Adventures in ham radio

It seems like just a few weeks ago that I was writing up the 2013 Salmon Run results. But it’s true: the 2014 Salmon Run has come and gone. And what a run it was!

Personally, it was one of my best contest efforts, in the sense of station set-up and reliability, ease of operations, planning, and execution. Unfortunately, the propagation fairies were having some fun playing tricks on us. Even so, I get the sense that many of us were still having a good time. Although I didn’t top my score from last year, I am still pretty pleased with the results.

Route

The route is pretty much a tweaked version of the one I ran last year. I posted the details for this year here. Basically, I worked Western Washington counties (KING, PIE, KITS, MAS, GRAY, PAC, THU, LEW, COW, WAH, CLAR, and SKAM) Saturday, and Eastern Washington counties (YAK, KLI, BEN, FRA, ADA, LIN, GRAN, OKA, FER, and DOU) on Sunday.

As it turned out, I kept to the route and stuck closely to the schedule. Doing the route for a second time has its advantages—this time there were no wrong turns or other unwanted excursions.

Platform

The Salmon Run comes at a very busy time of the year for the mobile contester. The week before the Salmon Run is the ARRL September VHF Contest. The Monday after the Salmon Run is a 2m VHF Sprint. On top of that, the Salmon Run happens just as things get very busy for me at the University of Washington, as we ramp up for the school year that starts the next week.

The Salmon Run platform was a little more complicated than necessary because it included stuff left over from the VHF contest and allowed me to quickly set up for the sprint the Monday after.

Last year, I did the Salmon Run in my 1988 Toyota pickup truck, with two homebuilt screwdrivers in the back of the bed on each side, a Hustler stalk toward the cab, and a front rotor with a short 2m yagi and 6m hex beam on the front. The VHF antennas were good for a few QSOs with Gabor, VE7JH, who I knew would be on a mountain top location with good reach into Western Washington. But I hadn’t heard from Gabor about a Salmon Run effort this year. Additionally, I had built a third screwdriver that I wanted to mount on the front. That would mean I could go Hustler-free for the Salmon Run.

So, I again installed two screwdrivers on the back (with an unused rotor in place for the Monday sprint):

Rear antennas

For the front antenna mount, a chunk of aluminum bar was fashioned into an antenna mount using the rotor:

The front antenna using an antenna rotor for mounting.

The large coil of coax is two lengths of LMR-240 that would feed antennas on top of a 25′ mast for the VHF sprint. One of them fed the screwdriver antenna.

Additionally, magnet mount verticals were used for 6m and 2m…just in case someone wanted to try these bands.

The antenna farm.

The front screwdriver had a whip length that made it useful for 10m to 75m. The rear driver-side antenna worked on 15m to 80m, and the rear passenger side antenna had a whip with a capacitance hat that allowed it to work very well from 20m though 80m. With three screwdrivers, it would give me the ability to move between 15m, 20m, and 40m during the day with no antenna reconfiguration, and between 20m, 40m, and 80m at night.

Inside the truck was a rack of gear that included two Yaeus FT-857Ds, one as a second HF rig (with an LDG tuner) and one for 6m and 2m, a Kenwood TS-480SAT as the primary HF rig, an Alinco 2m FM rig, and 170w bricks for 6m and 2m. To the left of the rack can be seen an antenna relay control box that allowed me to switch antennas between the Kenwood and Yaesu rigs, and between the VHF equipment, and a paddle, a Tascam DR-1 digital recorder, a K1EL Winkeyer, and a switch to move the keyer between three rigs. A rotor control box—not used for this contest—can be seen in front of the pantry. One dual antenna control box for the rear antennas and a single control box for the front antenna can be seen near the midline.

The shack.

The operating position included heads for both HF rigs and two cell phones. One phone acted as a 24 hr clock. The other phone ran an application (“Where Am I”) that continuously reports the current county—just in case I got confused about my location.

The operating position.

Behind the passenger seat sat a second battery in a fiberglass box, an N8XJK Super Booster, and an antenna relay box.

