Camp Horseshoe Operated as K2BSA/3 During 2019 Summer Camp
By Walt Beattie, AA3WB
Horseshoe Scout Reservation is located along the Mason-Dixon line separating Pennsylvania and Maryland. The name of the Reservation is derived from the Octoraro Creek (Lenni Lenape for muddy river), a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which makes a meandering 4-mile horseshoe through the property. The months of June, July and August are all about the quality summer camp program! Camp Horseshoe (Rising Sun, Maryland), hosts seven weeks of Scout camp.
I loved going to Camp Horseshoe as a scout leader when my son was in scouting. Each year, Troop 127, Kennilworth would make the pilgrimage to camp for a week. The camp is steeped in traditions and history. Camp Horseshoe was always a high point of my scouting summer. After 20 years since my son was in scouting, I finally got back to camp.
In the spring of 2018, I contacted Mr. Jake Segal, Scout Executive, Chester County Council, for the camp. I explained that I would like to set up a portable ham radio station one day each week at Camp Horseshoe. Jake explained there was a group of retired hams many years ago who came to the camp and set up a station and did Radio Merit Badge. As time progressed, the program dwindled as these gentlemen moved on. We agreed to give it a try and see how a new ham station was received.
The radio station needed to be in a central location and in the open to attract boys and leaders. We set up on the porch at Headquarters. I had a power outlet nearby, a picnic table, and shelter in the event of rain. And rain it did. 2018 was a wet year in our region. We also needed to mesh with the camp schedule. Monday is a hectic day at camp with the boys finding their way around camp and settling in with their merit badge classes. Monday is also the emergency drill day when the camp sirens blare and scouts head to hard cover. Monday was definitely not a convenient day to set up. Thursday was troop day when each troop hung close to their own campsite, set their own schedule and did their own training and camp projects. Tuesday seemed to work out best for both the camp and me. Wednesday was my fallback day in the event I could not visit on Tuesday. One week I set up the station on Friday and learned that Friday is a very hectic day at camp. Boys are ending their merit badge week and many are chasing counselors to deliver last minute requirements needed to earn their badges. Friday evening had camp-wide games, and games superseded ham radio in most boys’ minds.
We operated with my personal equipment which included hand held radios and an Icom 706 MkII, auto tuner, and a power supply. Off grid power was from a home made ammo box battery pack. The battery pack held four 7 amp sealed glass mat batteries. Anderson power poles, USB chargers, and a momentary switch activated volt meter are installed in the top of the case. The battery was used in the evening when the radios were relocated to the grass between HQ and the trading post for the evening STEM special interest program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
The antenna used at the beginning of 2018 was a G5RV Jr. placed about 40 ft. into a tree in an inverted Vee. This was replaced with a full size 40 meter dipole after the third week. This antenna seemed to work better than the G5RV Jr., however, that may have been propagation related. The 40 meter dipole is the current antenna used in 2019.
After the 2018 camp season, I learned more about K2BSA and became a member. Shortly prior to summer camp, I read about using the K2BSA call sign during scout events and thought that would be fun for the boys (and me, too). The procedure is very straight forward and easy to apply. Initially, I made the dates of camp inclusive of the entire summer. This is not what I really intended, and after a quick clarification email to Jim Wilson, K5ND we got the intent of the request straightened out. Jim was very understanding, and the request was granted. [You can find the application to use the K2BSA call sign at https://k2bsa.net/call-sign-use/]
2019 is the second year that I set up an amateur radio station. The first week, Camp Horseshoe went on the air with my personal call, AA3WB. From week 2 onward, we were K2BSA/3. Being able to use the K2BSA/3 call from camp was great. I can’t tell you how many operators know the K2BSA call sign and the warm welcome we received when they recognized the call sign.
SETTING UP IN CAMP
The routine at camp has evolved over time. The first couple weeks in 2018 were introductory. The camp counselors and I got to know each other and learn each others routine. By the second year, the ham station was integrated into the Tuesday routine. I am honored that the staff accepted me into their camp.
