DX Stories by Paul M. Dunphy, VE1DX

PacketCluster Secrets

One of the Local QRPers came up the hill last week and as soon as we saw him hopping from foot to foot, we knew something had happened. Just to make sure, we asked him if he had to use the washroom. "No", the QRPer responded, "but I guess I look a bit excited, right?" We had to agree. We decided he must have hit the DX jackpot. "What's new in the world of DX?", we said, "Tell us about the new stuff you've been working."

The QRPer sat in the chair and responded "You know, I haven't worked a single DX station in over a month. Did you know that?", he said in a low voice, and it was clear he was holding his joy back. We had to admit we had not heard the QRPer on the bands for some time. We assumed that we were just working different bands. What we were failing to understand was why he was so happy. As QRPers go, this one was a fair DXer. So we had to ask for clarification. "Why are you so excited?", we asked, our curiosity aroused, "Your HF station is one of the best around and we see your call logging into the Packet Cluster a lot. Why aren't you working the DX? Did your HF rig pack it in again?"

It was as if we had hit a nerve for he narrowed his gaze ever so slightly and began to glare at us with his beady little eyes. We were worried we had said something to cause the QRPer to lose the joyful moment. Not so, for the sly grin returned with his reply. "Well, no, the HF station is as good as ever . . . and I got all the antennas tuned up and with the seasonal enhancement, the HF bands are great. If only I had time to work the DX!" We were becoming thoroughly confused. "But you are in the shack all day, every day", we said, "because we see you on the Packet Cluster all the time." The QRPer replied, "That was my trouble. I had to keep logging on to the cluster every few minutes. I spent my whole day logging in to that stupid cluster!" This didn't make any sense at all. "But doesn't the cluster keep your call on the user list and send out spots to you like everyone else?", we asked, "And why do you keep logging in?" The QRPer's glare began to harden just a bit. We decided this would not be the time for us to smile, so we bit the inside of our cheek and listened.

"That's the way it's supposed to work!", he said, his voice beginning to rise, "but it keeps timing me out and logging me off. So I have to reconnect every few minutes. But that'll all be behind me by tomorrow.", he continued, with a grin from ear to ear. "Tell us more.", we asked. "A couple of the Big Guns were down a few weeks ago, pretending to help me fix up my VHF packet antenna, but they didn't fool me. No, not one little bit!" He jumped out of his chair and drew himself up to all five and a half feet. "They tried to pull a fast one on me too.", he said, with glee in his voice, "but I figured out what they were up to!" "Go on", we asked, now becoming intrigued. "One of them had a VHF mag mount on the car. Just a quarter wave vertical! And he listened to the packets on his mobile rig and showed me that they were stronger than my beam. Tried to convince me it was feedline loss, that's what he did!" We nodded for the QRPer to go on. "Well, I let them go ahead and replace my coax with hardline and fool around with another beam. But I knew what they were up to. I was right too! The hardline never made any difference. No difference at all! I still got disconnected every few minutes! So I fixed them! As soon as they left, I put back my old beam and my 300 foot run of RG-8. No difference than the hardline they put in!"

We weren't sure where this was going, so we decided to just listen for a bit. The QRPer continued, his voice raising ever so slightly, "It took me a while, but I figured out what they were up to. It was that car! That's what it was all along." We were thoroughly confused at this point. "What's a car got to do with DX Packet Clusters?," we asked. "Ground plane effect." the QRPer replied, sitting back down and looking at us knowingly, "they thought they fooled me because they had a solid ground plane under that mag mount antenna." We were starting to wonder about this QRPer, for he wasn't making any sense. "How can a quarter wave vertical outperform a multi-element yagi, ground plane or not?" The QRPer grinned ever the more. "More capture area. Bigger surface to hear the signal."

"Why that absurd!", we shouted, "you should know better than that!" The QRPer was not to be deterred. "Nope, that's it. They were hearing better because they had more metal in that vertical and the car than I have in my yagi. And, what's more, I figured out how I can beat them, too!" We decided this was best left alone, but it's hard to stop a QRPer once he gets going. "Don't you see? They are all using their mobile stations for the Packet Cluster! They are connecting to the cluster from their cars! All I need is a bigger ground plane. I got a couple of really big clunkers in the shed I was going to restore. Real North American cars too . . . none of that imported stuff like those guys have. Well, Buster, one of them is out beside the house, right in back of the shack! I got my tractor and I dragged it right off it's blocks and around the back of the house. Got it right up against the wall of the shack. Biggest car I ever owned, too! And, I got a quarter-wave vertical on top of it."

We should have known better, but we asked anyhow. "So now you can connect to the cluster everytime?" "Heck no!", the QRPer replied, "don't you know anything about antennas and feedlines?" Son of a Gun! One of us was marching to the beat of a different drummer. "If you can't connect with it, why are you so happy?", we asked indignantly, "and what's this about antennas and feedlines, anyhow?" "It's got to be matched", the QRPer replied, sure-footed in his new found knowledge, "Don't you know anything? All I have to do is get rid of the ten feet of coax that's strung out through the window and replace it with my 300 foot run of RG-8. Perfect 50 ohm match. Sometimes I wonder about you", he said, as he skipped happily down the hill and off to get his coax hooked up. Son of a Gun! At times like this, it is better to turn off the rig and just go watch TV.

Best Regards, Paul

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