The Contest

Saturday

I left Redmond, WA about 7:30 am (PDT) for the 9:00 am contest start, and arrived on the KING–PIE starting point about 30 minutes early. That gave me plenty of time to test out the equipment, get the antennas set up, and listen to the bands. I found that 20m was in fantastic shape with lots of Scandinavian stations booming in for the CW Scandinavian Activity Contest. I could hear some activity on 40m and 15m.

As 9:00 am approached, 20m seemed to fade a bit. I spent the first 20 minutes trying to work Scandinavian stations, but only managed four before N6MU found me on CW. We also worked 20m Phone, a pattern that would continue through the contest. After 20m phone failed to provide many QSOs, I went to 15m CW and managed to work a couple of stations in the SC QSO party. Before leaving the county line, I tried 40m and managed to work BC and a few WA stations.

To give you an idea of the band conditions, last year from this spot, I made 36 contacts (times 2 because of the county line), although 4 of these were with VE7JH on 2m and 6m SSB and CW. So, let’s say 32 contacts, about 2/3rds on 20m. This year I made 15 QSOs, 2/3rds of them on 20m. The one interesting difference is that this year I worked Sweden, Finland and Norway. Last year produced only North America QSOs at that first stop.

Twenty meters was modestly productive for the next few counties. I arrived at the Grays Harbor–Pacific county line at 2:10 pm, and finally got a serious run going, but on 40m. Twenty continued to be marginal. At 4:00 pm, driving through Grays Harbor, a few Japanese stations popped up on 15m along with a handful of U.S. stations. Twenty meters seemed to open up around 5:00 pm while I was on the Thurston—Lewis county line. An hour or so later, it became unproductive.

Sitting on the Grays Harbor–Pacific county line

Speaking of the Thurston—Lewis county line…. When I got to the county line, I was backing my truck up to be on top of the line. The rear passenger screwdriver—the one with the capacitance hat—snagged a road-side sign. As I continued to back up, it bent the antenna forward and broke it at the base. And it was my best antenna, but I still had two screwdriver antennas to work with. The repair is pretty simple…if I had carried a spare part, I probably could have fixed the antenna in about 10 or 15 minutes.

Down goes one screwdriver antenna.

Eighty meters opened up about 7:30 pm (PDT) while I was on the Wahkiakum–Cowlitz county line. I got a run going on CW and then an even better run on Phone, and it was pretty much just 80m for the rest of the evening.

At midnight, I was in the hills above the Columbia River on the Clark–Skamania county line. In previous years, I would stop at a hotel in Washougal, WA about 20 minutes West of me, and then wake up at an obscene hour for a 3 hour drive to E. Washington. I’m definitely not a morning person, so I’d rather drive late at night, than get up early. So this year, I decided to do some of the driving at night. I drove 1.5 hours to The Dalles, Oregon to spend the night in a hotel.

Tucked in at the Skamania–Clark county line.

Sunday

I was out of the hotel parking lot by 7:00 am (PDT) for a 2 hour drive to the Klikitat–Yakima county line.

Sun rise over the Columbia River on Sunday morning.

The fuel gauge read a little under 1/2, but I decided to get gas closer to my first stop of the day, because that way I could make it through the day without refueling again. That was a mistake. After crossing back into Washington, I came across a sign saying there was no gas for 85 miles.

That brought back memories from last year, where I was getting low (but not critically low) on gas by the time I hit Prosser. I had less fuel in the tank this year. My gut feeling and my calculations on fuel range suggested that, if I drove for fuel economy, I should just be able to make it to Prosser—but with little reserve. Hence, I prioritized fuel economy. All I really had to do was make it within 2 miles of Prosser, since that last 2 miles was a steep, winding descent into the city, where I could coast within reasonable walking distance of a gas station.

I arrived at the Klikitat–Yakima county line with about 10 minutes to spare, and spent the time re-configuring the two remaining screwdriver antennas. At 9:00 am, the fun began on 20m with a long run of QSOs, including stations from Poland, Slovakia, Germany, Hawaii, and Japan!

