Current Blog: Carlinville Ham Fest

At some presentation, I casually mentioned that I would be willing to travel almost anywhere to tell the story of what we are doing for the Chicago Marathon.  I was in Springfield at the time, and never thought much of the pledge. A couple months go by and I get an email from a guy who wants to know if I would headline their ham fest in August next year? Well, being a year away it seemed like a safe bet, so I accepted the offer. I never noted where the place was or even had a firm sense of the date. It was next year!

 Fade out. Fade in.  August 2019.  Turns out this ham fest was in Carlinville, Illinois.  A quick scramble to the map showed that you basically drive south on I-55 till you run out of homes and only see corn. Lots of corn. 

 Arrangements had been made for me to stay with some local ham radio acquaintances in Springfield, IL.  So that broke the trip up a bit. Really, this is the best part of the hobby: making friends along the way.  The Whitakers are very active in many aspects of the ham radio life in Springfield, including being past President of the Sangamon radio Club and working for the Illinois ARRL section.  Turns out, the Carlinville ham fest was another hour south of Springfield!

 So, we got up very early and drove through more corn. I can assure you, there are no Starbucks out here.  We finally got off the road and travelled down another corn lined road for another 20 minutes.  Suddenly, the view opened, and you could see an assemblage of small one-story buildings. This was the place!  The Macoupin County Fairgrounds.  Three clubs joined forces to sponsor this fest. People were setting up equipment to sell and cars were arriving!  It was no Dayton, but it still had friendly faces and familiar gear.  My presentation was a bust…only a small handful came to the room, but what I got out of the fest well made up for the experience.

 The presenter before me talked about how he sets up beverage antennas and extremely long wire loops for 160 meters in the farmer’s fields next to his house.  You must understand, when there is no corn growing, there are vast open lands and they are perfect for these rather specialized antennas.  I was amazed at the scale of the layouts and the weird design models he profiled.  I never heard of a BOG antenna, for instance (Beverage Over Ground – basically a low laying long wire). I learned a great deal. Sadly, though, little of which I would ever be able to use here in Glenview, but I now know what feature to look for in my next house!

 After my presentation, I mentioned that we also support the Evanston Century and one of the folks in the audience introduced me to an exhibitor who supports the MS Ride for 2500 bike riders in St. Louis.  Turns out, they have developed their own special software that integrates APRS, dispatch and phone apps into one very useful product. One of the features of the software is that you can encourage the riders to download an app to call for assistance with the touch of a button. Plus, if they are on the app, you can monitor where the riders are on the course!  The only issue restrictive issue was price. Still, but I brought this to the attention of the folks at the Evanston Bike Club.  It’s a much more user-friendly version of TicketsCad.  So, you never know what you will learn from ham folks!

 Ham Radio brings out the best in us.

It is the passion that people show for this hobby that makes it so much fun. Recently, I worked with our very own Vic Maiewski, our Tech Director, to help complete our D-Star network.  Earlier Greg Karlove, Stan Wilk, Vic and I replaced the old vertical antenna with a more professional UHF antenna for the location.  We had had been getting bad signal reports and other issues that needed to be addressed.  Vic was determined to fix the problem.  The antenna solved some of the coverage issues, but we still had this nagging problem with some local stations going R2D2 --- voice bits that would be scrambled and were unreadable.  So, having changed the antenna, it was thought we should replace the D-Star B-module itself. We had purchased a new one last spring, but the shipment was delayed from overseas because a container ship apparently sunk in a storm.  We had the old unit in for service and put that one back in service until the new one arrived.  All that swapping was done this past weekend. The new unit is now in place and we are awaiting signal reports from the field. For now, it appears that the system is stable and working better than ever.  Our site is atop a 60-story apartment complex in Chicago and it is a chore to gain access, so we don’t go up there very much.  When we do, we often bring a vacuum because the dust that circulates up there is simply amazing.  It is a wonder that anything electronic works at all.  So, I want to thank Vic for his determination to solve the problem and lead a team to get the job done.  Hopefully, we can now move on to other projects on our long list of Technical upgrades.

 Field Day Seeking New site

Speaking of long lists, now that Field Day is safely put to bed, we are planning next year’s event already. Right now, we are reviewing potential new sites.  We have placed a December deadline to decide about next summer’s location.  If you have a location you think would meet our needs for public access, antenna deployment, social activities, storm shelters, shade and restrooms, then just drop me a note and we will send a survey team out to explore.  Thanks to Burt Krain’s relationship with the Northbrook Library’s Co-Laboratory, we have a potentially very interesting possibility emerging. They might sponsor our Field Day, which means publicity and access to their grounds.  We are still talking and exploring.  Lake Forest has been a wonderful site for us, and we are not giving it up yet, but there are concerns about some of the trees dying off and the fact that it is so isolated.  We get almost no public traffic. So, keep your eyes peeled for locations.

 Meanwhile, fire up those rigs and exit the atmosphere. I did some 20 meter work this past weekend and suddenly found my rotor was jammed!  It would not go past 90 degrees.  Well, somehow the antenna slipped down the mast and was hitting the top of another vertical.  Had to do some emergency triage.  So, it pays to get on the air more frequently.



Rob Orr