All posts by Dennis Marandos

I saw a Nashua newspaper announcement offering amateur radio classes at the local club (W1HGV). From that day on...my love for radio hasn't stopped. XTALs and wire wound finals were all the fun at the time and CW only got better and better. After 57 years on the air, the excitement is in full charge and I am loving it!

MT. Hale and 30 Meters (in the rain)

MT. HALE and 30 METERS QRP

The White Mountains National Forest

Dennis, K1LGQ

Dennis Marandos – K1LGQ

The trip to the mountain had been planned four weeks in advance and I was to guide my seventeen-year-old son, Justin and his two friends, on a Saturday hike in the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire. The date was May 27th and it was agreed that I would bring along my radio gear because I am the driver and the guy who knows how to climb Mt. Hale. It was agreed that Justin wouldn’t complain when I took an hour off from our climb for me to string a dipole and work some DX just waiting for my QRP signal east and westward wound. My son with his two friends packed into dad’s car and headed due north driving one hundred twenty miles to the White Mountains National Forest. For those people who are unfamiliar with the North Country, New Hampshire has a great number of mountains along with the other five New England states, and NH, in fact, has forty-eight foothills that are 4,000 feet or better. This may seem quite mundane, however, hiking and “hill topping” with a handy on these ridges is “primo” in this part of the country.

The gang arrived at Zealand trail, Halebrook & Lend-A-Hand trails at 9:15 ready to zoom up the miles of pure fun. I had my handy, my 30 meters “30-40” home brew rig with me and a pretty heavy 12-volt gel-cell battery. I knew the kids, who were all 17 years old, would complain if I asked them to carry my gear, so I opted to carry a ‘large’ knapsack with water, small lunch, extra socks, sweatshirt, and long pants by myself. The backpack was pretty heavy, but you have to know what to expect for weather when climbing any mountain. I also had my key, earphones, and dipole in a waterproof bag neatly stored till we reached the top.

As we climbed, the early morning sun was vibrant as in just about any corner of the U.S., but when the clouds started rolling in on our climb at ten in the morning, the weather was truly undefined for that day. Sure, you can listen to the National Weather stations, but the NWS tends to extend their prognostications to include everything, just in case anybody should question their forecasts. The sky was navy blue and the air temperature was a cool 65 degrees—just right. The precipitation was damp from the previous night and we were headed onto an easy climb, and total time to the top was estimated at about two hours or less.

I couldn’t wait till we got to the top of Mt. Hale and do some QRP operating. The boys were twenty feet ahead of me, throughout the entire climb, and they had a much lighter backpack. I kept insisting that they shouldn’t run so often or they would be out of strength by the time they reached the top. Right! I am talking to three teenage boys! That was an exasperation of time.

As we drew nearer the top, you could feel the air turn denser and the temperature dropped a bit more. The tree line was thinning, but never to the point of an overall rock surface. The total height of Mt. Hale is 4,054 feet, and the trail began at the 2,100-foot level. I was psyched about operating from the mountain and kept thinking of how I would set up my portable station. Over and over I kept asking myself which direction way was south and which was west. I wanted especially to work the west coast and Europe if I could

Finally, when the crew was ten feet away from where the old ranger station used to be on top of Mt. Hale, I yelled to the ghosts of the mountain that I was coming, ready or not. I wanted to clear the area and not have something senseless happen like have my RF flow into the absorbing rocks nearby—never to be heard from again. At this moment, the sky had turned pretty gray and the temperature must have dropped another ten degrees since we started our excursion from the base, but worst of all was the intimidating spitting of droplets on my glasses. This was New England, and if you particularly don’t like the weather, just wait a short while and the elements will change. I knew what to do, after all–I am Mr. Cool and a smart Dad. You don’t think for a minute that I would bring my son and two of his friends on a hike and have the weather turn on us?

The environment factors were increasing and I knew something was up, but I was resolute to get my station up and operating. The boys wanted to eat their lunch first, and being the group leader, I suggested the boys not eat and drink too fast for they might get dizzy after a strenuous climb. Again, I forgot who I was talking to. Out came their bags of Nachos, potato chips, and heavy duty caffeinated Coca Cola along with sugar desserts made with chemicals I couldn’t even pronounce on the side of the bags. Ugh! Give me a break, but I insisted we set up my station real soon, so the boys could walk around a bit while I did some CW.

