The June VHF contest makes me excited with the possibilities. Anything can happen with the right propagation.We learned this during last year’s June VHF contest, when a generous six meter band opening enabled us to win the Western Gulf Division championship in the Limited Rover class. Here are some highlights from that contest. We learned a lot from it and and made ready.
The weekend started with a trip from Austin to the Dallas area Friday afternoon to check out the new HRO and attend Ham-Com. Our plan was ambitious: to cover eight grids in 30 hours. Plenty of time was spent researching the right stop-and-shoot locations and the quickest path between them along a swath of land that extends from Fort Worth to San Antonio. Five of them were places we’d never visited but knew they were spacious, public, and high elevation. Not knowing where the evening would take us, we made sure that each location could serve as a sleepover site if needed. Kourt provisioned Der Funkwagen well with food in the fridge, water in the tank, and beer in the growler. I piled in the amps, mast, antennas, and a credit card for gas, and we were off.
Saturday morning we attended Ham-Com early in the morning, then took off for our first stop-and-shoot in EM12, a hilltop roadside park. Six meters was not quite open yet, but we got a couple of non-Texas contacts before cutting bait for an even higher hilltop roadside park in EM02. There we were able to reach both DFW and Austin, and we started contacting stations from the Upper Midwest as well on six meters. To keep on our schedule of four grids per day, we decided to tear down and keep moving south. EM02 bore enough fruit to be interesting.
A long run-and-gun on six meters brought several more contacts on our roof-mount halo antenna. It became part of our strategy: When the band really opened, we’d tear down and move on, because we didn’t need to rely on the beam as much for propagation, when the run-and-gun halo was sufficient. Stop-and-shoot became the strategy for picking up multi-band contacts in Texas. While our run-and-gun 2M loop had poor receive due to a high noise floor from van RFI, our trusty dual-band Elk Antenna worked well for stop-and-shoot QSOs, the furthest of which was 230 miles on 2 meters. We arrived at a scenic hilltop roadside park in EM01, set up and checked in more contacts from the Upper Midwest. We were getting close to our home turf, but it was also dinnertime and the activity ebbed, so we took it as our cue to eat as well.
Six meters continued to perform well on our halo Saturday night as we worked our way south to EM11, where our stop was a hilltop park tucked away in a neighborhood. One nearby curious homeowner was monitoring our nocturnal activity through binoculars as we burst out of the van like the SWAT team in the Blues Brothers, raised our tilt-over mast like it was the flag at Iwo Jima, and irradiated everything around us with the mating call of our voice keyer crooning through the Moxon beam. It was an operation that Kourt and I honed to high efficiency, so that even in the dark we were a blur of activity. As more contacts checked in from the Upper Midwest and we edged closer to our home turf and its familiar participants, each grid yielded more than the last. Finally we rolled into Lago Vista at 1am and set up one more time before bedding down for the night. We found a secret hideaway that afforded tons of privacy and space. The rain began to fall and we slept comfortably under the van’s pop top.
Early Sunday morning, we arose and set about searching for familiar callsigns in our home grid EM10. Immediately the band lit up with people we knew, big stations booming in as we lorded over the highest point in the grid. Kourt cooked the best omelette ever with prosciutto and seasoned goat cheese while I alternately made a QSO and shoveled a bite into my mouth. The hotline we had established to the Upper Midwest was long gone, but the local contacts more than made up for it. EM10 yielded more than any grid yet. Each one was better than the last.
We took the opportunity to roll through Austin in light Sunday morning traffic while our friends waited for us to get to the next grid, EL09. While there, we made the decision to run-and-gun all the way through and keep moving to EL19 where one of our favorite stop awaited in Devil’s Backbone. It was then that six meters opened up once again to QSOs in the Midwest, and combined with all our local contacts, it was the most fruitful of all the grids. We even had a Canadian contact. At this heavily visited hilltop roadside park, plenty of curious tourists stopped to ask us questions. Kourt handled tourist crowd control while I continued to rack up the contacts.
The six meter band got deathly quiet suddenly, and with most of the local contacts handled, we departed for our final stop-and-shoot in EM00. Bridge outages wrought by Blanco River destruction posed a minor inconvenience to arriving at our appointed stop. It was the highest point on the whole trip, but six meters remained quiet and we made some local contacts before an approaching storm invited us to skedaddle for Austin. As we sped through the rain, I continued to call in six hoping for one more contact to put us over 15,000 points. In Austin city limits a distant call came back from a rover in Montana, and with that we inched over the goal and gleefully rolled through the torrential rain back to the QTH. Thanks much to all the VHF weak signal enthusiasts in Texas and beyond for another fun weekend adventure.
We operate Limited Rover category with the philosophy that Less Is More. The final tally from our log:
QSOs by Activated Grid:
Band QSOs Value QSOPts Mults
50 117 1 117 50
144 45 1 45 6
432 33 2 66 3
Grids activated: 8
Totals: 195 228 67
Claimed Score: 15,276
Do you want to try roving in Texas? We’ll make it easy for you. Here is a Google Maps link to all the places we stopped on this trip. Almost all of them are accessible high altitude public roadside parks with scenic views and a few amenities. We’d love to see more rovers out there. So I level the playing field by sharing the results of our experience and extensive topographic research as a challenge to bring your “A” game. I encourage others to do the same. Sharing makes the hobby better. If you have a knack for radios and like scenery, driving, camping and the challenge of operating with constraints, you’ll have a good time roving.
Here’s the equipment we use:
Yaesu FT-857D with SSB filter
BX-184 voice keyer kit in an MH-31 microphone body
W2ENY adapters for headphones and foot switch
RF Concepts RFC 2-117 amp for 2m
RF Concepts RFC 4-310 amp for 70cm
Comet diplexers (to and from amps) and switches (between run-and-gun and stop-and-shoot antennae)
Home-brew square tube contraption for run-and-gun roof assembly
M2 6 meter HO loop for run-and-gun
Efactor 144/432 dual-band loop for run-and-gun
Par SM-50 6m stressed Moxon for stop-and-shoot
Home-brew 6m dipole as backup for stop-and-shoot
Elk Antenna dual-band 2m/70cm log periodic for stop-and-shoot
Times Microwave LMR-240 coax all around
Drive-on tilt-over mast base, built by some guy selling them at Belton
Discarded volleyball net poles for the mast
The vehicle is a 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van owned and heavily modded by Kourt, including a retrofitted Ford Focus engine. Gotta get up those hills.
Operators are brothers Kyle KD5EUO and Kourt KB5PRZ, fueled by PB&J, salami, omelettes, chicken soup, and 512 Pecan Porter.
Good luck and 73.