K1RA @ W1RT Rover ARRL Sept VHF 2010

W1RT Rover ARRL Sept 2010 VHF Contest
The Sad, Sad Story

This was the second year John W1RT invited me out to ride shotgun and take the low band VHF seat in the rover. John’s normal rover partner Christof ON4IY had recently taken a teaching job. As the semester was just beginning, he was unable to come to the states to operate. I was psyched to head out again with John. In Sept 2009 we had set a new W1RT personal record, scoring over 240K pts, exceeding his best by over 100K pts. Our goal was to break the 300K barrier. So again I attempted to play photographer/videographer and capture our time leading up to and during the contest. Click on any images here to zoom in or play.

As I had the year before I grab the train in D.C. Thursday morning and was up in CT by mid-afternoon. There is still a fair amount of work to do, including general cleanup and the usual VHF antenna, SWR and power checks, but more importantly installing the microwave transverter box, testing the GPS 10 MHz source and fixing the 10 & 24 GHz systems. We get right to work pulling everything out of the rover. I work on the GPS and ensure that the external GPS antenna is wired, 10 MHz source is patched and we were getting good accurate grid readings.

John climbs up the ladder to open up the microwave boxes and begins performing some much needed repair work.

John pulls out the VHF antenna analyzer and we perform SWR checks on the low 4 band stack.

Next its off to installing the microwave transverter and switching box in the 19″ rack. During testing we discovered a problem, so time to pull it out and pull off the lid to perform some troubleshooting.

We manage to get everything wired back up and working. Who said this was wireless?

Friday we finish with the low bands and then begin organizing and packing the essentials. We run off batteries for awhile and then test out the alternator charging. BIG charging current! We’ll get one more good overnight charge before we hit the road tomorrow.

I had the opportunity again to meet up with my good friend Ed, the other ‘RT’ of Easton, CT – K1RT. John’s wife Terry made us a fine dinner as we all sat around and caught up on what had been happening since we met at last year’s Sept VHF pre-contest dinner. Afterwards John and I head up to Tashua hill to meet up on the air with Jeff K1TEO for some tests. All seems to be working reasonably well. We think we’re ready.

Here’s what grids we plan to hit for this year’s route, times are local:

Mowhawk        FN31it  14:00-16:00
Camelback      FN21hb  20:00-00:00
Sleep                  02:20-07:20
Pismire Ridge  FN10xw  07:35-09:35
Big Mountain   FM19aw  12:35-15:35
Hogback Mtn    FM08us  18:35-23:00


Saturday morning it was an early start. We go over the check list and hit the road. Time to grab some snacks and then head to Mohawk Mtn, CT.

We get there about 20 minutes before the contest starts. It is a good looking day with clear blue skies and good visibility. As we drive up we see another rover already set up at the edge of the parking lot. Its a red pickup with some small VHF halos mounted up off the back bumper. We introduce ourselves. It’s Mark N1MT.

Then a long time friend of John’s, Larry KA7QNF, shows up. He marvels at the rover and watches as we cranked up the tower and get ready to get on the air.

I tune around and meet up with the other Ed, K1TR, and we attempt a quick run of the bands and do some additional testing. Just as I call him back, the K2 begins to act strange. I can’t key the transverters. PTT works, K2 keys, but no VHF signals on any of the transverters. The contest is about to start and we scramble to debug the problem. It takes us almost 15 minutes into the contest until we discover a faulty 12v DC connection leading to the transverter stack. We redo the connections and low bands are on the air.

K1WHS is the first station in the log, followed by K2KIB, W1QK and K2QO/R I connect up with only two other rovers KB1DFB/R and WA2IID/R. John works Jeff K1TEO through 10 GHz, then WA2FGK and K1TR through 2.3 GHz and W2SZ to 5.7 GHz. I work fellow Grid Pirates K3CB in FM18 and W3ZZ & K1RZ in FM19 on the low bands, but conditions are not good enough to work 903 or higher. We end up spending 2 hours at the site and work 96 QSOs. Our best DX on the bands is as follows

FN31 Best DX by Band
50 MHz – W3ZZ in FM19jd @ 276mi
144 MHz – W3ZZ in FM19jd @ 276mi
222 MHz – W3ZZ in FM19jd @ 276mi
432 MHz – K1RZ in FM19jh @ 268mi
903 MHz – WA2FGK in FN21bf @ 139mi
1.2 GHz – WA2FGK in FN21bf @ 139mi
2.3 GHz – K1TR in FN42iu @ 124mi
3.4 GHz – W2SZ in FN32jp @ 57mi
5.7 GHz – W2SZ in FN32jp @ 57mi
10 GHz – K1TEO in FN31jg @ 37miWe don’t blow the alternator like we did after our first grid last year in 2009, so we’re doing OK. We’re 8 QSOs behind our personal recording setting 2009 year, so given the issues we had at contest start, we can’t really complain. Its off to FN21 Camelback. We make our way through the back roads of CT to cut over into NY. Unfortunately we begin to see a problem. The first route John mapped out has a height limitation sign of 9.5′. We’re way over that. We switch on the GPS to reroute us. Next road it picks, same problem, height restriction, ugh! After two or more tries at it we are completely frustrated. We end up back tracking and heading for a major interstate. We need to rush since we have a scheduled meeting time before the guard locks up the top of the hill for the night time hours.

