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A few words from Rob K9RST…

New Year's Resolutions - Revisited

So, I started 2016 with some really firm notions of what I want to try to do in 2016 with many things, including ham radio. One is to complete the many radio kits and build projects that have accumulated in my project bin. The other is to get back to CW. When I first got back into the hobby, I struggled to build my CW skills, and eventually got good enough to pass the 5 word and 13 word test for General. My strategy for Extra was to get the code down and then to work on the written test. Well, about that time, they changed the code requirements (like dropped them) and I became President of the NSRC (which meant I had less free time.) So, CW faded away while I worked to strengthen the club. Along that same time, I got over my head involved with public service work, so my world became even more focused on UHF and VHF. So, to make a long story longer, I am trying to renew my CW vows. I learned CW from a program developed by a Dr. Wheeler, who had a curious idea that we should learn CW as a language. He created several mnemonics (word clues) that were sound likes for the letters. I have to tell you, I have learned the letters, but not necessarily word groups. Plus, I stopped taking the lessons when we got to the numbers, so A-Z, I’m pretty good…throw a number into the mix and I am lost! It is hard for an adult to admit that they are not able to conquer this skill but that is just what I am admitting. I am thrilled by some in our club who are trying to energize CW…it is not a dead art. Ron Settle and Dave Hewitt have been putting some of our members through CW Academy and they report they have gotten good responses from their students. Back in the day, I am told, the Army would teach CW by pure repetition (Hmm isn’t that I learned French and Spanish and German?). People would listen to tapes for hours till they got it right. And CW still has practical applications for ham radio. For many QRP QSOs, CW remains the best way to communicate. For DXing, it is still the most reliable way to get your message through some of the noise. Yes, the commercial world and the government have stopped using it as a tactical practice, but it is still viable. So, I cranked out my trusty MFJ code practice device, and so, I am on to renew my CW pledge to myself. It is good to learn a new language even at my advanced age!

Meanwhile, just before I left for Florida in January for a family wedding event, I had an interesting encounter that I am going to recap here. This has nothing to do with ham radio, but it is a dangerous sign of our times. This note was written for my web site blog (another 2016 resolution!). Read on.

Crooks and bums:
I almost became the victim of a crime…and it started out innocently enough.

I have worked my entire career using the power of a man’s word and a handshake to make agreements on projects. I trust people, perhaps to a fault. I got an email request for a bid on video. I noticed that it also went to out to three of my competitors as well. I wrote back immediately, but added, that I would like more information and asked if we could talk on the phone. Three weeks later he wrote back and said he was recuperating in the hospital from ear surgery and could not talk. Texting had to do. So we carried on for several weeks texting about the project at some point he insisted that I invoice him for half right now. I was in the middle of another project, and kind of preoccupied, so I didn’t mind accepting a down payment, although that is pretty rare these days. In the course of this, I did do some initial due diligence and saw that he living in a neighboring suburb and his story seemed to make some sense. That is when he dropped the bomb: he wanted me to pay cash to his meeting planner.

Now, I have always tried to find solutions for my customers and, in an effort to be accommodating, I said I would see what I could do (at this point I was more concerned that he wasn’t getting ripped off!!). The money was processed and cleared. Before I would pay this person, I requested an invoice from the meeting planner and contact numbers. I was flying out the door for a trip to Florida and didn’t have time to sort out all of the details. When I was in Florida, I started to do more homework and found all sorts of cracks. The stories were not adding up. The meeting planner did not work at the address he gave. Her invoice suggested the event was in a hall that was not book for that date. His phone number and hers were both Google voice numbers…meaning there was no way to trace them. About this time, I started to ask the credit card processing company how to verify their card information. Well, they told me this sounded like a scam. This was a common trick…hearing loss, test messages only, hospitalizations all fit a known pattern. They use a stolen credit card, process a lot of money and then have you pay to another account cash. When the owner of the lost card disputes the charge, you are left to cover the expense. Nice deal. I shut this operation down, returned the money and stopped answering his texts.

I am only slight embarrassed to report how I had been victimized, but because I did not send any money to anyone else, and acted slowly, my research kept me from getting burned. I am slightly wiser as a result…but I lament how these folks have used the system against us. We have to fight back…and so I am writing this post to warn others to beware of such scams. Know your customers. Trust people, but keep both eyes and ears open.

