ARRL

America’s Top Mobile

America’s Top Mobile — A Ham Radio Cruise-In

Jim Crosby, K4JEC


Mobiles are on the move to a rolling-rig competition.


Have you heard about a Cruise-In for Amateur Radio mobile stations? That is exactly what the Albemarle Amateur Radio Club of Virginia members did when they staged the first statewide Virginia Ham Radio Cruise-In in Charlottesville in May 2010.

Some of you may be familiar with Cruise-In events held at restaurants, drive-ins, shopping centers or other venues, where participants drive their cars, trucks, motorcycles, whatever, to display and compete for awards. The owners of these vehicles take great pride in their efforts to restore, modify or otherwise spruce them up, and enjoy displaying them as much as the spectators enjoy seeing them.

Ham radio operators are also proud of the time, effort and more than a few dollars they have invested in their mobile Amateur Radio stations — hence the Amateur Radio Cruise-In where hams can showcase their work.

The Cruise-In is a way of displaying mobile radio stations put together by hams — most of which are made available for public service communications. It is important for the public to know how much time, money and resources hams put into their mobile radio stations, primarily to serve them when other means of communication fail due to man-made or natural disasters.

Get the Rigs Rolling

While some club members had reservations about the idea when it was first proposed in September of 2009, in the end it was a great success because we had 36 members show up to assist, visit and enjoy the day. Even former members and members we hadn‘t seen in a long time were there. Each club member knew that it was going to take an extraordinary effort to plan, produce and get the word out about a totally new concept in an Amateur Radio event — especially statewide. Hams are all familiar with the terms special event station, hamfest and tailgate swap meet, but, exactly what is a ham radio Cruise-In?

We pulled the club members together in several committee meetings to establish practice, policy and procedures, and divide the areas of responsibility. The more we worked with the idea, the more enthusiasm developed among the membership. Once we knew what we were going to do and how we were going to accomplish it; we then tackled the biggest challenge of how to promote a ham event that had never been done before. We knew we would have to explain what a ham radio Cruise-In was all about and invite our fellow hams from across the state to try it out. Again, the more we talked about it, the more the enthusiasm began to spread outside of our club.

We produced a vast quantity of flyers and mailed and e-mailed them to reach all the ARRL registered clubs across the state. We took the flyers to hamfests. We mentioned our Cruise-In on statewide and local nets. We talked to anyone, anywhere who would listen.

The flyers offered two options for registration — e-mail and through our website. We placed a registration form on our website that could be completed online. We obtained the assistance of our Virginia Section Manager who had it placed on the Virginia ARES website and calendar of events. Carl Clements, W4CAC, even sent an e-mail letter to all registered ARES members. The idea began to take hold and registrations came trickling in initially but momentum picked up as the event date came closer.

Mobiles Flood In

Overall, we had almost 100 persons in attendance with 22 actually exhibiting and competing with their mobile stations. In addition, members of the public seeking information about getting licensed visited the Cruise-In site. The hams who came were really special. Vaughn Worth, K3VW, rode a motorcycle all the way from Selma, North Carolina, a 250 mile trip one-way. Joe Deschaine, KI4RKB, towed his ham shack on wheels from Virginia Beach (he scored a perfect 50 points with the judges) and others represented all points across Virginia.

The resounding comments included “It was perfect, don‘t change a thing for next year” to “I really learned a lot from all the different approaches to establishing a mobile ham station.” It is entirely safe to say we had hundreds of antennas pointing into the sky and several seemed as tall as skyscrapers. The event commanded the attention of all the hundreds of other park users on the soccer, baseball and tennis fields and courts. It was a really big day for Darden Towe Park in Albemarle County.

A sea of hams wearing green vests and sporting big smiles greeted those who attended the Cruise-In. The green safety vests were those just adopted by ARES as the standard gear for ham volunteers.

The club members were so well organized and committed that they were all set up and ready a full hour before the 10 AM opening time and comments on the smooth operations of the event were received from many of the participants.

A post-event e-mail from an exhibitor, Sammy Simmons, K4MJO, who drove 300 miles (2 hours, 20 minutes each way) to participate stated, “I want to thank you and the club for having such a well organized, well placed, and well worked event. I was treated as a friend by all of the club people and really enjoyed my visit. I really appreciate the time you and the club gave to sponsor such an event. One thing you may count on, if I am alive, I will be at your ‘Cruise-In’ next year also!“ Sammy is going to be a great ambassador for the Cruise-In because while with us, he was talking to all his friends back in Southhill via our local IRLP connection. He was overheard singing our laurels during his contacts.

