island of misfit gear

treasure hunting at the local hamfest

de Bill K7WXW

In the corner of my furnace room are two Hammarlund HQ-160 receivers. I purchased the first when I was absolutely positively certain that I wanted a receiver like the one that I used when I was a kid. The second? Someone offered it to me when they heard I was rebuilding old gear and I thought, one to fix and one for spares. what could be better?

That was ten months ago.

Having a working HQ-160 on my station desk would be incredibly cool. I think that every single every time I have to move the rigs to get to something behind it. Unfortunately,  I am deep into a list of radio-related projects that matter to me more and will be for a long time. Both HQ-160s are destined for the island of misfit gear.

The island appears for one day, twice a year, in the main building of the Polk County Fairgrounds. People with stuff to sell rent tables, as do those that don’t have much to sell but want to get an early shot at buying from those that do. Setup begins at six, the main show at nine. The whole thing is usually done by one, though some tables are trading gear for cash until the closing bell.

Eighteen feet of table covered with crates of vacuum tubes. A scratch-built spectrum analyzer. WWII era test gear. Tangles of slightly beat up coax cable. VHF rigs from 80s. Motorola commercial HTs, antennas, batteries and chargers. Piles of random electronic components: variable capacitors, power transistors, RF chokes. There is probably a mile’s worth of folding tables here, filled with all sorts of electronic gear in conditions ranging from in-the-box-new to forty-years-in-a-root-cellar-old. While some folks are working the difference between ebay and local pricing, most of the stuff belongs to sellers that used, or had a plan to use, whatever it is they are selling. In a perfect world, their misfit gear  will become someone else’s favorite addition to the shack.

The spectrum analyzer in front of me, in a nineteen inch rack mount case, is a work of art. If you didn’t see the handmade labels, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was factory-built. Each major RF module is in its own metal enclosure, connected to others by precise lengths of coax. The circuit boards layouts are clean and tight. The design upon which it is based is well known among aficionados of homebrew as not-or-the-faint-hearted. The person that built this invested a lot of hours into it.  A non-shopping reason to go to swapfests: seeing stuff like this and talking to the hams who build it.

But if this is such a great piece of gear, why is it here? Turns out that the builder has a Siglent SA on his home bench and figures someone without the money for a new analyzer would find this one to be a good deal. I agree and for fifteen minutes ponder temptation. An hour after I decide no, someone else gets to yes.

Other stuff here is of little interest to anyone but the one ham looking for exactly whatever it is that happens to be on the table: old radio handbooks, random connectors, half-built kits, odd knobs, bits of antennas, and radio parts. My first trip to the island I acquired three coax switches that I needed for my new station setup. The second and third appeared from a box under the table when I asked if they had others like the one I was holding. I imagine a hundred people looked at that switch before I bought it.  I just happened to need exactly what it was.

Not everything on the island is of quite the same calibre as those switches. Much of it is not-so-gently used and obsolete equipment that only a very optimistic or knowledgable ham would consider. (Look in my truck after a ham fest; you might label me the optimistic type.) For example, I once bought a hundred turn vernier dial I found buried in a box of capacitors. It was a steal at six bucks, as long as you don’t put a price on the twenty hours I spent figuring out how to repair it.

Today I am standing in front of a nixie tube frequency counter. It could be a bargain but probably isn’t. There aren’t any manuals or schematics with it.  It is at least forty years old and the parts required to fix it may not be available for any amount of money. No one is really knows when it last worked. Hell, the seller is not even sure he can dig up the weird, irreplaceable power cord for it.

I smile and move away. from the table.  I don’t need a frequency counter. It is not on my shopping list. Nixie tubes! How can I pass up a chance to get a nixie tube frequency counter working again. No manuals or schematics. That’s what the internet is for! Obsolete parts. There must be a nixie tube email list somewhere! Too many other projects. I’m selling the HQ-160s so I have plenty of time for this! The guy behind the table finds the power cord.  I turn back, put down a twenty paired with a ten, and carry away my new adventure.

And so another piece of gear leaves the island…

Cozy Cobblestone

A Quilter's Corner with Cindy Anderson

Some time ago Tierney over at Tierney Creates contacted me to ask about quilting another one of her projects. This would be the second time I would have the honor of working with her. I received her quilt called Cozy Cobblestone early in October.

