Trainman's Radio Holiday

by Jim Cluett, W1PID

After taking a conductor's job on the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad
in New Hampshire this summer, it wasn't long before I started plotting
some radio adventures on the train.  Bruce Smith, N1HSS,
became a willing co-conspiritor. Bruce is a fireman on the train
and has been working on the railroad for years. The plan was simple:
set up a station in the caboose and work some serious DX from a
moving train.

The Meredith Railroad Yard

We needed to try out some antennas and strategies before heading
down the track for real, so in early August we started testing. Our
first thought was to put up a 20 meter dipole as an inverted vee
over the cupola. We have some low hanging tree branches and
phone wires along the route so we measured our clearances and
thought the plan would work fine. Our antenna would be only one
foot above the cupola. The caboose is 41 feet long and the antenna is
33 feet long so that part was fine. Early one evening we got out
the ladder and mounted a short mast over the cupola to support
the center of the dipole. We tied down the ends and after a half
hour's work, we were ready for our first operating session.

We did well! I worked two Italian stations using only 5 watts with
the FT-817. Even though we didn't plan to try 80 meters, 
I stretched out a longer wire, so I could get into the VT-NH CW net.
That worked too. I was peaking S8 in Massachusetts and 20 over S9
in Vermont with only 5 watts. Bruce and I were encouraged and
thoroughly envigorated for our next test.

That evening, we abandoned the idea of a dipole. It was too
complicated for mobile operating and took too long to set up.
Instead we decided on a vertical... the Outbacker Perth.
Bruce and I both use this antenna mobile and know it to be a reliable
performer. So we put a mount on one of the rear handholds and
Bruce installed the antenna.

Bruce installs our antenna

Several weeks later we made our second test... this time with
the Outbacker. Bruce started out on SSB with his TS-570
at 100 watts. Right off he worked a Georgia station on 20 meters
who gave us a 59 report. Tim, KU4TY, was enthralled with the idea
of working a station set up in a caboose, and he asked us to send
him some photos. Bruce and Tim chatted for 20 minutes.

I had the FT-817 with me and operated CW. Again, we had
good luck. I worked EU5/UT2XD in Belarus and then worked a
Polish station, SP3LPG. Now we knew we had the formula and
our operation from a moving caboose would be successful for
sure. Two days later we both had the same day off and agreed
to meet at the Meredith Railroad Yard for the 2:30 train.

With a few short blasts on the whistle, the train left Meredith at
2:30 sharp and we were ready for an adventure. Unknown to
the passengers in the front cars, we were making radio history
back in the caboose.

Bruce works a Special Event Station is Mississippi

As soon as Bruce tuned up the TS-570, he heard K5K calling
CQ. It was a special event station commemorating the second
anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi. Bruce
received a 59. We were both surprised by how fast the station
answered us and by the great signal report. Within a few minutes
Bruce had worked EI75TS in the Irish Republic.

For the next couple of hours we handed the antenna coax
back and forth. Bruce worked SSB and I worked CW. As the
train swayed back and forth like a ship at sea, we added QSOs
to our log one after the other;  we were ecstatic. "This is a
first for me," sent K5FP in Austin, Texas when he heard we
were operating from a moving train. We ignored the local QRM
from the train whistle even though we missed the odd word in
each QSO. With the conductor peering over my shoulder, I worked
the Ukraine, Hungary,  and then Bosnia.

Bosnia with a 703 at 5 watts

It was a perfect day for the operation... sunny, not too hot,
with fantastic views of the lake as the train made its way
from Meredith to the Weirs and on to Lakeport. As I gazed
out the window at the opposite side of the lake, I thought how
amazing that we were talking to the other side of the
entire world from our moving caboose radio shack.

The view out the caboose was fantastic

"So... what do we do for an encore?" I ask Bruce. "We'll have
to do this again," was his simple answer. And we certainly will!
Who could imagine a better holiday for two ham radio trainmen?