K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume I

First CW contact - (1957)

My first logbook was filled with page after page of my carefully logged CQs and TESTs. I haven’t seen that logbook in many years since it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of college, marriage, and multiple moves so I can’t count how many of these pages there might be. There were, however, lots of CQ and TEST pages. If I had to guess, I would put the number at something more than 8-10 pages.
Finally, I got an answer to my CQ. Probably I had gotten earlier answers to my CQs but I just wasn’t accustomed to hearing my call come back to me. Anyway, I remember my first contact was on 40 meters with a ham in Hugo, Oklahoma. I’ve heard stories by other newcomers who were so upset when they first heard their call coming back to them that they jumped up, tuned everything off and ran out of the room. Well, I didn’t run from my first contact, maybe because I already had so much practice in sending CQ and TEST but I was plenty nervous. The contact was probably pretty short but I did exchange QSL cards with him and I still have that card.

The Bug - (1957)

I’ve got a bug………. not an insect but an old Vibroplex bug, complete with the carrying case. I got my bug back in my earliest days and I can’t quite remember who I got it from or the details of the acquisition but the figure $9 comes to mind. Seems like I might have traded something plus the $9 for it but I no long remember with whom or what I might have traded. Since this was in my early ham days, I didn’t have much with which I could have used for trading materials. I may have used my Heath AR-3 receiver, along with the money, for the trade. It’s just been too long past.

Vibroplex Bug with case.JPG (24890 bytes)

The particular thing I do remember about the bug was, I used it to send "5"s and errors (8 dits in a row).  I knew it was not a good idea for a newcomer to try to use a bug so I used my straight key which I had bought new for 98 cents at the Tulsa Army and Navy store. I attached the bug in parallel with the beautiful brass key and when I would send my call or make an error, I would swap over quickly to the bug to insert the proper character.

With the bug set at its slowest position, it was still too fast for my CW code speed so I filled a campaign button which was about an inch in diameter, with melted solder. As I recall, with my early soldering skills, it didn't take too long to have enough solder blobs and splashes to melt the button full.  With it completely filled it probably weighed an ounce or so and when I pinned it over the back end of the bug’s arm, it allowed me to send perfect dits at probably 5 WPM.

Vibroplex Bug with speed control.JPG (26729 bytes)
When I tell you what the campaign button said on it, you’ll be able to figure out the time period when I was using this goofy CW aid. The button read, "Ike and Dick" and it came from their second presidential run in 1956.  The picture above shows this fancy "speed control" on the back end of the dot generation lever.  You'll also notice the non-standard slide switch which was used to tune up.

The Uh-Oh Antenna - (1957)

In several places you'll see my reference to one of my early mentors and Elmer, Ralph Stullken - W5TVU.  Ralph was a very quiet-spoken man who was a broadcast engineer for a local 50,000 watt AM station from Tulsa.  Ralph was one of the most intelligent guys I had been around and I'll never forget the times when I would go to visit him, as I passed by a window while heading for the door he would be sitting at his kitchen table with a book and his slide rule, doing some sort of calculation for something electronic.  Ralph could design just about anything electronic and I'm confident that it would have been as exact as anyone could made it.

Dean - KN5KWP was one of the young guys in our group who got Novice tickets around the same time.  Dean's parents owned the apartment where Ralph lived so Ralph was always handy to answer any radio question which Dean might have.  When Dean wanted to hook up an antenna to his DX-20, Ralph designed a super exact, perfectly designed antenna of some sort that, I'm sure, would have been great.  The problem was, it was too precise for a young guy to build.  On several ocassions Dean would talk with Ralph for ideas and would end up so confused and bum-fuzzled that he would give up on the idea.

I, on the other hand, was not smart enough to design fancy equipment and antennas.  As far as antennas were concerned, and I told this to Dean, "you put up the best antenna you can, you acknowledge that you can't do any better than you've done at the time, and you just use it."  Mine was not a very scientific theory but my theory did work and I was making lots of contacts on the Novice bands with my weird antennas whereas Dean had been licensed for months and had made ZERO contacts.  The Novice license back then only lasted one year and was non-renewable so I wanted Dean to get on the stick, get up some kind of antenna......... just any kind of antenna........... and make some contacts.

I hit upon a plan, with all my teen-age craftiness, to wait until Ralph was at work so he couldn't see us put up some kind of strange dipole over one of the apartment garages which Dean's folks owned.  Sure enough, one afternoon while Ralph was at work we did the dastardly deed and we were busy putting up the incorrectly designed, strangely-constructed antenna.  At one point, when both of our hands were full of antenna pieces, Ralph came home from work.  As he drove down the alleyway heading for his garage, he looked up at us and I said, "Uh, oh."  I felt a little like the kid who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar because I knew we were building something that would never have passed Ralph's slide rule design.

Ralph never said a word to either Dean or myself about our activities but I always felt so guilty.  I will say that Dean's antenna did work well, it got him on the air and he made quite a few contacts.  Forever after that time, Dean and I always referred to that antenna as his "Uh Oh Antenna."

First Club Meeting, Are You Ready For the Test? - (1957)

I'm not sure how I came up with this idea but I had the crazy idea that during the first radio club meeting I attended, I would be required to take the Novice test, and this was just a few days after I had first heard about the Novice license and the radio club.  Actually, of course, I didn’t have to take this test, but I was really worried.

When I had first expressed an interest in radio to Ike – W5IER, who was to be my Elmer, it was while I was talking to him, walking along with him as he was delivering his mail route. As we walked along he told me about ham radio and some of the people he had talked to on the air. When I got more and more interested he told me about the ham radio club in town. He asked me to come by his house and pick up a copy of the ARRL License Manual and look it over. He also invited me to the club meeting which was to be within a couple of days.  Somehow, I got the idea that I was going to be given the Novice test that first night I attended. 

I began to read about tubes and power and frequencies and rules and my head was spinning.  Most of the things I didn't understand since I had just begun to look at them.  How could I ever pass that test when I didn't know what it was talking about?  I tried to memorize some of the questions in that License Manual but there was just no way.  Boy, I was so glad when I got to the club meeting and discovered that they had no intention of testing me over the material.  In fact, for someone to take a Novice test they had to apply to the FCC for the questions which came in a sealed envelope for the examiner many weeks later.  When that time came, the examiner would give you a 5 minute code test to verify your ability to copy 5 words per minute, then they would give you a sending test and you had to send that 5 WPM to them.   If you passed both of those code exams, only then would your examiner open the sealed envelope and give you the test.  Thankfully it was several months until I actually had to...... got to.... take my test.

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