Station Report Spring 2016

Both of our stations are fully operational. We only borrowed one Elecraft K3 radio and a few small items for our field day setup but they are all back in place at this time. The Ten-Tec Jupiter was used only on CW for the entire event. One Elecraft K3 was used on SSB only and the second K3 was used on SSB/CW. This combination of our main radios worked very well for us with a minimum amount of cross radio interference. Our station team sincerely hopes the tower project will move forward in the near future, we have some great contests coming up for the fall/winter season. On a slightly different note, if you have been on HF lately you must have noticed how poor the bands have been in recent weeks. This is an excellent time to try some soundcard digital modes such as PSK, JT-9 or JT-65. These modes are very efficient and can provide good QSO’s under poor conditions.

73 de David KR4U Station Trustee

New members Spring 2016

Welcome to all our new members!

Russell W McIntire KM4QNY

John C Hook KE4VPK

Paul M Krahmer KA4IOX

Bernie G Latzy KB3HBQ

David C Hallam KW4DH

James J Janota,Jr K9FBA

Robert J Giglio NB2G

Kimon D Ballis KM4TOU

Udo W Visintini KF4KUL

Janice E Lentz K4IJK

Mary JO Place N2MJP

John Fleming, Jr

We Pounded in Ground Rods then got Smart

Sparky (a.k.a. Kyle, N4NSS) is always a big help with projects around the shack. Recently, Kyle and I completed some antenna work. However, still on the list of things to finish was a ground system around the house for proper lightning protection. I planned on using a number of ground rods right outside where the bulk head single-point-ground comes through the window (see my article in the last Spark Gap). With that in mind we started pounding in 8 foot copper clad ground rods (thank you Home Depot).

Ground Rods

Needless to say, we took turns pounding the rods into the sand with a 10 lb sledge hammer. Kyle would pound for a while and I would hold the rod with long pliers. Then it was my turn to pound. After 3 or four rods we were about to abort our plans and go for a much smaller ground system than originally planned.

Not being happy with a so-so a ground system, the light-finally-dawned-on-marble-head, as they say. Home Depot rents all kinds of tools, so I went to look at jackhammers (big impact drivers). I started with the size 27 demolition hammer which had an attractive rental price. Yes, the hammer weighs 27 pounds. They seem to size them by weight. The rental person said that would not work. The reason is because it did not have the tool-end to put in the hammer for ground rods. I had thought I could just stick the rod in the hammer’s chuck, a “no-go” on that idea.

Hammer at Rest

Eventually we found the next size up, a “Small Breaker,” Makita HM1307CB Demolition Hammer with a powerful 14.0 -amp motor (yes 35 pounds to balance up in the air on an 8 ft rod, while wildly vibrating!). This hammer had the perfect tool-end, cup shaped to fit over the rod. If you rent one of these puppies, also rent the long heavy gauge extension cord.

Ed NZ1Q ready to hammer

Ground Clamp

We took turns at the jack hammer with one of us on the ground and the other on the ladder. We would both hold the hammer while the rod was going in. It was not too difficult to hold and only took 2-3 minutes for each rod. There are now a total of 11 ground rods that encircle the house with #6 copper wire between all the rods except the main 4 rods at the bulkhead single point ground that are strapped together underground.

We were glad we used the 35 lb hammer because it seemed that at 4 ft down, wherever we placed a rod there was a tough layer we had to break through. We actually put a good deal of our weight on the hammer to get past that point. Otherwise, the sand only required the weight of the hammer which went quickly.

Ground ohm measurements were taken by using a clamp-on ground resistance measuring instrument. The device gave measurements close to 0.5 ohms to ground at all the important locations, which is considered a good ground. I used the AEMC unit, which was borrowed from a friend.

