Is there any other hobby whose enthusiasts are more passionate than those of us in Amateur Radio?
I think not … not even close.
Just yesterday, a fellow I was chewing the fat with couldn’t wait to let me know that he was using a 95 year-old bug, while another proudly proclaimed he was sending with his original Novice key from back when Kennedy was president. Still another chap recently publicized the fact that he was transmitting with aluminum folding lawn chairs as his antenna. And then there’s John who hasn’t missed a daily QRP DX contact in several years, and Biz who programmed a robot to call CQ, and on and on it goes. And examples such as these are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the depth of love and passion I hear manifest for our wonderful hobby every single day.
Heck, If I didn’t know better, I’d think the conversation I hear swelling from my transceiver was made by giddy school children, rather than seasoned veterans. But then that’s the nature of our hobby, isn’t it? It transforms us all into wide-eyed evangelists, young at heart, filled with the wonder of radio, and compelled to share our joy.
And so it was that a goodly portion of this joy spilled out one morning on 40 CW when I met Bill, K4IBZ.
As I’ve written previously, I’m just naturally attracted to a good bug fist, and it was the sweet melody of K4IBZ’s CQ that drew me to him. I learned that Bill was in Crestview, Florida, just about midway between Defuniak Springs and Pensacola, and that he had been originally licensed at around the same time as I in the early 60’s. His station that morning was a pair of Kenwood Twins, but I soon discovered that he had over 40 working rigs in his shack. “And I use a different rig most every day”, he nonchalantly remarked.
I let the thought percolate for a moment as the gravity of the comment settled on my shoulders.
More than 40 working rigs in his shack, all ready to use? Who does that, I wondered? We’re all prone to moments of excess and exuberance, and I guess Bill just got a bit carried away with himself, I rationalized. He must be awfully gifted with old radio repair too, I imagined, able to recite the resister color code without even looking.
And before I had completely digested the fact that this fellow had 39 more rigs than I, he proceeded to tell me about his key, and it wasn’t a bug after all.
“I’m sending with a homebrew Cootie”, Bill told me, “made from a steak knife and a fork.”
And not just any knife, he continued. “I prefer the Beefeater variety with a plastic handle. Can’t be too careful with the voltage of cathode keying”, he cautioned. “Only plastic handles for me.”
And somehow I knew Bill was as serious as an exploding transformer.
If a guy uses a different complete station every day of the week, why should I be surprised he uses a key made from cutlery?
I switched from the old Japanese bug I had been using during our QSO to my own Cootie, and proceeded to engage in a cootie-to-cootie contact with Bill, although with not quite the same finesse as Bill exhibited with his Beefeater. And like a venerable teacher patiently coaching his students, Bill suggested “you have too much stiffness with your hacksaw blade cootie, OM”, “The Beefeater will help with your spacing”.
And for just a moment I wondered what a non-ham might think of the language Bill and I so casually tossed about. Cooties? Wasn’t that something the unpopular kids had in grade school? And isn’t Beefeater a type of gin? A different rig every day? And homebrew too?
And as Bill and I finished what was the first of several contacts to come, he invited me to Google K4IBZ for his YouTube video. And I learned that complete plans for Bill’s Beefeater are available for download too.
And so I have a Beefeater on my to-do list now, with plans to visit the local dollar store soon for supplies. Believe you me, I know better than to use one of our regular steak knives for the project though. My sweet XYL is incredibly tolerant of my Amateur Radio hobby, but I’m not about to rock the boat. You see, we have a deal. She doesn’t disturb my keys and I promise not to steal any cutlery.
Update – A recent visit with Bill reveals there are now 68 fully-functional rigs in his shack, one for every year of his life! And there’s a new video presentation too: