MRHS Newsletter No. 59

Special Hardware Issue

Dedicated to True Believers Worldwide

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27 April 2017 

> Yes Virginia There Is a Night of Nights 2017!

> Fantastic Receivers Arrive at MRHS

> Arc Transmitter Discovered

> Electro-Mechanical Baudot to Morse Converter

> Western Union 2B Strip Printer

Yes Virginia There Is a Night of Nights 2017!

Night of Nights is in July but we're already beginning to receive inquiries about this year's event.  So we figured we better mention that yes, of course there will be a Night of Nights event in 2017, just as there has been every year since 2000.

Maybe a little background is in order.  On 12 July 1999 a ceremony was held at the KFS control point in Half Moon Bay, CA intended to mark the last day of commercial Morse.  It was an emotional event. Hard bitten old seagoing sparks were openly weeping.  Denice Stoops (first female operator at KPH) was dressed in black as if for a funeral.  The final messages were sent, then SK, then silence. Except for the ship that called asking what he was supposed to do now!

Richard Dillman, co-founder of the MRHS, sending one of the last messages on 12 July 1999

But also on that date the Maritime Radio Historical Society was founded.  Our goal?  To keep commercial Morse alive by restoring coast station KPH and returning it to the air.  That was a pretty lofty goal since it had never before been done.  Every coast station around the world that had gone dark was scraped clean by the bulldozers that were patiently only waiting for the transmitters to cool before moving in.  But at KPH the station remained intact.  The ears at Point Reyes were still listening, keeping a symbolic watch over the airwaves, the receivers intentionally left on when the operators left two years before.  The voice in Bolinas was cold and dark - but intact.  We knew what we had to do.

RCA receive site at Point Reyes, built in 1930.
Photo by Larry Laitinen

The first Night of Nights was held only one year later, on 12 July 2000.  A couple of transmitters had been restored at Bolinas.  Work at the receive site hadn't even begun.  But we were on the air! Every year since, on the date that was supposed to mark the end of Morse, we pick up the thread and carry on, keeping the flame of commercial Morse burning bright, as our signals once again span the globe.

These days KPH is on the air every Saturday.  But Night of Nights is something special.  That's when all the old timers and True Believers literally from around the world make their way to the receive site at Point Reyes, CA to be part of this special occasion.  You're invited!  Join us at 17400 Sir Francis Drake Blvd in the Point Reyes National Seashore.  Doors open at 3:00pm.

We are now authorized to use the call signs and frequencies of KPH, KFS, KLB and of course KSM. Future Newsletters will provide more details on the frequencies to be used and full information on the Night of Nights event.  For now, mark the 12 July date in your calendar to join us in person or on the air.

As a True Believer you of course have a good grasp of what it takes to keep a major coast station on the air.  This year we will be embarking on a major antenna repair and restoration project.  The Point Reyes National Seashore is making a major financial contribution and we expect to almost empty the MRHS bank account in support of this project.  They only reason we're able to help fund this project is because you have made generous contributions in the past.  We carefully husbanded those contributions in anticipation of a project like this.  Nevertheless, even with all our funds and all the funds form the park, much needed work will not get done due to lack of sufficient funding.  Can you help us get more antennas back on the air?  It's easy, just click on the donation button below.  And thanks!

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Fantastic Receivers Arrive at MRHS

The beautiful art deco receive building at Point Reyes was built in 1930 - but not for KPH.  It was built entirely for the purpose of receiving signals from the exotic cities of the Pacific rim via short wave.  It replaced the original Marconi long wave receive site at Marshall, CA.

Second generation triple diversity receivers at Point Reyes.  Note "meatball" RCA logo, copper doors and "Shanghai" above the receiver to the left.

Diversity receivers were used, the best that could be produced by RCA.  Each was seven feet tall and took up multiple racks.  The upstairs receive room was a Faraday cage, lined with copper and including the amazing copper doors that remain today.  Passing through those doors, one was greeted by the RCA "meatball" logo inlaid into the floor.  What does not remain is the receivers. When the point to point service ended in 1973, every one of those magnificent receivers was scrapped to make way for a satellite Earth station.  Sadly, the MRHS had not yet been born and was not there to save them.  So we had nothing to show visitors of the receivers that once lined the walls of the receive site in the glory days.

