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Field Day from K0JZH's Barn

06/24/2008

I've had the chance to operate Field Day from locations ranging from the air conditioned studios of W1AW to the rocky outcroppings of a New England mountain. Over the last dozen years I have enjoyed both the comradeship and fine operating skills of the Connecticut Wireless Association at a firehouse in the Berkshire Hills and the solitude of operating portable from a shallow well-field along the Skunk River bottomland in Iowa -- with a water table only 10 meters (about 33 feet) below ground. But the most unusual location was the Newton (Iowa) Amateur Radio Association's (NARA) early '60s setup in the hayloft of Carrol Hammer's, K0JZH, barn.

Was this location hot? Yes. Was it dusty? Yes. Did it smell? Yes. Was it fun? Of course!

All Critters Great and Small

Now, most Field Day operations provide the opportunity for encounters of the animal kind. Once, on a Murphy's Marauders Field Day on Rattlesnake Mountain in Connecticut, the operator found himself face-to-face with a large black snake and, while the snake continued to sun itself on a rock, Bob Hill, W1ARR, put a great run of stations aside and made a hasty run himself. It wasn't a rattler, but it was one big snake none the less. At a NARA FD, we thought we would help a farmer round up some loose cattle. Fortunately we minded the tone of the farmer's voice when he loudly warned: "Watch out and stay away from those cows." It seems that even though differently equipped, cows can be just as mean and dangerous as bulls. Perhaps my most serious encounter occurred when pulling an antenna wire through some tall grass. I felt something a bit furry crawling up the inside of my pants leg. There wasn't room for both of us in those pants and they were quickly removed. Out flew the biggest bumblebee ever in the state of Iowa!

The resident of K0JZHs barn was a huge sow -- we'll call her Sally. Sally was oblivious to what was going on in her attic. Perhaps she felt some sort of kinship with the other hams making all of the racket above her. We also invaded her outside pen, commonly called a pig sty. Raising a tower and tribander next to the side of the barn had to be done very carefully to avoid the "yard fudge." No one thought to bring boots, but our tennis shoes were easily hosed off.

Heavy Lifting

On the other side of the barn, we set up a V-beam, 420 feet on a leg, but only 30 feet high. We wanted to be loud in the US and Canada, not lay down a big signal into Europe or the Pacific that a higher antenna would generate. Anyway, those were the highest masts our club had!

The term "boat anchor" hadn't taken hold back then because today that describes the equipment that was near-state-of the art back in 1964. The easiest access to the hayloft was the ladder on the outside of the barn. Once you've lifted a pair of 80 pound. Hallicrafters SX-88 receivers (owned by W0NWX, later W0DX (SK)) and a Central Electronics 100-V transmitter off an operating table, then lugged them in and out of a car and then up a ladder, you can appreciate the mass of the gear used at that time. Here's a lineup of our stations as I remember them:

Station 1, CW: SX-88 receiver and Johnson Navigator transmitter

Station 2, CW: Another SX-88 and Navigator

Station 3, SSB: Collins 75S-1 receiver and the Central Electronics 100-V transmitter

Station 4, AM: Lysco 25 W transmitter, National NC-300 receiver, homebrew 6L6 modulator and, just to add more weight, a power supply using 866 Jrs. Yep, there were full-sized 866 mercury vapor rectifiers and the smaller "Juniors." It was possible to monitor your keying by the darkening of the blue glow in those tubes.

Station 5, 6 meters: 5 element beam on a 20 foot mast, National NC-173, converter, power supply, modulator and transmitter.

John Wickenkamp, W0BSY (now W0JA), provided a novel (at the time) homebrew transistorized electronic keyer! Each operator provided their own key -- mostly Vibroplex bugs, but Dean Revell, K0JYZ, brought his personal bug that he had machined himself. There were headphones at every station and of course, each station had a plug-in coil tuner. Almost every ham in Newton back then had a plug-in coil tuner and used open wire line or single wire antennas.

A Sticky, Gooey Mess

The piece de resistance was Hugh, W0AIX's (SK), 3 kW "new" surplus generator with a water-cooled engine. Some assembly required. Actually, lots of assembly required! Most of the engine parts appeared to be new and never previously installed. They were in boxes wrapped mummy-like in cloth, containing a rust preventative known as Cosmoline. Cosmoline is a substance obtained from the distillation of petroleum, essentially the same as Vaseline, but of somewhat stiffer consistency.

