This was my 3rd attempt at VHF Roving. After 2 past attempts, the last being a disaster after my laptop PC became corrupted and I aborted home; this was one was supposed to be my vindication tour- the ARRL September VHF Contest.
With new found knowledge gathered over the last few months, and careful planning using Google Maps, I had a newly crafted route that moved South from San Antonio to North atop Dallas. The plan was to leave my home QTH League City on Saturday, operate until sunset, spend the nite in a hotel near Round Rock, resume the route on Sunday, and end the adventure around 10pm with an overnight recovery night at my daughter’s College Station home.
This path, I’ve learned, is the best shot at making VHF contacts since it coverers the highest density of VHF/UHF and even uWave hams. Weirdly, the Houston area hams do not play much VHF/UHF contests
Spolier alert- after unplanned issues, the plan aborted and a last minute consolation route was actually invoked. Note: I conveniently used my daughter’s home in College Station as a safe base.
What I Planned (a N-S trajectory from Sat thru Sun, skirting VHF hams in San Anton/Dallas)
What I actually did (Saturday: Problems at B resorted to an abort and travel back to College Station; Sunday made “lemonade trip” locally at D/E/F/G 4 grid local route)
For this contest, I needed to update my previous rotator system. The original Channel Master (a Radio Shack variant) TV rotor worked great, but it went kaput, likely due to the 90mph freeway sheer wind stress against the weak bearing design. This time I bought a Yaesu G-450ADC, a significant upgrade.
Also, I built up a sturdy galvenized tube tripod mini-tower using 3 three foot Steel-Tek pipes and flanged along with a DX Engineering DXE-AS455G tower shelf and DX Engineering DXE-TB-300 thrust bearing for stability and smooth operation of my antenna tree consisting of a 6m Maxon, a DS 2m 6el yagi, and a DS 70cm 15 el yagi, all three used in my previous outings. This time, however, I improved the mast from a 4′ fiberglass army surplus pole with a 6′ rigid 1.75″ dia aluminum tube. With this added an extra 2′ of height so my total vehicle height was topping 12.5′ from the ground. The state restrictions passenger cars at 14′ max. This new found height, however, interferred with the wicked low hanging oak tree branches cowering over my only path to drive out of our neighborhood. After two experimental runs, I learned how to navigate out of our complex with my rooftop configuration by only removing the top mounted 6m moxon antenna, and re-attach it after I got out of the gates. I carried an aluminum ladder in the back of the van to help me get on the rooftop for reinstall and other rooftop issues along the way.
It’s worthy of note this setup was the brain child of K5ND and later KE4WMF. Scott, KE4WMF, inspired me to copy his use of the Seasucker suction cups whiche were used as anchors for the guys wires. The 6″ suction cups provide 210 lbs of holding force and worked well to give me comfort while driving a freeway speeds in crazy Texas traffic.
For improvement inside the minivan, I added a pure sinewave power inverter which I bought years ago for $40 at the Pearland fleamarket. My packratting efforts paid off since it worked well by providing clean RFI-free AC to power the rotor controller and my 2x laptop AC power supplies. I also added a 2nd GPS puck for WSJT-X time synch on my 2nd laptop, and dual Winkey CW boxes for the TS590 (6m) and the TS2000 (2m/440) stations. The plan which ultimatly was a clumsy setup, was to continuously operate 6m FT8 on the TS590 while adhoc hunting on the other modes and bands on the TS2000.
Not shown in the photos, I used cedar fence posts to support a makeshit lap table which allowed 2 laptops to be positioned above my lap in the driver’s seat. A bit cramped but a seemly good setup.
Besides the batteries in the backseat, I had a small cooler with 6 turkey sandwiches, 3 PBJ sandwiches, water and a few sparkling water cans. Breakfast (and lunch and dinner) for champions! No, I didn’t eat all of them. Yes, I am sick of Turkey now.
I reused my new TE systems 2m amplifier to bring my 2m power up to 200W output which was the max power allowed for my rover limited category.
Most of the other enhancements this time were erognomics: e.g. secured equipent shelf using straps to avoid tipping, bungee strapping my vertical standing SWR meter to one of the radios, use of no-slip shelving paper to keep the equipment from sliding off the shelf, and lots of command strip cable clips to keep the wiring organized.
For both of my laptops (this was the first time I brought 2), I reinstalled a fresh Windows 10 OS in each and patiently updated all the Windows patches- that was miserable and took a loooong time. I wanted to put the corruption issue that I had experienced in July well behind me for good.
Leaving League City, the first stop was in Smithville, just by San Marcos. This was a previously recommended spot by others and I had well reviewed the layout on google maps. But Murphy struck early as this carefully planned roadside destination was closed. I backtracked a few miles to another potentially high rise exit which I keenly and luckily noticed, called Lady Bird Loop. It was actually an elevated hill which was a dream location. I parked across the road from a country house and began a good run of 2m FT8 contacts. I only one 1 SSB 2m contact, but this portended well. All of a sudden my 2m amp started to go intermittent. I reseated the anderson powerpole battery connector and it worked again but only for a few minutes.. Then it died permanently. Upon examination, the positive powerpole tab had been partialliy dislodged out it’s shell and was smoking HOT. I cut off the ends and used a wire nut to secure the battery to amp connection and continued running again. Having my full bag of tools and parts is always a lifesaver. Onward- I went head to the next location on my route- already behind schedule
The second stop was Devils Loop inbetween San Marcos and New Braunfels. Then my issues began to crop up. First, I could hear 6m WSJTX audio but it wouldn’t decode onscreen . The dedicated TS590S system wouldn’t decode anything so I resorted to connecting the 6m antenna to the TS2000. Still no joy. After countless reconfigurations of the settings both in WSJTX and the radio’s Menu options, and a bunch of wasted time troubleshooting, I decided to look at the antenna. I shockingly discovered that the 6m antenna’s PL259 backshell completely unattached from the SO-239 connector on the Moxon! In the hurriedness of setup, I must have forgetten to tighten the connector shell?!! Ironically, Zach N0ZGO texted me that he was ready to try to make a QSO w/ me. I texted him that I was having “problems”.
After resecuring the dislodged connector, WSJTX decoding came back to lif again- but only on the TS2000. The TS590 still could not work for some weird reason. Again, I had wasted precious operating time by fixing and trying to understand problems. Resigned now to ditche the TS590 and exclusively use the TS2000 for all 3 bands, I then started to get knocked out of WSJT-X with an audio error popup notifications. At first I could recover by shutting down the program and restarting, but it got worse. Once again, I fidgetted with OS and radio resets and trying different baud rates, drivers, parity settings, etc, but it continued to plague reliable ops. With a diabled TS590, and now a SW audio issue disabling my TS2000 setup, I reluctantly (or smartly?) decided to abort and return back to College Station (daughter’s house) to troubleshoot under less stress, a glass of wine… and hopefully to catch the remainder of the UT v Alabama marque football game 😉
Yep, I got back in time to see the 4th quarter game and decided to troubleshoot on Sunday after a good night’s rest.
Late Sunday morning I mustered up my disappointed efforts back to the parked minivan in the driveway to troubleshoot.
Initially I tried to puzzle out why the TS590 was decode-deaf to WSJTX, but after an hour, I simply couldn’t figure out why the virtual Serial/USB connection would seem to interface perfectly fine between radio and computer (CAT worked great), but the signals simply would not decode even with indicatdors for good CODEC USB audio and PTT keying. The excuse, “It worked perfectly at home”, sure didn’t help me now.
Then I decided to concentrate on getting the TS2000 to work. What was causing the Error In Sound Input failure window to pop up? I did some online googling and came to the conculsion that RFI was upsetting the connection! I then detached all of the extraneous wires (USB hub, winkey, gps puck) and taped a poor man’s RFI choke into the CAT and Signalink cables by making a few loops inline held together with blue tape. It worked!
At around 1:30pm, I knew I had an operational system and could recover a few more QSOs before contest end at 2100. Luckily, I still had the locally accessible 4 grid square route that Mike KA5CVH had kindly provided me in July. This was his secret route that smartly hovered at the near intersections of four Grids, EM10-EM20-EM29-EM19! Each Grid was a new multiplier. I updated google maps and told my family not to wait for me fer supper.
In general, the consolation route (“lemonade route”) went well. Some of the spots were marginal- wire fences, large buildings, no elevation, but it was a success since I made lots of 6m qsos before calling it quits as the sun set in Hempsted- my last stop.
There was an incident, however, while operating in Katy at the Paul Rushing Park parking lot.
Again, I was unable to make the 6m wsjtx decode properly. I checked the 6m antenna, and discovered that the backshell was once again detached from the PL259 connector! I conjecture that the 6m moxon must vibrate on the 90mph freeway such that it loosens the connector. Next time I’ll secure it down extra tight and wrap it with tape.
After resecuring the backshell, 6m ops went great.
Lots of lessons learned here.
The biggest is that operating 2 radios simo alone is hard. I’ve not developed this skill yet and may regress to a 1 radio setup before tackling 2x later. Also, my new rooftop antenna setup was wonderful. I am now planning to add a 222 MHz capability before the next VHF rover contest in January. Possibly I might also have 1.2G setup too.
This was more fun that I expected. Overall I still made 11 QSOs on 2m and on 27 QSOs on 6m despite of the problems and last minute revised route plan in the local area. I’m pumped to try again and really exercise the fully potential of this setup. What a great hobby.
73 Dave W5OC