Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Handiham World for 26 August 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Big news: Radio Camp moving to Camp Courage

By Patrick Tice, Handiham Manager

Tom, KB0FWQ, addresses campers at Courage North
Image: Tom Fogarty, KB0FWQ, Director of Courage Camps, addresses the gathering of campers and volunteers as we prepare to move to a new location, Camp Courage.

Handiham Radio Camp 2009 is a wrap. Campers departed on Sunday, 23 August 2009 after a week of fun on the air, studying for licenses or upgrades, and catching up with their friends who return to the annual Minnesota camp at Courage North.

Courage Center's Camping Department has hosted the Radio Camp at the northern location for 20 years, so it was difficult to say goodbye to Courage North, our camp near the headwaters of the Mississippi, deep in the lake country of northern Minnesota.

Sometimes it is necessary to make a move, though.

Over the years, it has become more difficult and expensive to get our Handiham members and volunteers up to Courage North, which is about four hours by road from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Campers used to be able to take a bus from the metro area, but bus service has been cut back in recent years until there is no longer daily service. While air transportation is available, it has grown steadily more expensive, and the leg of a camper's flight from Minneapolis to Bemidji, near camp, costs more than the longer flight from most major cities across North America to Minneapolis. Making the trip north was thus either hard to schedule by bus or would more than double the cost of travel by air. Even worse, AMTRAK service is not even available.

While Courage North is really a beautiful spot and really just the right size camp for us, you have to be able to get your campers there. We feel that the time has finally come when this is no longer feasible. The number one complaint we hear about Radio Camp is the cost of getting there. Sometimes (actually pretty often) campers will plead with me to give them the camp week for free because airfare costs so much. While I could sometimes find money in our budget for that in the past, you know as well as I do that the economic recession has really squeezed our budget, and we have to bring in more revenue in camp fees as well as in donations. The camp fees do not cover the true cost of camp, but our donors are understanding and generous, and continue to help us, though not as much as they could before the recession.

Cutting the travel costs for campers is the obvious thing to do, but we have to move the location of our camp session to do so. Fortunately, Courage Center's Camping Department, headed up by Camp Director Tom Fogarty, KB0FWQ, owns another camp property, Camp Courage, which is where we will be in 2010.

Camp Courage was established in 1955, and was Courage Center's first camp. Roughly three times larger than Courage North, it offers excellent infrastructure, lakeside activities, and new camper cabins with wonderful common areas for classroom space. Camp Courage is really two camps: Lakeside and Woodland. We will be on the Woodland side of camp, which is nestled in a forest of tall hardwood trees, but still with a view of the lake. Camp Courage offers pontoon boat access, so we will continue our maritime mobile HF operation. There is high speed internet access, a permanent computer lab, a tower with a tri-band beam antenna, and a radio cabinet exactly like the one we left behind at Courage North.

Yes, we know that there will be challenges as we tackle a move to a different camp, but remember that we are also moving the Handiham headquarters to its official new offices, which will also be at Camp Courage. The Handiham program is part of Courage Center Camping, so this makes sense. It also allows us to serve campers better than ever during the actual Radio Camp session. We have already started the move, with George, N0SBU, and I transporting the equipment from Courage North to Camp Courage on our way back to the Twin Cities. During the coming month, we will be moving the main Handiham office out of Courage Center's Golden Valley location. I will give you more updates here on, but I can tell you in advance that we will likely have to close for a period of days while things get sorted out. In due course we will have further information about how to contact us by phone, how to get to Camp Courage, and all of the information you will need to access Handiham services. The website, with its audio lectures and news, will continue to work as it always does. We will have no changes in our email addresses. Email will be the most reliable way to stay in touch during our moving process. I answer email day and night, including weekends, so don't be shy about contacting us. Please be patient, though, as the volume of email can get pretty large. We are temporarily suspending the equipment loan program during the Fall quarter, as staff will not be available to run it during our move.

Final camp dates for 2010 will be announced shortly. The approximate dates put the Radio Camp session around the week before Memorial Day. This is around the last week in May, 2010. We are moving the Radio Camp back to its original location, Camp Courage, and its original time on the calendar, May. If you have been following our Handiham History Project, you know that the "May Convocation" at Camp Courage was the original Radio Camp.

