by Jim Musgrove, K5BZH
My favorite ham story focuses on Pat DeVoll, wife of George DeVoll, W5EFJ. The events I am about to share happened in my little home town of Goldthwaite, Texas a bit before I officially joined the ranks of amateur radio.
George and his family had moved to Goldthwaite where he served as the local Church of Christ minister about the same time that Lee Tesson, who had been hired as the new high school principal/math teacher. Lee also became the new Boy Scoutmaster. George arrived as WN5EFJ and Lee was WN5ZTB. Lee was likely licensed first and after the FCC completed issuing the W5Z series of calls they would have moved back to the first of the W5 calls remaining and George would have picked up WN5EFJ.
Both Lee and George’s wife Pat had conflicting personalities which really didn’t match their positions in life either. Lee resembled what women later called male chauvinist pigs. Pat was a believer that women were capable of doing most things a man could.
Of the four main players in this story, 2 Tessons and 2 DeVolls, Pat is the last one living. Young Jim spent a fair amount of time in George’s shack where the Chief Operator showed him how to make his fabulous receiver work even better. That receiver was a Halllicrafters SX-28, they had been workhorses in World War II. It had a single pole crystal filter, to use one effectively the operator really needed to learn how to tweak the knobs correctly. That included the crystal phasing and BFO pitch if copying CW. There were 4 other hams in town and none of them had receivers with a crystal filter. That SX-28 was the only receiver in Mills County with calibrated bandspread too. I will admit it didn’t come close to the standards of today though. When George first moved to town he was using a homebrew transmitter that he built. It was crystal controlled, CW only, and used plug-in coils. Looked exactly like the one in the ARRL Handbook. Through the years George built a lot of his own gear. I remember a small receiver he built later using surplus Collins mechanical filters he bought in an electronics surplus store. George did most of his own mechanics work on his cars too. He was hands on.
The hams in the Goldthwaite area associated with each other a lot. There were always things happening. Lee Tesson found himself in the DeVoll house several times and he usually tweaked Pat a time or two just for grins. I have memories of her chasing him out of her house with a broom one day.
Pat decided to prove a couple of things and rub Lee’s nose in the dirt. She on the sly decided to study to take the exams for her ham license. Only a few people were aware she was doing that. My brother was one: Jim was not, but figured it out one day and kept rather quiet. Pat was skipping the novice license: she wanted her phone license to operate smack in the middle of the HF phone bands. She had a plan. Her license with the call K5BVV arrived and the day she put it to use, Sanford (my brother) and I were at Lee Tesson’s house. George was there too. He made some flimsy excuse that he needed to run home for a minute. Jim, knowing what was about to take place went with him. Young Jim figured he would have a problem keeping a straight face.
I discovered Mrs. Tesson was at the DeVoll QTH, in the shack with Pat. She knew what was about to take happen and was there to enjoy the activities too. George wanted to make sure Pat had no trouble tuning the transmitter, a Harvey Wells Bandmaster, and was using an incandescent light bulb for a dummy load. It would radiate enough to be heard across town but the RF wouldn’t travel much further. The signal at Lee’s shack would be of reasonable strength but not sound like a local. Anyone out of town shouldn’t hear it. Pat had everything done and was listening to the ongoing QSO in which Lee was one of the participants.
I stayed with the ladies and George headed back to the Tesson QTH. After Pat knew he had sufficient time to arrive, she broke into the roundtable. Lee was the only one who heard her, he had no trouble copying her. The others bowed out, they had been chatting for a good while. The QSO was just between Lee and Pat. She was charming. The conversation continued for a good while, Pat was handling it well and enjoying every minute. I think Mrs. Tesson had a smile too.
After time had gone for a reasonable time Pat purred, “Why Lee I know you!!” I don’t think he ever recovered. That may have been the first and last on the air QSO that Pat made: she had accomplished what she set out to do and she did it well.
It wasn’t much longer before Young Jim had his license; the prized envelope from the FCC arrived on August 2nd, 1955 with a new license that had the call KN5BZH. That happened the same day the DeVolls were moving to Alpine, Texas, where George would be the new minister at a church there. I had hoped that W5EFJ would be my first contact, but that simply wasn’t in the cards.
Jim Musgrove – K5BZH
After retiring with well over 20 years of service in the early 2000’s, Jim and Carol decided to move back to Jim’s little hometown of Goldthwaite, Texas. It was a reasonably quiet place with a population of around 1800 people.
Shortly after moving back to that area I had a rather well made portable building constructed in the back yard. There wasn’t anything portable about this building, though, as it housed my hamshack, workshop, and library plus gave me isolation from my wife’s mother-in-law.
I hung out a bit with some hams that I had known for years. One was Web Mays AA5NZ who I had known when he was WN5FIS, and then later upon upgrading, W5FIS. Another was Davis Lewis N5SJS. Toss Don Padgett AA5QV, Walt Kovar K5CBK, Henry McKinney, KM5SG and Ronnie Head WA5NQR into the mix, and can’t forget Richard Stone, aka Dick Rock N5ZMO, who lived a few miles down the road in Lometa.
