We were frustrated in September to have our 6m setup work so poorly, and decided to focus first on getting that fixed. January is typically not a big time for 6m openings, but we wanted to get that nailed and "out of the way" before the June contest. To that end, we acutally did some planning and spent some money! New antennas, an amplifier, a 27DC deep-cycle 12V battery, and big boxes of 1/4-20 carriage bolts, fender washers, and wing nuts.
John tried to buy some M2 "SQLoop" omni antennas, one on 6m and a stacked pair on 2m. As I type this a week after the contest, they still aren't here. Apparently, M2 has changed the design and John got caught in the switchover. WD0E pointed out that W6OAL's Olde Antenna Lab makes a nice 6m omni, so I pointed John that way, and we drove up to Parker a few days before the contest to visit Dave and pick up one each 6m and 2m omni antennas. Jim WD0E showed up while we were there, and helped twist our arms to buy one of the "PortaPole" telescoping masts. We got to talking about where we were in the process of getting ready for the contest, and Dave ended up throwing in a couple of used 50' feedlines with N connectors, and Jim found us a bag of the whizzy, nice N connectors that work well on 9913. It's nice having friends in the hobby... thanks guys!
I researched commercially-available 6m amplifiers after deciding I just didn't have time to build something, and ended up buying a Teletec amp through Down East Microwave. It's a nice amp, and worked well for us, but it sure needs a power-on LED indicator! There's only one LED, and it indicates shutdown due to high VSWR or thermal overload... when operating in a rover, the warm glow of a power-on LED is reassuring. We'll pass a suggestion back to DEM and Teletec.
Mounting the omnis involved further creative application of my $50 Harbor Freight drill press, some 2x6 and 2x4 leftovers, and a new set of "load stops" for the Thule rack on the Trooper. The basic notion is that we mounted an 8-foot 2x6 vertically as a "keel" down the center of the Trooper's roof. We drilled holes through the load stops so that long 1/4-20 carriage bolts could be used to hold the 2x6 in place. This gave us a very rigid base structure. We then cut a couple of 2x4 pieces as mounts for the two omni antennas. One is held vertical at the rear with carriage bolts through the 2x6, and holds the 6m halo about three feet above the roof. The other is a touch shorter, mounted near the front of the vehicle, and holds the 2m circularly folded dipole. I heard a neat idea at the CSVHFS rover forum in Kansas City, which was to use some pipe insulation to clamp the cables in the top of a window without either mashing the cables or having the wind rush in. We kept forgetting to pick up any of the stuff, so John hacked a piece of the squishy packing foam from his new laser printer's box to make a cable feed-through thingy for the top of the left rear window on the Trooper. It worked out great.
Unfortunately, our 1x4 hack from September wasn't gutsy enough to make us comfortable holding the new Portapole, which is about 25 feet at full extension versus the 15 feet we had last time in Radio Shack mast sections. Fortunately, there was another 2x6 in the pile, so we fabricated a new bracket much like the one we had in September, but larger. We found some U-bolts in the garage, and used two at each Thule roof rod to hold it down. The U-bolts were 1/4-20, so we used fender washers and wing nuts on each, making it really easy to put things together and tear them down. In fact, once we realized the U-bolts were 1/4-20, we went through and replaced the hex nuts on the 23cm and 70cm yagis, making them *much* easier to put on and take off. Unfortunately, the 2m yagi uses 5/16 or 3/8 hardware, so we still had to carry a wrench along.
The antenna mounts worked out fine, but we realized once we put the pole up that the 6m antenna was pretty close to the pole, and we kept thinking it would have been nicer to have it higher. The idea we've hatched since which we will try in June is to use about an 8 foot 2x4, set up to hold the 6m antenna above the front end of the Trooper near where the 2m antenna was this time. For travel, we pop one of the carriage bolts, and use the other as a hinge point to fold it down along the top of the vehicle, with the halo hanging down behind the Trooper. When we arrive at a location, we fold it up and stick the carriage bolt back in, and we're ready to operate on 6m. This gets the 6m antenna higher, gets it away from the pole, and we didn't operate while mobile this time anyway. Maybe we'll give it a try next time.
Saturday, I picked John up mid-morning, after taking my daughter Elizabeth to her violin lesson. We fabricated cables, and got things mostly put together. My mother-in-law (visiting to help take care of Robert Dickinson, born 12 Jan!) cooked a pile of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. After lunch, we finished getting things together, and fired up on 6m to see if the new antenna and amplifier worked. Congrats to K0RI for being our first contact on the new hardware, followed quickly by N0NKG, N0KIC, and N0VSB. Four QSO's, two grids, and we hadn't even started the engine yet!
We got rolling, and John worked a few folks on 2m and 70cm FM simplex while we drove out to the extreme southwest corner of DM89. We tried the "better spot" we had picked out in September, and it was a good location for us. There's a good picture of the Trooper at that location below. We had the 6m and 2m omni antennas, and 11 element yagis on 70cm and 23cm at the top of the pole. The yagis were the same as September, but I'd found and dusted off my Mirage 70cm amplifier. We definitely were "best" on 70cm on Saturday. Good antenna, amp, preamp, 22 feet or so up...
The highlight in DM89 was probably our contact with KI0AG/R... he was only a mile or two from us at the time, and he *pegged* our S meter on 23cm! What a hoot!
