South Hills ARC Field Day '99 - The Story

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South Hills ARC Field Day '99 - The Story
By Jim Mounts - KA3EBX

Another Field Day has come and gone. This was certainly one Field Day that I will treasure for a long, long time. My daughter and I arrived at the site a little after 8AM Saturday morning and we began setting up tables and chairs. Shortly around 9AM, Dick Gideon - KC3RU arrived and began setting up his flag display. Dick also helped Sasha and I with the the set-up. The temperature was already in the 80's and I knew it was going to be a hot one. I carried a towel around my neck for quite some time.

Shortly past noon, we sponsored a VE exam. Congratulations to David Binnie (now KB3EAP) of Pittsburgh who passed his no-code Technician exam. Special thanks go out to the following VE's:

Karl Frankenstein - WE3Y
Ron Lentz - N3WX (VE Liaison)
Jim Mounts - KA3EBX
Mark Phillips - N8UVQ

Although the new site eliminated many obstacles incurred from prior Field Day events, we were still faced with one very big obstacle; installing (2) G5RV's on the tower. We discussed several approaches ranging from climbing the tower to using a bow and arrow. Bill - K3ZY really wanted to climb the tower, but we talked him out of it. Neither of us were experienced climbers, nor were we marksmen. We were simply just a bunch of hams wanting to get on the air and work as many contacts as we could, so we chose a safer route.

We decided to configure the first antenna as a sloper. Here's where the fun begins. We attached a spool of 10 lb. fishing line to a 1/4-20 nut and spread out about 75 feet of the line onto the road. Using a sling shot, Ron - N3WX shot the 1/4-20 nut up into the air and through the crossbars of the tower.

Despite the road traffic, which often forced us to drop our lines or someone's foot getting tangled up in the line, Ron managed to hit his target. The weight of the nut allowed the fishing line to slowly drop down to the ground. We then tied 18-gauge nylon cord to the nut, and pulled the fishing line back up and over the crossbars, bringing the nylon cord back to the ground.

We disconnected the fishing line and tied one end of the nylon cord to one of the antenna insulators. Bill - K3ZY began pulling on the opposite end of the nylon cord, which began raising one end of the antenna up the tower. Bill stopped about 20' below the point where the nylon cord crossed over the crossbar, and secured the nylon rope to the tower. We wanted to make sure that the antenna wire would be far enough away to minimize any effect from the tower. Ron - N3WX and I then took the remaining end of the dipole and headed down over the hill away from the tower. Ron tied a piece of nylon cord to the remaining insulator, and secured the nylon cord to a well-retired and rusting public works department truck. One down, one more to go.

For the remaining G5RV, we decide to configure it as an inverted "V". Once again, Ron took aim and shot the nut through the tower. After the nut slowly fell to the ground, we attached another piece of 18-gauge nylon cord to the nut and pulled the nylon cord up through the crossbars and back down to the ground. After disconnecting the fishing line, we tied one end of the nylon cord to the center eyelet of the remaining G5RV dipole and Bill hoisted it up the tower to about 10' below the point where the nylon cord crossed over the crossbar. Once again, we wanted to make sure that the center of the dipole was physically away from the tower. Bill secured the nylon cord to the tower. Mark - N8UVQ took one end of the dipole and walked north, and I took the other end and walked south. Mark and I tied a nylon cord around each of the insulators and continued to walk in opposite directions. We then secured each end into the ground with plastic stakes.

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Now it was time for the smoke test (literally). I plugged in a soldering iron, and within about 15 minutes, I had both PL-259 connectors soldered on each coax. I plugged the sloper antenna cable into the back of my MFJ-949D tuner and surprise!... nothing happened! My HF rig was deaf! Not only was it deaf, but a puff of white smoke came out to greet me from under the rig! I said, "What's going on here?" Apparently the manual key (MOX) switch was on. I immediately turned off the rig. Looking further into the matter, I noticed the tuner was switched into coax position #2. There wasn't anything connected to coax position #2. With all of the excitement, I had forgotten to move the switch into position #1 and was transmitting without a load! When I switched the tuner to position #1, my HF rig came to life! There were stations all over the band! Apparently there were other stations checking out their own equipment for Field Day as well. Fortunately, no permanent damage was done to the rig. A choke on the +12VDC line had overheated from excess current as a result transmitting without an antenna.

Mark - N8UVQ got his Kenwood HF rig up and running without a hitch and without any smoke (Maybe it will be safer to let Mark hook-up my rig next year!). Despite the literal "smoke test", we made a few contacts on each rig just to see if we were getting out and it was quite clear that we were! Ron - N3WX began connecting up his Kenwood VHF/UHF dual band with external amplifiers.

Around this time, a car pulled up and a gentleman with a writing tablet got out and introduced himself as Mike Bucsko, a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I had a premonition that Mike was coming because he had emailed me a couple days earlier saying he was considering covering the event. Mike didn't waste anytime beginning with his interviews. Around the same time, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer, Annie O'Neil arrived and began snapping away pictures. We asked Mike if he would be interested in working a station and he readily agreed. Mike interviewed Warren Mulhall - WA2BPV, a ham from Northern New Jersey. Warren talked about his involvement with the International Missions Radio Association and how he and others relay messages with missionaries around the world.

Shortly afterward, another vehicle pulled up and a gentleman got out with a shoulder-mounted video camera. He was from KDKA-TV2. This was unreal, but there was more to come! Two more vehicles pulled up. One of the occupants was Chris Strohm, a reporter for the Washington Observer-Reporter; the other was their photographer, Tom Coglio. Chris began interviewing all of us, including Karl Frankenstein - WE3Y who talked about Amateur Radio possibly playing a big role in the Y2K problem should normal communications shut down.

