:

Next up was Fremont county, but the road actually was the county line road for Madison and Fremont counties until the town of Teton, and then again after the town until returning back to Madison county again. We learned from K4XU’s summary of the 2012 7QP that Fremont county had never been activated in the 7QP, so unless somebody beat us to it on Saturday, this was the inaugural activation of the county in the 7QP. Back in Madison county, it was ten minutes later when we hit the Madison–Jefferson county line.

We took a jog up the N. Salmon highway to near the point where Jefferson, Butte and Clark counties come together:

We drove through Butte county, straight to Clark county and pulled over for a 30 minute spell. This is another county that, according to K4XU’s summary, had never been activated in previous 7QPs.

We stopped again at the Butte–Clark line to give a few stations their only chance (most likely) at Clark county.

From there, we drove through Butte county to the Butte–Blaine border located on the NW edge of Craters of the Moon National Monument. From this spot I had an excellent 15 meters CW run, making 40 QSOs in twenty minutes. Here is David goofing off stretching his legs a bit while I slaved away behind a hot paddle….

From there we traveled through Blane, Lincoln, Jerome, Gooding, and Elmore Counties almost non-stop. Actually, Dave did stop for a burger and we got gas somewhere. But I don’t remember much about where and when—I was busy. We hit Ada county nine hours into the contest with 423 QSOs in the log. There are two things I remember about Ada county. First was the RF NOISE levels, particularly on 20 meters, making the band all but useless. On 20 meters, I managed one CW QSO and four Phone QSOs. Fifteen meters provided another 15 CW QSOs.

Just after we entered Ada county, Dave mentioned how the wind gusts were really hitting the truck. I looked up and noticed we were going very fast. We were on the interstate, and traveling at the 70 MPH speed limit. I made some comment that 70 might be too fast with the gusts and all the antennas sticking out in the slipstream. I turned and looked at the antennas and said something like, “well…they’re all still up, so…” A short while later it was no longer so. A mega-gust hit the truck that brought down one of the screwdriver antennas and one of the Hustler stalks.

A couple miles down the road, we pulled off at the next exit to assess the situation.

The driver-side screwdriver was toast for the contest. A PVC fitting had fractured and snapped. I’ve had this happen before and it’s a simple replacement of a PVC fitting. But I wasn’t equipped to do so in the field. I disconnected everything and stowed that antenna.

The Hustler stalk was completely undamaged. Apparently the gust had spun the antenna counter-clockwise, overcoming the the lock washer, and causing the mast to unscrew from the base. The fish line caused it to fall harmlessly into the truck bed. Dave found the lock washer sitting on the rim of the pickup truck just behind the mast. It was a simple matter to re-attach the stalk. So, we were down to one screwdriver antenna, but it didn’t really affect things much–the surviving screwdriver just got a bit more of a workout.

The next county was Canyon and then down a few miles of the Canyon–Payette county line and to the intersection of Canyon, Payette and Gem counties. The hour spent at this spot was awesome, yielding 170 QSO. From there we re-traversed the Canyon–Payette county line for a few miles and headed off into Payette county. We made a brief visit to Malheur county, OR, and returned to Payette county and north up into Washington county. By now, 40 meters was starting to pick up, as twenty meters began to fade.

I was fading a bit, too. When we hit Adams county, I did something amazingly stupid. I started sending IDADA instead IDADM for my exchange. Just three hours earlier I had been in ADA county properly sending IDADA for my exchange. Still, it took me some 20 QSOs to figure out that I was sending the wrong damn exchange. (A weak defense—other than age and infirmity—is that Dave and I activated Adams county, Washington last year. And in Washington, the Adams county exchange is WAADA. A counter to this weak defense is that I more recently did Adams county for the IDQP where I managed to send the proper exchange. We are left, perhaps, with age and infirmity….) My apologies to the 20 folks I messed up—those QSOs were not submitted as part of my contest log submission. I did manage to make 27 proper QSOs from IDADM after realizing the error.

From Adams county, we had planned an excursion to the border of Valley county. This would have added about an hour to our time. A quick bit of math revealed that the side trip might well knock off two counties at the end of the trip. We skipped Valley county and headed straight to Idaho county. In Idaho county I made my second bizarre error. There is a 12 mile stretch of road, just after initially crossing into Idaho county, that is always within 500 feet of the Adams and Idaho county line. The rules of the 7QP permit me to report both counties if I am within 500 feet of the county line. I screwed up in my written notes and somehow placed the dual-county point at the Idaho–Lewis county border, instead. Oops! When we got there, I was giving IDLEW/IDA as my report. Fortunately, this had almost no effect—all but a couple of the stations that contacted me while I was incorrectly reporting IDLEW/IDA had already contacted me during the long slog through Idaho county. They were not going for Idaho county, but wanted Lewis county—the county I was actually in. Still…what an embarrassing and idiotic error!