Cozy Cobblestone-1.jpg

We traded information back and forth discussing thread color and stitch patterns. Tierney chose antique gold for her thread. For her stitch design she gave me permission to quilt as I saw fit. I get all excited when my customers set me free to decide. Being able to adjust my designs based upon the fabrics and quilt design is like saying I can have as much chocolate as I want. 🙂

Cozy Cobblestone-2.jpg

I had an awesome time working with Tierney’s Cozy Cobblestone. I used a variety of stitch patterns on her quilt. As you can see from the photos I incorporated both straight and curvy lines.

Cozy Cobblestone-3.jpg


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The Accident (Flash Fiction)


Donald had been trying for sometime to rouse me, but until now his efforts were fruitless. And he was running out of time.

Do you need to go outside, Donald?” I asked.

He raced for the door and then returned, waiting patiently while I slipped into street clothes. Hooking his leash, we locked the apartment and headed for the elevator. The light indicated it was at floor nineteenth.

Hang in there.”

The bell sounded. The elevator door opened. We stepped inside, turned and waited for the door to close. I felt a jolt and then heard the familiar whistle of displaced air.

Between floors eight and nine Donald could wait no longer. The spaghetti we’d shared had not set well. The odor was severe Unfortunately, I’d neglected to grab a plastic bag.

At that precise moment the elevator bell sounded. The morning rush was on.

Oh no!” screeched a woman.

I heard choking sounds.

Then I had the elevator to myself.

Can you help me?” I shouted at a custodian. He looked, then turned and vanished.

Come Donald,” I said, and I headed for the main entrance.

195 words

Surviving (fiction)


A simple snow storm has become a blizzard. I want to return to the diner, but I’m approaching the mountain summit. Visibility is near zero. Turning around is no longer an option. As the road sweeps around a sharp curve a stiff wind catches the snow and sends it in a horizontal direction. My eyes are dazzled. My sense of direction is gone. Then I feel the ridge of sand from the last snow plow. I over-correct, sending my Chevrolet skidding off the shoulder and down a steep embankment. An eternity passed before it comes to rest upside down. I’m suspended by my seat belt and I can’t move my arms. Panic consumes me. Eventually, however, I come to grips with my situation and consider my chances of surviving the frigid mountain temperature until help arrives. But darkness is absolute as well as the silence. Time is all I have.

Eventually, the horizon shows signs of a fragile, new day. Ever so slowly the gray smear falls away, allowing the sun to peek over a distant mountain.

“HELLO?” comes a voice from the roadway above. “IS ANYONE DOWN THERE?”

191 Words

Back When I Was A Businessman

I think this photo was taken about 1947 – 1949. I was raising rabbits and selling them dressed out to a local grocery store.  The manager bought everything I brought him, which wasn’t many. It’s been 70  years, about, so exact numbers are impossible, but I think I sold him about 20 or 25  rabbits every quarter. It gave me walk around money.

Sometime later I discovered girls and then cars. I lost my focus on business.

Old Typewriters

  • Recently, after reading Charles Dickens’ novel, Bleak House, I decided to search the Internet to learn if Dickens owned a typewriter. A patent had been awarded for a typographer (read typewriter) some 20 years earlier. Apparently, he didn’t. All references I can find point to quills and special inks.

    I must tip my hat to anyone who can churn out a novel length text using a quill.

    My information source led me to the apparent value of some old, experienced typewriters.

    Mark Twain claimed to be the first author to own a typewriter, purchasing one for $125. He disliked it so much that he traded it to a friend for a $9 saddle and felt he took advantage of his friend.

    Jack Kerouac owned a typewriter which got its most use typing letters to his agent demanding royalty payments. Still, I’ve read that his novel, On the Road, was typed on a roll of Western Union Telegraph paper. The entire novel was one long sentence (perhaps that’s why Truman Capote said: “…he’s not a writer. He’s a typist.”) The editor who charged $500 to make it readable may have shared Capote’s opinion.

    Cormac McCarthy sold his 46-year-old typewriter for $254,500 and replaced it with an $11 Olivetti.


My Nexus 7 tablet supports a dictionary app that publishes a word and definition each day. I’m subscribed to this feature in an effort to enlarge my vocabulary. Most words it offers are beyond what might be useful in my daily life, so I scroll on by. This morning, however, came the word: MACARONIC. This describes at least two instances where I could have used it.

