National Parks On The Air Activations by W1SJ and Friends

I'm certainly nowhere near one of the biggest NPOTA activators of 2016. My 11 activations place me pretty close to the bottom of the pile. Heck, I didn't start to get active with NPOTA until August! But my activations are special - usually for 3-6 hours, dipoles, amplifiers and many hundreds of QSO's. My goal was to turn rare parks into easy ones! Join me on this ham radio travelog of the parks I visited this year.

Click on the pictures to get full size


08/07/16: WR26 - Missisquoi Natural and Wild River - Richford, VT
09/03/16: RC08 - Gateway National Recreation Area: Floyd Bennett Field - Brooklyn, NY
09/05/16: MN83 - Stonewall National Monument - Greenwich Village, New York City
09/24/16: HP48 - Women's Rights National Historical Park - Seneca Falls, NY
10/01/16: HP26 - Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park - Woodstock, VT
10/15/16: WR23 - Lamprey Natural and Wild River - Epping, NH
10/23/16: NS60 - St. Gaudens National Historic Site - Cornish, NH
11/14/16: HP24 - Lowell National Historical Park - Lowell, MA
11/26/16: NS68 - Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site - New York City
11/27/16: NM11 - Hamilton Grange National Memorial - Harlem, New York City
12/11/16: WR26 - Missisquoi Natural and Wild River - Richford, VT
12/24/16: NM06 - Federal Hall - Wall Street - New York City

WR26 - Missisquoi Natural Wild River - Richford, VT
Sunday, August 7, 2016

This was a group activation as W1NVT with members of the Radio Amateur of Northern Vermont. This is our "local" park - only an hour away. Sadly, we only have 2 parks in Vermont to activate! Operators included AB1DD, KB1FRW, KB1THX, KB1WXM, KB1ZEB and W1SJ. The operation was set up in Davis Park, along the banks of the Missisquoi River in Richford, VT - right adjacent to the Canadian border. The station consisted of two stations - 40 meters in the gazebo and 20 meters in a tent. Both stations ran 500 watts to dipoles up 50 feet. The activation ran 6 1/2 hours and produced 677 QSO's in 43 states, 7 provinces and 4 DX.

Trail marker sign Davis Park stone in front of gazebo.
Larry KB1ZEB and Tim KB1THX on 20m.
Station: K3 + SB-200.
Bob KB1WXM guarding the 20m tent.
Carl AB1DD on 40m with the Bobs - KB1FRW (l) and KB1WXM (r) watching. Closeup of 40m station consisting of Kenwood + Elecraft amp.
View of Missisquoi looking West. View of Missisquoi looking East.

RC08 - Gateway National Recreation Area: Floyd Bennett Field - Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, September 3, 2016

This was a single-man activation by W1SJ. This location is only a mile from my boyhood home, and I did the activation during a trip to visit family. Floyd Bennett is also where I did my first Field Day, way back in June, 1971, back when it was a Naval Air Station. I set up right in the same spot (NE corner) we did 45 years ago!

Floyd Bennett was New York City's first airport in 1931, when it opened - before any heard about LaGuardia and JFK (previously called Idlewile). In 1939, when LaGuardia became the main airport, Floyd Bennett became a Naval Air Station. In 1972, it was transferred to the newly formed Gateway National Recreation Area. The large runways are still there, and yes, people still drag race down them, much to the chagrin of park police. There is also several hangers with old planes, an ecology center, a small campground and other activities. It is several square miles of totally open space in a crowded urban environment like New York City.

The station consisted of a DX-70 running 100 watts feeding a 40 meter dipole up 25 feet. The tuner allowed operation on both 40 and 20 meters. Other bands were dead. Power came from the vehicle. The activation lasted a little over 4 hours and produced 226 contacts in 35 states and 4 DX. I wanted to hit 300, but poor conditions on 20 meters kept the totals a bit lower.

Watch the W1SJ RC08 Video

Entrance to Floyd Bennett. Your activator. Winds from Hurricane Hermine offshore made it a bad hair day.
Station on runway 6/24, looking ENE. Station on runway 6/24 looking WSW. Cars drag racing in background.
Station in van: DX-70, MFJ tuner, hand key, voltmeter.

