January VHF Contest with W2MC/R

W2MC/R in Cape May NJ
Rover at Mt. Mitchell
Rover Op Position
FT-736 in Rover

I am sure most either remember or heard that I went out Roving with my old Ford E150 (full-sized van) for the June 2012 VHF Contest. Well…on the last day of December, I succumbed to the siren-song of a ‘new-to-me’ Ford F-250 pickup, and traded in both my Durango (the daily driver) and the Ford Van (farming/rover vehicle) to purchase the F-250. This, of course, led to a quandary…”how to turn the new pickup into a Rover?” Significant re-think and re-design went into the conversion, but I now have a “new” vehicle for the VHF contests – the Stealth Rover.

Why Stealth Rover? The new truck came with a lid-type fiberglass bed cover – the kind that spans the bed, fits over the bed rails and lifts up (hinged from the bed-front) to give access to the truck bed. It makes the truck look great, but its heavy and a challenge to take off the truck, and limits the availability of antenna mounting points. To address this, I created a mast and antennas that could be quickly disassembled to fit inside the pickup bed, yet just as quickly assembled for use at the next stop. This means that when in “scoot” mode, the truck looks like any other pickup; only the mag-mount vertical antennas are exposed.

How I built the Rover:

Mast and Support – The mast is a two-piece unit; 12+ feet long when assembled, but can be broken-down to fit the pickup bed. To hold the mast vertically, I found (at Cabela’s “bargain cove”) a bicycle carrier elbow bracket that fits the 2 inch receiver hitch. The bike carrier assembly was long-gone, so I got it cheap. At each stop, I would assemble the mast/antennas and drop the mast into this support. The rotor was via “Armstrong” (no, not Lance…)

Antennas – I used a different combination of antennas for this trip. On the mast, top to bottom: * 6 meter square loop * 220 mhz home-brew * 432 mhz 11 element Cushcraft *2 meter 5 element Diamond. All of the above were transported fully-assembled in the bed of the pickup, and attached to the mast at each stop. Two mag-mount antennas (2/440 and 220 FM) were attached to the roof.

Rigs – I wanted to minimize the number of radios brought along for this trip. * 6/2/432 SSB-Icom IC-706MKIIG (100w on 6m, 50w on 2m, 20w on 432 Mhz) * 220 SSB-Yaesu FT-736R (25w) * 2/440 FM-Yaesu FT-7800 (50w on 2m, 40w on 440 Mhz) * 220 FM-Kenwood TM-331A (25w).  While in motion, the FT-736 rode on the passenger seat, and the IC-706 rode on the floor of the cab. The FT-736 was moved to the center console of the pickup, and the IC-706 was placed on the dashboard, which turned the passenger seat into an operating position. The logging computer (an old Lenovo netbook) sat atop the FT-736 for logging contacts.

Electric Power – A large car battery carried in the back seat area of the pickup provided the 12v power for the radios. This battery was charged while driving, and disconnected from the “main” battery when operating. 120 volts (for the netbook charger) was created via a 200 watt power inverter - a "Harbor Freight special". Yes, it made some noise on the RF bands, but I solved that by using the internal battery while operating, and charging while driving to the next stop.

The ROVE – January 2013 VHF Contest

DAY 1 (January 19): I had published a general schedule prior to the start of the contest, but that plan was heavily impacted by the real world. Since the contest doesn’t start until 2 PM local time, Saturday morning was spent with final assembly and test…but as usual, the little bits and pieces took longer than required and caused me to arrive a bit late at my first stop…so for most of Saturday I was running behind my anticipated schedule.

I started in FN30ah – Long Branch, NJ, the “Seven Presidents Park” parking lot. This is a reasonable location for January; the parking lot was empty and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. I was able to work both locals and the larger New England stations. This will not be a workable location for the June contest, as the lot will be full of weekend vacationers. In June, I want to try Hartshorne Park, further north and higher than this location.

FN20xj – Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Mount Mitchell Scenic Overlook. This is a great location! I was able to work into New York/New England, and also worked or heard several South Jersey stations. If I am in the area – this is a “must stop”.

FM29ov – Medford, NJ, Chairville School. Since I was running late, I decided to change plans from FN20 Burlington County Farm Fair (Columbus NJ) and FM29 Pole Hill Park (Gibbsboro NJ) and operate from the Chairville School parking lot. This location has several things going for it – a large illuminated parking lot, relatively clear in all directions, and sitting atop a ridge. From here, I departed for home. I traveled approximately 190 miles on 19 January

DAY 2 (January 20):

I started in FM28mw – Cape May Point, NJ, Sunset Blvd. I returned here because it’s “as good as it gets” for FM28 in NJ.

FM29ll – Vineland, NJ. Added 300 Ghz (laser) contacts to the log.

FM29mt – Gibbsboro, NJ, Pole Hill Park. This was a good location in June; but not as good now. A very close football playoff game probably impacted the QSOs.

FM29 – Gap, PA, on the side of Lincoln Highway (Rt 30). Significant 2/220 FM activity made this a worthwhile stop before I moved to FM19.

FM19 – Gap, PA, on the side of Lincoln Highway. Made very few contacts here; FM only. I planned to return to this grid to operate, but ultimately did not.

FN10wa – Paradise, PA, Paradise Community Park. This was not a good location (looked better on Google Maps; but it’s in a valley). I was able to make a significant number of QSOs, and with a better location, could work back into South Jersey. From here I was dead tired, and headed for home, and arrived around midnight. Approximately 330 miles were traveled on 20 January.

Final Tally: Visited 6 Grids, made 199 QSOs scored 11,988 points