Visited: Central Coast Amateur Radio Club (CCARC) Wyong Field Day (24 Feb 2019)

Buzz … buzz … buzz.

It’s 4am on a Sunday and my wristband alarm goes off. On any other week, that would be rather abnormal and I’d plop right back to sleep. But today, instead, I leapt out of bed because it’s the day of the CCARC Wyong Field Day. Time to cook my breakfast then and get on my way …

On the Road

By 5:15am, I had all my morning chores sorted and I was “on the road”, quite literally.

It’s rare that I’m ever out this early in the morning, especially on a Sunday, but it’s quite a tranquil experience. The air is still, cool and humid and there is near silence everywhere. Scarcely a car about. It was so quiet that I ended up walking on the road and there was not a car tailing behind.

It felt surreal. It was the first time I didn’t really have to look when crossing the road (although I did out of habit and for my own safety) and the first time that the air smelt … clean?

Along my way to the station, I came across the cycleway that I’ve walked probably a hundred times. Instead, it is pitch black, with no lighting whatsoever. I boldly step forward into the darkness, armed with only a smartphone for a torch.

Thankfully, the only dangers that lurked were the occasional leech crossing the footpath (as the cycleway follows a creek) and a bat flying overhead. Nothing too concerning …

At Quakers Hill station and the station is empty. A train just left not more than 10 minutes ago, but people are starting to rustle from their sleep as soon, other humans are seen on the platform. But all of them, like me, seem somewhat like zombies. It’s just that early in the morning …

I hop onto a train, a T5 Leppington line service, the only one available and change at Seven Hills. The sky begins to brighten and the colour changes nicely. The contrast between the crisp LED retrofit lights on the platform and the older sodium lamps in the carpark make for a nice shot. Unfortunately, coming from my phone camera, it really doesn’t do it justice. Our eyes are just so much more sensitive.

From there, I had to change again at Strathfield for a Wyong service. It was then that I remembered my journey to the CCARC field day ten years ago – my first trip thanks to the BlueSAT team telling me all about the “hamfest”. Gosh. Doesn’t time fly. I’ve always meant to come back every year … but I’ve always missed it for some reason or another.

But I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the same as it was before. I remember it being a pretty interesting event with a lot of activity – one that claimed to be the biggest and longest running in the Southern Hemisphere. I somehow expected the pilgrimage to be one that almost all hams would make. I expected the train to be packed.

Instead, I boarded the train at Strathfield – the second stop on its run, and I grabbed a seat upstairs. There were plenty of empty seats. I was scratching my head thinking “did I get up on the wrong day?” But no, it was the right day …

Being on the train reminded me of the good scenery that one can see along the way, along the winding tracks that go through the Hawkesbury River region. The weather also did us some favours with only light drizzles for the most part and no scorching sun. I was rewarded by a glimpse of crepuscular rays from the sky.

Also good to see some of the old infrastructure still “hanging” around. The journey was long – around three-and-a-half hours one way, but I’ve just about made it …

… and thanks to the bright sunshine, I’m awake!

That’s the shiny Oscar series train that I sat on.

At the Racecourse

From the station, it’s a short walk to the racecourse. A bus is arranged for some of the more senior fellows who can’t otherwise make it there on foot. But when I arrived, I was heartened to see this …

… a queue! That was more what I was expecting. But unfortunately, I’m stuck in the queue and it’s almost 9am. If you’ve been to the field day before, you know that “the early bird catches the worm” – with all the second hand/ex-liquidation gear that is sold at the boot sales, the good stuff would be gone if you’re just a few minutes too late.

At least, while queueing, I was able to see this ute that’s obviously driven by a serious HF enthusiast. That’s a mechanically tuned Codan HF antenna – the one that’s recognised to be “Aussie-bush tough” and the gear chosen by the serious guys. In fact, you’d probably find almost 10% of the cars in the parking lot have some Codan gear fitted.

I love the CCARC slogan “Ham radio is a contact sport!” So true.

The entry was AU$15 which goes towards the club and repeater maintenance, and in return, you get a “lucky” wristband that gives you an entry into the door prize. Needless to say, I didn’t win it …

For the First Timers

So, if you’ve never been to a field day event, you might wonder what the fuss is all about. Well, I’ll tell you – it’s all about the car boot sales. This is an area where the most prolific of hoarders, liquidators, garage-cleanups and surplus gear gets thrown out onto tables in the hope of finding a buyer. The event hosts quite a few such “boot sales” but also has a pavilion where some other vendors sell new gear and quality second-hand test equipment amongst other things.

