Adventures in ham radio

The 7QP is 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 couple of Oregon counties, in addition to 26 Idaho counties.

The other great thing about the 7QP is that I have a driver. My buddy Dave insists on joining me for, what has become, a three-day journey through the northwestern U.S. Dave drives and takes pictures, while I work the radios and periodically blurt out random bits of conversations and commentary.

The adventure begins a few days before. This year, a generous friend made available to us a 2014 Dodge Ram pickup truck. It was very much like the Toyota Tundra that we had last year, and the installation wasn’t much different. I got the Ram home on Wednesday afternoon for our Friday morning departure.

Truck Preparations

The installation took place Wednesday mid-afternoon into the evening, and Thursday night.

Power from the truck battery to a second battery, enclosed in a fiberglass battery box secured behind the driver’s seat, was straightforward. The Ram has good-sized body plugs located in convenient locations under the cab, and the cable came up through a split in the carpet under the driver’s seat. Thirty amp fuses were installed on both poles at the battery. An N8XJK Super Booster sat between the power and the rigs.

Coax et al.: The Dodge Ram has a sliding rear electric window. So I used the same sandwich of plexiglass sheets that served me last year. The feed-through hole is a short piece of PVC pipe with rubber plumbing splices slipped on on each side. Plastic rebar caps (“mushrooms”) are used as pliable plugs around the wires to keep wind and water out. A total of 6 pieces of coax and three antenna control boxes ran through the feed-through.

Antenna Mounts: Last year’s vehicle had a row of threaded inserts along the top inside sidewalls of the bed to which I bolted two 6′ pieces of angle steel. But the Ram had a bed-liner, and I didn’t want to remove it. Instead, I cut the pieces of angle steel and bolted them across the bed using the built-in eyes near each corner. I added a longitudinal (front to rear) piece of angle iron at the centers. This worked pretty well, as the slight flex in the angle steel reduced the stress on the antennas themselves. The antenna mounting can be seen here, here and here.


Antennas: Last year I used two screwdriver antennas and a couple of Hustler resonators. The screwdriver antennas worked so much better than the Hustlers that I decided to add a third screwdriver. I finished building the screwdriver the week before the contest. Thus, there were three screwdrivers tuned to three different bands, at any one time. One of the antennas had a homemade capacitance hat that is new since last year. The hat allowed the antenna to resonate from 80m to 20m, and this antenna was usually kept at the band with the longest wavelength at any point in the contest. The other two screwdrivers were used from 10m through 40m. The new screwdriver antenna worked well, except that it didn’t seem to like 15m. Go figure.

I also installed one hustler mount for an 75m resonator that could be used during the day. In addition, I added 2m and 6m magnet mount whips to the mix, although I ended up not working any VHF during the contest.

Rigs: The primary rig was a Kenwood TS-480SAT. This is really all I need for mobile contesting. But I put one of the screwdrivers on a Yaesu FT-857D, and that did allow me to do some tuning around when the Kenwood was busy. Finally, a second FT-857D served as a back-up rig, and monitored 6m and 2m for activity. In practice, most QSOs were from the Kenwood. The rigs were mounted in a rack that was bolted to a sheet of plywood. The whole thing was held in place with the seat belt.

Operating Position: A plywood operating table at the center console held the TS-480 head and one FT-857D head, a Winkeyer, switches to switch a headset mic and key between rigs, and a audio mixer (which didn’t really work out on account of RF feedback on 15m). The second Kenwood head was mounted above the dash with a suction cup mount. Finally, a plywood table slid into the arm rest and held the paddle. The total set-up was comfortable and worked very well.

The Schedule

I posted the schedule before the contest. For the most part, we stuck right to it. A few adjustments along the way helped keep us in the box.

The Journey

We left Friday morning for the eleven hour drive to Driggs, Idaho. Last year, we traveled to Driggs via the southern route–through Oregon and Idaho. This time, we went the Northern route, through Idaho, into Montana, and back into Idaho. I haven’t been through that part of Montana in many years, and it has me thinking about alternative 7QP routes….

On Saturday morning, we were up before 6am (MDT) and out the door to a beautiful skyline…

…with plenty of time to travel the 20 minutes to the Teton, WY/Teton, ID county (and state) line. The line itself is on a gravel road that had no other traffic.

The start of the contest was slow. I started out of 15m CW and noted that there was “a bunch of crap” on the band. And nobody answered my CQs. On 20m, a couple of minutes of CQing finally got a response from N5AU in Texas. After seven more minutes of fruitless calling, I did some search-n-pounce for a few minutesbefore going back to calling CQ. Things picked up a bit, but 30 minutes into it, the 20m responses dried up and I went to 40m CW. Here I got a pretty solid 20 minute run in.

