On Saturday and Sunday, June 23 and 24, 2018, the South Central Indiana Communications Support Group (SCICSG) joined operators all over North America and the world, as they once again participated in ARRL’s Amateur Radio Field Day.
A new location
This year’s event took place at a new location for the group, the Jean Kauffman Memorial Shelter, high atop the eastern ridge of Camp Moneto, in beautiful Brown County, Indiana.
Our story actually begins a year before, right after Field Day 2017. Stan Maddox WE3ACR, had been attending a church retreat on the west ridge of the camp, when the men of the group decided to burn a bit of free time to hop on the camp’s wheeled John Deere Gator, and go exploring. They departed the cabins and known areas on the west ridge, dropped into the valley, climbed the east ridge road, and stumbled across this area. Stan was struck by the stout, well-maintained shelter surrounded by grassy areas and tall trees. The thought came to him that this would be an ideal location for some sort of radio event. At the time, he was not yet directly involved in the hobby, but he had just attended his first Field Day in Columbus with the SCICSG group the week before. He was smitten by the radio bug, and had an inkling of what to look for. The shelter stayed in the back of his mind through the fall as he studied, got his license, and joined SCICSG.
Winter turned to spring, and some of the SCICSG members started batting around ideas for 2018 Field Day locations. The 2017 location wasn’t going to work out this year, so a new location was needed. Stan had already decided that he was going to camp out at the shelter, and asked if anyone wanted to join him. One thing led to another, and it was decided to make it a group affair. Pictures were taken and shared with the group. Stan brought Donald Perry AC9RU to the location to check it out in person. His enthusiastic report to the members helped solidify the decision and build excitement and momentum.
The camp’s Senior Manager of Operations Shane Hartman welcomed the idea of having the radio group at the camp; he and his wife Shannon Hartman rolled out the welcome mat to us. Plans were firmed up, and things went into motion.
Announcements about the new location were aired on the local nets. Other area ham radio groups also shared our information on their web sites, and linked to our story on the SCICSG site. Area licensed operators and other ham groups were invited to drop by. The camp staff spiffed up the shelter area and gave the grass a fresh mowing. New signage was designed and created. Lists were made and gear was packed. Before we knew it, Field Day weekend was upon us.
About the camp
Camp Moneto, formally known as the Moneto Brown County Camp and Retreat Center, is located approximately 10 miles west of Columbus, Indiana, (or 0.7 miles east of Gnaw Bone, Indiana… true story, real place). It is a large undulating site located among the beautiful streams and heavily-wooded hills of Brown County. It is one of seven unique camp sites that have been operating as one single ministry of the United Methodist Churches of Indiana for over 90 years.
The land for Camp Moneto was purchased in the early 1960s, and is criss-crossed with old logging roads and well-marked hiking trails. Facilities and cabins with rustic but modern amenities, adorn the western ridge of the camp. The valley in the center of camp is home to the camp pool, which we did not use, and the modern bathrooms and showers, which we did have 24 hour access to. Our shelter area was on the east ridge, equally easy to get to, but much more rustic and private.
The Jean Kauffman Memorial Shelter is a stout wood frame structure in the style common to countless parks and campgrounds all over the country. It is open on three sides, and features a smooth concrete slab floor, plenty of interior height, open trusses, and a like-new metal roof. A beautiful large stone fireplace adorns the solid south wall. There is a fire pit area on the west side of the shelter, under shade trees and surrounded by wooden benches. There is no power or running water at the shelter, but potable water was available to us 24 hours a day at the pool bathhouse in the valley down the hill. The shelter itself is surrounded by open grassy areas, some of them rather large. And most importantly, there are plenty of tall mature trees around for hanging antennas!
This facility is popular with the Boy Scouts and other like organizations; during their large events, it is not unusual for there to be dozens-to-hundreds of tents in the surrounding grassy areas and nearby meadows, with the entire shelter serving as the common food prep area.
Saturday morning dawned partly cloudy and a bit wet, the grass and surrounding woods still dripping slightly from the overnight rains. However, the cooler weather offered a welcome respite from the oppressive heat and high humidity that had enveloped the area in the weeks prior to the event. Instead, operators were treated to (mostly) rain-free partly cloudy skies, and plenty of cooling breezes. Except for one brief light rain period Saturday afternoon, the event was rain-free. All were in agreement that the weekend-long breezes made for some of the most pleasant weather of the summer so far. Many remarked that it felt a bit like early fall.
Set-up started at 0900 Saturday. The wet grass around the shelter proved a bit slick and troublesome at first, making it difficult to get enough traction to tow an equipment trailer up the south meadow and into the grass right next to the shelter for unloading. Some creative problem-solving and teamwork made quick work of the problem, and the trailer was re-routed to the gravel parking lot a short distance from the shelter. (That turned out to be the biggest hiccup of the entire event, and a mild one at that.)
