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If It’s Trash Day, I’m Collecting!

Prologue…

I was born in 1932, which by definition made me a depression baby. This episode in the life of Urb the emerging nerd, demonstrates that people were totally capable of doing economically irrational things during the height of the depression. They would throw things away needing only simple repairs.

How it all began…

At the time my trash picking started I was in 7th grade and I was the only student living far enough away from school that I couldn’t make it home for lunch, and back, in the allotted hour. I was a brown bagger.

On an early beautiful spring day I was walking leisurely to school and there in front of me was a beautiful floor lamp. I realized that if I waited until school let out the lamp would have been long deposited in a landfill (we call them junk yards back then.) I picked it up and started walking toward school. About two blocks from school was an empty wooded lot. I put my lamp in the lot and camouflaged it with a few branches and continued to school. I agonized all day worrying that someone would abscond with my lamp.

After school, there is was. I took it home and showed my father and he determined that the lamp had a switch that was not functioning, we went to a local hardware store and purchased a new one. (Home Depots didn’t appear for many decades into the future.) Lamps similar to my trash pick find were selling for about five dollars of 1940s money.

A new switch cost about 20 cents. Although my knowledge of the consequence of the depression was very limited I still found it strange that people would throw away a five dollar lamp because it needed a 20 cent switch. The lamp, with a new shade, occupied a place of honor in the LeJeune household for years to come. My mother, God rest her soul, was very excited about anything I did not requiring a trip to see the principal of my school.

After the experience with the lamp, I started leaving for school about a half hour earlier that I usually did on trash day. One day someone threw away a pair of roller skates (the type you attached to your shoes and tightened with a key.) I fashioned a wagon with a milk box and the skates. I was now ready for the big time of trash collecting. I made a camouflaged den in the lot close to school and was in the trash picking business.

Turning Trash into an Art Form…

Even I was amazed at the quality and variety of things thrown away despite the economic conditions . When a discarded item contained gears I was in Trash-Land heaven. If a discarded item contained a motor, functioning or not, I was in paradise. Thrown away items with gears were especially prized, I used gears mounted on a piece of plywood to make Christmas presents. My relatives told me how creative I was but my artwork typically wound up on their basements wall.

At Christmas time I loaded some of my artwork into wagon and traversed my neighborhood selling my wall hangings. When people asked how much? I replied, “whatever you think it’s worth.” I made enough money to get nice presents for my mother and father.

Spare Parts…

Growing up my family lived in half of a farmhouse. I had a corner of the basement all to myself. My little den served as workshop, storage area, and a laboratory for perform experiments. My attempt at making artificial diamonds was a barn-burner but an article for the future.

Epilogue…

An event viewed through the key-hole of currency frequently takes on a greater meaning when viewed through the rear-view mirror of realism. As an example, the fact that I lived at a greater distance from school than any other student probably lead me to trash pick. If I walked to school with other students I doubt I would not have trash picked.

I went through a period between jobs, a nice euphemism for being unemployed, and money was tight so I put my trash picking days to good use. On the bulletin boards of local super markets I posted notices, “Small appliances repaired , no fix no pay.” The results were a God-send when satisfied customers recommended me to neighbors and friends.

When times are tough we frequently receive the emotional help to give us the strength to get through these period, if we are alert to them.

Random Acts of Kindness

About 15 years ago, during a trip to Florida on an oppressively hot August day, I was dispatched to the local super market to get an ingredient for dinner. As I approached the entrance an older gentleman was heading toward his car. He was using his shopping cart more like a walker then a transporter of grocery items.

I noticed his car had a Purple Heart license plates I walked over to him and said, “Thank your for your sacrifice and service.” He literally started to cry, commenting that he had the plates for about 10 years and I was the first one ever to comment on them. In the ensuing conversation he disclosed he was wounded during the invasion of Guadalcanal and was also awarded the Bronze Star.

