Field Day in Tecumseh Park

With several members being away for the Field Day weekend, the Chatham-Kent Amateur Radio Club decided not to participate this year. I have found contesting to be quite fun, and Field Day is a good test of operating in less than ideal conditions such as would be required after “the big one.” Club or no club, I was determined to do something, so two club members accepted the invitation to join me and form a Chatham team.

As an experienced wilderness canoe tripper, I found the camping rule applies equally well to Amateur Radio, (a) if it fits, bring it, and (b) we probably won’t need it anyway. I was joined by Adam VE3MUN on his first Field Day, and Don VE3DBA who is a veteran of many events, all working under my call VE3NCQ as a 2A entry.

Meeting in Tecumseh Park at 2:00 PM, we unloaded the cars and loaded up my little red wagon – the VE3NCQ express – and set off along the Thames River to our chosen location. We quickly unpacked, and tried getting some wire up a tree. This proved easier said than done given my lack of athletic throwing ability, as my first attempt tangled Don with string. The next throw made it up but not over, snagging a branch with the weight and remaining tightly hooked there. I finally worked it free, with Don now watching carefully from his sheltered location behind another tree. At this point, the media arrived for an interview, so a more professional approach was taken resulting in the wire going up without further problems. At 2:36 we had my Yaesu FT-757 on the air for our first contacts.

View of Thames River Running 2A, we had a cool breezy spot in the shade with a view of the Thames River and enough sun to keep the batteries full.

While I began working on 40m, Don and Adam set up a 40m dipole and a second rig, Don’s Yaesu FT-77. It ran on my spare 80 AH gel-cell battery, and the solar panel was connected to my 40 AH battery. Unfortunately, the voltmeter showed just 5 volts from the sun. After a few minutes of troubleshooting, I realized the panel would work better facing up instead of the ground. With the 40m dipole strung just a few feet off the ground, the FT-77 came to life.

A quick check of the display indicated a problem instead of the correct frequency. The numbers were dancing and spinning wildly. Using the time-honoured technique of a smack to the top with just the right touch settled things down a bit, but it was still too far off to use. We calibrated it against my Yaesu, and made a few contacts using my rig to check the frequency, which wasn’t drifting like the numbers indicated. Eventually it warmed up enough to stabilize after years of disuse, and it seemed to work properly for the rest of the day.

Don and Adam Don VE3DBA, and Adam VE3MUN working in Tecumseh Park. This was Adam’s first Field Day, and Don is a veteran of many such outings.

In between contacts, we answered questions from curious onlookers, and enjoyed the scenic view. Our location was perched on top of the riverbank in a shady spot where the Thames River meets McGregor’s Creek. In the War of 1812, a major battle was fought on the site, resulting in the death of the great Chief Tecumseh and the loss of Detroit to the Americans. For much of the day, our battle seemed to be a losing one also.

Propagation was horrible, with 10m and 15m dead, and 20m plagued by deep QSB and blackouts. I set up my laptop to demonstrate some digital modes, but after chasing disappearing PSK31 signals on 20m for an hour, I finally managed two on 40m. RTTY signals were too light to work at all, and RF from my random wire antenna was causing problems with the computer interface, so the contacts we made used only a couple of watts. We intended to try other digital modes, but none were heard. Having macros set up in advance would have been helpful since doing this while balancing the computer on my lap proved difficult. A proper support for the computer would have enabled the chance to program and send our digital CQ.

Other events were happening in the park, including a large crowd of people gathered to watch Dusk Dances. Fortunately, our RF stayed out of their system, but their music did get into ours, making the digital attempts a good idea. My wife and kids attended the park but “couldn’t find us” so it’s a good thing bonus points weren’t awarded for convincing your non-ham spouse visit. Actually, that should probably be worth about 300 extra points!

The VE3NCQ Red Wagon Express My kids’ wagon came in very handy to transport the heavy equipment to our operating location. This hernia-saving device holds everything needed to stay on the air for 24 hours except food.

Eventually it grew dark so we packed away the solar panel and anything else not in use. We worked right through supper time because we couldn’t figure out how to have pizza delivered. Having to argue on the phone patch that, “Seriously, our address IS the park right now,” wasn’t in our plans. We had to be out by 11:00 PM, but loaded up the red wagon and left a half hour earlier as determined by my bladder – the park’s public washrooms that made the spot seem ideal were locked tight all day. Bug spray would have been handy as well, since a second attempt at digital modes and SSTV was cut short by the need to swat mosquitos attracted by the light. A broken laptop would have spoiled my day – those things are not really designed for laps that are suffering from a lack of public facilities anyway.

In all, we completed only 27 contacts and grabbed a bunch of bonus points. Sunday, I brought my gear to Erie Beach and set up my portable station at the cottage. On the shady Lake Erie shoreline using a vertical copper pipe bolted to the steel seawall, I boosted the count and worked some DX for fun. There was a brief 15m opening as well as some sporadic E on 10m, though I heard more activity on 11m. I guess 10m is only open if somebody decides to transmit. It was a satisfying conclusion to the weekend to bust pileups with 30 watts from this location.

Life's A Beach To demonstrate how the gear can be set up anywhere, I took it to the beach Sunday for a few more contacts. Breaking DX pileups with 30 watts is very satisfying, thanks to the homebrew antenna using a steel seawall for ground.

Field Day was a fun outing which helped us prepare for emergency situations and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect all weekend. We identified a number of logistics to improve for next time, including food, water, bug spray, larger boxes on the log sheets, and an outhouse. Hopefully we can double our bonus points as well, and get some more hams out to participate in this annual event. As the ARES EC appointee for Chatham-Kent, I recognize that being able to quickly assemble a volunteer station is a valuable community resource, so this kind of practice is very important. An actual emergency won’t be conveniently marked on the calendar.