Summer Roadtrip: Preparation

We completed our second preparatory camping trip out to Perry Lake last Saturday. It was just a one-nighter but allowed us to accomplish what we needed to as well as get home before an approaching storm hits.

We used the travel trailer in a form which is called “boondocking” were we are untethered to outside water or electrical lines. Water was not too much of an issue. When we pulled up on our campsite, I connected my hose and filled our fresh water tank. The travel trailer has a water pump that can be turned on/off and pumps water through the water system when a tap is turned on (kitchen sink, shower, or toilet).

When the travel trailer is not connected to electricity, the refrigerator runs off the propane tank. I had the refrigerator running off propane since Wednesday and its consumption of propane was minimal. I feel confident that we will not have any issues keeping the refrigerator going.

Not being connected to electricity also means the on-board batteries are being used. I have two 6-volt golf cart-style batteries that seem to be doing a good job. I initially wanted to use four but there was not enough room for a battery box to hold all four. The two seem to be pulling their weight. Now that I have switched to LED lights inside the trailer, lighting isn’t going to be my number one consumer of power. The water pump does pull quite a bit off juice.

To mitigate the power consumption that I will be dealing with I have a 180 watt solar panel. The travel trailer is pre-wired for a Zamp solar panel and that is what I went with. Setting up the panel is very straight forward. The panel folds in half for storage and comes with a slim, protective case. To set it up, the panel is unlatched, folded out, and has legs that can be set up to prop the panel up. Built in to the panel (on the back) is the charging device that gives a read out of the battery’s charge level and the where the panel is in the charging process.

Other items that I have they may draw on my battery power are the girls mini-laptops. The trailer has a 12v cigarette plug above the kitchen counter. I have a small DC to AC inverter that can plug in to this and be used to charge the laptops. However, I think I am going to limit charging these during daylight periods when I have the solar panel plugged in. This should help lessen the big drain the inverter puts on the battery.

The trailer has an awning that is attached to one side which offers nice shade as well as relief from rain. Part of what I wanted to test was having the awning open and setting up a small table with my Coleman stove on it, all under the awning. This capability would be good to have in case it is raining and I want to use the Coleman. Fortunately this all worked well. Another thing I wanted to test was the awning was to attach a weighted stabilizer to both extended ends of the awning. When there is any significant wind, the awning tends to shift around a bit. For a weight, I used a 5 gallon water bag and bungee cords connected to the top ends of either side of the awning. This worked and the awning moved very little despite a fair amount of wind.

Cooking – This continues to be a challenge with me. When the XYL is not with us, I am the head chef. I have had some success with aluminum foil meals. Specifically chicken and vegetables packed into and rolled in foil. I think the key is to turn them about every five minutes, checking the temperature with a meat thermometer after 20-25 minutes. When I am at a location that offers electrical hookups, I will be able to use the microwave.

Packing – I had each of the girls (and myself) use military duffel bags (that have zippers added to them down the center of the bag). That seemed to work well and generally kept everything inside the trailer tidy.

Prep before bed – Before I actually crawl into bed for the night, I need to have all my clothes for the next laid out and ready to go.

Shipshape & Bristol Fashion

Last week the Tundra got a make over. Besides the normal oil change, tire rotation, and alignment I had the drive belt replaced, repairs made to the front axle seal, a CV boot, the top brake light, and one of the license plate lights. The brakes are good. The vibration in the driver’s side mirror is fixed. The Tundra is up to 111k miles but is still going strong.

The travel trailer is done with it’s (second) service. The leak behind the toilet (a bad valve) is fixed. A bad stabilizer jack has been replaced. Brakes adjusted.

Tomorrow we will start packing her up for this weekend.

Bananas Foster

I got my Coleman stove out to (1) make sure it works, as we are (knock on wood) going camping this weekend and (2) try out more aluminum foil recipes.

Tonight I took a square of foil, added butter, sliced up a banana, and sprinkled (liberally) with brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon.

I cooked it on high for 10 minutes. The Coleman heats up quick. If I am unable to be successful at the campsite with getting a fire suitable for aluminum foil cooking, I know my Coleman will do the trick. After 10 minutes, I put on my thermal gloves and scooped off the aluminum packet.