For several years before retiring, Carol and I would appear in the Goldthwaite area for Field Day activities. At times, my brother Sanford W5FIT and his wife Sherry WA5SYU from Kingsland, would drive up for the fun, too.
The couple of years Carol and I lived at Goldthwaite had their moments of entertainment. One shocker happened one day when I was over visiting Web Mays. It was a nice day: we were sitting outside “shooting the breeze” when Sam Saylor saw us and waltzed over.
Sam’s parents had owned the house that was next to Web’s place. The parents had both departed our world years earlier. Sam had inherited the place and happened to be in Goldthwaite checking on things. Sam’s mother had been my sixth grade teacher. His dad was a truck driver. I didn’t really know Sam but was about to be entertained and get a bit of a shock, too.
What I didn’t know was that Sam was a licensed ham. He was a pilot and had been involved in many things throughout his life. The entertainment he provided that day was telling the story of getting caught by the Federal Communications Commission when he was a kid bootlegging on the air.
Two commissioners had come calling that day: apparently it was this same house he inherited. He had been operating on the air for several weeks and having a grand time. This was years ago: his activities were on CW where most of the hamming took place in those years. The FCC spent some time there and dismantled his station. As they were leaving, one of the commissioners handed Sam a copy the Radio Handbook, what many know as the West Coast Handbook, and told Sam something to the effect “that he needed to do some studying, take the test, get his license, and get back on the air.”
Years ago, before World War II, bootlegging wasn’t totally uncommon. When doing some research on the history of single sideband years ago I got acquainted with a fellow that was also caught bootlegging in his younger days. The Commission came calling. This fellow had been using the call of a silent key. The commissioner asked him why he had used a silent key’s call to which he responded, “I didn’t think he needed it anymore.”
The Smiling Merchant King
Jim Musgrove – K5BZH
The amateur radio culture I remember from the 1950’s certainly had a different twist than what tends to be common these days.
A pair of characters I remember well from that era were E.C. Tinsley, W5SMK in Ballinger and B.A. Houston, W5RAB in Brownwood. These were the days that only a handful of folks had moved into the world of Single Sideband, likely significantly less than a thousand. Most phone operators in this era were diehard AM (carrier and 2 sidebands) types. These two operators fit that image rather well and both were well known.
E.C. owned and operated a “Mom & Pop” grocery store in the little Texas town of Ballinger. He had his rig at the store itself, and when he wasn’t busy, he was chewing the fat on the air. At times he would disappear from the roundtable conversations. These occasions would be noticed when his turn in the roundtable arrived and he wasn’t there to respond. Invariably someone would say “E.C.’s got his head in the cracker barrel again” and the next in line would pick up the conversation.
The normal 80 meter phone frequency in their part of the world, which I tend to recall some folks operated 80 during the daylight hours in that era, was 3980 KC. At times, E.C. or B.A. would want to chat with the other about something. One would pick up his mic and give the other a call on 3980. If no response, the next step was to call the other on the telephone, collect. The other would refuse to accept the charges and then they both would simply meet on 3980. A few times the operators would say “I can make the call but he will refuse the charges.” “Make the call anyway.”
Both of these guys hated single sideband, the new mode many referred to as “Donald Duck.” They didn’t like those associated with SSB either. One reason was that the receivers in those days had designs that tended to make SSB seem rather broad. The radios of that era had AVC (Automated Volume Control) designs that provided that “broad” impression: it never dawned on most that the problem was their receiver design, not the mode itself. The receivers always worked fine before SSB started surfacing. Many consequently hated SSB.
In the early 1990’s I penned an article titled The First Fifty Years of Sideband discussing the history of single sideband that was published in three parts in the Electric Radio Magazine. Leonard Meyer, W5EBM, of New Braunfels, was one of the few in Texas who had joined the ranks of sidebands in the early 1950s. Over the years I had gotten rather well acquainted with Leonard. He was one of several who contributed to my sideband history article.
One day I was visiting Leonard and flipping through the pages of one of his old logbooks on the hunt for sideband operators of the 1950s, when the call W5SMK boldly stared right at me. That call was in Leonard’s logbook several times: “Leonard, what is the deal? E.C. was a diehard AM operator: he hated sidebanders!”
What I learned that afternoon was that E.C. rubbed elbows with the diehard AM gang in the daytime hours when he was at his grocery store, but at home he had another rig that very few knew existed: he was a sidewinder of a night. The odds were rather slim that any of those AM diehards would ever eavesdrop on a bunch of sidewinders. They likely never caught him participating in his nighttime activity.
Jim Musgrove – K5BZH
Several years ago Carol and I were attending a ham-fest in Oklahoma City. On the morning of the main day we were having breakfast in Denny’s. I noted a cowboy sitting at the table catty-corner from us. What had captured my attention was his hat — it was a definite winner.