73, Rob K9RST

Happy New Year

Instructions are for wimps! Right? How often have you heard people say, “I don’t need no stinkin’ instruction manual?” Every year, during the Holiday break, I enjoy pulling out the various kits I have purchased throughout the year and try to finish them. In my journeys to find a nice project kit for our club to enjoy, I came across an interesting Anderson Power Pole low voltage distribution project that was offered by another club as a fund raising project. I bought this device at Dayton last March and threw it into the projects bin…for a cold wintry day. Well, that day arrived this week and I started to tackle it. Turns out, there were no instructions included in the kit. I did find a web site where one could find some instructions (not a complete set!!). After puzzling on the instructions for almost a day (I savor instructions…sorry. I love to read them. Ponder them, sometimes for days before I start to work. For me, it is part of the joy of the process.) Turns out that either they didn’t include all of the parts (there was no parts list) or I was missing something. Both might be the case.

Brief side bar…you know properly written instructions in your native tongue are a real joy to read. Someone who carefully describes a process well enough in English so that another person can follow it is an amazing skill. I know we have all suffered from reading Chinese (or previously to that Japanese instructions) that were obviously lost in translation. Here is a link to an interest site that has several mis-translated signs: http://www.buzzfeed.com/nataliemorin/chinese-signs-that-got-seriously-lost-in-tranlsation#.yaBlkA3R0

Or just Google “bad translations” and see what you find. Some of these poorly translated signs from this site are hilarious (and rather lewd). One sign from this collection reads: “Garden with Curled Poo” (They meant a “Garden with a Curved Pool”). Ok, I get it, they don’t speak English, but these days, with even tighter budgets or no budget, instructions are simply not included – at all.

Over the years, I have enjoyed many building kits with terrific instructions. Elecraft tends to be extraordinary, as are the Oak Hills Research Kits. This Club kit one in front of me…is the exception. Other than stating how they are orienting the board so that the instructions might make sense, the rest goes quickly downhill. And yes, there are parts missing! I ventured on carefully without the instructions and so far so good. I have not yet quite finished the kit…I had to stop to write this note! So, this is a short tribute to the good people who can still write instructions. May the force (and budgets) be with you.

Meanwhile, my grandson wanted this roller coaster kit he saw at the American Science Surplus Center. This is another gem of a place, if you have never been there. They have all sorts of crazy stuff…largely warehouse surplus. So, I got him the roller coaster kit and when we opened it my son said, “Where are the instructions?” Well, in this case…there were no instructions. It was a bag with lots of parts - an erector set of sorts. They give you the tools, you provide the design. Once he overcame the fear of not doing it wrong, we dove in and had a great time creating all sorts of interesting, gravity defying tracks (meanwhile, my grandson, who got bored with our labors, took a few parts under the table and made a very clever his own bow and arrow contraption on his own!!) Kids have no fear!!

Somewhere between these two spaces, there lies a truth. Perhaps all roads lead to Mecca. Don’t be afraid to take one.

Enjoy 2016. Live dangerously… a little. Don’t always follow the instructions.

73, Rob K9RST

Hacker fun

I don’t spend much time searching the Internet for bargains. I leave this for my favorite Internet explorer Greg Karlove, K9GAK. He has found some of the most amazing weird items for sale that he has re-engineered for modern uses. For instance, he recently bought a retired military HF antenna for a fraction of its original cost. All it needed was a whip on top, which he created himself and then mounted this thing on the back of his pickup truck and tied to his Icom 706IIG. It has some auto tuning features, which he demonstrated recently. I couldn’t believe the performance. When he would tune, within a fraction of a second, his SWR meter would fall to a perfect 1:1 and he would be on the air. He said he had been talking to folks all over the U.S. that day. Normally, this antenna retails for just under $2k but he got it on eBay for much, much less.

Now part of this fits Greg’s style…he likes to tinker and do crazy things. Who can’t like that…I mean, isn’t that what we are supposed to do as Ham radio people? Try stuff out…explore new combinations of hardware, software and modes?

So, I was not prepared for his next visit. He came bounding into my office demanding that we track down a website to watch a video. The video was from a computer hackers’ convention and one of the presentations showed how to hack into 24 things. Well, it was intriguing what this guy could do, armed with a simple software defined radio and some computer skills. He was able to hack into garage doors, security systems, TV cameras, airport security and even airport radar! Now, to be certain, this was not plug and play…it took some skills to develop the tools to be able to crack the codes, but the essential key to his talk was a little USB device that allowed him access to a vast universe of frequencies. This is sold as a remove TV for your computer, but it has a huge range and combined with some software, can be a very useful tool for cracking into systems or just monitoring the radio. I am not going to show the web address for the hacker’s forum…that is not the point of this discussion. Instead, I will point you to the simple device: RTLSDR RTL2832U DVB-T Tuner Dongles. For a couple of bucks you can use this device to analyze common signals, largely on the VHF and UHF side of things, and combined with readily available software, you can study the signal.

