some reason, making people speak like country bumpkins was deemed
good humor back in the early to mid twentieth century. To wit, Li'l
Abner, Snuffy Smith, Barnet Google, et al, had characters that made
the Beverly Hillbillies look like Rhodes Scholars by comparison.
This fun story in the July 1944 edition of QST is no exception.
July 1944 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Them Wuz the Good Old Days...
... Or Wuz They?
Ed Thiddleslug lives up
at the head of Catfish Pond. He's an old guy and we don't never
see him except when he comes down to sell his syrup after the sugarin'
season. He come down this year same as ever. While we wuz settin'
around waiting for the grading to get finished, Ed had his annual
say. Every year he gets off about the same story as last year and
the year before on the topic of "Them Wuz the Good Old Days." We
ain't got the heart to douse the old fool, and so we just let him
maunder on till he runs dry. After all, it's only 'once a year,
and I guess it's about the only fun Ed gets outta life.
Ed comes into this story is because after he left Martha and me
began talking over them old days, too. Far as Martha is concerned,
she reckons that the only good thing about 'em is that they are
gone. That's easy to figger out, what with modern washing machines
and all making life easier for the wimmen folk. As for me, guess
I'm old enough to remember the early days of ham radio but young
enough so I don't live in' em.
After reading back through
my file of QSTs (bless the day Martha bullied me into having 'em
bound each year) and getting out some of the old log books, I come
to the conclusion that them was the good old days at the time, but
that they look kinda sad in the light of what we know today and
didn't know then. Looking back sorta puts a haze over the things
that weren't too good and makes the good times stick out clear.
You take that sync spark transmitter we had up here about
twenty years ago. It sure was impressive. By golly, that old blast
furnace would reach out as much as 800 miles on a good night! It
put out a strong smell of ozone and shoved a solid 14 amperes into
the aerial. Brahms never wrote a rhapsody as sweet as the music
of that gap. Them things I remember clear.
But now let's
dig around in the haze a bit. When I used that rig the Polecat County
Electric Company used to blame me every time there wuz a surge back
up the line. The neighbors weren't rightly interested in my QSOs
and they took a nasty view of flickering lights. And when the power
bills came in at the end of the month whew! Them sure wuz good
days at the time, but I'd ruther have that prewar 250-watt rig and
no ozone. Come the end of the war we'll sure have a better one,
'Course, there wuz some things about them early days
where there warn't nothing down in the haze - it was all good. When
there was only a few fellers on the air we were so glad to see each
other that everyone was real nice to everyone else. Messages got
slapped through best a feller could do. There warn't so much of
fellers shouldering each other outa the way and riding the next
guy down just to make a DX QSO.
Competition is a fine thing
but, like most fine things, it can be carried too far. A DX contest
is really a high-power radio Olympic Championship contest. Every
feller should playas hard as he knows how without beating the rules.
Seems like a lot of fellers was running a permanent DX contest in
the last couple years before the war. They used to use ECO swooshing
as a spearhead attack and their heavy artillery was an oversize
kilowatt. When they got all through they'd blasted some little guy
handy to them with their ground wave and ruined the tempers of a
dozen other guys around the country. The result wuz a single QSO
with a DX station and a card later - mebbe. Ain't nothing against
high power s'long as it's used decent-like, but it ain't right to
Farmers is supposed to be pretty saving folk,
but just the same it reminds me of the feller who used his .375
express rifle on rabbits. It sure stopped the rabbit but all he
could find was the tip of one ear and some fluff from its tail.
Every man to his own fishing pole, but I reckon that a quarter kilowatt
works out about right for me from a money as well as from an operating
point ,of view ....
One of the brightest moments wuz the
first time I stoked up the Reinartz receiver. Before then we used
a perambulating tickler coil. My set had a whole raft of Meccano
parts to make a reduction gear (about 2000 to 1), but no matter
how a feller strained and grunted the doggone thing would go plop
into oscillation just at the time when the signal was crawling up
outa the hash. That job of Johnny Reinartz's we copied religious-like
outa QST. Seems silly today, but all it amounted to was reaction
control with a variable condenser instead of a rotating tickler
coil. Didn't seem silly when I first switched it on, though. As
the feed-back condenser eased around the set slid smooth into oscillation
with a gentle rushing noise. You could build her up right to a knife
edge of oscillation and just a leetle past and out come signals
like you never heard before.