At least we didn't until recently...

About two years ago we got word that a complete RCA SSB R3 diversity receiver (the same model used at Point Reyes) existed in Germany, but without its unique racks.  Nevertheless we purchased all the components and had them shipped to us.  These components have now been restored by MRHS member Steve Pazar.

Crate of RCA SSB R3 components being unloaded from the MRHS Willys utility wagon

Steve wrote an article about the RCA SSB R3 receiver in Newsletter 16.  Former KPH and point to point man Dick Flint (SK) talks about the R3 in Newsletter 19.

The German receiver was great but in this Newsletter we have even better news.  The MRHS has acquired two complete RCA SSB R3 receivers in their racks!  These wonderful receivers survived trans-continental shipment by truck and have recently arrived at the transmit site in Bolinas, CA.

RCA SSB R3 receivers in their native habitat at the Greenville, NC VOA station - maybe showing the actual receivers we have acquired. Photo courtesy of Sheldon Daitch.

These receivers were part of the Voice of America site in Greenville, NC.  An initial inspection by Steve revealed that there is work to be done but the receivers are intact and in generally good condition.  Plus he now knows his way around a R3 receiver better than almost anyone!

Two RCA SSB R3 receivers from the VOA site at Greenville, NC, shown at the KPH transmit site in Bolinas, CA
To really put the icing on the cake we were recently honored by a visit from Andy Bodony.  Andy designed the transistorized versions of the modules in the R3 receiver.  His signature is on many of the prints.  He was gratified to see that some of his receivers had been preserved and would be restored to service.

Andy Bodony inspecting two of his RCA SSB R3 receivers at Bolinas, CA

One of the more beguiling things about the R3 receivers, to some of us anyway, is that they are equipped with steps and hand holds to allow the upper level controls to be reached.  Both of our R3s are so equipped.

Transmitter Supervisor Steve Hawes demonstrates the proper "step and grab" R3 tuning technique

We'll be publishing updates on the R3 project but for now we just wanted to let you know of the new acquisitions.  Meanwhile you can join us on a Saturday to see these beasts for yourself.  We may even let you do the Step and Grab.

Arc Transmitter Discovered

As all True Believers know, the original transmitters used spark technology which produced a damped wave signal.  Continuous waves (CW) came into their own with the advent of vacuum tubes robust enough to generate a meaningful signal at radio frequencies.  But before these tubes became available there were two means for generating CW signals: the magnificent Alexanderson alternators (two of which were at the Bolinas transmit site) and arc converters.  In this context arc is quite different from spark.  The arc was struck in a special chamber in the presence of a strong magnetic field and in an atmosphere of vaporized alcohol.   High power arc transmitters were used in long distance point to point work in competition with the Alexanderson alternators.  

60kW arc converter (left) in use at KEK, Hillsboro, OR
The Federal Telegraph Company was a major manufacturer of arc transmitters.  One of the largest was converted to a cyclotron for early atomic research at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, part of the University of California at Berkeley, CA.

Lawrence and colleague Beside the 27" cyclotron, 1932.  Today, this unit is on display outside the Hall of Science in Berkeley

Compared to these monsters, the arc converter we have discovered is a baby.  But still, it represents an important part of radio history that to many remains obscure.  It is located in the dimly lit basement of a building at an undisclosed location.  MRHS radio archaeologists had actually walked by this unit more than once in the dim light without recognizing it for what it was.  When the light finally dawned, so to speak, all of us were astounded to realize the significance of this previously neglected artifact.

The data plates on the unit unambiguously identified it for what it is, a 2kW arc converter (transmitter).

The future of this artifact is uncertain.  But now that it has been identified for what it is, it will be protected against future molestation until its fate can be sorted out.

We hate to tease, but there are other things in that basement too, the kind that True Believers like. More to follow... we hope.

> Electro-Mechanical Baudot to Morse Converter

Continuing with our theme of amazing devices, here's something we bet few people even know exists, something that fewer still have ever seen: an electro-mechanical Baudot to Morse converter.

