Thoughts of Yesteryear
Roderick M. Fitz-Randolph
w5hvv at AENEAS.NET
Sat May 9 10:49:21 EDT 1998
In 1955-56 I was on Grand Turk Island, working for RCA Service Co. as a
Timing Technician, and was operating as VP5RR with an NC-173, a Harvey-
Wells TBS-50C and a 700 foot long wire, 10 feet off the ground. Got my
first DXCC from there in less than a year... can you imagine?
One day, while working on the modulator on the TBS-50, Two RCA Range
Managers (Bill Coulter and another) walked in to the Hamshack. I hurriedly
twisted some wire ends together, cranked up the gear and called CQ. I had
a pipeline to Europe from Grand Turk back in those days and a CT1 answered
my call. He was 40 over 9. Remember, this was the days of AM and carriers
and things like that.... and it was the days of one of the highest sunspot
cycles in history.
Bill Coulter and the other Range Manager were totally impressed..... and
so, when I told them I wanted to be the first RCA personnel to hit Ascension
Island (even if I had to sweep the floors, there), it got favorable notice.
Soon thereafter, I was summoned to Patrick AFB and was prepped to become
the first permanent change of station (PCS) personnel to go to Ascension. As
I got on the ancient DC4 and was about to head for Ascension, via Trinidade
and Recife, Brazil, I was asked by Bill Coulter to reassure him that I could
indeed copy code. That was news to me. I had really gotten with the
microphone after passing my test as W5HVV and I could and did work some CW
from Grand Turk but I was nobody's CW traffic handler..... I was soon to
As we passed through Trinidade, I ventured into town and tried to purchase
2,000 rounds of .22 ammo for my 9-shot nickol plated H&R .22 pistol. That
is grist for another tale! I almost got arrested for starting a revolution
but got on the plane with 3,000, not 2,000, rounds of ammo. Boy, was the
Resident Magistrate on Ascension surprised when I showed up with a pistol
and 3,000 rounds of .22 ammo!! Amazingly enough, he (having an excellent
command of the U.S. Constitution) granted me a license to "Keep and Bear
Arms"!!!! I still have that priceless piece of paper somewhere! I had to
create a firing range at the base of one of the very high hills of volcanic
ash and fly a red flag made of a tea towel soaked in red food die but it
worked. I sported my shiny pistol (in a leather holster I made) as I walked
from the Comm Van to the firing range wearing nothing but the belt, holster,
swimming trunks, and shoes. The St. Helenian natives gawked.... and gawked!
Then, as any young (I was 25 at the time) ham would do, I applied to Mr.
Williams, the Resident Magistrate, for an amateur radio license so that I
could operate from Ascension. I had sold my TBS-50 and NC-173 to another
ham on Grand Turk and had purchased a 75A3 and 32V3 for the trip to Ascension.
I used the 75A3 in place of the somewhat shaky NC-183Ds that RCA supplied me
with and I found that I could drive the BC-610 with the 32V3 just beautifully.
I was quite pleased that, with some discerning care, I could interpolate to
the nearest 100 cycles on the dial of the 75A3 and 32V3 when the 75A3 was
calibrated with the crystal oscillator that I calibrated against WWV by a
wire brought from the crystal oscillator on the 75A3 to close proximity to
the NC-183D. Jury-rigged, but it worked well.
So it was with some surprise that Mr. Williams, the Resident Magistrate,
read to me the requirements for becoming licensed as an amateur on
Ascension Is in 1956. He informed me, in a very nice way, that I needed
to have an absorbtion type wavemeter to tell what frequency on which my
transmitter was transmitting. I couldn't believe my ears. I tried my
best to explainto him that my 32V3 put out only a very pure signal with
virtually no harmonic content, etc., etc., but to no avail. As I spoke
to him, I felt the flush in my cheeks and the hair beginning to rise on
the back of my neck. How in the name of Christ could the man responsible
for the British Cable and Wireless, Ltd. on Ascension Island expect someone
to use an absorbtion type wavemeter to check the frequency of the famous
Collins 32V3?????? The conversation came to a faltering halt when I could
not bring myself to lower my principles..... and thus, I never did get that
much coveted ZD8 call! Talk about cutting off one's nose to spite his face.
Nevertheless, I continued to use the 32V3 to drive the BC-610 on 7525 KHz
and handle 5 letter code groups from the Navy AROIC to Patrick AFB and
vice versa. I slept in the Comm Van, next to the runway on Ascension,
behind the two BC-610s on an army cot. Communications with Patrick AFB
took place in the late evening and soon after dawn.
I built a 6 element wire beam for 7525 KHz that was suspended from four
telephone poles with a wire suspension system on both sides. It worked
quite well, considering that all I had to feed it with was EE8 twisted
pair that laid on the ground! The beam never got more than 4 feet off the
ground but worked as well as the high dipole I usually used.
I went exploring a lot, while on Ascension in the 50's. I found a Browning
air-cooled .50 caliber machine gun that had been in a wing of a plane that
had augered into a hill at the end of the runway and, after soaking it in
diesel fuel for four days, got it to where the bolt would go back and forth.
I mounted it on a concrete pedestal in front of the quonset huts close to
the rhombic antennas that were near one end of the runway. However, the
British took a dim view of it (even tho the firing pin was sheared off and
I had no ammo for it) and they confiscated it. Some people have little
sense of humor.
I have many, many tales of Ascension I could tell.... such as the ZBM code
I was sent once from the radioman on an incoming DC4.... and how I handled
that one..... pretty cool. Also, how I managed to survive with only a
scant 10 wpm capability when I first hit Ascension and the AFE70 ops at
Patrick AFB in Florida were used to sending 30 wpm or better. Another
story, another time.
Hope I haven't caused any harsh feelings about relating my Ascension Island
tales on the Reflector..... Just had to do it. All the talk about boat
anchors and glowbugs just got my nostalgia juices flowing at top speed.
w5Hvv at aeneas.net
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