2023 ARRL September VHF


On the station improvement front, a Raspberry Pi with a custom OS image has been added to the rover. This will serve as the host for various station automation and general network services going forward. To start with, it has its own GPS with PPS output attached and is serving GPS disciplined time (NTP) and general gpsd data for clients on the network to consume as needed. A custom utility to automate grid changes in the WSJT-X instances was implemented as well. That removed a couple steps in config changes with every grid change. Thanks/credit goes to Jeff K9KLD for the nice custom designed and 3D printed case for the Pi and providing the WSJT-X grid change utility.

True to fashion it seems, I didn’t have any grand plans for a route for this contest. So, when a fellow SMC club member reached out asking for help with his 90th grid on 432, working that into the route became the plan. Just so happens that EM49 was the grid he was after and I’ve been visiting that one fairly regularly. The EM49-EM59-EN40-EN50 grid corner is fairly close to home and there are several great spots to operate from at that corner. I also rather enjoyed operating from Taum Sauk Mountain in EM47 last year. So, I decided to do basically the same route from last year, just in reverse this time. Start in EM47 on Saturday and work my way up to the EM49-EM59-EN40-EN50 corner for Sunday.

Taum Sauk is relatively close to home as well, so there was no need to rush or even get up early on Saturday in order to get there with plenty of time to leisurely get setup and ready for the start of the contest. Turns out that like last year, the weather at Taum Sauk was absolutely beautiful. Being able to open all the windows/doors in the van and have a nice breeze is always a bonus. Also gives the poor engine a rest from running A/C on full blast trying to keep everything (especially the operator) cool.

The conditions were pretty much nil for the start of the contest, but the elevation at Taum Sauk tends to help out a bit. Being the highest point in MO at ~1700ft, the usual suspects in Chicago land, down into AR/TX, and even deep into the south east are all possibilities. So, with a nice breeze though the rover and the Qs fairly steadily going into the log, the six hours or so flew by. But, to be a rover, you do have to move once in a while and that was enough time in one place.

While in EM47, during a brief break, I noticed that somewhere between when I left the house and when I randomly looked up, the 6m moxon had broken. One of the “stressed” tubes on the “side” had broken again. It was still physically attached and the antenna was functional, but it wasn’t holding on by much. Having had the same issue in the past and still having some spare parts at home, stopping by the house to fix it became part of the route. Luckily that was only a couple miles out of the way on the trip north. So, after getting that fixed, I was finally up to the north end of EM48 for a short stop to throw a few more Qs in the log. Then, the late night drive up to the EM49-EM59-EN40-EN50 corner.

After a few ZZZs in the wee morning hours, I was up early looking for some rocks on 6 and 2. That seemed to be going OK right up until the 6m moxon went completely off the rails. SWR suddenly went to roughly infinity. So, that lead to spending the next little while troubleshooting that issue. For whatever reason I had left on this adventure without an antenna analyzer which I normally carry. I finally found the needed cable to remove everything between the radio and antenna to eliminate a lot of failure points. No joy, SWR still off the charts. So, that brought the contest to a screeching halt. It was early on Sunday morning and one of the money bands was dead in the water. The only thing left to do was tear the moxon off the mast so I didn’t have to mess with it at every stop and move on. I was temped at the time to throw it in a ditch, but opted to instead break it down and throw it in the corner of the van instead.

There was still the 90th 432 grid for a fellow club member mission to complete and the gas money was already gone. So, the rest of the contest looked like a casual stroll through some grids to hand out some Qs and maybe a mult or two to the various folks that follow my escapades. As it turns out, 6m remained mostly dead so even the stations that still had 6m antennas were chomping at the bit to get those precious Qs on the upper bands instead of glued to 6m Es. All in all, it wasn’t a bad rest of the day really. Somehow I even managed to beat my own score from last year by a hefty margin even without 6m for a large portion of the contest.

Even though it all seemed to work out OK, that was the 4th time that particular antenna has failed and the second time it took 6m out during a contest. I already had plans to replace the moxon with a 3el yagi, I just didn’t get that project completed prior to Sept VHF. Now though, that particular antenna will be relegated to scrap aluminum status. When it works it seems to be a decent enough antenna, but not dependable at all. The 3el yagi will be in place by Jan VHF.

Until next time… thanks for the Qs!

Flex 6600 / Q5 Signal 5BVUX
50 - 200w - Par Moxon @ 18’
144 - 200w - Directive Systems 6el Rover Yagi @ 12’
222 - 100w - Directive Systems 10el Rover Yagi @ 10’
432 - 100w - Directive Systems 15el Rover Yagi @ 8’