The smell was promising. I opened it up and it looked great. Four bowls were quickly produced and the family enjoyed the bananas with a bit of vanilla ice cream. I think we found a winner.

I was thinking of a possible variation where I add some Pillsbury dough and make it into some type of a banana fritter. We will see.

Practice cooking

A good part of camping is about cooking. While I was a Boy Scout, our troop mostly did overnight backpack trips. For dinner, we woul have the frozen plastic packet of a Lean Cuisine meal. All you had to do was throw it in a small pot of boiling water, wait, and yor done. In the Army, about as fancy as we got was adding Tobasco sauce to your MRE and heating it with this pouch chemical heater.

With two girls on a camping trip, I need to up my game. We started practicing here at home by making hobo-style meals and cooking them on the grill. A square of aluminum foil, a seasoned chick thigh, cut up onions, potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, and you wrap it up and toss it on the grill. Delicious!

Dessert? Another square of foil, apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon, and I spread out a biscuit from a tube of Pilsbury dough. Real tasty and the girls liked it.

Talking Back To Home

Having an EchoIRLP node here at home allows me the option of communicating with the XYL (who holds a Tech license) when I am on the road. I found this very useful when I was stationed in Korea. With the time difference, the end of my day was the beginning of hers. I could check APRS to see when she started her morning commute and then connect to my home node. This allowed me to check in with her as well as saying “Hi” to the kids.

With the Summer Trip, the XYL will not be with us the whole time. Therefore, IRLP may well offer a solution.

Time change will not be a significant factor – which means the best times to schedule IRLP QSOs with the XYL would be during the commute times. That should work fairly well because I do not plan to be on the road either too early in the morning or much past the late afternoon.

What is the availability of IRLP nodes along the route I am taking and will they be near our overnight stops? Enter the ARRL’s Repeater Directory. I remember my dad almost always having the shirt-pocket version of this directory by his easy chair along with his HT and a mechanical pencil that he used to make notes. I have consistently followed his lead, although I usually keep a copy in my truck as I am not too much of an HT guy. Another difference is my excitement about the Desktop Edition of the Repeater Directory. I find the shirt pocket edition way too tiny and difficult to use. The Desktop Edition is the Business Class of directories…. spacious, roomy, and comfortable.

I took advantage of ARRL’s birthday coupon to purchase the 2015-2016 directory and am using that to start my IRLP node research. Without digging up my maps and looking too much at the surrounding areas, here is what I found:

Sioux Falls, SD, IRLP Node #7346, 444.2, 82.5
Gillette, WY, IRLP Node #3307, 449.75, 123
Cody, WY, IRLP Node #7194, 146.85, 103.5
Great Falls, MT, IRLP #7908, 147.3
Great Falls, MT, IRLP #5670, 147.36, 100
Bozeman, MT, IRLP #3692, 448.35, 100
Billings, MT, IRLP #3398, 449.75, 100

What I will probably do is use my home node to connect to these nodes to see if they are in operation and get an idea as to what their coverage areas are.

Smells Like Victory

Bill Murray’s Stripes was one of my favorite movies growing up. Could it have even influenced my career choice later in life? Perhaps the most engaging piece of the film was the EM-50, the Army’s Top Secret armored personnel carrier that looked like an RV. The EM-50 was based on GMC’s 1976 motorhome.

Stripes culminates with our protagonist taking the EM-50 across the Iron Curtain to rescue his fellow soldiers. Unlike the production model of the ’76 motorhome, the EM-50 packed a bunch of firepower that allowed it to take on all threats.

As so often in life when the truth is stranger than fiction, the Army did use a GMC motorhome to support the color guard that support the American Freedom Train. I would be curious to know if whoever wrote the script bumped into this vehicle along the Freedom Trains route.

Back in 1987 I actually spent 6 weeks at Fort Knox, KY where the movie was filmed. The rumor circulating around was that in one of the barracks latrine there was graffiti on the inside of a stall door that said “Bill Murray Was Here.” I never did find it. And that’s a fact, Jack.

