ARRL

2011 Whiskey-Six-Tango Adventure

Larry Francis, KW7I, and Norman Vandiver, N7VF


At 2448 miles “Route 66 On the Air” is ham radio’s longest special event.


The 2011 Amateur Radio special event commemorating Historic Route 66 was sponsored and organized by the Citrus Belt Amateur Radio Club of San Bernardino, California. There were 18 stations operating along Route 66, with 17 of them operated by members of the various clubs along the way. The special event 1 × 1 call signs began with Whiskey-Six-Alpha (W6A) in Santa Monica, California and ran through W6Q in Chicago, Illinois. For the 2011 event we were assigned Whiskey-Six-Tango (W6T) and given the designation “Rover 3.” In 2010 there were three “Rover” stations, W6R, W6S and W6T. In 2011 we were the “Lone Rover,” as the other two rover stations did not materialize.

Norman Vandiver, N7VF, and I, Larry Francis, KW7I, did “Route 66 On The Air” in 2010 and enjoyed it so much that we asked for the W6T spot again in 2011. We called this our “Mini-DXpedition and International Field Day.” In order to last the full 10 days in moderate comfort, I brought my motor home down to Arizona from Oregon. We set up the radio station under the awning to shade us from the sun and ran the station on emergency power using small arrays of solar panels to charge our gel cell batteries. Together with the solar panels on the motor home, we had plenty of power for the radio, miscellaneous peripherals and computer.

Our operating location was right on Old Route 66, about 25 miles west of Kingman, Arizona, 4 miles east of the old mining town of Oatman. We parked at Memorial Point, which  is right at the summit of Sitgreaves Pass in the Black Mountains. About 9 miles east of the pass is a tourist place named Cool Springs. In years gone by this was a service station stop and we decided to use its photo for our W6T QSL card. We made it up the steep grade, navigating the 10 m/h switchbacks, from Cool Springs to Sitgreaves Pass, by having Norman go ahead with our car and using the mobile radios to let me know of any oncoming traffic.

The panoramic view from Memorial Point was extraordinary, as we could look down across the Colorado River and see Laughlin, Nevada, to the northwest and Needles, California, to the southwest. Due west we could look out across the Mojave Desert. At night we could see the lights of the towns along the river between Laughlin and Needles, but they weren’t bright enough to disturb the wonderful nighttime view of the sky.

On Friday we erected our little antenna farm that included Norman’s homemade 20 meter directional antenna and wire antennas for 10, 15, 17, 20, 40 and 80 meters. Everything seemed to be in order or so we thought. During the night a strong wind storm came through causing a couple of the wire antennas to come loose, twisting the wires together as if they had gone through an eggbeater.

Blowing in the Wind

By 9 AM Saturday morning we were on the air, with our first contact being Roger, K6RPM, on 80 meters in California. At this point we discovered that the computer and radio were not talking to one another, which forced us to use a paper log for several days. We had over 600 contacts on paper before I got the computer logger going. We never did determine the problem. Then on Sunday evening we had another logging problem; a strong wind gust came though just ahead of a big thunderstorm, ripping several pages out of our paper log! We thought those pages were gone forever, but several days later we spotted them scattered along the mountainside below us. Norman carefully worked his way down and retrieved the wrinkled, water faded, but still usable, pages.

The lightning accompanying the thunderstorms was quite spectacular as seen from the mountaintop. The storms were very slow moving, pounding us with lots of rain. It was good that we routinely brought all of the electronic equipment into the motor home at night because by daylight everything outside was soaked, even leaving a small river running under the motor home.

All day Monday the rain came down, while wild winds rocked the motor home. By nightfall there were some good-sized ruts washed out in the parking area. The river under the motor home was sometimes 6 inches deep and 6 feet wide as the water ran toward the road. Needless to say, we moved the radio station inside. Due to the lack of sun we ran the motor home’s generator to keep the batteries charged.

During the night the storm finally blew itself out. Tuesday was a better day, though the 65°F temperature was much cooler than the 100°F we had expected. As the week progressed our outside temperatures climbed closer-to-normal for Arizona and by Saturday and Sunday it was near 95°F with clear blue skies.

W6T 911

During the night on Wednesday Norman began having trouble breathing, so by 3:30 AM Thursday, he decided he needed to go to the emergency room. So away we went down the mountain to the hospital. After the initial examination they decided to keep Norm for further testing, the nurse explaining that the doctor would likely keep him overnight. So, I left my contact information and headed back up the mountain to our station.

I slept my way through most of the remainder of Thursday, but I forgot to turn off the radio, computer and other battery-powered equipment. To top it off, I also forgot about keeping the solar panels turned toward the sun. Friday morning when I started the radio and computer, I found I had four dead batteries, forcing me to run off the generator for a couple of hours while the batteries charged back up.

I checked with Norman at the hospital. The doctors still wanted to do a stress test before talking about releasing him. Around 6 PM he called to say the doctor was ready to sign the release and he was ready to get out of there and back to “Route 66 On The Air.” Ultimately, we lost nearly two full days while Norman was in the hospital at Kingman.

Back On the Air

Saturday morning we had bright sun, full batteries and were raring to go on the radio. We had a good day, everything went well and we logged over 180 contacts. The people playing the Route 66 On the Air event had been looking for us, so for the remainder of the event we tried to be as available as we could, operating on the most productive bands. Then, more trouble occurred, we ran into problems finding a hole in the bands during the weekend. There were a number of other special events, with numerous stations competing for a spot on the bands, slowing our rate of contacts down.

By Sunday evening our count totaled 1534, of which 160 were duplicates. We did not discourage people from contacting us multiple times, as we were happy to talk to them a second and third time. Over the week we did talk to 14 of the other Route 66 stations.