SCICSG’s new highway-styled Field Day signs were erected in the grass next to Indiana State Route 46 at the entrance to Camp Moneto, and a second sign was placed at the wye junction in camp at the bottom of the hill, directing participants northward into the camp and eastward up the long right-hand climb of Outpost Road, to the shelter. The signs are 2-foot by 3-foot plastic, edged in fluorescent yellow, and feature easy-to-read highway fonts, spacing, and symbols. Arrivals reported that the signs were quite effective, even in a bit of fog that settled into the valley in the wee morning hours Sunday.
While Stan was placing the signs, Donald, his son Carson Perry KD9KRD, Scott Hibbs KD4SIR, and Mike Tanksley KD9EAU, unloaded equipment and promptly got to work erecting antennas. In short order, they had erected Scott’s humorously-nicknamed “Cross-Dresser” antenna in the open meadow immediately south of the shelter. It consists of two crossed dipoles, one 20m and the other 40m, draped over an Army surplus vertical fiberglass antenna mast, secured with guy wires, and a rather ingenious portable concrete base. This antenna has been used in prior field day events, and has proven itself to be quite effective.
The team then turned its attention to the open space and tall trees immediately east of the shelter. Scott broke out his PVC pneumatic launcher, which uses compressed air to fire a lead fishing sinker attached to a reel of fishing line. After dealing with an initial misfire and a bit of unruly tangling, Scott and the team got the line rewound onto the spool, recharged the launcher using a portable battery-powered air compressor, and tried again. This time the shot was true, and the lead sinker struck a thick high tree branch with a resounding thwak! After a bit of teamwork, judicious nudging, and some creative language, the sinker and attached line finally dropped through the canopy. A thicker nylon line was tied on, and it in turn was threaded through the canopy. Then, the team attached one end of their Carolina Windom all-bands antenna. With more teamwork and a little coaxing, they hoisted the antenna into place, and soon had the other end raised in similar fashion. This type of antenna features a low loss matching transformer and a high isolation line isolator, and does not need radials.
Another 40m dipole was then hung in the trees on the western side of the shelter. Feed lines were attached to all antennas and routed to the east side of the shelter. With the antennas in place, attention turned to setting up the stations, and power generation and distribution.
Portable plastic tables were set up inside the shelter along the interior east side, chairs were unfolded, and station equipment was unpacked. Two Yamaha EF2000iS portable inverter generators were connected together and placed behind the solid south wall of the shelter, providing easy access, while effectively directing what little generator noise there was, southward away from the operating area. Between the wall deflecting the sound, and the already-low sound output of the EF2000iS, the arrangement was quite satisfactory, with no operators reporting difficulty in hearing their stations. Extension cords and a power strip were run along the east edge of the slab floor.
RF grounding was established in the grassy clearing immediately east of the shelter. Two 1/2″ grounding rods were inserted into the ground, and radials fabricated from 14 gauge THHN wire were cut and affixed. We did it the hard way, cutting the wires one-at-a-time from a spool, and then cutting additional wires to connect the equipment. Stan then laid on the ground and wrestled with getting everything clamped into place. When we were finished, it was functionally effective, but not very pretty. (At the end of the event as we were wrapping up, we discussed how we might do it differently next year. More on that at the end of this story.)
On the air
After everything was connected, Donald wasted no time getting on the air, while Scott ensured that the three station laptop computers had the proper software installed and were playing nice with each other. We did not have an Internet connection, but we did use a local wireless network to connect the computers. All three computers, synchronized with each other, used FD Log software to record contacts.
Three stations were established:
- Scott brought an Icom IC-706 transceiver, and an LDG Electronics IT-100 Autotuner. For transportation, he used a variety of cases and plastic totes.
- Donald brought a Yaesu 857-D transceiver, an LDG Electronics YT-100 Autotuner, and a JetStream JTPS32MAB power supply. For transportation, he used a large USGI surplus aluminum Medical Transport Chest.
- Stan brought an Icom IC-7100 transceiver with PS-126 power supply, and an MFJ-941E Versa Tuner II. For transportation, he used the 3-piece Ridgid Pro Gear system from Home Depot.
In addition to these three stations, other operators stopped by throughout the weekend and brought additional radios, computers, and support equipment. And of course, numerous HT’s and other bits of kit were around.
Life in the shelter
As this was our first time at this location, we didn’t try to over-plan. Instead, we planned the basics, and let everything else evolve organically. This approach paid off, as we didn’t end up having to rearrange anything after the areas were initially defined.