Well you get the picture. The parts were a sticky, gooey, mess and unwrapping them fell to the younger members of the club. We were covered in goo from head to toe, looking like mummies ourselves. Hugh Byal, W0AIX, didn't have the time to get the generator set up and running so that job was turned over to Dean, K0JYZ, who finished the job in a couple of months.

We didn't see the completed generator set until it arrived in the back of a pickup truck at the Field Day site. Then the older members of the NARA found another use for the club's teenaged members: generator porters. Two long steel rods were slipped into fittings along the sides of the generator set. This allowed for a person at each of the four corners of the generator to lift and carry King Generator wherever needed. A load was attached, the engine started and it was off and running like the fine-tuned machine that it was. Nothing was too good for the military and nothing was too good for our club!

They're Off!

Field Day started. We used W0NWX/0 since ARRL Midwest Director Bob Denniston's call was so well known. We were in the two transmitter 25 W category, each station was making hay and we younger operators were trying to emulate the older, experienced operators. There were no "radio hogs" (sorry Sally) and even though the experienced operators could run stations at four or five times most of the rates of the younger operators on CW, everyone had an equal shot at operating. As I said, it was fun! And it was dusty. And it was hot.

As the saying goes "How hot was it?" In the high 90s with the sun shining though a hayloft window in perfect alignment with the dial bezel of the SX-88, warping the dial inside. Luckily it was the main tuning display and not the bandspread. This was not good for what, even then, was becoming a classic receiver. Other than that, our operation was running smoothly when I left for home in the late evening.

Old Faithful Saves the Day

At sunrise, I drove to K0JZHs. When I arrived, the smooth sound of the big generator set had been replaced with the putt-putt of our club's little 800 W generator. This little trouper accompanied Bob Denniston, and other Iowa operators, to Clipperton Island on the FO8AJ DXpedition in 1954. It's still in use 54 years later! Anyway, I asked what was wrong with the big generator and was told that there had been a problem during the night. In the daylight it was easy to see which filler cap on the generator was for the gasoline and which was for the lubricating oil. In the middle of the night, however, when the generator ran out of gas an attempt was made to fill the gas tank by flashlight, but the crankcase was filled with gasoline by mistake! The mistake (with possible explosive consequences) was discovered almost immediately, but we couldn't use the big generator for the rest of the weekend. Yes, the color of the caps was changed from olive drab to red or white as needed and clearly marked the next time we used the generator.

The 400 QSOs we made all weekend may sound like a puny number today, but every one of those contacts was earned and we felt great when we figured the final totals.

Field Day has always been a fun and learning experience and I've attending 26 in a row. All aspects of Field Day offer the best and the worst learning experiences. It certainly has made me a better ham!

When John Nelson, K0IO, was six years old, a Zenith Shortwave Radio found its way into his "model train room." He recalls tuning across a ham station and his mother asking, "Who is Nancy Williams? She sure has a deep voice." By the time high school came along, John had his Technician class license with the call W0DRE. A General class license followed two years later. John's main interest was the 6 meter band. Before leaving for college he had worked 46 states with a homebrew 50 W crystal-controlled transmitter he built from plans in the 1960 ARRL Handbook. With a Business Administration degree, W0DRE joined the ARRL Headquarters staff in 1970 and became W1GNC. He operated in various contests from Curacao, Bermuda, Jamaica and St Paul Island. John left HQ in 1995 and has pursued a career in writing articles and books for the Rock Island Railroad Technical Society. John completed 6 meter WAS in 2006. That's 45 years. John says, "I'm really proud to have accomplished this during times of few or no sunspots. And for 2008 he says: "I'll be out again this year operating at the W0WML Field Day -- if my duties as ARRL Jasper County Emergency Coordinator don't interfere."

Bandspread: A dial arrangement, usually electrical but sometimes mechanical, that allows the tuning of a part of a band with more resolution than the regular tuning mechanism. This was used in some analog general coverage receivers to allow more precise tuning of amateur bands by spreading them across the entire dial instead of having them only occupy a small portion of the dial face.

Mercury Vapor Rectifier: A vacuum tube diode rectifier that used mercury vapor to maintain a constant voltage drop across the tube regardless of the amount of current flow. Mercury vapor rectifiers were generally used in power supplies that were required to deliver large currents.

John H. Nelson, K0IO



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