David Collins, N4WDC, wrote, “I grilled the filet mignon steak, lobster tails and corn on the cob. Dave Garvin, NO3B, bought the food. He‘s a very close friend and eats at our house often. His son and our son were born on the same day 16.5 years ago. Jim Steele, NX4Q, brought the grill and cooked the chicken wings and ribs out of the back of his pickup. We had planned for more of the Rappahannock Valley ARC members to come, but several backed out at the last minute. Keith Young, KJ4GUT, and his wife Theresa, and Larry Campbell, AK4FB, showed up from our club as well. I‘m thinking maybe next year we should bring extra food to have on hand for the judges! I think if we had fed them, maybe we could have swayed their vote! Ha! Ha! It was a great event and I‘m looking forward to it next year.“

A Dash of Competition

The club set out to stage an event that would bring amateurs together to show off their mobile stations and share their innovative ideas with each other. It was touted to be a leisurely day in the park for a picnic lunch and socializing. A competition was added for spice and a three-judge panel made the rounds to examine the stations and assign points to each, looking for the safest and most innovative mobile stations established in a car, truck, RV, motorcycle, bicycle or trailer. The judges scored each installation in five categories :

1. Modes and bands supported

2. Electrical installation

3. Safety and sturdiness of installation

4 General interior appearance

5. General exterior appearance.

Each of the five categories could earn as many as 10 points each for a perfect score of 50 points. The competition was keen resulting in several cases of ties among the cars and trucks, so duplicate certificates were issued.

The judges for this inaugural event were our Virginia Section Manager, Carl Clements, W4CAC, from Portsmouth; our Virginia Section Traffic Manager, John Johnson, KØIBS, from Chesapeake, and our Virginia Section Emergency Coordinator, Joe Safranek, K4JJS, from Gloucester.

The winners from each category were:

• Motorcycle: Vaughn Worth, K3VW, from Selma, North Carolina

• Trailer: Joseph Deschaine, KI4RKB, Virginia Beach, Virginia

• RV: George Hunt, W4AVO, from Palmyra, Virginia

• Truck: Samuel Simmons, K4MJO, from Southhill, Virginia and Jeffrey Rinehart,

           W4PJW, from Churchville, Virginia (a two-way tie)

• Car: Guy Taylor, KC4UCK, from Earlysville, Virginia; Joseph Flamini, W4BXG,

            from White Hall, Virginia, and Mark Lowell, N1LO, from Gloucester, Virginia

            (a three-way tie).

• The award for the ham traveling the longest distance to participate went to Michael

             Vandevender, KD4NFS, from Fort Myers, Florida.

The rest of those who came to compete included: Motorcycles — K4DJG, N4WDC and KJ4GVT; RVs — KI5LLB and KC2FCB; Cars — K4CGY; KD4WFS and WA4FJC; NR4C and KA3NXN; W4FAO, NO3B, NX4Q and K4DND. To me, the robust round of applause we got after the winners were announced said it all.

The Cruise Goes On

We had our Second Annual Virginia Ham Radio Cruise-In April 30, 2011. Registrations were in line with the first year’s event but actual attendance was down due to adverse weather. Also, the date was right between Easter and Mother’s Day weekends, which turned out to be a bad choice for a relatively new event.

The third annual event has been set for April 28, 2012 and because Easter is much earlier and Mother’s Day is a week later, we feel more hams will be available to attend. Beyond that, we are praying for conducive weather conditions.

For any club members reading this who like the idea and want to give it a try we have put together a “How-to-do-it-Kit” for staging their own Amateur Radio Cruise-In. Interested hams can e-mail me a request and I will send the information kit by return e-mail.


Jim Crosby, K4JEC, an ARRL member, obtained his Novice license in 1973. He upgraded to Technician Plus license in 1988 as WD4HMW and General in 1998. His current vanity call, K4JEC, was issued in 2003. He is a retired photojournalist and serves as the vice president of the Albemarle Amateur Radio Club, Inc in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is a director of the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association and resides in Crozet, Virginia with his spouse Patsy, K4PMC. He can be reached at 5571 Brookwood Road, Crozet, VA 22932, k4jec@arrl.net