The Amateur Amateur: Field Day: An Etude in Three Movements
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Having made no
Field Day plans of my own, I asked Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, if I could
tag along with him. Steve is the Emergency Coordinator for St Louis
He was going to visit several sites around the St Louis County,
Missouri area to say hello and promote ARES. I said that if he’d
let me, I would follow him around, hand out promotional buttons and
take lots of pictures of him. I guess I caught him at a good moment
because he said yes.
July 5, 2007
St. Louis & Suburban Radio Club site. Eight men and a radio.
K0KMA and his vehicle. Note that he is wearing one of my buttons.
The Northwest Amateur Radio & Electronics Association site. Some of
the many marine batteries they had on hand.
The St. Louis Amateur Radio Club site. Tents and strange antennas.
Steve and I met
at a restaurant on Saturday morning. He had worked the night shift
and he needed an infusion of caffeine before heading to the first
site on his list. It was clear to me that he was somewhat sleep
deprived, since his responses to me had little to do with what I said
to him. Little by little though, he seemed to grasp where he was, why
he was there and what I was saying. When he started talking in
complete sentences, I knew that he was ready to hit the road.
the restaurant, however, we ran into Fred Langeneckert, W0UX. Fred
had once been the Missouri Section Emergency Coordinator. He told us
an amusing story about visiting a Field Day site years earlier. The
site’s manager wanted to earn extra points by sending a message
to the SEC, but didn’t grasp that it should be sent to the SEC
by radio, not merely handed to him. Fred explained the rules and then
accommodated the site manager by getting on a radio and accepting the
message. That was one message that barely had to travel any distance
The first Field
Day site Steve wanted to visit was that of the St. Louis &
Suburban Radio Club. It was at the park he had expected, but not in
the specific location within the park that he had anticipated. Take
note, because this became a recurring theme throughout the day. Steve
and I signed in, and I began handing out promotional buttons.
Just a note here
on the buttons. I make them up myself. I give them out at hamfests
and anywhere else that Amateur Radio operators gather. At the SLSRC
Field Day site, I was handing them out blindly, not really paying
attention, when Rebecca Carroll, KC9CIJ, stated she already had one.
I focused on her and realized who she was. “Of course you do,”
I said lamely, realizing that I’d probably given her several
over the years. There are just over 2000 hams in the greater St.
Louis area, but it seems like I’ve given away tens of thousands
of the buttons. I should hear comments like Rebecca’s far more
often, but usually people accept the button, read it, smile, and say
“Thank you” as if they’d never seen one before.
Either there is a constant turnover of hams in the area or their
memories aren’t very good.
the first things that struck me when we arrived at SLSRC’s site
was the tall mast with impressive antennas at the top, and the nasty
clouds heading our way.
Ah, the weather.
From the forecast I had figured that it would be hot and muggy or
that it would rain like crazy. As it turned out, both guesses were
correct. And somehow I was always in an exposed area every time it
But back to the
St. Louis & Suburban Radio Club site. When we arrived I saw Steve
Schmitz, W0SJS, logging CW messages on a laptop computer. Another
person was logging the same messages (or perhaps just copying them
down on paper), and of course someone else was actually operating the
transceiver. At that time it was the only radio in operation. Things
had not yet gotten into full swing.
gamely trying to get an older model transceiver to work, but couldn’t
get anything to come out of the speaker. There was no manual and no
one there was familiar with the rig. At one point there were eight
people trying to make the radio work. I don’t know whether or
not anyone succeeded.
I spent a while
chatting with Phineas Henshaw, K0KMA, and taking pictures of his
radio-packed van. We seemed to have a couple of changes of season
during the conversation, with sweltering heat and bugs giving way to
cool breezes and light sprinkles, and then the bugs and mugginess
returning. Phineas was such an interesting fellow, though, that I
I wandered around
some more and found that the huge mast was not the only place where
there were antennas. There was at least one semi-invisible wire
running between trees, and more were being added all the time. They
were so hard to see that I wondered if any of them actually touched.
The sky darkened ominously as Bill Carroll, KC9CIK, struggled to get
one wire antennas into a tree, so I decided to give him a hand.
the deluge began.
