K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume II

First Field Day - (1958)

I’ve been to numerous Field Day activities in my long ham career but nothing compares to the first one in which I participated. The year was 1958 and I was a new General licensee and was quite excited about the possibility of winning the single station category. My friend, John Storie – K5JZV, was also a new General and we planned to clear the field.  Youth and enthusiasm was firmly on our side.

Our plans were to operate from my dad’s 367-acre farm that was about 10 miles north of Sand Springs (OK) where I lived. The site we chose was on an area where the small river bent around a nice piece of land that had lots of trees and a nice flat spot overlooking the river. We borrowed a gasoline-powered AC generator from Ike – W5IER who used the Civil Defense-supplied generator for his work in local emergencies.  John and I figured that if we only averaged one contact per minute over the complete time of the contest we would win. That certainly seemed like an easy possibility, especially to newcomers who had never participated in, or even been to a previous Field Day activity.

We set up a tent and used John’s equipment. I don’t remember now what the equipment was but since John always had a better rig than I did, it was the obvious choice. We thought that since my call was more distinctive (K5LAD) that it would be easier to use as a contest call. The fact was that I had passed the General class test before the FCC examiners more than a month before in Tulsa but I did not actually have the license document in hand. The FCC only came to Tulsa four times a year so you had to hit them when they were available. I even had a postcard, addressed to myself and provided to the examiner, which said that I had passed the test.  Now-a-days you can take your test before a volunteer examiner and have your license and new call posted on QRZ.COM in less than a week after passing the test. Back in the 50s, however, this was not the case. You were lucky if you received your license back in a minimum of 8 weeks, and it often took even longer. By providing a postcard, the FCC would check your test (usually several weeks later) and mark the proper box and sign on the line provided:

|  You have:    _____ passed                                                      |
|                       _____ failed                                                        |
|   your General Class license.                                                    |

|                                                                                                  |
|                              ______________________________       |

|                                   FCC Engineer-In-Charge                       |


I had received my postcard, and it said I had passed, but legally I did not have the official General class ticket in hand. You’ll notice that I’ve waited more than 45 years before admitting to this. Somehow back then it just seemed like a good idea.  It also seems like a good idea to wait several decades before admitting to my sins.
We got started at noon or early Saturday afternoon and really burned up the bands. 1958 was back near the peak of one of the best sunspot cycles in recent decades so conditions were great and the points accumulated quickly. Logbook pages filled quickly, one after another.  When suppertime came our families had come out and cooked us a nice meal over the campfire and we felt like we were right on schedule.

As the evening progressed, contacts got harder and harder to find and the old "one contact per minute average" got much more difficult to maintain. After midnight there seemed to be few contacts we hadn’t already made. We were beginning to hear stations calling; instead of "CQ Field Day" they called "CQ Rat-Race." Also, the fun we experienced for the first several hours had long since passed and it was a big drag. Probably, veterans of past Field Days could have told us that but to newcomers, it was bit of a surprise.

Finally…….. mercifully, in the early hours, probably around 2 AM, the generator ran out of gasoline and we had to quit. Somehow I don’t recall that being too upsetting to either of us but it gave us an excuse to stop for a while. We got several hours of sleep and awakened at dawn. We were able to drive down to a small gasoline station several miles away and get some gasoline to refuel the generator.

When the contest was over, we hadn’t come close to a winning score and I don’t remember us even submitting it to ARRL.  It had been a great experience, a real learning experience to be sure, and certainly memorable.
I’ve participated in many more Field Day activities in later years but nothing compares to that first one.

Taking the General Class Test - (1958)   (coming later)

Sand Springs Amateur Radio Club - (1956 – 1959)

I remember the club meetings for the Sand Springs Amateur Radio Club and these were my only experiences with clubs and club meetings until I was married and out of college and living elsewhere. The meetings were almost always held at the home of Ralph Stullken – W5TVU, in the apartment where he lived.  Ralph was an engineer for KRMG, a local Tulsa 50,000 watt station. Ralph was also a bachelor and kept a fastidiously clean apartment. With no other family, it was always available for our meetings. My first experiences with seeing older home-brewed radio equipment was at Ralph’s QTH. His transmitter was rack-mounted with wooden panels. I don’t recall what receiver he had but it seems like it was one of the Hammarlund series, perhaps an HQ-129. Obviously the transmitter was built in the days before television and the need for shielding of the RF. With the open racks, the TVI was fierce and Ralph only operated during quiet hours on Sunday morning when he talked with his brother in Great Bend, KS.  I don’t recall whether he had placed these quite hours on himself or whether they were a requirement from the FCC, but I never knew him to operate any time but those Sunday morning schedules.

Ralph had a 33’ vertical mounted on a pipe outside his apartment. Beside it was another pipe which supported a box about 12" x 10" x 8" and made of thick copper sheet, bent to carefully fit over the copper base. Inside this box were two variable capacitors, a home-wound inductor with taps, and several bathtub-type capacitors. It also had a wooden panel which supported an RF ammeter and the knobs for the variables. The antenna tuner allowed him to work 80-10 meters with the vertical but as mentioned before, I never saw him on anything but 80 meters. During the time I was in college I visited Ralph and as he had retired and planned to move back to Kansas and he offered me his old vertical and tuner. I anxiously took it and used it at several of my QTHs in my earlier days. The vertical, which was self-supporting on a beautiful insulator, somehow escaped me and I don’t remember where it went but I still do have the copper box tuner and plan to use it soon. I suppose with the copper prices what they are, it would be worth quite a bit of money now but it’s worth more to me as a good memory.