For me, a typical day visiting camp starts with a two hour trek with a stop at a local gas station to pick up a sandwich for the day and arriving by 1000 hours. The first day of the first week of camp begins with soliciting help to launch the antenna. A helpful scout is typically available to pump up the antenna launcher with a bicycle pump. Then a couple helpful leaders camped out at HQ stop any pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the line of fire of the antenna launcher. After a pulley and lanyard are pulled up into the tree, the antenna is hoisted into place. The pulley and lanyard will stay up for the summer and be brought down the last week of camp. The antenna is lowered after each day. Subsequent weeks takes a quick setup to have the antenna up in the air. Cones are placed between the base of the tree and the porch to identify the coax as a trip haza
The picnic table at the end of the porch is used for the station. A power outlet is located at the corner of the porch. The Icom 706 MkII, power supply, and tuner are set up. Beginning in 2019, Camp Horseshoe went digital with PSK, RTTY, and FT modes. A laptop computer and tablet were also used to access DXMaps, QRZ.com, satellite tracking, and lightning tracking for those stormy days.
INTERACTION WITH THE LEADERS AT HQ
The porch of HQ is a great place to set up the station. There is a lot of foot traffic going by. There are several leaders who hang out in HQ during merit badge session times. Some are working remotely while at camp while others are looking for the air conditioning. Either way, the ham station draws attention and those not familiar with the station from the prior year are eager to learn about what is going on. Most leaders have a couple boys in mind that they want to send up to talk with me and visit the station.
While talking with the leaders, I explain why I am there, about the station, the equipment, and especially the antenna. The antenna was a focal point. If people don’t initially see it up in the air, the cones draw their visual attention to the coax and most people’s eyes follow the coax up the tree to the antenna. The antenna is a great conversation starter and I explain that I am there to help the scouts with Radio Merit Badge and to introduce amateur radio to them.
INTERACTION WITH THE SCOUTS
Any boy coming around and willing to listen to my talk about the radio station gets a blue card and Radio Merit Badge requirement 7 – “Visit a radio installation…” Those who stick around to get on the air and have an on-air conversation complete requirement 9.a.6. I keep a stack of blue cards on the table to fill out to document the scout’s completion.
I found some scouts were excited about the ham station and thought it was pretty cool. Many wanted to know about the antenna, and how the station works. The majority of the scouts coming by were not familiar with amateur radio. Some circled the area watching, trying to figure out what was going on, while not wanting to come too close. I tried to interact with them and draw them closer so they could see what was going on. Other scouts were sent up to HQ by their leaders who knew they would be interested in learning about amateur radio. These scouts typically were prepped and were enthusiastic to learn about the radio station.
Some scouts were interested in the scientific aspect of the station. Others thought the aspect of speaking with someone far away was really fun. A few thought that sending in digital modes was really interesting. No matter the mode, making contacts with people far away was a really big thing.
There were two extremely introverted youth in particular that come to mind from the boys I met at camp. Each of these boys were extremely introverted and came to the ham station with a troop leader for support. In each case, the scenario was similar. At first they did not want to speak to anyone over the air as they were too shy. I told them they only needed to say hello, and tell their name, and they agreed. One particular evening one of the boys was watching what was going on. I had a very receptive and enthusiastic ham on the other end on 40 meters and this fellow stayed on the air for over an hour speaking with one boy after another. After all the other boys had their turn, I convinced my shy friend to say hello. He gave his name, troop number, and the town in which he lived. When asked what was his favorite camp activity, he gave a quick, short answer. When asked for some elaboration as to what he liked best about the activity, he began to loosen up. After achieving a comfort level with the idea of speaking into the mic, he was on a roll! He carried on a conversation for half an hour before we ended the QSO. He is now hooked on ham radio and wants to get his license.
Another boy came up to to the station with his Dad. He had visited me in 2018 and wanted to get on the air again. He made a voice contact with a fellow in California who was connected by internet to a remote station in FL. That took some explaining on my part, and the boy thought that was so cool that hams could use the internet to connect to a radio and antenna in another location. The scout turned to his Dad and asked if they could get their license together. I think they may because his father spoke to me last year, and then again this year on how to pursue becoming a ham. By the way, that ham in California sent me a QSL card to forward on to the youth.