MN83 - Stonewall National Monument - Greenwich Village, New York City
Monday, September 5, 2016

The goal was to put one of the rare New York City National Park units on the air. To date, there have been some 10 units with 0-2 activations each and less 30 QSO's made at most of them. I wanted to put the Tenement Museum on the air, but they flatly refused - which means no one will ever work it. Many of these units are buildings in the concrete canyons of NY which provide little opportunity to put up an effective antenna, even if permission was granted. I decided to try Stonewall because the ranger knew of the NPOTA program and didn't have a problem with activation, and as it includes a park, there was opportunity to string an antenna. Stonewall was only activated once before and had a mere 33 QSO's in the log. This was RARE DX!

Another problem with NYC is that vehicular access is very limited. Besides having to deal with humongous traffic jams, there simply is little place to park, and parking garages will run $40-50. I'm not a SOTA guy - the idea of schlepping a QRP radio, antenna, feed line and battery on the subway was not an option. "Life's too short for QRP" is my motto. Oh, and did I mention that Hurricane Hermine was supposed to hit NY on Labor Day weekend, bringing winds, rain and a storm surge (just like Sandy in 2012). Can we do maritime mobile? Are we having fun yet?

After seeing my shrink and being certified as crazy, I set out on Labor Day to do a recon of the area. I brought the station packed away in my large backpack, just in case I found an opportunity. Oh, and the big hurricane which the media made a big deal over, was a bust. It was a beautiful, sunny, and breezy day.

Stonewall consists of the Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street, and Christopher Park, a small park between Christopher and Grove Streets. The public area of the park is only 40 feet wide by 100 feet long. The park is longer, but the rest is gated off to keep people out of the gardens. It was named a National Monument in April of this year to commemorate a battle which set the stage for Gay Liberation. The police raided the Stonewall Inn in 1969, which sparked a riot. They don't raid gay bars anymore.

So I arrive at Ground Zero, and find a open parking space on Grove Street, right across from the entrance to the park - and being it was a holiday, parking was free! That's real high on the luck meter! I got out and scouted the park and found a way to run a 66 foot long 40 meter dipole along the length of the park. To get the wire high enough to keep it out of harm's way, I threw a rock with a string over some tree branches. So picture this: I'm tossing a rock into a tree on the corner of busy West 4 Street, just across from the subway entrance. Of course, hitting a pedestrian or taxicab with the rock is not allowed (I thought about it, though). In 10 minutes, I had a dipole a lofty 10 feet above the ground. NOBODY asked me what I was doing the whole time. I guess weird is the norm in this area. I can only wonder what would have happened if I shot my pneumatic ball launcher in the park!

I grabbed the radio and battery and a chair and started calling CQ on 40. S-9 noise - NO GOOD!. I quickly moved to CW with the hand key and banged out a quick 10 QSO's to make it official. Then the battery died - a small battery will not power 100 watts for very long. I grabbed the spare battery. It died. I then alternately charged the batteries from the car to stay on the air. Then the computer battery died. I continued logging on the back of an old road map found in the glove box. Stay on the air at all costs! Eventually, I got a pretty good run on 20 SSB (no noise there) and 40 CW.

The 2 1/2 hour activation produced 118 QSO's in 30 states, almost 4 times the existing number. I would have liked to do more, but considering a 10 foot high dipole surrounded by 5-15 story buildings, with S-9 noise on 40 meters, I was fortunate in what I got. In all, this was totally crazy and totally fun! It really felt like a full-on DXpedition, minus the 2 week trip on the Braveheart!

Your activator at the West 4 St Entrance, looking NE. Grove St entrance, looking North.
Looking at the Park from the Stonewall Inn, looking South. Looking North though the park at the Stonewall Inn (small white building).
Dipole across the park. Another shot of the dipole.
Station in the park - Looks like a pile of garbage - I just tossed everything down and started calling CQ. Statue in park. Notice what she has on her lap! Promote Ham Radio!
Front of Stonewall Inn.

HP48 - Women's Rights National Historical Park - Seneca Falls, NY
Saturday, September 24, 2016

The idea for this one came from the fact that we would be visiting Debbie's family in Ithaca, NY. I carefully planned the trip for the weekend of September 24th to coincide with the Elmira Hamfest, which I have never been to before. Then, I realized that I would only be a hour from a National Park unit which has not been activated all that many times previously. But, the logistics would be difficult! I would be with Debbie, who although is an Extra Class ham (W1DEB), she wanted no part of helping out with an activation, nor sitting around while I operated. I even offered to drop her off at the nearby Waterloo Outlet Stores, but no dice. And, we would be using her car, which is not set up for an antenna, nor even power to run the radio. That was easily solved by quickly putting in a power cable. For an antenna, I would use something external to the car.