Most everyone ran
for cover, but Bill and I were stuck out in the open hauling on the
end of a rope. As Bill tied the rope around the trunk of a tree I
felt obligated to point out that we were standing in the rain, under
a tree that had a long metal wire attached to it. Bill looked up,
gave a quick nod, and hastily finished tying the rope. Then we ran
not strike, but we were thoroughly drenched by the time we reached
the main pavilion. I don’t know about Bill, but I never really
got dry after that.
When the rain let
up Steve suggested that we move on to the next site.
That was much
easier said than done, even with detailed directions. The Northwest
Amateur Radio and Electronics Association had apparently held its
Field Day event in the same park in Bridgeton, Missouri for a number
of years. It was located in the middle of a subdivision, but in
recent years the subdivision had been eradicated due to expansion of
the nearby airport. The park was still there, but there were very few
houses left (none inhabited). Unfortunately, many street signs had
also disappeared, which made finding the park somewhat difficult.
though, we did find it. Steve and I signed in, and once again I
handed out promotional buttons.
"What would you like to drink?" As I was still soaking wet
I was about to decline, but went ahead and accepted a Sprite anyway.
It was starting to get muggy again.
I chatted with
Tom Vogel, WA0KGU, and found out that he was the owner of the
infamous porcupine car. It’s called that because it has
literally dozens of antennas on it and vaguely resembles a porcupine.
My column Hanging
Around the ARES Table
featured a picture of it.
There were many
marine batteries at the NAREA Field Day site. I was told that the
club wasn’t going to use a generator, but instead would rely on
batteries during the entire Field Day event. They had done so last
year and had run every battery flat, so this year they had procured
even more. They had more marine batteries than I had seen anywhere
outside of a submarine.
I was impressed
with the equipment at the site and the level of technical expertise
of the club members, but eventually it was time to move on to the
third and final site.
The St. Louis
Amateur Radio Club had set up its Field Day site in Creve Coeur Lake
Park. It’s a very large place and we had difficulty finding the
correct pavilion. As I said, this was a recurring theme. We kept
pulling over wherever we saw a large gathering, but Steve would say,
“Nope, no antennas. That can’t be it.”
though, we were able to find the SLARC Field Day site. Steve parked
and headed for the pavilion. I had just started unloading my cameras
and buttons when the sky burst open and I got drenched yet again.
That was the other recurring theme for the day.
As with the other
Field Day sites I saw a number of familiar faces. In fact, I had seen
Ed Harris, KC0UKR, and Roland Kramer, W0RL, at the SLSRC site as
well. I guess that, like Steve and I, they wanted to see what was
happening at several sites.
I gave away a
bunch more buttons. It’s what I do.
The organizers at
the St. Louis Amateur Radio Club site had made a big effort to pick
up extra points. They had a display explaining what was happening.
They had ARRL brochures. They had operated on several offbeat modes.
And they were extremely happy to see us. Well, they were happy to see
Steve. No one got any extra points because I showed up.
humming in the main pavilion and in two tents (more wires in the
trees). I saw some odd looking antennas, including one that was
clearly waiting for a satellite to come over the horizon.
Once again I was
offered something to drink, but this time I declined. I was so
waterlogged that I was beginning to grow moss on my north side.
lamented that he had yet to see an actual portable emergency station.
Ed likes to build such things and is a champion of the cause. If you
have any kind of small, portable box, Ed will find a way to put a
complete, self-contained emergency radio station in it, power and
all. Of course Ed had a couple such contraptions in his truck, so I
wandered over to take a look. Steve soon joined us, and it happened
that he had an emergency station in his truck that was modeled after
one of Ed’s.
say much. I have all the components of a field station, and have
actually set up in the field, but my equipment isn’t built into
a nice compact easy-to-carry package. That’s on my RSN (Real
Soon Now) list.
wrapped out our Field Day excursion. Steve drove me back to the
restaurant to pick up my car. Once inside my car I detected a
peculiar dampish odor. It took me a minute to figure out that it was
I headed home
with the idea of throwing all my clothes into the washing machine. As
for me, I planned to climb into the drier.
Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related
Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail,
© 2007 American Radio Relay League