Fate has a way of presenting farrago weather to the unsuspecting neophyte in the wilds. No sooner did I reach into my knapsack for my radio gear, and no sooner did I uncurl my dipole, it started to RAIN! I mean, this was the mother of all storms and Armageddon was just a warm up. The boys had brought jackets, with rain hoods, while I only had a hand towel, socks, and a sweatshirt. It didn’t look like the rain was going to stop and I motioned to the boys to just sit tight for a few minutes while this ‘bimbo’ rain cloud passed overhead. Fifteen minutes had gone by and the rain was filling anything that could hold moisture. It looked like the hike was a wash and we started down another trail. Yikes! I wanted to operate!

The climb down the mountain is always easier, but nastier because gravity tends to push forward. I instructed the boys to walk slowly so they wouldn’t slip and roll the rest of the way, but there I go again…I forgot who I was talking to. Three teenage boys, who had their fill of whatever chemicals were in their lunch, bouncing down the side of Mt. Hale and having a pretty good time. I kept my vociferation comments within their ear shot and reminded them I had the keys to the car, which was another six miles away. Okay, perhaps a half mile away.

I am pretty sure the troops hadn’t traveled twenty minutes down the mount when the sky opened with beautiful rays of the sun and bright patches of azure blue. I couldn’t believe it! The weather was perfect and here I was going the wrong direction. Great! Do I ask the guys to turn around and head back to the summit so I can do a little CW and have my time, or do I keep going down because they’re running at a gallop and I am not? Superfluous to say, we kept descending more and more, side-stepping the six-inch puddles of water and four foot wide streams in our path.

After we got to the car and unpacked our gear from our backpacks, my son and his two friends said they had a remarkable time climbing the mountain and asked if they could do it again…if I wanted to take them.  They even gestured that they would carry my gear next time. I gasped for breath and managed to grin from ear-to-ear and said, “You’re on!”

What I thought was a hike into hell, a death march straight up, the torture of climbing a wet mountain—the boys thought was a pretty COOL episode. What other dads would have bothered to take the ‘guys’ onto a mountain, have twenty-foot visibility at the top and gracefully become thoroughly soaked? They had fun, but it bordered on what the definition of fun was. I had to say I sure did miss operating at 4,054 feet on 30 meters, but they did say they would carry my gear next time. I hope my marine battery won’t be too heavy for them. YES!

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Post Script: This hike took place a few decades ago and my son is much older now. However, the facts remain and it still lingers in my mind what a “wonderful” day we had despite the little rain that fell. I certainly hope I can “puff” all the way to the top and try again.

QRP on the AIR… from K-ONE Last Good Question

By Dennis Marandos – K1LGQ

What a difference 90 days can make! It wasn’t that long ago we were looking out our windows and pleading with the snow gods to give us a break, and finally, our cries were heard. The temperatures, the blue skies, the winds have all been recently favorable and we can’t even remember what it was like with four-foot levels of bleached, hard bursts, hoar frosts in our front yards and drifts even higher. Well, we would much prefer to forget last winter than try to remember forging paths to the house garage, the grocery stores, to work or simply just getting our mail in the front yard–but look at it now. The sun is higher in the sky, the temps are thirty to forty degrees warmer than before, and the winds have shifted, a bit, for us to say “We’re in pig (HAM) heaven!”  What does all this lead up to you say? It is nature calling us to get out of the stale-air shack and into our “get-off-our-fanny” modes…including hiking, camping, biking and just plan QRP along the mountain paths. Yes, it’s the call of the CONTINUOUS WAVE!

Dennis K1LGQ, Mr. QRP
Dennis K1LGQ

I have been waiting all winter for the warmer spring months so I could pack my QRP gear into my knapsack, charge up the ole gel-cell and retune my throw-up dipoles to GET ON THE AIR. I have a small 7-amp gel-cell which is pretty much all anyone needs and thin, copper wire to fling onto the nearest tree limb to get the RF into the ionosphere. A quick and grubby antenna tuner will certainly do the job plus its pocket size which means not a lot of space occupied in the QRP bag. Overall, it’s pretty easy and if you’re thinking you have to do a lot to visit Mother Nature’s playground in her best, you’re wrong. Outdoor operating is now easier than it has ever been, and I am going to tell you why.

First off, operating QRP means you take the least favorable weight, carry less with you, and enjoy what you have. Five watts, or less, is pretty slim-pickings and to throw an antenna into a tree is the least of your hardships, but getting outside into the woods, the parks, the BACK YARD is going to be your toughest struggle. Where can I go? Who can I go with? How much gear do I need? Do I need to bring food, coffee, or snacks where I am headed? OH COME ON! We’re talking simply getting outside and into the sun and on the air!

I have built over two dozen QRP transceivers and perhaps as many antennas as well for the trickiest trees around. What you need is simply a low power rig that can be easily driven by six or eight double-AA batteries, or even a Lithium alone will get you on the air and you’re in attendance. Have you checked the pages of CQ magazine or QST to see who is selling QRP transceivers? Or better and easier, ‘Goggle’ QRP kits on your computer and you’ll find a utopia in front of you. Come on, the longer, brighter, sunshine days are here and you need to get moving before that cool breeze from the north comes visiting again. Not to worry, it’ll be a while, so warm up the soldering iron and burn some rosin. Just target the “al fresco” rig and get moving. By the way, bring your key, paper, and chronographic meter as well.

What does it take to get you moving? Okay, let’s suppose someone offered you fifty dollars to join him on a hike. Now, you’re outdoors and you’re loving it. Well, tell yourself that simply taking your gear to the woods is worth more than fifty dollars and look how much you saved. Think of mind relaxing thoughts, soothing, refreshing sunshine and the thrill of working QSOs anywhere someone can hear you. Now—doesn’t this bring a little excitement to your hard pressed schedule? YES, IT DOES! Now get moving…!

My Name Is Patrick…

By Dennis Marandos – K1LGQ

The excitement for warm time operations is just heating up and getting out is easier now than it was a while ago. And judging from what I have already heard on the air, the rivalry for band space is getting hotter and harder to find. Let me tell you about an episode I experienced in Nashua one warm, sunny day when the adrenaline was kicking in and the sun was shining brightly. In the back of my mind-set was the sheer fact that I am radio-active, have a valid license, am getting on the air is what I love so what could possibly go wrong?

I arrived at the local city greenery named Greeley Park (after Horace Greeley) in Nashua, NH and scouted for some tall, white pines for a wire antenna. Here in the northeast, pine trees are like blades of grass…they’re everywhere. Another friend of mine, we’ll call him Mike, and I spotted a pine tree at the edge of the 150-yard field and I took aim with my trust surgical-rubber sling-shot, bought at the local Wal-Mart emporium, and on the second try landed a nice 95 foot shot into the coniferous tower. With my mighty homebrew antenna, called the ‘Gusher,’ the tentacle was placed into combat readiness within fifteen minutes after arriving at the park. We mountain men of the northeast don’t waste any time in being prepared.

The yellow card table was unfolded, the collapsible chair was pushed into the ground for stability, and the tools of the day were unraveled. The NorCal 40a, a 40-meter homebrew transceiver, was attached dutifully to the MFJ-971 antenna tuner, which was then gingerly appended to the Gusher antenna, which culminated with a fully charged jolt of volts from the 7aH gel-cell battery. The log book was strategically placed to the right side, (I am left handed so all papers need to be in front of the writing hand and to the right. Smudges…you know.) Retractable Cross pen in hand, MFJ-24 hour clock blinking away, Vibroplex Bug (Original #2636801) adjusted, antenna swaying in the breeze—what’s left?