The R820T2 RTL-SDR is currently the cheapest, most common and is the best in terms of general usability. The R820T2 has a frequency range of 24 – 1766 MHz and is fully 100% compatible with any software for the older R820T. Cost online is around $10.00 shipped. And here are a couple of you tube videos that put the systems together:

https://youtu.be/qDb9-EhbNno

https://youtu.be/IaKEYEyrRgk

The point here is that there are many, many things that use RF, not just our ham radios, and it can be fun to try to discover what the noises are and what they control.

220 MHz back on the air

We finally got back up to our 220 site and swapped out the antenna for something that had a bit more gain. The trouble with our site is that it is prone to high winds and potential icing in the winter. The original antenna snapped in half, most likely from ice buildup and wind so we replaced it with a much stouter antenna, but it did not have the gain we were hoping to have for that repeater. So, get on 220. Try it out. It works great and is one of our oldest running repeaters! The heart of the 220 MHz system is a Hamtronics repeater kit and was put into service well before I was a member of this club. We took it out of service while we sought a new home for our 2 meter and other devices. So it was off the air for several years, but it is now back and working well. Get on the air and exercise it. I have always been a firm believer that we should use all of the frequencies that we are allowed to use. With the shrinking of the UHF world and the move to more digital modes to accommodate the smaller bandwidth available to us, it is fun to have some frequencies that don’t have much traffic and can be just as robust as their more popular neighbors.

Finally, as we move to the New Year and set off another round of New Year’s promises, don’t forget to take a moment and thank the people around you for making our world such a wonderful place. I know there is plenty in 2015 to lament, and perhaps that has been the case all through history, but more often we don’t take the time to just say thank you to friends, family, loved ones. And so with that I say, thank you to my fellow NSRC members. Thank you for making this hobby so much fun, so engaging and educational.

73, Rob K9RST

Fall report

Radio. All of you take for granted that people know what radio is…and I am talking about simple AM and FM radio, not even the more exotic ham radio we all enjoy. No. Virtually none of the millennial children I know (my grandkids included) have a clue about radio. TVs, iPads, iPhones rule the earth.

So, now you have some idea of the challenge that we faced when Greg Karlove W9GAK and I set up a bunch of radio gear at a Cub Scout event recently to demonstrate ham radio. But the good news here is that most of the Dads (and some moms) truly understood what we were trying to do…and, in fact, that is where we have found many of our newest club members. There was one mom who knew her son was fascinated by technology and actively encouraged him to talk to us. Took a while, but we eventually teased some interest out of him (you could see it in his eyes…he just didn’t want to give his mother the satisfaction!) No doubt, PSK was the most attractive mode. Kids just seem to be naturally attracted to anything computer. So it was fun to show them what we can be done with a keyboard, a radio and a simple antenna. The kids got it. Some enjoyed talking to other scout groups that were doing the same event as we were around the world. We held a long conversation with a ham/scout group on the Cayman Islands. It was freaky how we had a solid pipeline on 15 meters to them all day long and could call with certainty that we would get a reply. That always helps when you are dealing with impatient scouts. (“What do you mean we have to listen for a while!!?”)

One of the larger PR concerns we encountered was that Greg brought an old fire truck ambulance from his Boy Scout Troop. It still looked like a fire truck, even though I had placed NSRC signs all over it. So we looked more like an official truck on stand-by than hands on activity. I have to admit the warm truck was much more inviting than our make shift canopy tent from years past. It was great fun to play radio and teach the young folks what we do. Most of the young kids seemed to understand how an HT works…although the tendency to scream into the HT mics still amazes me! And, the concept of push-to-talk is still a skill that needs to be taught! After an intense fall season of public service work, it was great fun to get back to HF.

Meanwhile, quickly dashing back to public service…I went to a wrap up meeting for the Evanston Century Bike Club’s North Shore Century. We have helped them for 7 years and it has evolved into a nice partnership. We support the 2000+ bicyclists on course that day. There are ham teams embedded at each of the rest area, and hams in cars (called SAG cars) patrolling along the course. We are looking for broken down, distressed or just tired cyclists. Of course, we have a large team at the Command tent who receive phone calls from the field and can dispatch SAG cars via the radio to meet up with the riders. We have been using some interesting dispatch software, called TicketsCAD. It is a very sophisticated integration package that allows people to manage the entire operation. It’s really a great way to spend a fall day…unless it rains and then most of the rules change. (Rain usually means more flat tires.) We have been fortunate that for the past several years the WX has been perfect. After discussing some of the things that went well — and many things went very well — we focused on what to do next year to make improvements. One major challenge the Bicycle Club faces next year will be a dramatic change in leadership for this event. There will be many new folks working in new positions. I have signed up to serve as the ham radio lead for this event, and would like to encourage all of you to help join me. It’s good for ham radio and good for our club.

I have been excited to see the number of requests that have come in to help build or rebuild antenna systems. For too long, most of our work has been to take aluminum down, and while we don’t mind the service, it is always more rewarding to help get new stuff in the air. When I first joined the club, we had a robust team of about 15 people who would be called upon to descend on a fellow ham’s house and have an “antenna party.” I am glad to see those days return.

