Adventures in ham radio

This year marks my 5th year doing the 7QP, and the 4th year that my buddy Dave and I teamed up for this contest. And this year was our most ambitious 7QP yet. The past two years, we have focused primarily on Idaho, also hitting a county in Wyoming and an Oregon county or two. For this year, we planned a effort starting in central Montana, hitting 22 Montana counties, 2 Idaho counties and 7 Washington counties. We ended up doing 30 of the 31 planned counties.

Route planning

We began planning shortly after the 2014 7QP, and decided that for 2015 we would primarily activate Montana counties, with a goal of activating more than the 29 counties we had activated in 2014. Furthermore, we wanted to finish the contest somewhere in central Washington both to minimize the Sunday drive home and so that we could activate a SOTA peak on the way home. Finally, we had a goal of activating at least one of the three Montana “dark counties”–that is, counties that had never been activated in any 7QP.

This multifaceted goal proved to be challenging. Idaho has many very small counties, making it difficult to work in Montana and still top our 2014 activation count. For many months in late 2014 and early 2015, I played with many alternative starting points and routes. It proved helpful to work backward from the natural stopping point near the Grand Coulee Dam where Lincoln, Grant, Douglas, Okanagon and Ferry counties converge. Ultimately, this process led back to a starting point on the intersection of Montana’s Fergus, Judith Basin, and Wheatland counties.

The final route was published here.

After leaving the starting intersection, we passed through four counties before hitting I-90. From there we took a few diversions. We made a brief journey into Carbon county. Later on, in the middle of Jefferson county, we dipped south into the “dark county” of Madison (fulfilling our “dark county” goal).

WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1
WW7D/M’s 2015 7QP Route, Part 1: From the Fergus–Judit Basin–Wheatland intersection to Madison County
WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1
WW7D/M’s 2015 7QP Route, Part 2: From the Jefferson–Silver Bow county line to the Granite–Missoula county line

From Missoula county, we left the interstate for a diversion north through Lake and Sanders counties, travelling through some mountainous terrain.

WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1
WW7D/M’s 2015 7QP Route, Part 3: From the Missoula–Lake county line to the Kootenai, ID–Spokane, WA county (and state) line

Instead of picking up US 2 and heading directly toward the finish line, we planned another diversion through Stevens county, Washington. That gave us a total of 31 counties with the possibility of cutting out Stevens county if we got too far behind schedule (we did, and we did).

WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1
WW7D/M’s 2015 7QP Route, Part 4: From the Spokane–Stevens county line to the Okanagon-Ferry county line

Roving platform

In the previous three team roves, we had used three different late model vehicles. The first year we had a 2012 Toyota Avalon. 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. Installation was a snap because there was no bed liner and rows of threaded holes along the 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 challenging because the truck had a bed liner, but we made good use of the tiedown rings. The biggest disadvantage of the Ram was the RF noise it generated.

So this year, we went back to the 2013 Toyota Tundra (thanks to a generous friend). Installation was a snap because I had saved everything from 2013, and only a few changed were needed for different antennas.

Equipment

The primary radio was a TS-480sat putting out 100 watts. I also had a couple of FT-857s. One was used for monitoring 6m and 10m, and another one was either scanning 2m FM or sitting on 144.2 MHz. In practice, everything was done using the TS-480. No 6m openings were observed, and we never ran into any situations where VHF was useful. So, essentially, the FT-857s were insurance, in case the TS-480 had issues.

A 1/8″ plywood table was fitted to the center cup holders to hold the K1EL WinKeyer, TS-480 head and one FT-857 head. The other FT-857 head was mounted by suction cup to the lower right windshield. A small table was fitted to the passenger door handle to hold a modified W5JH paddle.

Antennas

The antennas were, essentially, the same set that I recently used in the Idaho QP, and consisted of three screwdrivers and a 1/4 wave 10m vertical. One antenna was mounted in each corner of the truck bed.

Each screwdriver had a daytime configuration and a nighttime configuration. The passenger-side rear antenna had a stinger with a small capacitance hat on it. This antenna was my primary 20m antenna during the day and could go to 40m at night. The driver-side rear antenna had a stinger with no capacitance hat. This antenna was primarily used for 15m during the day and 20m at night. The third screwdriver antenna was on passenger-passenger side front. This antenna had a large capacitance hat made of stainless steel wire and an aluminum central hub. This antenna can be tuned from 80m down to 20m. It was to be used as a 40m antenna for the day configuration and an 80m antenna for the night configuration. Just behind the driver, toward the front of the bed was a 1/4 wave 10m whip. This antenna was for 10m, and connected to a Yaesu with an LDG Z-100Plus antenna tuner. The antenna was a perfect match on 28 MHz without the tuner, but the tuner would allow me to use the whip on 15m or 20m as well, should the need arise.

Precontest

I received the Tundra about mid-day on Wednesday before the contest. I was able to install the antenna mounts and a power cable before leaving for a 432 MHz sprint in my old Toyota pickup truck (that is too small and basic for a two person adventure). The Sprint lasted until 11pm local time, and I got home at 12:30am.

The next morning, I uninstalled the rover station from my pickup, reconfigured the radio rack, and installed the rack in the Tundra. Everything went smoothly, and I took my time to have a clean install. The next morning Dave showed up for the 13 hour drive to Lewistown, MT. Being that Dave would chauffeur me all day on Saturday, I drove. We arrived early enough to wander around town and pick up some last minute food supplies at the grocery store.

Alarms went off at a brutally early hour. We had to leave 35 minutes early to get to our starting spot—I guess this is one disadvantage of starting in the middle of central Montana. The ride there offered me the opportunity to tune each antenna, and preset the frequencies and modes for each VFO, and generally test things out prior to the start.

Contest

The contest started about eight minutes before we arrived, so I worked a handful of stations on 20m while traversing Judith Basin county. At the three-county intersection, 20m wasn’t producing much, but 40m was quite productive. So productive, in fact, that we couldn’t leave on time. An hour into the contest and we were already 10 minutes behind schedule.

By this time, 20m was wide open, and, except for a few brief excursions to 15m, I spent the next 10 hours on 20m, mixing up long CW runs with phone runs here and there. Six hours into the contest in Sweet Grass county, something of a 15m run occurred, although still not nearly as good as 20m had been. DX was trickling in on 20m (and a bit on 15m).

At about 00:00 UTC, 20m seem to be loosing steam. We had just entered Lake county, which is totally surrounded by mountains, so that may be one reason. In any case, I went to 40m CW on a brief stop on the Lake–Sanders county line, and got an excellent run going. An hour later (still in a mountainous Sanders county) 20m was producing QSOs at a good rate. That continued until we hit Idaho around 02:30 UTC. The rest of the QSOs for the contest were on 40m CW and Phone.

Throughout all this, things generally went well. There were a few equipment snafus, however. At some point, my little W5JH paddle started malfunctioning. This paddle has served me quite well under the harsh conditions of 4 years, each with nine mobile contests, nine VHF sprints, field day, numerous SOTA summits, and a handful of other /AM, /M, and /P excursions. It has endured all kinds of punishment, including being drenching by spilled drinks and sweat. In any case, the lever wasn’t returning to center for dits—it seemed gummed up. So, I disassembled the paddle, being very careful to not lose the four ball bearings that the paddle levers ride upon. After a few minutes of in-motion surgery and cleaning, it was as good as new. Another equipment failure resulted in one of the screwdriver antennas being taken down. Several days before the 7QP, I replaced the copper tubing that has a slip-joint into a threaded coupler that supports the antenna. (The tubing was bent in the previous Salmon Run when I sidled up to a road sign and snagged the capacitance hat on the sign.) The repair didn’t quite work. The solder did not sweat into the joint and only formed a superficial ring. Eventually the ring of solder broke and the antenna leaned as the joint vibrated apart.

Another strange equipment problem arose. For some reason—and I suspect the culprit was brain fade—I could not get the screwdriver to resonate on 80m. I’ve never had this problem before, which makes me think I was doing something stupid. But 40m was quite hot, so I figured I would try again when 40 dried up. It never did.

We hit Spokane county, WA at 03:50 UTC. That was the scheduled time to enter Stevens county. We were more than an hour behind schedule, but we had planned to simply skip Stevens county in the event we fell behind. Catching up was important so that we could quickly hit four counties near the finish line. On top of all that, had to stop at our motel and get the key before their office closed. Of course, I kept working stations on 40m while Dave registered and got the key.

We got to the Lincoln–Grant county line at 05:49 UTC, about 45 minutes behind schedule. We had planned to drive to the top of a bluff overlooking Coulee Dam on the Grant–Douglas line, but I had an alternative spot in a parking space off of Grant Avenue in Coulee Dam that would save 25 minutes. I worked a 40m CW pile-up for 10 minutes before heading to the final stop with about 48 minutes remaining.

It took 14 minutes to reach the Okanagan–Ferry line, and I had worked 17 stations in Okanagan county on the way. Oddly, things largely dried up for the last 30 minutes of the contest. I ended up in search and pounce mode for the last 10 minutes.

Post-contest

This 7QP was quite the grind. There were fewer stops for Dave, because the ambitious agenda left little time for stops. I was busy for longer periods of time because conditions were pretty good, and I was doing a bit of equipment trouble shooting and repair while underway. When the contest ended…we were spent. Fortunately, the motel was not too far away.

All it took was a good night’s sleep. The next morning we were both refreshed. On the trip home, we made a side trip to Steamboat Rock State Park, climbed to the summit and did a SOTA activation.

Results

We activated 30 of the 31 planned counties, which is one better than the 29 counties we activated for last year’s 7QP. After removing duplicates, we ended up with 804 CW QSOs and 215 Phone QSOs for a total of 1,019 QSOs. This is our best QSO total, and represents a larger fraction of phone QSOs compared to the previous 2 years. Here is the distribution of QSOs by band and mode:

Band
CW
Phone
40
280
83
20
471
132
15
53
0
Total
804
215

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

Call
QSOs
Counties
WA6KHK
20
20
K2DSW
20
20
VE7JH
16
16
OM2VL
13
13
NU0Q
13
12
K2SSS
13
12
KI7Y
12
12
W7GKF
12
12
K0EAR
11
11
VE5KS
10
10

Total multipliers were 64. This included 48 states (all but ME and LA), six VE provinces (AB, BC, MB, NT, ON, SK), and ten DX entities (DL, G, JA, LA, LY, OM, PA, RZ, SP and UR). Thus, 804 CW QSOs and 215 Phone QSOs the claimed score is:

Thus, the final score was 64*(804*3 + 215*2) = 181,888.

The ultimate challenge is to better one’s previous performance. This year’s score is a substantial improvement on our previous scores. Last year we claimed 760 CW and 79 Phone QSOs for 839 total QSOs and 64 multipliers, for a final 2014 (claimed) score of 156,032. The improvement is primarily in the much greater number of phone QSOs, even at the expense of a few CW QSOs.

Conclusion

This year’s 7QP was a remarkable experience. Our challenge this year was to push ourselves for more counties in some new territory, and produce a better score. We were satisfied in meeting our objectives, and we really enjoyed the Montana scenery. Oh…and we really liked the 2013 Toyota Tundra as a rover platform. The 2014 Dodge Ram pickup we had last year was noisier and the installation was a bit more challenging.

We are grateful to all the 7QP participants. The amount of activity was incredible. And we appreciate the hard work of the organizers and scorers.

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Comments on: "Team WW7D/M’s 2015 7QP adventure" (1)

  1. […] year, my buddy David and I roved from central Montana to central Washington state, hitting a total of 30 counties. We considered running a similar route this year, but for several […]

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