Saturday, May 19, 2012


Part of one row of the outside area -- less than a tenth of the total. There's no place to get a really good overview photograph but take it from me, the Hamvention is huge!

One commercial vendor offered miniature straight keys, J-38ish (the general Bunnell "Triumph" pattern, widely used in the U.S.) but about 3/8 full size. I wanted one...but didn't buy one on sight and, of course, could not find them again.

But that was all I missed at Dayton. I didn't buy anything large, but several smaller items came home with me along with plenty of photographs. Above, the Morse Telegraph Club, with a bit of the Vibroplex booth in the background. (I bought a couple of "Vari-Speed" attachments from Vibroplex, a nice pre-WW II invention the company brought back several years ago. The new owner and staff were there, with the full line of keys.)

Begali! Peitro Begali is at the right, perhaps the best key designer alive (apologies to Mike Marsh, who does beautiful work) and certainly the most prolific; he demonstrated his Swedish-style straight key and let me give it a try. That blurry photo was the best I could get. The Begali booth is solidly busy all the time and a clear photo is all but impossible.

Speaking of keys, that's the ballcap and one ear of Mr. Enigma (the WW II encryption device) and Mr. Keys himself, Professor Tom Perera, W1TP, and above him, a huge and very wondrous strange key, with two sets of contacts and adjustments galore.

More keys. Readers of this blog will recognize the bugs, and perhaps the unusual Western Electric straight key at the top center, but how about the gadgets over at the right? They're "registers," with clockwork pulling a paper tape under a stylus that "writes" the incoming code as long or short lines. This technology preceded transcribing code by sound; it never occurred to Morse or Vail that anyone could manage that....until operators started doing it. The machines shown are roughly Civil War vintage.
Here's a beauty! A Collins 20V3 AM broadcast transmitter, 1 kW with cutback to as low as 250 Watts. Once a stalwart of local "coffeepot" AMs, most surviving examples are either relegated to backup transmitter service or, like this one, have been converted to ham use. You can see two of the tubes glowing at the left; there's another pair at the right: 2 RF finals, 2 modulators. Originally, 2 or 4 mercury-vapor rectifiers would have been glowing a happy purple-blue at the bottom of the window. This rig was up on the bed of a small truck but it's odds-on the 866s have been replaced by solid-state diodes; most people don't enjoy the failure mode of M-V rectifiers, or the half-hour-plus warm-up time if you don't keep them cooking all the time. This rig offers a surprise for the unwary: there's 110 VDC on the RF output! It operates a relay that shuts the transmitter off if there's an arc, and will give you quite a jolt if you don't know about it. (BT, DT.)

Another, even bigger transmitter, though I think it was a kiloWatt job, too. Originally it was a nice sober Gates gray. I was unable to capture the full glory of this repaint, complete with a yellow "tube guy," lightning bolts and floating eyeballs. Why? Why not! (Anything that keeps this old iron around and on the air is okay with me. Perhaps that's barbaric, but they are going to landfills in droves.)

Not every transmitter requires its own truck. This is a "1929 type" high-C rig probably built in the 1980s. It's a directly-coupled high-power oscillator. ("High power" being some tens of Watts, with luck.) Some hams run these on the air -- properly set up, they work fine, despite a tendency to "yoop" mildly as the antenna sways in the breeze.

Receivers! (One of those things is not like the others, and I don't mean the "doghouse" power supply for the HRO-7, second from left. Can you ID the odd box out?)Hallicrafters, in fair shape.
National, a WW II set, ditto.
RCA, I think. In rough shape; you can't see the clock-type tuning scale, with "hour" and "minute" hand for reading down to the kilocycle. Or so.

RME 69, with the hard-to-find preselector. I wanted to buy this one; it's in decent shape, unrestored, and the price was right. But it would need weeks of work and I am full up for projects. Note the absence of labels for the controls -- designer E. G. Shalkhauser, W9CI, was of the opinion anyone who would be operating the receiver should either be smart enough to figure them out or sufficiently interested to read the manual. RME made some of the best receivers of their day; after WW II, they built a few more models and were bought up by Electro-Voice. E-V eventually sold the name but it is tempting to wonder if some of the "DNA" remained: long after RME was gone, some retired E-V engineers started up a little ham radio company called Ten-Tec. They've done all right.

This came home with me. Made right here in Indy, the EZ-TOON aftermarket vernier tuning knob! A 1920s aftermarket accessory for receivers. Found two of them. Here's the user's side.

Among my purchases: a couple of books from the RSGB, the previously-mentioned Varispeeds (and a contact burnisher: I nearly lost a QSO two days ago thanks to dirty key contacts!), a pair of 6BG6 tubes, a kind of an octal 807 beam power tube, some round "Ohmite" type knobs, an NOS Hammarlund plug-in coil form in the original box, ceramic standoff insulators and a National variable condenser.