Finally, congratulations to the Club on an outstanding Field Day achievement for 2015. This is the first FD I have missed in years. I had a good excuse, my daughter got married at the Grand Canyon that weekend. I do look forward to jumping back into the battle for 2016. In fact, I have already started fixing tents!

Meanwhile, my own shack remains in a state of shock. I have been re-engineering it for the umpti-umpth time, each time with new knowledge, insights and gear. It is just frustrating not be able to sit down, turn things on and expect it all to work flawlessly. I’m not there yet. And, yes, I know the answer…and it is one that I cannot spell. My wife tells me, I need to learn to say, “NO!” Well, what fun is there in that?? Hmmm, maybe I’ll practice here: No, I won’t rake the leaves and NO, I won’t clean the gutters, but, NO. I don’t think that is what she means!!

73, Rob K9RST

 

 

What's in your scarbox?

I am a filmmaker. Well, I used to be! Now, I am a video person! In the not so old days of yore, we prided ourselves on being prepared for any contingency. We carried extra gear, spare parts, lots of little things that may not be needed, but it was great to have when you needed it. That was the day too when we used to have 4 or 5 person crews to carry all of this stuff. Over the years, I started carrying a three tier tool box for all of the little things that it seemed we had forgotten. Things like wire to hold up paintings, or nails, thumb tacks, tape of many colors, nylon thread, rope, clothes pins, pens, sharpies, nuts and bolts, electrical adapters…well, you get the idea. I used to call this the scarbox because every time you forgot something critical, it would leave a scar on your pride. Over time, the box got larger and heavier until just became impractical to carry. Seems that everything I might need today I could buy at Walgreen’s! So the case was dropped from the required equipment list as our crews downsized and speed was more of a measure than preparedness.

I mention this now because I have to return to this practice for some of our ham radio activities. The Club recently supported the Evanston Bicycle Club’s North Shore Century. I usually bring along a tub of stuff, called the NSRC office, which is loaded with all sorts of spare parts and some office supplies. But I do not often carry test equipment. We set up our antennas for the event, one atop a 40 foot pull up mast. It looked terrific. We were thrilled with our work and plugged it into the radio without ever testing it. The next day, the day of the event, we were getting all sorts of mixed reviews about our signals. We limped along the best we could until someone had the bright idea of changing to a different antenna. Voila! Magically, all of our problems went away. Now you might think it was a bad antenna but in testing after the event, we discovered there is something wrong with the coax. I just grabbed a coil from our inventory and never checked it out after it was used last. Lesson learned. I need to carry test equipment and double check everything before leaving the site.

Now in my defense, I had been a little distracted…life…that thing we do when we are not on the radio…got in the way. My mother-in-law passed away that week and chaos reigned all around us. I managed to get us to the event, set up our encampment and surrounded myself with some really talented people so that it all looked goo And we did look great. We did an outstanding job. The scars, however, are still on my back. Lesson learned.

We brought 32 ham radio operators to the event and not all from the North Shore Radio Club. I was delighted by the support we have received from hams all over the city. I would like to encourage more members of our own club to help out with these events. Not only do we provide a terrific public service, but it puts a face on ham radio. It helps promote the hobby in a positive way.

Many of us are working on the Chicago marathon coming up on October 11. We have nearly 130 hams helping out from four states on that project! Meanwhile, a couple of us are going to set up a demo station at a Cub Scout event in October to show the young folks what ham radio even is!! Yes, Martha, there is still a ham radio hobby!! Join us on October 17 at Camp Oakarro in Wadsworth, Illinois. Drop me a note and I will give you more details.

Meanwhile, be prepared.

73, Rob K9RST

Taking it down

There is nothing more exciting than to help a fellow ham get his station on the air, build his antenna scheme and get him or her on the air. On the other hand, it is a different experience altogether when you are asked to take down a retired ham station. Recently I was asked by Shel Epstein (K9APE)’s wife to disassemble his antenna network. Shel was an engineer and a lawyer…and both played a hand in the design and implementation of his antennas. He also had a fairly flat roof, which made access simple. Anyway, as one takes gear down from ailing, retired or hams that have passed on, inevitably you think about how the gear was used, the conversations they must have had, the thought that went into the construction process and, well, you spend a great deal of time thinking about the ham. In this case, I knew Shel, so it was actually fun to reminisce in this way about his work as a ham.