When we hit the Nez Perce county line, the decision was made to drive directly to the Whitman, WA, Nez Perce, ID county line a bit north of Lewiston. The alternative was a trip into Asotin county, WA. The disadvantages of Asotin was that it is located in a low river valley, and we wouldn’t be able to stop on the state/county line. So Whitman–Nez Perce it was. We arrived with an hour and thirty minutes remaining in the contest. The 45 minutes we spent there yielded about 66 QSOs: a handful on 40 CW, a couple of handfuls on 40 phone, and the bulk on 80 CW.

The other reason to hit Whitman–Nez Perce was that the Latah–Nez Perce county line of Idaho was only 8 miles north of us. So, that was our last stop; we arrived at Latah–Nez Perce with 35 minutes to go in the contest. We made the best of it with 58 additional QSOs.

Here I am in the last few minutes of the contest, paddle in one hand and the other on the Winkeyer:

The contest over, we caught our breath, relaxed for a few minutes, and began a leisurely track to the south. We spent the night in Lewiston, and Sunday morning had an even more leisurely trip back through Asotin, Garfield, and Columbia counties of Washington–retracing part of our steps from last year’s 7QP.

Post Contest: I spent the next week taking paper logs and painstakingly entering the information into the computer. In some places, my handwriting was ambiguous or illegible. I had a digital recording of the entire contest that was my primary log. So I spent a non-trivial amount of time re-living pieces of the contest.

How’d we do? We activated at least one county in four states. We activated 24 counties, including two that haven’t been activated in the 7QP (Fremont and Clark) and two that were not activated last year (Butte and Blaine). We ended up with 932 valid QSOs (i.e. excluding the 35 QSOs for which I gave an erroneous exchange, and excluding 20 duplicates), 814 on CW and 118 on phone. This yields 2678 points. We had 58 multipliers, so the final unofficial score is 155,324.

Here is the final tally of QSOs by band


Here are the top stations worked by number of QSOs and counties:


QSL: I will eventually upload the contest QSOs to LOTW. If you want confirmation via LOTW for a contest QSO, please use WW7D/M for my call. I will eventually figure out how to properly upload county-specific QSOs to eQSL, but I’m not there yet. Paper QSLs are good via mail or bureau.

Conclusion: We both had a terrific time exploring the nether regions of Idaho. This is the first 7QP were I feel everything came together, and the contest was almost nonstop…well, nonstop contesting. Many thanks to the stations who followed us from county to county.

(Short link)

Comments on: "WW7D/M’s big 7QP adventure" (6)

  1. Why not run N1MM or similar computer logger?
    Dick, K4XU

  2. Hi Dick,
    Thanks for the comment, and good question. I always use N1MM for contests from home and portable contests like Field Day. But for HF and VHF mobile contests, it doesn’t work for me. I have three reasons.

    First, adding a computer means another switching power supply to add noise. Every AC inverter I’ve tried is way too noisy. I now have a DC step-up power supply for my laptop that is pretty quiet. It makes a bit of noise, though. For Field Day I can tolerate the noise because I can eliminate ignition noise by not running the car.

    Second, my current laptop is a netbook (a Samsung NC1) that has a small screen. N1MM works fairly well on the computer, and I’ve used it for field day, but with N1MM I must remember to change counties. The right solution is probably to run CQ/X where the software reads GPS coordinates to update the county. I was all excited to try CQ/X for the 2012 7QP, alas, it turns out the software windows are too large for the tiny screen. I need a new laptop before I can use CQ/X.

    The third reason is that I would have taken over driving if Dave got too tired (he didn’t, but I wasn’t sure beforehand). With paper logging I can drive, send exchanges, and log. Most mobile contests (Per year: 5 VHF+ contests as /R, 2 or 3 HF contests /M, and the spring and fall VHF+ sprints as /R) I am solo, so I’ve gotten quite good at logging QSOs on an aviation-style knee board while driving. Trying to use a computer while driving is much more difficult. Perhaps someone will develop mobile logging software that works with tablet computers (i.e. the MS Surface) that will do handwriting recognition for entering data. Until then, I am likely to keep doing paper logging for contests I do solo. But for the 7QP, where I have a driver, I’ll probably start using a laptop when I get one that works with CQ/X.

  3. […] there was no data connection. Instead I called up my friend Dave—the person who drove for our 7QP adventure—for some […]

  4. […] inspiring was the 2013 IDQP experience that I decided to explore even more of Idaho for the 2013 7QP. My buddy Dave drove us from the Idaho–Wyoming border over to the Idaho–Oregon border, […]

  5. […] for the contest. The route I do this year will be an rather modified version of the route I did for last year’s 7QP. In fact, it will be even more similar to the route I ran last March for the IDQP. Most of the […]

  6. […] It was okay, but it is difficult to get good antenna efficiency from a holes-free car installation. In 2013 we had a 2013 Toyota Tundra pickup truck that proved to be an extraordinary mobile platform. […]

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