Why would anyone go to the trouble of making such a thing?  Fair question.  For the answer, put yourself in the position of a Morse operator a coast station.  Back when men were men and transmitters spit flame, all messages were sent manually - and that included everything from the ball scores to the weather.  We have to think that glass arms abounded in those days, as indeed they did until the advent of the semi-automatic "bug" key, which made things a little easier.

Then came the two level Wheatstone code that allowed Morse messages to punched on paper tape and played back through special keying heads.  That was an improvement but still, the tape had to be laboriously punched letter by letter which, for a weather report, meant a lot of work.

Wheatstone two level tape in use at KSM
Wheatstone two level tape in use at KSM

How did the weather information arrive at the station?  After a certain point in time it came via a Teletype machine that punched five level paper tape in the Baudot code.  You can imagine the poor operator with the Baudot tape in one hand and the Wheatstone tape in the other hand wishing there was some way to convert the former to the latter for easy transmission.

From this wish was born the Baudot to Morse converter.

This conversion is the sort of thing that could easily be done today by computer.  But of course no such thing existed back then so it was levers, cams, wheels and springs.  Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the fantastic Great Northern Telegraph Works Model 2066 Converter, Tape, Telegraph.

Note "5 Unit" to the left on the label and "Morse" to the right

First, you have to admire the name of the company.  Nothing ambiguous about that!  Second, the company was in Copenhagen, Denmark.  And finally, in spite of its origin, it was made for the US Navy.

The Baudot tape goes into the reader shown above.  Very similar to what we're used to on Teletype machines.  But then the magic starts.  On the rear of the machine there's a spool of narrow tape that goes into a small slot and comes out on the front through the narrow opening above and slightly to the left of the GNT label, punched with the two level Wheatstone code representing what was on the Teletype five level tape.

Under the hood is where the very arousing electro-mechanical magic takes place.

Right, nothing to it.  A few squirts of WD-40 and this baby will be humming along just as new.  No, just kidding.  While we do hope to return this marvelous device to operation, it will be carefully cleaned and restored with painstaking precision.

All thanks to long time MRHS supporter and True Believer first class Mr. Eric Scace for making this wondrous device available.

> Western Union 2B Strip Printer

When it comes to tasty and obscure hardware too much is never enough, right?  Right.  So herewith we present for your consideration the Western Union (really Teletype) 2B strip printer.

The story begins with a photo of the KPH operating room as it looked in 1946, as it looked after re-opening after the conclusion of WWII.  Prominent in the foreground is a strip printer it took us a while to identify.  Teletype cognoscenti fingered it for what it is, a 2B strip printer.  We were told it was rare.

But beyond its alleged rarity there was a question: what was a Western Union strip printer doing at RCA coast station KPH?   And there things sat until earlier this year when a 2B became available as a generous donation to the MRHS.

The 2B strip printer as received.  A correct case for the unit has been located.

That's when we really started to ponder the whole situation.  The answer seems obvious now but such things always do in hindsight.  We knew that one could file radiograms to ships at sea via Western Union and even mark them "via RCA".  And we knew there was a Western Union line at KPH from Frank Geisel's  complaints that it was frequently out of service in his station reports of 1946 and 1947.  So finally it came together: the radiograms filed through WU and marked "via RCA" spit out of the machine at KPH.  The op on duty pulled out the tape and carefully glued the strips to a radiogram blank on the gumming table to the left of the machine.  And there you have it - a radiogram ready for the message rack.

WU gummed tape moistener.  Know where we can get one?

But of course the arrival of the 2B is only the beginning.  Now we're looking for the gumming table, the moistener and all the other artifacts that go with it.  If you have any leads to these please let us know by writing to !

> Swag
Spring is coming and it's tome to update your wardrobe options.  Look sharp at the next hamfest. Show 'em you're a True Believer.  Plus you'll be supporting the MRHS at the same time. Such a deal!  We've got hats, mugs, T shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers, all with variations of the MRHS logo.  Get a hat and mug for yourself and a put yourself in solid with the XYL by getting her a MRHS hoodie.
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Thanks for reading this far and thanks for being a MRHS True Believer.  We wish you fair winds and following seas.