The copper strapping and couplings are from Georgia Copper (www.gacopper.com) and were put together with Jet Lube SS-30. This grease is 70% copper dust. The grease prevents corrosion and the copper in SS-30 makes it very conductive. The idea is that trapped copper in the joints makes a very good contact between both metal surfaces (cleaned of oxide first) as the clamps are tightened down. As an alternative, Cadweld can be used in place of clamps and produces a permanent, exothermic connection to a ground rod (DX Engineering). It is a welded connection that thermally fuses the wire to the ground rod with copper.

Kyle, N4NSS ready to drill!

NY4I Visits ARRL HQ

All avocations have their Mecca. For pilots, a visit to the Oshkosh fly-in is required; for race fans, the Indy 500 is a required pilgrimage. As a ham, we have two places that we must go to at least once in our ham radio journey. The first place is the Dayton hamfest, and second, the ARRL headquarters in Newington, CT. This is a story about my first visit to the ARRL HQ and the W1AW station back in 1999.

ARRL Headquarters Building

Ever since I became a ham, W1AW had a special meaning. After all, W1AW represents the ARRL–our national amateur radio organization. The politics of it aside, the ARRL headquarters holds a special place in the lore of amateur radio. The place exudes ham radio history. As you drive down Main Street in Newington (a suburb of Hartford, CT), you go from a small downtown into what appears to be a residential area of town. Then just as you start to think you are lost, you see them: towers! The brick building along Main Street which houses W1AW is the first sign of something familiar to hams everywhere. Then, a look further down the street reveals a large, two-story building which houses the ARRL offices.

Turning into the parking lot you see the requisite antennas on the vehicles, the ham license plates, and the omnipresent towers of W1AW. On this day, I arrived at about Noon for the tour of the building. After a quick tour of the amateur radio museum complete with equipment from all eras of amateur radio, someone came out to give me the tour of the office building. The building, constructed in the early 1970s, is a Spartan building with the look and feel of any office building. But in this building, there is one major difference: While most buildings like this usually house insurance companies or mortgage companies, this one is 100% dedicated to amateur radio. As I went through the many departments I kept thinking how luck these people were to make their living supporting a hobby. One interesting observation came when I stopped by the contest desk. On the wall, there is a standard business looking chart. Only instead of sales forecasts or new client data, this one had a graph of contest entries by year. To see a chart that we associate with typical “business” functions used to display something that we choose to do on the weekends was indeed enlightening. It shows that support of our hobby on this level is really treated by the men and women of the ARRL as a serious profession.

Another area I visited was the ARRL Lab. I now know why the projects in QST and the handbook look so good. Besides all the electronic test equipment, they have a full machine shop for fabrication of parts. I saw table saws and the like in the lab. So, the next time you tackle a project in QST and it does not look quite as good as it does in the picture, do not feel bad. They really have the equipment to do things right. Just beside the lab is an RF screen room where the reviews that appear in QST can be seen. On this day, surrounded by amazing test equipment was an ICOM IC706MKIIG radio going through the paces (remember this was 1999). Based on all the equipment here, the lab can really perform through tests of the equipment and provide proper recommendations on just how well equipment performs in the real world.

I continued my tour with a walk through the publishing sections of the ARRL. The ARRL really is a membership organization and a book publisher. At the time of my visit, they had just as much space dedicated to publishing QST and books as they do dedicated to other member services. Interestingly enough while I saw PCs most everywhere, I could tell when I entered the publishing side because I started to see Macintoshes on the desks (frequently used by the publishing industry).

My final stop was the ARRL-VEC area and the outgoing DX bureau. The most notable thing about the VEC was that all the test material is in a locked cage just to make sure the tests are not compromised. The DX bureau, as you would expect, had QSL cards everywhere. That completed my tour of the office side of things. The final stop on this day was the W1AW station across the parking lot.