And that's a glimpse of my day at the Hamvention. I'm thinking about driving back Sunday -- need to top up the oil in my car, first.


  1. Wow!
    Thanks for the tour.
    It looks like a beautiful day in Dayton.

  2. Gonna take a while to peruse ur pics, much less the hamvention. Tanks! (Pun intended.)

  3. Thanks for the tour and congrats on the decent weather. I envy the choice of keys available as there are few offered at local 'fests. (Not that I "need" more keys. Ha Ha) My code speed is down to almost zero but I want to get it back to the 20 - 25WPM range. (A new antenna would also help.) Got some Schurr paddles, which are magnificent, and a pre-WW II Bug. I see a REALLY good straight key in my future.

    Thanks for the post.


  4. designer E. G. Shalkhauser, W9CI, was of the opinion anyone who should be operating the receiver should either be smart enough to figure them out or sufficiently interested to read the manual.

    I often say the same about my employer's software product. Sadly, the smart folks are retiring and their replacements are typically not up to snuff...or as willing to RTFineM.

  5. Pietro Begali was there? Was Bruna there too? I still get emails from them at Christmas time. I treated myself to Begali paddles a few years ago. It's the finest piece of machinery I own.

  6. Shalkhauser, PBUH, was quite happy to let such persons fail on their own merits. And, happily, in a position to do so.

    ...Speaking of fail... MFJ had put subsidiaries Ameritron (who make nice-looking RF power amps, "linears") and Vectronics (who make fun little kits, etc.) in the same booth -- which meant buying a $20 kit required the same paperwork as buying a $3499 amplifier! --Ohio is kind of sticky about sales tax, I guess. (One of these days -- they have a nice and nearly-afforable 600W amp, 3 811As in parallel that I'd kind of like to have for those times when the guy on the other end is having to dig under the noise and interference.)

  7. Bruna was there, too, Dave; I think she's even in the photo. Those are some of the nicest folks you will ever meet. I own a Begali bug and it is a treat; the only problem I have is my code speed has to be up to 15 wpm or so to get the full benefit, as it's a QRQ machine.

    The response Begali (and Vibroplex) get at their booths is heart-warming to a CW-enthusiast.

  8. "...heart-warming to a CW-enthusiast."

    And a retrotechnologist. (grin) I've always loved simple mechanical solutions to complex problems. I do software for a living and I know just how stupid a computer is. That's why I like bugs, guns, and tube gear.

    Sorry you missed out on the dinky J-38s. After years of attending I learned the first rule of Hamvention is "buy it now, because it won't be there later." (Well, actually the first rule is "Bring TP and more money.")

  9. Thanks for my daily Boat Anchor fix!

  10. Hats off to you. I got a fairly "poor" reception by the Ham community. I was an early no-code general-class. And as a woman, they just couldn't believe I knew anything. I eventually gave up and went on to other things. Keep thinking I will dust off the radio eventually - as part of the preparations for whatever - but I can't get past the assumption - that I received everywhere. Not from everyone, but from every part of the community.

    (The only reason I didn't take the Extra test, is because I thought it would be bad-form to get an Extra license before making my 1st contact. The test was stupidly simple - except for the memorization of things like the band-plan, which has changed AT LEAST once since I bothered to memorize it.)

    I shouldn't say everyone was annoying, the club I was a member of briefly, were pretty good.

    The whole thing appeals to the geek in me, but the large number of folks who just couldn't wrap their minds around the fact that a woman and a no-code general to boot could know anything about technology.

  11. Only way to deal with that is to show that you know. Me, I tend to be kinda solitary at these event. Sometimes I get the hairy eyeball but having a clue usually helps once the conversation starts.

    On the air is usually better. More male hams are shy than are surly, and they do better with a couple of radios in between. Especially on HF. VHF/UHF, IMO, can get kind of clique-y, especially the reaper crowd. (YMMV)

    --In key collecting, a woman named Lou Moreau (SK) already broke the ice for us: she was one of the most knowledgeable collectors and had a huge collection, which she left to the AWA. Nobody can say women can't know keys, not after her.

  12. Had to blow up the image before my eyes could focus on the Johnson MatchBox w SWR meter. Had one (w/o the meter) when I was a Novice. 'Way too many years ago.

    Thanks for the Hamvention review. Never been there but always wanted to go. Looks like LOTS of fun.

  13. Thanks for the's been a long time for me but the stories I recall!!


  14. Fourth from the left is an amp or maybe a transmatch and not a receiver?

    Dayton and Knob Creek are both on my list for when I win the lotto.

  15. Yes, the Johnson Matchbox is the odd gadget out!