Starting on that eventful day I approached every veteran I could identify by sticking out my hand and saying, “Thanks for your service.” In the ensuing years everyone recipient would say, “thank you,” and frequently a nice conversation would follow.

When Viet Nam vets returned home they were treated with disdain. They didn’t dare wear their uniforms in public because people would curse at them and frequently they were spit upon.

I am of the opinion that irrespective of our personal opinions of the military and wars we owe a debt of thanks to those who severed, especially those who put their lives on the line. If I can identify a Viet Nam veteran I shake their hand and say, “Welcome home and thank you for your service.”

What is a Random Act of Kindness?

A random act of kindness is simply a deed we do to give pleasure to someone else with no expectation of anything in return. Thanking a vet is just one example, however, the kindness universe is infinite.

We humans tend to complain frequently and give accolades rarely. Have you ever complained to the manager of a restaurant that the meat was overcooked and the server was impolite? Thinking positively rather than negatively the comment could be, both your food and service was great.

The pervasiveness of a lack of positive feedback was driven home during my master’s graduation at Monmouth University. The then New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean was the keynote speaker. He started his presentation with the question, “How many of you know this is the year of the teacher?” Many people, especially students, raised there hand. He then asked, “For everyone, not just graduates, how many of you have had a teacher who made a meaningful impact or change in your life?” Almost everyone raised their hand. Next question from Governor Kean was, ‘How many of you ever took the time to thank teachers who had a meaningful impact on your life?” Almost no one raised their hand.

There is an important point here, just because someone is doing an outstanding job doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate a pat on the back.

What Does This Have to do with Ham Radio?

Nothing and everything. Courtesy doesn’t have starting and ending boundaries. Have you ever thanked anyone who helped you with a difficult point when you were preparing for you license? How about a speaker of at a meeting? Almost everyone applauds the speaker but there is nothing like going up to the speaker and saying, “Great presentation, I learned a lot.” How about thanking the outgoing officers of your club, the publisher of your club’s newsletter or the person who makes the snacks at meetings?

My father’s mantra was, “The measure of a person is how they interact with someone who can do nothing for them in return. I think he was talking about random acts of kindness.

One last thought. Place a phone call to a couple of your ham radio friends and simply tell them, “Since I’ve met you I am enjoying ham radio much more which carries over to the quality of my life.”

Thanking or complementing someone will make you happy and possibly make the recipient’s day. It’s a win-win deal.

The Christmas Present That Changed My Life

No one called me a nerd when I was growing up in Hillside, NJ although I could have been the poster boy for what we know today as a nerd. Maybe it was because it wasn’t until 1950 that Dr. Seuss created the nonsense word “nerd” for an imaginary animal in “If I ran The Zoo.” By then I was already W2DEC.

During my pre-teen years some of the most common titles used to describe me were precocious, crazy, studious, and a loner to name a few of the nicer names. I lived on a small farm and there were no kids my age close at hand so I became an expert at entertaining myself. It wasn’t easy but I convinced my parents that I should have a subscription to Popular Science when I was 11 years old. When the magazine would arrive every month I would disappear for a few days while reading the magazine cover to cover, including advertisements. One month the featured article described the manufacturing of industrial diamonds. “Ah ha,” I proclaimed to myself, I can do that. The end result was almost a disaster but that’s a story for another time.

My Favorite Christmas Present of all Time:

My parents realized my isolation was starting to make me both crazy and anti-social so my 1944 Christmas present, shortly after my 12 birthday was a one-tube radio kit. It was so cool. It was built on a one foot square piece of plywood. The components were mounted using Fahnestock connectors screwed into the plywood. The kit had a “A” battery that was the size of a small shoe box. There was another box of parts including a one piece earphone. My folks gave me the present about nine in the morning and they assumed it would keep me busy for at least a week. By lunchtime music was emanating from my earphone.

