The title says
"21 Years a Ham," and that was true in 1950 when this story appeared in
Radio & Television News magazine. However, 72 years later author Helen
Cloutier can claim "93 Years a Ham," if she has not yet obtained Silent Key (SK)
status. As with today, as far back as the middle of the last century
organizations and publications went out of their way to celebrate and promote
"non-traditional" participants, in this case a woman, engaged in the hobby,
sport, or profession. Concurrently, those same groups were accused of
discouraging and shunning women and minorities from participation (yes, of
course some were guilty of it). Special accommodations - even laws - were made
to right the accused wrong. It simply can't be that males (particularly white
males) might be more interested in those particular activities than others. For
many decades, white males have been placed at a disadvantage regarding access to
schools, jobs, political office, and organizations, in favor of everyone else.
It is the only acceptable form of discrimination.
Update: RF Cafe visitor Gerald W. saw this article and sent me a link to
Helen Cloutier Schmock's obituary. She became a Silent Key (SK) in the Fall
of 2002. Among her many accomplishments were being a recognized artist and
author, being director of numerous institutions, being a business owner, and
even being the world's longest female holder of an amateur radio license.
21 Years a Ham
The author in her ham shack. This modern ham station has developed
over a period of years from the original Hartley circuit with 15 watts c.w., a Silver-Marshall
receiver, and a doublet to a fully equipped shack with a BC-610 transmitter, a SX-25 receiver and preselector,
a 10 meter beam, and a modern antenna rotator.
By Helen Cloutier, W8GJX
A youthful hobby has paid big dividends in fun and friends for this amateur.
"A story to go with the cover picture," the Editor suggested, "on how you got
into ham radio."
After writing for 10 years, this has been the hardest yarn I've ever attempted.
Perhaps it was the strange noises, the dots and dashes sprinkled with an overdose
of QRM or, remotely, it might have been the fact that we were supposed to be hearing
the Byrd Expedition, but most probably it was plain, old-fashioned curiosity that
made me decide to study radio.
I know that my desire to understand the dots and dashes and to know what they
meant hurried along my eager study of the code. Note-throwing in high school may
have had a place in the pattern too.
During the summer of 1929, I managed a beauty shop in Frankfort, Michigan and
was able to attend a radio school each evening. By September I had my class "C"
license and the call W9GJX.
Operating the low-powered transmitter at the school gave me plenty of practice
in procedure and plenty of helpful (?) advice from the rest of the students. The
instructor, then chief operator of WFK, gave the students a chance to operate the
commercial station and learn all the fine points of commercial operating.
When I returned to Manistique, W9GJX went on the air. My first station consisted
of a Hartley circuit with about 15 watts c.w. on all bands, a Silver-Marshall receiver,
and a doublet antenna. With it I worked all states and plenty of DX.
Not satisfied with class "C," theory was the next step. Always difficult for
me, schematics, Ohm's Law, and the intricacies of elementary electricity were slowly
and painfully digested with the tenacity of a billy goat eating the proverbial cans.
Finally, though rather hesitantly, I decided that I could pass the Federal examination.
The train trip to Chicago, our nearest examination point, was a flurry of drawing
diagrams, reading the Amateur's Handbook until I was sure I knew nothing at all
about any of it. Until the day I received my new class "B" ticket I reviewed the
questions and diagrams in my mind and wondered whether I'd answered any of them
For the next few years I remember vaguely that I worked and I remember, much
more vividly, the many QSO's I had with new-found friends throughout the country.
I also recall the hams that suddenly and without warning, knocked on our door and
asked for the radio operator.
I am sure that many times during those first years of ham radio my mother wondered
what sort of offspring she had been blessed with and perhaps, secretly, wished that
I had been a dish-washing, cake-baking kind of girl.
I know she especially wondered about my sanity when, at any hour day or night,
I would dash from my bedroom transmitter room and yell frantically that I had just
talked to Belgium or England or some other equally remote place.
Mother, at that time, was operating her beauty shop and I was supposed to be
working with her. Between appointments and every spare moment I was at the transmitter.
From time to time new additions were made to the station equipment and various
visiting hams adjusted the transmitter or suggested changes, some good, some bad
but always more expensive, until, before the war, I was running about 200 watts
on c.w. and using a Stancor 20-P as experimental phone.