These are some big changes, but they will be good ones for our campers. AMTRAK service is nearby, as is the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Twin Cities have excellent bus connections. The cost to travel to camp, as well as the proximity to a major city, make Camp Courage, which is only about 40 miles west of the metro, much more attractive.

We thank our good friends up north for all they have done over the decades to make Courage North a welcoming place for us; the Courage North staff, the ARRL VE team, the Paul Bunyan ARC, the volunteers and campers, our friends living nearby, and everyone else who made the Minnesota Radio Camps so much fun. We look forward to seeing some of the same volunteers and camp staff at Camp Courage next May, along with even more campers!

Thank you, everyone.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Handiham World for 12 August 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

To understand the equipment program, you need to look back a few years into its history. In the days of discrete electronic components like vacuum tubes and even individual transistors, ham radio equipment was much simpler. That meant that it could be repaired by our staff of shop volunteers. Equipment could be donated to the Handiham program, fixed up or modified for use by members with disabilities, and loaned indefinitely to get them on the air. Usually it was possible to get several helpers to install the equipment and make sure that it stayed on the air, and that included putting up and maintaining antennas.

Today the situation is very different. The ham radio equipment of today is better and more reliable than ever, but it is complicated, jam-packed with surface-mount components, and cannot be repaired outside a well-equipped commercial shop, often one specializing in a particular brand. It was in the late 1990’s that the Handiham shop had to reluctantly stop taking member rigs in for repair. Donations of used equipment were – and still are – accepted, but repairs are generally confined to the most basic fixes. Modifications are usually out of the question, and the equipment is either set aside for members if it is appropriate and in working condition, or sold to bring in money to support the entire Handiham program.

Several years ago, Gary Gordon, K6KV, had a great idea: Provide new radios to our new Technician licensees who passed their exams at radio camp, and they would be off to a good start in ham radio. Gary began the program with funding to buy radios for those first campers, and we were able to send new hams home from radio camp with their radios – all they had to do was wait for their licenses to be processed by the FCC, and they could get on the air!

That part of the equipment program had some rough spots, too. We found that training unlicensed Technician candidates on using the new handheld radios was difficult and time-consuming in the radio camp setting, especially since each of them required a control operator and they were already busy studying for their licenses and had little time to spare during the busy camp week. Nonetheless, this part of the equipment program is easy to administer, because now we simply order new radios after the camp is finished, and have them sent directly to the new licensees. It is one part of the equipment program that we can keep, even with Avery leaving the staff.

The used equipment program is another story. Getting back to what has been happening in the recent past, the development of personal computers and the Internet have impacted the way ham radio operators buy and sell equipment. As anyone who has tried to run a hamfest will tell you, Internet sites like eBay have taken a great deal of the used equipment trade out of the local hamfest arena. This, of course, is simply change resulting from new technologies. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has really diminished gift-in-kind donations of good, working ham gear to our equipment program. Now we have much less donated gear coming in, fewer volunteers who understand how to work on it, and fewer staff hours to acknowledge the donations, record and track them, and pair them with members who need the equipment. Furthermore, storage space for equipment is limited. The logistics of dealing with it are challenging, too. Well-meaning donors have left us sitting with old computer equipment or electronic equipment that presents a disposal problem and can actually cost us money. Others have offered us towers and beam antennas – all we have to do is to take them down, which, of course we don’t have the staff to do. Members have sold borrowed equipment and then asked for more. Others want equipment to be shipped to them but have no money to pay for shipping, no way to install the equipment themselves, and no antenna system. Some try to “order” specific gear, as if they are ordering from a retailer with a huge stock of radios. They get upset when they find out that we don’t have exactly what they want – for free! A small number of members call day after day, asking about equipment, keeping Avery on the phone answering their same questions over and over. You can appreciate the patience Avery has to have to deal with all of this every day.

So you can see our dilemma. We have loaned equipment out there, and want to continue this service. On the plus side, if you already have loaned gear, you can still keep it out on loan. Let me summarize what we will do for now:

1. The equipment currently on loan will stay on loan.

2. The new radio for new Technician licensees at Radio Camp part of the program will continue.

3. The Remote Base program will be continued and strengthened, allowing our members access to the TS-480 as a way to get on HF. We hope to add a second, higher-power TS-480 sometime in the coming year to help make up for the lack of loaner equipment.

4. We will continue to accept donations of used ham gear, but we are still trying to figure out how to handle this, including the storage and assessment.

