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Weak Signal VHF by Tim Marek - K7XC
A Successful Failure...

The Sept 2001 VHF QSO Party - K7XC/R

As I grow older, life seems to become more hectic at a frieghtning pace which makes prepairing for & participating in the art of VHF contesting even more problematic & rewarding.

Take this past September 2001 VHF QSO Party for example...

My new Rover partner, Tim - NS9E, could not commit to the event until a few days before even though we had both been planning and building for the event during the previous 3 months. His job as Assistant Engineer at Reno's PBS television station keeps him very busy. They were going thru a major upgrade near contest time making it impossible to know until the day before if he could participate.

June 2000 I moved back home to Reno NV after living in Gila Bend AZ for little over a year while working on the Air Force Bombing and gunnery range as a comm tecnician. Feb 2001 I relocated to Fallon NV after landing a job with Lockheed Martin as a Radar tech on the Navy's Electronic Warfare Range. Assigned to a remote hilltop site 40 miles east of town and tied to the training / flight schedule it makes planning time off difficult. It was not approved by my supervisor until 2 weeks before the contest even though I had applied for those days off months in advance.

That being said, we approached the contest under the assumption we would each be available to compete. As we live 65 miles apart and telephone calls are long distance, We talked daily on a local repeater going over the many details involved in making a Rover operation of this magnitude sucessful.

The first thing we did was agree on what bands to have ready by contest time, who would be responsible for what radios and antennas per band, Ideas on a competitive route, Where to start, places to stop along the way, where to spend Sat night, Where to start Sun morning, and approx where to end the rove. We agreed to split the gas and food costs while I would cover the motel fees.

With a preliminary plan worked out we then took a inventory of what we already had, started to aquire all the missing pieces, and began constructing the various systems to be installed into the vehicle later. Here local hamfests can
be a invaluable tool to find many goodies at bargain prices. Ebay is another good resource althought it tends a bit more spendy.

Tim was responsible for the 222 transverter, interface to the mkIIg, 222 loop, the 1296 xvtr, interface, IF rig, and associated accesories and spares.

I provided two IC-706mkIIg's, 2/222/446 FM radios, 432 preamp, 2/222/432 bricks, 6M & 2M loops, 432 eggbeater, a 1296 folded dipole, 2 & 432 yagis, 2/222/440 FM verticals, plug & play 12V power, all the feedlines, coax switches for 2 & 432, & 3 masts installed on a frame in the front of the bed on my 1996 Mazda B4000 4x4 truck.

The planned station layout was as follows...

50- mkIIg #1, 100W, KB6KQ loop 3.5' above roof on passenger side.

144- mkIIg #1, 170W Brick, KQ loop 2' above roof on pass side, 2M9SSB yagi on left side up 3.5 above roof, switching between ants as needed.

222- mkIIg #2, 222 xvtr, 120W brick, KB6KQ loop on center mast 2' above roof.

432- mkIIg #2, 110W brick, ARR preamp, M2 Egbbeater atop Right 3.5' mast & 440-18 yagi on left side 2.5' above roof, switching between ants as needed.

1296- Yaseu 2m SSB IF, 1296 xvtr, preamp, 3W brick, W7PW folded dipole 12" above roof on 5/16" allthread mast attached to antenna mast support frame.

144 FM- 2w HT into 1/4 vertical mag mount on roof

222 FM- Kenwood 35W FM Mobile, 5/8 mag mount verticle on roof.

440 FM- Kenwood 10W FM mobile, 1/4 verticle mag mount on roof.

With one 706 on 6 and 2 meters and the other on 222 and 432 Mhz, it made band changes quick and simple. The FM radios were on at all times unless they presented a problem with bleedthru and were then shutdown. The 1296 IF was on at all times unless it presented a problem to 144 Mhz operations.

Next item to be addressed was the route. Where to start, the path, where to stop and when to keep moving, where to spend Sat night when, where to begin Sun morning, and approx where to end our travels and finish the contest.
Originally I planned to start in CM95 in the hills above Kettleman City, CA very near the DM05/06 CM95/96 grid corner and head north through the Bay Area to Mount Lassen and then east towards DM09 and home. This would require us to leave Friday night and stay overnight near the starting point. As it closer to contest time it became clear this would not be possible so I opted to reverse the route, starting atop Mt. Lassen in CN90 and then heading south. We would spend Sat night with Dave - W7KK in Benicia (CM88) and be atop Mt Diablo (CM97) early Sun AM. From there we would head south to the Kettleman City grid corner where we would finish the contest.

Sat AM I met Tim at his apartment first thing in the morning. We installed the 222 / 1296 gear and 222 loop, grabbed a quick bite and took off for Mt Lassen in CN90. Tim has never been here before so we took the long way and circled around to enter the National Park from the north, arrivng at the upper parking lot just in time to start the contest. Tim logged on my P100 laptop while I operated. Many people came by inquiring what the antennas were for, what we were up to, etc... As usual, signals from several hundered miles south were booming in with many 200+ mile FM Qs as well.

