Bill asked if I would like to become a Ham Radio Operator. I told him yes, but that I would have to ask my parent’s permission. To this day, I think he and my parents already had discussed the matter and he knew they would say yes if they thought I was serious about studying for the beginner’s license. I went home and begged my folks to let me begin the process of becoming a licensed Amateur Radio Operator. They said I could, but that my school grades had better not suffer.
For the next six months, I went to Bill’s “shack” to listen to perfectly-sent Morse code (remember, he was a musician with a great sense of spacing and timing) and then to practice sending on a J-38 key and a Bud code practice oscillator while he observed. I bought a J-38 key and that same Bud CPO and began practicing sending Morse code. I’m sure this must have made my parents question the wisdom of their decision, but they never criticized what I was doing.
A few months into all of this, Bill loaned me an ARC-5 command receiver that had been converted to 110 VAC, along with a small speaker that plugged into the headphone jack. He wanted me to try copying CW from the W1AW Code Practice transmissions.
The first time I tried it, I copied enough of the W1AW preamble to know from which page of which issue of QST that night’s practice text was taken. After W1AW signed off, I eagerly went through that issue of QST until I got to the page containing the practice text. I had copied almost 50% of the transmission correctly! It was at that moment that I said to myself, “I can do this … I can become a Ham Radio Operator.”
My 15th birthday was at the end of October, and for Christmas that same year, my parents presented me with a Hallicrafters SX-99! Now I had the ability to listen to all the Ham bands. With money earned from my paper route, I purchased a Vibroplex Original Deluxe bug and began using it to send right along with the W1AW practice transmissions. I placed an alligator clip on the end of the arm to add “weight” to the dits, and I tried to make my sending as much like what I was hearing from W1AW as possible.
In January 1957, Bill told me he thought I was ready for my Novice test. I was nervous about the written part, but not about the code test. I was already well-above 5 WPM at that time. Bill looked over my written test and told me he thought I had passed, but we’d know in a month when the results came back from the FCC.
While I waited and worried, I spent more paper route money to purchase a World Radio Laboratories Globe Scout 65-B transmitter. I began constructing a trap dipole antenna that would cover several different bands. To my great delight, I received Novice License KN8EAB on February 13, 1957. The Globe Scout transmitter arrived the next day and I was soon ready to get on the air. The first page of my first logbook (below) shows that my first QSO was with Bill W8VII on 3.706 Megacycles. My first out-of-town QSO was with Johnny Wrublewski, KN2VOK in New Jersey. I worked him several more times because Novices were XTAL controlled in those days. The trap dipole antenna was now up and was working fine.
Soon after my Novice license arrived, I got QSL samples from WRL and as many Novice hams did back then, I ordered my first QSLs from them. Notice I didn’t have them printed with the “N” in the call. I was determined not to be a Novice for very long! While I was a Novice, I hand-wrote the “N” on to the QSL card.
“WEYDIE” was my nickname, consisting of 3 letters of my first name plus the letter D. from my middle name. I quickly learned not to try sending my nickname or my real first name (WEYMOUTH) and shortened my “handle” to WEY, which I still use today. Add to that the fact that my QTH was WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WV ! ! !
Here’s what my “shack” looked like in August 1957 … note the Bud Code Practice Oscillator and a Heathkit Q-Multiplier which I built and installed into the SX-99. T-R switching of the antenna was done with a DPDT knife switch.
The only piece of Ham Radio equipment that I still have from this 1956-57 station is that Vibroplex Original Deluxe bug. I have re-acquired all of the pieces of equipment seen in the photo above. Most of it operates, but needs work to put out the clean CW note I would want others to hear on the air.
My family used to vacation for 2-3 weeks every year right after Christmas. We went to my Uncle’s small island (Walker’s Island), just below the 3-mile bridge in the Florida Keys. In January 1958, I took my Ham equipment to the island and operated from there for the duration of the vacation. Here’s a photo of me then. I had passed the General test in the October of 1957, and you can see that my rig now had the WRL-755 VFO and a microphone.
In those first years of my Ham Radio life, two other Hams (W8TKT and K8DUO) helped and tutored me as well. Seen in the 1960 photo below, all have long since become Silent Keys. I will always owe my passion for this hobby to them, but most of all to Bill Fearnley – W8VII (those call-letters on his car window were RED tape).
Weymouth (Wey) Walker … K8EAB since Feb. 1957
Metro Atlanta, GA
One final item … W8VII passed away at the age of 80, but his widow lived to be 94. Her executor gave me a box containing lots of old ham radio manuals, catalogs, and QSL cards. In the bottom of this box, I found the ARC-5 command receiver that Bill had loaned to me so many years before. It still works and I used it on-the-air for Straight Key Night a few years ago.
Few things in my life have given me as much pleasure as has this hobby, and I shake my head in fond amazement that I have a piece of amateur radio equipment that once belonged to my Elmer.