Tag Archives: generator

Why are ham fests sometimes in very strange locations?

A couple of posts ago we wrote about Herb’s and Jim’s unplanned 10 mile hike in the desert.  More significant, really, is why were we in the middle of Arizona’s desert at all? You might already know we are suckers for interesting or unusual ham radio conventions. A ham radio convention in the middle of Arizona’s desert would probably be interesting and unusual. We’d heard about Quartzsite for several years and wanted to get there. This seemed like a great opportunity, and we only had a drive of 160 miles to get there.

Less than 700 miles to visit a new hamfest? Let's go!

Some of you dear readers may recall our post two years ago when Debbie and Jim drove to Essex, in the top of Montana for a famous ham fest.  We had heard of the oldest continuous running (once per year, that is) ham radio convention, the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park Hamfest. And so upon departing Gillette Wyoming in early July 2010 we reasonably figured, since we were only 600 miles away, we should take the opportunity to visit Essex Montana and see this venerable ham fest first hand. It was pretty neat and sharpened our interest in unusual ham fests.

and the camels are another story entirely

The recent week we spent dry-camping in the Arizona desert was pretty much the opposite in several ways. Glacier National Park can be very chilly even in the middle of July.  Everything in Glacier National Park is either green (evergreen trees, grass, moss) or white (ice and snow), with just a little brown (bears and deer).  The Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest is 78 years running so far, versus a few years for QuartzFest.  And camping in any campground near Glacier National Park is a bit costly — we camped free at Quartzsite (except a donation to the organizer to help cover paper and printer cartridges.)

very cool hex beam antenna for W7Q station

Some things are remarkably similar between the two hamfests.  At neither hamfest did we see any ham radio vendors (although one almost always does).  Both hamfests are pretty close to an international border (Canada and Mexico).  Both hamfests involve dry camping although in Quartzsite the term takes on additional significance — everything is really really dry.  Both hamfests had very dedicated RVing hams with some really interesting antenna setups.  Both hamfests had special event stations allowing attendees the opportunity to operate from a different location and try using different gear than in their own station. Both hamfests had well-organized presentations on various subjects.

another big antenna on small RV

The QuartzFest rally seemed huge compared to the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest.  We might have had 75 rigs at Glacier-Waterton, and we had 400 rigs at QuartzFest.  We never had seen such a big collection and wide variety of amateur radio antennas as at QuartzFest.  Not all were RV-portable – many were tall masts with two and three sets of ropes guying the antennas against the winds.

Much easier to clean and aim than on the roof

Oh, and we saw assorted ways to collect solar energy for electricity as well as several wind generators. We went to a lot of work putting our solar panels on the Airstream’s roof — they would be low maintenance (sort of) and pretty secure from theft or damage. Tilting the solar panels wasn’t in our original scheme and weekly wiping of the panel’s glass surface (necessary in the dirty dusty desert and even in Mesa) requires setting up and climbing the ladder. We like this portable panel idea more and more.

THE place to be for fish on Fridays

When in Quartzsite, do as the Quartzsitians do? We followed our friends Bob K9WMP and Laura K9BZY from Mesa to Quartzsite since they knew where to go. And we followed them to Sweet Darlene’s restaurant for Friday fish dinner our first evening. Without Bob and Laura we probably would have given up this idea when we saw the lineup outside the restaurant — this place was hopping. Herb and Lois, Tom and Debbie, Bob and Laura, and the two of us were deluded if we thought we would get to sit together in this place.

Sweet Darlene's does big biz on Fridays

The line moved reasonably quickly and we soon found out why — you don’t wait for a table of four, or six, or eight — you wait for a couple of chairs anywhere close to each other and you forgo sitting with your larger party. Your food order at Sweet Darlene’s Friday fish dinner is simple. Fried fish, cole slaw, and a slice of bread are on all the plates — you choose what style potatoes.

Our order was simple and the food was good

Except our wait person was so frazzled by the time she arrived at our table she asked what style fish we wanted. Faked us out briefly then we all had a big laugh — there’s one style fish at Friday fish dinner at Sweet Darlene’s, and it was good.

Can we take one of these home?

People we meet in Mesa think of Quartzsite as a place to shop for gems and geodes. While we don’t frequent rock shops we have been in a few. We’ve never seen anything equalling these huge geodes. We didn’t see any price tags but wonder if everything is for sale at some price.

Clearly the biggest tent we've ever shopped in!

Another thing most people do in Quartzsite is browsing the shops. Sweet Darlene’s has graduated from a tent enclosure to a completely enclosed metal structure. Some of the shops are in metal buildings but most were in tents. One of the tents seemed as big as a football field and was chock full of vendors representing nearly every facet of support and supply for RVing.

