After nearly a full two weeks of non-stop traveling and Ham radio I have arrived home. It feels REALLY good to sleep in my own bed again. Although, I know the bulk of my activities are done for the rest of the year – unless I get out for the September ARRL VHF contest or the Ohio QSO Party. Field Day and my Canada trip (EN39) have been completed!
I did post on here during my Canada trip – which is previously unheard of. Check out my Operation Red Buoy posts. That was a lot of fun – I was able to get an Internet connection up there. I posted some of the beginning snags with the setup over there.
We left for Canada quite a bit later than we planned on Monday. I had worked on an antenna/radio setup with a buddy of mine until about 3:00am and didn’t get in bed until around 4:00am so the delay on rolling down the road was VERY beneficial for me. It isn’t smart hitting a two day drive with no sleep, but I really had no other choice if I was to get everything in that I needed to do before we left.
There were no major snags (accidents, traffic tie-ups, etc) along the trip there. The wind was not nearly as bad as it was last year. I think it was only breezy once we got up in to Wisconsin and Minnesota, but nothing drastic. We had planned to stop in Chicago to see a cousin of mine, but because of our timing and scheduling it never happened. The good part about that is we got to bypass I80/90 through northern Indiana and the South East part of Chicago – less traffic! The bad part is we never saw my cousin.
I did run in to another Ham operator driving through Wisconsin. He was going home to Colorado, if I remember right, and was taking “the scenic way home”. I passed him right before the split at 94/90. I remember talking to a few other Ham radio operators right around the same area in the past. I rarely ever catch any others along the trip, but this junction seems to be pretty popular for some reason.
In the past couple of years we have driven with my Grandpa – the place up in Canada is his summer home. He is in his 80’s and we don’t like him driving on these multi-day treks. My Mom and I drive him up. Mom goes with Grandpa in his car and I take the truck so when we leave Grandpa has a car to get around in. Last year our trip up was split in three days because we stopped in Chicago to help my brother move then Grandpa tired out and wanted to stop once we got to Duluth, MN. We have always done the trip in two days in the past, so adding another night on the road at a hotel translates in to one less day in Canada.
I was not about to do that this trip. I set a goal of getting all the way up in to Wisconsin the first day so that we would be that much further North to start the day on Day Two, decreasing the chances of Grandpa wanting to stop for another night. We made it to Beloit, WI (right inside the state line, and actually we crossed back in to IL where the hotel was). This was definitely better than staying in Chicago as it was over an hour further North and well out of the city, though I wanted to keep on going. I would have liked to have made it to the Dells, or even Eau Claire. That also would translate in to getting to the Island at an earlier time the next day – which would allow me to at least get all the antennas over to the Island, not just our suitcases and then get the rest the next day (what usually happens).
Customs didn’t give us too much of a hassle. I have only had them stop and search everything once (on one of my solo trips about 4 or 5 years ago). Both ways they just questioned us with the usuals – where are you going/from, how long are you/were you there, are you bringing/leaving anything, etc.
We arrived in Nestor Falls around 9:00pm their time (10:00pm EDT) – right when the bugs were out. I got a few nasty bug bites as I was loading the boat to go over. I didn’t take all the antennas, just the radios (and other expensive stuff) along with our duffel bags with clothes and any other first-night essentials. I strung up my jumper dipole and set it for 6 meters. I figured this would be a good antenna if I wanted to change bands all I would have to do is lower it, change bands real quick, and pull it back up – no tuning required. I just left it on 6m though there wasn’t any activity that night at all.
I brought my Ranger RCI-5054DX 6m all-mode radio. I don’t like using this one on the air because it doesn’t have any DSP, filtering, etc. The only controls it has are RIT (I think they call it “contour”) and RF Gain. The radio also only does 10 or 20 watts. However, it makes a nice stand-by radio. I can leave this one on all night squelched so if the band pops open I will hear it and can jump on another radio. This way I am not leaving an expensive radio on all the time – if the Ranger quits its not as big of a deal. I hooked up an external speaker to the rig and pointed it over towards my corner of the cabin. This worked well. Several mornings I woke up to some squaking on 6m. I think it was tropo scatter mostly – the people would pop in there for a few seconds with S9 signals breaking the squelch and then would be down at the noise floor when I ran over to the station.
Left to Right: FT-857D (HF/VHF/UHF), TS-2000 (HF/VHF/UHF – main rig), Yaesu G800-SA rotator control box on top. Astron VS-35m linear power supply on the log table below.
