ARRL

Winning Field Day with One Contact

Paul J. Hurm, N8OT


Where there’s a will, there’s a Field Day.


On Field Day Saturday in 2012, I tuned around and did some listening. I planned to give out a few points if I heard a station I knew, but I did not plan to operate seriously. After all, even though it is allowed, to me, operating from home with my usual station did not fit the true meaning of Field Day. Despite what many hams think, Field Day is not really meant to be a contest; rather, it is intended to test our emergency preparedness. Unfortunately, I had done nothing special to be prepared.

Before, and even during Field Day, several Internet discussion boards I watch were talking about how to network computers to be sure logging software would work properly with multiple stations. The purist in me balked at these discussions since networking computers in the field would probably be a low priority in a real emergency.

I don’t currently have any equipment that will run on 12 V dc so I have no easy way to get on the air if ac power is not available. Even if I did have a 12 V rig, I do not keep a backup power system of any kind.

In a true emergency I could probably connect my power inverter and run my old Heathkit SB-301 / SB-401 station. The car battery with an inverter would work for at least a while but I was not going to mess with that for a few Field Day contacts. I went to bed that evening realizing that I was being a bit of a hypocrite since I was not prepared either.

A Field Day Itch

About 2:30 AM Sunday morning my insomnia kicked in and I woke up thinking about Field Day again. Lying there, I wondered if, in a true widespread emergency, I could get a signal on the air? I started by telling myself no, it can’t be done. In particular, I rejected the idea of being able to do anything based on having no power source.

I guess I wasn’t convincing enough since my insomnia persisted! If you have ever had recurrent insomnia you have probably learned that staying in bed can be worse than getting up and doing something. So I got up and thought some more about Field Day, emergency preparedness and my personal lack thereof.

As I thought further, I realized I could never communicate if I never tried. I ended up spending the next couple of hours thinking about some possible options and trying them out.

The Receiver

I decided to first confirm that I had a receiver. A few years back when I was looking for a VHF handheld to purchase, I was leaning toward a Kenwood TH-F6A. I liked the general coverage receive capability, which included all of the HF ham bands. The ability to receive CW and SSB signals was another great plus. Not all handhelds include these capabilities. The multiband VHF coverage, including 220 MHz, was another positive feature.

R&L Electronics, for whom I worked at the time, was nice enough to lend me a TH-F6A handheld transceiver. I became convinced this was the radio when I was sitting in the backyard with only the built in antenna and heard a pile up calling a DX station. This gave me a heads-up, so I went inside and worked a new country.

For my Field Day use, the TH-F6A was my only true option for receiving. I keep it charged, and when I checked, it was fine thus I did not have to worry about a power source for receive. I usually keep an SMA to SO-239 adaptor in my handheld carry bag. I have a piece of stranded wire about 30 feet long with a banana plug on the end. When strung out and plugged into the center conductor of the SMA-SO-239 adaptor it makes a passable receive antenna.

Unfortunately, I had recently been trying out different carry bags and, of course, could not find the adaptor. To solve that problem, I simply cut off a length of solid hook-up wire, wound one end around the banana plug and inserted the other end into the center of the SMA connector on the handheld (see Figure 1). With the internal bar antenna disabled, I was able to hear stations pretty well even though the TH-F6A has no narrow filtering or other signal processing.

The Transmitter

A transmitter was my next hurdle. About 20 years ago I bought three of the “Ryan Communications” low-power transmitter boards and some crystals from Fair Radio Sales. I only got as far as mounting them into a small, recycled chassis (see Figure 2). My plan was to remount the DB-25 connector being used for the crystals in one of the holes on the front panel, allowing easy access for frequency changes.

I had never tested any of these transmitters so I wasn’t even sure they would work. I also knew that a power source would be a problem, and with that thought, I almost gave up on the project again.

The Transmitter Power Source

I kept thinking though, and remembered an old Drake TR-33A 2 meter FM transceiver that I had stuffed up on a shelf in my shack. I recalled that the TR-33A has a nice battery compartment that holds AA batteries. That brought me to the next problem batteries.

I tend to hold on to used AA batteries. I have found that those that are too dead for a camera will often power a flashlight for a while. I usually hold on to them, at least, until the battery tester shows in the yellow range.

