State QSO parties are popular operating events, and hams have many possible ways to take part. In addition to traditional classes such as single-op, multi-single, and multi-multi, state QSO parties offer the opportunity for mobile operators to accumulate big scores and activate rare counties. Competition among clubs is usually lively and these events even encourage many non-contesters to take part. This story is about a different kind of operation: a stealth invasion of Pennsylvania by a group of Virginia hams, who set up a portable multi-multi station in Berks County in 2006.
Hams in our small Virginia club, the Loudoun Amateur Radio Group (LARG), have been keen participants in the Virginia QSO Party for the last 10+ years, and we have enjoyed a spirited competition with the Central Virginia Contest Club for the top-scoring club in the state. Over the years, we more hardened contesters in the club have used the VA QSO Party to introduce other hams in the club to the pleasures of contesting.
A number of club members are ex-Pennsylvanians or have been long-time participants in the PA QSO Party. I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, was first licensed in 1956 as WN3GOI in the Back Mountain region of Luzerne County and have participated as an out-of-state station in the PA QSO Party for many years. Another one of our members, Bill, K8SYH, has frequently operated as a portable station in the PA QSO Party, most recently from a campground in rare Somerset County. Norm, AI2C, is yet another Pennsylvania native living in Virginia; he's operated the event from his family farm in Berks County.
Our plans for the 2006 invasion of Berks County evolved over about six months. Originally, we thought it would be fun to mount a mini-M/M or M/2 operation from K8SYH's campground QTH in Somerset county, but as interest was generated and it looked like we may have as many as a dozen operators, Norm, AI2C, generously offered to let us use his Berks County family farm as the base for a 2006 PA QSO Party operation. However, we were not going to have the luxury of just showing up and operating at a real M/M station. The only permanent antennas at Norm's farm were 40 and 80 meter dipoles. The station would have to be a Field Day type of set up.
As the planning evolved over a couple of months and we finally zeroed in on a M/M station with five HF rigs, Mark, W3ZI, decided to accompany us and volunteered use of his FB call sign; that would make our operation sound more like a real in-state station. We decided to keep our plans to ourselves. Although we carefully monitored the PA QSO Party e-mail reflector, we didn't advertise our operation ahead of time.
We had a lot of preparation to do. Early on the Friday morning before the weekend of the QSO party, an undercover LARG caravan with a total of 11 Virginians sneaked into Pennsylvania and began setting up the M/M station. AI2C arrived a few days ahead of us and erected a second dipole for 75 meters plus big, low, 160-meter dipole. He also put up his 3-element 15-meter beam using a 40-foot ladder to support it.
We showed up with our secret weapon: the club's trailer-mounted 60-foot crank-up tower, on which we installed a 4-element 20-meter beam along with a 2-meter vertical. We also put up a 40-meter vertical delta loop on a 40-foot mast for the CW station on that band. We ended up with 10 operators plus a first-class cook. See the side bar, W3ZI Station Set-Up for our ultimate station configuration.
Setup went fairly smoothly, and the farm gave us the opportunity to separate the antennas as much as possible. Each station had a bandpass filter, and the only inter-station problem we experienced was occasional interference between the two 40-meter stations, even though the two antennas were separated by about 300 feet. We did not have many of the amenities that a real M/M station would have, however. For example, none of our computers were networked, we had no alternate antennas and our sole spotting capability was via a dial-up Internet connection on a spare computer. We stationed someone with a strong set of lungs at the spotting computer to broadcast spots of rare counties. However, when the bell sounded at noon on Saturday, we were ready to go!
For the complete version of this article as published in the NCJ, view the pdf version.