W1AW Memorial Station

As I went into the building, I noticed the lobby has a brief history of the station. You can see pictures of the various stages of the building. The layout of the station is quite impressive. When you walk into the area, you notice a large console in the middle, which houses some computers and audio equipment. Behind that desk is an environmentally controlled area that houses the W1AW transmitters used for HF bulletins and code practice. The gear during my visit was Harris commercial HF equipment and Harris one kilowatt amplifiers. There were only two pieces of equipment that look like normal ham gear: a Ten-Tec HF radio for 20 meters along with a Command Technologies amplifier. When these stations operate on all bands on CW, it is really interesting to see all the LED power meters on the HF rigs sending code in unison. The next area to see was the operating “studios”. There are three studios: one houses packet and satellite equipment, one had some HF equipment and the last has more HF equipment. The major manufacturers frequently donate equipment to the station to ensure each is well represented at W1AW. After the tour and showing my license to the operator at the station, I sat down to operate a Yaesu FT1000D on the 20-meter beam at 120 feet. I turned the rotor to the West to see what was on the band but propagation did not seem particularly good this day, but that would soon prove deceiving. I put out a simple CQ on 14.260 MHz USB and that is where I sat for the next 2 ½ hours. If you have ever heard W1AW on the air, you know the station attracts quite a following. Many people said this was the first time they had spoken to W1AW. I really did not make a contest out of it, choosing more to rag chew with people. I spoke to quite a few mobile stations including a truck driver in Kentucky running 1000 watts mobile–he really was the loudest signal on the band. As I logged each entry in the log, I reflected on my own attempts to work W1AW back when I fix started. It was the ham radio version of a celebrity call sign. I recalled being very happy to put the station in my log. On the other end, there was a guest op visiting the W1AW having just as much fun as I was having now. Towards the end of my operating time, I turned the beam towards Europe and heard a few pile-ups. One Russian station was on and I simple gave my call as “Whiskey One Alpha Whiskey. He came back to me and we exchanged information. When he came back to me, he said “W1AW…Is this the ARRL?” This goes to show the notability that the ARRL and the W1AW call sign have in the world. After my time at the microphone, it was time to close up, as they had to get the stations on the air for code practice. I completed my log sheets, submitted them to the operator and hung around for a bit while the code practice was played. I then took a stroll outside to see the steel trees outside. W1AW had four towers at the time. The tallest one was 120 feet with at least 8 Yagi antennas on it. There were a few 65-foot towers with various HF antennas. Another tower has the satellite antennas on it as well.

All in all, this is quite the place. I thank each and every person at the ARRL for his or her assistance and for the work they do. I recommend every ham make the trip to Newington at least once and see this amazing place. If you are not yet a member of the ARRL, I encourage you to join to support this organization. Their advocacy of amateur radio ensures it will continue for another century. They really do so much work that makes our hobby possible.

Field Day 2016, The President’s Perspective

Our effort began Friday morning as the tower and antennas were set up in anticipation of RF pulsing through the coax. By the time field day ended, we had erected a portable tower with a triband beam and Armstrong rotor and a 40/80 dipole. Two additional vertical antennas for HF, a halo for 6M and two circularly polarized beams for satellite operations. The GOTA station used a Buddi Pole for 20M.

Saturday morning saw the erection of the large canopy (furnished by Mike K4ZPE) in the patio area to keep or Chef de SPARC, Dee, N4GD in the shade and away from the rain drops. Power was furnished by two Honda EU200i generators, a solar panel and batteries.

Our primary station, W4TA, consisted of a Ten-Tech Jupiter on CW an Elecraft K3 for the phone station, and an additional K3 to swing between CW and phone as needed. A triplexer made by Dave, KR4U was used to feed the beam for simultaneous operation on 15M and 20M. All the HF radios were connected using an antenna patch panel built by John, KI4UIP, which permitted us to connect any radio with any antenna. Logging was done using Write Log on laptop computers donated by Johnnie, W4TSP.

A cooler full of cold drinks was provided by the club while a keg of craft German style beer was provided by Walt N4ELH. The club also furnished burgers and dogs which were grilled to perfection by Dee, N4GD. Club members furnished chips, salads, beans, slaw, chicken wings, mac & cheese, cookies, bagels and more.

