Adventures in ham radio

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WW7D/M’s 2016 7QP

The 7th call area QSO party (7QP) was held on Saturday, May 7th this year. This was my 6th consecutive 7QP as a mobile station. It is still 18 hours of frenzied ham radio fun.

Last 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 reasons opted to head back to Idaho and tweak our 2014 7QP route. Our hope was to add the rare Lemhi and Custer counties in exchange for Owyhee county.

The week of the 7QP, David came down with a nasty chest infection that pretty much ruled out three or four days on the road. This meant that I would do the 2016 7QP solo. My final schedule included a stop in Lemhi in exchange for Owyhee. I tried to work in Custer, but the county added a lot of time on an unfamiliar gravel road. That would have been okay with a driver, but was too much for my solo effort.

In past years, David and I acquired a late-model vehicle, which I would get a day or two in advance and do a no-holes, no damage installation. But without David, I would use my 1988 Toyota Pickup truck—the one that is approaching 240,000 miles. Consequently, the equipment set-up was almost identical to what I used in March for the 2016 IDQP.

David and I had planned on leaving on Thursday for the 12 hour drive to SE Idaho. We intended to do spend the night near the Oregon, Idaho border and do a joint SOTA (and possibly NPOTA) activation sometime on Friday. This is pretty much what I did, only solo.

I left Redmond at 5pm on Thursday, and stopped in Baker City, OR, for the night. The next morning, I drove to Idaho while chasing SOTA activations as a warm-up exercise for the 7QP. At Mountain Home, ID, I took a diversion north and headed to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. When I arrived in the afternoon, it was raining enough to put a damper on thoughts of a joint SOTA/NPOTA activation. But the skies were clear to the west, so I hung out for awhile and the rain stopped.

I took the break in the weather to hike to the summit of Big Cinder Butte (SOTA: W7I/CI-126, NPOTA: MN21 & PV05), and activate the summit and Craters.

I arrived at my motel in Driggs, ID with plenty of time to relax and hit the sack early.

Equipment

A Kenwood TS-480sat was the RF workhorse this contest. I also had a Yaesu FT-857 and an LDG Z100plus tuner set up as a spare and to monitor bands for openings. Additionally, another Yaesu FT-857 monitored 2m simplex for local QSOs. A home-built antenna switch using latching SMA relays was used to move different antennas among different rigs.

The remote heads were mounted on a panel in front of the center console. On the dash itself were two cell phones. One served as a 24 hr clock. The other ran the “WhereAmI” app that uses GPS to tell me what county I am in.

This is the Rover “dash board”.

Antennas were three homebuilt screwdriver antennas. The rear left antenna was on 15m by day and 20m by night. The rear right antenna was 20m by day and 40m by night. And antenna mounted in a rotor off the front of the truck (the rotor is just a mount…no rotation was necessary), was set for 40m by day and 80m by night. Finally a 10m 1/4 wave whip is mounted in the bed just behind the driver.

The antenna farm consists of three screwdriver antennas (one mounted at the front, and two in the rear bed), one 10m quarter wave whip near the front of the bed, and a 2m/432 MHz mount on top of the cab.

The Contest

The fun began on the Teton, ID and Teton WY, county/state line. Forty meters CW was hopping at the 7am MDT (1300z) start of the party. My very first QSO was with another rover, Dink, N7WA/M, who was on a county line in Washington state. That resulted in four QSOs (two counties to two counties). What a great way to start! Next was my buddy Gabor, VE7JH, one of the mighty VHF contesters of the Pacific Northwest. Soon after, I worked our 7QP host, Dick, N7XU/M, in Twin Falls, Idaho…perhaps at the same spot I would be at in the afternoon. I worked an Oregon county line station, AA5TL/7, for another 4 QSOs.

Sitting on the north end of the Wyoming–Idaho state line (N. Stateline rd).

After 25 minutes, I realized that every QSO except the one with VE7JH was a 7 call area QSO. They were not the folks who got the most benefit from my 12+ hour drive to the Idaho/Wyoming border. I switched to 20m CW and almost immediately worked N7WA/M, still on a county line–four more! I did manage to work an Iowa station before turning to 40m SSB. Here I did a quick search-and-pounce and found W7AFA in CA, K8TE in NM, and a bunch of 7-land stations, including three members of my local Radio Club of Redmond (WA), Steve, W7QC (portable in Boundary County, ID), Grant, KZ1W and John, K7RLD.