Being Jim, I made a positive comment about his hat. Some hats deserve verbal appreciations and this one certainly did. To this day I am appreciative of certain hats. They don’t have to be western hats: good hats come in various flavors. I saw one a few weeks ago that someone in front of me at the main post office here in Amarillo was wearing that was definitely not a western hat. It resembled a fishing hat and was pretty unique. An older gentleman was wearing it: I commented that he had a winner of a hat which brought a big smile with a positive response and I think helped make his day.
The young cowboy in OK City and I chatted across the table for a few minutes, then he got up and joined us. During our conversation he explained that the hat had been given to him years earlier by a close friend who was now deceased. Reggie’s wife wanted him to retire the hat and get a new one. He wasn’t about to do it. That hat was simply too special. Some things wives didn’t understand.
Reggie was blessed with a fantastic personality. His occupation was an outstanding one, too. He trained horses for handicapped children. His job was in Ft. Worth which happened to be where were were living at the time as well. He explained that he made a reasonable income, but had been offered more income by others to work for them. His job, he said, was a calling and he was content with his work. We saw a Reggie a couple more times during that day as he had bunked in the same hotel that we did. His pickup, a Chevy with a few years on it, fit his character, too.
Not everybody one meets when attending a ham-fest is a ham. Others are encountered in restaurants, hotels, and such. It was a real blessing that weekend meeting this young cowboy who had found his place in life.
The J-38 Telegraph Key
Jim Musgrove, K5BZH
A telegraph key I remember rather well I first saw in the 1950s was the J-38. They were military “surplused” keys that sold for rather inexpensive prices. To be truthful, Young Jim viewed them at the time as cheap telegraph keys. They were offered for sale in magazines for prices in the order of 69 cents each. Some novice transmitters included them.
The first J38 I saw came with a Philmore NT-200 novice transmitter kit that Allen Colburn “Gar” Ward, WN5FIP, a friend of my brother, had purchased for his first transmitter. That was in late 1953 or early 1954. The NT-200 transmitter kit sold for $29.40: it was a 2 stage novice transmitter that used a 6V6 for a crystal controlled oscillator and a 6L6 for a final amplifier. The transmitter had a chassis for the power supply and another for the RF section: the sides were open. That would bring horrors in today’s world. In those years one simply watched where they stuck their fingers.
Truthfully the J-38s were excellent telegraph keys. They were made for the Army Signal Corps as a training key. The key was mounted on a small piece of bake-lite. Mounted behind the key on that bake-lite base was another set of connector posts with a shorting bar between them. As a kid I never understood why the shorting bar existed. Most ham users left those posts and shorting bar in place and never connected anything to that assembly. Years later I learned the purpose of those posts and their associated shorting bar. Understanding how the military used these keys it made perfect sense. The key was never intended to be used outside a classroom.
Students learning Morse code were assembled in a class and their keys were connected in such a fashion (series) that they could pretend to be operators sending to others. The scheme was to have one of the posts mounted over the shorting bar plus the one of the key posts connected to a pair of headphone via their tip connectors. The other post over the shorting bar and the second key post were connected to a line that went to the classroom code oscillator through the sets of the other students. When it was a student’s turn to send, they would open the shorting bar that was part of the telegraph key itsef and send code. When a student was receiving code sent by another student, they closed their key’s shorting bar to allow the circuit to be completed.
The J-38 was made for the Army’s Signal Corps, but they were used by all branches of our military. The keys were never intended to be elsewhere but the classrooms. Interesting enough some of the students loved those keys and “comshawed” them* to take to their ships or wherever and continue using them. Not many disappeared in that manner but a few really did and were used at other military sites to send code on military circuits.
Many firms made J-38 keys. There are several variations. One example is that many had tiny key contacts, around 1/8 inch, as they weren’t intended to be keying circuits with much current. Others have standard 1/4 inch key contacts. Either of these worked fine for novice transmitters. Perhaps the best known J-38 is the Lionel. Yep, the same Lionel that made model trains. Other firms that come to mind are Signal Electric, McElroy, American Radio Hardware, and Winslow. There were others. During the war era companies supported the war effort. In many cases their normal products were put on hold while our nation was busy in a World War.
While doing some digging on the internet I found some reviews of J-38s. Most were positive for the key. KG6R made the statement in those reviews “The J-38 has probably sent more code than any other key.” I doubt it; however, they have indeed sent lots of code over the years and are still being used. Be advised that the JJ-38 is a poor copy of the J-38 key in the event you get in the market for a J-38 telegraph key. They were made years after the J-38s and not to our military specs. I stumbled across an internet site “J-38 Morse Code Telegraph Key – Video Results” and browsed some of it, found “How It Works: Morse Code” and took a look. The video is 18 minutes and 36 seconds long and turns out very good.
*comshaw is the Navy equivalent of the Army’s “midnight requisition”