Packing List

I would say I have a problem with over-packing. An early example that stands out in my mind is Scout camp. Camp Oljato, located in the California Sierra Nevadas east of Fresno, lies on the far side of picturesque Huntington Lake. To get to the Camp Oljato, you load boats, make a one mile trip across the lake, and arrive at the camp’s dock. All this initial travel is not too tough. We have our backpacking packs and one or two other bags. These bags are transported by car up to the mountains and then handed off into the boat. Once we get to the other side, everything you have you need to be able to carry to our day’s final destination – one of the camp’s campsite. The trail was dusty and steep. My pack weighed a ton and bore down on my shoulders. The extra bag or two that I had was dangling from my hand’s sweaty grip. Sweat forming on my head, dripping into my eyes. Stinging. Eventually I made it.

I never really learned my lesson. This tendency to over-pack continued and continued. College – too much stuff. Heading off to war – way too much stuff. The plus side is that I never had to want for much. But the downside… if you can’t carry your bags without assistance, then you have too much! I know this, but seldom practice it. With my last assignment before I retired from the Army, I traveled quite a bit. Instead of slimming down my packing list, I got two large, hard-sided roller suitcases. I could wheel both these bags everywhere. Which seemed to have given me the Green Light to over pack. I would take my large laptop with me (in addition to my work laptop). When I went to Hawaii, I had three laptops. I brought my ham radio laptop to log contacts (as well as a duffel bag full of my Buddipole antenna). There was no real forcing function for me to lighten my bags because traveling with the military meant my bags could usually exceed the weight restriction without having to pay any additional cost.

With the travel trailer, I definitely have a weight restriction. I need to think seriously about each item I am taking as to if I truly need it. The plan will be to list out and prioritize items. However, I know I will be challenged when faced with bringing some of our favorite board games (Gobblet, Backgammon, Cathedral) and books. I have obtained the habit of buying used hardback books from Amazon. They are great because they end up costing about $4 each and have the sturdy feel of a book when read. Those hardbacks add up in weight. I don’t need to be a quasi-Bookmobile. Kitchen (or galley) equipment is another area that adds up quickly to the wight total. Coffee maker, frying pan, pot. Do I bring a Dutch Oven? Heavy stuff. Plastic plates or go with paper? Just one set of silverware or go with four titanium camping sporks? One or two folding tables?

Taking one or two short camping trips before the “Big Trip” will help sort things out. I would even like to have a camping trip where we don’t plug into shore power and need to only use battery power while practicing recharging using the solar panel.

In The Midst of Preparation

The countdown is on and the Summer Trip awaits. I am in my second year of travel trailer ownership and am certainly still in learning mode. After a series of unfortunate events with an RV service center east of Kansas City, I have been able to add to my travel trailer fix-it knowledge.

Most of the actual planning for the Summer Trip is complete. I have almost all my campsite reservations and I have my National Park discount card. The route has been decided. The goal is NOT to put in any high mileage days. My highest mileage day looks like it will be the first at 361 miles. Not too bad and all interstate.

All the camping we are doing at Yellowstone and Glacier National Park is dry camping…. no electrical hook ups, no water hook ups. Not having electric for multiple days made me look into swapping out my trailers 12v battery for two deep cycle 6v batteries. I need to check the amp hour difference, but it is significant. Another action I took to conserve or limit the amount of power we will be consuming is to swap out the inside light bulbs with LED bulbs. These should draw considerably less power. Another advantage (when camping in warmer climbs) is that these bulbs also give off much less heat. But heat is another concern… heat for us inside the trailer at night. Temperatures may fall to the mid-30sF. The trailer has a propane furnace and I don’t imagine I will have a problem obtaining propane. I will also carry a spare 20lbs propane tank should the need arise. However, the rub with using the furnace is that it uses a blower fan, which does consume battery power. In order to help keep the 6v batteries nice and charged, I have a solar panel I can hook up. The trailer came equipped with an external plug that allows me to attach the solar panel and charge the batteries directly. I have not tested this out yet and look forward to doing it. The next step is to get a battery box that will fit both the 6v batteries together and secure it to A-frame trailer behind the propane tank. Easier said then done because it is a fairly narrow area.