I opened the TR-33A and got busy on some corrosion with a pencil eraser. I then mounted 10 batteries, grabbed the VOM and read about 13 V; not too bad for used batteries! I later measured about 11.5 V during key down when transmitting. The batteries were still quite usable.

Another issue arose when I tried to find a place to pick up the +12 V from the battery compartment. I did not want to disassemble the TR-33A just to get to the power switch. I also could not see an easy way to get a connection directly off the battery compartment itself. I realized that if I insert a VOM test probe in place to get a voltage reading then I could insert a small screwdriver in there as well (see Figure 3).

The Hand Key

These transmitters are CW only so next I needed a key. I do have a battery powered keyer but I wasn’t sure if it had batteries so I went searching for my hand key. Of course, I couldn’t find it either. I decided I still did not want to mess with the keyer, check it for batteries, add some if needed, etc.

My father built my “radio table” for me when I first became a ham in the mid 1960s. It has stood the test of time quite well. It also has stood the test of me standing on it since it is quite heavy duty. It has had several modifications from the original flat table, namely, various configurations of shelves. At some point I also “modified” it when playing around with a small drill bit and it has a mostly useless hole or two along the front edge.

One of these holes came in handy as you can see in Figure 4. My hand key for the transmitters became two test probes. I inserted one into the hole in the edge of the desk where it was held tight. For sending CW, a second test lead was touched to the first to complete the circuit.

The Completed Station

Figure 5 shows my completed station. The green and yellow clip leads to the right of the TH-F6A are antenna leads that connect to a jumper cable that runs up to my antenna patch panel. I connected the transmitter through the patch panel to a trap dipole antenna via an MFJ-941E tuner. The meter was hard to read with precision but I was putting out around 2 W.

Operating Concerns

My next worry revolved around the crystal controlled transmitters. I did not think calling CQ would work well and I had no luck doing so. Next I waited for a station to call CQ close to my crystal frequency and then, perhaps, they could hear my low power signal.

Success

At 1108Z on Sunday June 24, 2012, I heard W8NJH (Stu Rockafellow ARS, Michigan) calling CQ FD close to the 3.560 MHz frequency where I had spotted myself. They were able to hear me but since there is no RST exchange for Field Day, I don’t know how well. The contact went smoothly enough except for one minor issue caused by my “test lead” fist.

I had proven to myself that I could get on the air without any preplanning or even a pretested rig. Since I had proven my point to myself, I decided my insomnia was cured and I went back to bed. I ended up only having that one contact during all of Field Day weekend.

Summary and Conclusions

During this whole process I did limit myself somewhat by assuming that ac would not be available for soldering or other tool use. I did “cheat” a little and used my normal house lights to see by. I justify this lapse by the fact that I keep enough flashlights strategically placed around the house that I can find one in complete darkness if needed. So I had emergency lighting available.

Even though I don’t really think of Field Day as a contest, I still feel my one contact Field Day made me a winner! I found my experience to be an interesting and fun exercise. I was proud to be able to prove to myself that I still have some of the ingenuity hams are known for. I also showed that sometimes being a packrat can pay off. Who knows, someday I may even get my old Yaesu FT-707 running again and I will have a 12 V rig available. Then all I have to do is build an emergency 12 V power system with trickle charger, fix other broken equipment, keep batteries charged and installed, and…

Oh Boy! Here we go…


All photos by Paul Hurm, N8OT.


Paul Hurm, N8OT, received his Novice license, WN8VAY, in September, 1966. In 1968 he earned his General class license and became WB8CLF. Paul made the jump to Advanced in 1997, Extra class in 2001 and soon afterward changed to his current call, N8OT.

During his ham career, Paul has been involved with NTS, ARES and RACES. He has served as EC and NCS, and held various club officer positions. He helped supply communications for the “Green Ribbon” peace keeping committee during the 1970 Ohio State student riots. He also has racked up 42 years of participation in the Tour of the Scioto River Valley bicycle event.

Paul’s current station is a trusty Heathkit SB-301/ 401 pair teamed up with several wire antennas that he uses to work DX and an occasional contest. He also maintains a supply of parts, broken rigs and solder. Paul can be reached at 21 Bab Ln, Hamilton, OH 45013, paulhurm@gmail.com.