After 40 minutes, I had 50 QSOs in the log–most double-QSOs, and a few quadruple QSOs. It was time to drive.

Twenty meters was now pretty open as I drove through the counties of Teton, Madison, Fremont, back into Madison, and into Jefferson. Occasionally, I would try 40m, but it didn’t last that long, and I was back on 20m. Fifteen meters was a big disappointment. I managed a single 15m QSO while driving through Clark county to the Clark–Lemhi county line.

I spent 55 minutes on the Clark-Lemhi county line, and it yielded 104 non-duplicate QSOs (mostly double QSOs, but one quadruple QSO). That felt good! Six of the QSOs were on 15m.

The Clark–Lemhi county line.
The Clark–Lemhi county line.

After a short drive back through Clark county, I landed on the Butte–Jefferson county line. Fifty minutes here produced 94 QSOs. Not too shabby! Twenty of the QSOs were on 15m. That was the only real “run” for that band. In fact, 1817z was the last 15m QSO for the contest.

The Butte–Jefferson county line

While sitting on the Butte–Jefferson line, I noticed that, in my haste to redo the trip as a solo effort, I had messed up on the travel time between two counties–I put zero minutes where I should have had 30 minutes. The error meant I would be about 30 minutes behind schedule. I decided to skip a few short stops along Interstate 15 to make up for the time. I sailed through Jefferson, Bonneville, Bingham, Bannock, Power, Cassia and Minnidoka, finally stopping on the Minidoka–Jerome county line. During this adventure I pretty much camped on 20m with some 40m QSOs sprinkled in.

After a 10 minute stop, the journey continued into Jerome and took at diversion south to Twin Falls county, were a 30 minute stop yielded 25 QSOs. Forty meters provided a few QSOs, but the majority were on 20 CW and a handful on 20 SSB.

Back on the road, I finished Jerome county, headed north through Gooding county and into Lincoln county. The 60 minute trip produced 58 QSOs, before I stopped on the Lincoln–Blaine county line. There I got a 20m SSB run going that produced 36 QSOs in 20 minutes.

Back on the road in Blaine county, I headed north to US 20 and headed west through Camas and into Elmore county. Beginning around 0000z, and for the next 2 hours, I transitioned from 20m to 40m as the money band. During this same period, the rain started. And the rain occasionally turned violent with electrical storms and brief episodes of BB-sized hail.

By the time I hit Ada county, 20m was fizzling out. At the Ada–Boise county line I made an unplanned stop. The rain was very heavy, and there was heavy lightening activity, seemingly, a few miles north of me to where I was headed. My plans had been to take a dirt road about 5 miles to the Boise–Gem county line. I’ve done this spur numerous times, including in March for the IDQP, but never with heavy rain. The road was rutted and I would be fairly exposed to lightening with few trees and rolling hills. Instead, I decided to work the Ada–Boise line and take a small diversion to Gem county from Payette county.

Ada–Boise produced 43 QSOs for a 30 minute stop. Through the rain and darkness, I headed through Ada county and then Canyon county into Payette county, where I parked at the north end of Labor Camp road, on the Payette–Gem county line. This was a spot I had used during the IDQP several years ago. After spending a few minutes on 40m, I switched to 80m (at 0415z) and got something of a run going. I left after 25 minutes and 48 QSOs, and then headed through Payette county for 30 minutes to the Payette-Washington county line.

After a few QSOs on 40m, I went to 80m (0525z) and stayed there for the remaining 95 minutes of the contest. I left the Payette–Washington county line after 20 minutes and 30 QSOs, with 75 minutes remaining in the 7QP. I made a dash through Washington, Idaho into Malheur county, Oregon, and then into Baker county, finishing the contest close to Baker City, where I stopped for the night.

Results

In the end, I activated all 29 planned counties, although I made but a single QSO in Bannock county. After removing duplicates, we ended up with 750 CW QSOs and 130 Phone QSOs for a total of 880 QSOs. Last year I made 1,019 QSOs, but that was with a driver. Here is the distribution of QSOs by band and mode:

Band
CW
Phone
80
104
4
40
184
23
20
435
103
15
27
0
Total
750
130

In all, 329 unique calls were worked. Here are the top stations worked by number of QSOs and counties:

Call
QSOs
Counties
N6MU
21
18
N7WA/M
15
6
WA2VYA
13
13
N8II
13
9
VE7JH
12
10
W6AFA
11
11
KD7H
10
10
N5AU
10
9

Total multipliers were 52. This included 45 states (all but DE, LA, ND, NE, and SC), four VE provinces (BC, ON, QC, and SK), and three DX entities (DL, HA, and JA). Thus, 750 CW QSOs and 130 Phone QSOs the claimed score is:

52*(750*3 + 130*2) = 130,520.