The Reinartz receiver then
was like stepping out of a Model T Ford into a Rolls Royce, but
it sure would look sick today. F'rinstance, if another station opened
up within a megacycle or so of the one you were listening to that
detector bottle got a snob complex and pulled itself over to the
stronger of the two. On a very weak DX signal you had to hold your
breath and keep your nose from twitching; otherwise the body capacity
would change the tuning and lose it for you. Bet TOM's cat got spat
on for that more'n any other reason! You young fellers who never
knew nothing about the old detector-one-step rigs don't know how
well off you are. And I reckon it's safe to assume that after the
war we'll have better receivers than ever before, too.
of you old-timers will be interested in what I heerd t'other day.
Young city slicker up from Washington told me that the original
John Reinartz has got three stripes on his sleeve and scrambled
eggs on his hat now and is in the Radio Division at the Naval Research
Laboratory. Reckon that guy ain't changed much. Didja ever notice
that fellers who have been doing ham radio for a long time don't
seem to change much? They get older, sure - but they don't get stodgy
and sot in their ideas. Reckon that planning that next rig what's
always going to be better than the one you have now kinda keeps
a feller young.
Guess the durndest, fussiest, dirtiest,
most divorce-making invention of Satan that the oldtimers used
was them chemical rectifiers. Right at the first we used just the
raw a.c. on the plates and signals sounded like a cross between
a bad-tempered hog at feeding time and a slow-speed band saw. Then
along came the chemical rectifiers. To begin with you needed a truck
to get the stuff together. Four or five dozen quart Mason jars was
the minimum. Then you get some borax (I allus held that 20 Mule
Team was the best no advertisement intended). 'Bout twenty-five
pounds wuz enough to start with. Next item was sheet aluminum and
sheet lead. The lead you could come by pretty easy. In the early
'20s aluminum was rare stuff and the pure kind rarer. I got mine
from the body of a junked foreign car a feller smashed up when he
hit a tree down the road one time. The trimmings needed added up
to a gross of nuts and bolts and a 2 X 4 frame not to mention
a bath tub! Had to be a bath tub that was enameled, too; a tin wash
tub wuz supposed to be poison.
you lined all the Mason jars up on the rack - no lids on 'em, of
course. Then you got a pair of tin snips and grew a crop of blisters
cutting out strips of aluminum and lead, one strip of each for each
jar. Then you connected 'em all up, aluminum to lead, like a battery.
Next, them jars had to be filled. You got a lot of boiling water
and made a strong solution of borax in the bath tub and then ladled
some out into each Mason jar pretty near to the top. If you wuz
real fancy you floated a little oil on top of the soup in the jars
to keep it from evaporating and creeping. (It never worked!) If
all went well you ended up with a bridge rectifier just like the
copper-oxide rectifiers we have today.
making sure your life insurance wuz paid up, you connected the transformer
secondary across one side of the bridge and hooked a lamp in series
in the primary circuit to reduce the volts and save the fuses. Then
you switched it on for a while. This was called "forming" the cells
and was unpredictable as a six-month-old colt. Sometimes she blew
up; sometimes she boiled over. If luck wuz with you the plates "formed"
and you had a rectifier. It wuz a swell rectifier then; why, the
d.c. didn't have more'n about 40 per cent ripple! Them jars looked
right pretty in the dark, too. They blowed - I mean glowed, but
they did both - a nice, eerie blue light and there wuz little sparkles
of light in 'em like some of you fellers seen in tropical waters.
Swell- if only they hadn't crept. That's where the divorces come
in. That dadgummed stuff would crawl outa them jars and go creeping
around the house, crystallizing here and soaking there. You married
fellers know the rest!
Mebbe that sounds kinda glamorous
- but it wasn't. Now today you take a couple of little old, bottles
not much bigger than a receiving tube and shove 'em into a neat;
clean, dry little power supply and out comes husky, fat, pure d.c.,
enough and to spare - and, by golly, you get the blue glow thrown
No! a thousand times no! Them wuz swell days then,
Wouldn't have missed 'em for anything. But as the feller sez on
the radio, "Time Marches On," and the guy who don't march with it
is either dumb or ornery. Ed Thiddleslug can look back over his
shoulder all he wants to, but you and me - we automatic-like look
ahead to doing it better and neater. If we hadn't, ham radio would
of dried up and blown away long ago.