The Amateur Amateur: A Tale of Three Tents, Part 1

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
November 7, 2007

Field Station

Our first field station demonstration was held in a parking lot.

Gary at driveway HF station

Testing my HF digital station in the driveway.

Chuck Wehking, N0EIS

Chuck Wehking, N0EIS. Mischievous genie?

Our ARES group decided to hold a field station demonstration. And where better to hold such a demonstration than in the field? We had done it once before in a parking lot and there had been a surprising amount of interest. This time we thought we’d make it bigger and run it all day instead of for just an hour. So our Emergency Coordinator Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, booked space for us at a local park.

I was both eager and nervous. I had set up a field station once before during a Simulated Emergency Test, and everything had gone fine. This time, however, I had promised to do something a bit more complicated that running a 2 meter station; in my zeal I had volunteered to set up a HF station and operate it in a digital mode. I must have been absolutely drunk with confidence, because I also said that I’d establish a link with an ARES group on the other side of the state.

There were only a few dozen flaws with my plan, the main one being that I’d never done any of this stuff before.

Lesson One: If There is Food, Hams Will Be There

We were holding the field station demonstration for several reasons. Thinking back I’d guess it all started with someone saying, “Let’s have a picnic.” We had been trying to plan our next exercise, but the picnic idea refused to die. Every exercise proposed seemed to get a picnic amendment added to it, so eventually that became the focus.

One purpose of a picnic was public exposure, so we definitely wanted to set up a variety of different stations to show what we were capable of doing. We have a handful of members who can do just about anything, but we like to encourage everyone on our roster to try new things and to expand their abilities. We invited everyone in our group to set up a station, help operate a station, lend a strong back, help with the food or just come and eat the food. As long as they came, we figured they’d have a good time and learn something.

Perhaps the planning committee had too much caffeine the day we decided to do this, because we kept tacking additional features onto the event. Since it was going to be held in October, we figured we’d combine it with our Simulated Emergency Test. And if we were going to do that, I also wanted to make on-air contact with some other ARES groups in the state.

It’s not unusual for us to start with very ambitious ideas and then whittle away at them until they reach manageable levels. For some reason, though, this event never got scaled back. And I really got worried when a couple of the key people looked like they were taking on multiple conflicting tasks. We quickly decided that Steve, our EC, would handle tours, greet visitors, and take care of any press that showed up at the site. He’s very good at that sort of thing.

Craig Hirsh, K0CMH, is our Assistant Emergency Coordinator for Planning and Development. His assignment was to manage the site. I am also an AEC, but I’d already made arrangements to make contact with another ARES group during the event, so I wasn’t assigned any executive duties.

Lesson Two: Hams Are Not Sneaky (Well, Not Much, Anyway)

I imagine you think I was very sneaky, arranging to get to operate while my compatriots got stuck with managerial duties. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. You see, as AEC for Operations I had been working on establishing relations with other ARES groups for some time. Our group is now four years old, and while I am very happy with the progress it’s made, we have a long way to go.

Not that long ago I made contact with Mike Bellinger, K0UAA, and Larry Trullinger, KB0IB. Mike is the Emergency Coordinator of the Jackson County, Missouri ARES group, and Larry is one of his Assistant Emergency Coordinators. For those of you not familiar with Missouri, that is the Kansas City area. The Jackson County ARES group has been around a lot longer than our St Louis County group, so I was anxious to get to know the folks in charge there. I’m sure there is a great deal we can learn from them.

In any case, the fellows in the Jackson County ARES group agreed to link up with us on-air during our Field Station Demonstration and Simulated Emergency Test (yes, that’s a mouthful, and yes, we tended to use all sorts of abbreviations). I started learning from them right away, since they started asking questions that hadn’t occurred to me. As a result I started paring down my ambitious goals for our first trans-Missouri contact. I felt pretty dim-witted, but the Jackson County guys were very kind and understanding.

I was, however, fairly confident in my equipment. I had done a test setup in my driveway, and though the band was dead, I was pretty sure that at least my station would work. About the only thing I did not have was a field-deployable HF antenna.

Lesson Three: Get a Magic Lamp and Rub Real Hard – Maybe an Antenna Will Pop Out

And now I must introduce Chuck Wehking, N0EIS. In some ways Chuck is like the magic genie in the Disney version of Aladdin, especially as Robin Williams portrayed him. Like the genie, Chuck can do the most marvelous things. And also like the genie, sometimes Chuck’s mind floats away into his vast storehouse of arcane knowledge and you have no idea what he’s talking about. But Chuck is very reliable and it’s always fun to be around him.

Chuck took on the assignment of coming up with a HF antenna for me to use. He really scared me a few times (bamboo antennas?), but by and large, I knew I could count on him. My only worry was that Chuck was also bringing some of the food for the picnic. I didn’t want him to mix up the two assignments and build me an antenna out of aluminum soda cans (though I’m sure if he had, it would’ve worked).

Lesson Four: The Rolling Stones Were Right – Gimme Shelter

My last worry was shelter. The weather forecast all week long had been for sunny skies. Now, that might sound just fine to you, but I suffer from vitiligo, a condition in which I do not have any pigment on large areas of my skin. If I stay in the sun too long I turn into a burnt hot dog. I desperately needed a tent, a vat of sun block, or a very large cardboard box. The last two didn’t seem very practical, but I didn’t own a tent.

Fortunately for me, Cece Rongey, KC0ULG, said she was bringing a tent (actually a canopy), and would be happy to share it with me.

So, as the big day approached, it appeared that we were all ready for our moment of glory.

And then they changed the weather forecast.

To be continued…

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 Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2007 American Radio Relay League

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

Back to The Amateur Amateur home page Back to Past Columns page