(Shortcut to this post.)

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WW7D’s 2016 Idaho QSO party results

This is the 4th consecutive year that I have participated in the IDQP. The state’s landscape, geological features, roads, and weather still intrigue me. And the state rewards my attention with surprises and new experiences every time.

For this year, my objective was to hit 26 counties (like last year) and do a better balance between phone and CW. Last year I made only 161 SSB QSOs and 530 CW QSOs. In some sense this is good as CW QSOs are two points to an SSB QSO’s one point. But multipliers accumulate by mode. And for the IDQP, mobile stations start accumulating multipliers in each county. Therefore, providing a better balance between phone and CW should lead to lower point totals but more multipliers.

A second objective was to improve my mobile antenna set-up. I discuss that more below.

Station

My trusty 1988 Toyota pickup truck served as the mobile platform. The primary rig was a Kenwood TS-480SAT running 100W. I also had a couple of FT-857Ds along for the ride. I made a couple of QSOs on one of the Yaesus. The other one monitored 146.52 for reasons unrelated to the contest. Its contest function was to serve as a back-up for the other two HF rigs.

The radio equipment mounted in a rack in the passenger seat. The Kenwood is on the bottom and is not visible. Two Yaesu FT-857Ds are visible as well as an amp for 2m (not for the contest).

Remote heads were mounted on a sheet metal bracket in the center of the console. On top of the dash, a pair of cell phones provided a 24 hour clock and one phone ran the “WhereAmI” app that displays the current county. A Tom Tom GPS was programmed with the route.

The three remote heads are mounted on a sheet metal bracket. The bracket slides left and right for access to HVAC and other controls.

Antennas included three homebuilt screwdrivers that I refurbished last fall with better finger stock. Each antenna had a custom whip/hat set-up to cover two bands. Two of the antennas had home made capacitance hats, and I cut the top whip antennas to bring the total antenna height up to just under the 14′ legal limit when used on the lowest band. There was one antenna mounted in a rotor on a bracket on front of the truck. The other two antennas were mounted near the rear of the bed (left=driver’s side and right). Additionally, a 1/4 wave 10m whip antenna was mounted in the front of the bed on the left. (The two rotors that can be seen in the photos are for my VHF rover efforts.)

Rear antennas mounted in the bed.
Front antenna mounted in a rotor.

I planned a daytime and nighttime configuration for the screwdriver antennas. During the day, the front antenna would be on 40m, the right-rear antenna would be on 20m and the left-rear antenna on 15m. The front antenna could easily be moved to 80m if necessary during the day, if only because I could easily see the tuning mark. Once 40m started opening up, the night-time configuration would have the right rear set for 40m, front to 80m and left-rear to 20m.

A home built antenna switch allowed me to move antennas between the two rigs.

Route Overview

I worked hard to improve on the route from 2015. In particular, I tried working in an additional county in the same amount of time. But I couldn’t do that and end up in the western part of the state for my drive home. I did make a few minor changes to the stops and the timing of some stops. The schedule was posted here a few days before the contest.

The plan for day one begins on the Lemhi–Clark county line on the Salmon highway followed by an eastbound trek to the Madison–Teton county line. From there, the route backtracks a bit before heading south, eventually taking a short spur into Twin Falls county. From there the route zig-zags north to Blaine county and then west through Camas, Elmore and ending at a motel in Boise (Ada county).

WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1
WW7D/M’s 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1 (click for larger image)

Sunday morning begins before sunrise with a trip up to the Boise–Gem county line located several miles down a dirt road off of highway 55. The route backtracks from there through Ada county into Canyon, takes a detour through Owyhee county and then north through Canyon, Payette and ends on the Payette–Washington county line.

WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 2
WW7D/M’s 2015 IDQP Route, Day 2 (click for larger image)

Getting There

The trip to Idaho Falls started on Friday morning just after 9am. This is about a 12 hour direct trip through Oregon, following interstate highways to Idaho Falls. I took a side route through a national park that allowed me to activate a National Park for the ARRL’s National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) program. I left for Idaho with all of the antennas deployed. The primary reason was that I wanted to practice using the radio and antennas as warm-up for the contest. Along the way I chased Summits on the Air (SOTA) activations, and managed to work about a half dozen of these QRP stations.

It was getting dark out about the time I hit Boise, ID. Between Boise and Mountain Home, one of the screwdriver antennas broke. This is the third or forth time I’ve had one of the screwdrivers fail in this way. My screwdrivers are built pretty much like the W6AAQ plans. This includes a PVC slip bushing at the base with a 3/4″ copper pipe reducer threaded into the bottom. The PVC slip bushing is the weak link. One screwdriver fails in this way every two or three contests. The 15m antenna bit it this time. Fortunately, failures are non-events. A heavy ground wire, coax and motor control cable held the downed antenna inside the bed of the truck.

At Mountain Home (after removing the screwdriver), I took a diversion north on Hwy 20 and followed the margin between the upper Snake River Plain and the southern Sawtooth National Forest. This led me to the north end of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. I stopped in a park parking lot and spent an hour handing out pairs of NPOTA QSOs–pair because I was in both a national preserve and a monument simultaneously. For me, it was a great warm-up for the forthcoming IDQP.

Activating Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve on Friday night.

Saturday morning I stopped by a hardware store on the way to my starting point to pick up a new slip bushing for the broken screwdriver. As I approached my starting point on the Lemhi–Clark county line, there was another car parked just past the sigh. “Oh-oh,” I though, “someone has the same idea for a starting point.” Alas, it turned out to be some people photographing the mountains to the west. I repaired the broken screwdriver and the scanned the bands in preparation for the start.

The Contest

At the start of the contest, 20m was the only band that appeared to be open, and that seemed a little slow. Consequently there were only 21 stations who worked me in Lemhi County, all but three QSOs were on 20m the rest on 15m.

On the Clark–Lemhi line, waiting for the contest to start.

The 20m band gradually opened up as I moved to Butte, Jefferson, and Madison. I skipped stopping in Fremont on my east-bound trip, as I was occupied with traffic in the town of Teton.

The Butte–Clark county line.

The 20m band was pretty productive by the time I hit the Madison–Teton county line. Here I got my longest 15m run of eleven QSOs (times 2 because I was on a county line). The band was largely out of play for the rest of the day, and most of Sunday.

Sitting on a road that is divided between Madison and Teton counties.

I backtracked toward I-15 and stopped for about 25 minutes in Fremont County. Sometime after 2300 UTC, I made a few 15m and 20m QSOs, and then 20m fizzled out and 40m started opening up. I hit Bonneville County at 2348 UTC and had a heck of a time raising anyone. I ended up with only 6 QSOs by the time I reached Bingham county at 0008 UTC. My last 20m QSO of the day was at 0010.

Fortunately, 40m was moderately productive after 20m closed down. I even got a fair 80m run going while in Power county, working stations from VA to NE to OR. At the Bannock–Power county line, I exited onto US 30 and then onto a railroad frontage road that had a county line intersection. That 30 minute stop was moderately productive, but the noise levels were high in this industrial area.

The next stop was supposed to be the Cassia–Minidoka county line. But I had fallen about 15 minutes behind schedule, so I sailed through Minidoka making 21 QSOs in the 15 minutes it took to traverse the county. That got me to Jerome County 15 minutes ahead of schedule and in the dark. About half way through the county I took a diversion south, across the Snake River and into Twin Falls County, where I stopped at a scenic overlook (that isn’t at all scenic in pitch black). It was here that 75m yielded something of a run.

From Twin Falls County, I was back in Jerome County for a spell. By the time I reached Gooding County, it started raining and the QSO rate started to taper off. Gooding County produced seven QSOs in 25 minutes. Lincoln produced 10 QSOs in 30 minutes. After a few unsuccessful moments calling CQ on the Lincoln–Blaine county line, the cold rain convinced me that my progress might be slowed by weather. Indeed, once I hit about 5,000 feet, the rain turned to slushy snow. The snow continued, at times in near white-out intensities through parts of Blaine, all of Camas and parts of Elmore counties. Fortunately the snow was melting when it hit the road, except for a couple of slushy patches.

