K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories
My College Station Receiver - (1959)
I wanted to have a ham station, at least a receiver, set up as I went away to college at Tahlequah, OK in 1959. I would be living in a dormitory and I knew putting up an antenna would be difficult but I also knew I had to try. As several previous entries have mentioned, funds were tight and I didn't have money available to buy radio equipment. Fortunately, during the summer prior to heading off to college I had the opportunity to work for a local funeral director. My job was to help around the funeral home and to drive the ambulance and the hearse when necessary. This was back in the days when ambulance drivers were just what the name implies and did not involve any EMT experience. In fact, as crude as it sounds, the ambulance driver was simply a person "hauler" and provided no medical services to those they "hauled." Fortunately I didn't have any terrible circumstances during my several weeks as the driver. Also, driving the hearse only involved several trips to "pick up" those who had passed away. It was certainly not my favorite job but it did provide me which some funds which were unexpected and uncommitted so I could buy a college ham receiver.
The receiver which I was able to purchase was the Hallicrafters S-20R Sky Buddy. It was not the best receiver available during that time but it was what I needed at the time and it served me well for those several years. Once I was moved in at college, one of the local Tahlequah hams, Edgar - W5BNQ, gave me several interesting tubes to use in it. The RF amplifier tube and perhaps one of the IF tubes was a 6SK7 (I need to check that one as the memory is vague) Ed had some tubes numbered 717, as I recall, and they were a military replacement tube with a lower noise figure and higher gain. The glass tube, which was a direct replacement for the 6SK7s, was on an octal base but was less than an inch high off the base. I remember them as being pretty impressive and a big improvement for my receiver. I remember that Ed had a good collection of these tubes and I suspect they had been offered as military surplus from W.W.II.
I lived on the second floor of the college dormitory and my antenna was just a wire dangling out of the window. It was high enough to pick up some signals but not so low as to offer "something to pull on" for every clown who walked by outside. I still didn't have a transmitter during that first year but I was dreaming, and scheming, and quietly collecting ideas and parts for it.
I've tried to remember whatever happened to that old S-20R and I just can't remember. I didn't have it when I got married in 1964 but I haven't a clue when it left my possession. I seldom sold anything and I do remember the one time when I traded a piece of my equipment but I sure don't know about my Sky Buddy.
My Favorite Antenna - (1965)
All of those antenna hold a special place in the heart of a ham but I wanted to tell you about my favorite antenna. It wasn't fancy, it certainly wasn't expensive to build, and it didn't even work particularly well. The time was in the early years after I had gotten married, had graduated from college and had even gotten a job. As a struggling new school teacher, we sure didn't have much money to spend on amateur radio but the excitement of the hobby was intense. I had always wanted to try operating on 144 MHz. and, thanks to my participation in Army MARS, I had a set of military units which could be converted for 2 meter operation.
The ARC-3 receiver received a homebrew VFO to replace the crystals and allowed me to hear signals between 100 - 156 MHz...... come to think of it, I wasn't able to listen to anything on "mega-hertz." I was listening on "mega-cycles." The ARC-3 transmitter got a nice big power supply built up from MARS shipments and I not only hooked up a Heath VF-1 VFO to it but I was able to actually convert it to go from AM to FM and back with just the flip of a switch.
But I needed an antenna. Buy one? No way. Build one........... hmmm...... I tried to find aluminum pieces but had no success. I couldn't even find any old TV antennas to tear apart and reuse. The year was 1964-65 and I still needed a 2 meter antenna. Finally I was able to build one from some junk parts I was able to locate. This was my favorite. I tried to find just one piece of aluminum to use as the boom but had no luck. I even tried to find an old broom or mop handle but couldn't even find that. What I did find was a piece of bamboo which someone had abandoned. It wasn't particularly strong, it wasn't even particularly straight but it would work. I found some heavy steel clothesline wire to use for elements. Back then, there were more clotheslines and fewer dryers than there are now. The wire, which was probably about #4 gauge, worked fine as elements.