After 1 1/2 hours we headed down the hill to CN80 above Red Bluff CA where we worked several stations in southern Oregon. You can never work enough mults as a Rover! At the bottom of the hill we had lunch in Red Bluff, gassed up the truck and began our long trek South. At a high spot in CM89 we parked for a bit to maximize our Q's.

We took the College City exit and headed east 4 miles to park in a farmer's field thats in the very SW corner of CM99. Here we usually start to work everyone on every band as this is the north edge of a very productive part of the route. Parked on the dirt berm of a irrigation canal with the yagis pointed down the central CA valley we really start
to work alot of Q's.

As the sun is setting, with no warning the trucks engine dies and will not start. After repeated attempts to diagnose the problem I give up and shut down all but the 220 FM rig. I inform Norm - KC6ZWT of our dilema, asking him to call us a tow truck to the nearest garage. Not sure who to call he lets CHP know our prediciment and where we are. They call the nearest tow truck on the pool to rescue us.

Julio Brincat of "High Tech Auto Service and Towing" arrives an hour later and tows us back to Williams CA where he takes my truck to the yard before dropping us off at a cheap motel. He will tear into it first thing Sunday and give us a estimate by midday. We check in, drop our bags walk what seems like a eternity to the local Denny's, grab a cheap dinner, walk back to the room and crash dead tired and worried.

We wake up around 6AM and get cleaned up and dressed. A quick call to the garage, and then begin our seemingly endless trek back to Denny's for breakfast. Almost done with our meal, Julio walks in the restaurant to give us the bad news... the "in the tank" feul pump is dead and needs to be replaced. Between the tow bill, parts and labor the final tally is $515.67 !! CASH !!

What choice do I have... I tell him to begin the repairs and we would make our way there shortly after finding the ATM machine in town. Needless to say I did not count on needing over $500 for a rover trip. I empty my account leaving me $300 short! Tim - NS9E taps his new house fund for the balance with my promise to repay him ASAP! Back at the room we gather up our stuff, dreading the 5 mile walk to the garage on the north of town. Hearing of our situation the lady who runs the motel has her husband drive us out there. After a quick trip we cant thank him enough and even try to leave him a tip on the drivers seat when we all get out which he returns to us saying he cant accept it. I'm blown away at the generosity of the people in this small town. Watching the NFL on the waiting room TV is a hard way to spend a Sunday morning, HI!

It soon become clear that he is having more trouble than expected as it takes until 4:30PM before we are underway again. With little over 3 hours left in the contest I'm ready to write the contest off, work who we can on our way back home to N NV. As we near the turn off to Hwy 80 I hear people working Hawaii! All thought of abandoning the contest go out the window as we turn right and head for hills above Benicia CA. As we begin to crest the last hill before the bay someone drags the KH6 to 432 Mhz and we never hear of him again!

We head south in CM87, not stopping, and then east over the Altimont Pass to the central valley. Near Livermore CA we hear folks working Clint - W1LP/MM in the all water grid of CM85! With the yagi pointed east the only hope I have is to snag him with a single KQ Loop before we go too far into the canyon. As we crest the top of the cayon he answers my call and then fades away as we go over the summit. Less than 15 mins left in the contest now and I hear W2ODH in DM04. We need then for a mult on 432! I race east to the first exit past the turn off to hwy 5 South. Exit the hwy, turn right get off the road and point the truck south. Find Pat - N6RMJ (ODH'd 2M op) and ask then to work us on 432. With 15 secends left in the contest we complete with them on 432 for our last mult.

As I head home Tim does a quick analysis of our log. It turns out to be the best numbers I have ever done from North of Sacramento. Had we not broken down and been able to stay of schedule we could have easily added another 500+ Qs to our totals which should have easily placed us in
the Top Ten Nationaly.

We head for Reno to drop off Tim and then I head for home in Fallon arriving after midnight dead tired and worried about my short term finances. Fortunately my job pays well and my monthly debt is low and was able to absorb the $500 within a few weeks. Emergency Road Service and Towing on my auto insurance reimbursed me the $125.00 towing fee which helped. If you dont have this feature on your auto policy I highly suggest you add it as I has helped me 3 times over the past 10 years of hardcore Rover operation.

So, As I said at the beginning, I consider this a successful failure. We managed to continue to compete even after losing 20 1/2 hours of operating time, our station worked very well except for 1296 where we could transmit but the rcv converter was dead as the proverbial doornail. The 222 xvtr on the HF port of the 2nd 706mkIIg worked flawlessly driving a 120W brick brick and single KQ loop. I was amazed at the distances we worked, seemingly effortlessly.

I'm not sure if Tim and I will be back for January 2k2 as he is busy getting a new house going and my work schedule looks very busy in December. Dont count us out yet though!...

73s from DM09ol de Tim - K7XC/R... sk

K7XC/Rover - 2001 ARRL Sept VHF QSO Party