I have always had an interest in the VHF contests. I entered my first in September of 1962 with my original call of K1WHS, and I used them as a way of measuring station performance from year to year.My brother, K1WHT, and I started VHF contesting in the cellar of our home in Westport, CT in 1962. (20 ft above high tide!) We had a Telrex 8 element yagi for 144 MHz, a 10 watt Tecraft transmitter, and war surplus RA-10 receiver. By 1966, my brother and I were banging on the door of National Single Operator Leader from a new QTH in Monroe, CT. All of this took place in Connecticut, not far from the present day QTH of K1TEO. When I moved to Maine in 1972, I was amazed at how different the VHF contest activity appeared from the wilds of Maine. Local activity was low to non existent. Stations were few and far between when compared to activity in Southern New England. The three national high single operator scores we had achieved from Connecticut were a dim memory after a few years in Maine! There was no way to get a decent score, so, while still participating in contests, I turned to 144 MHz EME and was quite active with moonbounce for many years. In 1982, I decided to try operating from the hilltop out behind my house here in FN43MJ. There was no road up there, just some trees and a windswept ridgeline. My first QSO used an Icom IC-502 with a telescoping whip on six meters, all while perched in a convenient pine tree. The results were fabulous. I worked all the New England sections plus New York, and, with 1 watt and a whip on six meters, heard all the way down into Maryland on a Saturday afternoon in the September Contest! I was hooked. A few friends and I, actually operated a few contests to try out the site. Simple gear and QRP was the norm, but results were so gratifying, that my extensive ham station at my house fell into disrepair, as I planned on moving it all to the hilltop. I knew it was a good site, because in September of 1984, I managed to work a 1296 station, N4DT, on Roan Mountain, NC. who was running only one watt. I was running 20 watts cw and a single 27 element loop yagi. Not the greatest lashup on either end!!
As an example of what we were doing back then, I have dredged up some info on what we actually were running in 1984. Push up masts, and a single 30 ft Rohn 25 lashed with ropes, held our antennas. We used a 1.8 kw gas generator.
50 MHz Drake TR6 and six element yagi at 30 ft. 138 Qs 35 grids
144 MHz Ft-726R and 170 watt tube amp, single yagi at 40 ft. 335 Qs 54 grids
222 MHz Transverter, TS-820 single yagi @ 30 ft 59 Qs and 25 grids
432 MHz Two yagis and 17 watts, TS-820 96 Qs and 32 grids
1296 Single SI loop yagi, 20 watts cw. 22 Qs and 12 grids
Our final score was pretty high due to some very good tropo. I remember hearing but not working Florida on 220 MHz that year! The generator was pretty wimpy, so all of the bands could not be running together. That was cool, since we had only a few guys operating anyway. I am not sure of all the operators, but they included AF1T, WA1NIE, K1LL, K1MNS, WB1FGW, and K1WHS.
Over the next few years, a few friends and I embarked on building a road to the hilltop, putting up a tower or two, and dragging a building up there with a bulldozer. As time went on a few more local hams came by and we tried multi operator contesting with an actual shack in place rather than the tents of previous outings. It seemed like a fun thing to do. The towers on the site included two 90 ft towers in 1985. One was a Rohn 55, while the six meter tower was an old WINCO bolt together tower of about the same size. We did more socializing than operating many times. We made our own electricity with an old gas generator that ran at 1800 rpm and produced about 10 kw at one gallon per hour. Along about 1998, we started to get more serious and actually started making some big improvements. Some calls associated with these early operations included K1MNS WB1FGW, K1LL, KY1K, WA1NIE, WA1TFH, N1HFE, N1DPM, and AF1T. We even had WA6MGZ visiting one year! As the station improved, our scores tended to go up each year in the 150-350K range. Starting in 1998, we replaced many antennas mostly as a result of a 100 year ice storm in early 1998 that took down all the six and two meter yagi arrays. We upgraded our microwave gear as well, over the next few years. We changed out our generator in 2001 for a more robust unit. (Look at the Generator-O-Death page) Our old generator would not run four KW stations at once. When September of 2001 rolled around we were ready for good conditions and with some exceptional tropo, managed to break the million point barrier for the first time. We were pretty psyched.
Summer 2002... The endless work party!
Many improvements were made to the station during the summer of 2002. The antenna systems were, in many cases, completely rebuilt, with new or enlarged tower supports for both 144 MHz and all of the microwave bands. The station was off the air with the exception of 50, 222, and 432 MHz for the entire summer from June 15th thru September. We wanted to get into the big leagues, which is hard from a home station in Maine. Changes included the following:
144 MHz: Antennas (4 X 30 ft yagis) raised from 90 ft to 130 ft on a new Rohn 45 tower located 230 ft from the building. Feedline was improved to 1 5/8". Phasing lines were changed to 1/2" LDF Heliax. Tower was fitted with star guying. New Prosistel PST-61 rotor installed.
903 MHz: The 4 X 33 element loop yagis were relocated from a 40 ft tower to a revamped 120 ft Rohn 55 tower (three more sections added along with star guying) and fed with 1 5/8" LDF Heliax. The 903 antennas are at 123 ft.