After putting our collective heads together upon arrival, zones for operations, food, and socializing, quickly evolved:
- Stations occupied the east side of the shelter, the tables running north-south lengthwise along the edge, pulled in under the roof just enough to keep them dry in all but the most blowing rain. This gave excellent access to the back of equipment, feed lines, power, and RF grounding.
- The southwest corner of the shelter became the food storage and prep area. A picnic table provided a convenient surface for storing food and gear, and an open expanse of concrete provided a safe place for running camp stoves for heating water. An additional portable table was set up in an L configuration next to the picnic table, for prep and clean-up.
There were already picnic tables located along the west edge of the shelter when we got there. These were left in place for storing camping gear, and were also utilized as additional operator space.
- The north end of the shelter was used for socializing. A good supply of folding chairs were placed in a rough circle, and small red-painted galvanized metal pails half-filled with sand were provided for the smokers to use as ash trays. (The smokers obliged by making sure that 100% of their butts made it into the cans. Afterward, not one single butt or scrap of trash was found on the ground. Hats off to all participants for their tidiness and thoughtful consideration.)
We had visitors drop in throughout the event. Our first was a friendly local who was en route to visit the nearby shooting range, when he saw our highway sign and decided to come check us out. It turned out that he knew a number of other hams in the area.
As the weekend progressed, a number of spouses and family members of operators came out, as did other area hams. Introductions were made, and it was a nice opportunity for members to meet the spouses and children of other members. We also had a number of visitors from the other side of the camp come over and check us out, curious about amateur radio. All were welcomed, and many got detailed demonstrations at the GOTA stations.
A nice contingent of SCICSG members came out throughout the weekend, folks who were not able to spend the night, but who wanted to take part for a few hours nonetheless. People casually rotated from lawn chairs to radios and back at their own pace. We weren’t trying to set any records, choosing instead to relax and have a good time with each other’s company. No one present voiced an objection to our choice of priorities.
We also had a number of pets join us. With plenty of room to frolic and play, they made new friends with both the humans and their fellow dogs alike. They helped keep the atmosphere fun and relaxed. The cool concrete slab became a popular place for their afternoon naps.
Time to eat, thanks to Stockpiled
We also got hungry, but we had that issue covered, thanks to a generous donation of freeze-dried food for the operators. Branden Labiak KD9KAX and his store Stockpiled, a family-owned firearms, survival, camping, and hunting store, located in Columbus, Indiana, generously donated two full buckets of emergency freeze-dried food from Wise Company and Augason Farms.
There were a wide variety of meals to choose from. Selections were made, camping stoves were fired up, and water put on to boil. In no time, we were chowing down on fresh, tasty food, without the mess and hassle of having to drag barbecue grills out into the wild, or keeping coolers of food iced. The group consensus was that the Beef Stroganoff was especially good. We sincerely thank fellow ham Branden and Stockpiled for their generous support!
The addition of MRE’s or other emergency food to a Field Day kit, makes a lot of sense. In the event of a real emergency, it is good to know that you can grab-and-go with little more than your pre-packed kit, and a supply of fresh water. Actually breaking out the food and preparing it, is good practice. Not only does it rotate the food, but like your radios, you learn what works and what doesn’t. For example, yours truly forgot to pack his humble scrub sponge and dish soap, a mistake with the potential for serious sanitation concerns, that I won’t be making again.
Into the night
As the sun set behind the western treeline, we settled in. Dishes were finished and food stowed away. Sleeping gear was unpacked while there was still enough daylight to see what we were doing.
As the evening fell, the bands cleared up and continued to cooperate. On 20 meters, we could hear many pile-ups from upper New York state, Manhattan, and the Virgin Islands. The radios were kept busy, as we tried to wedge in to make contacts.
People who weren’t operating radios, congregated around the circle of lawn chairs, laughing and joking and sharing stories that were 100% true with no exaggeration whatsoever, whether they actually happened or not. Deep subjects of great importance were debated and discussed. Most of the world’s problems were solved. Unfortunately, we failed to take notes, and had forgotten most of it by morning.
In the darkness of the shelter, light levels were kept low, with a couple of Citronella candles in small metal pails providing adequate low light along with insect deterrence. The only light among us was the glow from the radios, the light from the candles, the starry night above, and a very bright moon. Breezes remained gentle and cool. Conversation and operations extended into the wee morning hours. When 03:00 came, we finally ran out of steam and turned off the radios. As we switched them off, the bands were still very busy.
