K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume XXI


My First Tower and How I Got It

I’d been a ham for about 9 years before I got my first tower.  In all fairness, I should also mention that much of that time I’d been living at home while in high school and in a dormitory while in college.  When you don’t own your own property one must often delay the construction of a tower but certainly, the desire was there.  I guess I should also mention that during those years I had no money so even if I had been able to have a tower, I couldn’t have put anything more than a simple wire antenna on it.

Before I describe the details behind my first tower, I need to go back a bit and describe how I was able to afford this magnificent piece of high altitude iron.   Had not this first event happened, the tower would have only shown up many years later.  At the time, I was a new classroom teacher who was earning the magnificent annual salary of $4300.  As I recall, my monthly take-home pay was $289 and some cents.

In April and May of 1966 we saw and purchased our first house.   Gloria and I had been married for over two years but had lived in various rental properties.  We moved into our new house, located in the near southeastern part of Tulsa, in May.  One evening, while popping the cap on a bottle of Pepsi Cola, Gloria discovered that it was one of the winning caps for Pepsi’s current give-away contest.  That cap allowed us to pick up a brand new Suzuki motorcycle.  After adding a helmet to my handful of possessions, we became motorcyclists.  I say we but actually, any time Gloria was involved in a ride it was riding behind me.

I failed to mention much about the cycle itself for the reason that it was not quite time for you to get a laugh at my expense.  The cycle we won was actually a Suzuki 50, which means it had a 50cc engine – can you say, “small?”  Since the engine was small, the frame was also small.  Suddenly any reader who knows me gets a frightening picture in their mind.  Someone my size should never consider riding a cycle much smaller than a 900cc and that might be pushing the envelope just a bit.  I’m not a drinking man but when I rode that machine, the word “hangover” seemed to be very apropos.   In fact, to see me riding that machine might have given you the first impression that I was giving birth to it.

Nevertheless, we had it and rode it.  That summer I would be going back to Tahlequah to continue my graduate studies and, as fortune would have it, my classes were quite some distance from the apartment in which we lived.  Each day I rode that poor little Suzuki 50 to my classes and parked it under a tree, securely locked up.   The chain lock was probably a complete waste of materials since it was so small that a thief might have easily picked it up and carried it off in their pocket.  Fortunately, that did not happen and it provided good transportation during those two months. 


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       I even operated some ham radio mobile action from the cycle.  I had a Motorola H23ANC talkie for two meters at that time.  This was a large (make that VERY LARGE by today’s standards) 1 watt radio with 1 frequency on receive and 2 on xmit.  It was mostly transistorized but the power (1 watt – WOW!) was generated by several instant heating filament peanut tubes.  The term instant heat meant that the filaments only received voltage when you keyed up the transmitter.  The secret was to key the mike, wait a second or two, then begin speaking.
The picture above is what the talkie looked like.  From memory I’d guess the size to be about 12” long, 3” wide and 6-7” tall with the 19” whip antenna on one end and the small palm-sized round microphone on the other end.  They were separated by a nice chrome handle.  It might best be described as about the size of a small child’s Superman lunchbox.  It had a crystal for 146.94 MHz for receive and 146.34 and 146.94 for transmit.  In a day, looooooooooooong before cell phones and modern day talkies with their multi frequencies, several bands, high power, and Lithium Ion batteries it was much admired.  The ham who owned one was “there.”

 Back to the tower story and to reality --- when we returned to Tulsa after the summer classes were past, we found that riding on Tulsa streets, particularly on a Suzuki 50, was downright scary.  Those cars really look big when they’re bearing down on you.   We decided that perhaps we weren’t quite as daring as we once thought so it was time to get rid of it. 

A welder who lived in west Tulsa had been making towers and selling them to a few hams and many CBers around the area.  His towers consisted of two 30-foot sections with the smaller telescoped inside the larger.  When fully winched out, the two sections would overlap by 5 feet giving the user a nice and convenient 55’ steel tower.  The sections were not galvanized but were painted with silver paint and looked very nice.  The tower also had a base section that allowed the user to telescope the inner section completely down, then to break it over so the antenna work could be done while the worker stood safely on the ground. 

Several of the details have long-since escaped me in the 45+ years since but I’m relatively sure that there were some guy wires at the top when it was fully telescoped.  I cannot, now, even picture the tilt-over base section. 

In what turned out to be a wonderful coincidence, the tower-building man was looking for a small motorcycle for his son so we were able to trade our nearly new Suzuki 50 motorcycle for a tower that he built for me.  The trade was beneficial to both of us and it allowed me to have a tower much sooner that I could have had one.

I ran across the invoice for the antenna, rotor, and cables several years ago and it brought a chuckle to me.  The Hornet 3 element TB-750 beam (made in Duncan, Oklahoma) was less than $100, the CDE CD-44 rotator was something like $69.95, and the Belden RG-8/U foam coax was around 10 cents a foot.  I hope to eventually run across that invoice again so I can scan it and show the exact figures but, so far, it has escaped my grasp. 

When it came time to install the tower, a fellow from my church helped me.  He was a contractor so he arranged for the delivery of a yard of concrete for me for a good price after I had dug the hole beside the patio.  He even came over, brought his big wheelbarrow, and did the movement of the wet cement from the street to the back yard hole.  Now that’s what I call, a friend. 

The most interesting part of the tower story had to do with the anchors used to hold the tower base to the concrete foundation.  As constructed, the base had 4 good-sized holes for the anchor bolts but I needed to find the threaded materials for those bolts.  Back in 1966, this was before the days of Home Depot and Lowe’s and their big boxes of all-thread, washers, and nuts of assorted sizes.  Instead I had to go to a facility that was located in Tulsa at around 13th and Lewis.

I found exactly what I needed for my tower and gladly wrote them a check for what seems like was about $13 for everything.  I often wondered, however, what the people at the bank thought when they saw my check go through for it was plainly written:  Pay to the order of Tulsa Screw Products.  They must have thought that I was up to no good. 

Created March 2, 2010      Updated 05/04/2011

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