Amateur Radio News

Memories of Field Day Adventures

I started out in Amateur Radio 40 years ago this summer, and I have participated in Field Day, in one way or another, every year. My experiences have been many and varied: extreme weather conditions, including inches of rain falling in just hours; the year my wife wore her bathing suit to the neighbor’s pool on Saturday to cool off in 80-degree heat and her parka for Sunday’s 40-degree chills; steering a dead van being towed to a Field Day site with a chain and unexpectedly passing the tow vehicle on a downhill stretch; watching a fellow club member ride a falling tower to the ground. Note: These last two are things not to be tried. Fortunately, maturity and better club safety precautions have prevailed.

I could go on about more activities and great times I have shared with my local radio club (Cuyahoga Falls ARC). But I would like to focus on my adventures that combined summer vacations with trips to operate FD portable. My wife Linda, KA8ODP, and I decided a few years ago to try operating while taking a vacation. The criteria were simple:

  1. It needed to be a fun/interesting place to visit.
  2. It needed to be affordable (so no expedition to Guam or Hawaii, at least yet).
  3. We decided to focus the operating efforts in states with lower numbers of FD operations.
  4. Finally, the joke was, it needed to have a two-letter section abbreviation to make operating easier.

I have operated from the following:

  • 2009: East Glacier, MT
  • 2010: Acadia, Bar Harbor, ME
  • 2011: Tomlinson State Park, WV
  • 2012: Seneca State Forest, WV
  • 2013: Hocking Hills State Park, OH
  • 2015: Tomlinson State Park, WV
  • 2017: Trap Pond State Park, DE
  • 2018: Killen State Park, DE
  • 2019: Hartland, VT

The missing years in the above sequence were done while visiting relatives in Ohio due to work, health, and family issues. 2020’s pandemic resulted in a home 2E operation, and our plan for this year is a quick trip to the West Virginia Panhandle.

2009East Glacier, MT

This trip was one of the most ambitious to date and involved a train ride around the country. We booked a 15-day pass on Amtrak with layovers in East Glacier, Portland, Los Angles, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. We left Cleveland in the wee hours of the morning and traveled to Chicago. From there, we traveled overnight on the old Great Northern Empire Builder route to East Glacier. I operated from a small cabin with the mountains of Glacier National Park in front of me. I operated with an Elecraft K2 and Yaesu FT-817, a 31 ft. collapsible vertical antenna, and two heavy lead gel cells. One thing that I thought I had prepared for turned out not to be the case. Covered with mosquito repellent, I thought I was safe. But no, Montana mosquitos are tenacious. They swarmed me, biting on unprotected areas of my body—under my fingernails, under my watch, around my eyes, and even in my ears. The rest of the operation went great. Because we would be traveling for many days after leaving Glacier, I had prepared ahead with flat-rate USPS boxes to mail the heavy gel cells and extra rig (K2) home.

2010Acadia, Bar Harbor, ME

Our car trip to Maine meandered through various spots in Vermont and New Hampshire which we had visited 31 years earlier on our honeymoon. We arrived at our lodging in Maine, a motel made up of small cabins just west of the entrance to Acadia National Park. The plan was to operate from the picnic area in front of the cabin. Those plans changed drastically on Friday while visiting Cadillac Mountain in the park. I asked the rangers if I could operate from the mountain; they said I could, as long as I was not going to be sleeping there. The plan was for Linda to drop me off Saturday morning while she did the tourist thing in the park. I found two adjacent rocks just off the main path to use as a chair and table. I set up my vertical by bungee, cording it to a tiny tree amongst the rocks.

I also had a solar panel that I leaned against other rocks (as you will see in the photo below, the cardboard box from the solar panel was repurposed as a sign to explain my FD operation to passing tourists). This time I had my rapid-deployment, tackle box go-kit with K2, FT-817, and batteries. Operations went well, but I actually had many visitors, so explaining Amateur Radio and Field Day probably reduced my contact numbers. As darkness approached, I packed up and returned to dinner and the cabin.

Early Sunday morning, I dropped Linda off at the harbor to meet her whale-watching tour boat. I reascended the mountain, set up my station, and began operating as the sun just started to break through. Because of the combination of my far eastern location and the elevation of Cadillac Mountain, I was the first FD site in the U.S. to have sunrise. Later Sunday morning, there were four weddings performed on the mountain, so I limited my operations to CW with headphones so as not to disturb them with my shouting voice on SSB. After another day of operating and numerous tourist visits, I ended FD, packed up, and returned to the harbor to pick up the returning whale-watcher. (Linda’s note here: I saw three sets of whales with young ones by their sides, and one mother even let the baby get between her and the boat.)

2011 and 2015Tomlinson State Park, WV

Never take a new tent out in the middle of a pouring rainstorm! That was our mistake in Tomlinson State Park. Fortunately, the trip back to my parents’ place did not take very long, and we spent Friday night in a dry house and returned Saturday morning to set up the tent and the station. The rain changed to a drizzle, and FD went on with us being only slightly moist. After this, Linda ruled, “No tents” for future trips. In a return trip to Tomlinson in 2015, Linda did agree to a Yurt, and things went well.

2012Seneca State Forest, WV

A week at a cabin with no electricity is a great place to do FD. It was also a learning experience for cooking on a woodfired stove. Seneca State Forest is located just south of Greenbank and the National Radio Astronomy Green Bank Observatory (it was a fascinating afternoon tour). We also continued our train connections visiting one of my favorite scenic railroads, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. We also hiked along the scenic nearby Greenbrier River.

I used my old go-box with a new Elecraft KX3 replacing my K2. Antennas included a collapsible vertical and an end-fed wire through the trees. The front porch was an excellent spot for the station and the solar panel. The end-fed wire worked great for late-night CW and SSB on 80 meters.

2018Killens Pond State Park, DE

Our next two trips were to Delaware. We spent a week at a cabin in Killens Pond State Park. This gave me a chance to work FD and spend a week giving operators around the world a chance to get DE on the new FT8 mode. This FD saw the premiere of a new antenna for me, the MFJ Cobweb 1836. I modified the original cobweb to a portable version—details for this simple project are here. The rigs used included my Elecraft KX2 and KX3 in a new rapid-deployment tackle box go-kit. In addition to the cobweb, I also used an MFJ-1982 end-fed, 1/2 wave, 80-10M, 300W wire antenna strung through the trees.

With no Internet in the cabins, my FT8 computer lost time synchro the day after FD. A quick run to order a milkshake and connection with Wi-Fi in a nearby McDonalds solved this issue, although I had to make a repeat visit a few days later. I have since solved this problem by acquiring a USB GPS receiver for my laptop, which handles time synchronization. Unfortunately, it does not also provide milkshakes.

This was my first year for a new FD operating category, moving from 1B to 2B. Actually, I was 2B1B—two radios, one operator with battery. This was possible because I could operate the new FT8 mode with the second radio as I operated SSB or CW with the first radio. I had the highest score in this category, as there were only three entries!

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