Shel had a 10 foot tower section on his roof with a Mosley tri-bander and a yagi mounted above for satellite work. He also had many wires running around the roof area, including a scheme to use his gutters as an antenna. I solicited the help of Greg Karlove to help take the stuff down since he expressed interest in using most of it. It took us most of a Saturday, but this project came down easily and we recovered most of the gear. You could tell what motivated Shel, however. He used only the best equipment and building standards. The tower was flat mounted to the roof, with stainless guy lines and stainless turnbuckles anchored to the roof. He was also careful not to used long guy lines and used insulators to shorten the section to prevent them from radiating his signal.

The real project, it turn out, was his 6 foot satellite dish. When TV started to play around with beaming signals off satellites, most of the programming was not encrypted. Furthermore, most of the antennas needed to be very large. In fact, Wilmette has ruled that having such antennas was illegal! Wala! Enter the lawyer, Shel. No way was anyone going to impede his right to free TV bouncing off satellites! So, Shel battled the city fathers and won. Then, he had to build the antenna. Well, what he built cost a fortune, I am sure. First, you need a large dish…so he bought a 6 foot stainless dish. This alone weighed about 200 pounds. To support this beast, you had to manufacture a support structure. What he did was build an 8” steel water pipe, buried into a cement block about 3 feet deep. The pipe had two custom built support struts that anchored to the side of his house and to the pipe. Each of the support struts were about 10 feet wide and were bolted to the house. For this sort of work, the antenna had to be stable. At the top, he built a small catwalk, large enough for two people to walk around and at the very top he inserted an X/Y axis mount to support the dish. I have no idea how he ever carried all of this stuff to the top. It weighed a ton. We tried using a gin pole for some things but the pole nearly bent in half!! This structure was a work of art and looked like it did the job very well. We were told that it took 4 men to put this thing together. We had never taken anything like this down before, and you’d think you could just cut and run, but with the weight involved, that would have been potentially very dangerous. So we decided to tear it apart in sections using one of Greg’s plasma cutters. What an amazing tool that proved to be. He sliced up the stainless dish into pie shaped sections. We were off and running and slowly we chopped sections off the thing until we were left with the 25’ steel pipe. We dropped that like a tree and it smashed with a heavy thud.

While this project was not the kind of ham radio work we like to do, it was a very fulfilling day to reflect on the good work that was done by Shel, and to accomplish a huge goal. The towers are down, no one got hurt and we have digested all of the metal. Shel Epstein, K9APE, SK. Gone but not forgotten.

73, Rob, K9RST

Summer camp

I just returned from a brief visit up to our Boy Scout Camp, MaKaJaWan in Pearson WI, about an hour and half from Green Bay. So it’s kind of a drive.  This camp serves the scouts from the Northeast Illinois Council, primarily our North Shore, but it also attracts many scouts from neighboring councils.  In fact, this year, there were some visiting scouts from England. They were at the EAA show in Oshkosh and were looking for a camp to extend their stay.  Years ago, when I was Scoutmaster, these were the weeks I would take our troop to camp and I remember the times well.  I often would drag out my trusty ICOM 706 and would talk late at night to hams around the country from our rugged little campsite.  The boys were generally impressed, although many had cell phones that could wrap ham radio around its ear bud…however, turns out,  cell phones don’t work well at camp!  (Hmmm sounds like a familiar story, thank Goodness! Peace and quiet.)   So, after the activities of the days die down, and the boys are starting to settle in for a night’s sleep, it was a great time to fire up the rig.   It was really a great deal of fun introducing them to ham radio.  Fade out, fade in.

Today, the camp has adopted a program to support youth interested in STEM activities, and the NSRC has contributed a couple of rigs and some other equipment to the cause. The radio course is taught by one of the camp counselors, who has a license and is supported by a number of visiting adults who drop in during the summer to demonstrate how radio works.  The course work is really an introduction to ham radio. They attract about 60 scouts to the program every year.

The station is located in the heart of East Camp, right next door to the most popular place at camp…the Trading Post (read:  ice cream and candy bars). So, you always have a bunch of curious folks gathering around the place. When I was up there this week, I fired up the rigs and had some nice conversations with some folks on 20…40 was miserable (and to be sure conditions in general were pretty bad). I could barely hear Don Whiteman, KK9H, and we had to be less than 100 miles apart.  The boys were filled with a zillion questions, as usual, but they quickly could see how the technology could have some use….and could be fun.

