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2017 ARRL June VHF Contest

07/04/2017 | N0LD/R


In late March, Nick Farlow (KB0YHT) and I (Randy Wing, N0LD) started talking almost daily over lunch about how we could take our January VHF Rover vehicle and take it up a notch.  We decided that besides our existing 6m, 2m, and 70cm loops, our dual band FM vertical, and our 10 ft gain antennas on 2m and 70cm driven by my FT-847, that we needed more bands.  We purchased and put together M-Squared 220 Mhz and 1296 Mhz 10 ft gain antennas.  However, the only way to operate 5 bands was to add at least one radio... so we added the Yaesu FT-736R - drove everything 2m and above on it on USB.  The FT-847 was still going to be in the right front seat.  We also planned to have the KW-D710A for dual band FM in the front seat as well.  That left the amplifiers, power distribution, dc-to-dc converters, DC-to-AC converters, and miscellaneous all for the back seat...  What we needed - was to build 3 modular shelves using plywood for the right rear seat and leave room for the laptop and the operator in the left rear seat.  We also set out to document all the VHF contesters in the Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri states - to get a feel for where we should route ourselves... This list turned into a contact database and we sent a questionaire and our itinerary to these fellow contesters - to over 150 of them! We asked Harvey Jones (W0HGJ), a long time friend, to join us for his first VHF rover experience. My daughter, Samantha Wing (KC0MTM), a veteran of two other VHF rover trips, joined as a first leg driver until Nick could join us Saturday evening.


Our itinerary is seen in the attached photos.  We decided to start in Dallas near the Ham Com conference which was coincidentally the same weekend.  We ended up travelling up 35/135 to Wichita, KS - over to Kansas City, down to Joplin and back to OKC to finish the trip.


The battle plan never lasts longer than first contact with the enemy - and this enemy was time.  A death in the family the week before the trip caused lack of sleep and loss of depth of ingenuity at the last minute.  We had staged our trip by attending Friday of Ham Com... but that evening until 11 PM, we struggled with a last minute bad ground.  Turns out a dusty rusty screw was giving us enough current for the meter, but as soon as we applied power it would go dark.  We re-did connectors for 90 minutes before finally changing the ground location - and everything worked!  Thanks to Harvey, Samantha, and my cousin-in-law Andrew Lee!  We had intended to sleep until 7 and go to the ham convention at 8 AM, but instead now we needed to get the laptops loaded with WSJT-X, N3FJP, and other utilities...  we had to pioneer our network - turns out our Verizon phone was our hotspot/network and it worked like a champ the entire trip.  Alas, we couldn't get the connector finished on the 70cm AMP and we couldn't quite get the bugs out of the MFJ Contest Voice keyer and the FT-736.  This used up our morning... with 30 minutes to go before the start of the contest, we jumped in, Samantha, my daughter, KC0MTM was our driver and we headed out from Ft Worth instead of the conference... I think we would have made a few FM simplex contacts at the ham convention, but we traded that for the other last minute preparations...  By our first waypoint in Denton, we were within 5 minutes of schedule, though... We wanted to maintain our schedule so that our contesters who had our itinerary would be on-time waiting for us along the way.


We maintained our schedule like a champ; we even moved on past a few stops that went quicker than we thought - because out in the boonies of Oklahoma there just aren't many contesters.  However, I believe we didn't give ample time to turn around on hilltops and look for other contesters.  Despite having phone numbers of a few big time contesters, we didn't have the presence of mind to call them and remind them to look for us - but most of them found us!  We picked up Nick Farlow, KB0YHT in Edmond, and dropped off my daughter near home in OKC.  Now, Harvey, Nick, and I got a quick bite in Edmond and headed for Wichita.  Nick noted that his home in Wichita had the air conditioner on the fritz - with 95 degree weather we decided to push on and get a hotel room!  With the good time we were making, we decided to head up to Salina instead of heading for KC... We made some great contacts in EM17 and EM18 because of that decision - and allowed us to make contact in DM98 with N0YK the next morning from EM19.  Our plans to get up early and operate digital during the meteor shower were crushed by a midnight checkin at a hotel in Salina.  We were on the road by 8 AM... and by the time we hit the four corners of EM18, EM19, EM28, EM29 we were still on schedule! WQ0P really gave us a welcome at that intersection!  Working us on everything we had!  He followed us all the way down to EM26, near Tulsa on all the bands.  In KC we talked to N0IRS, W0KAN, and met our tower elmer WE0Z (Bob) for lunch in northern KC.  We continued down the western tier of counties in Missouri until we reached Joplin.  We were able to reach over to my friend George, AB0RX in EM47 camped on Iron Mountain... on 2m... but we couldn't quite get 70cm to work... Wish I would have thought to use the 2m power cable on the 70cm amplifier!  :)  After that it was down highway 44 with a brief stop to work contacts in NE OK.  Then, 6m kicked in.  We couldn't work them fast enough!  We reached Turkey Mountain, a high mountain on the west side of Tulsa where we can overlook the Tulsa area from EM16 and EM26 within just a few hundred feet.  Then we headed down to the south side of Tulsa to pick up EM25.... and it began to get dark... 6m was robbing us of our normal Tulsa bounty of contacts, but who cares?  :) Then it was running down the interstate 44 to Edmond to drop off Nick and Harvey at about 10:15.  We worked a few 6m contacts in EM15... but it definitely slowed down... and we were in the boonies in a lot of narrow shoulder areas on a limited access highway - where it wasn't safe to pull over in the grass and turn around - because the grass had a 10 ft deep gulley and a wire railing at the top of it!  It fenced us in when we might have made a few of those Tulsa FM and SSB contacts as 6m died out.  OKC was quiet on all the bands coming in - we can usually pick out a few, but 6m had wore them all out, I think!


The 6M opening completely made our score!  We had 66 contacts on 6m (and 2m as well)... We worked 18 states and three countries.  We HAD to stop for dinner - wish we would have taken turns keeping the radio going, we could have had fifteen or twenty more 6m contacts!  However, we were getting to the end of the contest and we were feeling the tired building up.


The modularity of the pvc antenna rack and the modularity of the rear right seat shelves aided greatly in de-outfitting the Tahoe.  It took about an hour to take apart.  Removed the antenna rack with the antennas in one fell swoop.  Less than 40 lbs!  However, all the equipment attached to wood shelves is space consuming, my shack is overloaded right now.  Need to find some way to hang these from rafters in a closet.  One cannot comprehend how vital labelling custom-built power lines is until you have done something like this.  While reconstituting my shack, I labeled everything I touched!  I used color duct tape - there are many varieties out there.  Having both ends of coax and power the same color aid in knowing what to hook up where and quickly.  Hopefully, this will reduce setup time in September.


You can't start too early.  If the power is acting funny, it's probably the ground.  Small things really help the comfort level (pouches, laptop shelves, pencil holders).  Locate your switches in one central spot.  Oh, and we need an 1.25M amplifier!


We intend to participate in the September VHF Contest... Probably just us three - Nick, Harvey, and Randy.  We expect to have more power on 70cm (which should really help), we expect to have the voice keyers operational, and we expect to take the digital more seriously.  We are going to knock a few hundred miles off our journey, hit more cities, and perhaps stretch into some areas that we haven't tried, yet.  See you soon!

-- N0LD