July 2014: Finally...
This time, the team decided to participate in the July contest with reduced efforts.
Last year's experience left a question mark regarding the hydraulics of Helmut's old telecom vehicle which once belonged to Deutsche Bundespost in the 1960ies. This lorry has some heavy duty mechanism that includes a hydraulic push-up table for interlocking and erecting tower segments (each 1,6 m long) to a respectable size of 38 meters. Something "did not feel right" last year while assembling and setting up the triangular metal bar tower. A preliminary trial in June this year did not reveal an obvious defect while we could only measure the hydraulic pressure and verify the basic function with a small load on site. Further testing requires the lorry to be put on its supporting legs and precisely balanced which cannot be done locally.
As you can imagine, a 38 m tower requires a fair bit of surrounding space on the mountain top for guy wires. Hohloh peak offers this, together with a barrier-free sight in all direction once the antennas are lifted above the tree tops. So the decision was taken to test the tower on a contest weekend with reduced antenna load for one single band: 70 cm. The two-day July contest seemed for us the perfect opportunity in preparation for the more challenging IARU contest in October, where we plan to be present at least on the 70 cm, 23 cm and 13 cm bands.
Unfortunately, Helmut (DK8SG) was busy with home building activities but agreed to take the lorry up to the peak and help us after the contest to get packed and drive it back down again. Other team members were Alexander (DL8AAU), Henning (DF9IC), Bastian (DB1BM), Michael (DK7UX) and Martin (DL5NAH). The team was supported by our mechanics and hydraulics expert Ralf (DG3IAM) and Thomas (DF8IJ) who stayed with us on Saturday until we had set the equipment up. It seems that a permanent team of at least five is required to run this operation. As always, the more hands you have, the better.
Henning (DF9IC) had organized a temporary number plate to move the lorry. We went to our usual contest ground on the Hohloh peak (988m a.s.l.) in the northern ranges of the Black Forest. The goal was to take our time, test and tinker with the hydraulic valves and pistons and see if we can move the tower up to full length. As we moved segment by segment up into the air we luckily discovered that the problem did not persist. The old interlocking mechanism between the segments still works reliably, although some maintenance and grease may be required before we move out to the next contest. So the technical mission regarding the tower was accomplished.
Another target was to test some new 70 cm equipment under development. Compared to the usual multi-band equipment, planning a 70 cm only contest seems like an easy task. Finishing the development and testing of a decent size solid state PA seemed achievable and the rest was more or less readily available. But then, one of the PA modules blew up during the final test two days before the contest and we had to resort to our usual tube amplifier. What else could go wrong?
As bad luck had it, Henning's mobile shack trailer fell over in the last bend on the way to the contest site. He seemed to be too enthusiastic about the upcoming weekend, and the trailer had less weight inside than usual so shit happened.
Fortunately, some locals with the right gear quickly came to our rescue and helped putting the trailer back on its wheels. When we opened the doors we did not find much damage, apart from some bent antennas and minor dents. All our radio gear was intact.
With some time delay we started bringing the telecom lorry in its level position. During all this (as always) it started to rain.
After the rain had stopped, we set up the antenna farm and wanted to push the tower to full height, when the lorry motor would not start. The reason was found to be a flat battery. The good thing about old lorries is the 12 V battery which allowed us to simply use a car and jump leads. Now things went smoothly and we erected the tower to its full height.
The WLAN connection worked, too, after Ronny had spent some hours to reconnect our access point the week before.
QSO after QSO went into the log, propagation was fair to good and stations from all over Europe were recorded. The average contact distance was around 400 km per QSO, which is not too bad for a Saturday afternoon. More important was the absence of mosquitoes. Was this the beginning of our strain of luck? One DX to mention was UR7D (KN18, distance 1056 km), which we faintly heard but could not reach. Other DX was reached with the aid of AirScout (a program that uses plane route information) like SP2DDV (JO83) in 828 km rather easy in CW and HA6W (KN08) in 895 km. Also some nice random contacts like F4EEJ/P from rather rare square IN95 in 734 km and G3CKR/p (IO93) in 877 km.
70cm traffic went well through the evening but thinned out after midnight. We decided to close the station during the early morning hours between 3 and 6:30. Sunday went well, too. High activity in The Netherlands and the UK, and again, a good flow of DX contacts filled our log: OZ9PZ (JO46) in 826 km and G5TO/p (also IO93) in 873 km - all in SSB!
Sunday was warm and sunny, but there was a storm warning for the evening.
With one eye we monitored the weather situation. Thunderstorms developed and moved in our direction but luckily, did not reach us before the tower and the antennas were dismantled. Helmut (DK8SG) helped us packing.
In summary, we logged 357 QSOs with a total of about 143k points. ODX was HA6W (KN08) with 895 km. For the whole contest, we maintained an average distance of 400 km per contact. Taking into account previous years, this is an excellent result for a July contest (last year would have been even better due to above average tropo conditions). Let us wait and see how well we do in the end compared to fellow contest stations in Germany and Europe.
Luckily, our concerns regarding the hydraulic system did not materialize. We are looking forward to taking part in the IARU UHF/SHF contest (4th and 5th October) on 70 cm, 23 cm and 13 cm. See you then!