Monday, 6 November 2017

An Old Friend Found

Several years ago, like many other hams, I was stricken with 'Tuna Tin fever' and purchased a Tuna Tin II kit from the Norcal QRP group.

Escaping the summer heat a few months later, I put it together over one weekend in July. As it turned out, it was probably the best $13 I ever spent on my hobby.

I fired it up the next morning and put out my first 250mW 'CQ' on the 7040 KHz 40m QRP calling frequency. Back then, 7040 was ground-zero for forty meter QRP fanatics and there always seemed to be folks monitoring while working at the bench on their latest project. Given the time of day and the mid-summer propagation, I really didn't have high hopes but I was immediately answered by KJ7AN in Dallas, Oregon who gave me a 579 report!

Over the next three days I worked several more stations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and even California. I was truly delighted with the little rig's performance but assumed that my pint-sized signal would probably not go much farther than the nearby western states and maybe, if I was very lucky, a few more Californians.

All that changed early on the morning of August 6th! About an hour after sunrise, my tentative hand-keyed 'CQ' was answered by Steve, NØTU in Colorado!! Steve had been enjoying his morning coffee while the quiet hiss of 7040 in the background was broken with my very weak 'CQ'. We had a good solid QSO and after it was over, I realized that the little Tin had a lot more potential than I had realized. It seemed to me that if my little signal could skip all the way to Colorado in August, then it should go a LOT further during the winter DX season ... perhaps far enough to work all fifty states? It was at that point that I decided to give it a try.

I re-pruned my 40m half-sloper as well as adding 35 buried radials and as the fall DX season approached, I watched 7040 every weekend ... the new states soon began piling up.

To shorten the story, in early December of that winter, I worked WG7Y in Wyoming for state #50 to claim the first-ever Tuna Tin 'Worked All States' ... all on 7040 KHz. Unfortunately the ARRL does not have any special endorsements for Tuna Tins but they did stamp my 'WAS' certificate with a 'QRP' notation!

At some point in the intervening years, the little Tin's final amplifier, the ubiquitous 2N2222, went south. As I removed and examined the tiny old battle-scarred soldier, I remembered so many hours of late-night pleasure it had brought me, along with some memorable sessions ... one being a snowy late Friday night opening to the east coast that put the last three needed New England states into my log in less than thirty-minutes.

I carefully placed the little transistor in a piece of anti-static foam, not that it needed protection, but as a keepsake and a reminder of its noble past. Possibly I would mount it on a nice hardwood base in the future.

Earlier this year I noticed, when cleaning the shack, that the little black keepsake could not be located ... I figured that it must have got sucked-up in the shop-vac during one of my rare shop clean-up days.

I always empty the shop-vac, which consists mostly of fine sawdust or wood shavings, onto my large pile of lawn-mower clippings, which seems to stay about three-feet high no matter how much I keep adding.

Emptying the grass catcher last week, during the final mowing of the season, a small black object sticking out from mid-pile caught my eye. It was indeed my old friend and, after reaching out to 50 states, she still had enough left for one last call to me! I'll take much better care of her now and keep her in a safe place, away from the nasty shop-vac.

I eventually went on to build a 20m Tuna Tin, also crystal-controlled on which, at last check, had brought 46 states and a DXCC total of 21 countries. This inspired a 'mini-tuna', built into a small cat-food tin and using just a barebones 2N2222 crystal oscillator. This one has brought 33 states over the years.

I have more Tuna Tin info, along with circuit information on my main web site here ... but be warned -- 'Tuna Tin fever' can strike anywhere at anytime.


Will B said...

Hi Steve,

I'm still on my original little plastic transistor on my Pixie 2, but wow does it get hot -- even on a decently-matched load. I don't have any purpose-made heat sinks for those types of transistors but I think I'll look around on the 'net or pound something out of copper to help cool it off. Right now it has a broken-off piece of telescoping antenna as a heat-sink. Cheesie all the way, I guess. ;-)

73 and God bless!

Will B

Steve McDonald said...

I've found the Tuna Tin PA to be ice-cold with a good match so not sure why the one in your PA is hot. If you have any copper wire that you can wrap around it that would work as well...ugly but what the heck :-)

Brian KB9BVN said...

Steve - Oh those were indeed heady days of the Tuna Tin rebirth. I was lucky enough to actually use the original W1FB Tuna Tin from the Ramada Inn at FDIM in 2000 or 2001, Ed Hare W1RFI loaned it to the Flying Pigs QRP Club. I am pretty sure we had a QSO when you were on your WAS crusade on 40m, I might have been an Indiana contact. Thanks for the blog certainly brings back some great memories. KB9BVN

Steve McDonald said...

Hello is so good to hear from you! Yes indeed, you were state #48 for me with the TT...Dec 1st 2000 at 1009Z which was 0209 here in the wee hours. There were a lot of TT 'wee hours' come to think of it but I was younger then!

The three New England states were W1PID (NH), W1RFI (CT) and N1BQ (VT), all on Nov 11 between 1055-1114Z...what a morning to remember. I don't think Ed was using the original TT unfortunately. I think QRP CW has changed a lot in the past few years and doubt there is a LOT of folks monitoring the calling frequency any longer but I may be wrong?

Bill Meara said...

Great to read about your TT2 adventures. Lots of fun. Here is a collection of blog posts about my TT2 exploits. Note the MOJO transfer ceremony with W1REX and the ORIGINAL TT2. 73 to all Bill N2CQR

Steve McDonald said...

Tnx Bill ... will check it out. Would be nice to hear a few more of them on the air again...must be hundreds of them sitting on shelves!

Steve 73