Adventures in ham radio

What’s fun about doing the Idaho QSO party mobile is that many counties are small, relatively rare, and quite accessible by roads. And what makes it even more fun is that new multipliers are accumulated with each county activated.

Last year, I participated in the IDQP as a mobile station for the first time. It was one hell of an adventure activating 13 Idaho counties, the majority of which I had never been to before. When the dust settled, I ended up with 311 multipliers and 826 points for a score of 256,886. It was a good score.

So 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, and then up to the Idaho–Washington border in an epic adventure activating 24 counties, all but 3 in Idaho. The results were good.

With those things in mind, I started out 2014 with a goal for the Idaho QSO party of simply activating as may counties as could be squeezed into a single 18 hour period of operating. (The contest is 24 hours, but a break for sleep is prudent, particularly for a solo run.)

Beginning with our 7QP route, I found ways to add new counties here and there. The result was an ambitious 26 county driveathon across southern Idaho that included eight counties not activated in last year’s IDQP.

The result was an awesome adventure!

Equipment

The equipment was pretty similar to last year’s IDQP. Two homebuilt screwdrivers were mounted in the bed of my 1988 Toyota pickup truck. These were connected to the two antenna ports of a Kenwood TS480SAT. One screwdriver was equipped with a homebuilt capacitance hat; that antenna covered 80m through 20m. The other had a straight whip and covered 40m through 10m.

A third antenna was mounted on the front of the truck, on a bracket normally used to mount an antenna rotor in VHF contests. This was a stalk for Hustler resonators. The antenna was connected to a Yaesu FT-857d that was used as a back-up rig, for a little bit of search and pounce work, and to catch local QSOs on 40m during the day.

Radios and accessories were mounted in a rack. Accessories included a Winkeyer USB with a modified W5JH portable paddle.

I tried a couple of new experiments with headphone and speaker audio this trip. The one disadvantage of this old Toyota pickup truck is that it is a noisy vehicle at highway speeds. The Yaesu puts out enough audio power to be heard well through an old E.F. Johnson communications speaker. But the Kenwood doesn’t. I found a Motorola NSN6027A amplified 12W communications speaker for the Kenwood. The speaker was awesomely loud, but unfortunately some RF-in-the-audio problems arose during the contest that forced me to use headphones for some SSB operations.

For a headset, I used a set of Yamaha CM500 with a boom mic. The microphone in this product is hot. Careful adjustment of the microphone level was important to get everything working well. I modified the CM500 headset so that I could physically remove one of the ear cups from the head band. This allowed me to switch between a pair of ear cups while stopped, to wearing only one ear cup in order to be legal for driving. I used a small audio amplifier/mixer (a Rolls MX28) to to control the volume and centering of audio from the two rigs to the one or two cups of the headset.

A second battery was mounted in a box behind the passenger seat and connected in parallel with the stock battery. A N8XJK Super Booster sat between the power and the rigs.

The Kenwood TS480SAT head was mounted atop the ash tray, within easy reach with my hand on the stick shift. The Yaesu FT857d head was on the dash, mounted to the windshield with a suction cup mount. Logging was done with pencil and paper using a kneeboard to hold the log sheet in place.

For navigation, I had a GPS pre-programmed with the route. The application “Where am I” running on my Android phone verified the current county. Another Android phone ran the GPS Test+ application for use as a 24 hour clock and for elevation information (or my own curiosity).

Schedule

The final schedule had me beginning on the Teton–Madison county line, making a brief excursion NW to the Clark–Butte line, briefly backtracking to the south and on down to Power county, then west to Twin Falls, and north to Camas and over to Elmore county for the night.