I have gotten the bearings repacked on the trailer’s single axle, the brakes checked and adjusted, as well as replacing the stock tires with a pair that are a little more robust.

I replaced the plastic cover that goes over the controls for the refrigerator. The original was broken on one of last summer’s camping trips.

The (current) major problem is a leak in the water system. This weekend when I hooked up the city water connection, a small stream of water started to originate from the back of the trailer (behind the toilet) a was making its way towards the front. There was also a small amount of water that was coming out of the bottom of the trailer at a spot marked “low point drain”. I turned off the water and toweled up the water inside. It looked like it may be a problem with the connection to the back of the toilet. Water problems give me pause because I just imagine all the potential damage water could cause. I decided to call to make an appointment to take the travel trailer in to the dealership where I bought it. I just need to know without a shadow of a doubt that the trailer’s onboard water system works without flaw.

Unfortunately that means that the short camping trip to a nearby lake next weekend is off. However, that gives me a bit more breathing room to take care of the near-term To Do List: (1) come up with a battery box solution, get the two 6v batteries installed and working, (2) get the travel trailer and truck weighed to figure out the trailer weight, tongue weight, and truck weight to see how close I am to the recommended limits, and (3) get an onboard packing/storage plan.

The onboard packing/storage plan may end up being a fairly significant deal. The travel trailer’s GVWR is 3626 lbs which includes 791 lbs of “stuff” I can bring onboard. Right from the start, over 100 lbs is taken up by the two 6v batteries (those guys are HEAVY). I am going to avoid traveling with the water tanks full. Water could easily take up another 250 lbs. The rest of the weight is going to be a matter of nickel and dime computations… folding chairs, tables, fishing poles, clothes, food, dishes, pots, etc. I just get the feeling that 791 lbs of “stuff” will not be hard to accumulate into the confines of the trailer.


Getting the Message Through: A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps” by Rebecca Robbins Raines

During 1940 President Roosevelt had transferred the Pacific Fleet from bases on the West Coast of the United States to Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, hoping that its presence might act as a deterrent upon Japanese ambitions. Yet the move also made the fleet more vulnerable. Despite Oahu’s strategic importance, the air warning system on the island had not become fully operational by December 1941. The Signal Corps had provided SCR-270 and 271 radar sets earlier in the year, but the construction of fixed sites had been delayed, and radar protection was limited to six mobile stations operating on a part-time basis to test the equipment and train the crews. Though aware of the dangers of war, the Army and Navy commanders on Oahu, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, did not anticipate that Pearl Harbor would be the target; a Japanese strike against American bases in the Philippines appeared more probable. In Hawaii, sabotage and subversive acts by Japanese inhabitants seemed to pose more immediate threats, and precautions were taken. The Japanese-American population of Hawaii proved, however, to be overwhelmingly loyal to the United States.

Because the Signal Corps’ plans to modernize its strategic communications during the previous decade had been stymied, the Army had only a limited ability to communicate with the garrison in Hawaii. In 1930 the Corps had moved WAR’s transmitter to Fort Myer, Virginia, and had constructed a building to house its new, high-frequency equipment. Four years later it added a new diamond antenna, which enabled faster transmission. But in 1939, when the Corps wished to further expand its facilities at Fort Myer to include a rhombic antenna for point-to-point communication with Seattle, it ran into difficulty. The post commander, Col. George S. Patton, Jr., objected to the Signal Corps’ plans. The new antenna would encroach upon the turf he used as a polo field and the radio towers would obstruct the view. Patton held his ground and prevented the Signal Corps from installing the new equipment. At the same time, the Navy was about to abandon its Arlington radio station located adjacent to Fort Myer and offered it to the Army. Patton, wishing instead to use the Navy’s buildings to house his enlisted personnel, opposed the station’s transfer. As a result of the controversy, the Navy withdrew its offer and the Signal Corps lost the opportunity to improve its facilities.