Mini International Field Day

The “Mini International Field Day” part of this event included numerous visitors who stopped by. Many expressed great interest in our Amateur Radio adventure and for these people we provided such demonstrations as the bands would allow. The most frequent question was: “Can we hear you on our car radio?” but a brief explanation usually answered that. Norman and I really enjoy giving our little presentations.

People from all over the world come to the United States to travel Route 66 and they found our location at Memorial Point a good viewing area. People stopped to look at the scenery, giving us a great opportunity to visit with them. They came from all over, but most spoke American English well enough that we could carry on an enjoyable conversation.

We tried to keep a visitor log to record our varied visitors, but only managed to get about 120 actually listed, which was only 25 percent of the people that stopped. They were primarily from Western Europe, Scandinavia, British Isles and Germany, plus a few from Austria, France, Spain and Italy.

We had many groups of motorcycles, ranging from a single bike to a group of over 40 bikes, most with pillion riders. Many of them had started at one end or the other of Route 66 and were riding the entire route. The larger groups were accompanied by support teams and were well organized. Some of the smaller groups were just a few bikers out enjoying the world, such as the five hearty fellows from Finland who looked like the band of Vikings from the TV advertisement. At times we would hold up on radio contacts because of the noise made by passing motorcycles.

Many visitors were just couples or small family groups traveling by car, but we did have a half dozen rental motor homes and several car clubs driving their vintage cars through the area.

A young couple from Switzerland stopped by for a rest and very nice visit. They were doing the entire route on their bicycles! They were headed west for Santa Monica, having left Chicago 2 months earlier, enduring the summer heat as they traveled through the heartland of North America.

One of our more unusual visitors was Leon Zhang from Shanghai, China. He signed our guest book in Chinese and told us calling him Leon was fine. He was traveling Route 66 with another Chinese fellow from California. Leon was involved with the Singapore edition of Autocar magazine, doing research for an article on Route 66. Leon’s fellow traveler was the trip photographer. They spent an hour interviewing Norman about Route 66 and the Amateur Radio connection. Leon said he was amazed at the number of visitors from around the world that were here touring Route 66.

We also had several visits by some locals some Big Horn Sheep. They did not appear to be taken aback by our presence in their territory. There were two groups, one of six sheep and the other of sixteen. They grazed their way around the Memorial Point knob, then off to the east, over the ridge.

On Monday, after “Route 66 On The Air” was over, we had another couple stop by to admire the view. Their vehicle was very interesting; it was an off-road thing with tandem axles and looked like European military surplus. It turned out that they were from Austria and were traveling the world with their vehicle. They had come from South America and were headed generally for Alaska. They had traveled all over Africa, Asia and Australia in this compact and very specialized motor home. The lady, Johanna, asked if she could look in our bigger motor home, thinking maybe she would talk to her partner, Guenther, about one like ours for some of their travels. But Guenther said he still preferred theirs because they could go anywhere they desired with it. As it turned out, Guenther was also an Amateur Radio operator, OE5NMM.

As Norman and I were finishing breaking camp, another couple from Berlin, Germany drove in. I introduced them to Guenther and Johanna, gave them chairs and water, and the four of them carried on a nice visit in German while Norman loaded the last of our equipment and we prepared to head back east on Route 66 for Kingman, Congress and Camp Verde, Arizona bringing to an end another memorable adventure. 73s from Larry and Norman.

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2012 Route 66 On The Air Special Event

Get your kicks on the 13th annual “Route 66 On The Air” special event. Celebrating America’s most famous road will be 18 stations and 2 rovers across the US. The on-the-air cruise starts September 8 and runs till September 16. The Route 66 stations will be using the calls W6A-W6Q and W6S-T so listen for them around 21.366, 14.266, 7.266 and 3.866 MHz, plus or minus QRM. Once you have them in your log go to www.w6jbt.org and click on the “Route 66 OTA” link for information on getting your QSL cards and certificate. You can also contact the Citrus Belt Amateur Radio Club, PO Box 3788, San Bernardino, CA 92413 for information.

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Larry Francis, KW7I, an ARRL member, first became interested in Amateur Radio while attending an Escapees RV Club Rally in the summer of 2002. Bob, K9WMP, and Laura, K9BZY, Bingham invited Larry and his spouse, Donna, to an Amateur Radio Birds of a Feather group and then to the coming Quartzfest, in Quartzsite, Arizona in January, 2003. Larry and Donna began studying for the Technician test and at the 2004 Quartzfest they both became licensed; Donna became KD7ZIK and Larry became KD7ZIJ. In March of 2007 Larry upgraded to General and passed the Extra test at the 2008 Quartzfest. In March 2008 Larry obtained the vanity call KW7I.

Donna and Larry are both officers in the Hassayampa Amateur Radio Klub of Congress, Arizona. Larry can be reached at 1315 Joplin St S, Salem, OR 97302-2315, kw7i@arrl.net.

Norman Vandiver, N7VF, an ARRL member, became interested in radio, when Moses was a baby, listening in front of the family radio, which had shortwave bands. In high school a class on radio rekindled Norman’s interest and taught him radio theory. Later he got involved with the National Guard as a radio operator. He learned CW to get his Novice ticket and graduated to General Class 1959.

During his working days, Norman worked in electronics and retired from White’s Electronics. He enjoys homebrewing; his latest project was an Elecraft K2 transceiver with the KP 100 amplifier. He enjoys DXing and HF contesting.

Norman lives with his spouse, Jeanette, in Arizona, where he builds antennas all winter long, although not in July or August. Norman has three daughters, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He can be reached at 1862 N Arena Del Loma, Camp Verde, AZ 86322-7574, n7vf54@yahoo.com.