Begin End Stop time Time to Next
Saturday 19:00 GMT
Teton–Madison 19:00 19:35 35 10
Madison–Fremont 19:45 20:05 20 10
Fremont–Madison (w) 20:15 20:35 0 20
Madison–Jefferson 20:35 21:15 0 40
Jefferson–Butte 21:15 21:15 0 0
Clark–Butte 21:15 21:50 35 45
Jefferson–Bonneville 22:35 22:50 0 15
Bonneville–Bingham 22:50 23:20 0 30
Bingham–Bannock 23:20 23:30 0 10
Power–Bannock 23:30 00:00 30 35
Cassia–Power 00:35 00:55 0 20
Minidoka–Cassia 00:55 01:10 0 15
Jerome—Minidoka 01:10 01:40 30 20
Jerome–Twin Falls 02:00 02:30 30 20
Gooding–Jerome 02:50 03:15 0 25
Gooding–Lincoln 03:15 03:45 0 30
Lincoln–Blaine 03:45 04:15 30 25
Blane–Camas 04:40 05:10 0 30
Camas–Elmore 05:10 06:10 0 60
to Hotel (Ada) 06:10 06:40 0 30

The Sunday schedule had me heading north to the Boise–Gem county line, back south to Owyhee and then north to the Washington–Payette county line.

Begin End Stop time Time to Next
Sunday 13:30 GMT
Hotel (Ada) 13:30 14:00 0 30
Ada–Boise 14:00 14:20 0 20
Boise–Gem 14:20 15:10 50 20
Ada–Boise 15:30 16:00 0 30
Ada–Canyon 16:00 16:25 0 25
Canyon–Owyhee 16:25 16:55 30 15
Canyon–Owyhee 17:10 17:30 0 20
Canyon–Payette 17:30 18:00 0 30
Payette–Washington 18:00 19:00 60

With a few minor wrinkles, I pretty much stuck to this schedule.

Precontest

Work was very busy and the weather was rainy leading up to the contest. I struggled to find time to do the installation without getting wet. In the end, I just got wet or worked in the dark with a head lamp. On Friday morning before the contest, I finished up the last few items of the installation, greatly enjoying the lack of rain and the presence of daylight.

I departed shortly after noon on Friday from my QTH in Redmond, Washington for the 11 hour drive to Pocatello, ID. The trip was pleasant and uneventful. At the motel, however, I discovered something horrible: I had left some paperwork behind that had my route schedule and travel notes. Ugggh! I did have the GPS programmed with all the waypoints (county line crossings and all stops), but the notes and schedule were really necessary to fully realize my plans. After considering my options, I sat down, pulled up an electronic copy of the documents on the laptop, and hand copied them to paper. Two hours later, I was ready for bed.

The contest started at 1pm local time, which my biological clock called noon, so I didn’t move with great urgency on Saturday morning. In an empty parking lot, I went about setting up and calibrating the screwdriver antennas. This took longer than expected. In part, this was because one of the antennas was intermittently not turning. It ended up being a bad crimp on the Anderson Powerpole connector on the control cable–an easy fix, but it did take some time to diagnose and correct the problem. Once everything was set-up and calibrated, the GPS told me I had 1.5 hours of travel to the Madison–Teton county line…but the contest started in 1.25 hours. I would have to begin the contest in motion, probably in Madison county.

I did some testing of the radios and antennas while en route. There was some bad RF feedback issues on 20 and 15 phone, and 40 meters. I would need to dig into a box of clip-on chokes sometime soon….

The Contest

The contest had started just as I left the town of Teton. The road divided Fremont county and Madison county, but being on the south side of the road, it put me in Madison county. My CQs were immediately answered, and by some familiar calls. KN4Y was first, followed by John, N6MU, and W5ASP. John convinced me to briefly try SSB, and I managed two QSOs, but with an unpleasant noise being emitted by the amplified Motorola speaker. I went back to CW and worked (among others) Sam, WC7Q, and Doug, AC7T, both who I know from the Radio Club of Redmond.

Fifteen minutes into the contest I hit the Teton–Madison line. The line is actually in the middle of a small county line road that set perpendicular to the road I was on. I could stop briefly on the line while I remained behind the wheel. But I had work to do, so I blew by the county line and stopped at a wide pull-over area just up the road. After working a modest pile-up on CW, I jumped out of the truck and started snapping beads on coax, and configuring the Motorola speaker power connector for easy access so I could unplug it while driving should the need arise.

It took something like 20 minutes to cure or find workarounds for all problems but 15m phone; fortunately, 15m CW was working well enough. In the process of testing, I contacted WQ7K in Latah, ID on 40 phone. In an effort to get back on schedule, I headed back to Madison county, and called CQ fruitlessly on 40m CW until hitting Fremont county. Back in the town of Teton, ID, I pulled over and worked a pileup on 15m CW. That run included my first DX contacts with DK2OY, OM2VL, YV5OIE, DL3GA, and DL5ME. By the time I hit Madison again and made it to the Madison–Jefferson line, I was about 40 minutes behind schedule.