I was able to focus almost entirely on driving during my trek over 5000′ AGL as the CW keyer’s endless stream of CQs bore little fruit. In all, there were four Blaine County QSOs, only three in Camas County and a mere two in Elmore County. I got one more QSO in Ada County before arriving at the motel around 12:30am MST for a few hours of sleep.

Five hours later, I was back behind the wheel, heading north to the foothills north of Bosie and west of the Boise Mountains to the intersection of Gem and Boise Counties. While still in Ada County, I managed to work one station each on 20m, 40m and 80m, and the same station again on 80m before I went QRT while driving the mud road to the county line.

In the 70 minutes I sat on the Gem–Boise line, I made 39 pairs of QSOs, primarily on 20m, but a pair on 80m and a few on 15m. This location has provided a much higher yield in past contests, but I’ll take what I can get. A nice surprise was working a handful of German stations.

Sitting on the Gem–Boise county line on a mud road in the rain.

I retraced my steps back to Ada County, which has very high noise levels. I only managed four 20m QSOs before hitting Canyon County with about 13 QSOs for 13 minutes. Here, again, I worked four German stations. I crossed the Snake River into Owyhee County and sat in a river-side park parking lot just over the bridge. The rate picked up to about one QSO per minute. The DL stations were joined by one HA stations.

For the next 50 minutes, I traveled through Canyon County (20 min) and Payette County (30 min) that yielded 8 and 24 QSOs respectively, the majority on 20m phone. DX included SM, DL and KL.

I hit Washington County with 70 min left in the contest and parked on the county line for the duration. The rate picked up a bit here, with about 50 pairs of QSOs and a good mix of phone and CW. Most QSOs were on 20m, but I switched to 15m with 15 minutes remaining in the contest for seven additional pairs of QSOs.

Score

Work was busy for me, so it took a week to get the paper logs into the computer and complete the scoring. And then it took another ten days to finish this write-up. I finished with 719 valid QSOs (not including 19 dups). Last year the total came to 691 valid QSOs, so I slightly improved on my previous score (but nothing compared to the 802 QSOs from 2014).

The breakdown by mode was 467 CW and 252 phone QSOs. I accomplished a much better balance this year compared to 530 CW and 161 phone QSOs last year.

Multipliers accumulate by county for mobile stations, so I ended up with 317 CW and 183 phone for a total of 501 multipliers. Last year the numbers were 365 CW and 119 Phone multipliers for a total of 484. So the strategy of bumping up the fraction of SSB QSOs did work to increase total multipliers.

The final score is found by multiplying points by multipliers giving 594,186. This was only a slight improvement over last year’s score of 590,964.

The number of unique stations was 271, slightly down from 296 last year. Here is the QSO and multiplier breakdown by county.

County Mults CW QSOs PH QSOs Points
ADA 7 8 0 16
BAN 18 12 11 35
BIN 16 20 2 42
BLA 4 4 0 8
BNV 6 4 2 10
BOI 23 35 6 76
BUT 13 8 9 25
CAM 3 3 0 6
CAN 16 14 8 36
CAS 23 18 17 53
CLA 31 26 21 73
ELM 2 2 0 4
FRE 16 14 7 35
GEM 23 33 6 72
GOO 7 7 0 14
JEF 22 30 5 65
JER 20 16 9 41
LEM 17 19 2 40
LIN 7 10 0 20
MAD 41 23 40 86
MIN 15 13 7 33
OWY 19 20 7 47
PAY 44 39 31 109
POW 25 26 12 64
TET 30 17 23 57
TWI 16 10 10 30
WAS 37 36 18 90
TOTAL 501 467 253 1187

I appreciate every single QSO, of course, but there were some stations who followed my progress and showed up as I hit new counties–they were my traveling buddies and I am grateful to them. Here are the stations with QSO counts in the double-digits:

Call
QSOs
NA2X
30
N4JT
20
N8II
19
N4VA
17
KM4FO
16
KS5A
15
KI0I
15
W4YDY
13
W1DWA
13
AA8R
12
VA3ATT
10

Looking out the window
Looking out the window on the Lemhi–Clark county line

Conclusion

I had a great time this year running mobile for the IDQP. Conditions seemed slightly down from last year, if only based on a much lower DX count this year. Still, participation was good. My station and truck held together and both worked well, making the driving and operating a pleasure.

(Short link to this post)

WW7D/M does the 2014 Salmon Run

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)

WW7D/M’s excellent 2014 7QP adventure

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.

Equipment

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.