Donald, an experienced camper, had slung a simple hammock between two of the shelter posts, and was all set for sleep. Stan had set up his “Taco Tent”, sans rain fly. It is a USGI Army surplus Universal Improved Combat Shelter. The shelter is lightweight, allows access from either side, does not require the use of stakes (unless you need them to combat high winds), and fits into a nylon bag smaller than an oatmeal can. Scott elected to sleep in his car; He may or may not have been running the air conditioning.
A clear morning and busy bands
Sunday morning dawned bright, blue, and busy. The bands really cleared up overnight, and making contacts became like shooting fish in a barrel. Many of our contacts were made in those busy morning hours.
Just as the action was really hopping, Stan had to pack up a few hours early to take his youngest daughter to a week-long camp deep in far southern Indiana. The signs were pulled down at about 13:30 as he left camp. Donald and Scott stayed and operated for the duration.
Field Day operations formally concluded at 14:00. Antennas were taken down, ground rods were pulled, and equipment was packed and loaded. Stan came back later that evening to finish tidying up and to check out of the shelter. And with that, Field Day 2018 was in the books.
- We were 3A with 23 participants (15 licensed operators, and 8 visitors).
- We had 9 cw and 74 phone contacts, for a total of 83 contacts.
- We worked 30 states.
- QSO breakdown by operator:
- 39, Scott Hibbs KD4SIR
- 27, Donald Perry AC9RU
- 9, Joe LaFaucie KA9OPL
- 4, Mike Nelson KD9KRF
- 4, Stan Maddox WE3ACR
For the record, the weather was as follows:
- Saturday, June 23, 2018:
- High Temperature: 77 °F
- Low Temperature: 65 °F
- Dew Point: 26 °F avg.
- Humidity: 48% avg.
- Precipitation: 0.01 in.; partly cloudy, with one brief mild rain squall in the late afternoon.
- Wind Speed: 0 mph avg.
- Wind Direction: South
- Visibility: 10 miles
- Sunday, June 24, 2018:
- High Temperature: 86 °F
- Low Temperature: 63 °F
- Dew Point: 37 °F avg.
- Humidity: 51% avg.
- Precipitation: 0 in; partly cloudy.
- Wind Speed: 0 mph avg.
- Wind Direction: South
- Visibility: 9 miles
The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly (and generously) positive. The location served us well, bolstered by cooperative weather. While there has been talk of trying to place more of an emphasis next year on making a higher number of contacts, there has also been a lot of discussion about how much fun members had with the socializing. We seem to have struck a good balance between operations and camaraderie, at least for our first year at a new location.
We have only begun to start gathering take-away’s and lessons learned. As of this writing we have not yet had the first monthly meeting after Field Day, so a proper after-action review still needs to take place. It would be premature at this time to formally list action items, but a couple of informal conversations and ideas have come up:
- Our RF grounding was functional, but a bit low-rent, so to speak. Okay, it was butt-ugly. Cutting radials from a spool of wire is time-consuming, and the wire tends to retain a spring shape as the result of having just been unwound from the spool. There has been talk about trying to come up with an RF grounding “kit” consisting of pre-cut radials fitted with green PowerPole connectors. The radials would snap into a central hub which in turn is connected to the grounding rod. RF grounding rods would be pre-cut for the appropriate length. Operators setting up stations would have to fit their equipment ahead of time with a short pigtail ground adorned with a PowerPole connector, that would remain attached to their equipment. The idea is that there would be no need to cut anything on-site; everything would be pre-cut, and just snap together.
- Lighting could be improved, but we don’t want to wreck night vision or attract bugs. The idea was voiced to use solar rechargeable yellow LED rope lights. They are inexpensive, and could be strung into rafters or laced through tree branches, and fit easily into our cases.
We will post more about take-away’s and lessons learned, in the future.
We would like to thank Camp Moneto Senior Manager of Operations Shane Hartman and his wife Shannon, for welcoming us so warmly and making their facilities available. It is a special place, thanks for sharing it with the amateur radio community.
We would like to thank Branden Labiak KD9KAX and his store Stockpiled, for their generous donation of food for the operators. Stockpiled is a ham-friendly place, so go find them on Facebook, and also check them out in person.
Personally, I would like to thank Donald Perry AC9RU, Carson Perry KD9KRD, Scott Hibbs KD4SIR, and Mike Tanksley KD9EAU, for all of their hard work setting up, stringing antennas, and tearing down. Donald and Scott were the technical brains of this event, and they did an excellent job with the work that really mattered, while putting up with basic questions from this Field Day rookie. They were all a pleasure to work with. Without them, this would have been nothing more than a glorified camping trip.
Most of all, we would like to thank each and every licensed operator and visitor who came out and took part. We hope you enjoyed yourselves, and perhaps, learned a thing or two. I know I did.
See you next year. 73by