The ARRL January 2004 VHF Sweepstakes at KMØT

...uuh I mean KMØT/R

Photo by NØDQS/R

Feeling left out... 

It was Friday afternoon, the day before the contest, and I was getting kind of bummed out.  I knew I would not be operating the January contest due to some equipment problems.  The equipment was back from being repaired, but I just did not have time to get it integrated back into the tower box enclosure.  Only then would I be able to get the tower back in the air.  With my wife Colleen getting ready to have kid number 3, and with the other two rug-rats driving us crazy, getting the tower going was a major problem.

This would affect most the bands, 50 MHz though 3456 MHz.  I did have the microwave tower, with the 5.7 and 10 GHz dishes, so the plan was to work NØDQS/R in a few grids as he got into the area.  But that just did not seem like that would be enough to keep me from being “edgy” about the whole thing.

So I gave Gene a call on the phone.  “Say, do you have one of those Cushcraft combo 2M/70cm yagis?”  He sure did and we got to chatting…..

The Quick and Dirty Plan….

“Well, that would be kinda neat!” said Gene as I exposed the plan.  I asked him if he would mind me following him around a bit as a newbie rover, just to get the feel for it before venturing off on my own.  Plus, he knew all the good spots too!

He also offered to lend me a hitch mount, in order to mast the Cushcraft combo yagi.  We kicked around a few more ideas and I told him I would call him later that night, as I had to clear this with the boss.  If I was to go roving at all, then I would not be around to help with the kids, so I needed to see how well Colleen was feeling and if she was up for me being away a bit.

The Plea….

Well, she wasn’t real excited about it for me; I think she was most concerned about the coming snowstorm.  To have me out running around in a blizzard was not something she thought was a good idea.  I said, “Don’t worry; Gene will be in the area too!”  - “Oh great….” I think was the response.

With that, a quick phone call was made to Gene about 7:30 PM and we put the plan into motion.  I indicated I had an antenna for 6 meters and 2 meter FM.  I just had to make up a bunch of feed lines for everything and get the rigs set up in the truck.

I also had an old TV rotor that I thought would be neat to use to rotate the whole mess.  So I got my inverter out and tested it with my 12V booster battery pack.  It seemed to work well, so I figured I would use that too.

Late Night Preparations….

With an eye on the weather, it seemed that the temperature was really dropping and the winds were picking up.  Snow was on the way, but supposedly not till the afternoon.  Colleen asked how long I planned out being, I said 3 or 4 hours, that’s when the weather would probably get bad.

So I plugged along and installed the 2 meter FM rig in the truck.  It was a new TM-271A from Kenwood.  A nice little rig and I was looking forward to using it.  My FT-100D was already installed in the truck, I just had to hook up my CW paddles and get my headphones back in the vehicle.  However, testing reveled that my headphone / external speaker switchbox I had made a year or so ago was not working.  So I burned about two hours fixing that switch and wiring.

After that came the mounting of the rotor control box and getting the rotor ready for the mast.  However, I would not have the mast until Gene stopped by in the morning.

I spent the rest of the night making up some feed lines and routing them in and out of the truck.  I also tried to figure the “ergonomics” of my rover setup, but I really had no idea what to expect.  Also, I simplified things by deciding not to run any amps.  That reduced the wiring and feed lines needed as well.  The Cushcraft combo yagi would also simplify things as only one feed line was needed and the FT-100 had the common 144/432 output cable.  I figured this would be a compromise, but better than not going out!

It was about 1:30 AM when I got done doing what I could.  I headed for bed only to find that a few minutes later; I was up with my youngest for about an hour, trying to get her settled down.  I think when storms are coming, the kids get pretty wound up!

Final Preparations….

So the dawn came pretty quick and I ran down to the shack to look over a few potential items.  I was looking at perhaps taking my portable 5.7/10 GHz dish, or somehow get my 3456 MHz rover box fixed.  After looking over some of what I had to work on, it was decided to work on getting my 3456 MHz rover box going.  My transverter had just been repaired and I had to integrate it back into the box with the controls and 15 watt amplifier.

Just as Gene arrived at the QTH, I had the power meter connected and was beginning testing with a FT-817 as the IF.  I had got it all together and working in under an hour, which was great.  Now I had to search thru the garage for that old 3456 looper I had laying around!

Not my best side.....

Gene and I looked the situation over outside.  He brought the Cushcraft yagi, the pole mount for the trailer hitch and a mast extension.  Boy was it cold and windy out.  Just as things were going good, one of the mast clamp nuts on the Cushcraft yagi froze up and wound not turn.  So that took a bit of time breaking that off and getting a new mast clamp rounded up.

