QST/March 1916/Thoughts of the Good Old Palmy Days
RADIO buglets — lend me your ears. When I was fourteen years old I started in on the wireless game, and am still playing. The first thing that wireless did for me was to permit me to communicate with an otherwise inaccessible place; the second thing that it did was to get me kicked out of school—;my mind refused to follow such commonplace stuff as “puella haben rosa” when it was teeming all the time with C equals E over R.
I wanted to establish communication with a fellow but as I had to cross a trolley to do this—the wire-chief said, “Nix.” So we had to dope it out some other way.
I went to the free library and obtained a book telling of Marconi’s early experiments. This book told of the necessary parts, and instruments not being obtainable, I, perforce, had to construct them. When I couldn’t make, I begged, borrowed or stole.
The first thing that I obtained was an air-rifle. This required considerable “junking.” You may say that an air-rifle is not an actual necessity in a radio-station—but wait a bit, me fren’. I knew a fellow who had an old Western Union relay, so I hied myself to him, gun over shoulder; tacked a card to a fence and shot at it. My friend thought that he could trim me shooting—so he took a shot, and lo, and behold, he plugged the card right off the reel. This gratified him so much that he was going to buy a gun right away. It was then that I got in my dirty work. I obtained the relay, and ran quickly away, fearing that he might change his mind.
The next thing necessary was a coherer. 'Twas then that I bent my well moulded head in an effort to parallel the culmination of Marconi’s efforts. Here is how I made my first coherer. Nothing like it has ever been patented—therefore this may be copied and sold at random. (Boston papers please copy.) I took a small bottle—broke off the neck, made two corks fit into this “tube” and covered them with tin foil. Then I went junking again. After obtaining fifteen cents, I very sparingly filed silver and nickle filings from the respective pieces. After connecting two wires to the tin foil plugs, and placing “mixture” between the plugs—I had completed the coherer. The next thing to do was to get a decoherer. This was a simple matter—I stole the door bell. This was a good arrangement as the peddlers did not bother mother then—but I’m afraid that the dear old lady went without spiritual advice a little longer than she should have.
My first “mast” was also stolen property. It was a clothes pole nailed on the wood-house. The first antenna was haywire. With this apparatus, I listened for one week. Finally I did imagine that I was getting signals but I am not sure now whether I had a right to imagine. With the advent of the Massey coherer, however, I got things going pretty well—and received quite a few ships as well as the naval station in Newport, R. I.
As I was the only amateur in town in those days, my parents were beginning to regard me as a prodigy. This opinion was never shared by my brother Jim, however. He thought that my head was a convention hall for hallucinations. He slept with me, poor soul, and many a time o’nights he would nudge me, tell me to shove over or he’d punch me—I was dreaming wireless and he said that I was practicing code on his shins.
Soon after this I built an antenna insulator of a soda water bottle, the hose of a bicycle pump, and a saucer. This insulator was the pride of my wireless heart for several years.
Anyhow, my father got so interested, that he presented little Lloydie with $2.75—with which the aforementioned gentleman purchased a quarter-inch Rhumkorf coil from Sears-Roebuck. Doubtless the sale is recorded in their records—skeptics in doubt as to my veracity may inquire of this firm. I am a bit ahead of my story, however. Before buying the Rhumkorf coil, I tried to make one—a friend having given me a lot of snarled 36. Did you ever perform on about a pound of 36 that was beyond being ever straightened out? Well, I finally managed to get together a very much patched secondary and after many elaborate trials—and much scraping of a primary wire on a file, I decided that my coil was a failure.
One day I called PK—which was Newport’s call in those days. Lo, and behold, he answered me, and asked who I might be. I wasn’t sure whether to answer—having vague notions that my answering might cause a file of marines to escort me to the naval station. I did answer, however, and I am mighty glad that I did. I still retain many warm friendships which were engendered at this and subsequent times; Is not my story becoming poetical.
Portiere poles served for inductance forms; mason jars for Leydens; hooks were used for switches and nails for spark gaps. Qld pieces of tin leader were used as variables.
In those days nothing could be bought—everything had to be made—and believe me fellow “why or less men” many a cocoa box and tomato can has been slaughtered by the author. And he is glad of it. Having to make a thing is the best way to understand the working of that thing.
Although I have since bought several hundred, dollars worth of stuff, I shall never regret the fact that I formerly had to make my own instruments. And some of my best successes have been obtained with the use of home made stuff. (I also like home made mince pie. Anyone reading this — that wishes to contribute a pie may shoot it right along.) Only the other day I wanted a form to hold a ball—a socket for ball and socket adjustment. Betcher can’t guess what I did. I took an old clock key, and bent it up to fit the ball—it was perfect. Would you ha’ dun this, fellow bug?