Charlie saw Rose off to Lawrence Sunday evening. After their final QSO he began fabricating a home-brew radio compass system. Constructing a second wire antenna to null the back side of the loop, he copied the bird-dog antenna he’d seen on C-47 and C-54 aircraft. After tuning it to mid-band, forty-meters, he secured it to the luggage rack on his car. A hand crank and a speedometer cable and housing enabled him to rotate the loop from inside the car. In his experience, most clandestine stations changed frequencies after each transmission. But for reasons he had yet to learn, this operator seemed to rely more on an erratic schedules and short transmission durations. He could only guess why the rig was rock-bound. The next time he heard it he would plot the direction it came from on a road map, courtesy of Skelly Oil Company.
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But the radio operator didn’t oblige Charlie now that he was prepared. Hour after hour, day after day he repaired vehicles in his shop, keeping an ear tuned for the numbers man.
Then one Friday evening he got his break. The numbers man came on frequency while Charlie was headed to the farm to await Rose’s arrival. The highway offered no shoulder. He had to rotate his loop antenna crank with one hand, while driving with the other. By the time he found a place to park the station was silent. He could determine only that it came from west of Butler, about 270 degrees magnetic, give or take. Checking his map he found that encompassed half of Kansas. He had no idea what the tolerance of his home-brew radio compass might be, but he drew his line on the Skelly map, extending it across Kansas to the Colorado border anyway. Then he continued on his way to meet Rose.
“Have you checked the weather forecast?” ask Virgil as Charlie reached the front door.
“No, but I noticed it’s getting colder.”
“It is. The weather guesser at a Kansas City radio station reports an arctic front is pushing down from Canada that will create low overnight temperatures and snow.”
“What about Rose? Has she called?” asked Charlie.
“No she hasn’t, and I’m worried. Kansas doesn’t always plow their highways. She could be off in a ditch somewhere.”
They both fell silent, each pondering what the next few hours might bring.
“Maybe Rose should have stayed at the college?”
“Yes, I wish she had,” said Virgil, glancing toward Anne who was nodding in agreement. “It’s already snowing,” he added.
“If she isn’t home by dusk I’ll call her on the radio,” Charlie said, then breaking off….”There she comes now,” and he headed out the door.
“How’s the road?”
“Much worse in Kansas. Drifting snow. Ice,” she said as she pushed the door open.
“We were worried about you,” he said, reaching for her gloved hand.
“Thanks. It’s pretty slick.”
“No doubt. Do you think the college will hold classes Monday morning?”
“I think so. There are lots of people living in the dorms who won’t have any trouble getting to class. Besides, they are used to dealing with foul weather,” she said, leading the way into the living room and sidling up to the Warm Morning stove. Shucking her gloves, she held her hands over the top. “I’ve missed this wood stove,” she added. “My dorm has a stream radiator beneath the window that is forever knocking and banging. My roommate leaves the window open about a half-inch to circulate heat throughout the room.”
Virgil smiled as though her words brought back memories of his youth.
“Your timing is outstanding,” said Anne, directing her statement toward Rose. “Food is ready.”
Everyone fell silent as they took their places and began passing bowls of food.
“I think I’ll drive Rose back to school Sunday afternoon,” announced Charlie. “I have a good set of tire chains.”
“You can’t make the round trip in one evening in this weather. I hope there will be room at the hotel?” said Anne.
“I’ll stay at the YMCA and drive back Monday.”
He didn’t share with them that this might give him an opportunity to copy that clandestine station from Lawrence and maybe get a triangulation on his station.
Charlie and Rose set out for the university. Conditions were bad and quickly grew worse. The wind was up and a ground blizzard was in full swing by the time they crossed into Kansas. The Dodge heater wasn’t doing well. Frigid wind blew right through the door seals like they weren’t there. He wasn’t surprised. That’s why he’d brought a heavy crazy quilt to cover their laps.
“This is beautiful. Where did you get it?”
“My mother made it when I was a small boy. I found it in Dad’s closet. First time I’ve seen it since before I was drafted.”
“It’s beautiful. I already said that, but it is. Your mom was a gifted lady.”
“Yes, she was. She was a special person. I miss her.”
Snow fall increased dramatically and the vacuum-actuated windshield wipers were not keeping up. He slowed their pace. Therefore, the hour was late when they reached the college campus. They decided to eat at the Student Union and afterward she headed for her dorm.
Charlie had monitored the radio frequency since they’d left home, but heard nothing from his numbers man. Maybe he’d transmitted while they were eating, or perhaps his schedule had changed. There was no way he could know.
The YMCA was booked. They turned him away, but provided directions to a nearby hotel. He found the hotel quickly and as he reached for the ignition the clandestine station began transmitting. Swinging his loop antenna around, he located the strongest signal and then copied 2221 4216 8887 8312. The numbers were different except the last four digits – 8312. Was 8312 a signature? He didn’t know. Unfolding his Skelly map and laying it across the seat, he drew a line from Lawrence at a bearing of about 195 degrees. His new line crossed the one he’d drawn from Butler a short distance west of Pomona, Kansas. He was guessing five miles, a rural area.
Against his better judgement, he drove to a nearby cafe to fill his thermos with fresh coffee and waited for the cook to make him a to-go ham and cheese sandwich. After checking his flashlight and topping off the gas tank he set out for Pomona.
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