Category Archives: Ham radio

Summits on the Air

My latest amateur radio interest is an activity known as Summits on the Air, or SOTA. It’s fairly simple — you drive or hike to a recognized summit and set up a portable radio station. You announce via the internet you are on the air, and people from around the country and world try to contact you.

This didn’t interest me much when I was in Illinois, but since moving to Arkansas I’ve realized there are multiple summits around me and it’s great fun to activate them. I activated my first summit, Magazine Mountain, on July 4, 2017. Since then I’ve activated 16 summits in Arkansas, with a couple of failed activations where the radio didn’t work, or I just couldn’t or wouldn’t make it to the top.

A typical summit for me — and they are all different — requires driving for an hour or two to get into the Ouachita or Ozark National Forest, some traversing National Forest Roads in my old pickup, a hike of a mile or two, usually on an old Jeep road that’s no longer open to traffic, and then operating for an hour or two from the summit.

I’ll start recording the summits on this blog, and give a little write up on each. Here’s a photo from one of my favorite summits so far, Huckleberry Knob. This was a two-mile hike, much of it uphill, but the top was worth it. Great views and I was able to make about 40 contacts.

I operate with a KX2, a small portable radio you see here. The blue square is my battery and I use the iPad for logging. You also see my paddle, which is used to send Morse code. All of my summit contacts so far have been on CW, or using Morse code.

I use either a portable vertical antenna, shown here, or a end-fed wire. It’s always amazing that this little setup can reach out around the country and world.

As I head West to start Mini Takes the States, I’ll be doing a few summits in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. I’ll post updates on here. Stay tuned, as they say.

MTTS 2018 is coming

Unfortunately I’ve let this blog go dormant the past two years.  In that time I’ve gotten another Mini, developed a new fascination with Summits on the Air (SOTA) and retired from my job. Also because it’s two years, I’m getting ready to start another Mini Takes the States.  I’ll post some updates here.

On the way to the start of the rally in Portland, I’ll be doing some SOTA activations in the Black Hills and Wyoming.  More details to come.


Half way through Mini Takes the States

It’s Sunday morning and I’m in Minneapolis.  Yesterday it took most of the day before I realized it was Friday. The past 8 days have been a blur, but a blur of fun, seeing new places, doing new things, meeting new people and seeing old friends.  I’ve been smiling nonstop for a week.

I’m also tired — really, really tired — but that’s ok. Today we drive to Sioux Falls, SD. It is supposed to be a short day with a free night, so we may have a chance to take a nap and have a nice dinner today.

A typical day goes like this.

6 a.m. — get up and pack quickly to leave the hotel by 7 or earlier to get to the rise and shine meet.

730 – 9 eat at rise and shine, see friends, tell jokes, look at cars, meet new people.

9 start the daily drive

530 — make it to hotel.

6 leave hotel for evening event. see friends, tell jokes, meet new people, eat, compare notes on that days’ drive.

930 — Make it back to hotel.

10 fall asleep while trying to catch up on things.

So I haven’t been doing a lot of blogging.

Mary joined me in Detroit, so she will be starting her 3rd day on the road today — it’s day 9 for me.  Since leaving Little Rock I’ve driven 3,200 miles.

One of the high points of the trip so far was the swing through Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. I let the other Arkansas attendees on a side trip up the Pictured Rocks National Seashore and Lake Superior. Photo below.

Lake superior2


Hot lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway — day 2

Instead of writing a post this afternoon, I spent my time uploading videos and photos and putting together this short video.  I didn’t realize the camera was on when I was running around talking to a new friend, but I thought that scene kind of shows the goofiness  of event, plus you get to see what it looks like to do a lap at a racetrack in a Mini Cooper with 900 of your close friends.


Day one a great day

Day one is a success, and I’m checked into the hotel at 4:30, which is a big deal. That means I have time to shower, and maybe create a blog post before being downtown for tonight’s event at 7 p.m.

The day started at 6:30. Yes, 6:30. I got there right at 6:30 and there were already hundreds of cars already there and being lined up on the pit row of the Atlanta motor speedway. Sorry I can’t post a picture, but I don’t have the right cable with me to download from the camera to computer. Details.

There were 900 cars in Atlanta this morning.  They said they have 400 cars planning on making the whole trip. That’s a lot of people willing to spend two weeks driving across the country.

After a parade lap we were off. My day went great. I never got caught up in traffic and I was in nice packs of cars most of the time.  I stopped at a random Zaxby’s for a chicken sandwich and six people I knew from past events walked in right after me. We had a great lunch.

Today’s route wasn’t spectacular, but it was pretty. We ambled across Georgia and South Carolina, much of it on back roads. The towns were quaint, the traffic light and the weather hot and sunny. Everywhere I stopped there was a new group of people to talk to. I saw lots of people I knew from around the country and met many new ones.  And that’s a lot of what this is about. You can talk to anyone you see. You start off talking about your cars, but the conversation can go anywhere from there.

I’m posting one picture from today. This was in some small town in Georgia. After miles of cruising along, we all seemed to hit the town square at once. This is the backup going into town. Other than the tanker truck, all of these cars are Minis. This looks worse than it was.  We actually got through this pretty fast.

So that’s it for day 1. Tomorrow we start at the Charlotte Motor Speedway at 7:30 and wind our way to Richmond, VA.

Update, I found the cord, so here are shots of us lined up at the track and the jumper landing in the car.