Spanglish is one. During a three-year tour in the West Indies I experienced a language collision, a conflict between English and Spanish. It was most apparent with the children who enjoyed both languages, interchanging at will and with ease.

Box-car-ing is the second one which involves the use of Morse code – American and International.

Thirty years ago, while earning my amateur radio license I was required to demonstrate my knowledge and use of international Morse code. In doing so I rubbed shoulders with retired railroad and Western Union communications operators. Many of these folks had sent and received information of great importance – sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the stock market crash of 1929, The Great Depression, World War II, and many other events of great importance. The telegraph wires sang with train orders, personal telegrams, news, stock market reports. The list could go on.

During my early hamming days when code was the only mode I was allowed to use, I rubbed elbows with these “old salts” folks who even thought and dreamed in code. One of the places where macaronic occurred was on the West Coast Slow Speed Net which met daily on 3.702 mHz at 0200 hours Zulu.

These folks were quick with their Vibroplex and straight keys. Hardly a night passed without one train dispatcher passing traffic to another. When conditions were difficult and the receiving station sometimes asked for fills. The sender, in his excitement, sometimes mixed American Morse with International leaving us newcomers scratching our heads..

They called that box-car-ing. The dictionary calls it macaronic.

She Won’t Get Any Better

Those were the words spoken by a relative referencing my wife’s condition. A year ago last May she’d suffered two heart attacks and two seizures and our future seemed grim. I think he is a selfish, greedy man. I fear he let his wife go a few years earlier in order to collect a large insurance policy. So I wonder what he is suggesting; turn my back on my wife and give up on her?

My mind drifts back to Barb’s 27 days in a heart hospital. Her survival is touch and go, more so than I realize. Not until I hear her monitor sounding off like an aircraft stall-warning horn do I truly understand how close to death she actually is. “We still have other things we can do,”a nurse says to me as she quickly connects two smaller, brightly colored gas bottles to Barb’s machine. Nothing they do prevents her oxygen level from dropping. It’s now approaching 20%. I don’t know what percentage is acceptable, but I’m certain it should be higher.

I watch Barb while trying to stay out from under foot. Her lips move. Glancing at the nurses I notice they are all four leaning against the wall. Is there nothing more they can do? Are they waiting for her to die?

I move to her bedside and pull her oxygen mask away and ask what she said.

“I can’t take any more of this,” she whispers.

My medical knowledge includes the use of band-aids and administering cough syrup. Little else. However, my gut instinct tells me the words I chose during the next sixty seconds may determine Barb’s future. Putting her oxygen mask back in place, I bend over and whisper in her ear: “Please don’t go. I don’t want to home alone.”

Before the second hand on the wall clock has finished a full rotation her oxygen level moves. It increases. Did I cause that, Or would it have happened anyway, even if I’d been somewhere else? Within an hour the oxygen crisis seems less critical.

Twenty seven days later, fitted her doctor says I can take her home. “bear in mind,” he tells me in the hallway, “She’s been through a lot. Don’t be surprised if some mental issues surface.” Before she leaves her room, a nurse brings a box containing nine medications and an instruction sheet indicating what these meds are and when they are to be administered. The assigned hours are: 7AM, 9AM, NOON, 5PM, 8PM, and BEDTIME.

I’m overwhelmed, not at all certain I’m smart enough to keep my wife alive. But unlike my calloused relative, I don’t throw my hands in the air and leave Barb’s future to Lady Luck.

For several weeks I cook, wash dishes, wash clothes, and keep house, and see to most of her needs while she gazes out the sliding glass door. Eventually, she’s able focus better. We play slow games like Monopoly and Rummy.

I wonder about computer games. For years prior, she has played a Simms game on her iPad. Now she has no interest. None. Her stress level is low, so don’t press it. Instead, I wait and I watch and I hope – keeping the iPad battery charged. One day she asked if I know where she put her iPad.

Seventeen months have passed since she came home from the hospital. During this span of time her health has steadily improved. There have been issues, but she has taken over the domestic chores, but stress is still a constant snag caused by television and radio. Those are easily addressed.

This month she announces she is going to begin embroidering. A week later she’s ready to start a second pillowcase.

My relative becomes more like Scrooge McDuck with each passing year. He was wrong, saying: “She will never get better.”

Her.2 (Fiction)



Unable to sleep, I tossed and turned until dropped off from sheer exhaustion. The alarm on the table clock woke me at noon when. What time did I say I’d pick her up? Was it 1400 hours? That seemed right but while showering a voice in my head told me I’d said noon. Shit! The desk clock now read 1205. Setting some get-ready records, I was in the car by 1220.

