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Boys, Rain and Radio

Tom Reis, NØVPR

Five-thousand scouts, a tent of solar panels and the Battleship New Jersey put ham radio in the spotlight.

Promoting Amateur Radio at the local level can be very rewarding. Three radio groups in Des Moines, Iowa joined forces with the National Weather Service and PowerFilm Solar to support the Mid-Iowa Boy Scout Council’s 100th Year of Scouting celebration on September 18, 2010.

It was decided early on to involve the local clubs. Initially Polk County Amateur Radio Emergency Service was asked if they could provide a demonstration of ham radio to over 5000 Scouts and leaders. Unfortunately, the event conflicted with the local Asthma Walk, for which Polk County ARES® had agreed to provide communications, so available resources were limited. The largest club in Des Moines is the Des Moines Radio Amateurs’ Association (DMRAA) and they were eager to help. The Amateur Radio Technical Society (ARTS) immediately signed on. The National Weather Service was willing to help too. We needed only one planning meeting, which was very well attended, and we were ready to go.

One of our goals was to have an impressive display area and we asked PowerFilm Solar in nearby Ames, Iowa if they would be willing to set up a PowerShade solar field shelter for us. They agreed to provide a 2 kW PowerShade. This Shade would provide 2000 W of clean 110 V ac. It has over 800 Ah of battery backup as well. Plus, it would give us the visual draw we wanted while providing ample energy to power our equipment.

Tents and Towers

The event took place at Water Works Park near downtown Des Moines. The sun was shining Friday the day before the event. The crew from PowerFilm arrived at 9:30 AM and went to work. It took about 2 hours to set up the Shade. It usually requires 20 stakes but there had been a lot of rain saturating the ground so the crew needed to place 36 stakes to be sure the installation was safe.

During the day we delivered two mobile antenna towers, one 30 feet and the other 40 feet. The Polk County ARES trailer was placed for our use as well. Friday evening we gathered to set up the towers, add the antennas and sink the ground rods. We placed the Mosley CL-33, 20 meter beam on the 40 foot tower and the GAP Titan DX vertical on the 30 foot tower. As the sun went down we were all pleased with the setup. Saturday morning we arrived at 7 to set up the stations and raise the towers. Unfortunately, the rain returned.

We had decided to use two HF stations and a U/VHF go-kit station. We had the ARES trailer and set up a multiradio control station as well as a D-STAR radio inside. We set up signs that described each station and were ready to rock and roll.

Here Come the Troops

At 9 AM, the Scouts began to arrive. They were very interested in both the PowerShade and our radios. Even though the rain and the cold were relentless, the Scouts and leaders who visited were able to make many contacts. Many of the Scouts complained about the rain; they were referred to the National Weather Service table. NWS Meteorologist in Charge Brenda Brock, KCØNEX, and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jeff Johnson, KCØOGL, from the Des Moines Weather Forecast office did a great job demonstrating the weather radios and discussing why they couldn’t really stop the rain, even though they wanted to.

The biggest draw was the Flex-5000 software defined radio with quad LCD monitors. The Flex was putting out 50 W into a Heathkit SB-1000 amplifier for 500-600 W PEP. Dean Madsen, NØXR, manned the radio and helped many Scouts make lots of contacts. We had one Scout who got his first taste of ham radio by licking the boom microphone. The 20 meter band was friendly and yielded many contacts. We were very fortunate to contact the Battleship New Jersey Amateur Radio station, NJ2BB. Dave, WA2TVS, their chief engineer stayed with us so that several Scouts and visitors could talk with them. Dave even routed the audio over the ship’s intercom.

We had one little 8 year old girl who got to speak with them. As soon as she was finished, she went to the back of the line and got to speak two more times she’s hooked! The deteriorating weather forced us to lower the beam to 20 feet and reduce the power to 100 W. When the risk of lightning became evident we closed the HF stations taking the opportunity to teach the Scouts about safe operation.

Being Prepared

Ben Sinclair, KCØZMX, brought his Yaesu FT-817 transceiver and a BuddiPole antenna to demonstrate the portable aspect of HF. The FT-817 and a NUE-PSK modem became a PSK31 station. At another table Greg Long, KCØEMP, was demonstrating a small go-kit station consisting of a Kenwood TM-733A mobile transceiver, two 12 Ah batteries with a small clamp-on ground plane antenna, all housed in a small aluminum case. On another table a Motorola GR300 UHF portable repeater was in operation on 442.575 MHz. DMRAA President George Noble, KK7FM, and Board Member Ron Hobbs, NØXWI, were able to promote an upcoming Technician licensing class.

Julia Stone from PowerFilm Solar provided several examples of their folding solar cell products and demonstrated the beneficial aspects of solar power. She also had a visual display panel to show how the PowerShade took the energy of the sun and converted the power into charging the batteries and providing 110 V.

A constant line of folks moved through the ARES trailer. Several contacts were made using the control station and the ICOM IC-2820 D-STAR radio. At one point a FT-857D transceiver was shown for discussion.

The PowerShade provided the power needed for the HF stations except the 600 W Heathkit amplifier. It also provided power for the portable repeater, weather radios and the solar demonstration area. Because the amplifier required 220 V we used the ARES trailer Honda 3000 W generator for its power.

We should note that while the PowerShade provides both power and shade, it is constructed with a very strong open mesh fabric. It does not stop rain! To alleviate this obvious problem, several EZ-up tents were used underneath the PowerShade.

Coffee, donuts and lunch (sloppy Joes and cake) were provided by the clubs and prepared by Heather Reis. The Iowa State University solar car team members to the east of us were really interested in ham radio when they were given a hot lunch.

A Good Time Was Had by All

So how did it go? The rain forced the Scout council to end the event 2 hours early but we had a great time and we will gladly do it again, given the opportunity. The popularity of our area and the interest shown by the Scouts was very encouraging. The hams who participated took pride in their task and were rewarded by the inquisitiveness of the Scouts.

We closed the area and packed up the equipment. The van towing the 30 foot trailer got stuck in the mud but was rescued with 4-wheel-drive SUV. The lousy weather just couldn’t dampen the energy and enthusiasm of the Scouts or the operators.

We are indebted to PowerFilm Solar for providing the PowerShade, the National Weather Service for their constant support and the rain, hi hi. We would also like to thank DMRAA, ARTS and Polk County ARES for providing the resources and operators needed to make this a quality event. Amateur Radio was promoted in a way that exemplifies our commitment to service and passion for our hobby.

Photos courtesy Tom Reis, NØVPR.

Tom Reis, NØVPR, an ARRL member, is a prosthetist (makes artificial limbs). He was licensed in 1992 and is the SKYWARN coordinator at the National Weather Service Des Moines forecast office. He is an ARES assistant EC for Polk County. Active in the DMRAA an ARTS clubs, he holds a General class license. Tom is father of five children. His three boys are Eagle Scouts and his two daughters, Heidi, KCØILH, and Katie, KCØDVI, are hams. Tom is also an Eagle Scout and enjoys working with emergency services. He can be reached at 5553 Kensington Cir, Johnston, IA 50131.


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