Contest time and the calls were loud and clear. My first contact was WA4CMI. Great, we’re getting out! Second QSO was with CH3Y (Canada), a special call for an event I’m still not sure about, dealing with the police department? I wonder if I can get a QSL or an acknowledgment from them…? My third contact was N2HMN in New Jersey, followed by KA3P in Pittsburgh, PA. It seems the RF was flowing to the north and south. The vertical long wire (a sloper) was still hanging in the tree pouring out two watts of pure, unadulterated New Hampshire power across the country…around the world. (I always like to think big.) Then another contact with K1TJ in Morristown, VA, followed by N2VPK in NY, WA4KAC in MD, W1XH in MA, K3AS in PA, N2YIY in PA, KF2HC in NJ, N1RXT on Mt. Monadnock, NH, N2SMH in NJ, AA6UL/4 in VA, W3BNB in MD, AA3LY in PA, WB3GCK in DL, K9UT in IN, KC1GS on Wachusett MT, MA, K8DSS in OH, AF3V in PA, W3GES in PA, K3TKS in MD, WK8S in MI, VE3FAO in Ont., VE3LCW in Ont., and K8JJC in MI. It was pretty exciting hearing and working all these good people on 40 meters and I wanted to thank each and everyone one of them…even the dupes.

Now, what could have gone wrong during such a brilliant contest in the park such as this? During the Saturday sunshine, while in Nashua’s public park, were also 35 to 50 fifteen to nineteen-year-old teenagers who were reenacting Dungeons and Dragons. Their crusade was to run, jump, whoop and yell it up. Okay, they were over THERE, and I was over HERE, about 150 yards apart; and we were worlds away from each other. WRONG! They wanted my space also. They wanted to “play” where I was and to see if I would notice them. Actually, they were the curious ones for many came to my table and asked, “Whatcha doin’?” while snapping their gum and starring at the QRP rig. Boys and girls who were holding duct-tape swords, mock malls and hammers in their hands, wanting to know why I was using Morse code and not a microphone. One brave young man, who looked like he needed a bath, said he had a radio too. My ears perked up and I asked him what his call was. He couldn’t remember but he was on channel 19 along with his divorced mother. “Oh,” I said and turned back to my CW.

After everyone had seen what they wanted to see, they left to conquer the world. Thank goodness for me, for now it is peace and quiet time. Well, not really. Standing in front of me, for minutes…not moving, was Patrick, a five year old boy who had no one to play with and deemed me his friend. HE WOULD NOT GO AWAY. He was inquisitive and pulled on the long wire which was connected to the MFJ-971, of which I said politely, “Please don’t touch anything.” He said okay, until he saw the cable from my gel-cell and wanted to know why it was red and black. I said politely, “Please don’t touch anything.” This appeased him until he saw inside my Xerox paper box filled with field strength meters, a frequency meter, coax, et al, something more interesting. Patrick wanted to see what else was inside and proceeded to empty, one piece at a time, the entire contents of what was there. “Wow, what are you doing?”…ran through my mind, but I looked at him and said politely, “Please don’t touch anything.” I, at this time, mentioned that his father was looking for him, or perhaps his mother wanted him too. Patrick said his mother wasn’t there in the park but that his father wanted him to play with that nice man in the corner of the field…me. My eye lit open and I said nicely, “Why don’t you go play with your friends.” He said he wanted to stay and watch me. Patrick then spied the Oreo cookies I had in my Tupperware container in my Xerox catch-all radio box. He said that they must taste good because he has had them before. I offered two cookies to him and said make sure your dad gives you permission to eat them. Patrick ran away with smiles on his face and a kick in his gait.

Patrick ran back ten minutes later, mouth all loaded with black cookie crumbs and said that they were so good he was wondering if there might be more. Again, he got another two cookies and off he went. That was the end of Patrick, until he came back for the third handout. I said, “I am sorry Patrick, but you ate them all and now you’ll have to leave here and not come back till I have over fifty contacts.” He didn’t understand what I meant but HE LEFT! Nice kid, but what a time to pick to be an inquisitive five year old!

Did I have a good time? YES! I can’t wait for the next QRP contest in the park, and I know a lot of us are waiting for the good times to continue. I have always said that amateur radio has to be instant gratification and that’s why I love it so much. This has got to be the best fraternity I’ve even been in and I love all you guys. You dudes are great and I want to work you all. And…Patrick, too!