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Ham radio operators have a field day in St. Thomas

June 30, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - Surely the equipment used for the ARRL Field Day events had technical names, but you wouldn't know it from talking with Tony Giroux.

The Rouzerville, Pa., man first referred to the many cords and wires stretched around as the "spider web" before explaining what the annual field day means for amateur radio operators.

"We're supposed to be proving we can go out in the woods, set up all our gadgets and widgets, and hook up with emergency power," said Giroux, whose call sign is KF3BX.

About 30,000 ham radio operators were expected to participate in the field day held this past weekend through ARRL, the national association for amateur radio. Local groups earned points by contacting other hams and hosting visitors.

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At the C.V. Antique Engine & Machinery Association showgrounds, the Cumberland Valley Amateur Radio Club set up a station where nonlicensed visitors could get on the air and talk. The licensed operators made contact with their counterparts on the West Coast on Saturday and Sunday.

A big part of the field day is troubleshooting the systems and learning from glitches so amateur radio operators are prepared when called upon in an emergency, Darrell Lingenfield III said.

"I enjoy coming out here every year, setting up the equipment and seeing what we can do," he said.

Lingenfield, whose call sign is N3QBI, explained that hams provide communications for entities like hospitals and the American Red Cross when phone service is disrupted during disasters. A member of the club works with Franklin County's emergency preparedness committee.

Giroux wore a T-shirt that said "When all else fails ..."

"If something does happen, ... we're the guys that get stuck with it," he said with a grin.

Giroux and Lingenfield reminisced about assistance during local flooding and tropical storms, and they said ham operators provided key communication during the first few days of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. Giroux mentioned working with the SKYWARN storm spotters system to convey severe weather reports to NOAA's National Weather Service.

Today's equipment is mostly commercial radios, but many operators make their own antennas, according to Giroux.

He stood underneath a trailer-mounted antenna made from PVC, rope, wire and metal purchased at a hardware store.

"That funny upside-down umbrella thing I built in my backyard a few years ago," Giroux said.

"He ended up giving us a 10-minute impromptu lecture on the antenna and how it's built," said Lingenfield, who lives in St. Thomas.

Education is a key part of the club's operations, President Daniel McGlothin said.

The club (www.w3ach.org) meets on the third Thursday of every month at Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital. Every second meeting has an educational presentation.

McGlothin, of St. Thomas, talked about one show-and-tell session in which a ham spoke about QRP, which is low-power operating and a challenge embraced by some local amateur radio operators.

"Two and a half watts is enough to reach around the world, assuming you have a good antenna," said McGlothin, whose call sign is KB3MUN.

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