Back in those days very few radio stations stayed on the air 24 hours a day. They would sign off at either 11 or 12 o’clock and like magic; another station farther out West would take its place. Since it was late December you could follow the clock with stations to the Rocky mountain area before the east- coast stations started signing on again. It was great fun but my grades were not helped with my midnight DXing.

Big Discovery:

After a few month of broadcast band DXing and spending a good part of my allowance on replacement “A” batteries I started to get bored. I had become fascinated with the variable capacitor (back then I had no idea what it was called) which controlled the frequency as the capacitor was rotated. I wondered what would happen if I spread the end plate out a little. What the heck, I could always bend it back. I grabbed my long-nosed pliers and give it a tug and it broke right off. I was crestfallen; I had destroyed my favorite toy. I spun the knob around and low and behold I was hearing non-broadcast station that I had never heard before. I was listening to stations above the high end of the broadcast band!

After a few weeks of mapping my new territory boredom again started to set in once again. Dare I take off another capacitor plate? I thought no, I had pushed my luck to the limit as far as capacitor modifications. However, I did notice there was a large coil of wire connected to the ends of the capacitor (again I had no idea of parallel components.) This time I was smart enough to think through a modification that could be reversed. I got out my trusty soldering iron and disconnected one end of the coil and took off about five turns and soldered the newly exposed wire back onto to the mounting lug. Eureka, I was hearing a wholly different group of stations. Up until this point almost all of the stations produced by my experimentation were one-way broadcast. One day I heard two guys talking to each other; it was an event that would change the whole direction of my life. I was fascinated, these stations had call letters but they were different, they had a number in the middle! I wanted to become one of those people.

I went to an Uncle who had a lot of worldly knowledge. His advice, ignore them, they’re ham radio operators and they’re harmless. When I wouldn’t give up my goal I told my Uncle that I wanted to become one of “them.” He told me to go to the library and ask for a book about ham radio. The librarian pulled out a copy of the ARRL Handbook and I started reading it religiously. I renewed it so many times she finally said, “Keep it we’re getting a newer version.” I would read about a half hour a day and practice Morse code as well. Back then you had to do 13 WPM straight away. I was making good progress until the hormones set in. I was about 14 and I discovered girls. Ham radio went onto the back burner for almost two years. Fortunately, I came to my senses and picked up where I had left off. On the day after Thanksgiving in 1949, when I was 16, I made the trip to NYC and took and passed my first FCC ham radio license exam. It was for a Class B license and predated the Novice license by about two years. For good measure I passed my Second Class Radiotelephone license on the same day. A year later I returned once again to the FCC and upgraded to a a Class A license and a First Class Radiotelephone ticket.

Epilogue:

It is now obvious, receiving that one-tub radio kit was the most fortuitous event in my young life. It pointed me to several careers, was responsible for getting me into a six and a half month school at Fort Monmouth, NJ and kept me out of combat during the Korean War. In addition, ham radio introduced me to a huge number of fantastic people. During my late teens through my late twenties, I keep showing up at the right place at the right time, frequently for the wrong reason.

Mom and Dad, as you look down upon your wayward son, I want to say thank you both for the greatest Christmas present ever.

Ham Cram Offering Free Extra Course Online

Ham Cram is accepting registrations for an online guided-study Extra Class licensing course. The course begins in late September and is co-sponsored by the Gloucester County Amateur Radio Club, GCARC.

The W1UL ham cram method has four distinguishing characteristics:

  • Incorrect answers are not studied
  • Only those questions most likely to be on the VE test are studied
  • It’s the fastest and most reliable path to a license or upgrade
  • It’s free!

This course differs substantially from the normal Ham-Cram.com independent study license prep because the Extra class pool is 50% larger than the Technician or General Class pools, making associations between question and answers more difficult. In addition the Extra subject material is more challenging.

A required book is offered for free but donations are requested. The donations will be exclusively used to enhance the ham-cram.com website. The purpose of the book is showing pool questions and answers in context.

Here is the normal (non-context) display:

(E0A05) What is one of the potential hazards of using microwaves in the amateur radio bands?

The high gain antennas commonly used can result in high exposure levels

The answer follows the question.

Here is the same question in context:

(E0A05) What is one of the potential hazards of using microwaves in the amateur radio bands?

An antenna creates by taking energy that would normally radiate from the side or back of the antenna and concentrating it in the desired direction. Microwave frequencies have exceptionally short wavelength allowing development of antennas having substantially higher amounts of radiation (gain) raising the effective radiated power in the desired direction.

Contextual usage does not make you an expert but it gives you additional insight into the question and answer pair.
Candidates complete and report on their results of assignments and participate in discussions on a dedicated email reflector. The pace of the course is initially targeted at one subelement (out of 10) per week but actual progress depends upon the pace of candidate assignment completion.

For those with commuting distance of the GCARC clubhouse in Mullica Hill, NJ (across the river from Philadelphia), the course will terminate with a two hour review session immediately followed by a VE test. However, W1UL will conduct a review session and VE test for any club in the ARRL SNJ section or any location within 70 miles of Tuckerton, NJ provided there are at least three candidates, (not all necessarily from the same club), a club furnished location for the review/VE session and the club provides two additional Extra class VEs. For people not in the Southern NJ area the email reflector used for the rest of the course will host the review.

Reserve a virtual seat for the course now since reservations may be limited.

Email urb at ham-cram dot com with reservations request and questions.

73 Urb W1UL – 67 Years a Ham

Please Thank a Vet

A few day after Veterans Day, I am still awash in the recognition vets received on their special day. In the interest of full disclosure, I spent two years on active duty and four years in the Army Signal Corps Reserve during the Korean War era, which probably doesn’t make me an impartial observer.

In actuality, this story began about ten years ago. I was visiting relatives in Florida and was dispatched to the supermarket to procure a few last-minute items. As I was walking into the store a distinguished looking old timer was heading toward a car with Purple Heart courtesy license plates. (The Purple Heart is presented to United State military personnel who have been wounded in combat.) I walked over to him and put out my hand and said, “thank you for your service and sacrifice, I sincerely appreciate both.” Whereupon he started to cry and said, “I’ve had these plates for ten years and you’re the first person who has every said a word!” In the discussion that followed, he told me he was a Marine who received a serious leg wound while fighting on Iwo Jima. Sixty years later he still walked with a serious limp. He also received the Bronze Star for valor in action. My new-found friend dispatched me with a big hug and an emotional, “thank you.” This chance encounter made my vacation and literally changed my life.

Over the ensuing years, I’ve frequently thought about this WWII hero. I wish I had taken his name and address so I could have remained in contact. It has also reminded me of the vast number of vets who gave their life or years of their life in the service of our country. You may be totally anti-war but in my opinion, even the most avid pacifists owe homage to those who died or were willing to serve to give them the right to protest.

Looking for vets I would simply say, “thank you for your service” and shake their hand if the occasion presented itself. I am especially on the lookout for Viet Nam vets as they were the object of disdain when they came home. People would spit at them and called all types of names. Possible a few acts of kindness now can help erase the pain of their homecoming. When encountering a WWII vet, there aren’t many left, I try and engage them in conversation. If I’m in the check-out line at a convenience store and there is a vet behind me with a container of coffee, I frequently tell the person at the cash register, “take out for the vet’s coffee.”

Don’t be surprised if thanking a vet, or other random acts of kindness, makes you feel better. Knowing you have brought a smile and a good feeling to another human being is a very special thing.

How I Became a DXer

I took my Class B amateur radio exam on November 25th, 1949 which was the day after Thanksgiving. In early 1950 my W2DEC license arrived in the mail, I was the happiest kid in the state of New Jersey. My pathway into operational ham radio was a home built transmitter and a purchased receiver. A generation of Novices would soon pursue this same route.