Drake 1A.jpg (18359 bytes)  Hallicrafters HT37.jpg (62060 bytes)

                                       Drake 1A                                                                                                                     Hallicrafters   HT-37        

While I was still in high school, Ralph replaced the rack-mounted equipment with a Drake 1A receiver and a Hallicrafters HT-37 transmitter and those were some of my first memories of "real" SSB equipment. Even with that wonderful new "state of the art" equipment, it was still only used for those Sunday morning schedules with his brother, even though the TVI threat was now past.  I remember the Drake 1A receiver as the first one to actually have a built-in product detector for SSB.  In fact, I don't think it even had a a regular diode detector, used for years in receivers for copying AM and CW signals.  The 1A was a SSB receiver.  Even to copy an AM signal, one had to zero beat the carrier.  If it drifted, as many of them did back then, you had to track the signal manually to keep it zero beat.

Our club meetings were always the same and I always looked forward to these monthly get-togethers. We never had a "program" but it was just all the guys in town visiting and talking about ham things. Sometimes it was a chance to see what Ike or Neely, Wally or Chad was building, sometimes I remember the talking was about DX operations and I remember the name Danny Weil and Yasme being talked about. There was much mention about this new increasing popularity mode of single-sideband. Often that would lead to discussions about why SSB was so bad: hard to tune, sounds like Donald Duck, wide as a barn, they don’t talk long enough to let you tune them in, etc.  They also talked about the new use of VOX or voice operated control and how some hams terribly misused "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" between words to keep their VOX from dropping back to receive.  One local ham, Dr. Chad Johnson – W5DBA, was anti-SSB and never missed an opportunity to tell others what he thought about SSB.  He, probably more than anyone in the club, could have afforded the best SSB equipment available but he wanted nothing to do with it. Chad was building a monster AM transmitter with a pair of 304s in the final and another pair of 304s in the modulator. One pair was the 304TL and the other was the 304TH but I don’t remember which was which. I visited his QTH one evening and saw it in operation but he was only running about 400 watts at the time, AM of course.   He used tuned feeders, for his antenna, which exited one wall of his shack to the outside through a couple of massive beehive insulators and then draped the feedline back over the roof to the antenna. The AC power to the outside light ran through the attic not too far under the tuned feeders and each time he keyed up the transmitter, the outside lights on either side of the building lighted to about 60% brilliance. That’s one of the more impressive memories I had in my early ham days.

Also, I must say that Chad was a very interesting character, and I enjoyed talking to him always, but he was, never-the-less, a character.  I remember one club meeting, where the pro and con discussion was on single sideband and Chad declared that when SSB became the primary mode of communication on the ham bands, that he planned to bury his big transmitter (see above) with a motor-driven VFO and it would, "…..sweep the bands…….. eternally!" Even today, as I am listening on the bands and I hear a carrier sweep across I think…."ya ‘spose that’s Chad’s old transmitter? ……. No, couldn't be ……….. however…….."

Our club never did go out, as a group, on a Field Day exercise. I don’t remember ever even hearing that suggested. Although I’m sure it would have been great fun and a real learning experience for me, we just never did do it.

Our club had three of we young Novices; Dick – KN5LDR, Dean – KN5KWP, and myself – KN5LAD. We were green and I’m sure the others learned a tremendous amount from the other members of the club as I did. All of us came from families which had little extra money to spare and the idea of being able to buy an ARRL Handbook or a US or Foreign Callbook was out of the question. I’ll always appreciate Ralph for his help here as he bought a new Callbook and new Handbook every year. I look back now and laugh to myself since Ralph had such vast electronics knowledge that he could probably have written most of the Handbook himself, and as far as the Callbooks, the only US station he talked to was his brother and certainly he had no need for a Foreign Callbook, yet he bought a new one of each every year. When the new editions came out and he had replaced the year-old version he had, Ralph would give that "old" copy to we Novices on a rotating basis. I thought at the time that he probably had little else to spend his money on, with no family, but I realized later that he was just helping some poor struggling guys to get past the Novice hurdle and on to become successful hams. Of the three of us who started, two of us are still quite active hams. I wish I could go back now and thank Ralph again.

I also remember a club member named Jack who never did get his ham license but always talked real big. The thing I most remember about him is his liberal use of profanity in every sentence that came from his mouth. I was not accustomed to being around people who used that kind of language; no family, friends, or other club members. I guess one of the most daring things I ever told an adult was to Jack one night at a club meeting. He was expounding on how he was studying hard to get his license and he was going to get it soon and every sentence was peppered with profanity. As a smart-aleck teen-ager I said, "Jack, if I were you I wouldn’t spend too much time studying to get that license."  That really stopped him in his tracks and he said, "Why, the xxxx not?" I said, "when the FCC hears you using all that profanity on the air they’ll take away your license and fine you some big bucks." He stuttered and stammered a bit and said, "Oh I don’t have to use that language when I’m on the air." I guess I should have said something about, well if you can keep from it when you want to, why don’t you stop doing it now. I think I felt like I’d pushed my luck all I dared, so I stopped. Jack never did get a license, as far as I know, but I’m afraid that he would probably fit right in with some of the inhabitants I hear on 75 meters during some evenings.

I shall always be grateful to Ralph, Ike, Neely, Tommy, Wally and the several others who helped me get a successful start in this hobby.  Without their encouragement, donated parts, endless answers; answers to the same questions asked last week, and all the other things they did to help me celebrate 50 years of ham radio memories, I want to say, "Thank you!"  They represented the highest in Amateur Radio.

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