Stacked: RCI-5054DX (6m all-mode), IC-718 (HF only). Palstar AT1500CV tuner on the side
Heil GM-4 mic on the boom w/foot switch (TS-2000)
I did manage to work back in to EM79 one morning with the same situation – I woke up to someone on 6m and ran over to the radios. He was pretty strong in there so I switched rigs and called back several times. He heard me in there but I was too weak for him to make out my call and all. Then he dropped down below the noise. So I figured I would sit there on the band a while and call CQ right on 50.125 (the calling frequency for SSB). I ran like DX – really really fast “CQ CQ CQ VE3 stroke KC8QVO Echo November 3 9″, pause for one second, repeat. It worked. The guy came back to me after about five minutes saying the band picked up and I was in there now. We exchanged grids and the contact was in the log!
For some reason 6m was not great this trip, considering the whole time I was there. I did work two spectacular band openings – I had pileups so thick I couldn’t make out any part of any one’s call sign that was in the mix. So I just asked for a repeat, snagged a few letters and a number and tried to beat down the pileup. I tried to work a few weaker stations and was successful occasionally. One thing I really hate is being the pipsqueak on the band and getting through but not having the station I am trying to work be able to complete my call, therefore not counting as a contact. So I made sure if there was a station in there I heard that was weaker than everyone else that I paused for them and broke the pile-up giving them the best chance they could, given atmospheric conditions, to make it through. If that didn’t work I would snag a couple other QSO’s and then come back to the weaker station trying to give conditions time to possibly improve.
I will say, though, that running a pile-up, especially one on 6m that could fade in to thin air at any second, really makes it hard to think about anything else. In the two band openings I worked (the big ones) I snagged 85 QSO’s in a total of about 4 hours. When the pile-ups were thick I ran about 4 QSO’s a minute. I know that isn’t fast based on the big time contester’s rates, but when you are paper logging and trying to write at the same time as keeping call signs straight it becomes a challenge. I think I said my grid as “EM39″ at one point because I had someone reply that “well that doesn’t make any sense, you’re in Canada”. I still don’t know if I said “Echo Mary 3 9″ or if I said “EM 39″, or “EN 39″ and just had him think I said “EM 39″. In any event, I got it corrected and went on with things. I had a few calls messed up and had to get those corrected. So to everyone who was patient with me and corrected my mistakes – Thanks!
Most of the time on 6m I had to fight for my QSO’s. With my FT-857D in addition to my TS-2000 this year I was able to run 100 watts on both 6 and 2 meters (857 on 6 and 2000 on 2). With two radios and two microphones on different bands I was able to double my CQ’s talking in to both at the same time. This was pretty handy, but I never had anyone come back to a CQ on 2m the whole trip. For the most part it was an endless chain of “CQ CQ CQ VE3 stroke KC8QVO Echo November 3 9″, pause for a second, and repeat. I probably spent an entire days worth of time over the whole trip with CQ’s and no replies. Having a drink handy helps to keep your throat and mouth from drying out too much.
Trying to work some late-night QSO’s. Not much activity, just keeping the PS nice and warm.
I was contemplating not setting up all three bands (6m, 2m, 70cm). The reason being it is a handful trying to get it all up and down. If there is any band to run it is most certainly 6m. However, since I had the FT-857D with me also I wanted to see how much I could run. I just threw all the antennas up and worked what I could. After racking up about 8 pages of log entries it was all worth it – even if I only made 1 2m QSO.
This guy was keeping my guy line company. I was amazed to watch it stay there in the wind. It flopped around a bit but it stayed put!
I didn’t do much fishing this trip. I got my fly rod out a couple times and didn’t catch anything. We went walleye fishing a few times and I caught a couple. However, it is difficult to get Grandpa to venture way out on the lake. He is old-fashioned and has to “know” the lake everywhere he goes. If he doesn’t “know the lake” we don’t go there. Well, I have a GPS and mapping software that can get us around any lake or road in North America and marked some spots on a guided trip about three years ago that are out towards the big part of the lake (closer to the point where MN sticks up in to the lake). We caught a LOT of fish on that trip and I have wanted to get out there again. So I brought my GPS and had the points marked but Grandpa was very sketchy about going out there. We made it to one point, which was at least several miles shy of where I originally wanted to go to.
Early on in the trip (the second or third day) we were coming back from a trip down the lake and spotted some unusual wildlife swimming across the lake. We see deer occasionally crossing the lake, as well as a boat load of loons, some eagles, and some pelicans. However, I don’t ever recall seeing one of these, especially swimming across the lake:
So we moved a little further down the lake and stopped and watched the bear for a while.