After leaving the Klikitat–Yakima county line, the schedule called for a long, non-stop drive through Benton, Franklin, Adams, Lincoln and Grant counties before stopping again on the Okanogan–Ferry county line. Although gasoline was the first thing on my mind, I did manage to work a pile of stations on 20 CW in Benton County before the long descent into Prosser.

About to make the 2 mile descent into Prosser, on a gravel road.

I recalled from last year, that the gas station took a long time to come across just following my route, so I headed to the center of town looking for a fuel station. Spotting no fuel stations, I chose to park and find out where a nearby station could be found before I ran out of fuel. I got out of the truck to call a friend who could look it up more quickly than I could on my cell phone. The friend didn’t answer, but in the few feet I walked, I spotted a gas station right around the corner. Problem solved.

My error in fuel planning put me about 12 minutes behind schedule. I was able to make that up en route, and was back on schedule before Grant County.

With only one exception for 15m, I stuck to 20m CW and phone as I worked my way North. Conditions were fair to good on 20m, just not spectacular.

I had planned for it to take about an hour from the Grant County line to the Okanogan–Ferry county line. In reality, this took only 30 minutes. After a 20 minute run on 20m, I went to 40m, and after a slow start managed a good run on CW and then phone. I left the county line 25 minutes early to head for the last stop of the day, the Grant–Douglas county line.

Sitting on the Okanogan–Ferry county line

Twenty minutes later, on the Grant–Douglas county line, I had a small run going on 40m, and finished off with a small 20m run (that included working Iceland, for a new multiplier). The last 15 minutes proved almost totally unproductive. I worked W6AFA on phone, but couldn’t get any responses to my CQs. Still, I finished with a smile, knowing that everything went pretty darned well.

Results

The next week was spent entering QSOs into the computer, checking for typos and dupes, scoring, and hand-creating the Cabrillo file.

The result was 824 QSOs, 549 CW and 275 phone.

For multipliers, I worked 43 states, missing LA, MA, ME, NE, RI and VT. I only worked four Canadian regions, BC, MAN, MAR and ON. Thirty three of 39 counties showed up in the log, the missing counties being BEN, DOU, FER, JEFF, LIN, and WAH. And there were 11 DX multipliers: DL, G, HA, I, JA, LA, OH, OM, SM, SP and TF. The net was 91 multipliers.

Last year I worked 972 QSOs (775 CW and 197 phone). But what was lost in QSOs, was nearly made up in multipliers: last year I worked the same number of states, one more Canadian region, seven fewer counties, and seven fewer DX entities.

The final score this year is 200,927 (including a 1,000 point bonus for working W7DX on two modes). Last year, the final score was 213,082 (including a 1,000 point bonus).

Here is the final tally of QSOs by band

Band
CW
Phone
80
46
80
40
102
137
20
382
58
15
19
0
10
0
0
Total
549
275

Here are the top stations worked by number of QSOs:

Call
QSOs
N6MU
43
VE7CV
20
N7EPD
17
KB7N
13
OM2VL
12
NT2A
11
W5ASP
10
K9CW
10
K4BAI
10

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. Paper QSLs are good via mail or bureau.

(Shortcut link)

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Comments on: "WW7D/M does the 2014 Salmon Run" (3)

  1. Eric (KE7ZOJ) said:

    Darryl,

    After reading your story last year about your Salmon Run experience I told my self I would have to get a hold of you before this years event as you go right past my house. I just so happened to spot you driving past my house in Coulee Dam, driving on your way to the Okanogan-Ferry County line. I thought about chasing you down but didn’t want to disturb your progress since i knew it was towards the end of the event. Glad you had fun. Maybe I will see you next year.

  2. Hi Eric,
    Cool…yeah, next year I can do the OKA-FER county line last and stop by to say hello on the way home. This is only the second time I’ve been through Coulee Dam. What an interesting landscape!

  3. […] couple of stopping points, and reordered stops at the end of the contest for this year. As I noted last year, “[d]oing the route for a second time has its advantages—this time there were no wrong […]

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