My first impression was that the bands were rather noisy–even with the ignition turned off. Noise would remain a difficulty throughout the contest, suggesting that, perhaps, a bit of chassis/body panel bonding on the truck might have helped out.

Once we hit Madison county, Idaho, things picked up substantially. Fifteen meters was open to Europe, and 20m was reliably snagging domestic contacts. After almost three hours, we arrived on the Clark–Butte county line, and things got hot. The next hour produced just shy of 120 QSOs, mostly on 20m and 15m CW, but with some 20m phone thrown in, too. This put us a few minutes behind schedule, as the schedule called for a 45 minute stop. But it was definitely worth the delay.

Back in motion, we undertook a long journey following I-15 and I-86 through eight counties. The only stop was for 30 minutes on the Jerome–Minnedoka line. For this entire part of the route, the QSO rate was brisk, but not spectacular, and almost entirely on 20m and 15m. We left the interstate and dipped down into Twin Falls county, ID at a scenic overlook on the Snake River. This was the view that I didn’t see, but David caught on digital media:

From Twin Falls, we headed back into Jerome county, and then started working our way north through Gooding, Lincoln, Blaine, and Camas, stopping briefly on a few of the county lines. I dabbled a bit on 40m during this part of the trip, and 40m became increasingly viable for the rest of the contest.

From there, we took the Sun Valley highway (US 20) west into Elmore county and then descended past Bennett mountain down to Mountain Home, Idaho. We proceeded NW on I-84 to Ada county, and departed toward the north on Hwy 55 into Boise county. A side trip about three miles down a dirt road brought us to the Gem county–Boise county line in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

I found this location for the 2014 IDQP and began there on the second morning of the contest. It was incredibly productive (and surreal) then. This time is was pretty productive, giving us about 100 QSOs in 45 minutes. It was dusk as we wandered the dirt road back to the highway.

Back in Ada county, the noise levels on 20m dove me to 40m and then, for the first time all contest, to 80m. We next hit Canyon county (for the first time). Domestic stations were scarce on 20m, but I worked a bunch of Europeans and Hawaii. We took Hwy 55 south over the Snake River into Owyhee county, where we stopped at a river-side park for about 20 minutes. My last 20m QSO was with DL3HSS at 04:35 UTC.

We continued briefly through Owyhee county and headed up US 95 and back into Canyon county. Eighty meters was quite productive and 40m was losing out to noise with about 2 hours remaining in the contest. Once we hit Payette county, it was all 80m except for one QSY back to 40 to work N6MU from Washington county—and that was a rough QSO. We hit the Washington, ID–Malheur, OR county/state lines with one hour to go. Thirty minutes was mostly CW on 80m and produced about 20 QSOs. Things dried up, so the last 30 minutes was search-n-pounce on 80 phone for another 10 QSOs. Baker City was twenty miles ahead, and we headed there for a hotel.

The next morning began with a late breakfast followed by a leisurely trip back to Redmond, WA.


The big task ahead was entering my paper logs into the computer. It took me a week or so.

We activated 29 counties in three states. The final results were 760 CW QSOs and 79 Phone QSOs, for 839 total QSOs. For multipliers, we worked a total of 64, that included all states except Alaska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, seven Provinces (AB, BC, MB, NS, ON, QC, and SK) and all ten DX entities. The final score was 156,032.

Last year we did much better for QSOs: 814 CW and 118 phone for 932 total. But we had far fewer multipliers—only 58. So this year we came out a little ahead of last year’s score of 155,324. My feeling is that conditions were better last year, but the installation in the Dodge Ram may have resulted in excessive noise.

Here is the final tally of QSOs by band


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


QSL: Paper QSLs are good via mail or bureau. 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.

Conclusion: The 7QP is both fun and challenging, beginning with the initial route planning, to a complete installation in a new vehicle, to the actual contest. As with last year, everything came together and worked reasonably well. We had an excellent adventure!

(Short link to this post.)

Comments on: "WW7D/M’s excellent 2014 7QP adventure" (2)

  1. […] Last year’s run was a tremendously enjoyable blitz of 29 counties, mostly in south Idaho but also Wyoming and Oregon. This year, my buddy Dave will drive me through a planned 22 Montana, 2 Idaho and 7 Washington counties. […]

  2. […] top of the bed side. The truck was relatively quiet RF-wise with no remedial action on our part. Last year we had a 2014 Dodge Ram pickup that was a pretty good platform. Antenna installation was a bit more […]

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