J-38 Telegraph Key
I passed my novice and technician tests with relative ease, but my general was not so simple. The theory came with relative ease, but I failed my code test. Joining the Nestor technicians who were in same boat helped, but there was no silver bullet, so to speak. In addition, the Holy Bible was being sent in International Morse on 40-meters. That was very helpful, being able to follow along.
Another station sent naval war stories in code. He was a bit too fast for me, so I only copied very other word. Oh, how I wished I was faster, especially after a giant wave came aboard and took out the wheelhouse windows. I fell behind there and have yet to learn the outcome.
Then the FCC declared such transmissions were broadcasting, something that is forbidden. Both of those stations were silenced.
Other hams entered our little group and we eventually we formed a “”round table”. There was but one basic rule–no one was allowed to leave his/her radio for any reason whatsoever, short of the shack catching fire. To in force this, anyone was authorized to call roll at any time. A simple response of HR was all that was required. In the event that someone had to use the bathroom, that party could take the chance that roll would not be called, or a simple QJR (quick John run) could be sent a long with that persons call, at which time the round table was adjourned.
The round table brought many hams into our fold. Some had already earned their general, but sought the companionship and sport of our activity. One such person who claimed to have already earned that coveted license was John. His call shall remain unpublished.
John entered our ham world in the early 1990s. I took his claim of being a retired Air Force Major as wishful thinking. My experience with officers was extensive, having rubbed shoulders with scores of navigators gave me the opportunity to see them at their best as well as their worst. John seemed to fit nowhere within that latitude. He may have been one, but his nature seemed at odds with that of an officer and gentleman.
I first met John on the air, the 40-meter novice band. There was a nest of us technicians striving to reach the coveted thirteen-words-per-minute offering a gateway to the general class license. He was one of that group. I might not have noticed him so quickly had it not been for his cursing in Morse–“how the hell are you?”. And the list went on.
To complicate matters, he often claimed to use the SSB portions of the HF bands. Everyone, including John, knew that doing so was in violation of FCC rules. Then one evening Ernie rang me on the phone. “Get on 146.52. John has somebody on SSB down in Panama. He’s patched him through to 2-meters.”. I switched on my radio and there was some activity occurring. But if he wasn’t shouting into a coffee can rather than a phone patch, I’ll buy them treats.
My code speed came within a word or two of the magic number. No amount of practice made any difference. At last, a hamfest was to occur at the ski lodge on the summit of Bachelor Mountain and tests would be given. The frightening thing was that I had a one year grace period for which credit for passing my theory would be recognized and the day on Batchelor Mountain was the last day it would be honored.
I was a bit concerned about the testing because it wasn’t taking place anywhere. However, at straight up noon an announcement came over the speaker system that tests would be given in the bar. I arrived at the bar just as the bartender was shutting everything down and covering the taps with towels.
The code tests were administered by the use of headsets, which meant there would be no audio distractions. I was amazed at how easily the code came to me. And when the tester looked over my copy he smiled. “You may have something here,” he said. “You bet I do, ” I responded.
That day after the hamfest closed I drove down the mountain with a positive score sheet in my pocket.