I made it to the Clark–Butte line at 21:55…about the time I was supposed to leave. The location yielded 76 (=38 x 2) CW QSOs in about 40 minutes. I forgot to work any phone from here.

I drove straight through Jefferson (again), Bonneville, and Bingham making QSOs in motion, primarily on 15m and 20m CW, with . The Bannock–Power line was productive, yielding 38 QSOs in 15 minutes.

Back on the road, I got a small run going on 10m phone in Power county. I traveled nonstop through Cassia, Minidoka, Cassia and Jerome, opting out of a planned stop in Jerome to make up for lost time.

I learned from the January VHF contest that about three gallons of fuel remains in the fuel tank when the fuel gauge is squarely on empty. At 40 miles from my next stop in Twin Falls county, where I knew there was a fuel stop just before crossing the Snake River, the gauge was reading empty. I decided to stop for fuel stop at an earlier exit, but then I drove right by the exit while making a QSO. Intellectually, I was pretty sure I could make the next gas station, but at 02:00 I went QRT for 15 minutes to practice my best economy driving. It was getting dark, and that required a shift in operating procedures that could distract me into a bad situation. I pumped 16.11 gallons into the 17.2 gallon fuel tank.

In Twin Falls county at 2:29, 15m seemed to go quiet as 40m started showing some life. 20m was still hot, although I was no longer hearing European stations since 01:50 when I worked OM2VL. Back on the road, I wove my way through Gooding, Lincoln, Blaine, and up to Camas county, skipping a planned stop on the Lincoln–Blaine line. The first 80m QSO was in Blaine county with my buddy Doug, AC7T. I was within 10 minutes of the schedule as I hit Camas county. In Elmore county, the road went to about 5,500′—above the snow line.

QSOs became more difficult upon entering Ada county at 06:48. Only Mark, KI0I, and John, N6MU got through on 80m or 40m—each twice; perhaps everyone else was in bed.

Daylight savings time went away as I slept. My alarm went off at 7:00 MST, that felt like 5:00 am to my biological clock calibrated to PDT. Even so, the hotel management clearly was trying to help me shake off the tiredness—they prevented hot water from traveling to the shower head, making for a rather bracing start to the day. With no time to complain, I filled my thermos with coffee and headed to the truck, gassed up, and was on the road by 7:30.

The first stop of Sunday was on the Boise–Gem county line, located about 1.3 miles down a dirt road off of ID-55. The road was in lousy shape, with deep ruts and puddles. On top of that, it was starting to rain. I had planned extra time for this dirt road, but ended up a few minutes ahead of schedule.

The BOI-GEM stop was phenomenal. I found W1AW/7 on 20 CW before getting my own run going. Once the run got going, it took off. The QSOs poured in—70 QSOs in about 30 minutes, including a handful of Europeans. Then I went to 40m CW, worked four stations and tried to move them to 40m phone. I managed to work my friend Paul, W9PL, on both modes and then W1AW/7 on 40m phone. That was the last 40m QSO for the contest. Next up was 15m. This produced another 30 QSOs in about 10 minutes, including many of the same European stations and YV5OIE.

Back in Ada county, I briefly worked 20m CW and phone, and switched to 15m CW where I worked about a 50-50 mix of domestic stations and DX for 15 minutes. In a brief pass through Canyon county, I worked a handful of stations on 20m CW and phone and 15 CW.

The next stop was in Owyhee county, where I stopped in a park next to the Snake river. First 20m CW and then 15m CW yielded lots of QSOs. I decided I had to try 15m phone using the Hustler. The results were so-so. My audio was a little distorted, but copyable. After making eight QSOs on phone, I deviated from my route, crossed the bridge back into Canyon county just to work some of the same stations a second time. I crossed the bridge back into Owyhee and drove the 15 minute route through the county, working more 15m phone QSOs. Just before crossing back into Canyon (at a new bridge), I switched to 10m CW and worked IK1RQQ and RX3QAK. In Canyon I worked IK1RQQ again and then DK3BN and DK2OY. No domestic stations were heard, so I went back to 15m CW and worked 15 stations in 10 minutes.