US Gov't perhaps runs most smoothly when done by volunteers

We camped in Road Runner RV area of the BLM land 6 miles south of Quartzsite. BLM required us to register and receive a 14-day camping permit (at no cost), allowing us to park anywhere within a vast area of the desert. The closest dump station and fresh water resupply was in Quartzsite, and we couldn’t even find a 30 amp power pole in our camp site. Nor did we really expect one, we knew we’d be conserving water and battery power both.

We’ve dry camped numerous times but had not previously done nearly so well with our fresh water. We used less than 20 gallons total of fresh water in five days for all uses — cooking, drinking, and bathing. Our Airstream travel trailer carries 40 gallons, so we had water aplenty. Not so capable though is our 19 gallon black water holding tank. The only thing it serves is our toilet.

Some of the 20 gallons of fresh water had to have gone into the 40 gallon gray water holding tank, right? We bathed each day and used our sink for pot and utensil washing. But the 19 gallon black water holding tank was nearly full after five full days use. Very nearly all our toilet flushing was with dish water or bathing water, so precious little fresh water found its way to our gray water holding tank. If only we could find a way to expand our black water carrying capacity. Who would have thought we’d wish for such a thing, eh?

Our best (and only) Quartzsite neighbors

We were grateful to Herb and Lois for sharing their Winnebago’s generator with us twice a day. We ran an extension cord 100 feet between our RV and theirs and they would bump our batteries up a little. It was nice to have their big old generator send some extra energy our way a couple times daily. Even nicer, though, was camping with them and sharing meals, conversations, and spending evenings at card games or watching movies together.

Our solar panels did fine but one pair of 6-volt batteries just don’t have enough depth for our uses (this is not necessarily a mutually held opinion). We like to read at night. Our water pump, fridge controls, and propane leak detector all use battery power. Oh, and the ham radio can use a bunch (22 amps @ 12vdc) of battery power. One of us likes to have enough battery power left by morning to do a little chatting on our HF (long distance) ham radio. More power = a good thing, right? Unless you were a ho-hum-ham and might ask, “Jim, what problem are you trying to solve with all this?”

Maybe keeping busy is a good thing in itself? Jim’s been busy since we returned from Quartzsite. Our solar panels are, after four years flat use, tilt-able. We are on the verge of more than doubling our storage battery capacity from two 6v 220 amp hour batteries to four 6v 232 amp hour batteries. Results are encouraging on tilting the solar panels and we think the battery change will be a significant boost. We’ll get back to the details about these two changes in another blog.

Stay tuned — we’ll be back soon!




Jim and Debbie

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The Tim Horton’s Trans-Canada Tour

If you are reading this, we either found wifi or Verizon service somehow. Funny how much we miss our accustomed connectivity. We thought Tim Horton’s restaurants would all offer wifi service after we saw it in Dayton, Ohio. But none of the Canadian Tim Horton’s we’ve visited (we’re a little embarassed to admit, but we’ve stopped at Tim Horton’s almost every driving day for the past two weeks) have offered wifi.

You know, we’re only stopping in Tim Horton’s to look for wifi and use the washrooms. And once we’re in the restaurant, the sirens call. “Over here, sweethearts, over here — look at all these yummy fresh pastries and muffins. Smell this wonderful fresh coffee. You know you want it and you really didn’t think you’d find wifi here, did you? You are just here for the coffee and doughnuts, aren’t you? Come on, grains and dairy and all goodness right here. This is good for you.” And so we continue stopping in Tim Horton’s restaurants (read: really great doughnut shop) to “look for wifi”. This we do for you, dear friends, so you can peruse our ramblings while you munch on your doughnut and sip a little coffee.

The low temperature last night was 46F, the coolest we’ve seen this summer. We’re stationed at approx 4,400 feet elevation in Cypress Hills Provincial Park near Maple Creek, SK. Yesterday the high, driving from Moose Jaw to Maple Creek, was 52 degrees. We had light rain almost the entire 240 mi trip. The rain placed a little more emphasis on driving caution and a whole lot of road dirt on the truck and trailer. Oh well, they’re washable and we have time. We plan to stay at Cypress Hills three more nights before we move on.

We’ve stayed in five Provincial Parks this trip so far. Birds Hill by Winnipeg, MB, Spruce Woods near Carberry, SK, Crooked Lake near Grenfeil, SK, Buffalo Pound near Moose Jaw, SK, and now Cypress Hills Park. This is the first in which we have taken electricity service, and it is nice to have “full power” again. We can get along well without commercial electricity as almost everything in our RV is battery-powered. Battery power, though, is not at all the same as commercial power.

Solar panels afford us full batteries during the bright days and serviceable batteries even on cloudy days. Sunset means the batteries settle into a slightly lower power, from a high of 13.8 volts to no more than 12.8 volts. Not even a ten percent drop, right? You can tell the difference in the lights, the pump, the fans. Everything is just a little dimmer. And after a few hours of darkness outside the battery voltage drops another few tenths. The reduction has exceeded ten percent from peak battery power. So what?

This really is just a matter of degrees. Everything still works very well. We continue to have required voltage and power to operate all our 12vdc appliances and are able to obtain 110vac (through our small inverter) if we need to, all from the batteries. But it becomes, if only mentally, a bit like paddling although your canoe has a motor you aren’t to use after a certain time each day. Paddling works perfectly well, is quiet and free, and is as much as some people will experience. Your motor allows you to take your canoe a little faster, a little more effortlessly, a little longer even. And now with the motor off, the canoe is back to just a paddling boat. Still goes everywhere but. . .

But we sure do like full power, too. The ham radio works just a little better on 13.8 volts than on 12.2 or 12.6 volts. The lights are just a little brighter. The fans and water pump operate just a little faster. We ignore battery capacity and avoid rationing battery usage. What a luxury to have full power at every light and appliance! This reminds Jim of his dad telling about growing up in Mississippi in the 1920’s. Many rural houses lacked electrical power of any kind. Jim’s dad was remembering, when the house lights would dim or the fan would slow, going out to start the generator to recharge for awhile the storage batteries.

The aggravations with the batteries and generator were better than only having oil lamps and hand fans. Solar power and batteries provide us nice flexibility. They allow us to use all the juice we want during a sunny midday. We can charge the battery-powered electronic stuff (laptops, iPod, Palm, phone) and still get a great charge to the house batteries. We also have lighting and water pumping and fans wherever we are. We can refrain paying for electricity, water, or sewer connections at any campground, saving between $3 and $10 per night. We like the flexibility and economy.

We have never parked between so many and so tall trees.The trees are spaced, off the roadway and immediate parking site, every six to ten feet apart. These pines (we’re pretty sure they aren’t cypress, despite the park name) all seem to be at least sixty feet tall. Jim’s a little tempted to string my ham radio wire antenna between the trees. If he did he would realize great reception and transmission with the radio’s long distance bands. Hmm, why not? We’ll see.

Cypress Hills Provincial Park has a resort hotel, a golf course and mini-golf, a swimming pool, a couple of stores, a pizza place, and more. We arrived between rain showers yesterday, set up the RV, and built and enjoyed a roaring campfire before supper. We will take time over the next two days to explore the Park while getting our daily walks.

The drive yesterday was interesting for the change of scenery — less apparent were zillions of acres of verdant farm acreage and instead we saw miles and miles of grassy moguls. Agriculture is still happening, evidenced by tall grain elevators every twenty to fifty miles. But we’re seeing signage for mining or quarrying, we’re seeing a lot of oil wells pumping up and down. Gone are the blue flax or yellow canola fields which stretched out as far as we could see. More cows and horses, more industrial-looking stuff. Maybe it’s differences in the soil? More on this later.

Our schedule, for several weeks, has been driving on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. This plan is a little minimalist for us — it almost feels like we’re hurrying again because we are driving three times a week. By this schedule we stay three nights through each weekend to avoid hunting a site on Fridays. The concept has seemed to work in a couple of parks and allows us to continue without arranging reservations for sites. This Park has a golf course (about which we know nothing so far) and so we’re thinking we will stay two extra nights to make worthwhile the small chore of extracting Jim’s golf bag from under twenty different things in the truck’s bed.

The truck’s bed is well-enough organized and only five feet wide by six and one-half feet long, so it doesn’t take so long to locate and grab anything. But removing a large object, like the golf bag, also will entail putting it back in place and putting twenty things back in place above it. Why not leave the golf bag on top, so it is easy to reach? Unfortunately for Jim’s golf game, our schedule predicates using the electrical cords and water hoses and chairs and the Cosco stool and — wait a minute. Maybe there aren’t twenty things in the way after all? Items at the bottom of the truck’s bed seems a bigger project to access than they are. Five minute is all it takes to reach anything anywhere in the truck’s bed, and five minutes suffice to return the truck bed to general order.

The RV’s interior temp was 52F degrees this morning when Jim awoke to check the ham bands. Jim lit the catalytic propane heater (and aimed it at himself and the wall thermometer) before he made himself a cup of tea. Now Deb’s stirring and the RV is 71 degrees. She’ll leave her warm bed and make us some hot oatmeal before we walk about.

Let’s go find some golf clubs so Debbie can have a little peace and quiet in her home this week while Jim tries to play golf. Talk to you later, next time we find wifi. Maybe in a Tim Horton’s restaurant, eh?

Jim and Debbie
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