K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume VIII

Special contact - Special antenna -- My Cuban CW contact on 20  (1958)

I never was much of a CW operator but in my early hamming days, I had first operated CW only because with the Novice license, that was what was required.  Back then I wanted to get my code speed up to the required 13 words per minute.  Also, my equipment was not fancy and my antennas were even less fancy.  Shortly after I had passed the General Class test, I still was operating on CW.  Some things, however, had changed.  With my WRL Globe Chief 90 transmitter, which ran a single 807 tube, I had the capability of running a full 90 watts.  Note that even when I ran the same transmitter on the Novice bands, I only loaded it up to 75 watts input -- the legal power limit for Novices.  The thought never crossed my mind to load it up a little higher to that 90-watt level because that wouldn’t have been legal.  I’m not sure if I secretly thought that an FCC inspector might have been peeking through my outside window and was ready to arrest me and confiscate my equipment for running over the legal Novice power.  Come to think about it, my bedroom, which also housed all of my ham equipment, didn’t even have an outside window.  I didn’t, however, ever run above that legal 75 watts input during all of the months I had my Novice license.  I might note here that back in those days (1950s and 60s) the power limits were all determined by the input of the final stage of the transmitter, found by multiplying the plate voltage by the plate current.  It was only later that the FCC changed the maximum legal power limits to be determined by the output, measured by a power output meter.

A thought just occurred to me, I don’t think I even allowed my transmitter, during the Novice days, to be loaded past 75 watts, even when loading up my dummy load.  What makes this fact a bit funnier was, my dummy load was the popular dummy load used back in those days, a 100-watt incandescent light bulb.

Hmmmm…. Another thought just crossed my mind as I write this --- my Globe Chief 90’s meter, where I took the plate current reading, was one made by Shurite and was what was called a “moving vane” type meter, as opposed to the current D'Arsonval damped meter.  That means that I was reading my plate current and the input power of my transmitter on a meter that probably was only accurate to + or – 10%.  I may have been illegal all along and not even known it --- “Oh, the humanity…..”   However, if it was reading on the low side I might have been able to legally increase my plate current and therefore, my plate input to a higher legal level.  Hmmmm… no telling how many more great contacts I might have been able to make.  Oh well, since that’s nearly 50 years past, I don’t think I’ll worry any more about it.

 One of my proudest CW contacts made during those early days was on Sept. 4 of 1958.  Back in those early days, to me DX meant “out of the country” such as Canada or Mexico.  If my signal went beyond those areas and I received back an answer, that was REAL DX.  I remember that night I had been playing around with a homebrew antenna tuner literally thrown together with what few bits and pieces I could scrounge.  I had heard stories about people loading up their bedsprings, their house gutters as well as one of the very popular antennas of the day, which was a “beer can vertical.”  (For those of you who aren’t old enough to know what arthritis feels like, pop and beer cans back then were made of steel instead of aluminum.  A resourceful ham who somehow found himself with a large collection of these [empty] steel beer cans could solder them together and hopefully get a tall enough stick of cans to reach about 16 feet [20 meters] or even better, to 33 feet [40 meters] to create a nice metallic vertical.  I’m guessing that some amount of time needed to elapse between the emptying of the cans and the soldering operation.)

Anyway, suffice it to say that an antenna didn’t really have to look exactly like those in QST, CQ, or the Handbook.

That evening, I attached to and loaded up my mother’s 4-wire clothesline and worked   CM2US – Jorge in Marianao, Cuba on 14.050.  I gave him a 599 and he gave me back a 589.  We even QSLed and I still have his card. 

QSL-CM2US.jpg (59990 bytes)

Several things made that contact special.  Obviously the fact that the antenna was only about five feet off the ground made it special, and that it was a REAL DX contact (because it was beyond the border) but this was not long before Fidel Castro overthrew the dictator Batista in 1959 and took over as the “salvation” of the Cuban people.  As he solidified his grasp of rule, he determined that ham radio would no longer be legal in Cuba.  For many years there were no Cuban contacts to be made.

 I suppose, in all fairness, I should mention again that this contact was made in 1958.  Old Timers who have been in the hamming business for many, many years will certainly recognize that date.  The year 1957 is still remembered as being the peak of the best sunspot cycle in many decades.  This was the time when people were working DX with a “wet kite string” and just about any other object that would take power.

 In later years I have worked some wonderful DX contacts but few have been so special as the contact I made on 20 meter CW with Cuba while loading up my mother’s clothesline.

My First Transmitter Was A Globe Chief 90 - (1957)

As with the purchase of my first ham receiver, I knew that I needed a transmitter and I wanted one to be set up as soon as that Novice license arrived.  By this time I had a paper route and had done that for nearly a year.  A wise person would say, with that paper route you are earning money each month and within several months, you should have enough saved to buy that needed transmitter.  That wise person would, no doubt, also advise that once I had bought my transmitter, I could use my incoming earned moneys to buy additional things needed for my new ham station and shack.

 You’ll note that I mention about that wise person but I didn’t call out a name for that person.   The reason being, I didn’t have a wise person (inside me) giving out that wise advice.  Instead, I had an inner teenage person who wanted to get a transmitter and get it right now.  I set about to find a way to gain some quick cash.

 I still resisted the urge to rob a bank for the necessary funds but I did know of some money that could be quickly obtained.  When I had started my paper route many months before, I was required to put up a cash bond of $50.   When I gave up my paper route, if there were no complaints or unpaid paper bills, I could get all of that bond money back.

My dad had helped me to get a loan from the bank and had co-signed the loan with me.  I had dutifully paid the bank back in monthly payments and now, the loan was paid off, the bond was there with the newspaper company, just awaiting me to give up the route.  Hmmmmmm…… now I knew where I could get a QUICK $50 which should get me the WRL Globe Chief 90 transmitter kit.