5. While we restructure the program, we will not make any new loans of used gear.

6. Since we do not have the staff to maintain cataloging, packing, and shipping of used equipment, nor will we have time to answer phone questions about loaned equipment, we will instead provide the used equipment to our campers at Radio Camp if it is available.

7. We will not have the facilities to repair any equipment. If you have loaned gear and it breaks, you can send it to a commercial repair service at your own expense or else contact us for instructions on how to dispose of it.

8. Updates to this information will be on the Handiham website.

Thankfully, Avery will continue with us as a volunteer and will be able to help with the changes to the equipment program and with other activities like helping our members work with the FCC on renewals and address changes. The equipment loan program can live on in a changed form, as described above, but times have changed and we must change, too.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Handiham World for 05 August 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Avery's QTH: My volunteer roots

Avery in the ham shack

Welcome once again to my humble QTH:

This is going to be somewhat difficult for me, and I am not quite sure where to start, so I guess I will just start at the beginning. As a very famous baseball player, Yogi Berra, once said when asked how he comes up with all those one liners, "I just say what comes out of my mouth", and so this will be just what I type.

Many years ago when Bruce, K0HR, was Handiham Manager, he set up a Field Day on the back lawn of Courage Center. It was just outside what was then the Handiham radio room. Well, I arrived right after my work day was over and was talking to Bruce. Then he mentioned that the kid in the wheelchair operating the Novice station rig was having trouble making contacts and could I help him. (Remember that in those days a Novice could only work CW on HF bands)

OK! So he had permission from his parents to stay a couple hours and take part in the Field Day at Handihams. I went over and sat down in a chair next to him and listened a while as he attempted to make some contacts. I noticed right away several stations responding to his CQ but he was not able to notice his own call being sent. I told him stations were answering his CQ and I would copy for him and he would send. As they sent, I would write down the letter and say it and then I would tell him to listen 3 down for this pitch or whatever the case was. After a few contacts he seemed to catch on, so I told him to try it himself.

Well, that did it and a few more contacts and he was glued to the rig logging one contact after another. The only break he took was to go in and call his folks to get permission to stay all night and continue operating the Novice Station. As I remember, it was a little cool that night and Courage Center located a couple blankets in which he wrapped himself and covered all but his keying and writing hands. I was hooked and I became a Handiham volunteer right after that.

I was net control for two of the larger repeater organizations in the Twin City area, and when it was my turn to do the net I would hop into my car and drive over to the radio room at Handihams and do the net from there. Of course that was great PR for Handihams. I was one of very few volunteer people to have permission to use the radio room 24/7. Sometime, years later I did a CW up-grade net from that same radio room every Thursday evening for two hours. I started at zero for people who needed to learn the code and going up to 5, 13, and 20 words per minute so each license class was covered.

Don't tell anyone, but I was cheating. The 5 word practice was really 7 and the 13 word was really 15 and the 20 was really 24. I planned for when they went to take the code test that someone might drop a pencil on the floor, sneeze, rustle some paper, or cause some other distraction, and the little extra speed would give them a buffer so they would still get through the code test with a passing score.

Also, one evening, long before all this digital stuff, we decided to do a marathon net and went quite late into the evening with an amazing number of 303 stations checking in. We had 3 operators taking turns, one logging for the other two. The information was sent in to the Guinness Book of Records and we received a very nice letter with their letterhead saying that although it was a record, they did not have a category for it so it would not be included.

As some of you are aware Jerry, N0VOE, left the staff of Handihams to retire but is still a Handiham volunteer, and my hours were changed to just Monday & Wednesday, the reason being the economy and some of the programs being affected by it.

Well, now it is my turn to retire from Handihams, due to this same economic problem. Our budget is shrinking. Like Jerry, I will be around as a volunteer like I was for so many years before I became a staff member.

This will also affect some of the programs. I was taking care of the equipment loan program. I won't be there to do that anymore so there goes that program. Hopefully the remote base will help make up for it though. Some other things I did will not get done either, since it will just be Pat and Nancy on the staff and they will have to devote their time to other matters.

I plan to be with the Handiham staff until late September, and after that I will return to volunteer status.

So, it is with mixed emotions that I say,

73 es DX de K0HLA Avery

You can reach Avery Mondays and Wednesdays, preferably in the morning hours, at 763-520-0515 or by email at

Thank you, Avery. We will keep our readers and listeners posted on all headquarters news.