Many other interests, playing pipe organ at the local theater, a job I had filled
from my freshman year in high school, teaching dancing, operating in Mother's shop
kept every minute filled to the brim. But hamming was my relaxation, my recreation,
my traveling with the least exertion. I became a member of the ARRL, was net control
alternate for the AARS in the ninth district, was made route manager in 1931, ORS
in 1931, and was elected to the A1 operators club in the same year.
When I married, strangely enough a non-ham, and moved from Manistique, Dad decided
to become a ham so that he could talk to me every day. He studied and passed his
class "C" and was ready to go on the air. His call was W9UTY and, after letting
his license lapse during the. war, later W8ZKR. From 1932 on Dad and I kept two
daily schedules on 80 meter c.w., and after the war we worked ground-wave on ten
The years after leaving home were filled with running a beauty shop, operating
my dancing school, raising a family of two boys, photography, and hamming.
Then came the war and a request that I teach radio for the AAF.
I was glad to have the opportunity of putting my radio experience to some good
use. While teaching, I took the ground course along with the classes and did a bit
of flying. When the war ended CAP asked me to teach for them, and W9GJX went back
on the ham bands as W8GJX.
It was good to be back on the air, good to renew acquaintances with old c.w.
friends and the new experience of working on ten meter phone was thrilling. Exposed
as they had been for years, Jack, Jack Jr., and Chuck had never shown any interest
until I swapped my dream of a mink coat for a BC-610 transmitter and an SX-25 receiver
and pre-selector plus a ten meter beam and Premax "Roto-Mount." Then, when they
could hear voices instead of dots and dashes, their interest perked up.
The whole family could enjoy it now and that, in itself, made my hobby more enjoyable
to me. Now they could listen in, could take the mike and talk for themselves. Unconsciously
they learned the "slanguage" of the phone bands.
Ham radio has given me many wonderful leads for stories for another of my hobbies-writing.
After one develops a "nose for news" and an ear for a likely story, it is only another
way to learn about the unusual, a new way to conduct an interview.
One such story started with a chat with W40B in Tampa, Florida. Pat is a ship's
pilot for passenger boats and freighters coming into Tampa Bay from the Gulf of
Mexico. We drifted into many lengthy conversations about his duties as a ship's
pilot and after daily QSO's I decided that here was material for a different sort
of a story. On a later. trip to Florida I contacted Pat, took pictures on the island
where the men live between trips to the mainland and I had a story that made the
front pages of 23 Florida newspapers.
Through radio I met Nat McKelvey of Tucson, Arizona, a prominent non-fiction
writer, and we talked shop. The net result of some of these almost daily chats was
collaboration on several stories that sold to national magazines, and a fine friendship.
I met His Honor, Mayor Earl Mead of Huntley, Montana, became an "official Dogcatcher"
by appointment and another story was born.
I have certificates that prove I'm a member of the WAA (Worked All Alamagordo,
New Mexico - the home of the A bomb), that I'm a member of the Black Eyed Pea Net
of North bands, Carolina, and a member of the Rag Chewers Club, the YLRL, and that
I've worked so many stations in Orlando that I not only got the promised box of
delicious fruit from them for working 15 stations but am now working on a key to
the City Hall. Incidentally, I received the second box of fruit sent out by the
Orlando Radio Club, the first box was sent to a KZ station.
My latest project is to get a "Pole-cat Certificate." I've exchanged insults
with some of the W7 polecats but have not yet contacted the required number to entitle
me to a full-fledged membership in that exclusive fraternity.
Somewhere toward the end of 1949 an idea began to incubate. The little red man
began to needle me. "You've been class 'B' for 20 years, why don't you start out
1950 right. Or maybe you're too dumb anyway." This red gremlin promoted a trip to
Chicago, the class "A" examination and, on February 2, two weeks and a half after
taking the examination, my class "A" ticket arrived.
All this, in turn, promoted me to that popular niche on 75 meter phone, a buzzard
on the "Buzzard's Roost Net," and to the Michigan Emergency Net.
The present routine of the day includes, operating my beauty shop, managing a
10-room home, three meals a day for the three men of the family, writing non-fiction
and working on my seventh book of fiction, hamming, chasing BCI, and photography.
Yes, the old adage holds true, "To be a ham, you don't have to be crazy, but
it sure helps!"
Ask any ham!
Posted April 26, 2022