That brought me to Payette county with a 30 minute drive to the final stop. The drive through Payette brought about one QSO per minute, mostly on 15m CW.

There was 35 minutes remaining in the contest when I arrived at the last stop on the Washington–Payette line. I worked 20m CW followed by a brief spell of 20m phone, switched to 15m CW and finished off with about 5 minutes of 15m phone. The effort produced about 42 non-duplicate QSOs.

Heading Home

When the contest ended, I checked the oil and headed home through Oregon. The trip home was about 7.5 hours, and quite relaxing. Along the way, I casually participated in the Wisconsin QSO party that had begun about an hour before the IDQP ended. I made about 24 QSOs in the WIQP, working a couple of stations from both Oregon and Washington.

At home there was a warm meal awaiting me. After dinner, I unloaded the truck and organized the 23 pages of log sheets before hitting the sack. Monday was a work day.

Results

It took about a week to enter the QSOs into a spreadsheet. The result was 836 QSOs entered, but 34 were duplicates (a hazard of working county lines after driving through one of the counties). Thus there were 802 valid QSOs.

For the IDQP, multipliers accumulate by each county activated, and separately for phone and CW. The total number of multipliers was 491.

The following table shows the breakdown of multipliers, CW QSOs and phone QSOs by county activated.

County Mults CW QSOs PH QSOs Points
ADA 15 18 4 40
BAN 16 20 0 40
BIN 14 14 2 30
BLA 15 12 8 32
BNV 12 15 0 30
BOI 26 51 3 105
BUT 22 37 0 74
CAM 10 12 11 35
CAN 22 30 7 67
CAS 13 6 8 20
CLA 22 37 0 74
ELM 6 7 5 19
FRE 19 27 3 57
GEM 25 51 2 104
GOO 12 8 10 26
JEF 37 44 17 105
JER 19 15 8 38
LIN 8 10 0 20
MAD 24 45 2 92
MIN 13 14 1 29
OWY 35 39 21 99
PAY 29 54 5 113
POW 28 23 18 64
TET 6 10 1 21
TWI 18 22 6 50
WAS 25 34 5 73
TOTAL 491 655 147 1457

The final score is found by multiplying points by multipliers giving 715,387.

Here are the top stations worked by number of QSOs:

Call
QSOs
N6MU
48
KI0I
47
WA2VYA
34
K2DSW
28
OM2VL
19
K0HNC
17
DL3GA
16
W9PL
14
AC7T
14
W9AEM
13
KC3X
13
WC7Q
12
K4BYN
12
W1END
11
K4YT
11
W4YDY
10
W8CAG
10

Conclusion

The IDQP is a blast to work mobile. The state has small counties, an outstanding road infrastructure, and beautiful scenery. Many rare counties are relatively easy to get to and activate.

One thing that surprised me is that people told me during and after the IDQP that there were relatively few Idaho stations on the air. They suggested there were few fixed or mobile stations. This surprised me because the activity was pretty high last year, with 30 Idaho logs submitted and another 23 Idaho stations found in submitted logs. And six mobile stations submitted logs last year. I thought the presence of W1AW/7 would encourage even more in-state participation.

The RF conditions were excellent this year, somewhat better than last year. And the weather cooperated for mobile participants. On a scale of 1 to 10, the IDQP definitely scored an 11.

(Short link to this post)

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Comments on: "WW7D/M in the 2014 Idaho QSO Party" (4)

  1. […] 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 route is in […]

  2. […] one of the great operating events in the western U.S. I look forward to it every year. And after my IDQP adventure earlier this year, I was looking forward to re-running a similar route, but one that included a Wyoming county and a […]

  3. […] will be /M for the 2015 run of the Idaho QSO party. Last year’s run was a tremendously enjoyable blitz of 26 counties in south Idaho. In planning this year’s […]

  4. […] south of Nez Perce county, so it was fun exploring new territories. Then, in 2014, I undertook an ambitious 26 county trek beginning in Teton county in southeast Idaho and ending on the Payette–Washington line in […]

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