Restarting the blog, one more time

It’s been nearly two years since my last post to this blog, so it’s time to re-awaken it.

In that time period I’ve stayed active as a ham, and really put the station together here in Little Rock. I’ve gone through a couple contest seasons, and discovered that I living on top of a hill really does make an antenna work better. I’ve done personal best scores in multiple contests, and have a couple of certificates on my wall to show for the effort, but more on that in future posts.

Let’s get back to the basics of the station.  In the two years I’ve continued to experiment and try different radios. In addition to the trusty Elecraft K-line — K3, P3, and KPA500 — I was operating a Flex 3000 as by backup radio.  The Flex had some nice features, but it wasn’t a great CW radio. There was a lag between when you keyed the radio and when it sent a tone, which in high-speed Morse code will drive you nuts.  So I saw an opportunity to trade the Flex 3000 for a Ten-Tec Eagle last year, and I took it. I’m happy I did.

This was my second Ten-Tec Eagle. I purchased one when they first came out, and liked a lot about it, but had problems integrating it with my computer for use as a second receiver. For that reason I sold it, and purchased the Flex.  After using the Flex, I’m happy to be back to the Eagle. I’ll worry about getting the Eagle to work with computer, when the time comes.

The second major change was with my antennas.  I had a Steppir Big IR vertical, that I had been using since 2008. It had seen some hard times — being blown over twice and moved between states — and had quit working. My attempts to repair it didn’t work, so I made the decision to replace it with a new Steppir Big IR, with 80 meter coil.  I also added more radials, and I’ve seen a big improvement in performance. Again, more on that in future posts.

The third upgrade was I painted the shack.  A shack is hamspeak for the room with the radios in it.  It went from an icky yellow to a nice blue.  That was a big improvement.

I’ll round out this post with a photo of the repainted shack.

The repainted shack. Much nicer in blue.



CQ from Arkansas

The Big IR is in my back yard with about a dozen radials so far. I hope to get another dozen in or so over the next few weeks. I’m glad I got vertical up, as my dipole fell down the next week.

I’ve been very, very quiet on this blog, but hope to get it going again. In the nearly two years since I’ve posted, we decided to relocate to Little Rock, Arkansas. So last summer we put the house in Illinois up for sale, sold it, and bought a home here in Little Rock. It’s a nice house on a big hill with a big lot, no trees and no antenna restrictions. That’s about as good as I can do as a ham for location.

We moved in March, and by the end of March I was back on the air with a OCF dipole up about 30 feet. Not a great antenna, but my location helps. A couple week ago I got my Steppir Big IR vertical in the ground with about 10 radials. A week later I had a major limb fall of a tree so the wire antenna went down. That’s why I always like to have two antennas.

Here’s a shot of the new shack. It looks about the same as the old one.

Looks familiar. Still running the K line with a Flex 3000 as backup rig/second receiver.

Sweepstakes, a great contest

I’ve been really, really remiss on the blog. I’m not sure why, except it’s been a hectic work schedule this summer. But it is now contest season, and I’ve been gearing up.

This year I did my biggest effort on Sweepstakes, which many think is the biggest contest. In about 16 hours of operating I made over 650 contacts in 82 of the 83 possible sections. I missed North Dakota for getting the coveted clean sweep, which I got for the first time two years ago.

I had CW Skimmer running using the Flex 1500 as a second receiver. That gave me a nice view of what was on the band. I wasn’t planning on making a big effort this year, but I started a run on 20 meters right when the contest started, and ran for the first hour and half. That had me hooked. After dinner, I did a two-hour run on 40 meters.

More to come, but I’ll try to get active on the blog again.

Field Day 2012

I did my second year of a one-man Field Day, runniing emergency power and temporary antennas from my deck. I started setup at 11:30 Saturday morning, and was ready to operate with the K2 running into a fishing pole vertical at 12:30. That left me 30 minutes to eat lunch before the contest started.

The bands were not great, but things improved overnight on 40 and 80 meters. I did close to 400 contacts, mostly Saturday night and Sudnay mroning.

It was nice to sit on the deck and operate, and to give the Elecraft K2 its yearly Field Day workout. It’s still a great radio, although it’s been overshadowed by the K3.

The Elecraft K2 in action on Field Day. I had to dig out an old Windows 98 laptop to get everything to work. Now I have my log downloaded on a floppy disk, and no way to read it.

No success with software defined radio

At the Dayton Hamvention I picked up a Flex 1500, which is a QRP software defined radio. I have messed with small software defined radios in the past, but wanted to try one of the major players in SDR.

I’m sorry to say that after three weeks of trying to make it work, I’m in the process of returning it. The main problem is that there is latency between the computer and the the radio. For CW operation, this means that you hit the paddle, and the radio keys a fraction of  a second later. Tht makes the use of the internal keyer and sidetone impossible.

So having a QRP radio that requires an external keyer, doesn’t make much sense in today’s world. My smallest QRP radios have their own keyer built in. I also had problems with the TX meter that it did not consistently show power out. That made remote operation impossible.

So it goes back to the factory. Sorry Flex, I tried.

I also need to get back active on the blog. I haven’t posted in a month, and I notice my traffic is tanking. Google no longer thinks I’m very active, and is starting to lower my rankings. I preach search engine optimization to my employees every day, I need to practice it myself.

So I promise I’ll be more active. Next week is Field Day. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I’ll probably be operating the K2 from the back yard on emergency power. I did that last year, and had a nice time with it.