SIERA Field Day: It gets better every year |

SIERA Field Day: It gets better every year

Sue Cauhape
Sierra Intermountain Emergency Radio Association
New HAM Subrina Vinton tries out the mobile unit radio.
Courtesy |

The Sierra Intermountain Emergency Radio Association (SIERA) finished its best Field Day in its recent history last Sunday, accumulating 1,422 points during this national amateur radio contest.

Results will take a few months to confirm through the sponsoring American Radio Relay League (ARRL), but members of the club are proud that so much was improved upon past Field Days with this year’s event.

The goal of Field Day is to test a club’s ability to set up a remote radio station, using off-grid energy, and contact as many long-distance stations as possible in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and beyond.

Because of amateur radio’s ability to provide communications during large-scale emergencies, Field Day provides an annual opportunity for clubs and individuals to hone their skills outside the comfort of their home bases.

It’s a good way to learn how to deal with setbacks and operate under adverse situations. For SIERA, each year has taught many lessons.

The first year, 2013, the barbecue and radio tents set up at the Johnson Lane Volunter Fire Department nearly blew away in the afternoon zephyr.

In 2014, only a few HAMs showed up to operate HF radios during the day. This left one HAM, Jeff Cauhape, working alone through the night. The final tally came to a meager and rather ominous 666.

SIERA didn’t fare any better in 2015. Though many members gathered in Heritage Park to support the effort, the weather suddenly turned lethal as a thunderstorm forced them to shut down radios, lower antennas, and run for safety. Total points: 0.

Disaster struck again in 2016 when the beam antenna folded under its own weight and tumbled to the ground, nearly impaling beam crew members pulling the guy wires. SIERA didn’t crawl home, however. They brought in another antenna and sallied forth.

Cauhape, Bob Williams, J.D. Fowler, Tom Tabacco, and Greg Moore had put too much effort building new equipment just to quit over a collapsed antenna.

That particular Field Day bumped the club’s points to a whopping 990 when it activated three stations in its newly built mobile unit. Moore also introduced a computer system to log contacts on various frequencies.

2016 also attracted more people to gather around and chat. Founding members Bill and Caroll Massie manned a Get on the Air (GOTA) station for visitors.

Despite his failing health, Bill held court, telling stories of the early days of SIERA. He became so excited he planned to participate the following year. Sadly, he died a short time later.

All the improvements matured in 2017 when the radios functioned through the entire 24-hour period on a solar charge. A generator fitted with a propane kit powered the computers and the lights.

The information tent was always filled with people sharing stories and fielding questions from inquisitive visitors. There was even a man who rushed up seven minutes before closing time, saying he’d been a HAM for 25 years but never did Field Day.

SIERA members lifted him into the trailer and put a mic in his hand. He’d also never talked on HF and quickly acquired a deer-in-the-headlights aspect. There’s always something to learn in amateur radio, no matter how long a person has been a HAM.

What’s more important, though, is that so many HAMs volunteered their time preparing the mobile unit and antennas beforehand, setting up and breaking camp, and operating radios throughout the day and night.

Many of the HAMs put in a few hours at the radios, went home to rest then returned for several more hours searching for contacts. There was no down time on the radios.

A couple of them were newcomers to the hobby or Field Day itself. Participating in this event fired them up for more activity. Even when the laptops overheated, they pulled out paper and pens and continued turning the dials. And there were no disasters!

The general meeting to be held Saturday will be a post-mortem to discuss both of June’s two biggest events in SIERA’s calendar: the Pony Express Re-Ride and Field Day.

SIERA holds its regular meetings on the first Saturday of the month at 1 p.m. in the United Methodist Church on Centerville Road, Gardnerville. Anyone interested in amateur radio is welcome.

Information about SIERA is available on, and on Facebook: SIERA. A new video of the club’s recent history has been uploaded for viewer enjoyment.