Owing to the nature of the sales, it’s very much a first-come first-served basis, so the good stuff really does go quickly, especially if it’s priced sensibly. As each vendor is free to price however they wish, there are a few who might be a little greedy on their pricing and thus “hang onto” their stock, whereas others are flying off the bench thanks to impulse buys. I must admit – I’m guilty of this having overspent on my budget slightly.

Of course, being a person-to-person transaction, there is some space for haggling although it pays to be reasonable about it. A few dollars off this and that or throwing in something for free can be considered a perk of this kind of trade, but other times it just pays to “think about it” while you circle around and run down the clock. Towards the end of the day, if it’s still there, some sellers may give it to you for a steep discount so they don’t have to take it home! But you’d be betting there isn’t anyone who wants it more than you do! Also, don’t forget to bring cash – no EFTPOS here … although it would be good to make sure you have some change as well, since that can be an issue as well.

Even if you’re not in the market to buy some old gear, parts or accessories, rummaging through the parts bins can be a trip down memory lane (or a trip to the museum for others). Very often you will find old surplus items which may have been handed around for many years – vintage bakelite plastic switches, teletype cables, porcelain insulators, tubes, valves, etc. At the least, you’ll get to learn a thing or two about the older electronics.

Just perhaps resist buying more than you can carry … or need. Very often, things are being sold on an “as is” basis, so don’t expect any support. Hams, being tech savvy people by their nature, are pretty good at repairs so if you’re a novice and you spot something going for cheap, there’s probably a good reason for it.

While it may be considered a “hamfest”, it’s actually more than that. You can often find things you didn’t expect to see – for example, how about this whole Cisco Systems Catalyst 4000-series switch stack? I managed to come across collections of HD-DVDs, boat propellers, fishing reels, auto fuses, a VHS-C camcorder, binoculars, hard drives, broken laptops, set-top boxes and other items.

Other times you can stumble across some very well preserved “boat anchors” (I mean, vintage test equipment and radios). The above is a Wheatstone bridge which appears to have still been in use as recently as 1997.

But more than that, it’s a chance to talk to some like-minded people who have similar interests and make some new friends. I was very fortunate to have met with a person who had stumbled across my blog in the past and we spent quite a lot of time having a good chat about many different topics.

I was hoping to see more young people getting into Amateur radio, but judging from the turn-out today, it seemed there were only a few who were “tagging along” with their parents. I suspect maybe the hobby just doesn’t quite appeal to the younger demographic, but somehow I hope that this would change in the future. After all, having an “engineering” mindset of wanting to understand how things work, how to design and repair them are skills which can come in very useful throughout a lifetime. Maybe we need to make this more “cool” …

In case you’re wondering what the floor plain (sic) looks like – it’s shown above in the handout above.

The Haul

A common question is – “what did you end up getting?” Well, I ended up spending about $250 all up including entry and I managed to get the following:

A Netgear GS724T V3.0 ProSafe 24-Port GbE Smart Switch, six complete Dick Smith kits and four Jaycar kits.

A “clone” of the Moxa NPort 5110 Serial Server, a stack of 9V relays, logic-level N-Channel MOSFETs, some inductors, capacitors, a USB-C lead, a set of BNC attenuators, two USB chargers (one quick-charge capable) and two 9V AC 1A adapters (the same I purchased from the hamfest ten years ago!).

Four ATEN USB to Serial adapters, a Conner CP-3040 42MB SCSI hard drive (probably dead, from a Macintosh SE), a 486DX-33 CPU (added to the CPU Corner), four Huber & Sunher SMA-to-SMA leads, a tri-tech Bosch PIR detector, a 135mm 24VDC blower fan and a National Instruments GPIB-PCII/IIA ISA card.

Finally, a stack of different expansion cards including a UMC Super-IO card, Tseng Labs ET4000 VESA VGA graphics card, a 3Com EtherLink III 10Mbit/s ISA Ethernet card, a Promise SuperIDE ISA controller, a DAQ card and two unknown Eurocards with some EPROMs on them.

Can’t say I expected to leave the event with this load of stuff and can’t say that I really needed it, but I definitely wanted it when I saw it! I don’t think I did too badly at all.

Conclusion

It’s been a great day at the CCARC Wyong Field Day. I managed to grab a whole heap of random bits which I’ll enjoy looking into, including a number of rather nostalgic Dick Smith kits and I managed to make friends with someone out of pure coincidence. I might have spent a little more than I expected to, but I think I still got good value for money overall, so I’m happy with that.

I hope to be there again next year and I hope to see you all there too (including those who might have missed it or weren’t aware of it before).

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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