This was the last picture I was able to get. I tried to follow the bear up on to the island but it was too quick. I had the camera zoomed in and that didn’t help any. I tell ya what – after that marathon of a swim the bear sure could MOVE! It is amazing how much energy it had.
Here are some more shots of the wildlife up there, no loons but I got a few eagles and pelicans:
From what I have heard the pelicans are not doing very well up here. Something has killed a lot of them off – some disease I would imagine but I am not sure. I was surprised to see these two so close. We did see a few others further out on the lake too.
We ate dinner a few times with some friends up there. That was nice. I wish I got to hang out with some of the younger guys up there more than I did, but they were all tied up working.
Our last day was Wednesday. I used the entire day (skipping a fishing trip to do so) to break down the antennas and radio stuff, as well as get everything else packed. After everyone got back from fishing and I had the antennas all taken down my mom and I decided to go around town stopping at a few places to say hi to some other friends of ours. I had only seen a few of the locals the entire trip so this was the last chance for me to touch base with some others. I didn’t get to the truck until about 9:30pm to load everything in. I wanted to have as much packed in before I went to bed that night that I could so we would have less to do Thursday morning.
I did leave my TS-2000 running all through Thursday morning on 6m. I made a few QSO’s that night on a Buddistick antenna but that was it. The band was pretty quiet. The hardest part about packing was turning the radio off the last time. I really wanted to run another pile-up. I only worked two the whole trip, the rest of the time I was working pretty hard for the contacts. Oh well. I will just have to wait for next year!
For those that I have shared the full story behind my Canada adventures with, I think the saying posted below the fish here says it all:
The only comment I have about the trip home is my ground connection between my exhaust pipe and frame broke at some point and put HF-6m out of commission. As soon as we were on the road Thursday morning I heard what sounded like fuel pump noise (a 9-pulse rise in the noise floor). It was about S1-S2 when we left and at some point between there and Duluth, MN it went to S9. I was trying to figure out what it was while it was going on – I knew something wasn’t right. I was thinking about taking the truck to the shop when we got home to have a few things checked out, but it was just in for service a couple days before we left. The first thing that hit me to check was the ground strap.
What this ground connection does is it brings the exhaust pipe near the rear of the truck (right next to the rear axle to be exact) to the same ground potential as the rest of the truck. Any RFI that is generated at the engine, with the pipe not grounded, is free to radiate off. The exhaust pipe is insulated from the frame so it acts like a nice antenna traveling from the engine to the rear of the truck. By grounding it near the end you short out the “antenna” and thus no radiated RFI. Check out my post on curing the noise in the truck for more information on the grounding work I did.
As soon as I had this run through my head and got a chance to stop for gas I dropped right under the truck and poked the ground line… it was broken on the pipe side. This was one repair I wasn’t able to swing on the go. It would have taken time to get to all the tools/materials in the back and time to rig it all up. I used stainless self-tapping screws/washers when I installed the strap originally, then sealed it all with PlastiDip so it wouldn’t have been difficult – everything should still be as clean as it was when I installed it. I just didn’t have the time to do it (and just fixed it today).
We were again going to stop in Chicago to meet up with my cousin, but it was going to be after 10:00pm before we got there. That was a bit too late so we didn’t stop. This again meant we could bypass much of Chicago going a different way (which I like!).
It also meant there was no other constraint to the trip. My mom and I were driving back by ourselves – we had two drivers and nothing to stop us between Chicago and home. So, we decided to plow right on through and not stop until we got home. This way we didn’t have the expense of staying in another hotel and we got home sooner. I am not sure if this was a good idea or not. We got home at 6:30am EDT. All said and done that is 21.5 hours from the time we left – stopping for customs, food, and gas. From about 12:00am on we were switching drivers every hour. This worked out pretty well. Then when the sun came up we were on the home stretch. I was close enough that I could hit my usual repeater. So I turned it on and tuned in, waiting for the morning crew to make some noise. I jumped right on in and drove the last leg of the trip talking to everyone back in town!
Why I question the idea of going non-stop is Friday marks the beginning of Field Day for me. I had most of my stuff in the truck already, I used it all in Canada. There were still some things I needed to pack up (extra poles, masts, canopies, tents, etc). I also needed to drive out to our site this year and unload it all, then meet up with some of the crew for dinner. Seeing as I got home at 6:30am and really didn’t sleep any, I decided to hit the sack and see if I could get some sleep. I was out from 7:30am to 4:10pm. This was MUCH needed rest, but put me a bit behind as I still had an hour drive.