As I was leaving camp, I was reflecting on the many wonderful young people (yes, there are some girls in Scouting too) that I met this week.  Scouting attracts some very bright kids and camp seems to bring out the very best in them all. Camp is a very friendly village.  Everyone waves and says hello. Everyone has a bright smile on their face. Yes, it is kind of a throwback to another time, when terrorists or idiots with weapons weren’t lurking behind every bush.  Here, in the free air, under the stars, people can let their guard down.  That is when it hit me just how critical it is for us as a club and for me as an individual, to keep trying to demonstrate this technology to the young folks.  I know many of you got into radio because you had to complete the Morse code requirements for First Class rank (I know I did). They have since dropped that requirement, but Scouting and ham radio have been partners for years, and the relationship has not diminished. In fact, it may have become even more important.  We must continue to inspire the next generation so that they can better solve some of the enormous challenges that our generation has left on the table.  Ham radio is a gateway to many things, science, technology, friendship, a simple old-fashioned conversation.  I learned a while back that the best teacher is example.  The more people see us ham radio operators, as they watch how we communicate with each other, the more the values that bind us together as a community will be shared by these young people as well.  There is a formality to ham radio that might seem anachronistic to some, but is at the heart of what young people are seeking as well.  So, my point is simply this: teach your children well. (Thank you, Crosby Stills and Nash).

So, thank you to the NSRC for supporting this great cause and now, join me in sharing with others the thrill of amateur radio.

73, Rob K9RST

Field Day in the Grand Canyon

Field day in the Grand Canyon! So my daughter decided she wanted to be married at the Grand Canyon, Field Day weekend. (This date was the government’s choice not hers. She had to reserve this spot a year in advance). A wedding is a proud moment for the parents but there isn’t much room for error. My daughter did a great job of organizing 97 percent of the event…but that last 3% was our part and it was critical - get fresh flowers to the 110 degree wedding site and transport 75 people from the hotel to the wedding location, which is not on a main road and only accessible via a dirt road. Simple right!?

Well I took my responsibility seriously. I built a production book, similar to what I often use in my business: contact names, schedules, contingency plans, work schedules, maps, etc. I had to coordinate 3 vans, a 60 passenger bus and two personal vehicles to arrive all at the right time, with the right people.

One issue that quickly emerged as a potential problem was communication. Turns out cell phones don’t work flawlessly at Shoshone Point, the spot where we would be holding the ceremony and about 8 miles from the main El Tovar Lodge. Sound familiar? Enter ham radio! Turns out there is a ham repeater at the rim someplace. The question was would it work where we would be driving and eventually landing?

The other issue was that I was the only ham on site! My sister-in-law would be at the other end of the radio, so I quickly trained her in ham talk and said it would be available only if we needed emergency communications (I had two family elders, both in their late 80’s, who made the event…and we weren’t sure how well they would hold up to the torturous heat.) Nonetheless, she did not have a ham license so I deputized her as K9RST slash A. We used the radios to establish communications. We proved the concept. They worked great, but we ended up relying on simple logistic missions. Every driver had a defined purpose and plan. We had to just hope all went well enough. We used ham radio simply to confirm that everyone was in position and moving around in a timely manner.

I did talk to a few hams on the rim with that repeater…and a few who must have been in the canyon because we could not out what they were saying. The canyon is a tough place for phones or radios….the drop off the rim is easily a 1000 foot cliff and radio signals don’t bend up so well!

Anyway…everything worked great…I drove the 15 passenger van for the bride and her entourage. My brother took the groomsmen the in his rental van. The 60 passenger bus got the folks to the site on time. My brother-in-law drove everyone from the bus drop, down the rough dirt road to the wedding site. One of the great unknowns was traffic. Yes, there can be enormous traffic jams even at the Grand Canyon and we ran right into one. As I was driving bridal party to the point, there was a huge traffic jam. Cars were parked along the side of the road. Some just stopped in the middle of the road. What the heck was going on? An accident perhaps? People were jumping of their cars and were running towards something…with cameras in tow…hmmm…an animal someplace? Eventually we saw the huge male elk with his enormous rack that was causing all of the commotion. He was quietly grazing almost unaware of the craziness that was all around him. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and I had the bride in the car and 70 guests waiting. Fortunately I had planned for such a delay and we arrived right on time.

The flowers were another story. My brother-in- law was going to bring all of the flowers from Flagstaff…about an hour and half away. At 8 am he called and said his two cars were towed. He could not make the delivery. So the good Dad jumped into the van and drove to Flagstaff….got the flowers and drove back…four hours round trip. Mission accomplished…now all I had to do was shower up and get dressed…let’s just say, I ended up taking a sponge bath and barely had enough time to suit up!

I understand there is a canyon at the Grand Canyon!! Well, the wedding site made up for the craziness. The actual wedding spot was truly a sacred space and afforded an amazing view of the canyon.

I can’t say my daughter’s wedding day was relaxing…and I certainly didn’t get to explore the canyon as I had hoped, but I did get some hiking quality time in the very early Saturday morning, for which I am grateful.

So while I missed our Field Day, I think you will agree that I could not miss my daughter’s wedding…and believe me, after facing all of the stress of handling all of those wedding logistics, Field Day looks like a most welcome breeze.