1296 MHz: The 4 X 45 element loop yagis were moved from a 40 ft tower (with 2304) and located on the 120 ft tower mast at the 132 ft level. Coax is 1 5/8" LDF. The receive front end is located at the antenna.
2304 MHz: The 4 X 76 element Blowtorches were raised from 40 ft to 127 ft and fed with 1 5/8" LDF. Preamp is located at the antenna.
3456 MHz: A single prototype 112 el Blowtorch was moved from a 40 ft tower (along with the 903 system) and placed on the extreme top of the Rohn 55 and 3" support mast at 137 ft above ground. The entire RX and TX sections are located at the antenna so feedline loss is essentially zero! Plans were to replace the single antenna with an already completed and tested quad array of 9112LY Blowtorches in June of 2003. Improvement would be about 6 dB.
5, 10, and 24 GHz were all moved to a sidearm on the 120 ft tower. Each band has TX and RX located at the dish. 5760= 25 watts. 10 GHz = 20 watts, and 24 GHz is about 2 watts output.
The microwave tower (old 144 90 ft Rohn 55 tower) was increased in size to 120 ft with a huge 3" mast that extended things another 15 ft or so. We added star guying, and built a hefty sidearm with 5" galvanized steel angle
There was so much work being done that year, that most of the crew got burned out. There were days when we were having tower races to see who could build a tower faster. We had rock drills running, rock anchors being set. Cement pouring for a few guy points, humping many hundreds of feet of 1 5/8" coax. It took us a few years to get over all the hard labor. The end result was a jump in score from about 350K to nearly 600K under dead band conditions.
2003 Improvements included adding a quad array of 112 element loop yagis on 3456 MHz. That change really made the 3.4 GHz station stand out with an extra 5.7 dB of gain. Gain approximates a dish of over 5 ft diameter, but with little wind loading.
A 144 MHz LVA was constructed and consisted of eight short 5 element yagis side mounted on the tower leg, and pointed southwest.
432 MHz 50 ft tower was removed, and a new 100 ft tower replaced it. We doubled the size of the array from 4 to 8 X 25 element yagis. It got its first test in the August UHF contest.
These changes improved our score (especially the 144 MHz LVA!) to almost a million points with normal conditions. (950K)
144 MHz the LVA got enlarged from eight to sixteen yagis, and with a vertical beamwidth that was about 3 degrees wide. Operating the new array bordered on a being a religious experience. We got a little tropo on 50 thru 432 that year, and our score cleared a million easily.
50 MHz KW legal limit amplifier built and installed . Previous amp did about 900 watts out.
222 MHz added an eight yagi LVA to the existing quad array of yagis . 2005 was a disaster from a propagation standpoint. We had zero tropo, compared to everyone else in the East. We did catch some aurora, and ended up with almost 900K with awful conditions.
THE ANTENNAS IN 2006
The 432 MHz 100 ft. tower is on the left. To the right is a 100 ft. 222 MHz tower, followed by the 120 ft Microwave tower and all the dishes. Next to the right is a short 50 ft tower with more 903 thru 3456 loopers and some FM yagis for 222 and 432. The extreme right tower is a 90 ft. ugly tower with the four 7 element six meter beams stacked along the side. The 144 tower is not visible and well off to the right of this picture.
Voice and CW keyers integrated into the computer logging system. Added dedicated networked WSJT laptops on six and two. We replaced the existing 903 quad looper array with a larger 4 X 47 element looper array for about 2 dB more gain.
We added a new 50 ft Rohn 25 tower for VHF FM, and a second "auxilliary" microwave station on 903 thru 3456 to help cover working all the rovers that are out and about. Each band on the "AUX" station uses a single long loop yagi at 50 ft with a motorized coax relay switch. Power runs between 40 and 80 watts on each band. The 24 GHz system got reworked with new power amp, and better receiver front end. We never got the second microwave station running right until late in the contest, and only made a few contacts with it. Still, we cleared 1 million points with absolutely no enhancements of any kind. This was quite a milestone for our small group. We muster about ten operators in total, with an average of seven or so on site at any given time, and maybe three people for tower and antenna projects as they come up.
The 2007 improvement schedule included a complete rework of the 50 MHz antenna system. The main problem was that the old tower was getting pretty rickety to the point where some climbers would not even climb it. Time to replace it, and a 100 ft Rohn 45 tower was installed on the same base as the old junked tower. The existing 4 x 7 element yagis were installed on the new tower and fitted with TIC Ring rotors so that all four yagis may be turned 360 degrees.
Other plans for 222 MHz and 144 MHz have been shelved for the time being. It is getting hard to motivate the troops to make bigger and better things lately!
Now all of this aluminum could not be assembled alone without any help. Our small group of contesters also provides the manpower to do all of the antenna work. Here are some call signs of this group effort:
WB2ONA, N2CEI, K1CA, K1OR, W1MRQ, WA1T, K1DY (EX W3HQT), W2PED, W1SD, WW1M, and KU2A. Without their help and assistance, the "farm" would be a lot smaller!