Rex, W8WZZ, had invited us (the OSU Amateur Radio Club) to join their group at Sandy, KB8WQ’s place. We were looking for a site as we didn’t want to operate on campus again and the guy that has hosted our Field Day’s before was out of town. Rex’s, along with the rest of the crew’s, invitation was welcome relief – and turned out to be a spectacular weekend!
The only drawbacks to the weekend, for me, were 1 (and the big one): I just got home from Canada, and 2: it is about an hour drive. I also felt a bit weird joining in on someone else’s Field Day, but I knew it was the best idea given the circumstances.
I got there around 7:30 to unload my truck. I got all the metal out (antennas, masts, etc) and left the radios and things that I didn’t want to leave out in the truck for the morning. The location was great – lots of land with trees everywhere for wire antennas (maybe too many – our G5RV’s were getting caught on all kinds of branches and the only place that was clear for my VHF beams was right next to the parking area), it was secluded back quite a ways from the road, and we didn’t have to deal with trains rolling past every hour. There were three towers for extra antenna supports, plus the antennas that were on them – mostly a big tri-band beam.
I am not sure who these guys are. My VHF tower is just to the left of them, if you look close you can see the elements against the foliage. There is a dual band vertical on the top of Mark N8VJF’s. Note there are NO cars parked there. I wouldn’t want to be there either – lotsa metal and poky things if something went wrong (nothing did, it all went up and down fine).
Rex W8WZZ, Brian KD8KCG, and myself went to dinner after I got the stuff out of the truck. This was fun – I brought my computer and shared some pictures from the Canada trip while eating the best burger I had in two weeks since my adventures started – the place had Bleu cheese to put on the burger, not Bleu cheese salad dressing! I really like Bleu cheese and really like Bleu cheese burgers – but I can’t stand it when a restauront shows a Bleu burger on the menu and has SALAD DRESSING on it. It has to be real chuncked and melted Bleu cheese. So I always make sure I ask and figure out what it is before I get it. Most places don’t have real Bleu cheese.
I stayed over at Rex’s place for the night, just down the street. He offered since I had an hour drive but I could have set up my tent instead. I figured Rex’s offer was too good to pass, so I crashed there and helped him load up his truck and horse trailer for the weekend.
Our set up started at about 9:00am. Rex and I drove over to Sandy’s and got things rolling on set up. There weren’t too many people there yet, just Sean KA8UCD. Mark N8VJF and Brian KD8KCG showed up a little while later, and then the crowd formed. I think there were about 20 people by late afternoon.
Rex set up his station in a horse trailer (cleaned out! and minus the center divide). This was pretty cool. The front of the livestock side has a tall shelf where the computer and power distribution was then the table with the monitor and rest of the gear was next to it. The very front of the trailer is a fully enclosed compartment where we put boxes of supplies.
Sean brought the old pop-up camper for his station.
I set my station up under my canopy right next to Rex’s trailer. Rex set up a canopy next to his trailer so I thought if we combined the two canopies together we would have a larger sheltered area. Mark N8VJF set up under here as well for the first part of the operation.
Rex W8WZZ in the black shirt, Mark N8VJF at the far station, and Chuck (call?) at the closer station (all my stuff) running CW. The other guy Rex is talking to I don’t remember his name/call.
This worked out pretty good. Though, we did use tarps for extra protection from the sun mostly. It was forecast to rain so we were prepared as much as we could be. I started packing everything for rain before it got dark so I had time to play with it. I dropped the canopy to half height and then tossed a big tarp over it. This way rain couldn’t blow in from the sides. One side of the canopy had an extra side piece, but three of the sides were still exposed so the tarp and Rex’s canopy solved that.
Luckily we didn’t get any rain. Everyone was prepared if we did, though. We all had a great time and racked up 942 QSO’s – SSB, digital, and CW. I think we got about 300 some CW and 500 some SSB. Rex W8WZZ ran PSK31 and racked up a few, but compared to CW and SSB they were minimal. We ran as a 4E station since we used the towers and the big tri-bander. Sean KA8UCD had the tri-bander plugged in to his IC-746 the most of the time. All the radios were run off of a generator and the lights/fans were run off of commercial power.
I would really like to do Field Day over there again. I had a lot of fun and I met some pretty cool people, and I know the other OSU guys feel the same. Field Day is the one event that, with the right mix of people and location (and it usually happens that way), brings out the very best of Amateur Radio and the community of which we are a part of. We need more Field Days.
So thats about it for the Canada trip and Field Day. I spent a couple days putting this post together. I like to write and share events and ideas, but especially after finnishing my marathon of sorts I couldn’t possibly sit down all at once to do this. Its like the EN39 operation – I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it!