I came up with a rather insane itinerary, in which I had little faith would work out. I would leave Debbie with the family head out bright and early and drive 45 minutes down to the Hamfest and spend a couple of hours there. Then I would drive the 1 hour 15 minutes up to Seneca Falls, set up, operate for an hour or so, and drive the 1 hour back to Ithaca so I could get back by mid-afternoon so we could drive back to Vermont. The problem with this plan is that I have never spent only 2 hours at a Hamfest - usually 4-5 hours is the minimum. It was also questionable if could actually FIND the place I had to go to and then figure out how to deploy an antenna in a place I've never been to! Like I said, Insane!

But the NPOTA program for me has been about insane operations, so this was no different. I was able to tear myself away from the Fester inside of 2 hours, after buying a bunch of stuff, and got to Seneca Falls on the schedule I planned. From maps and satellite pictures, I determined that a bunch of trees in the back of the parking lot would hold my 40 meter dipole. The electronic recon worked out as planned and I had the antenna up about 15 feet in a small tree. Fortunately, no one noticed what I was doing there - it certainly looked suspicious enough!

I got on the air at 11:45, but the pileups were pretty lackluster. I heard other stations, they heard me, but not a lot called in. I ran a bunch on 40 meters, working most everything from New England out to Michigan and Ohio. But when I tried 20 meters - nothing. Stations were there, but they were not calling me, even after spotting. It was like everyone was out enjoying the beautiful weather on a Saturday morning and not bothering with the silly radio (probably the truth). I took a quick break to look inside the Visitor Center, and then went back to work on 40 meters and the 20 meters again. Finally, I got some response, working out to Washington, Wyoming, Puerto Rico and even Slovenia. Not bad for a low dipole and 100 watts. But the time was ticking away and after an hour and a half, I had to pull the plug and head back.

I picked up 60 QSO's in 23 states and 2 DX countries - which is an average activation, but very unspectacular in my opinion. I would have liked to break 100, but that would require more time, which I didn't have. Give the tight logistics, I was able to pull off the activation, enjoy a hamfest, have fun, and not get in trouble with the wife!

Entrance to the Women's Rights National Historical Park. The operation was in the back of this building. Overall view of the operation, looking North. The "shack" is in the car with the green (VT) license plate.
The antenna is halfway up in this tree. Closeup of the dipole.
The station sprawled across the passenger seat. Inside the Visitor Center. Statues of the women who met here in 1848 to vie for civil rights.
Your activator takes a quick rest before heading out.

HP26 - Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park - Woodstock, VT
Saturday, October 1, 2016

This is Vermont's only National Park. It is a wonderfully preserved area, along with a mansion and other buildings formerly owned by the Marsh, Billings and Rockefeller families.

This was a group activation, operating as W1NVT consisting of AB1DD, KB1FRW, KB1WXM, KC1EKV and W1SJ. We set up at the Prosper Road trailhead, some 2 miles WNW of the main park entrance in Woodstock Village. This location offered a fairly high elevation, numerous tall trees, and absolutely no cell service! Any calls for help would have to be done via ham radio. After a quick analysis, we put up dipoles for 40 and 20 meters some 50-60 feet up in the trees. The 40 meter station was a K3 driving an Elecraft amp, located in a pop-up shelter. The 20 meter station was a K3 driving a vintage Heath SB-200 amp, located in a minivan. Power came from twin Honda EU-2000i units. Less than 1 gallon of fuel ran the entire operation.

Conditions were pretty good compared to the last few weeks. The pileups on 20 meters were insane to start with - some 180 stations were worked in the first hour! Things died off for a while, and then came back with a bang later in the afternoon. We were helped by a DX contest in the morning and the CA QSO Party in the afternoon. Over on 40 meters we had stations calling in all day long.

The 5 hour activation resulted in an amazing 856 QSO's, a 60% increase in the number of QSO's from HP26. This shouldn't be a rare park anymore! We worked something like 45 states, 52 DX stations in 21 DX countries and 5 other National Parks. It was an incredibly successful activation and we had a ball. And it didn't rain on us - even though it rained most everywhere else!

