K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume III

Miles of Antenna Wire - (1957)

I have such good memories of Burstein-Applebee, a parts supply house in Kansas City.  I wonder how many antennas I built from my first purchase of their antenna wire.   Burstein-Applebee had good prices on components but I especially liked the pages in the back of their catalog because that’s where they listed all of their "special" bargains. I remember buying a roll of 500 feet of #18 Copperweld wire which made great experimental antennas. Copperweld was very strong wire and the copper coating gave it good electrical properties for antennas.  I had to be very careful when building the antenna, however, because that 500 feet of wire liked its original circular-wound position and would always try to return to that position, just like a giant spring.  If I happened to not see a kink in the wire and I pulled it taught, the antenna was much weakened at that kinked point.  Even after an antenna had been up for several years, when it was lowered for maintenance (or when the tree branch support fell down) it returned to its spring-like coil condition.

That one coil of 500 feet of #18 Copperweld wire sold for only $1.88. That was a real bargain for a high-school kid who had very little money.  For several years, even after I had gone off to college, I could reel off a batch of that wire for an antenna project.  For years after those early years I found antennas and pieces of antennas made from that wonderful 500 foot roll of Burstein-Applebee wire.  Even now, I'll bet that if I grubbed around in my garage in the "box of wire" I could find pieces from that original roll.  I wonder how many early Novices had antennas built from a $1.88 roll of Burstein-Applebee's #18 Copperweld like me?


Acres of Wire - (1957)

Another wire purchase I got from Burstein-Applebee was a giant coil of field telephone wire.  I don’t remember how much it sold for or in what quantities their bargain-page coil was, but I do remember that I thought it was a real bargain.   I also know that it was a lot of wire.

Once it arrived I discovered why it was referred to it as "field telephone" wire.  This wire was made for use by the military in connecting their "crank-to-ring" field telephones over long distances on the battlefield. The wire was stranded steel with a thick rubber insulation, then covered by a sticky, black, cloth-type covering which could best be compared to the old original (pre-plastic) electrical tape, also known as friction tape.  This was the same wire that you've seen in old John Wayne World War II movies where the soldier had a reel of wire on a pipe and he ran across the battlefield, crouched down low, while hundreds of bullets whizzed all around him.  If he was a well-paid actor in the film, regardless of how much lead flew around him, he was never hit and the Lieutenant was able to talk to headquarters and order a shelling of the enemy position.  If, however, he was low on the performer list, he usually didn't make it and it often took several more unknown actors to get that wire to the Lieutenant's place.

I soon learned that when you stripped off the covering and insulation and tried to twist the strands tightly, you'd better have a couple of band-aids handy. The strands of steel would certainly allow twisting but just about the time you thought it was done, one or two of the steel strands would "escape" the other strands and quickly untwist and drive, at least one strand, right into your finger, only stopping when it hit the bone. Those wire holes in my finger hurt for days……….. however, that wire was really a good bargain.

I originally thought I could use that wire for antennas but it just hurt my fingers too much to use it much.  I sometimes wonder what I did with what I didn't use because there must have been quite a large quantity left over.


Bargain Coax - (1957)

To go along with my 500 foot roll of #18 Copperweld wire for antennas, I needed some coax.  Back to my trusty Burstein-Applebee catalog to search out the bargains in the back.  I don't remember the number (or cost) of the roll of coax I bought from them but it was probably about a 100-150 foot roll and it was like RG-58, seems like it had a number like RG-58C or 58D. It was 50 ohm, had a clear (translucent) plastic sheath but had a Teflon dielectric. When you skinned it to put a connector on it, the Teflon dielectric insulation was a roll that unwrapped from around the center conductor.  Thinking back upon it now I suppose it would have made a good choke balun since it could withstand heat without deforming the center conductor.  I built quite a few antennas from that purchase but I do remember that after being out in the sun for a while, the translucent sheath turned yellowish and got very brittle.  Still, it was a bargain and it helped me make a bunch of antennas to make a lot of contacts on the Novice bands.


Burstein-Applebee Was a Wonderful Place - (1957-196?)

Of all the places where I spent my meager allowance, Burstein-Applebee was my favorite.  While some people my age would curl up on a rainy afternoon with a good book, I much preferred that catalog with the red cover.  It was fun, in those days, to pour through a new Heathkit catalog when the mailman brought a new copy, but it took more money to order from them since their kits were complete units.  I could order things from Burstein-Applebee just a few pieces at a time. 

One of my favorites to order when I got a few extra dollars, was the Warehouseman's Assortment.  This was a hodge-podge of assorted pieces, what some people might call "floor sweepings."  There were large and small resistors, large and small capacitors, there could be some inductors, a plastic handle which fit....... (nothing that I ever had), screws and nuts of various sizes (occasionally pieces which matched up), and many other assorted pieces.  Again, drawing from my memory, it seems like those "assortments" cost $1.95 or perhaps $2.95.    Not much money, even in those days and I always thought I got my money's worth.  Someone who already had an adequate junk box might have considered it as "a box of junk" but I didn't have an adequate junk box, in fact, I had very few parts so, for me, it was treasure.

I talked to another ham many years ago who not only remembered Burstein-Applebee and had bought things from their catalog but he had lived in Kansas City and had visited their store many times.  Wow, I'm not an envious person but if I ever start, that guy will be at the top of my list.  For me, that would have been better than watching the Yankees play baseball.

B.A. advertised the Warehouseman's Assortment with the warehouseman's name, something like - John Smith's Warehouseman's Assortment.  I have tried for many years to remember that guy's name but I just can't come up with it for sure.  The closest I could come was something like "Jim Miller" but that just doesn't sound right.   Perhaps some day I will find an old Burstein-Applebee catalog under the short leg of someone's operating table and I'll get a chance to see one of my favorite books once again.  I can guarantee you that the first thing I'll look up is that Warehouseman's Assortment and find that guy's name.

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This just in (09/05/07):

Thanks to John - K5CEY, who had a copy of an old Burstein-Applebee catalog, he let me know that the name I've tried so hard to remember, the name of the Boss Warehouseman at B.A. was Jim Rowland.  His 1955 B.A. catalog had an ad for one of my favorite purchases from Burstein-Applebee --- the Jim Rowland Warehouseman's Assortment for $1.95.  As a young new Novice, when I placed a meager order for a few parts from B.A. and I could find an extra $1.95, I would make sure I added that assortment to my order.  I never knew what might in the box containing the Warehouseman's Assortment but there were always a good collection of resistors of various values and sizes, a bunch of highly assorted capacitors, some plugs and sockets (occasionally they even matched), metal or leather handles, and more and more and more................... and all for the bargain price of $1.95.  Christmas morning could seldom match the joy and surprises found in that assortment.

I know there some people who would consider the Warehouseman's Assortment as "floor sweepings" but I never did.  There's an old saying that, "what's one man's trash is another man's treasure" but to a young Novice, I knew treasure when I saw it...... and I saw it  in the Jim Rowland Warehouseman's Assortment from Burstein-Applebee.

Thanks John.

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