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Running All The Counties
I started running counties during my senior year in high school in 1979 right after I stumbled across the county hunters net one afternoon. It sounded like a bunch of fun to try to put out a county mobile. I got my car set up and borrowed the high school's radio (a Kenwood TS-520 as I remember) and set out to go to Camas county Idaho which was 19 miles north of my folk's house. There were a few hams asking if I could put out that county for them.
Here is a picture of the exact spot where I transmitted from way back in March of 1979:
Shortly after that I joined the Air Force and was off to basic training. My first assignment was to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls Montana. I was assigned to a GATR (Ground to Air Radio Transmitter/Receiver site) which was located on a butte just north of Great Falls. I placed an order for a spiffy new mobile radio (Kenwood TS-120S) and on the weekends instead of sitting in the barracks, I would take my car and park it on the top of the butte and would work mobiles on 20 meters. The reason I parked on the hill was so that I could easily "roll start" the engine after I ran the battery ran down on the old Chevette with the mobile rig. This quickly bored me so I decided to start going mobile to different Montana counties during the summer and fall of 1980. I was surprised at how many people needed counties in Montana. Just as I was getting the hang of things I received orders and was transferred to England for a 3 year tour. I packed up all 3 suitcases full of my belongings and drove to my next departure point which was New Jersey. I shipped my car over to England. I remember putting out a few counties along the way but didn't have time to zig zag the county hunter way.
While I was in England I got the call sign G5EDN and operated mobile but the only stations I could hear and work were other EU stations - so no new counties were worked while I was stationed there. In 1984 along came my next assignment, I received orders to go to Alaska. SCORE!!!!!! But it was to a strange sounding place called Shemya AFB. I could not find it on the main part of Alaska near the fishing rivers where I had hoped to get assigned, after a closer search I found a place at the end of the Aleutian Islands called Shemya Island. Oh my, this was not the place I was hoping for!
I was told that there was a woman behind every tree on the island so that did not sound too bad until I got there and discovered that there were no trees on the island and thus very few women - 1,200 men and 25 women. I did find the site where I would be working was a HF/VHF/UHF site and had a pair of Collins KWM 2's in a side room for the MARS station. I was told I could go ahead and operate to my heart's content when it was not needed for military use. To my dismay when I powered them up there was only about 120 watts out of both radios with the amplifiers connected. Well since I was a radio tech and assigned to maintain all the radios on the island repairing these radios became my top priority. After about 3 days of hunting down parts and rebuilding and tuning both radios and amps I got one of them to put out 1,175 watts and the other to put out the full rated 1,200 watts - I was in business.
After a few days of listening on 20 meters and not hearing the county hunting nets I decided to try a little CQ'ing but about all I was able to work on any band were thousands of JA's - day or night. Shemya is 1,800 miles west of Anchorage and only about 800 miles from Japan. I concluded that I would have to wait for my next assignment if I was going to be working any county hunters. In 1985 I got orders for Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage and knew I was in business and would be able to work the nets again. Yes conditions were much better from the mainland of Alaska.
It was Feb 2001, after a trip to the First District and another trip to the Second District, that I decided to start putting out counties from rental cars. I had no plans of ever going to all of the counties but just wanted to have some fun sight-seeing and putting out counties as I traveled along. I would spend my winters when propagation is dead (which happens all too often in Alaska) planning and drawing up my routes for the next big adventure. I wanted to get as many counties under my belt in the limited time I had in the lower 48. As the county totals added up I saw it was indeed possible to transmit from all the counties, but it would take several years and lots of trips to be able to go to them all.
The last county I transmitted from was number 3077, Murray, OK.
Murray County is right in the middle of tornado alley, which I had avoided on all my other trips. I decided on a trip in July when the likelihood of tornados was minimal. I made it without seeing even one tornado--whew!
Over the past 9 years of traveling to all the counties I have met the nicest people in the small towns where I would end up for the night and I would see some of the coolest places that are not in the travel brochures. The best county that I ran was Kalawao, Hawaii. It is located in a park and it is very quiet and the eucalyptus trees put off a scent that totally fills the air; it is very relaxing there. The worst county to run was Arlington Virginia. I hit that county at 5 pm and learned about grid lock is the hard way.
I want to thank all the county hunters who rode along with me on the radio over the past several years for your company and encouragement. This was a dream achievement for me.
de Kent, KL1V
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