After about 2 hours of driving we cross over the line into FN21 and I crawl into the back of the rover and see who I can work on the low bands while in motion, WB2CUT, W3SO, W3EP, W2SZ W2LV, WA3UGP, WA2FGK, W2EA and even K1WHS. We then cross into FN20jx for only about 5 minutes and I activate a new grid by working W2EA @ 23mi away and we pop out of the grid. We need to get to the park gate by 7pm but its almost an hour after that when we arrive. The park ranger is gone, so we get on the cell and start driving around to see if we can find him. After about another 45 minutes we finally make it to the top of the hill, only to be greeted by WA3UGP multi-multi. Its a small number of operators, but they are quite active on the bands. We introduce ourselves and I take a few pictures. We’re about 1 hour behind schedule now when we begin to make our first QSOs from the top of Camelback, PA FN21.

I immediately find NN3Q rover in FN20 and work them across the low bands and pass to John who worked through 10 GHz. They will be the only rover we work from Camleback. Next its N3NGE on most all bands. Although its somewhat overcast and misty I manage to work a number of stations on the low bands to include KG4HOT in FM07, K9GY & W4IY in FM08, KE2N in FM18, W8ZN, WB8TFV, W3PAW K3SX, K3ARN, W3ZZ and K1RZ in FM19, N3YMS, K3EOD and WB2RVX in FM29. W3SO in FN00, K3TUF in FN10, N3RN in FN11, KA2LIM in FN12, lots of FN20/21’s, W2SZ in FN32, K1TR in FN42, K2HZN & K1WHS in FN43. John doesn’t do too bad on the microwaves either, working K1RZ in FM19, K3TUF in FN10, W3SZ in FN20, K1TEO in FN31, K1TR in FN42, K1WHS in FN43 and K2KIB, WA2FGK and of course WA3UGP (in the parking lot) in FN21.

We stay on the air until about 12:30am, about a half hour after our scheduled departure, since we arrived so late to the site. We’re pretty beat and its time to make our way to the hotel to get a good 4 hours rest. We bid 73 to WA3UGP M/M and head down the hill in the darkness. We clock 3.5 hours from the site and 4 hours overall in grid FN21. We manage to contact 192 stations in all and 19 unique grids. Our best DX worked out to be the following.

FN21 Best DX by Band
50 MHz – W4IY in FM08jm @ 271mi
144 MHz – W4IY in FM08jm @ 271mi
222 MHz – KG4HOT in FM07ll @ 318mi
432 MHz – K1WHS in FN43mj @ 277mi
903 MHz – K1TR in FN42iu @ 243mi
1.2 GHz – K1WHS in FN43mj @ 277mi
2.3 GHz – K1TEO in FN31jg @ 113mi
3.4 GHz – NN3Q/R in FN20ah @ 60mi
5.7 GHz – K1RZ in FM19jh @ 157mi
10 GHz – K3TUF in FN10ll @ 96miIts off to the hotel for some much needed rest. At this point the log sits at 288 total QSOs. We’re 71 QSOs ahead of where we were last year at this time. Given the issues getting out of CT and getting up to Camelback we’re feeling pretty good about the whole ordeal. Off for our brief 4 hours of sleep and a quick shower and it’ll be back on the road in no time. This time we are relatively close to our next grid site so we actually won’t immediately check out in the morning. We be close enough to swing by on the way out of town for one last needed pit stop.

Sunday morning around 7:30am we’re headed out the door to the FN10 Pismire Ridge site. We actually cross through FN11 briefly and I work 2 stations W2EA in FN21 on 50 MHz and KA2LIM in FN12 on 144 MHz to activate a new grid. By 7:45am we’re on site and crank up the microwave tower and begin operating. It’s nothing like last year being on Camelback. I’m able to work a fair number of low band stations, K3CB FM18, K1RZ FM19, W3SO FN00, N3RN, FN11 KA2LIM FN12, W3SZ & N3NGE FN20, W2LV, W3EA, K2KIB, WA2FGK and NN3Q/R in FN21, WB2SIH, K1TEO & W1AUV/R in FN31, W2SZ FN32, K1TR FN42 and K1WHS FN43. John is having trouble working many people on the microwaves. 1.2 GHz is doing well, with many of the stations I work in his log, but he only makes a handful of QSO on 2.3 GHz and up to include, WA2FGK, W2SZ and NN3Q/R. We’re unable to work anyone on 3.4 and 5.7 GHz. We spend 2 hours at the site and end up with 86 QSOs and 12 unique grids. Our best DX from this grid follows:

FN10 Best DX by Band
50 MHz – K1TR in FN42iu @ 277mi
144 MHz – K1TR in FN42iu @ 277mi
222 MHz – K1WHS in FN43mj @ 310mi
432 MHz – K1TR in FN42iu @ 277mi
903 MHz – W2EA in FN21kh @ 54mi
1.2 GHz – K1TR in FN42iu @ 277mi
2.3 GHz – NN3Q/R in FN21hb @ 35mi
3.4 GHz – NO ONE
5.7 GHz – NO ONE
10 GHz – WA2FGK in FN21bf @ 21miTime to pack up and head to our next grid FM19aw Big Mtn. While on the road again leaving the area we cross briefly through FN11 and I manage to give WA2FGK 7 bands worth of QSOs. We’ll end up with a total of 11 contacts from FN11 all while mobile. Our log sits at 383 total QSOs. Compared to roughly the same time last year we’re now 23 QSOs behind. There’s still plenty of time to catch up. So onward and upward.

We’re an the road for about 2 hours and we cross over into a new grid. The computer read FM19fx so I jump in the back and tune the low bands. I work K1RZ on the low 4, then I find W3PAW FM19av. We’re heading right for him, so not only do I work him on the low band we then start trying the low microwave, 903 MHz complete, 1.2 GHz complete, 2.3 GHz complete, he’s LOUD. This will be easy to go further. John stops at a stoplight in Chambersburg, PA on an incline as I move up to 3.4 GHz. Just as the light turns green and John hits the gas, POP and an awful grinding noise! Oh crap, what the heck is that? The rover will not go up the hill. I hop out of the rover to look underneath. I can’t see anything lying or leaking on the ground. John tries to move again and I listen and look. Something in the rear axle or crankcase is grinding. We’re dead. This is the end of the road for W1RT rover 🙁

John call’s AAA and it’ll be about 15-20 minutes before they can get us a flatbed. John places call to various VHF ops and gives the heads up to spread the word we are QRT. The flatbed arrives and he helps guide us backwards, rolling down the hill into a parking lot below. Looking up I see an appropriate sign hovering over our heads.

After sitting in the lot for a few minutes and talking we decide we will have to strip the rover bare. We ask to have the flatbed op come back after we disassemble all the masts and antennas. The fellow gives us his cell number and we get down to the sad job ahead of us. Bolt by bolt, antenna by antenna, mast by mast we begin to pull apart W1RT Rover. Its a sad sight, but we try to joke about it and keep our spirits up. Last year an alternator, this year an axle, what next year?

It takes us about an hour to disassemble everything and pack the rover up for shipping. Why does it take so much longer to build the damn thing than to take it apart? Now the next question is where to take the beast? Going back to CT is too far. After a few phone calls Dave K1RZ offers to let us drop it at his place in FM19jh. That will be under the 100 mile maximum tow distance so we call up the flatbed and let him know where we wish to go.

It’s an hour and a half drive to Dave K1RZ’s house. Not much to say. We just sit back on the big bench seat in the flatbed and watch the world go by. I make a call to my dad K1HTV in VA to ask for a pickup in MD. He agrees to get on the road and meet us at Dave’s. It’ll take him just about as long to make it from his QTH in VA up there. We finally arrive at Dave’s and he points us to where John can drop the rover out of site. We grab our belongs out of the rover and lock it up. Our hopes are that one day the rover will ride again to provide us with another, hopefully more successful, roving weekend. For now all we can do is reminisce on what Sept 2010 could have been.

Afterward Dave offers us to come in and hang out while we wait for K1HTV to arrive. Of course the contest is still in session so Dave gets right back to business. I step out to take a few pictures of his antenna array and then inside to grab some of his station and him in action.

John and I sit idly by while Dave runs the bands. There’s nothing we can do but watch and listen. They’ll be no more operating for us this weekend. We’ll end up with 395 QSO’s and 116 multiplier on our shortened rove. We actually ended up activating 6 grids, though not the 6 major grids we expected. By accident I end up submitting our score in the Rover Unlimited category and come to find out after all is said and done John gets an award in the mail for winning the category. Its a small consolation for all the time and trouble suffered over the weekend. In the end we were glad to be able to hand out QSOs to those we did and were very grateful to Dave for taking us in when he did.

My dad K1HTV eventually arrives to pick up John and I. We swing by the metro red line in Montgomery County, MD to drop off John. He takes that into D.C. Union Station and grabs an Amtrak train back to CT. Over the coming days John will eventually find a mechanic in MD to look at the rover. The final diagnosis is that apparently the rear, passenger axle had been replaced on the vehicle in the past. It was the wrong size and it popped out of the inner crankcase housing and that’s what we heard grinding. Fortunately the cost to repair was much less than John feared. After another week or so it was fixed and John took the train back to D.C., caught a ride to Dave’s and took the rover back to its rightful home. Hopefully Sept 2011 will be a happier story.


Thanks again Dave!

73 & thanks all for the QSO’s

Andy K1RA @ W1RT/Rover

See what John and I did in Sept 2009 and Sept 2011.