July 2013

The Amateur Amateur: A Rainful Experience
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

Every Field Day is a learning experience for me. I'll meet new people, hear an interesting fact about the hobby, or perhaps discover some new operating mode. More often than not, though, what I learn is that there's something else I failed to pack in my go bag. This year it was a life raft. A submarine would have been even better.

Oh yeah, it rained. The forecast was for a 20% chance of scattered showers, but it rained and rained and rained.

It started out light, nothing more than a nuisance, not really doing anything but raising the already oppressive humidity level. Felix, KD0LMR and I struggled to put together my portable mast, sweat and rain soaking us and making everything slippery. We finally got it up and retreated under the cover of the pavilion where the SLSRC (St. Louis & Suburban Radio Club) had set up its Field Day site. It was still sweltering, but I had brought a cooler filled with bottled water. Just scooping out a handful of ice and running if over my brow helped a lot.

St. Louis & Suburban had invited our local ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) group to set up an emergency station demonstration. That's what I'd planned to do. In the past I'd usually operated some sort of digital mode so that I didn't interfere with any other stations the club might be operating. This year I figured I'd try Winlink, and if that failed, I'd connect to the Missouri Emergency Packet Network (MEPN).

Operating digital modes requires a lot of gear. Well, it does for me, anyway. I had bags and bags of stuff, all parked just under the edge of the pavilion so I'd have easy access to my antenna. I got everything set up and tried to connect to the nearest Winlink RMS (Remote Mail Server). No luck. Sighing, I contemplated switching over to MEPN.

Just about then a nice, cool breeze wafted into the pavilion. Aaahhhhh, that felt nice. I changed frequencies on my transceiver and called up the appropriate software on my computer. I had to squint a little to be able to see the screen clearly.

Hmmm, was it my imagination, or was it getting rather dark? I glanced at the sky.

Nope, not my imagination. Ominous clouds were heading toward us. We might get a bit more rain after all.

Mark Biernacki, KB5YZY is the president of the SLSRC. His commanding voice boomed out, "Everyone shut off your equipment and disconnect your antennas!" He was monitoring the weather channels and knew what was coming.

The wind picked up and banners that had been hung about the pavilion began to whip around madly. Loose papers and flyers went.., well.., flying. The temperature dropped dramatically an instead of being hot I was downright cold.

And then it rained.

Oh man, did it rain. It rained so hard that it seemed like it was raining inside the pavilion. No, let me correct that, it was raining inside the pavilion. The wind was carrying it in and I was getting soaked. Again.

It took me a few minutes to realize that my equipment was getting wet as well.


I quickly moved my transceiver and computer as far away from the rain as possible. I covered them as best I could. I didn't worry about my batteries as they were inside plastic cases. What I forgot about were my bags. I just assumed they'd be fine where they were.

Now I have to make a confession. You see, I manage our local ARES team's Web site. One of my regular tasks is to come up with hints, tips and advice to post on our pages. In the past I'd strongly suggested making sure that notebooks, documents and papers taken into the field be kept in watertight carriers, and that all equipment bags should be waterproof. Oh, this is embarrassing... it's not that I ignored my own advice... not exactly. It's just that I never got around to...

Oh phooey.

Alright, I admit it. I didn't follow my own advice.

A few of my bags were waterproof, but most were not. Likewise, a few items in my notebook had been placed in plastic sleeves, but most hadn't. The bags didn't get too soaked. Their contents survived. But as for the documents in my 3-ring binder, oh brother. All of the papers that had been run off on an inkjet printer had stuck together and turned into a runny, blobby mess. It was horrible. Kind of like what happens when you let a 3-year-old try to dye Easter eggs, colorful, but disastrous.

I can't complain too much, though, as my camera and all of my electronic devices survived. The only stuff that got ruined was replaceable paperwork.

Field Day was a bust for me as far as on-the-air activity goes. No contacts, no connection to Winlink. But I did get to talk with people, which was the real goal of our ARES presence. Some brave souls did venture out into the storm to visit the SLSRC site. I know that when I wasn't busy moving my equipment bags out of growing puddles, I was usually talking to someone about ARES or MEPN, or just chatting. That made Field Day worthwhile to me, the rain notwithstanding.

Since our Field Day ARES station was for demonstration purposes rather than piling up points, I only planned to be on the site Saturday afternoon. And since Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, who is our ARES team's Emergency Coordinator was already there, I decided to shut down my part a bit early, go home, and change into dry clothes.

Usually when I get home from Field Day I'm pretty tired. I tend to leave everything in my SUV and unpack it all the following morning. I couldn't do that this time, however, as a number of items needed to be checked for rain damage. I popped a couple of Motrin and began dragging everything out of the car and down to the basement. Once everything was spread out downstairs, I set up a couple of fans and turned them on, hoping to speed up the drying process.

Over the next week or so I sprayed every bag I used, or might ever use in the field, with a healthy dose of ScotchGard waterproofing. I used up two cans of the stuff.

Most of my papers weren't salvageable, but in a way that was fortunate. It turned out that many of them were out of date. I am now meticulously rewriting them and updating my notebook. And am I putting everything in plastic sleeves now? You'd better believe it.

So, if it rains during the next Field Day I'll be much better prepared. You know what'll happen, of course, it'll be a scorcher instead.

waterproofed bags
Waterproofed Bags

Notebook restoration, a long way to go

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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