The CQ assigned to the WAF quarters took her duty seriously, and she was large enough to enforce the instructions she issued.

“Sergeant, when you come calling on someone it’s your responsibility to know your friend’s name. Do you think that’s an unreasonable request?”

“Of course not, but we met on the Greyhound only last night. I only know her as Cynthia, dark hair, about five six, give or take.

“There aren’t many clues there, sergeant,” she states, peering at me through tired, uninterested eyes.

“She’s scheduled to sign in from leave tonight at midnight. Does that help?” I plead.

The CQ, Beatrice, her name tag stated, indicated only the slightest interest as she withdrew clipboard from beneath her work desk and ran her index finger down a column.

“That would be Airman Cynthia Holmes. Should I send someone to tell you are waiting?”

“Please,” i said, relief flooding over my like warm sunshine after a rainy day..

Turning, Beatrice summoned an E2 who sat behind her, her nose buried in a romance paperback. “Inform Cynthia Holmes in room 232 that a sergeant is waiting for her.”

The CQ runner, a young blond, bent over the corner of a page to mark her place, then laid her novel aside. With the grace of a Persian cat she mounted the stairwell and silently disappeared into a hallway.

Take a seat on the sofa,” Beatrice said without taking her eyes off the wakeup roster she was building. Minutes later the runner returned and took up her novel again. On her heels came Cynthia, with a broad smile.

“Hi Legs.”

“Hi Cynthia.”

I took pleasure in seeing the CQ’s reaction to hearing our exchange.

Once in the car I caught a whiff of Cynthia’s perfume. The scent was so light it was almost not there, yet it was fetching. Excellent choice, in my opinion.

I’d experienced just the opposite on a Portland street a few days earlier. A young woman in a short skirt, short jacket, and heels stepped from the doorway of a law office and preceded me by a dozen or so yards. She’d obviously bathed in a tub of cologne. Had the scent following her been colored, any color, she would have been engulfed in a cloud.

“Nice car.”

“Thanks. I like it too, even though it consumed most of my reenlistment bonus.” i said. “So you grew up in Gold Hill, Oregon?” I asked after we were headed along Beale Road toward Marysville.

“I did. It’s even smaller than it looks, two cafes, two taverns, a boarding house that was once the Gold Hill Inn, a hotel, in the stagecoach days, they say. There are five or six churches. I’m not sure of the count.”

“What do your folks do there?”

“Pop is a Baptist minister. He’s had the same church for as long as I can remember. Mama’s head cook at the school. Short work days. She’s extremely busy, but she manages to make time for her passion, reinventing the social functions that were popular many decades ago.”

“What kind of social functions?” I ask as I brought the Triumph up to speed and merged with the southbound traffic on US 99.

“The old ones – pie suppers and ice cream socials are the two she works hardest at. Both generate funds for the school and needy folks. What do your folks do?” Cynthia asked.

“Dad owns a hardware store in the Portland suburb, Gladstone. Kind of a Happy Days thing – don’t I wish?” I said, smiling. “Mom works in the store as bookkeeper and sales clerk. But tell me more about this social thing your mama does,” I urged.

“I must warn you, it’s a long story,” she cautioned.

“We have time.”

“Well, a pie supper is an informal dating game,  for lack of a better description. Women, married or single, make up a lunch of two half sandwiches and two pieces of pie and put them in a decorative box with their name on a slip of paper inside. No one is supposed to know who brought them, but you know how that goes. They are auctioned off, some bringing as much as ten dollars. The winner of each box is obligated to share the contents with the preparer, like it or not. The proceeds go into a fund to be awarded later.”

“I wonder who thought that up?”

“It goes way back to the old one room school days and even before. Mama once said that at the start of World War One the troop trains usually stopped at Gold Hill for water drawn from the Rogue River. Her mother knew the railroad agent and she’d get the train schedules from him. As the train time approached, she prepare food for the soldiers – fried chicken, sandwiches, and chocolate cake. She’d wrap servings in butcher paper and put her name and address inside. One soldier, I think she said his name was Peter.”

So the pie supper was a patriotic thing more than a century ago?” I said.

“You could say that.”

“Coffee time,” swinging into a diner that gleamed like it was covered in aluminum foil.

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