Results

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

Band
CW
Phone
80
84
11
40
161
14
20
302
52
15
213
2
10
0
0
Total
814
118

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

Call
QSOs
Counties
N6MU
29
23
AF6O
25
23
K8MFO
24
17
W0BH
19
16
N8II
17
14
K2SSS
15
15
K0IO
14
12
W6AFA
12
12
K2DSW
10
10

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.)

WW7D/M in the 2014 Idaho QSO Party

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)

WW7D/M’s big 7QP adventure

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.

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WW7D/M in the 2013 Idaho QSO Party

I got my first taste of Idaho during the 2012 7QP (7 call area QSO party). My friend David and I swung through Kootenai, Benewah, Latah, and Nez Perce Counties on an otherwise Washington state-oriented rove. The Idaho leg of that trip was awesome.

So I have considered doing the Idaho QSO Party (IDQP) in the past. Then, quite recently, something happened that changed things: Kathy and I bought an 1988 Toyota 4WD pickup truck.

One of my purposes for this truck was to use it as a platform for contest roving. The 4WD would be handy for muddy and snowy places. The high ground clearance would be great for forest service roads and the like. And the bed would provide a nice platform for antennas.

So, with just a couple of weeks to prepare, I decided to take the truck on her maiden voyage through the motorways of Idaho.

Getting Ready: There was a lot of prep work that I categorized and prioritized as follows:

  1. Get fused, high-current power from the battery into the cab
  2. Figure out a sensible route for Coax and screwdriver control cables
  3. Screwdriver installation
  4. Hustler stalk(s) installation
  5. Mounts for remote heads (for a Kenwood TS-480 and Yaesu FT-857)
  6. Chassis bonding
  7. Electrical noise reduction

The first item was pretty easy. There was a chassis plug in the floor near the back of the cab on the passenger side. I ran two pair of separately-fused 10 gauge wire from the battery into the cab. Most of the run was wrapped in plastic spiral wrap. I built a box with four Anderson Power Pole connectors and a pair of fused cigarette lighter outlets for running some accessories with the ignition off. The fiberglass battery box with a second battery fits nicely on the shelf behind the passenger seat, within easy reach of the power box. So far, so good.

I had a larger agenda in figuring out how to route coax and control cables. For my VHF contest installations, I will have, perhaps, 10 runs of coax leaving the cab, plus an antenna rotor cable. I wanted something that was really quick to work with. In my car, installing the coax through chassis holes before each contest was a bit time consuming.

The sliding rear window provided an elegant answer:

I took a piece of Lexan, and drilled a couple of holes to fit a 4″ long piece of 1.5″ PVC pipe. To each side I slipped on a rubber plumbing splice tight against the Lexan and clamped it down. The coax and wire are then fed through the tunnel. The end caps are standard rebar caps that cost about a quarter each. They are plyable enough that the hose clamp can be tightened down over the cables and caps. (I was initially using ping pong balls, but the rebar caps were a more elegant solution.)

For the screwdriver installation, I started with the antenna/rotor mounting frame that I previously hung off the back of my car (e.g. here and here). Instead of mounting it to the back of the truck, I turned it around in the bed. It bolted into a bracket I welded up that, in turn, bolts into bed at the tailgate hinges. It is a no-new-holes installation.

For extra security, a ratcheting bar runs across the front of the bracket and resists movement, and a lead block is attached.

For the Hustler resonators, I decided to build two four foot stalks that can each hold up to three resonators. I bought an 8′ piece of 6061-T6 schedule 40 aluminum pipe, which has and outside diameter of 0.68″, a 0.09″ wall and a 0.493″ inside diameter. I made threaded end inserts out of 1/2″ round brass and made studs out of stainless steel bolts (3/8″ 24 TPI). A top plate that holds three resonators was made out of 1/8″ aluminum sheet, with two slight bends to separate the antennas. Finally, I modified some truck mirror antenna mounts to mount along the rail over the aluminum tread plate.

Mounting the remote radio heads wasn’t too difficult. In my little Hyundai, I use clips or clamps to attach the Kenwood TS-480 head to the ashtray, and the Yaesu FT-857 head to the cup holder. Alas, there was no cup holder in the truck. A quick Google search revealed that there was an aftermarket cup holder that installed just below the FM radio. I ordered and installed it. Perfect! Everything worked and the shift lever didn’t slam into the radio faces or anything.
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