A Brief History of my 55 years in Ham Radio.
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I've just celebrated my 55th year in ham radio. I passed my novice test in December of 1957 at age 11. My interest was sparked posthumously by my late father and grandfather, neither of whom I knew and neither of whom were hams.
My dad was an Army Air Corps radio operator during WWII and opened a radio repair shop in our little town when he got out of service. He died shortly thereafter, before my 1st birthday. He left behind an Hallicrafters S-38 radio. Tuning around with it and hearing stations from other countries certainly got my interest at somewhere around age 9 or so. My dad also left behind some boxes of miscellaneous radio parts, AAC manuals and a treasured pair of HS-33 headphones.
About the S38, I got one on eBay a couple of years ago. I recapped it as needed and aligned it. I had forgotten what a miserable radio it actually was. The image rejection is almost non-existant and it's not very stable above about 7 Megacycles and the dial calibration is a joke. Still I had some fun with it and eventually gave it to a teenage boy who expressed some interest.
My grandfather was a geek before geek meant what it does today. He was very handy with woodworking and electronics. He built little radios on wooden cheese boxes and fixed radios for neighbors and friends going back into the 1920s. Again he left behind boxes of old fascinating parts.
In the Summer of 1957, I discovered that our tiny library had a copy of the ARRL handbook..from 1944, but when I asked for it, it was checked out and overdue. The kindly librarian called the older boy who had it and he bicycled right down to the library to return it right then. He was in High School so I knew who he was, even though I was still in grade school, since everyone knew everyone else in a tiny Midwest town like the one I grew up in. I absorbed that handbook from one cover to the other. A lot of it was very "Greek" to me, but enough of it sunk in that I was hooked.
The librarian told me that her brother in the next town was a ham and would I like to meet him? Of course. He was disabled in the war and lived very modestly using all home built gear from salvaged radio and TV parts. He helped me study for the FCC license test and gave it to me a few months later.
I cannot ignore the help, encouragement and indulgence of my widowed mother who studied the code and license questions with me and who got her own novice license, although she did let it lapse when it expired.
The older boy who had the overdue ARRL handbook and I became good friends and now, some 50 years later are still good friends and he's still active on the air. Another slightly older boy also got his license at about the same time. We get together when we can and have a great time reliving some of the fun that we had together doing "ham stuff" like a field day when I got permission to tie one end of a long wire to the railing on a nearby grain elevator 160 feet up. We had a 250 foot long wire with an L-network and a 100 watt SSB/CW rig that could work anything we could hear on our Drake 2B receiver.
My first rig was a Heathkit DX-40 that I assembled while I waited for my license to come and the receiver was that S-38, eventually replaced with a used SX-99, a much better receiver.
As my high school years went by, I cajoled and salvaged and managed to eventually put together a pretty nice station for someone still in high school and without a regular job, I had a home brewed receiver made with parts from the Collins surplus store in Cedar Rapids, IA and a used Gonset GSB-100 100 watt SSB/CW/RTTY transmitter. I had salvaged tower sections after a tornado hit our town and bought a used TA-33jr beam that rode majestically over the house at 55 feet for several years. I was in absolute heaven.
When I went to college, I had various little rigs with me and used university club stations, but ham radio took a lower priority for the most part then. I also got into a little VHF with a Heathkit "Twoer" and later a borrowed Clegg 6 meter rig.
During the Summer after my junior year of college, I got a call from an older ham friend who was a retired farmer who spent a lot of his time running phone patches for various far-flung military and scientific bases, especially Antarctica. He told me that the Hospital Ship Hope was going to be sailing to Tunisia in a few weeks and they had not been able to get a ham radio operator to go along to run phone patches for the ship's personnel and would I be interested? At first I thought about the fact that I was scheduled to return for my senior year of Engineering school, but then thought about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that this represented. I did it and it turned out to be even more of an adventure than I expected. Being the ham radio operator on the hospital ship was an amazing experience. I learned a lot and saw a lot. The rig was superb, a Collins KWM-2 into a Henry 2K amplifier and a TA-33 up 125 feet above waterline. The guys in the states told me I was always the first station they could hear from that side of the "pond" when 15 meters opened up.
When I had been in Tunis for some time, a sailing yacht came into port. It was owned by the retired managing editor of Life Magazine and his wife. They knew one of the doctors on board from New York and while they were visiting with him, they asked if there was anyone on the ship who could repair their autopilot. I was able to rig a repair from some of the spare parts on the Hope and they asked if I'd like to sail with them on over to Barbados where they were headed to spend the Winter. It wasn't a tough decision so I went and took a Galaxy GT-550 transceiver with me and a triband vertical so we were still in touch with home on a daily basis. I lived on their sailboat for a few months and crossed the Atlantic under sail in a 56 foot boat. Not your everyday adventure for a Midwest country boy.
I never would have had the opportunity without ham radio.
When I got back from "Roger's Excellent Adventure", I finished college, got married and ham radio wasn't a big priority, especially living in a small apartment. Then children started to appear on the scene, and yes, I finally figured out what was causing that, but not until there were 5 of them. About that time I figured out that mobile operation made a lot more sense than operating from home, so I got active on 2 meters and 440 MHz and had a lot of fun with that. Eventually, a couple of sunspot maximums ago, I bought a Uniden 10 meter rig and had a blast on 10 meters, eventually tuning down into the CW band segment and discovering that I could still copy code fairly well in my head so I added a fastened down straight key in the car and started working mobile CW while still being active on VHF/UHF.
When the sunspot cycle faded, I got a couple of those little MFJ 4 watt QRP rigs for 20 and 30 meters and went all CW on HF mobile. I tried various antenna configurations and settled on a Hustler with the short 22" base section. It worked very well to the point where I was accused of lying about my setup and being mobile at that power level.
The years passed and the Internet came along. So did 10 grandkids. Since I still have a day job and also have an Internet business with a couple of partners, hosting some web sites as well as designing and maintaining some as well as operating one site that generates a steady ad revenue, operating time had shrunk. Mobile operation has mostly gone by the wayside, too, as I'm not making the longer trips like I did in years past for my job. Yes, the mobile rig was in the company car with no holes drilled.
I'm now using my new ICOM IC7200 with an LDG IT-100 automatic antenna tuner. My antenna is an inverted V, 70 feet on a leg with the center 30 feet up. I've gotten a bit more active over the past year or so and am now regularly attending the local ARRL affiliated club, the Sangamon Valley Radio Club and am the Vice President of the club. The new rig has encouraged me to get on the air more, too and I've got my "Centurion" award from SKCC, the Straight Key Century Club, for contacting 100 other members. I recently took first place in the Illinois QSO party in the QRP (very low power) category.
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