 If I listened to wise counsel I would have delayed this “get your money back quickly” scheme but I was not in any mood to listen to any wise counsel.  I wanted that transmitter and I didn’t want to wait.

 I told my paper manager that I wanted to give up my route at the end of the month and get my bond money back.    I did, he did and with my bond money in hand I quickly ordered that transmitter kit from Leo Meyerson's WRL (World Radio Laboratories) in Council Bluffs, Iowa..

 I was always glad in this instance that my parents let me make my decision on this matter.  In looking back, I would have been really disappointed if one of my own sons had made a decision like that but it just gave me one more example to use when I wanted to say, “Do as I say, and not as I do.”

Globe Chief90 front.JPG (45259 bytes)

 What a great transmitter it was too.  A 6AG7 oscillator, an 807 final, and a 5U4 rectifier and that transmitter covered 160 meters through 10 meters.  It was a CW only transmitter and later on, when I upgraded my license, I had to build a modulator to go on phone with it.......... but that's another story.

I wish I could say that the picture above was of MY Globe Chief 90 but, alas, I don't have any pictures of my early ham station and that is one of my biggest regrets.  I guess I was just too busy making contacts to take pictures.

Going On Phone - Building an AM Plate Modulator - (1958)

When I first looked at what transmitter kit I wanted to buy, I was tempted to go with the WRL Globe Scout 680 which cost a little more than the Globe Chief (which could operate on 160-10 meters) because the Globe Scout 680 not only could operate up to 6 meters but it also had a built in modulator.  The modulator it used was a simple screen modulator which did not give the full modulation envelope on AM that plate modulation could give.  I decided the Globe Chief 90 was a better choice for me because it could operate on 160 meters and it could put out more power.  I could, perhaps, build my own plate modulator and have the better deal.

I had never built any electronic equipment except the Heath AR-3 receiver, which was a kit, and the Globe Chief 90 transmitter which was also a kit.   I soon learned that building an electronic device from scratch and building a kit was not even close to being the same.  Building a modulator from scratch meant scrounging for all the parts which meant begging for some and buying some others.   Ralph - W5TVU, a local ham, helped me find a suitable schematic and advised me on many building tips.  The modulator, which included the speech amplifier section, would be built on a chassis which, as I recall, was about 8" x 12" x 3".   I had the choice of using either aluminum or steel with aluminum being much easier to work with.  Steel, however, was noticeably cheaper and with my minimal budget, I had to go with steel.  I regretted that constantly during the building process.   The drill bits I had were the cheaper ones made for use in wood and were cast-offs at that.  Larger holes were made by drilling a ring of holes in the metal, then punching out the center part, then filing the hole until it was somewhat round.  My fingers were constantly cut and buggered up from working with this steel chassis.

The resistors I used were cut from old junked TV sets that I was able to find and scrounge.  I always had to solder on new longer leads on those resistors since they had be clipped out of their former homes.  I found a few capacitors from junked TVs but I did have to buy some brand new caps from Burstein-Applebee.

One important item I needed was a modulation transformer and that was not something usually found in a friend's junkbox, although I did ask many people.  A commercial universal modulation transformer, which had multiple taps, could match the impedances found in different RF tube configurations and multiple modulator tube configurations.  Ralph had already helped me figure the impedances I would need for my transformer and that gave me a turns ratio to use.  I don't recall how much a new universal modulation transformer cost back in 1958 but I knew it was far more than I could come up with.

Then a miracle happened.  I asked W5PA if he knew of any old surplus transformers and he found an old aircraft power transformer in his junkbox.  This transformer had the right turns ratio to match what I needed (seems like it was 4:1) and was rated at 400 to 2600 cycles (not Hertz -- it was cycles back during those days).  That should handle the audio range of my AM speech amplifier so I gladly accepted his gift and, after several long nights of drilling and filing on that steel chassis, a had a modulation transformer mounted and wired up.

I used that plate modulator for at least 5 years making many AM contacts................ however............... I had terrible modulation.  The reports I usually received were, "........ good signal..... not much audio."  The aircraft power transformer matched the impedances and the ratio just fine, but power transformers and modulation transformer were just not designed and constructed the same way.  I was on AM, I had a plate modulator for my Globe Chief 90 but it was never close to what it could have been.  Come to think about it, that screen modulation would probably have given me a better AM signal than what I actually had.

Gee, no telling what I could have done if I could have had a little fancier equipment and especially a nice shiny modulation transformer.  The truth is, those are some of my favorite memories from my early ham days and I wouldn't take anything for them..

My 11 meter activity (1958)

I never owned a CB license, in fact, the only CB rig I ever had was given to me as a junker to fix.  I remember listening to the CB bands but I don’t recall ever transmitting on them.  It didn't take too much listening for me to know that I didn't want to get involved in that.  I always told others that I didn’t care for the CB band for the same reason that I never did like the Lawrence Welk Show on TV.  Normal people just don’t talk and act like that.  Older hams can ALWAYS tell when a newcomer has entered the ham ranks via the CB ranks.   They just don’t talk normal or normally.  Many do wise up and realize that those around them don’t use that goofy language and dialect and they quickly wean themselves away from it (thankfully).

I did, however, do some operating on the 11 meter band back in the late 50s when hams had shared permission to use it.  My old Heath VF-1 VFO has a separate switch position labeled “11” and I tried it several times.  This was close around the time of the best sunspot peak in the last century so it was easy to make contacts.  When the 11 meter band was taken from the hams (plus some other groups) it was a shame.  I'll say no more about that.

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