73 Rob K9RST

Dayton reflections

I almost didn’t go to Dayton this year. I really didn’t need anything and, with my daughter’s wedding coming up, money was tight. Bill Steffey encouraged me to bring some stuff to sell and, as I have never done that before, it seemed intriguing. So, I partnered with Bill’s club from Washington, PA at their booth, 4010, in the outdoor flea market. This is the very back row outside the north door. (I mention that fact for those of you who need something outside to get oriented! I overheard this all too common comment from a gentleman from England. He poked his head out of one of the doors where I was entering and mumbled to himself, “Wow, I am really turned around.” He had to look outside to figure out where he was inside! Dayton inside is very confusing if you are not used to the rambling collection of buildings and passageways. Outside, Dayton is relatively organized in lanes.)

Before leaving town, I collected a carload of gear to sell. Some NSRC Club stuff, lots of my own – and not all ham gear. I brought some higher end audiovisual equipment. I was trying to clean out some of my storage locker. Over the years, I have seen many people who worked as vendors, drop their gear on a table and leave their booth. I was determined to stay at my booth and represent my gear till most of it was sold.

I set up my table at 7:30 a.m.…the flea market opens early at 8 a.m. Immediately there were people wandering the open-air market.

The traffic at 8 a.m. was very busy. I had lots of inquiries and great conversations. At first, I had put prices on the equipment, Based on what I seen similar items sell for on the Internet. The stickers were meant to serve as a memory guide, and I thought they would facilitate selling, but I was wrong. I quickly learned that they prevented conversation, so I took the stickies off. Over the years, I watched Ron Harroff work the aisles at other ham fests and he does it right. When someone shows any interest in an item, he would engage them in conversation and tell them about the history of the item or reviews from ham reviews. So, I borrowed heavily from Ron’s technique and was in business. People soon arrived, making offers and counter offers, money started to flow in and the gear moved. I loved hearing the stories from the buyers about the plans they had for the gear. One guy is building a new VHF repeater and needed some duplexers for his Club in Texas. Another young man came to Dayton only to buy a cassette tape deck. When he saw the one I brought, he knew he had his found his item. He pulled his parents over to show them. Well, they had all sorts of tough questions: “Where was it used? How was it used? What condition are the heads?” Frankly, they asked more questions than I was prepared to answer. Eventually, I sold audio deck sold to them…and I was thrilled to see it fall into hands of someone who knew what he was getting and would provide it a nice home. By the end of Friday, I had sold 80% of the gear I brought. My plan was to sell for 2 hours on Saturday morning and then hit the flea market and inside halls myself.

One of the thrills was to see how the market sets the price. There was a lady across from me who recently lost her husband and was selling his gear off. She had everything marked (like I had done earlier) but priced way too high. At first, she was unwilling to move off her listed price…so the mics sat there. After a couple of hours, I made an offer on one of the mics for Greg Karlove, who was looking for one. We got it for about half of what she was asking.

Bill Steffey had a pile of some older desk mics and a guy came over and said all he wanted were the mic elements. He could care less about the mic housing. Bill popped open the mouthpiece cover and this guy pulled out some side cutters and took just the part he wanted. Turns out these mics are perfect for his avocation. He builds mics for harmonica players. Apparently, there is a niche market for these things.

There is something for everyone at Dayton!

It was amazing to sit inside a booth and watch the traffic float by. I had one older rig that I was going to sell. This radio was a huge crowd magnet. People would come up and look at it in wonder – it brought back memories of times when it was their first rig. There were a few price inquiries, but most just looked. I learned that for just attracting people to your table, having a vintage radio on your table can be a great crowd beacon. I never sold that rig, which is fine. After hearing all of the stories, I wanted to play with the radio more myself.

10 a.m. Saturday. I finally get my chance to walk around the flea market and “do Dayton” I didn’t go far before I discovered my own first radio…the Hallicrafters SX100. I had been looking for this rig for year. Totally an emotional thing. Years ago, my wife convinced me to throw my first beloved receiver away because it was sitting in the attic (I have since learned to just move these items to a different storage place where the wife can’t see the thing, but at the time, I wanted be a compliant husband and so tossed it out. Big mistake. I missed it. It was like I had lost part of my youth. Well at Dayton, I had seen them listed a wide variety of prices and conditions, but generally in the $300 range. There I was standing in front the rig and the guy had $150 sticker on the thing. I offered him $125 and he took it! I have my rig back.

When I got home I fired that rig up and immediately was transported back in time. I remember the smell of those tubs warming up. I connected an antenna and soon was pulling stations off the air. It sounded as good as I remember it, although I have to refresh my memory about how the dual dials are calibrated. The next problem was finding a home for it on my shack shelf. But I feel complete…got my first short wave listening station back.

