The Amateur Amateur: A Tale of Three Tents, Part 2
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
was I? Oh yes, our local ARES
group had decided to hold a field station demonstration. Everything
looked fine until the day before the event, when the weather forecast
was suddenly changed
December 9, 2007
My station under the second canopy. Or was it the third?
While not fighting bees or dropping hot dogs, I operated PSK31.
The SSTV station operated by Cece Rongey, KC0ULG.
One of the magical boxes put together by Ed Harris, KC0UKR.
Okay, just for
the record it was three canopies, not tents. When I started looking
for a shelter for my field station I didn’t know the
difference. To me they were all tents.
switched the outlook from clear to iffy. I don’t know how else
to describe it. It might be clear, it might rain or there might be a
plague of locusts. Basically the new forecast was a lot of
double-talk amounting to the fact that the weatherman really had no
idea what was going to happen. Not knowing what else to do, we
decided to go ahead with our demonstration.
It was overcast
but dry on the morning of the event. Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, our
Emergency Coordinator, had booked a large picnic area in Queeny Park
in St Louis County. I arrived about an hour before we were scheduled
to start and found that the situation was already controlled mayhem.
Someone had stolen our event sign mere minutes after it had been
erected. Runners from a charity event were using the same pathway
that we were using to get to the picnic area. And all of our
participants had forgotten that we had selected a simplex frequency
to use at the site and were struggling to hit a hard-to-reach
Five: Sometimes 2 Meters Beats 40 Meters
unloading my small, overstuffed car. I felt that I’d been very
shrewd in purchasing a two-wheeled dolly, but after a dozen trips up
and down the hills and valleys between the parking lot and the picnic
area, I didn’t feel quite so clever. My first lesson from the
event was that my field equipment needed to be much more organized
and compact. I was exhausted before I even started putting together
The first order
of business was to find Chuck Wehking, N0EIS, as he was going to set
up a 40 meter antenna for me. I found him and asked where I should
locate my station. We dickered over the ideal site for a while, and
then started putting things together.
My next task was
to find Cece Rongey, KC0ULG. She had a tent (okay, a canopy) she was
willing to share, and I really wanted to be underneath one. If the
sun came out, I needed to be in the shade, and if it rained, well,
Cece was still
willing to share her canopy, but was dismayed that I had set up my
station in a low area. That would be fine for a 40 meter Near
Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS
operation like mine, but she planned to operate on 2 meters. She
opted instead to erect her station, and hence her canopy, at the top
of a rise.
antenna, a strange concoction of bamboo, orange warning tape and
invisible wire, was already in place, so I decided not to try to
relocate my station. I found Steve and asked him if another canopy
was available. As it happened, there was.
The spare canopy
was a clever device that fit into a container about the size of a
golf club bag. Once out of the bag, the framework unfolded into the
desired shape, and all we had to do was put the canvas top over it.
Steve, a couple of volunteers and I put up the canopy over the picnic
table where I had placed all of my equipment. It only took a couple
of minutes. I was very impressed with the design and made a mental
note to look into purchasing one. Surely I could find room in my car
for something the size of a golf club bag.
Me, But Could You Help Out a Fellow Amateur Radio Operator Who’s
Down On His Luck?”
Right. I was
finally ready to go, and only slightly late in getting started. I had
made arrangements with folks at Jackson County ARES (Kansas City,
Missouri) to make contact on 40 meters using PSK31. I heard nothing
on the prearranged frequency, so I began transmitting. I made a few
contacts in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but did not hear anyone from
been operating for very long when Steve told me he had to take away
the canopy. It appeared that it belonged to Craig Klimczak, K4LSU,
and he had just arrived with his own load of gear. With great
reluctance I stopped operating and helped move the canopy over to
“I hate to
ask, but is there a backup backup canopy?” I asked Steve.
but nodded. Five minutes later we had moved the canopy sheltering the
promotional table over to my table. I was back in business.
And then it
started to rain.
threw a tarpaulin over the promotional material and headed for cover.
A couple of people who had been wandering around the site suddenly
found my canopy-covered station very interesting. They were welcome,
but the bees, which also sought shelter under the canopy, were not. I
don’t know if they were criticizing my operating skills or
what, but they would not leave me alone.
definitely discouraged people from attending our demonstration, but
in some ways it was beneficial. Had it been raining before we began,
we probably would have cancelled the event. As it was, we
unexpectedly learned that we were capable of operating in inclement
weather. Every station was sheltered in some way. We were fortunate
that it was a mild rain and that there was no wind. Had it been a
driving rain our canopies wouldn’t have kept us or our
equipment dry. So there was another lesson, free courtesy of Mother
Seven: The “Billion Bubble Beverage” Really Does Make
I had not yet
managed to contact Jackson County ARES, so I decided to take a break
and get some lunch. (I later found out that the weather was much
worse in western Missouri, and lightning had driven the Jackson
County guys off the air.) We had hot dogs, chips and an assortment of Vess
soda. For some reason, standing there watching the rain drip from the
edge of the canopy, it was an absolutely delicious meal. I had
seconds, and probably would’ve continued scarfing down wieners
had I not dropped a half-eaten one and gotten mustard all over my
go-bag. Luckily I had wet wipes and was able to clean up the mess,
but I still mourn for that lost hot dog.
The rain finally
let up, so I decided to tour the site and see what the rest of the
participants had brought.
enhanced his canopy to include sides, a barbeque grill, a television
set and his family. He really had all the comforts of home. I was
quite impressed that his canopy was now truly weatherproof and
renewed my mental note to look into getting one just like it.
Now that the rain
had subsided Steve set up a SSTV station and was exchanging pictures
N0OBG, was operating something so complicated and technical that I
can’t even begin to describe it. I think he had linked the air
waves, the phone system, the Internet and possibly even the
vocalizations of dolphins into a single massive net.
KC0UKR, is our champion of compact portable field stations. If it’s
a container and can be carried by one person, it’s likely that
he’s has built a station into it. Ed had an assortment of
impressive, completely self-contained stations on display.
W0SJS, was stoically keying away in CW mode, while nearby Mark
Biernacki, KB5YZY was communicating on the 75 meter band. At one
point he handed the mike to me and said, “It’s for you.”
It was, indeed, someone from Jackson County ARES trying to reach me,
but we only managed to exchange call signs before the ionosphere
I dashed back to
my own station and tried once again to raise Jackson County ARES, but
was not successful. I still didn’t know about the lightning
storms in Kansas City.
I noticed that
there was an annoying tick-tick-tick sound every time I transmitted a
PSK 31 signal. I didn’t know what it was until a second symptom
developed, which was that my transceiver stopped transmitting. It
didn’t take long to figure out that the power was rapidly
running down in my battery. It had a 55 aH rating, but I was, after
all, using it to power both my transceiver and my laptop computer.
Eight: Power Hogs and Hams Do Not Mix
That turned out
to be a mistake. The computer was a power hog, and even a fresh
fully-charged backup battery could barely handle the radio and laptop
when I transmitted. I made a note in my list of lessons learned that
day: Computer and transceiver -- separate power sources.
Steve decided to
shut down the demonstration an hour early when he received a report
that even worse weather was approaching, so we all packed up our gear
and headed for home.
So, how would I
rate the event? Well, we weren’t happy that we didn’t get
many visitors, but there was nothing we could do about the weather.
We did, however, gain some insights, learn some lessons and generally
have a good time. It was also nice to see that we worked well as a
team and could put together quick solutions to unexpected problems.
I discovered that
I was capable of fielding a fairly complex station, which boosted my
self-confidence. And, hey! I got to take home the leftover Vess soda.
say that it was a good event.
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