It was fairly easy to find some old 300 ohm twinlead to feed the folded dipole driven element. Down in the shack, I had some sort of a balun to convert to the short piece of coax which someone had given me. I can't remember what I found to use as a mast but I remember that I did use the "armstrong method" of rotation.
My favorite antenna was not very high, it didn't allow me to work into lots of states and most 2 meter veterans would probably have laughed at it and said I was crazy for calling it my favorite. This antenna was not my favorite because of it's appearance as that was terrible. It was not my favorite because it worked so much better that any other as it really didn't. My reason for calling it my favorite antenna was taken from its name which came from the building materials used to construct it. After all, who among you wouldn't enjoy telling your contacts that you were using a "Bamboo Boom Beam?" Say that aloud................ isn't that fun?
My Secret Hamshack Telephone - (1961)
Hams sure do some crazy things to make do with what is available. These days, people have phones all over their house, in every room and sometimes even in their bathrooms. Back in the "Good Ole Days," a phone was mighty handy in a hamshack but that wasnt part of our familys budget. Unlike now, if you had an extension phone back then, you had to go through the phone company and you paid them for each and every extension phone you had on your line. During the early 60s, my hamshack was in my familys basement. The phone wire for the one phone in our house came right through the basement and was nailed to the floor braces for the room above. That wire was easily accessible and I accessed it. We'll not go through the legalities of my placing a tap on my own phone as, I'm almost sure the statute of limitations has expired.
My phone was built inside a Prince Edward cigar box (had I mentioned that I didn't have money to buy fancy parts and pieces?) The phone system was no longer using operators who help you place your calls but the Touch-Tone system was not yet available. The phone system, at that time, had rotary dials which would break and make the circuit through the handset. I had no dial for my phone but I discovered that I could use a SPST normally-closed push-button switch and pulse the line. I was actually breaking the circuit to the handset and it worked quite well. It was a reverse procedure, i.e., I pressed the button and quickly released it to close the circuit for each digit of a number. Timing was important and I would just count each "un-press" to make each number. It sounds complicated but it was not too difficult and I became very adept at operating the switch so my homebrew phone dial worked fine. The phone "handset" was a telephone operator's headset which I found somewhere for very little money.
Also, I needed a way to tell when the phone was ringing. A handset on a telephone is not connected, as such, until you remove it from the hook when the phone is answered. The ringer, however, is connected to the phone line, just waiting for an incoming call. When the handset is picked up, the ringer is removed from the circuit. The word back then was that the phone company had an automated process to sweep all the phone lines, perhaps daily, and check the resistance across the line. Since a phones ringer was across the line as it sat, waiting for an incoming call, they could check that resistance. The resistance would tell them how many ringers were on the line and they could find unauthorized phones. Instead, I placed an NE-2 neon bulb across the line for my visual ringer. Since the neon bulb had no physical connection (like a filament), it showed no resistance to the automatic checking device. It worked great. When a call came in, the ringing voltage caused the neon bulb to flash and let me know the phone line was ringing.
Even later I discovered, when I had found an old telephone unit, that by disconnecting the spring which held the bell clapper, that the clapper would rest gently on one of the two bells. I disconnected one side of the ringer from the line and placed another NE-2 neon bulb in series with it. Again, the neon bulb created an open resistance so the ringer could not be detected by the phone company but just enough current passed through the neon bulb while ringing to make the clapper vibrate against the bell. It wasn't a loud ringing, by any means, but provided an audible alert to an incoming call to add to the visual alert I got from the neon bulb already mounted on the cigar box phone.
Again, I remind the reader that this was 45 plus years ago and the statute of limitations is long past. Besides, if they came to me now, I would plead insanity and I've got MANY friends who would easily testify to that. The phone companies in this day and age are much more tolerant of their customers than back in those earlier days.
I wonder what ever happened to my old Prince Edward telephone?