So, Dayton was terrific. Great way to catch up with friends from around the country, fun to see new and old suppliers. The QRP event seminar was good, although a little bittersweet since the headline attraction Dr. George Dobbs, G3RJV, the Vicar from England who spent his life as a QRP advocate, announced that this would be his last Dayton. Dobbs has a very dry sense of humor and loves building radios from surplus parts. He has inspired a generation of QRP folks, demonstrating how we can bring the hobby back home to our own workbenches. And, Elecraft, whose roots are designing and building QRP kits, also was there to introduce their next generation radio. That’s Dayton. A mix of the old and the new. Bargains, deals and fun. I am really glad I went.

73
Rob K9RST

A visit to Leonore

I mentioned in a newsletter that I would be willing to come out to visit any radio club to make presentations on serving the Chicago Marathon. Well, I had a taker and I agreed without ever thinking about the request. “Can you come visit our club? We are supporting the Starved Rock Marathon?” That was the request. So, where do we meet?  “Come to our club house in Leonore, IL.” Leonore? I never heard of the place and all I knew for sure was that it was 2 hours away.

I punched in the address into my GPS and set off on a journey to the edge of the known universe. Actually, after I got out of the Chicago madness and traffic, and well into the country, the drive out was very pleasant. I know I was nowhere when I finally got on a series of straight-as-an-arrow country roads with nothing but harvested corn fields to my left and to my right. Huge open landscapes, with shaved remnant of corn stalks were everywhere. Dull brown, barren fields, except for the promise of the season to come. I drove and drove. Occasionally, I went right and then left! And still, I drove. Suddenly, like Oz, off in the distance, I could see radio towers…and then I saw the mill. Turns out the Starved Rock Radio Clubhouse is in a small little building next to the tallest structure in town, the mill. There are about 25 permanent residents in this town…no fast food anything. Surrounded by corn fields, the club has a really charming building that they share with the mill (the mill pays them rent and so that allows them to keep the place). In one room, they have a general meeting area and in the back room, their “radio room,” they have several stations set up for permanent use and lots of stuff! I was told by one of my hosts, Mark Gebhardt, K9ZQ, that the club house is often the dumping ground for stuff that doesn’t fit into other hams’ home! So, there were piles of repeater carcasses, parts in boxes, radios in various stages of repair. I was greeted by Mark, who I knew from the Red Cross and Joe Tokarz, KB9EZZ. I got the nickel tour of the station and some history of the club. I have to say, these guys made me feel right at home. I was one of the gang! I love that about ham radio…for the most part, you are always welcomed as part of the family.

Now Leonore is truly in the middle of nothing. There is the mill, with is its tall mass, and a ring of about 20 houses around the mill. That’s the town of Leonore. No McDonald’s. No restaurants at all actually, just the mill. I arrived at 5 pm for my 7 pm presentation and slowly watched as people pulled into the club house. Eventually about 25 people arrived, each with a different story about their radio background, but all incredibly friendly. Hams are generally a gregarious group…and I was amazed at how far many of these guys had to drive to get to this place. There were several who travelled 40–45 minutes to get to this spot! Of course, knowing how many came to hear me speak only added to the pressure of giving a good talk!

Eventually, I met Brad Nicholson, KA9WRZ. Brad worked with me on the Chicago Marathon and while we had never met, we have been in communication quite a bit over the years. He was now the lead for the Starved Rock Marathon and he was the guy who actually invited me out. In the audience we not only had the hams from the club, but a couple of EMA Directors, Police and Fire officials – all to hear how we in Chicago support the Chicago Marathon.

The talk, which featured heavily on how hams support other marathons, went quite well. Or at least so I am told. I was grateful for the opportunity and thrilled to see how other clubs are organized.
Their 2 meter antenna sits high atop the mill and serves as a vital link to the surrounding county for communications, Skywarn and other services. You can see how ham radio really can be more than just a
fun hobby, but serious work too. Thanks to my hosts for having me out. I learned a great deal.

Repeater coverage

Meanwhile, I came home to a series of serious storms in the Chicago area and was curious to know how well our own Skywarn team was handling the traffic. As some of you may know, our antennas had been severely beaten on while serving on the roof. The 220 antenna snapped in half and the 2 meter antenna was leaning well to the east, I suspect from the high winds on top of the building. We have since replaced them with more stable antennas, but with half of the gain. In preparing for a discussion I was to have with our repeater hosts, I came across some terrific free software to calculate your repeater coverage. This is sponsored by the Canadian government and requires an email address and pass word to work, but is it really fascinating to play with. Here is the link to the site: http://lrcov.crc.ca This program asks you for many details about the height of your antenna and the type of antenna, power and location you are using. All of this is in meters, so you need to do some conversions. In the end, I got a great map of Chicago, showing the potential service coverage for the NSRC 2 meter machine. Somehow, I will try to figure out how to get this on our website.

Rob Orr
K9RST