Watch the W1NVT HP26 Video

W1SJ at the trail head. KB1FRW shooting the line to haul up the 20m dipole.
The 40 meter station with AB1DD operating and KB1WXM having lunch. "Sponge Bob Square Pants". KB1FRW holding a sponge in front of 40 meter station.
The 40 meter dipole. Carl AB1DD on 40 meters.
Mitch W1SJ on 20 meters. Bernie KC1EKV on 20 meters - his first time running the pileups!
Bob KB1FRW on 20 meters. Bob (the other Bob) KB1WXM on 40 meters.
W1SJ in front of the 20 meter station.

WR23 - Lamprey Natural and Wild River - Epping, NH
Saturday, October 15, 2016

Like many hams in New England, we all like to attend NEAR-Fest in Deefield, NH. I learned that parts of the Lamprey River qualify as a National Park Unit. The Lamprey actually runs through Deerfield, forming the northern boundary of the Fairgrounds. It continues to meander east and north and eventually empties into the Great Bay in Portsmouth, which in turn empties into the ocean. The National Park unit starts in West Epping, a mere 20 minute ride from Deerfield. Soooo, we departed the fest early and headed over to Mary Folsom Blair Park, along the banks of the Lamprey River. There we found tall and glorious trees, in full fall foliage colors. We wasted no time in adorning the trees with 20 and 40 meter dipoles, fed with 500 watts on both bands. The high power made the trees more colorful.

The wrecking crew consisted of Paul AA1SU and Mitch W1SJ on 20 meters and Bob KB1FRW and Rich KB1YTO on 40 meters. The 20 meter station got on the air at 1:42 in the afternoon and quickly turned into a 5 alarm pileup. People were calling on top of each other while fistfights broke out at times. As chief zookeeper, it was my job to keep the peace and keep the QSOs going in the log. We had 180 QSOs in the log inside of one hour. A lot of the QSOs were DX. Not bad for a wire antenna. Paul got on and the pileup continued, but was a bit calmer. I got back on and when I announced that wed be pulling the plug soon, the pileup got crazy again.

The 40 meter station got on at 2:12. It was typical 40 meters quick runs of stations and then nothing, and then quick runs. Rich had his first try at handling pileups and he switched on and off with Bob. We worked nearly 200 on this band and those people were mighty happy because as close-in stations, there was no way they would get through on 20 meters. We pulled the plug on 40 meters at 5, and 20 meters ran until 5:38, giving us just enough time to put everything away before it got dark. We ended up with a total of 792 QSOs from 45 states and 23 DXCC countries. Not bad for an afternoon in the park - after 2 days of Hamfesting!

Watch the W1NVT WR23 Video

We were at Mary Folsom Blair Park, just beyond the site of the old Folsom Dam. AA1SU managing the pileups on 20 meters. The Lamprey River is 10 feet away, just down the cliff!
The 20 meter dipole just visible some 50 feet up. KB1FRW on 40 meters. Big voice with big amp! His hat matches the foliage.
KB1YTO on 40 meters. W1SJ managing the insane 20 meter pileups. That's the reflection from the river in the background.
Da gang: KB1FRW, KB1YTO, AA1SU, W1SJ

NS60 - St. Gaudens National Historic Site - Cornish, NH
Sunday, October 23, 2016

We had so much fun last week putting on the Lamprey River site, that we decided to strike again while we had the time and the weather was still fairly nice. That being said, we did drive through some early morning snow while crossing the Green Mountains of Vermont. We got down to Cornish, NH - site of NS60, St. Gaudens National Historic Site. The crew consisted of Bob KB1FRW, Rich KB1YTO, Doug N6PRT and Mitch W1SJ.

We set up in the main parking lot and quickly had 20 and 40 meter dipoles high in the trees. Park visitors marveled at the wires! As there was a threat of rain, the 20 meter station was inside the van, and the 40 meter station was under a shelter. The 20 meter station got going at 11, while 40 meters fired up 50 minutes later. We didnt have an amp for 40 meters on this trip, but it hardly mattered as we made pretty much the same of contacts as in the other activations. On 20 meters, it was a massive pileup all day with lots of DX. It was tiring work but a load of fun!

We ran into Ken KB1HXO who was doing an activation of his own at NS60. No problem with QRM - newer radios are great!

What was a rainy and snowy morning on the trip down turned into a glorious, but somewhat chilly fall day. Things werent too shabby on the air either. When the last QSO was made at 5:09, we had 1008 QSOs in 47 states and 35 countries in the log. Wow!