During 2019, several scouts completed the requirements of Radio merit badge. Two came to me with partials they needed finished up, and we got them on the air, and completed their requirements. A few scouts contacted me prior to their week at summer camp and made arrangements to meet while I was at camp.
Several boys expressed interest in obtaining their ham license. They were given information on the test and ARRL resources. YouTube resources were explained and where they could get additional help. The contact information for a local amateur radio club in their area was provided in hopes they might find a local Elmer (mentor).
HELPING WITH OTHER PROGRAMS
During 2019, some of the camp counselors utilized the ham station for their programs and merit badges. This brought many more boys into the radio station on the HQ porch. The talk was tailored to each topic.
Camp Horseshoe has an active STEM Special Interest program. Each evening after dinner, interested scouts meet to learn and experiment with interesting educational projects. On the day the ham station is up, STEM meets at the ham station. The station is moved from the HQ porch to a picnic table near the Trading Post. Operations are taken off-grid with battery power. There are usually several boys and adult leaders who meet to talk about radio and get on the air. We usually work on 40 meters and try to find some hams who are willing to speak with us. A couple evenings the scouts were interested in digital, so we operated on digital modes. The boys were excited to make contacts in Europe, and in Panama, Central America.
The Communications merit badge class stopped by and we talked about how radio has been used in communications. We started at early radio and talked about radio history and how information was broadcast to many people throughout the US and the world. We talk about the ability for people far away from each other to communicate. The scouts are reminded that their cell phones are really radios that communicate with cell towers using radio frequency.
In the Weather merit badge classes scouts learned about weather spotting, how the sun creates aurora on earth and how solar weather impacts earth. We talk about weather hazards and how amateur radio is used during severe weather events. Lightning is discussed as it impacts the Earth, creates static over the airwaves, and about antenna safety.
In the Emergency Preparation merit badge class we talked about how radio can be used to improve conditions and provide off-grid communications during an emergency. We talked about communications after a hurricane, tornadoes, and even how hams set up communications during the 911 attack at the World Trade Center.
In Astronomy merit badge, we talked about astronomy and radio. We talked about our sun, its solar cycle, how it impacts radio propagation. We talked about sun spots and coronal holes, how it creates aurora, raises the level of radiation at high altitudes and elevations, and how it impacts the earth during the daylight vs. darkness hours. We talked about earth’s stratosphere. We talked about radio signals from deep outer space, and how radio is used on Earth to communicate information with satellites in space and exploratory vehicles on the moon and Mars. And we talked about how ham radio operators can use space satellites, the international space station, and the moon to speak with people here on Earth using low power radios.
HELP ALONG THE WAY
The amateur radio program at Camp Horseshoe was a collaborative effort. Camp leadership and counselors took an interest in the program and they are the driving force in making the program successful. The staff talked about the station with the boys during merit badge classes and encouraged them to visit. Announcements were made in the dining hall about the station. STEM and merit badge classes helped exposure of the station.
The Scout leaders who walked by and visited during the day talked to their troops about the radio station. I am grateful for their efforts to expose their scouts to amateur radio. Many of the leaders accompanied their scouts back up to HQ to join in on the fun.
The ham radio operators we spoke with during our QSO’s really stepped up and welcomed us. The various CARS nets, the Maritime net, the RV/Campers nets, and many individual hams helped get the boys on the air. The nets are great to make a contact and sometimes a participant of the net will break away and meet us on another frequency to work the boys. Some of these folks held QSO’s for over an hour going from one scout to the next talking to each about their troop, hometown, hobbies, the weather, and what they liked best at camp.
When propagation was so bad that we couldn’t make clear contacts, the wonderful folks on the Chesapeake Bay Radio Association Rising Sun repeater stepped in to help us out. Rising Sun is surrounded by hills and the WA3SFJ repeater is the only repeater we can reach from camp. Their willingness to share their repeater and time with us is most appreciated.
