An Old Friend Found






Several years ago, like many other hams, I was stricken with 'Tuna Tin fever' and purchased a Tuna Tin II kit from the Norcal QRP group.





Escaping the summer heat a few months later, I put it together over one weekend in July. As it turned out, it was probably the best $13 I ever spent on my hobby.

I fired it up the next morning and put out my first 250mW 'CQ' on the 7040 KHz 40m QRP calling frequency. Back then, 7040 was ground-zero for forty meter QRP fanatics and there always seemed to be folks monitoring while working at the bench on their latest project. Given the time of day and the mid-summer propagation, I really didn't have high hopes but I was immediately answered by KJ7AN in Dallas, Oregon who gave me a 579 report!

Over the next three days I worked several more stations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and even California. I was truly delighted with the little rig's performance but assumed that my pint-sized signal would probably not go much farther than the nearby western states and maybe, if I was very lucky, a few more Californians.

All that changed early on the morning of August 6th! About an hour after sunrise, my tentative hand-keyed 'CQ' was answered by Steve, NØTU in Colorado!! Steve had been enjoying his morning coffee while the quiet hiss of 7040 in the background was broken with my very weak 'CQ'. We had a good solid QSO and after it was over, I realized that the little Tin had a lot more potential than I had realized. It seemed to me that if my little signal could skip all the way to Colorado in August, then it should go a LOT further during the winter DX season ... perhaps far enough to work all fifty states? It was at that point that I decided to give it a try.

I re-pruned my 40m half-sloper as well as adding 35 buried radials and as the fall DX season approached, I watched 7040 every weekend ... the new states soon began piling up.


To shorten the story, in early December of that winter, I worked WG7Y in Wyoming for state #50 to claim the first-ever Tuna Tin 'Worked All States' ... all on 7040 KHz. Unfortunately the ARRL does not have any special endorsements for Tuna Tins but they did stamp my 'WAS' certificate with a 'QRP' notation!

At some point in the intervening years, the little Tin's final amplifier, the ubiquitous 2N2222, went south. As I removed and examined the tiny old battle-scarred soldier, I remembered so many hours of late-night pleasure it had brought me, along with some memorable sessions ... one being a snowy late Friday night opening to the east coast that put the last three needed New England states into my log in less than thirty-minutes.


I carefully placed the little transistor in a piece of anti-static foam, not that it needed protection, but as a keepsake and a reminder of its noble past. Possibly I would mount it on a nice hardwood base in the future.

Earlier this year I noticed, when cleaning the shack, that the little black keepsake could not be located ... I figured that it must have got sucked-up in the shop-vac during one of my rare shop clean-up days.

I always empty the shop-vac, which consists mostly of fine sawdust or wood shavings, onto my large pile of lawn-mower clippings, which seems to stay about three-feet high no matter how much I keep adding.

Emptying the grass catcher last week, during the final mowing of the season, a small black object sticking out from mid-pile caught my eye. It was indeed my old friend and, after reaching out to 50 states, she still had enough left for one last call to me! I'll take much better care of her now and keep her in a safe place, away from the nasty shop-vac.


I eventually went on to build a 20m Tuna Tin, also crystal-controlled on which, at last check, had brought 46 states and a DXCC total of 21 countries. This inspired a 'mini-tuna', built into a small cat-food tin and using just a barebones 2N2222 crystal oscillator. This one has brought 33 states over the years.



I have more Tuna Tin info, along with circuit information on my main web site here ... but be warned -- 'Tuna Tin fever' can strike anywhere at anytime.
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

8 Responses to “An Old Friend Found”

  • James Daldry W4JED:

    The black plastic “2N2222” is actually a PN2222. I wonder if an original, metal, 2N2222 would hold up better.

  • Lenny Wintfeld W2BVH:

    I worked Italy as the 4th or 5th qso after building the TT2. This is from NJ and it was on the upswing of the solar cycle. It made me a believer. After a year or so, and innumerable qso’s I pulled the crystal and replaced it with a homebrew colpitts vfo, covering 7.025-7.070. Even more q’s with that setup. I’ve been so happy with qrp, I never “upgraded” my qrp K2 to high power.

  • Steve VE7SL:

    Yes James…I believe the metal versions are a little more robust but she did the best she could 😉

  • Dave, WD8CIV:

    I was first licensed in 1976, the year Doug DeMaw’s original Tuna Tin II article appeared in QST. (The May issue I believe.) Later that summer the ARRL sent a sample copy of that same issue to a number of newly licensed hams, and I was one of the lucky ones. It was a sign from above, because I had just enrolled in the electronics vocational program in high school and was ready to start building.

    I rode my bike to the local Radio Shack to buy the necessary parts (that was one of the original design goals of the TT2, to source as many parts as possible from RS) only to find that some of them, like the chokes, had been discontinued. They DID still have the metal 2N2222 transistors however. I hadn’t yet learned about Digi-Key and other mail-order parts houses so I tried to improvise, with dismal results.

    But the idea that I could build a radio with a few dollars’ worth of parts made a huge impression on me, and I determined to learn how to do my own designs. That eventually led to a fairly lucrative career as a design engineer, but the best part is I still get to do what I love – design and build things – 40-some years later, and get paid for it.

    Thanks Doug!

  • Great, great story Steve. Thanks OM. 73 Jim W1PID

  • Steve VE7SL:

    Hello Jim! It is so great to hear from you and thanks for the comment. You were my NH contact and one of those three New Englanders I worked on the morning of Nov 11, 2000 between 1055-1114Z…the others were W1RFI (CT) and N1BQ (VT. I wonder if this could be repeated in this day and age? I just don’t think there are very many monitoring the 40m calling frequency any longer…what do you think? I hope I am wrong but with so many folks jumping the CW ship for the latest digital mode craze, I think things have changed drastically for us old CW QRPers!

  • Dave N6XJP:

    Really brings back memories. Licensed in 1989, is was the first thing I built. Sitting next to my anchor FT 101e, the diminutive TT look like an alien contraption. I believe I gave it to a new Ham a few years later. Wonderful story. Thanks Very Much

  • Stephen W4TOL:

    A great inspiring story! Thanks for sharing your adventure!
    Stephen W4TOL

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