Though a seemingly minor bureaucratic battle, the situation had serious consequences two years later. Early in the afternoon of 6 December 1941, the Signal Intelligence Service began receiving a long dispatch in fourteen parts from Tokyo addressed to the Japanese embassy in Washington. The Japanese deliberately delayed sending the final portion of the message until the next day, in which they announced that the Japanese government would sever diplomatic relations with the United States effective at one o’clock that afternoon. At that hour, it would be early morning in Pearl Harbor.

Upon receiving the decoded message on the morning of 7 December, Chief of Staff Marshall recognized its importance. Although he could have called Short directly, Marshall did not do so because the scrambler telephone was not considered secure. Instead, he decided to send a written message through the War Department Message Center. Unfortunately, the center’s radio encountered heavy static and could not get through to Honolulu. Expanded facilities at Fort Myer could perhaps have eliminated this problem. The signal officer on duty, Lt. Col. Edward F French, therefore sent the message via commercial telegraph to San Francisco, where it was relayed by radio to the RCA office in Honolulu. That office had installed a teletype connection with Fort Shafter, but the teletypewriter was not yet functional. An RCA messenger was carrying the news to Fort Shafter by motorcycle when Japanese bombs began falling; a huge traffic jam developed because of the attack, and General Short did not receive the message until that afternoon.

The Final Courtsey

The static crashes were coming more frequently now and I could see the lightning off in the distance. I had been driving since the early afternoon and only had about two hours left until I arrived home. The sun had set an hour ago but the moon was not up yet and it was dark as pitch. My headlights cut through the night. Shortly before the Autumn sunset, the clouds moved in from the west with the winds gusting against my pickup truck as I headed south. The rain was off and on, more of a nuisance than an impediment to driving.

It had been a long day of meetings and I looked forward to getting behind the wheel. My mobile setup in the pickup is simple: an IC-706MKIIG and a screwdriver antenna – just 100 watts. It was relaxing to hear the rush of white noise as the rig powered up and my screwdriver antenna spun up to a good match for 40 meters. I had enjoyed a few QSOs as I barreled down US Interstate 29. Traffic was light. After the sun set, the band started to go long and decided to drop down 75 meters. The screwdriver antenna coil whirled again, sending the whip up a bit higher.

As I slowly spun the dial, I heard a call coming just above the S5 noise level. “CQ CQ CQ, this is W0XRR, Whiskey Zero X-ray Romeo Romeo, calling CQ and listening.”

Gripping the handmike, I replied to the call, “W0XRR, this is Kilo Delta Seven Papa Juliet Quebec, KD7PJQ, the name is Scott and I am mobile, south on I-29.” Releasing the Push To Talk button, the noise rushed back to fill the cab of my pickup. The rain started to pick up, beating against the roof and windshield as I continued south.

“NI0L, Scott, fine business and thank you for answering my call. Name here is Bert, Bravo Echo Romeo Tango. My QTH is just outside of Atchison, Kansas – Atchison, Kansas. Good signal tonight, I would not have guessed you were mobile. Ok Scott, back to you.” Bert’s signal had gotten stronger and I easily copied him through the noise. His audio quality was as smooth as silk… no processing.

“Solid copy all Bert, you’ve got a solid signal tonight, started off a bit weak but has picked up to a solid 57 to 58. Ok on your QTH in Atchison. I am headed south on I-29. Just passed Hamburg and crossed into Missouri from Iowa. My destination is not far from your QTH. I am headed to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Back to you, Bert.” Despite the poor weather on the road, I was anticipating this was going to be a good QSO and hoped our ragchew would keeping me company on a pretty miserable evening to be out on the road.

“Well Scott, I am glad to make the contact. The weather is bad here and I imagine it is worse up your way. I was down here in my basement shack and decided I would warm up the tubes and see what I could find on the bands. Ok on Fort Leavenworth, just a bit south from here. I have not been out to the fort for a number of years but know it well. I retired sometime back and now spend a lot more time down here in the basement either spinning the dial or tinkering with one project or another. Lets hear from you, Scott. What’s put you out on the road tonight?” Bert asked.

I told Bert how I had been at a conference on Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The event had ended a day early and I was trying to make my way back home to see the family and enjoy a full weekend. I explained how I had been in the Army for over two decades, had originally gotten my call when I was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, and had recently been transferred to Fort Leavenworth with my family. “We really enjoy the area. I am thinking about retiring there in Leavenworth. Back to you, Bert,” my index finger released the PTT.