During 2019, I was unable to be at camp for two weeks. Walt Skavinsky, KB3SBC rearranged his work schedule to set up and operate on those weeks. I am very grateful for his generosity.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE NEXT YEAR
After my first year at camp (2018) I prepared a letter to the scoutmasters. I explained about the amateur radio station, what it is, and how it relates to scouting and Radio merit badge. I gave my contact information for the boys to email me and set up a time to pass their Radio merit badge. This allowed the interested scouts to prepare for the counselor meeting prior to summer camp. This was an effective way to alert the Scout leaders of the ham radio station and in turn prepare interested scouts. Internet links were included for requirements to complete the Radio merit badge.
CAMP HORSESHOE GAINS A HAM STATION
One week this year (2019), a gentleman approached me to talk about the ham station and asked how much equipment the camp had. When he learned there was not a BSA station, he explained he was not a ham, but had a car full of ham radio equipment from a friend who passed. His friend’s wife did not know what to do with the equipment. After passing him off to the camp folks, I learned he had 5 boxes of ham radio gear, including a couple “large” radios and at least 4 HT’s in the first box they opened. The camp is now in possession of several HT’s, VHF/UHF mobile radios, some old Hallicrafters equipment, and a very nice ICOM IC-756 Pro II base station. The IC-756 Pro II radio was put on the air for a few days while I was at camp.
The council executives are very receptive to starting their own ham station. A locking rolling cabinet is being obtained in which to keep the radio equipment at Headquarters. Prior to next summer, we will be installing an 80 meter dipole antenna in the trees near and over the Headquarters building. This will allow for a quick setup. Permission was granted to install an enclosed antenna switch on the outside of the building. A coax will be run into the building. The other leg will be available to connect a coax for use outside of the building or on the front porch.
A grant was obtained from Education Alliance for Amateur Radio (www.radiostemalliance.org) for coax, 450 ohm ladder line, an antenna analyzer to verify the integrity of the antenna before use, rope, pulleys, and other needed equipment to build the antenna. Three scouts who are studying for their amateur licenses will be working with Walt Skavinsky, KB3SBC, and me to build themselves a 1:1 balun plus one for the camp antenna. In the spring, we will be going to camp to erect the antenna to be ready for next summer.
LOOKING FORWARD TO 2020
Summer camp in 2020 will be an exciting year. We plan to have the camp ham station and a permanent antenna. As the program has become better known to the leaders and scouts, many of the boys from the prior years are beginning to stop back to say hello and try to get on the air. We are hoping that even more boys will complete the Radio Merit Badge.
I plan to create a loose leaf binder of photos and diagrams that will help explain concepts of radio propagation and amateur radio. It will be a way to help draw scouts in with better visuals to go along with explanations.
Summer camp may be extended to include girls at Camp Ware which is an adjacent camp to Camp Horseshoe. Based upon what the Council decides, the program may need to include both programs.
I am also hoping to add satellite radio to the program. When the boys hear that they can talk with an HT through the satellites, they are excited. Many of the camp counselors are interested in satellite communications. In hopes of introducing this aspect of ham radio, I joined AMSAT to learn more. I am scouring the local hamfests for an Arrow hand held satellite antenna that I can take with me to use at camp.
I have recently expanded into digital DMR radio and plan to introduce DMR into the program in 2020.
Another goal is to bring other hams into the program. For the program to grow, there needs to be more involvement from hams.
Walt Skavinsky, KB3SBC, has also offered the use of his Korean and Vietnam war era S144 communications shelter which was part of the GRC46 radio teletype setup and was originally mounted on the M-37 series 3/4 ton truck. We think the scouts may be interested in seeing the unit and possibly operating from it.
Summer camp at Camp Horseshoe was a great year. The amateur radio station program continues to grow each year. Interest from the boys is increasing as they learn the station is up and they can come around and possibly get on the air. It is a rewarding experience to be able to be a part of the Camp Horseshoe summer camp program.
We are most grateful to K2BSA for allowing us to use K2BSA/3 call sign, and hope to be supported in its use again next year. K2BSA is a trademark call, and improves the number and quality of QSO’s by virtue of its notoriety. If you hear us on the air next summer, please give us a shout!