We received a beautiful framed proclamation on Field Day from Pinellas Park Vice Mayor Rick Butler. We were also visited by St Petersburg Fire and Rescue Emergency Management representative Amber Boulding. We explained and demonstrated to Amber how amateur radio works with city and county government in the event of an emergency. We also received a visit from the Salvation Army Canteen unit with beverages and snacks. Thanks for your support.

Our GOTA Station was furnished by Pete, KJ4FAW. Due to the inclement weather, we only had a few GOTA operators, but those folks were able to spend quality time at the station. Our satellite station was furnished by Tom, NY4I. Due to weather and a technical issue, QSB managed to foil our last minute bid for satellite QSO points. Our 6M station was furnished by Paul, KC4YDY. Unfortunately the band never opened, and Paul was only able to make contacts with the usual group of locals around the bay.

Around 4PM local time, lightning took out power to our building. No problem…the radios and computers were on emergency power. Oh well, No AC. No lights. Just like the old days. A pain, but no problem. It turns out a short occurred 6 feet underground in the primary feed to the transformer serving our building. The crew from Duke Energy showed up around 7:30PM, located the fault and began digging. And I do mean digging. When I went out to see what was going on, all I saw was the top of the technician’s hard hat in the hole. And he was stand up! With the fault removed ant the cable spliced, all that remained was to replace the fuse feeding the transformer. Have you ever experienced fuse blowing protecting a dead short on a 7,200 volt circuit having virtually an unlimited current source? Think lightning bolt landing at your feet. KA-BOOM. Damn that was loud. It turns out there was a second fault on the cable feeding the transformer. Thanks to the dedication of the Duke Energy crew, the power was restored about 2:00AM Sunday morning.

NY4I sent a number of radiograms Saturday night on the Eagle net. Late Saturday night, Section Manager Darrell, KT4WX dropped by in his ten county tour of Field Day sites in West Central Florida. Darrell indicated he had received our radiogram. Sunday’s activities were as one would expect. More radio, breakfast, and starting to clean up in anticipation of a warm shower. By 4:00PM, the site had returned to normal and another successful field day is in the books. Preliminary reports indicate 597 CW QSOs, 334 Phone QSOs and total point count of 1529.

A big thanks to all the folks that made this year’s Field Day a success. I know I had fun, and I saw a lot of folks smiling as well.

A Few Words From Our President

Bob, N2ESPThe ARRL National Convention, aka Orlando Hamcation® was the destination of many SPARC members in February. There were lots of goodies for everyone, and our traditional lunch time photos appear in this issue. I bet I purchased the only antique bottle of Edison Battery Oil in the place.

Our April Fool’s Day meeting sure fooled me. Usually our attendance falls off after Easter, as our snow birds begin their migration north. We must have set a new record. A standing room only crowd, three dozen donuts consumed, three packages of cookies annihilated, and nearly 50 cups of coffee enjoyed. I can only assume it was the excellent program on PSK given by Dave, KR4U that was the star attraction.

The tower permit has been issued. The station engineering team is finalizing construction plans. Work has begun on refurbishing the tower base and accessories. Shortly the foundation will be in place. Look for announcements for an antenna party. Our primary HF operating position now features a P3 Panadaptor. We should see our average contest scores begin to rise soon.

This year’s Field Day was one for the books. We had the usual technical issues which were quickly resolved. The food was plentiful and good. Enough rain to make things interesting. And a nearby lightning strike that took out the 7.2KV primary feed to our FD site. No problems…we’re on emergency power. Read all the exciting details in this issue.

We’re also looking for some direction in setting up our weather station. We would like to cast our data to multiple web sites. If you have some expertise with these systems, give me a shout.

Finally we note the passing of members Pete Secrist, WB2SUN; Bruce Roggenkamp WD9FMI; and Ernest Gregorie, AA1IK. RIP OM.

73,

Bob – N2ESP

• P.S. A funny for this issue: I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.