Bert came back to me with his signal competing with the noise floor. “Fine business all, Scott. I used to be in the Signal Corps and did 30 years in the Army. Was stationed out there at the fort for my last assignment as well. Good posting there at Leavenworth. Glad to hear you and your family are enjoying it.” He told me about how he used to support an air defense unit that was stationed on Fort Leavenworth. His signal detachment was responsible for integrating all the communications for the Nike missile batteries in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. We continued to trade war stories for another twenty minutes or so. Then his signal began to fade.

“I am starting to loose you Bert, so I better wrap this up. I really appreciate the QSO and to make the contact. Any chance you will be at the hamfest in Raytown coming up the Saturday after next? A few miles southeast of Kansas City? It would be a great opportunity for an eyeball QSO… and I am buying the coffee. What do you say? Back to you, Bert.” The rain was a constant downpour now, rolling across the road in front of me.

No reply was heard except for a few static crashes from the lightning. “W0XRR, this is KD7PJQ, thanks again for the contact, 73 Bert!”

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It was a sunny Saturday morning with early November’s crisp Fall air. Attendance at the hamfest looked good and my parking spot was a good walk to the door. Although I knew I would spend the majority of my time browsing the aisles, I did need to pick up some Anderson PowerPole connectors as well one of those Nifty! Reference Guides for my IC-706. The guide would help me out on remembering some of the more obscure settings for the rig when I was out on the road.

I had begun making my deliberate ‘s’ pattern through the rows of gear (… and, lets be honest, junk) when I saw a table with some nice Collins gear. There was the transmitter (a 32S-3A), a receiver (75S-3C), and even a Collins 30L-1 amplifier. The bearded oldtimer manning the table had his undivided attention focused on a breakfast burrito and it took a moment for him to wash down a deliberate bite with a drink of coffee.

“Good morning. Nice Collins S-Line! These are in great shape – looks like they’ve been well cared for. You don’t see these everyday. Why are you selling them?” I heard older hams talk about these Collins rigs, but I had never seen them before.

“Good morning… sorry you caught me in the middle of breakfast. Yup, this is a nice set. Not mine actually. We’re selling it for the widow of a Silent Key. I’ve got more boxes here of his stuff. I think all the manuals are in one of these,” the gentleman said as he turned in his seat a leaned over to pull an open box towards him.

“The lady gave us a call to come and clear out the ham shack. He’d passed away last year but it took her until now to finally part with the gear. We picked everything up earlier in the week. Took us two trips. Here’s one of the manuals,” he said as he handed me the manual for the 75S-3C, yellowed with age but well cared for.

I flipped through the book, noticing the margin notes,,, and then a QSL card fell out between the pages and onto the table. I looked at the callsign on the card – …W0XRR. Bert McKenzie, Atchison, Kansas. There was a picture of a Nike-Hercules black and white missile elevated at 45 degrees on a launch platform as well as the crossed semaphore flags of the Signal Corps.

“Wait… who’s gear was this? What was the call of the Silent Key?”

“Well, there’s his QSL card!” The oldtimer pointed to the card on the table. “This gear belonged to Bert… W0XRR,” the oldtimer picked up the QSL card from the table.

“But when was it you said he passed away?” I was confused and trying to sort out what I was hearing.

The oldtimer stroked his beard as he set the QSL card down, with the image of the Nike missile towards the table. “Let’s see… it’s been a little over a year now. Bert passed away last year around the end of October.”

I looked down again at the QSL card on the table. This side of the card had the blanks for QSO specifics. There was handwriting on it and I tentatively lifted the card up to get a better look. On it I saw my call, KD7PJQ…. 75 meters, the date of our QSO (… less than two weeks ago), a 5-7 signal report… and a circle around “PSE QSL”. The card slipped out of my hand and onto the table.

Dazed, I lurched away from the table. I needed fresh air and sunlight.

The oldtimer called after me, “Hey! You interested in the rig? Go ahead and make an offer.”

Author’s note: This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, call signs, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.