Well, the January VHF QSO Party has come and gone, and once again, part of the Cedar Rapids Microwave Society (CRMS) went roving. We learned a few things this time. Things like the Minneapolis and Rochester crowd was really happy to talk with you if you drove up to their back door and had a strong signal. Things like, there is often one small opening during the contest and you had better be on the air, cause they don't last long. Things like if you park too close to the front of Rod Blocksome's van while trying to get off the road but still provide lighting so he can fix his DC charging problems, he is likely to sit on the passenger door mirror.
At the Friday noon planning session before the contest, Rod Blocksome hatched his travel plans. After eating, on the way across the parking lot Joe Culwel and I got to thinking that those plans could equate to a lot of gasoline. Perhaps we should rethink the standard KA0YSQ rover vehicle into something more economical. Joe was kind enough to stop by on his way home from work, and while he worked pruning the antenna tree, I worked on the car. We transformed the Nisson Stanza into a fine little rover vehicle over night. Of course we couldn't carry the massive long boom antennas or the 25 foot mast. The new mast was only about seven feet high, but it had all bands arranged omni, from 2 meters to 2304 i.e. no gain anywhere. On six meters, we used a mag mount whip which only blew off a couple times, and dipoles for 144 Mhz, 222 Mhz, and 432 Mhz, with single loops for 902 MHz, 1296 MHz, and 2304 MHz. We also had along the dual band whip and FM rig which comes with the car and Joe's halo for 2 meters. Rod in true JIT ( just in time ) rover fashion, hadn't even started the engine of his rover van since the last contest. His van still had the antenna rack on the top from previous contests. This didn't prevent him from completely coming up with a new set of antennas however.
Rod and Bills system consisted of masts on each back door hinge which held dipoles, plus a central mast located on the trailer hitch which supported one end of his six meter dipole. The other end of the dipole was supported by a fourth mast located off the front bumper. He also had whips for 2 and 6 meters. Rod had me on height especially on two meters by about 8 feet, and that height really made the difference in receive capability. I thought it interesting that the halo magmounted to the Nisson roof and the dipole worked about the same. The height problem we can fix for next time.
The contest went something like this. 6-Meters was open for maybe 20 minutes into Texas early in the contest. We kept watching for it to happen again, but it wasn't to be. No great DX on any of the other bands, but no real problems either. We left Cedar Rapids (EN42) with a new record for departure time of only one hour after the contest started. Destination: The Radio Farm.
I don't remember what all Rod and Bill needed, but Joe and I needed my 2 meter rig and brick (Amp). While we were there, we picked up the CARC 6 meter rig which is a transverter glued to a Radio Shack 10 meter rig. Joe Culwell incorrectly identified it as a 220 MHz rig which we needed. This identification was not questioned until Sunday morning. We didn't make too many contacts with it. We kept telling the stations to tune around, since it was a transverter it might be a touch off frequency. Just keep tuning down, we have to be there somewhere (down 170 MHz). It came in handy Sunday morning when Rod's venerable IF rig, his original Yaesu FT-101 decided not to get out of bed after cold storage. Fortunately the Radio Shack box, already having been modified to transverter duty plugged right in and played. Since we weren't making too many 220 MHz contacts with it, we let him use it. It was then we realized it was actually a 6 meter rig.
From the farm we drove north on Highway 63 to Rochester. It was pretty steady contacts, followed by a flurry when we made the city limits. There were a couple opportunities to pull off the highway and work microwave contacts. They all seemed really happy to work us, and were encouraging rover activity. We had a bit of trouble with W0IBM from their club station on 1296 MHz, only to find our IF rig was set 1 MHz low. Cockpit error. That is why I had started using a separate IF for that transverter. It was always too much trouble to remember to switch up to 145 from 144 when working 1296. Those stations just didn't tune around enough. We should have been easily strong enough for them to hear.
At the grid corners of EN42/EN43, and EN32/EN33 we did the necessary sixteen combinations available between two rovers and four grids on 50.135, 144.220, 432.110, 902.100, and 2304.100. Rod didn't take 222 MHz (neither did we, really) or 1296 MHz rig. This seemed like quite the accomplishment, looking for high ground at about midnight on unfamiliar gravel roads. GPS helped a lot here. Shortly after this, Rod kept telling us we were FMing and to check our charging system. It was actually their charging system. Their deep cycle battery had fallen to 8 volts, and the radio was complaining. Quite the in-rush current after he bi-passed the fuse holder to hook their deep cycle battery and radios directly to the van system. The 20 amp fuse holder had over heated in the cold night air and the contacts had shrunk into the plastic housing too far to make contact.
Just north of Rochester, we laid over for the evening. After a quick nap and donut, we were back on the road, but not too quickly. There was a missed 2304 MHz contact from the night before between EN43 and EN33 that needed to be made up, plus the dead Yaesu FT-101 to be exchanged Sunday morning. Then it was a group of pretty steady contacts slowing only a bit between 9 am and noon, but building into a busy flurry around the Twin Cities. We scared up a fair amount of interest which followed us to the next set of grid corners west of the cities. After working through that pile, it was time for lunch/supper about 4 pm, and pointing toward the drive home.
All the stations you typically work from the Twin Cities were there when we were in their back yard. Only interesting thing was they were pounding the stuffing's out of 146.55 MHz FM! Two meter sideband was only moderately busy, but the FM channels really had a following. They were working that mode very hard. We were still making SSB contacts into the cities when we returned to Cedar Rapids, but not at the level of activity that was available on FM. Next contest, maybe more vertical antennas!!!
The grand total is something around 750 contact (miles) and 350+ QSOs each. We were still trying to make that last EN41/EN42 microwave contact on 2304 MHz when the contest closed at 10 pm Sunday. I believe Joe and I made the correct choice. Rod Blocksome says he bought 70 gallons of gas.
73's - Bryan McCoy - KA0YSQ
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Last Update: January 19, 1998