I also had to drill some holes in the masts and such.  Shattered a big drill bit from the cold, so that was another small setback.

So after such quick preparation and installation of the combo yagi, my 6 meter dipole and the 3456 looper, I made a quick test of the bands.  The SWR was good everywhere and I loaded the truck up with supplies.  i.e. can of Coke and a few chips!  We got on the road at 1:10 PM, just a few minutes after the contest got going!

On the Road – DAY 1!

After the heater got going, things started warming up.  Gene – NØDQS/R was headed east and south to the edge of EN22.  As I was following him, I was trying to organize the shack.  Something not easy to do when you’re cruising and not advisable to do.

The 3456 MHz setup

Just as I thought I had my keyers set up, mic in the right place and clip board.  A quick stop ended all that organization as everything flew down into the floor space…ugh!  At that point, I just decided to wait till we got to where Gene was leading me.

We chatted on 146.55 FM back and forth as we got to the grid line in order to determine where I needed to be.  The GPS in the truck sure changed as Gene said it would as we got into EN22.  Gene got into position and starting calling CQ.  I then pulled over and got into position a few hundred yards away.

My first few contacts were pretty shaky, as trying to negotiate all the equipment, headphones, keyer and logging functions.  Boy was I out of my element!  On top of that, it was apparent that my 50 watts and 5 elements were going to be a struggle all weekend!

So for the next hour or so, as I tried to gather my wits and make a few contacts, I spent some time observing NØDQS/R in action.  Gene and the “Blazer” were on a constant move, as he turned the rig to get the beams on his intended target.  Moving from one side of the road to the other, then turning around for signals heard off the back.  Then slight adjustments with the front wheels cranked all the way over to get more precise.  This was “poetry in motion” that only another VHFer could appreciate.  Then the preverbal car or truck coming down the road, where Gene would have to stop what he was doing and move off the road.  Also the occasional visitor, just to make sure we were all ok!

I made a few contacts, including my first one on 432 with Gary – WYØV down in Sioux City.  Boy, that was a struggle.  The 432 portion of the combo beam might has well been a vertical or dummy load.  The band was in rough shape however as there was no band enhancement.

After that, it appeared that we had raised all that we could do there for the time being and Gene suggested he was going to the other corners.  He talked about a road in the area that changed between the 3 grids in a short distance.  The only bad thing about it was that it was at a very low elevation.  Gene headed out to that road and I stuck around for abit more.

Big Rover - Little Rover Showdown at the EN13 / EN23 Corral Line.....

A half an hour or so later, I raised Gene on 55 and got directions to where the road was.  As I got there, it was neat to see the grids change on the GPS.  We worked a few “grid circling” “pack roving” contacts just to test out all the gear.  Working on 3456 MHz while in motion was fun too, as the Doppler shift did funny things to our VFO frequency.

Goofing off in EN22

We then headed for another high spot in EN23 and Gene’s rover began to act up.  He began to have transmission issues and was really having a hard time with the Blazer.  With that, Gene decided to not go north to EN14 and EN24, opting to stay in the area for a bit and head home later.

It also became apparent that being in close proximity was not a good thing.  We were definitely tearing each others radios up.  With that, I moved back to the west about a mile to help get out of each other’s way.  It looked like Gene was “cutting the cord” on me.  I was on my own!

As early evening approached, the weather was not setting in yet as they said it would.  In fact, we had a beautiful sunset out west and it seemed strange that such a big storm was coming.

We both linked up with a few guys up in EN34.  Gene was having pretty fair time working them, but I was having difficulties myself.  The band was extremely variable and conditions were way up and down.  I could only work the guys in EN34 on propagation upswings.

Also, we ran into a few in EN31, the same crummy propagation was in that direction as well.  As darkness fell, we both ran into a few guys in EN10.  It was nice to talk to the Nebraska guys.  We ended the night by backtracking to EN13 and working the Nebraska guys again.  With that Gene decided to head back to the home QTH, as did I.

I got home and parked my “rover”.  The first thing Patricia said to me was “Mommy says you’re late…”  We all then got into a discussion on when I was supposed to be home.  J

DAY TWO!!!

I gave Gene a call to see what he was up to late Saturday night, he made it home OK, but was not taking a chance on Sunday.  So it looked like it was up to me.  Sunday morning came pretty quick as the family was getting ready for Church.  I informed that I would be taking communion “on the road” and I headed out about 8:30 AM. 

It was colder than you know what and it was blowing about 15 to 20 MPH.  No snow yet but that was coming.  I decided to work my way north to see if I could find some high ground.  I knew there was a real high spot up near the Minnesota border so I figured I could work my way up there.  I guessed I only had about 3 to 4 hours before the snow started flying.

I got about 25 minutes down the road and onto a road that split between EN13 and EN23.  As I got off the road, I began to hear a few stations here and there, but pretty sparse.  Not long after that however, it seemed the morning thaw brought a little bit of enhancement.  I worked into EN34 pretty well on 2M and also to KØAWU – Bill in EN36 and Matt -  KFØQ who was QRP portable in EN44.  If I was able to work those guys, then conditions were not too bad.  However, it was short lived and conditions went back to their normally lousy state.  It was great getting those guys in the log however, not expecting to work them at all.  In fact, for the January contest, its normally never a sure thing I would work them from home!  With nothing else heard, I got on the road.   I decided to head for the high ground.  These antennas for 50, 144 and 432 were not going to get any better, so the next best thing would be to get them higher up in the air!

It don’t get higher then this!

I got to Hawkeye Point about a ˝ hour later.  This was supposedly the highest point in Iowa.  Not much of a landmark, but at least it had a sign!  The GPS was showing anywhere from 1700 to 1720 feet, but the sign said 1670’ ASL.  Oh well, it was at least 200’ higher then home and other places I had been.  I figured that this would be a good shot for 432 and 3456 to EN34.  If I could raise anyone up there anyway.

A cool spot to be.....

So I followed the little tourist signs to the “highest point in Iowa” and it turned out to be a little grave yard right off the road.  Had a great horizon to the east, south east, north and northeast.  However, west and south west were thru a grove a trees on one of the sides of the graveyard.  The occupants of the area did not seem to mind me hanging out, so I set up shop and got the antennas on EN34.

I got a hold of Gene, NØDQS as he was operating at home.  He was pretty bummed that he was not out in the rover.  He kept asking me how many QSOs I had cause he was worried I was going to outscore him!  He never really had anything to worry about.

Don KAØBZV came back to a CQ, so I swung the antennas around.  We worked on the bands no problem as he was over by SD in EN13.  6 Meters had been terrible as well, so it was good to get a few QSOs there.  I also managed to bag W9FZ/R – Bruce as he was in the same grid for 2M and 432.

It took a bit more to raise some other attention, but when I did, the beams got swung down this way and signals were actually moving the meter on the FT-100D.  In fact I was able to make a few CW contacts on 432 with WØGHZ and WØZQ from EN34.  Not bad for the dummy load antenna I was running.   So the elevation sure did make the difference.  I tired with Gary – WØGHZ on 6 meters, but only just barely heard him.  We also tried on 3456 MHz, but nothing was heard on either end.

Pointed at EN34 from the high ground....

I had a nice conservation with WBØGGM – John up in EN34.  I had never met John, but we knew of each other and had lots to talk about.  It was a nice long winded QSO, a neat thing to do during a contest sometimes.  Things were not really hummin on my first rover outing, so I figured why not talk it up a bit and see if someone breaks in!  Signals from John were up and down, but always copieable.  In fact we were able to work on 6M which was a good thing.  Rich – NØHJZ jumped in there for a quick QSO too.

The wind had picked up considerably and my wife called a few times looking for me.  She said that the snow had arrived in Sioux Center and was wondering what I was up too.  No snow for me, just wind here I indicated.  I would give her an update in a few hours.

Right as I was calling it quits up there at Hawkeye Point.  Got a hold of Eric – KT8O to see if he could rustle up Dave – NØKP.  Dave got on board and we tried 3456 MHz for a number of tries.  Dave indicated that he could hear me just above the noise, but I was hearing nothing.  It was worth a try, but the band was in poor shape, so it was not too big a surprise.  I also got out a number of times to check the bearing with my compass.  It was as close as it would get.  Boy the wind was cold and just being outside to get an antenna bearing and adjust the rotor was more than I wanted to do!

With no more contact to mine, I decided to head back to EN13.

Takin a break…….

As I headed back to EN13, I decided to stop by my friends house – Mark - KBØNMQ.  Mark had been a friend for a long time since I had moved to Iowa, we just never got to do much stuff together.  The last time I saw him was during the summer when he borrowed my newly completed 5.7 and 10 GHz combo portable dish.  He had a ball running around with it as we got it burned in.

We had a nice chat and I got to share my rover story with him as I also chugged a good cup of hot coffee.  Mark had also come across an article in the NW Iowa Discover Magazine.  The article on ham radio in there was about the changes in ham radio.  Well, I had been asked to participate and help write the article and had some pictures taken.  Little did I know I was going to be on the front cover in full color.  Mark gave me a hard time about it and made me “sign” the cover!

We exchanged a few other ham stories and he sent me home with some of his home brew.  I hid those in the back so that if pulled over, the cops would not think I was “open bottling” it.

Looking over the antennas right as I was about to leave revealed that the 3456 MHz looper had lost a bolt or two and the back mast support was barely hanging on.  Good thing I had lots of electrical tape on it as it was hanging on ok at that point, and too cold to fix!

A “where are you now” was the query from my wife on the next call home….”EN23 something-or-rather” was the response.  “Oh, your not coming home yet?”  “No, too many guys looking for me” J  Hehehe.

Storms a brewin…

As I made it west, I could see a line up ahead where the visibility was essentially cut off.  As the line approached, it was almost like a switch was turned on.  The snow was here and I was in it good!  I was not quite in EN13 yet and when I got there, I headed up an old dirt road (which was totally snow covered) and found a good spot.  I managed a few more out of EN34 and Justin K9MU in EN44, but other signals were few and far between.  The wind was way up there and it was blowing good.

As I sat there for a bit, the truck humming at idle and the radios going.  This all had a serene quietness to it.  I managed to look up from the clipboard, radios, keyer and such to take it in for a minute.  I was really out somewhere away from anywhere else, no cars, houses, trees, etc.  Just a road and the vibration of the truck being buffeted by the strong winds.  I was nice and toasty, but just outside it was brutal.  I thought for a minute….”wow, what if the truck dies….”  I put that out of my mind and got back to business.

I picked up few more, including NØGZ from EN31 and Gene, NØDQS in EN22.  Also, Don – KAØBZV was there when I needed someone strong to talk too.  With it blowing so much, I decided to work my way home, but with a quick stop at EN22, the same spot I was at with Gene the day before.

Down the road going south, I was hearing NØGZ coming in and out on QSB swings while I was mobile on 2 Meters.  I managed to let him know that I was going to be about 15 minutes and on my way to EN22, just to let him know I was looking for him when I got there.

The roads were pretty messed up and I sure got lots of looks from all the passer bys as I arrived at EN22.  NØGZ was worked again on 2 meters and I also managed to pick him up on 432 CW.  The band seemed to be open his way as I caught the attention of Bob - K2DRH in EN41, but we were never able to complete.  Too bad as he was very strong.  My pea shooter on 144 MHz was just not enough to make the trip.  Dan – NØURW was in there though and made a good QSO with him.  I caught Gene also from EN22 as I left the grid on my way back west to the final trek home via EN13.

I got about 8 miles east of Sioux Center, now in EN13 and had little luck there.  Dan – NØURW and Gene – NØDQS were the only ones.  Many calls to EN34 were made, with nothing heard.  The snow was piling up pretty good and it was getting hard to see the dirt roads as darkness fell, so I headed west.

Hey, its really snowing!

As I got close to town, I decided to listen on 6 meters for a bit.  6 had been lousy too all weekend.  No Es at all for me and very little tropo. However, when I thought of packing it in, I heard a CW CQ.  It was KØHA in EN10 and I quick went back to him on CW while I was still mobile and stopped right at a stop sign on the edge of town to complete the QSO.  He always has a good signal on 6 meters and I was glad to hook up with him.  I completed just in time as the local police cruiser went by and gave me a look.  They know me so I never got stopped.  I can just imagine the conversation however over coffee later that night…”did you see that ham guy tonight and all the junk he had on his truck?”

I got home with tons of snow everywhere and went inside, not looking forward to taking all the gear down in the snow.  It was about 6:30 and I took the time to make dinner and play with the kids for a bit.  After that, I headed out to the north side of town to call up to EN34.  I only managed to raise KBØZKX from EN35.  At that time, a few snowmobiles went cruising by and I realized that from their lights, how deep the snow was and how hard it was coming down.  I decided to call it quits and let everyone else hammer out those last QSOs in the final hour without me.

I got all the rigs out of the car and antennas taken down, I would have to do some snow blowing it seemed!  The looper survived, even without the bolts and I was just glad to be home safe and sound.  My first roving experience was over.

Contest Summary: KMØT

Band QSOs Pts QSO Pts Grids
50 MHZ 15 1 15 7
144 MHZ 57 1 57 18
432 MHZ 17 2 34 8
3456 MHZ 8 8 64 4
Totals All Bands 97   170 37

With 4 grids activated, I had resulting score of :  6970

Not real good, but it was great experience.  It was much harder than I thought it would be and I came away thinking...

"Real men don't contest at home....."

"The Rover’s Corner" ©

 

Here are the two rovers I worked during the contest!  Thanks for your efforts!

73 and See You Next Contest!

Mike - KMØT EN13vc