July 1944 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
For 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, Barney Google, et al, had characters
that made the Beverly Hillbillies
look like Rhodes
Scholars by comparison. This fun story entitled, "Them Wuz the Good Old
Days..." in the July 1944 edition of QST is no exception. Enjoy.
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.
Reason 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, too.
'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 abuse it.
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
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.
Some 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 old-timers 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.
Well, 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.
After 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. Some-times 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 in free!
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.
Posted January 29, 2021
(updated from original post on 12/20/2011