2008 / 2009 PROJECTS
In 2008, we tried a few improvements. We had big plans for the year, but many of the plans were not implemented. There were several rover projects that fizzled, along with some improvemnents at the main station. One idea that did finally get done was the new 222 yagi array. We retired the old 4 x 16 element array in favor of a new 4 x 22 element array that had undergione some significant range testing before it went up. I wanted to be sure that the antenna was really on the correct frequency before we went to the trouble of making four of them. K1DY and I worked on the individual antenna, while I built up the frame, phase matched 1/2" heliax feeders, and the bracing system. The location here is such that the antennas must be very rugged to survive a winter. When we got the antenna peaked where it should be, frequency wise, we assembled the remaining ones and mounted everything on the new heavy duty frame. The main mast was upgraded to high strength DOM steel tube. The old T2X was retired and a Prosistel worm gear drive rotor was put in its place. The whole assembly was lifted into position thanks to Warren, WB2ONA and his portable tower winch. To prepare for this, we had to clear some timber from around the tower to provide enough working space to suspend the big H frame with the 28 ft yagis out away from the guy wires and cabling. Besides Warren, we had W2PED, WA1T and WW1M helping out. Warren ran the winch as WA1T and W2PED ran the stabilizing ropes. WW1M was a ground helper as well. The project went very well. The new array is working at 108 ft, and the 222 antenna is now considerably improved over the previous effort. Pictures will be posted soon.
For 144 MHz, we finally implemented our "Northeast Array". We stuck a four stack of vertically spaced rear mount six element yagis on a tower leg, and aimed at Nova Scotia. With a simple flip of a switch we are calling to the northeast with over 18 dB of forward gain.
One other area of improvement was in the microwave arena. There always seems to be a bottleneck in running UHF and microwave skeds. This is caused by rovers arriving at a certain spot and wanting to run the bands, while at the same time, the 50 and 144 operators are constantly feeding microwave skeds to us. Factor in that some contacts may take several minutes just for each party to appear on the band and find each other, and you can see that it is easy to stack up four or more skeds at the same time. To alleviate this problem, we built up a complete second station for 902 thru 3456 MHz. With such an arrangement, we can run two rovers at the same time as long as we only transmit on one band at a time. With four bands on one rotor, a second station is a needed to maximize the contacts . In 2008, we finally got the second station running well. It consists of a single long loop yagi per band and power levels around 40-80 watts on each band. We added some nice tower mtd preamps for 2.3 and 3.4 GHz, and this small "aux" station now really runs sweet. It really helped out by cutting down the waiting lines for microwave skeds. We still have a single 5 and 10 GHz station. I suspect a second 10 GHz station could come in handy as well in the future.
In 2009 we are repairing all of the damage from the big December ice storm that lashed northern New England. The 144 quad yagi array had to be removed for repair, as the top two yagis buckled under the ice loading. Over the winter, the braces on the 17B2 yagis were strengthened with a similar bracing system as used on the big new 222 MHz yagis. In addition, the main boom was double walled in the center for extra strength. The revised 144 array went back up in May, while most of the other damage was repaired on the June Contest weekend. There were lots of little problems. One noted problem was finding water in various antennas, no doubt due to all the falling ice chunks hitting the coax cables as it fell. When Spring came, I had water in the 144 and 432 yagis. In addition, the 10 GHz dish system had water problems. The 144 MHz northeast array was badly damaged by falling ice and high winds. All of the repair work kept us off the air in June, but the station is ready for the next one now that the problems are all fixed.
When Spring rolled around, the group got together during the June contest to see what was working and what was broken after another hard winter in Maine. The only serious physical damage we could see was the 432 main mast was slightly bent from very high winds, and the 3456 array had been blown apart during the same storm. Some hardware had worked loose and the mast got separated from the sub boom support frame. The boom was bent and the UT-141 coax was ripped out from the connectors. We all decided to give it one more try at a run for the Multi Multi category. Over the winter, I had re worked the six meter amplifier, modifying the PI network, and installing a new vacuum variable loading capacitor. I also built a new 3 phase high voltage supply to run the amp, as the existing one had poor regulation. The old transformer was made in the 40's and we were not sure the core was even made of iron! It acted like it was built with laminations of old War Bonds. Anyway, we did move the new supply to the hill and checked out the 50 MHz amplifier. It worked a lot better. The gain went up and now I could drive it directly with my new K3 at about 70 watts on 50 MHz. While I was at it, I rebuilt the 144 and 432 HV supplies and added some safety features and more cooling.
The bent 432 array mast still worked so we left it alone. Fixing the 3456 array was not too bad. I removed the bent boom and straightened it, then put it all back together. I fashioned a new harness of four UT-141 cables, and we were good to go. Plans to install a new 900 and 2304 PA did not happen for a number of reasons. There was just not enough time, money and manpower to get it all done. All of the antenna systems got tested and re waterproofed. I added extra fuel filtering to our diesel generator too.
Here is a writeup of our efforts in the ARRL September VHF QSO Party