It didn't take long for me to really start missing the yagi on 2m. We had decided to go omnis since we were expecting blizzard conditions for the contest. But, as often happens, the front did something different, and we had nice weather... cold, but not bitterly so. Sunday, we found another feedline, put the 4-element 2m yagi up on the pole below the 70cm yagi, and I was much much happier! I credit the yagi with giving us N0LL in EM09 from DM78, and K5RHR in DM65 and KK5YY in DM66 from DM79. Those were some fun contacts!
Our stop in DM88 late Saturday afternoon was unremarkable. The equipment was all working, but we were near some power lines, and the noise was pretty bad on 6m and 2m. It started getting cold quickly when the sun went down, so we didn't stay long. The highlight in DM88 was probably pulling up behind KC0ETU/R. The Witte clan fielded two rovers, the other being KB0CY/R... we had fun trying to keep the logs straight working each other as we shuffled around the grid corners!
Sunday morning I picked John up and we headed to Palmer Park, which is in the middle of Colorado Springs, just north of where John lives in DM78. There are a couple of good hills in the park, and we found a decent parking space in the lot on the southern hill, with a good shot in all directions. The wind was fierce. We tried putting the Portapole only partly up, but got "too cute" trying to use the bottom sections and leave the top ones collapsed. We hadn't thought about the fact that not extending the top sections meant the wind would be able to whip things around since the sections weren't locked together. After a couple of iterations of dropping the mast to wrap more "universal solution" (duct tape) around the joints, we got 15 feet or so of mast that worked ok up in the air.
While we didn't experience any real band openings, we had a good time in the Park. We worked N0LL in EM09 on 2m and 70cm, and heard W7XI in EN13 on 2m but couldn't raise him. We worked W0KJY in DN70 on 70cm, and picked up a variety of contacts on all 4 bands we were carrying (6m/2m/70cm/23cm) from DM78 and DM79. K0RZ's signal on 23cm was note-worthy. He claimed to only be operating 23cm and 10Ghz narrow-band... so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he was so solid on 1296!
We packed up, stopped on the north side of town for some monster burritos, and headed north on highway 83 into DM79. On the ridge just south of Franktown, we found a road leading into a new subdivision that was the highest point around, with no powerlines nearby, and wonderful shots north and south. We parked behind the community mailboxes. The wind was still fierce, but not as bad as in Palmer Park. We put the mast all the way up... and were rewarded with a full page on the logging pad! We had a couple of "visitations" from the locals. Once they realized we were amateur radio types (confirming their worst suspicions, no doubt!), they were content to leave us alone. A ham stopped his car and came over to ask how we were doing, I unfortunately didn't think to make note of his name and call.
We worked "all the usual suspects" from this site, and were really excited to work K5RHR in DM65 and KK5YY in DM66 on 2m. K0GU gave us DN70. We could hear W7SAO in DM59 and K7TNT in DN74, but weren't able to raise either. As with Saturday, the moment the sun started to go down, it started to get viciously cold... so we packed up and headed home.
All in all, we had a lot of fun! The working 6m setup including the Olde antenna and Teletec amplifier definitely made that band a lot more fun, and the Mirage amp on 70cm working with the K1FO 11-element yagi from Rutland Arrays made that band a no-brainer. We worked everyone on 70cm that we heard, I'm pretty sure.
Things that went well... The deep-cycle battery was an excellant addition, since not having to even think about the possibility of running down the Trooper's starting battery let us be a lot more relaxed about operating, particularly with the amplifiers on. My splurging and buying full boxes of the 1/4-20 carriage bolts, fender washers, and wing nuts made it a lot easier, and more fun, to put things together and take them apart this time. The time we spent putting wire-ties on the feedlines so that we had a single bundle going up the mast to contend with was a big win, it tangled less than it might have. I found a set of colored electrical tape rolls at Home Base, which electricians call "phase tape". They use it to keep up with which phase is which in multi-phase electrical wiring. We used it to color-code the bands, so that we didn't have to think very hard in the cold about which cable went to which antenna, or amplifier, or radio. For a couple of bucks, this was an amazingly useful thing!
Things to do differently next time... The power cabling was a bit messy, and would probably be improved if we made up a distribution box with cabling to the battery on one side and a bunch of our standard connectors for the low-current stuff... amplifiers should still cable directly to the battery, of course. The back-seat operating position was a bit cramped for Bdale. We keep talking about pulling out the right front seat and putting the rig stack there. It's not clear that we have the right formula yet, but we'll keep thinking about it. We ought to add another band for June. Several folks asked us if we had 222 gear. Nobody asked about 902 or anything higher, except 10Ghz... which would have been problematic from most of the sites we used. It would be really nice to have 150+ watts on 2m. With the 4-element yagi, we heard several cool grids that couldn't hear us... would be nice to be more balanced. I suppose we could think about a longer 2m yagi, too. We also think it would be in everyone's best interest to try and figure out how to get more of the FM-only folks in Colorado excited about working some simplex contacts. We got one grid combination *only* because we had 2m/70cm FM capabilities, and if we can do it without violating the "manufactured contact" rules, we think rousing up more of the locals to see what we're about might bring more folks into the VHF weak signal community.
For June, if we don't get crazy, we'll probably use the same sites in DM89, DM78, and DM79... but I think we've got more poking to do for a good site in DM88 without all the powerline noise.
Call Used: N3EUA Grid(s) Activated: DM79 DM89 DM88 DM78 Entry Type: Rover QSOs Pts/QSO QSO Pts Mult 50 MHz 26 1 26 3 144 MHz 38 1 38 10 432 MHz 39 2 78 6 1296 MHz 8 4 32 3 Total All Bands 111 174 22 GRIDS ACTIVATED 4 Rover Scoring Used N3EUA CLAIMED SCORE: 4524