What could be better than combining camping and radio with plenty of food and drink in the company of friends?
With the power taken care of, what about everything else?
Since this is a ham club, finding radios was not a problem, and several members had extra coax to use for feed-line. Antennas, on the other hand, tend not to be very portable. The club owns two wire antennas, but we needed at least two and preferably three additional antennas to cover all the frequency bands we intended to use. One member had a beam antenna that he offered to bring. Another member had a vertical, and several of us were to bring wire antennas.
I spent many hours in the weeks before Field Day repairing a multi-band trap dipole that had been damaged after a previous event. Unfortunately, when we tried to put it up, the process of unrolling the wires was sufficient to break one of the traps again, so this antenna didn't get used. Clearly, I need to come up with a better antenna for portable use in the future. Fortunately, someone else brought a spare wire antenna to use.
The member who offered his beam antenna spent many hours assembling the beam, tuning it for proper operation, disassembling it for transport (after carefully marking everything, so it went back together correctly), and reassembling and mounting it to the towable man lift we had borrowed from a local rental company. This antenna worked well, but I'm not convinced that it was worth the effort. However, he certainly had a good time doing all this. Also, we were able to use the man lift to put rope in trees to haul wire antennas up while he was getting his antenna assembled.
The beam antenna in position. (Click here for a larger image.)
Unlike in previous years, some of the group actually showed up Friday evening to start setup. This meant that, by the time I arrived Saturday morning, two antennas were already in the air, and the power system was mostly set up. Despite this appearance of progress, it took until after the appointed start time to get everything sufficiently progressed to put a station on the air.
One of the unexpected difficulties was getting the logging software set up on the laptops. Logging software is used to record any contacts that we make and to keep a running total. In theory, this makes it easier to submit the results.
It turns out that the logging software ran under Windows, but the laptops brought by the university students were Linux. Unfortunately, no attempt had been made to get the software loaded before the students arrived on Saturday morning, so they spent a couple of hours downloading and installing the software. I then had to help get the software set up, when I had expected this to be done by people who actually knew what they were doing. Since we didn't get the networking setup right, we ended up with four logs on four computers instead of a single "super log."
I sometimes wonder if it wasn't easier when we just used pencil and paper to log contacts. On the one hand, getting the logs merged was a bit of work. On the other hand, did I really want to type 350 or so contacts into the computer?
Field Day would also not be a success without food. After some concern due to the fact that our usual Field Day cook was having health problems, we were able to put together the usual BBQ on Saturday afternoon with plenty of burgers and hot dogs for all. On Sunday morning, in addition to coffee, several boxes of donuts showed up, followed by sausages, eggs, and pancakes.
After breakfast on Sunday, it was time to start disassembling the equipment that wasn't being used. By the middle of the afternoon, everything had been disassembled and packed up to be taken home. I'm glad to report that -- as far as I can tell -- we didn't let any of the magic smoke out of any equipment, and most items went home with their rightful owners.
-- Elizabeth Simon is a senior-level electronics engineer with 20+ years of experience in microcontroller-based electronics and software design. Her main expertise is in designing applications requiring high reliability and fail-safe design. She is also an Amateur Extra Class (the top US license class) radio operator -- call sign KK7VO.