We were a little late in starting at 2:00PM because of all of the media frenzy, but we finally got on our way and on the air. We were surprised to hear many local club stations. We were able to work North Hills Amateur Radio Club, Two Rivers Amateur Radio Club, Steel City Amateur Radio Club and Washington Amateur Communications (WACOM) on HF. It seemed that we could work anyone that we heard. My farthest contacts on Field Day were Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I also had no trouble contacting stations on the West Coast such as California, Oregon and Washington State. We didn't hear a lot of activity on 70cm. Ron asked another local club if they had any better success on 70cm and they indicated they didn't.

My seven year old daughter Alexandria (Sasha) kept saying "Daddy can I talk on the radios?" So, I coached her a bit and sat with her while she made several contacts on 15 meters. I must admit, I was surprised how courteous the stations were to her. In many instances they would tell other stations to please standby, while giving her top priority. After her first contact, she was grinning from ear to ear with excitement. I knew right then she was hooked and would want to pursue her ham license. Throughout the day, we had numerous people stopping by to see what was going on. Sasha made sure they signed the club's guest book. Sasha was also in charge of the information table, which had a multitude of Amateur Radio brochures, a sign-in guest book and comic books for the kids.

As the day wore on, we had several operators taking turns and working the stations. It was nice having a multitude of operators because it gave other operators a chance to take a break.

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Ken Pollock - WB3JOB arrived and brought along his Kenwood HF rig which included 6 meters, so we swapped out my HF rig, and Ken went to work on 6 meters. Shortly afterward, old man "Murphy" decided to prey on another victim by locking up Ken's Kenwood and making his digital readout read all zeros! Without hesitation, Ken took the cover off of his rig and reset the microprocessor. Immediately Ken's rig was brought back to life. It would seem that "Murphy" wasn't having much luck with his wrench today. Jeff Yanko - WB3JFS arrived and began making contacts on CW, with a straight key!

Later in the evening, Ron - N3WX fired up the grill. Bill Harris - K3ZY, Brian Drdek - KB3DLA and my daughter Sasha, began serving the rest of us cooked food from the grill.

The sun was beginning to set, so I began setting up our 10' x 14', 2 room tent. Jeff - WB3JFS helped us inflate the inflatable mattress. By 11:00 PM, I was getting extremely sleepy. I had been up since 4AM, and I was clearly feeling the effects of not getting enough sleep. To put it mildly, I crashed. Jim Milbower, the coordinator of Cecil Township Emergency Management Agency stopped by again and chatted with Ron, Chuck and Ken, while they continued working the radios. Eventually I heard the generator go off and Chuck, Jim and Ken headed home for the night. I got up and helped Ron lock the gates. I returned to the tent and Ron set up a sleeping bag in the adjacent room of the tent. Ron and I chatted for a while about the events, which took place that day. Despite the humidity and despite an occasional kick from Sasha, I finally fell asleep. KS3R was now officially "SK" for the night.

Several hours later, while it was still dark, I heard Bill - K3ZY outside of the tent shouting, "Get up! Get up! Lets go!" Bill had just gotten off from work and was ready to go at it again. So, Ron, Bill and I turned everything back on and Bill and I began making contacts again, while Ron caught up on some well-needed shut-eye.

Around 10:00 AM, the wind began picking up, and several times I thought the canopy was going to be pulled up and swept away. It looked like it was going to rain. Given the fact that the weather was taking a turn for the worse and that several of us had other obligations that day, we decided to begin tearing down the site. By 11:30 AM we had just about everything packed up.

Special thanks go out to the following individuals for helping with the tear down:

Bill Harris- K3ZY
Ron Lentz - N3WX
Mark Phillips - N8UVQ
Ken Pollock- WB3JOB
Jim Mounts - KA3EBX
Sasha Mounts (No Call)

Behind every successful event, there are always key players that go out of their way make it all happen. South Hills ARC Field Day '99 is no exception. I would like to personally thank everyone who participated in this year's event and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the following South Hills ARC Field Day '99 operators:

Karl Frankenstein - WE3Y
Bill Harris - K3ZY
Ron Lentz - N3WX
Sasha Mounts (No call)
Jim Mounts - KA3EBX
Mark Phillips - N8UVQ
Ken Pollock - WB3JOB
Chuck Shoemaker - N3CCC
Jeff Yanko - WB3JFS

I would especially like to thank CTEMA Coordinator, Jim Milbower for making it all happen. Without a site and without Jim's assistance, we couldn't have pulled it off. I'd like to thank Mark - N8UVQ for providing the logging software and Ron - N3WX for logging all data and filing our entry. In retrospect, it's obvious we didn't set any records. We were however, extremely successful by demonstrating that we could establish a fully functional, efficient and well coordinated emergency communications center in the event of an emergency. Considering the fact that we started late (due to the media frenzy), and packed up early (due to the oncoming threat of bad weather), I think we did an absolutely fantastic job. So what about next year? Will there be a SHARC Field Day '2000? The answer to that question is a definite Yes! Are there things we could do next year to improve our results? Sure there are. There's always room for improvements. After all, we do have a little time to plan next year's event. For now, I think we should enjoy the moment and take pride in what we accomplished as a team at this year's event. I think it's abundantly clear that the true spirit and teamwork of South Hills ARC is back!

Footnote: We will soon be posting the KDKA-TV2 video coverage (AVI format) on the club's website, S.H.A.R.C. - NET.

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