An opportunity to spend quality time with family members is at your fingertips. I was surely blessed when my father chose to encourage my interest in electronics by directing me toward two-way radio communications. There are few things we can choose as a hobby that offers a useful enduring opportunity to learn. Personal inter-relationship with our children creates a strong family bond and emotional attachment that lasts forever.
I was the type of kid who brought home everything electronic I could find on the curbs during trash pick-up days. Neighbor’s saw my interest and donated unwanted electronic devices so I could learn. I had televisions, radios, console record player/radio combinations, etc, in my bedroom and on the kitchen table. I was fascinated by how all of these electronic devices worked. Dad saw this and promoted my education by involving me in “Heath Kit” products, and later, obtaining a Ham Radio base station and license for our home. My world expanded tremendously, and my involvement was whole hearted in learning it.
There was a time when we had a radio mast that included mounting of a Shortwave Ham antenna, a CB Radio antenna, and our Television antenna together. It was quite the sight in our neighborhood when dad’s friends; Jocko and Claude, on a Saturday morning, brought that mast in on a company truck. Dad had built it himself and meant it as a surprise for all of us kids. He had made a decision to involve us in radio communications as a shared hobby. The mast was triangular, built of 1.5 inch thinwalled square stock aluminum, and was 35 ft. in height.
The base of the mast matched the roof slope of the house: it was easily taken off the truck bed onto the roof, stood up and secured on our roof, then climbed in order to securely attach each antenna. It seemed everyone in the neighborhood was big-eyed and fascinated that day, just as me and my brothers and sisters were. We actually felt pride in the appearance of our house that day; we had the only ‘science fiction’ looking house on the block, and knew that all the other kid’s in our heighborhood envied us.
About one week after raising the antenna, dad brought in a Ham Radio base station composed of Receiver, Transmitter and Amplifier components. All complements of ‘Jocko’ who was a communications technician in the Phillipeans during WWII, with dad, and dad’s wartime buddy. Additionally, he bought a ‘Johnson Messenger’ CB Radio base unit and a matching ‘Johnson Messenger’ mobile radio he installed in the family car. Both CB’s were identical ‘White Face” models, the only exception being is the mobile version had a ‘vibrator tube’ installed allowing it to run on converted DC (direct current), as the radio was rated 110 VAC (alternating current) operating power. This made the CB Radio mobile, and later allowed me to have a great time using the base station and contacting my father by radio anywhere he was. The real fun began after all of this was installed.
Over time it became clear that our radios were not getting good reception/transmission distance. This was clear of both the Ham base unit and the CB radio base. The problem our grounding system. We had simply ran a copper ground rod into the ground outside dad’s bedroom window. We had attached a ground wire from the base of the mast to that 8′ long copper rod and used it as antenna-to-base transmitter/receiver ground circuit. We determined it was not adequate, and we installed a new grounding system. Dad bought two bags of ‘rock salt’ (sodium chloride), then pulled our old grounding rod out. I then dug a four foot hole, drove our copper rod into the center of it where it would be 4-5 inches above ground when the hole was filled. After this we poured in one bag of salt; added water, then filled the hole halfway up, added the last bag of salt and more water, then filled the hole level with the ground.
A test became necessary, so I held a 100W light bulb (ground side) against the rod, while holding the mast ground wire to the positive tip of the bulb. Dad ‘keyed’ the CB microphone and my lightbult lighted brightly. The “Messenger Radio” had been ‘bridged’ at the final output amplifier giving us 100W of SSB power. Wow, this was truly amazing to me. The next test was the “Ham Radio” base transmiter test. Using the same bulb, dad ‘keyed’ the mike and the bulb in my hand lighted overly bright and burned out. That base transmitter was putting out about 1.5 KW (1500) watts of transmission power), which was marginally legal with our current license. Oh well, we used it anyway. Our new ground tested less than 24 ohms from the antenna mast to ground. We had a lightning rod situation we did not realize at the time.
Making a long story shorter, over a period of time our antenna got a lot of attention. We had the privilege of talking all over the world, the Ham and CB were well dialed in, and I learned a great deal more about electronics. Using the ‘Continuous Wave Mode” (CW), I also transmitted in ‘Morse Code” all over the world. Everyone during the 1960′s still prided themselves in being proficient in it’s use. All well and good, but a problem seemed to visit us on the first fall/winter season, again during the spring. Our grounding system was so good that it attracted violent lightning storms around our house. We didn’t realize this until the city inspectors came. It seems some of our neighbors had complained that six kids lived in a house that’s always being stuck by lightning.
The rock salt created an acidic soil assuring good copper contact with the ground. The height of our antenna mast was approximately 47′ from the ground, plus the 8′ length of the top most antenna. This was a total height of 55′, which was higher than anything else around our house. It was well grounded and safe, but the city gigged us on the overall height exceeding local codes. We had to bring the antenna mast down to a concrete pad on the ground. This ultimately proved effective, but the fun of the thunder storms was badly missed, though there remained serious electrical activity around our house on some days. We actually enjoyed the storms, and lots of neighborhood children and parents were awed by them too.
I have to say that this hobby changed my life. My sister Larae and brother Steven, also developed interests in communications. Larae works as a television and radio station executive in Oregon, and my brother Steven works for the Sheriffs Department as a Communications Engineer. I’ve personally worked as an Industrial Electrician and Instrumentation Electrician for over eight years. This hobby is both educational and exciting. The bonds you build with your children will last a lifetime. I can honestly say that time and money spent developing this hobby with family and friend involved, will be well spent.