Map of the Park. 20m was at the other end of the parking area and 40m was in the middle and back end. The 40 meter station was under this canopy. It was a bit chilly at times!
KB1FRW on 20 meters. He is 4 inches too long. We either have to cut a hole in the van, or chop 4 inches off Bob! KB1YTO was promoted to the senior operator on 40 meters.
N6PRT on 40 meters. This was a new experience for him. The 40 meter antenna way up in the trees.
W1SJ dealing with the 20 meter insanity. W1SJ smiling after we counted over 1000 QSO's for the activation.

HP24 - Lowell National Historical Park - Lowell, MA
Friday, November 11, 2016

I was doing a ham radio class in Manchester, NH this particular weekend, so I found some time to head the 30 minutes down to Lowell on Friday to activate the Lowell National Historical Park. Unlike the rural settings I have been in, this is truly an urban park. Giant mill buildings dot the area along with canals running all around. The Visitor Center is located inside one of these buildings and they provide parking - something which is expensive in this area. I brought my drive-over mount and 25 foot mast to hold up the 40 meter dipole. Several smallish trees were in the parking area and these held up the ends. I also brought the amp and generator to power it, although I wasn't sure if someone would object. The noise from the rather stiff winds this day, and the urban background noise covered up any noise the generator made and I was able to keep the operation on the stealthy side. I missed my "crew" from the W1NVT operations - I had to do it all - antenna and station setup - which took a bit less than a hour.

I started a little before 2PM on 20 meters, but between the high noise level, and poor conditions, the rate was not what I expected - a bit less than 100 QSO's per hour! The QSB was a killer - signals were going up and down dramatically. I popped onto 20 CW to give the weaker stations a chance to be heard through the noise. But when I moved to 40 meters at 3:30, things went nuts! Not only were there big runs of stations in the Northeast, but quite a few stations called in from as far away as FL and MN and even the Caribbean while it was still daylight. But the highlight of the afternoon had to be when JO1DZA from Japan called in with a great signal around 4:30 - a first for me on 40 meters. As the sun set and it was getting dark, I started thinking about getting out of there as I wasn't sure how safe this area would be at night. But I cannot say that I've ever walked away from a pileup, so I stayed on working station after station. By 6PM, the pileup had died down, I was tired, hungry and cold (36 degrees with heavy winds). Luckily, the parking light had lights, and I made quick work of getting the antenna down and everything put away.

The activation resulted in 501 QSO's in 46 states, 16 countries and 5 continents. Not bad for 4 hours of playing on the radio!

Looking North across the parking area. Antenna is 40m dipole on 25 foot mast. Looking West across the Pawtucket Canal and Dutton Street.
Looking NE at the "shack". Honda powerplant visible next to front wheel. The mill at this site has been converted to apartments. Not sure of the function of the smokestack but it could be a great antennas support!
Detail of the antenna mount. Entrance to the visitor center in the mill building.

NS68 - Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site - New York City
Saturday, November 26, 2016

This is a classic brownstone which is a replica of the house where Teddy Roosevelt was born. I had been looking at this site for some time as it was only activated once by K0BAK and resulted in only 12 QSO's being made. The site was closed most of the year for renovations, and finally opened in November. K1ZK made a few more QSO's from here and reported that the noise was "real bad".

I got permission to operate from here, and asked if it would be possible to put an antenna on the roof. That was turned down, as I expected. But fortunately, I convinced the park ranger to allow me to hang one end of my 40 meter dipole from a 3rd story window. The antenna came down 30 feet, and then made a sharp turn to horizontal for a another 30 feet, forming a shortened 40 meter "L" antenna. I had hoped that the vertical polarization would help me on 20 meters while the horizontal component would be best for high angle skip on 40 meters during the day. But I knew this would be a tough slog. The street and sidewalk form a notch which is 50 feet wide, with 100-150 foot high buildings on each side. While one end of the street pointed at 300 degrees, which would help towards the Pacific Northwest, most of the paths to the U.S. were right into the building I was located at!

But that was only half of it! The noise was brutal! How brutal? Try S9+10db on 40 meters and a mere S8 on 20 meters (with most 20 meter signals well below that). And this is with the pre-amp off! My most popular expressions this day were, "Say again", "Repeat", and my favorite, "What?"

And if this wasn't all bad enough, with the CQWW CW contest raging on, I was limited to a small window of CW frequencies just above the PSK and Packet segments. A bit more than half of the QSO's were made on CW, mainly due to the high noise level. QSO's on 20 meter phone were very tough, so CW was the main mode there.

You have to laugh when you picture this activation. This took place in the fashionable Gramercy Park District of New York. All day, cabs would pull up with people dressed to the nines, wearing furs and fancy hats and the such. And there I am on the steps of the townhouse with wires running all over the place. The steps and front door are not used - the entrance is on the ground floor, which allowed me an undisturbed spot to operate from.

After 5 hours of sitting outside in the cold, I tallied 164 QSO's - my absolute worse QSO rate in any activation. But consider that only 52 QSO's were made in the 2 activations prior, this was pretty good. Suffice it to say, if you made it into the log, you were real lucky. The noise and conditions were so bad, that I'm amazed I worked anyone. This was truly the hardest operation I've ever done in ham radio. But I'm happy I was able to pull it off!

Front of building. End of dipole coming out of 3rd story window, down to stairway. Antenna was an "L dipole for 40 meters- 1/2 vertical, the other half horizontal.
To make matters worse, building is set back 15 feet from edge of other buildings, making antenna angle even worse. Building set back on other side
This is what we mean by the "Concrete Canyons of NYC". Looking West down East 20 Street, which is actually 300 degrees. Not too bad for WA and OR, but brutal for FL! Looking East (120 degrees) down East 20 Street. Great for working the South Atlantic Ocean, if anyone was there.
This is the glorious station perched on the top of the stairway. Logging computer on top, with radio (DX-70) at right. I'm really happy here, as I am done after 5 grueling hours of picking stations out of the noise!

NM11 - Hamilton Grange National Memorial - Harlem, New York City
Sunday, November 27, 2016

After a grueling day at NS68, I opted for a rare, but fairly easy activation the next day. Hamilton Grange is the house which Alexander Hamilton built and lived in for a couple of years before he ended up on the losing end of a duel with Aaron Burr. In 1800, this area of Harlem was his estate. Over the years, with the city growing up around the house, it was moved a few times before settling in St. Nicholas Park. I was offered the ability to pull into the driveway and set up in the van on the property - a reasonably easy and effective way to do an activation.

I actually was looking at this site for some time, but kept rejecting it. From growing up in Brooklyn, Harlem was about as far away as you can be and still be in the same city. And it was a place you just didn't go to as it was a very dangerous place in the 60's. However, these days, the neighborhood has gentrified and from what I observed was a quite pleasant urban environment.

Set up was a bit slow because I had to position the vehicle and antenna right near the walkway where many, many people (plus a few busloads) were streaming in to visit the site. As I worked diligently to position the vehicle mast and wires away from innocent pedestrians, I was humming the Duke Ellington classic, "Take the 'A' Train". For those not familiar, the 'A' Train is the Eighth Avenue Express which is the main line through Harlem and was right next to my location under St. Nicholas Avenue. Eventually, I had my full 40 meter dipole set up 25 feet above the van. To my West, the hill continued up another 80 feet with buildings from City College blocking the view. Perhaps that's why 20 meters was all that spectacular, but that band has been poor all for some teim. I did have a commanding view to the Northeast, but there was no Europe run this day.

I started out on 40 meters and was greeted with a monster pileup, which lasted the better part of an hour. Unfortunately, the pileup was covering me up and I thought briefly about working split, but decided to not complicate matters any more. Two things made me very happy: First, absolutely no NOISE at this location. If you had any sort of signal, I heard you! And second, a spot on the cluster said, "LOUD!" You gotta love that!

At 4:00 with the sun setting behind the hill, I shut down and stowed all the equipment. The 4-hour activation netted 370 QSO's with only 100 watts. I can also report that no pedestrians were harmed or otherwise mangled by the antennas!

HAMilton Grange, with HAM shack out in front. Front view of Hamilton's House. Stairs were removed and are being replaced.
Dipole on 25 foot mast. Large building at the right is City College. Closeup of dipole, looking NNE at row houses along West 145 Street.
Looking NW from Hamilton's House up towards Hamilton Heights. A happy W1SJ after a very successful operation.

WR26 - Missisquoi Natural Wild River - Richford, VT
Sunday, December 11, 2016

The RANV NPOTA Dream Team decided to return to our "neighborhood" park, WR26, for a final activation before the program would end in 2 weeks. To make things interesting, I announced to the world that we were striving to make 1000 QSO's in this activation (an average NPTOA activation is around 60). At the time, the total NPOTA QSO count was around 970,000, and it was hoped this would go a long way to help put the total over the magic 1 Million QSO Mark.

But it wasn't going to be all that easy. This was going to be a winter activation, and plans had to be put into place to deal with cold and snow to drive up, set up the antennas and stations and operate for several hours. We looked at two different weekends, and chose the day with the least likelihood of snow, least wind and warmest (!?) temperatures. We also had to consider the actual station locations. We have erected tents for this, but that would mean more stuff to do outside in the cold weather. So, we had to carefully consider the ergonomics of fitting equipment and some of our larger operators comfortably into vehicles to make contacts. But it was the cold that wrecked havoc on some of our equipment, particularly our pneumatic ball launcher used to put up the antennas. The cold made the units brittle and also caused the monofilament line to break prematurely. We also had difficulty starting the trusty Honda EU2000 generators in the cold. Fortunately, we learned about that issue the day before. So everything was kept warm overnight in basements and warm garages. The generators started and ran without a hitch.

The other issue we had to deal with was a truncated operating schedule. We could not operate past 5PM like we have done in the past. We had to make a hard stop at 4, quickly rip everything down and pack it away before it got dark (and colder) at 4:30. We all arrived before 10AM, where the local temperature was a balmy 11 degrees. We exchanged many jokes about this becoming a FYBO operation. FYBO is Freeze Your Butt Off - an outdoors Field Day type activity where you get a larger multiplier for the cold temperatures. We got to work to set everyone up and got going on 20 meters at 10:30 and was on 40 meters about 30 minutes later.

WR26 has been activated many times before and is not all that rare. And while the propagation this past week appeared to be good, I didn't know what to expect. Would anyone bother calling us? I got my answer just after the second CQ. The pileup started and quickly became nuts. Stations were calling on top of me, making it hard to respond to stations. People would continue to call on top of others. Fistfights broke out. Chairs and other objects were thrown into the fray. The pileup had all the elegance of a Wrestling Cage Match. I even had to scold some for their bad behavior. And the whole time, I'm laughing my butt off, because I do really enjoy working pileups! We logged a 186 QSO's per hour rate for the first couple of hours. As the afternoon wore on, we worked out the band somewhat and the rate dropped, but it also became easier for the weaker stations to get though. We we actually able to work a number of stations in the Northeast who were in our skip zone.

40 meters started a bit more slowly, but it built up to keep a steady 110-120 QSO per hour rate all afternoon. The noise was virtually non-existent - just a little bit of band noise, and not much else. And with 40 meters going long early in the afternoon. we were working everyone in the eastern half of the country, clear down to Florida.

Around 2:30, I polled the stations to see how many we had in the logs. "Sweet Jesus", (sometimes that is used for my phonetics), "We did it - over 1000 QSO's!" So we kept going to see how many more QSO's could be put into the log. Just after 4:00, the pileups pretty much stopped on both bands and this was sign for us to shut it down, pull it down and get our butts outta there.

We totaled 1250 QSO's, 49 states (no AK), 11 Canadian Provinces, 15 DXCC countries, including Mozambique, and several park to park QSO's. It was a wildly successful activation and we all had a ball.

Watch the W1NVT WR26 Video

Sign board showing the location of Richford. We were 1.2 miles south of the Canadian border, 43 miles NE of Burlington, 200 miles NNW of Boston, 300 miles N of NYC, and halfway between the Equator and North Pole! The Natural and Wild (actually icy and cold) Missisquoi River.
Jeez, it was cold when we arrived. The 20 meter "shack".
The 40 meter "shack". 20 meter dipole high up in the trees.
Bob KB1FRW on 20M. Bob (the other Bob) KB1WXM on 20M. K3 in the foreground with SB-200 amp and tuner behind.
Rich KB1YTO on 40M. Mitch W1SJ on 40M. Elecraft K3, KXA amp and tuner next to him.
As Yogi used say, "It gets dark early out there!" Group shot lit up by headlights after we packed everything away (around 4:30!).

NM06 - Federal Hall - Wall Street, New York City
Saturday, December 24, 2016

This site was the rarest National Park site in the East. Only one activation and 21 QSO's to date. Located in the heart of the Financial District, it is extremely difficult to access and operate from. At all times, there are many pedestrians all over the place, making an activation tricky at best. To make this work better, I collaborated with Pete K0BAK, who has put this and most of the other tough Manhattan National Park sites on the air. It was hoped that our NPOTA "Dream Team" would nail this tough site!

The best activations require recon and homework, and I scouted the area and took pictures in November. I wanted to find a way to deploy my full size 40 meter dipole. With the site surrounded by 35-story buildings on all sites, it would not be easy putting a good signal out, so I wanted the antenna to be as efficient as possible. I was originally going to hang a dipole from the statue of George Washington, but rejected that idea. Not only would it bother visitors taking pictures, the metal statue would not help the antenna efficiency. I finally settled on a mast made up of several 3-1/2 foot long by 1 inch diameter aluminum poles on a tripod, which I would set up in BACK of the statue. Fortunately, Federal Hall is about 100 feet wide, which is wide enough for the 66 foot long dipole. I even carefully plotted all of the legal on-street parking spaces one could find on a Saturday, providing a free parking spot and short walk to the site.

Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate. It was a steady rain when we arrived at 9AM. But, we knew the rain was to taper off after 12:00, so we didn't worry too much. At least it didn't snow. But the cool temps (40 degrees) damp weather and light breeze made things less than comfortable. But we were able to locate under the overhang of Federal Hall, which kept us out of direct rainfall, although antenna setup was a wet affair.

Pete got on around 9:30 and had an instant pileup on 40M SSB, while I worked on the dipole. I finally got on after 10:00 and decided to go to 40 CW. I was greeted by an insane CW pileup and had to work split almost immediately. The rate hovered around 90 QSO's per hour, and this is on a straight key - in the rain! Fortunately, the noise level was a lot quieter than expected, so we were able to hear a lot of stations calling. But after 90 minutes of operating, we both had to take breaks. Sitting on the porch was not the most comfortable of operating positions and the damp weather required frequent bathroom breaks. At least we finally found a place to deal with that! We timed the breaks so that we always had one of us on site to watch the equipment.

The cold weather got to Pete and he shut down around 11:30 and stayed on to watch me go at it. I was just getting warmed up! While 20 meters was a bit lackluster, I was able to log a few West Coast stations. The high buildings all around us obviously was making things difficult. But on 40 meters, which relied on high angle skip at that hour, things remained nuts. The rate on 40 SSB ran up to 140 per hour - impressive with 100 watts from a hole. I went back through the various band modes to pick up anyone else who needed NM06. Finally at 1:23, the battery on the laptop gave up. I could have run back to the car and get a pad to log on, but with the wet weather and such, I decided that was the perfect time to close up shop.

Pete and I combined to hand out 276 QSO's in 2 1/2 hours to some very happy chasers. Despite the rough RF conditions, we had over 35 states in the log, with virtually all states East of the Mississippi. I even reached the Azores! It was a wet, soggy and uncomfortable activation, but I dare say, the most fun I've had. I'll miss this craziness!

Federal Hall, with George Washington standing guard out front. Look to the left to his head, and what do you see? Side view of antenna. Mast is 17 feet. Base of mast is 9 feet above street, for a total of 26 feet above street level. That's pretty meaningless as we were surrounded by 35 story buildings on all sides!
Looking up at George. I was going to hang the dipole from his hand, but thought better of it! Antenna from back of statue. Pole is set in a tripod lashed to base of statue. Building to the right is the NY Stock Exchange. The high levels of RF we generated might have pushed up the S&P index, if the Exchange was open!
W1SJ pounding brass on 40M CW. Alinco DX-70 under laptop, with MFJ tuner and wattmeter behind computer. Blue box is Pete's LiFePO battery which kept the output at a constant 100 watts. The W1SJ station. Alinco DX-70 below laptop. Plastic behind tuner provided needed waterproofing during the rain. I'm obviously not a neat freak during activations!
K0BAK's Ham Stick dipole at the NW corner of Federal Hall. K0BAK posing with George.
George blessing W1SJ and giving his OK to support our antenna. No, I'm not that FAT, but when you wear 4 sweatshirts and 2 jackets to combat the cold, you start to look like the Michelin Man! A happy W1SJ poses in front of the NP sign after a highly successful operation.

December 31, 2016