W3SO is primarily a VHF contest station located 100 miles east of Pittsburgh in grid FN00sn, ARRL WPA Section. It is on top of Wopsononock Mountain near Altoona, Blair County, PA, in the Allegheny Mountains, at elevation 2500 feet.
The picture shows the W3SO operators for the September 2006 ARRL VHF contest. Bottom from left to right: W3IDT, W3YOZ, AI3M's daughter, W2GPS, K3RUQ; top L-R, AI3M, K4VV, K8JW and W3BTX.
Begining in 1996 with a portable operation using three push up towers, two tents and the owners call W3YOZ, PVRC operators found the site to be a good one for VHF communications. The group subsequently found the site to be good for ARRL Sweepstakes, 160m contests, Field Day, and the PA QSO party. The Wopsononock Mountaintop Operators got their own call, W3SO, in May 2000.
Two buildings house four VHF, several HF positions, and the following VHF/UHF repeaters: W3QW 146.82 (-) PL 123 2m FM repeater, W3VO 444.600(+) PL 123 UHF FM repeater, W3VO-1 144.93 APRS digipeater and W3VO-2 local packet digipeater on 145.01.
W3SO is a Limited Multiop station on VHF/UHF bands 50, 144, 222, 432 MHz. (QRGs of 50.160, 144.220, 222.115, and 432.115 MHz.). Computers are networked for passing. We currently use 486 computers with the CT logging program. Antennas are a seven element C3i beam on 6m at 95 feet, stacked five element 6m C3i beams at 72 and 90 feet, stacked 15 element C3i beams on 144 MHz at 82 and 95 feet, a Force-12 17 element 2m beam at 75 feet, a 22 element C3i beam on 222 MHz at 105 feet, and a 25 element C3i beam on 432 MHz at 93 feet. During contests we use the 2m repeater Station Master vertical at 100 feet.
W3SO participates in the January, June and September ARRL VHF contests, the July CQ World Wide VHF Contest, and in the spring and fall 50, 144, 222, and 432 MHz sprints.
Although the first two or three years were made possible by KA3EJJ and KC3EK who were experienced VHFers and who provided temporary towers, loaned rotors and antennas, the actual permanent station construction was done by HF contesters new to VHF who viewed operating just four VHF bands as being possible, but no more. Being in the Limited MultiOp category is like being a triple A league baseball team, where the MultiOp stations are major league.
If there is anything remarkable about this station it is that it was put together by hams entirely in their 60s. We do all of our own tower climbing, tower assembly, guy manufacturing, guying, rotor and mast mounting, antenna and feedline installation. Only the concrete work was done by others. There are eight towers so far, a rate of almost one a year.
Being in a rare grid is a distinct advantage. Being in this one, FN00, means you have to go a grid and a half before you can work anyone. Pittsburgh, EN90, at 100 miles is the closest major populated area.
Everyone brings a different piece of gear. The first station bought equipment were the DCI filters. We share this mountaintop with eighteen commercial towers ranging from 150 to 400 feet in height. They support antennas for three TV stations, a couple FM, fire, police, taxicab, state emergency, etc. Only in the first year did we have a problem, on 222, with a paging system which was discontinued.
Three pushup towers were followed by the first guyed tower and a 100 foot crankup, followed by a second guyed tower with 6m and 222, tower #1 with 2m and 432 antennas. Several of these antennas were "housewarming" gifts of K3CB, the K8GP sponsor.
It took until the third year to be able to do both the June and September events. January would come later. Rigs older than 25 years and 100 watt bricks were used. Only occasionally someone would bring a 222 setup. Scores were around 50K or lower. The contest usually provided the only time a ground crew was available for new antenna installation. Sometimes this didn't get done until well after the contest started. It took years before we ever topped the 70K score from the very first year. All of the LMR feedlines were replaced at the same time by 7/8 inch hardline. The scores doubled putting us over 100K for the first time. We finally got in a top ten box at tenth place.
The third tower is unfinished at 100 feet, currently used for the four repeaters. With completion af the fourth tower, 432, 2m and 6m were now independent. The first ice storm destroyed the 2m and original 432 antennas on tower #1 and bent the 6m on tower #2, causing us to miss that January. The 6m was repaired and moved to a new tower #5, and a new 2m antenna placed on tower #2. When we got the septic drain field dug the backhoe operator mistakenly swung around and mercifully destroyed tower #1, enabling us to use his insurance money to get a crane to take it down and replace it with a brand new 105 foot tower with an independent 222 antenna. Now, all four bands were independent. The second ice storm broke the 2m antenna just weeks before a January contest. Two subfreezing climbs to take down and put up a new one saved that January.
The original loaner rotors were always breaking or freezing up in January. They were replaced by Pro-Sis-Tel rotors. Bricks were replaced by KW amps. Preamps were added for each band. The first stacked array was for 6m fixed to the northeast, the second, a rotatable pair for 2m on a new tower #6. Incrementally, these station improvements led to 3rd, 2nd and finally a 1st place finish.
Also see W3OSO, W3YOZ biographies.
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