I worked the entire summer prior to getting my license saving enough money to purchase a Hallicrafter S-40A. My first transmitter was based on a QST article and contained a crystal controlled 6AQ5 driving a 6L6 amplifier I had no idea how much power I was running, who could afford a meter? My first antenna was a folded dipole constructed using 300-ohm twin lead commonly used to feed TV antennas. The antenna ran around the ceiling of a first-floor apartment. The performance of this antenna could charitably be described as abysmal.

With this rig my QSO rate was about one every third day. I did learn an important lesson, if you have a weak signal don’t waste your time calling CQ because only those skilled in clairvoyance would be attracted to answer a signal that was 90% imagination. However I could, on occasion, get someone calling CQ to respond to my reply.

My home was Hillside, NJ which is between Newark and Elizabeth. All my contacts were with the first, second and third call areas plus a couple of VEs. My best DX was a QSO with a very patient operator in Northern Maine.

After about five months using this rig, I talked two neighbors into allowing me to string my folded dipole between their clothesline poles and things started to improve dramatically. Suddenly, station in the fourth, eighth and ninth call areas were within my grasp. My best DX was Miami FL, I was on my way with flying colors.

My Elmer, Jim McGintey W2YYP, helped me set up a BC459 (WWII general use transmitter) with a power supply scrounged from parts from a discarded TV set. The difference when using when using a VFO controlled transmitter was dramatic. The transition from an indoor antenna to an outdoor antenna and from a crystal controlled to a VFO rig had taken my QSO rate from one every second or third day to frequently five, or more, Qs per day.

One evening I heard KG4AN calling CQ NYC. KG4, at the time, was exclusive Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Since I was close to NYC I called him and back he came. I was so nervous I could barely send coherent code. KG4AN was a Marine stationed on Gitmo and his wife had just given birth to a baby girl. He asked me to call his parents on Long Island to pass along the good news , I happily complied. I was now on my way to becoming a DXer with three countries, W, VE and KG4, worked and soon to be confirmed. The KG4AN QSL hung on my wall for many years; unfortunately, the card became a victim of hurricane Sandy.

Almost all of my operating was in the afternoon after school or the early evenings. I heard a few Europeans but didn’t have enough confidence to even call them. I had yet to work anyone west of the Mississippi.

One night I woke up about 2 AM with a toothache and couldn’t get back to sleep. I wondered if anyone was on the air at that hour and got up and turned on the rig. I didn’t touch a single dial and there was a W7 calling CQ. I called him and much to my surprise he came back. In those days you were located in the call area where you call indicated unless you were signing /some other call area. Sure enough, he was in Arizona. I was so excited I sent him an air mail QSL card. In 1950 postage to send a QSL card was a penny and an air mail QSL cost 4 cents. I sprang for mailing my card in an envelope which set me back 6 cents. The card from W7RA hung in a place of honor on my wall for years to come. I sometimes wonder if Mark Zuckerberg’svFacebook idea of putting important things on a wall didn’t originate with radio hams.

Taking one more look at the band before heading back to bed I hear another W7 calling CQ. Can I be lucky twice in the same session? Yes sir and Washington State was added to my growing list of states worked. That glorious night taught me two important lessons; learn about propagation and if you want different states and try operating at times you usually not on the air.

The next night the toothache was gone but I was again up a 2 AM. I worked a W6 and a couple of W0s stations. A few nights later I was tuning the band and there was a KH6 working another W2. I waited until they were done and called the KH6. Another miracle, he came back. A few nights later a ZL was added to my log and the DX hook had been firmly set. The rest, as they say, is history.
Although I worked my way up to being one country off the top of the honor roll in 1965, none of the contacts putting me at that lofty level equaled the thrill of working the first KG4, W7 and KH6. If it hadn’t been for a toothache who knows how my ham radio career would have unfolded, I may have never become a DXer.


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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor