QNCW, The QRP CW Journal

The Amazing Results of Patience and Skill

Another Radio Active Trike

I probably would have had this project well underway had it not been for first day of great heat wave of the United States Mid West. There were other problems – a broken spoke and deciding how to mount my loop antenna. I left the zip ties hanging out in case I want to move it.



20-Meter On the Trike

I’ve had problems with feeding the loop while maintaining vertical clearance for the porch roof. Fabricating a solution was going to involve hours, so I threw out a drag wire and ham stick. Lots of people on CW. K5LN signed and I tried to go back to him. He must have moved off frequency. Didn’t make any contacts and it was too hot – 90+ – in the sun, so I only stayed out an hour. Wish me luck.

I think the next step is a car battery and my IC-706.

73 de Scott/n7net

20-Meters CW


It’s about ready for Bicycle Mobile Radio with a loop antenna.

Gave Away A Radio

Heathkit HW-8 (aka Hotwater – 8)

When I’m finished using it I’ll be casting about for someone with good ears who is interested in doing QRP the hard way.

The above paragraph was contained the final words of my article QRP the Hard Way.  Late last winter I decided who should receive the HW-8. I mailed it to Bill, K7WXW.

73 de Scott/n7net

QRP The Hard Way

I tuned my radio to 14.060 MHZ then held my breath while listening in the headphones.  Instead of copying Leo, KB7LOC, I heard what sounded like the War of the Worlds soundstage.  But what should I expect on this frequency in the middle of the night?  My being here was no chance event, but rather the result of carefully laid plans that might never produce a single positive result.
In April 1999 Barb, KC7BSY and myself, N7NET, traveled from Oregon to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and rented a comfortable spot to pause.
Many folks arriving at such desert locations search for stout walking sticks, large water bottles, and perhaps wide-brimmed hats.  For us radio people, however, digging-in means configuring VHF and HF radio stations.  While Barb doesn’t share my CW enthusiasm, she enjoys two-meter radio and has more than once conducted the local two-meter traffic net when the NCS fails to show.
Our adventure began in earnest after purchasing a used fifth-wheel trailer.  It came furnished with pots and pans, dishes, and silverware.  Located more than a mile from the nearest power grid meant we had top generate our own power.
With limited funds, our final choice consisted of a single 75-watt solar panel and two 6-volt, deep-cycle flooded batteries wired to provide a 12-volt power source.  Only then was it time to consider a radio.
My old Swan 400, still in Oregon, had served me well during the ’91 Gulf War but it was a power hog.  The new radio would have to be solid-state.  After a day of searching the Internet at the Ajo City Library, I chose an MFJ-9420 transceiver with a CW board.  And a G5RV wire antenna from AES in Las Vegas which completed the system.
MFJ reviews claimed there is no hotter receiver available. The speech processor on SSB is no slouch either.  During the hours of midday sun the output to the coax measured just shy of nine-watts.  It was enough signal to fetch sideband QSLs across North America, including Hawaii and Alaska. After sunset the power output reduced to a needles-width greater than five, close enough to qualify for QRP.  Then, as though Leo had his ear to ground, Barb copied his message off the National Traffic System.
“It’s from Leo, KB7LOC.  He wants to do some CW QRP,” she said.
Leo and I both attended tech school at Keesler AFB, Mississippi during 1956 – 1957. After school he went to an early warning radar site atop a Nevada mountain. I went to Charleston AFB, South Carolina. We didn’t meet again until 1991 during the Gulf War while we both served in Oregon Army MARS. The reunion was mind boggling.
QRP? Not a problem, I thought.  His QTH, Seal Rock, Oregon, some seventeen hundred miles to the north-northwest will be a walk in the park for this little hummer.
“So, how are we going to do this QRP?” I asked him over the payphone.
“I want to try out my newly acquired, gently used HW-8. I teach guitar and Wednesday evening is my only free time. How’s your schedule?” he asked.
He pauses upon learning the only rig I owned is a 20-meter mono-bander. “Well, it doesn’t sound hopeful, but let’s give it a shot.  I’ll call you every Wednesday starting at seven, my time.  I’ll continue sending for one minute. If you don’t respond I’ll continue every quarter-hour on 14.060 plus or minus QRM.  If we haven’t connected by eight I’ll secure my station until the following Wednesday.”
We began.
It was QRP the hard way, his one-watt and my five passing in the night.  After several Wednesdays the escapade took on a flavor of hopelessness, but we labored on.
One night I heard his suffix, a squeaking LOC. His frequency is too high, sounding more like an Irish penny whistle than a Hot Water Eight.  Catching my breath, I listen with all the strength I can muster.  Then KB7LOC finds its way through the dark. I issued him a signal report of 224.  He sent me a 335.  Then he’s gone, vanishing into the night like a wisp of cigar smoke.
Highlights of our second contact have escaped me.  His QSL card is my only proof it ever occurred.
Our third time the band is filled wall-to-wall with atmospheric noises.  I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Apocalypses Now.  Leo reports my signal as a perfect 599.  His signal, however, is heterodyning with another station that’s dead on. The echoes and ringing are reminiscent of a carrier fresh in from the Polar Region. I send him a 221, and I think that is generous.
 Three contacts were our grand total for the winter of 2000.  We should have tried harder for more QSOs.  But neither of us foresaw the future.
In September 2007 Leo became a Silent Key, taking with him all our chances of another marathon.
His will left the HW-8 to me.  It needs work.  The band switches probably need cleaning. When I’m finished using it I’ll be casting about for someone with good ears who is interested in doing QRP the hard way.

Jolly St. Nick

A Merry Old Soul

by Scott B. Laughlin / n7net

I heard a faint Signal
Late one Christmas Eve
Copy was not easy
And harder to believe.

I pressed one phone
Against my ear
And held my breath ‘til
The signal came clear.

It was jolly St. Nick
With an old straight key,
A K1, and dipole
Doing QRP.

We QSOed for a time
While elves loaded his sleigh
He did most of the talking ‘cuz
A cat had my fist, you might say.

At last we signed with a CUL
Me and this jolly old soul
His toy bags were loaded
And he was ready to roll

The Old Man and the Paperboy – part 3

by Scott B. Laughlin/n7net
Copyright 2009

Jack was not impressed with the Secret Code Ring. And Jim sensed that winning Jack’s confidence would not be easy. He would have to try harder.
He knew fewer Morse characters than he’d thought. But Jack’s teaching method made it come easy. Theory, however, was difficult. There were frequencies and band plans he had to memorize, and some of the math was beyond his comprehension.
“Jim, you’re going to be ready for your novice test next week, and I have every reason to believe you’ll pass it with flying colors.”
“Absolutely. You’ve done well and I think the two of us should have a small celebration. Ask your mother if she would object to the two of us going to a donut shop Saturday morning before you begin your paper route.”
“She wouldn’t care,” said Jim, his eyes gleaming.
“Well, I don’t know that for sure. I don’t want to get us into trouble. You ask her anyway.”
That evening Jim stopped by on his way home from school for code practice. Before they began he said, “Mom wants to know which donut shop.”
“Tell her we’ll got to Nancy’s Bakery a few blocks from your house. I’ll pick you a half hour before you have to start your paper delivery.”

“I spoke with Jim’s mother at the book club meeting yesterday,” said Millie at breakfast. “She said that since this radio business started she seldom sees her son. If he’s not doing homework, he’s at school, on his paper route, or on the radio. “Do you suppose we’re becoming too involved?”
“I don’t think so. What would you do different?”
“We’re not strapped, you know. We could find a way to help financially so he wouldn’t have to deliver papers.”
Jack shook his head. “No. He needs the paper route.
“It’s not easy for his mother to make ends meet, you know.”
“I don’t suppose it is, but a polished apple is sweeter,” said Jack
Millie didn’t argue, but Jack could see that she wasn’t totally convinced.

That evening two radio operators arrived and administered Jim’s novice test. When it was finished, Jim had only to await the arrival of his license before he could start operating with his own call.

“Had you thought about how you could give back for the amateur radio privileges you now enjoy?”
“I don’t have anything to give.”
“Yes, you do. You have time. One evening each week you could give an hour to a traffic net, maybe even become a net control operator.”
Jim listened but made no comment, so Jack didn’t press the issue.

Saturday morning Jim was alone in the radio room when Millie called up the stairway announcing that she and Jack would be out for a time checking on a rental house they owned. They’d left him unsupervised several times before and everyone was comfortable with it, but she called up the stairway with a reminder, just the same: “If you decide to leave be sure to turn the power off and lock the front door behind you.”
The house was quiet and Jim began tuning across the novice portion of the 40-meter band when he came across someone sending a weak distress signal. SOS SOS SOS DE SALLY DEE SOS SOS SOS. Rotating his antenna, he determined that the signal was originating in the north, but he had no idea how far away. He brought the transmitter on frequency and adjusted the maximum power his novice license allowed. When the station paused Jim responded with his call, but after he stopped sending he discovered they had not heard him. He’d watched Jack adjust the power. But doing so would exceed his power limitations. He knew that would be okay if he were the one in trouble, but he wasn’t sure if answering the call justified boosting the power. He decided to take a chance and increased his output another twenty watts. But it did no good. Then he remembered a list of telephone numbers taped to the side of the desk. He found a number for the Coast Guard and dialed it.
“United States Coast Guard,” said a voice over the phone
“Is this where I report a SOS signal?”
While Jim waited he could hear voices in the background and then footsteps.
“This is Ensign Bradley. Give me your name and the phone number from which you’re calling and then tell me about the signal you monitored.
After Jim reported what he knew, Ensign Bradley assured him that someone was already on the frequency. When their conversation was concluded Jim turned his attention back to the radio and tried to copy the exchange, but the code was much too fast and he recognized only a few characters. Eventually, he shut down the power and went home.

“Hello,” said Jack, pressing the telephone receiver to his ear the following afternoon.
“Hi, this is Ensign Bradley of the United States Coast Guard.” After he’d verified the number he asked if Jim Cornwell was in.
“No, I imagine he’s still in school. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Well, I thought he might like to know the outcome of yesterday’s episode.”
“What episode are you referring to?”
“Oh. I thought you knew about the distress signal he reported to us yesterday. His prompt action may have saved the lives of three men in a disabled fishing boat off the coast of Alaska.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re talking about young Jim Cornwell, the amateur radio operator?”
“Yes, I am. The boat initiating the call had lost power and it was dead in the water. They were on battery power and who knows how long that might have lasted?”
“And Jim notified you folks?”
“That he did. You should be proud of your son?”
“Actually, he’s my paperboy.”
“Oh, well, however he fits in there, he did a superb job.”
“Would you mind calling again about a quarter after five and speaking to him personally? He’ll be here by then and I want him to hear this from you,” said Jack.
“I’ll be glad to do that.”
Jack headed into the kitchen to bring Millie up to date.
She smiled.
“Last week I mentioned that he should consider some sort of public service as payback for his privilege of using the bands. But he was reluctant, so I let it drop.”
“Maybe he’s a little overwhelmed and feels unqualified,” suggested Millie.
“That might be the case, but he certainly handled this situation like a pro.”
A knock at the door sounded and Millie went through the living room to let Jim in. He joined them at the table and Jack could see by his somber expression that something on his mind. Before Jim could speak the telephone rang.
“Hello,” said Jack. “Yes, he’s right here. It’s for you, Jim.”
“It’s the Coast Guard.”
Jim froze. Who had told them that he had violated the conditions of his license by exceeding his power limit, he wondered? Reluctantly, he took the phone.
While he was on the phone Jack and Millie went to their bedroom and fetched a key. Then they moved to the living room and took a seat on the sofa. After a few minutes Jim appeared in the doorway.
“Yesterday, while you were both gone I heard a SOS on 40-meters. It was coming from a boat called the Sally Dee.”
“We heard. You did well.”
“Absolutely. You conducted yourself in the true spirit of amateur radio. We think you’ve earned the privileges that would ordinarily be extended only to a grandson,” Jack said, reaching into his shirt pocket. “This key is to the front door. Anytime your mother says it’s okay, let yourself in whether we’re home or not.”
“Are you serious?”

The Old Man and the Paperboy – Part 2

Copyright 2009 by Scott B. Laughlin/N7NET
The day the paperboy was to visit Jack’s radio room came too quickly. After retrieving the morning paper, he sank into his recliner. As a rule, he first digested the editorial page, and then he scanned the entire newspaper front to back. This morning, however, Millie’s remark about how much time had passed since he’d last been on the air was still nagging him. How long it had been? Why was she keeping track?
“Jim will be here this afternoon,” Millie called from the kitchen.
“You mean the paperboy?”
“Jack. You’ve got to start using his name.”
Jack grunted and dropped the paper in his lap. Pushing his recliner back, he closed his eyes and tried to recall his last visit to the radio room. Propagation was probably in the ditch that day. It had been for months. As if that wasn’t enough, a faulty transformer was creating havoc with the signals, driving the noise floor through the roof. He’d made two formal complaints to the utility company, but to no avail. Perhaps, during his hiatus the problem had been located and corrected.
Jack gazed up the narrow stairway to the radio room door. His shack had once been a portion of the attic. Today, however, he would be sharing his asylum with the paperboy.
Millie’s ability for getting her way was phenomenal. And he thought about the sign hanging in a tobacco shop on Van Ness Avenue that read: HISTORIC LOCATION: A MAN WON AN ARGUMENT WITH HIS WIFE ON THIS SPOT ON FEBURARY 3, 1932.
Sighing, Jack remembered that the room needed a going over. Laying the newspaper aside, he pushed himself from his recliner and headed up the stairs. After reaching the landing he pushed the door open and reached inside to flip the light switch. That’s when he caught a whiff of Millie’s furniture polish. “So this is how she keeps tabs on my radio habits,” he muttered. He admired the scores of QSL cards and certificates he’d collected. Directly behind his desk hung a world map on which scores of colored hatpins marked significant locations he’d worked at one time or another—Pitcairn Island, Azores, a North Pole expedition, and a dozen small islands off Japan. A lone pin marked Marion Island, an icy chunk of real estate hugging the Antarctic Continent.
The leather protested as he settled into his high-backed chair and swung it into position at the desk. His radios were large and occupied much of the desk area. He’d purchased them prior to World War II, months before communications equipment became rationed items. To his right a J-38 was anchored on a heavy brass plate. On a separate table stood an ancient Underwood mill he used for copying high-speed CW traffic. At the back of the desk, in custom-built shelves, were four telegraph keys that had seen extraordinary service. Had they been capable of telling their stories, each might have startled the world with events of which they’d taken part—the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Scopes trial, the 1929 Crash, World War II, sinking of the Bismarck, and the Korean Conflict, not to mention the daily livestock and grain reports, Wall Street, and hundreds, if not thousands of baseball games transmitted to remote studios in Morse code.
After checking the cables and wires, Jack switched on the power and watched the tubes came to life. Their orange glow gave him comfort and he didn’t object to the scent of hot dust.
While the radios stabilized he recalled his stint in the Army. Drafted at forty-six, he was too old for combat, but as an electrical engineer and amateur radio operator he was a skilled Morse instructor.
The code school where he taught operated around the clock. Students assigned to night classes often fought sleep. Most of the code drills were prerecorded on 78-RPM records, so he was free to leave his desk and physically shake students awake. However, he soon found an easier way. He could isolate any position he chose and plug his Vibroplex into that circuit. Then he would begin sending the Morse characters that resembled the rhythm of The Old Gray Mare—PE 777 PE7 JA. He couldn’t recall ever finishing the first line before the snoozing person was jolted awake and back on the mill copying code.

The sound of the doorbell brought him back to the present. Then he heard Millie’s footsteps in the kitchen.
“Remember, you’ve got to stop calling him the paperboy. His name is Jim.” Millie said as she passed the foot of the stairway.
Moments later Jim appeared in the doorway, his eyes bright, his mouth gaping as he took in the radio room
“Wow!” he finally said.
“You still want to become a ham radio operator?” Jack asked.
Before he could answer his mother was at his side. She was a tall, attractive redhead and he saw the boy’s clear blue eyes and high cheekbones in her face.
“I’m concerned about what Jim’s getting into here, the electricity and all,” she said, before introducing herself.
“As you should be,” said Jack, swinging his chair around to face her, “but let me assure you there’s nothing in this room that’s any more dangerous than turning on a table lamp. Everything is properly grounded. However, I shall watch over this boy as though he were my own flesh and blood, Mrs. ahh—.“
“Mrs. Cornwell,” she said, and for the first time she seemed to notice her surroundings. “This must be how a War Room looks.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but there’s been times that I’ve battled the elements—propagation, noise, and lightning,” he said, rising from his chair and motioning Jim to take his place.
“I want you to watch this young man do the most dangerous thing he’ll do while he’s here.”
Reaching past Jim, Jack rotated the receiver dial until he tuned to a familiar voice. Then he adjusted the transmitter frequency, keyed the microphone, and transmitted his call.
“There you are, Jack. We were just talking about you…OVER.“
“It was all words of praise, I’m sure. HI HI,” he said, laughing. “George, I have some third-party traffic, a young man here in my shack wants to become a ham. His name is Jim and he wants to have a word with you. Standby.”
Turning to Jim, he said, “When I push this button I’ll be keying the microphone. That’s when you say ‘Hello. My name is Jim. Over. Got that?”
“Got it.”
Jim followed the instructions and he smiled at Jack, and then at his mother after he heard George say his name over the radio.
His mother seemed satisfied and followed Millie down the stairway.
“You have to learn Morse code,” Jack said, after signing off on the radio.
“I already know code.”
“Oh? ”
“Yes sir. I learned it from the Secret Code Club. See?” explained Jim, holding his right hand up so Jack could see his ring.
Jack adjusted his glasses and squinted at the ring and watched with interest as Jim opened the top exposing a tiny magnifying glass.
“Where’d you get that?”
“I sent in twenty-five cents and a cereal box top to Battle Creek, Michigan for it.”
“And you learned the code from that?”
“Most of it. Some of it.”
Jack was stunned. It sounded like hogwash to him, but he tried not to show it. He’d witnessed some pretty wild notions in years past, but this one, in his opinion, took top honors. His first impulse was to terminate the ham radio scheme, but that would never be an option as long as Millie was still breathing. If he tried to back out now she’d hound him to his grave. He was boxed.

The Old Man and the Paperboy – Part I

Copyright 2009 by Scott B. Laughlin/n7net

Jack awoke with a start. Had he had missed the paperboy for the third morning this week? Gently, he laid back the blankets, so as not to disturb Millie, then groped for his trousers.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, her voice thick with sleep.
“Nothing. Go back to sleep,” he said, tugging on his trousers. After cinching his belt he grabbing his robe and slippers and headed for the door.
Fisherman’s Wharf lay not far away. He sometimes heard waterfront activity—the shriek of boat whistles and the slow rhythm of ships. But this morning all sounds were muffled except for the throaty moan of a distant foghorn. The corner street lamp cast a grainy luster across the wet lawn.
“What on earth are you doing, Jack?”
Startled, he whirled about to find Millie on the porch, clutching her flowered robe tightly around her neck.
“I’m waiting on the paperboy,” he growled. “Go back to bed before you catch cold.”
The words hardly cleared his lips before the young man appeared on a speeding bicycle. Before Jack could draw a breath to summon the fellow, his newspaper sailed toward him and slid to a halt a few yards from where he stood.
“Hey! I want a word with you,” Jack shouted. He knew it was fruitless, this hollering business, because the speeding youngster had vanished as quickly as he’d appeared. Perhaps it was the curse of his old age that made hailing so futile. He stooped to retrieve his soggy Chronicle when the boy’s voice sounded.
“Mr. Wilcox, did you call me?”
Jack straighten and found himself looking into the face of a short, thin boy.
“I did. What’s your name, young man?”
“Jimmy, sir.”
“Do you see what’s wrong here?”
“No sir,” answered Jimmy, his dark eyes searching the newspaper that Jack thrust toward him.
“Can’t you see that it’s soaking wet?”
“Well, everything’s wet this morning, sir. It’s the fog.”
“With a bit more force you might have sailed it onto my porch.”
“You want it on your porch?“
“I do.”
“I can do that.”
“Good. For every morning I find it on my porch I’ll add ten cents to your weekly fee.”
The boy smiled, but Jack could see that his mind was occupied elsewhere.
“May I ask you a question?”
“Like what?” growled Jack.
“Is that a tri-bander on that tower?”
Jack glanced toward the antenna, but it was not yet visible in the predawn light. “How’d you know about that?
“I saw it when Mom was showing me my paper route.”
“And what do you know about radio antennas?”
“Not very much, only what I read in a magazine at the laundromat. Do you have a radio room?”
“I do.”
“Can I see it?”
“Absolutely not.”
Jack had no tolerance for children. They were noisy and unruly. He knew he’d frightened the boy by the way he’d grabbed his bike and fled, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t care. The little scamp had no business poking around and touching things in his radio room.
“You shouldn’t have been so short with him,” Millie complained, as Jack started for the porch.
“Well, maybe not, but I don’t want a darn kid underfoot. He’s a paperboy, for crying out loud. If I let him in one time he’ll be back every day. I don’t have time for such monkey business.”
“I suppose not, your being retired an all,” Millie said sarcastically. “How long has it been since you’ve turned on your radio? Six months? A year?”
He didn’t answer, but held the door for her, instead. He watched Millie proceed toward the kitchen. By her stride it was obvious that this conversation was not finished.
He opened the Chronicle and scanned the editorial page before placing the paper near the furnace to dry. Then he moved to his recliner, leaned back, and closed his eyes. If only Millie had stayed in bed, he thought to himself. The sun was not yet up and the situation was already out of control.
Jack pulled himself from his recliner and headed into the kitchen.
“One of the Chronicle editors thinks John Kennedy will be our next president,” Jack said as he added milk the bowl of oatmeal she’d set before him. He knew she cared nothing for politics, so maybe a bit of Washington news would derail her crusade.
“How do you feel about that?” she asked as she dried her hands on her apron and joined him at the table. Raising her hand, she swept back a few strands of gray hair that had escaped from her bun and waited for his response.
“There’s probably no difference between Kennedy and Nixon.”
“But isn’t Nixon a self-made man?” she asked.
“So they say, but that’s only because he found the incriminating Pumpkin Papers that put Alger Hiss in prison. John Kennedy is the son of a man who made his fortune bootlegging Scotch whiskey during Prohibition. How can one be better than the other? Where’s a Roosevelt when we need one?”
Millie’s eyes glazed over and she nodded mechanically while she waited for Jack to run down.
“The paperboy is interested in amateur radio. Did you not notice that?” she asked after he fell silent.
“I did. But that’s none of my affair. His father should help him, rather than me,” he said while adding milk to his coffee.
“Jimmy, is that his name?”
“Yes, that’s what he said.”
“I know his mother. She’s in our book club. She told me two weeks ago he was taking over this paper route. She’s fearful that he isn’t old enough. She’s so protective of him, being a single mother and all.”
“Divorced, I suppose,” Jack mumbled between spoonfuls.
“Actually, her husband was killed in Korea shortly before Jimmy’s birth.”
Jack blinked, but he remained silent for a moment. “That’s unfortunate, Millie, but that has no bearing on me. I’m much too old to be of any use to a ten-year-old. Have you forgotten that I’m seventy-five? What on earth would we ever find in common?”
“Radio. It’s the radio that you have in common, the same attraction that occurred between you and that old man you knew when you were a kid. What was his name?”
“Wilson. Old Man Wilson.”
“It radio that brought you two together, was it not?”
“Well, it was his wire antennas that first caught my attention. That old man taught me so much.” Jack’s voice trailed off as he focused on the past.
“How old were you?”
“And Wilson?”
“I’m not sure. Eighty-something, I think.”
“Eat your breakfast, Jack.”

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