Nevada Smith, Part 1

Today I received an email announcing the publication of a new book.The author’s home is Sparks, Nevada. His location caused me to remember a small black cat I found in Sparks some 20 years ago.

I was long hauling. My tractor, a blue, three-axle Freightliner, had developed a coolant leak. Since Sparks was close, my dispatcher directed me to the Alamo Truck Stop in Sparks, located a block off Interstate 80 and adjacent an International truck shop. He’d scheduled me in for repair even though it was just short of 0200 hours.

While waiting a small black cat wandered in where I was drinking coffee and introduced himself.

By the time my rig was good to go we’d established a relationship. By dawn I was loaded and headed for San Diego. The cat was sacked out in my sleeper and I was mentally going through a list of appropriate names – Alexander Alamo and Sparks McGregor were two runner ups, but Nevada Smith seemed to fit him best.

By the time I reached San Diego he’d crapped in my bed and our relationship had cooled somewhat. I would have abandoned him but the kids already knew about him. So we pressed on.

I hauled steel from Los Angeles to Sacramento. The instant I rolled my window down he leaped from the cab and hid himself in one of the zillion steel yard hiding places.

“That cat come with you?” asked the forklift driver in a sarcastic tone.

“Can’t catch him.”

“If he ain’t in the cab with you when you pull out of here I’ll call your dispatcher,” he promised.

Nevada Smith and I reloaded for Spokane.

The days become another week and I shared about 3,000 miles before arriving home. The kids were thrilled to see him; no more so than I was to see the last of him.

But that wasn’t the last of him. There’s more.
 from Yahoo Mail on Android


We were a covey of neebes trying to master Morse code in order to earn our general class amateur radio operator’s license. And we were stuck on the ten-word plateau. The elusive thirteen kept it’s distance until someone mentioned King Arthur’s Round Table. I’m sure the suggestion was made in jest, but the idea flourished. And it helped
Live, on frequency, and in code, we created a virtual table with seating to accommodate all who wished to join in.
QJR, it was called. It was an acronym for Quick John Run. Potty breaks were no allowed. And to enforce that rule the person next in line send his message, or ask his questions could declare a roll call. Everyone was obligated to reply to their call sign with HR (here). If there was no response the game was terminated by sending QJR.
Our record of uninterrupted Morse code lasted 4 hours and 35 minutes


I’m an amateur radio operator, have been for thirty years. During that span of time I’ve met the man on the street. And then some. The first one that comes to mind is Wheatley. He took time to swear on the air using Morse code.

Our Thicket

We moved last month. Our new home is a comfortable one-bedroom, one-bath apartment. Some folks would consider such an arrangement confining. Not us. Barb and I are well into our 56th year. She embroiders, I write. We bonded long ago.
Our living room faces north and looks into a dense pine forest and thicket, a haven for birds of many varieties. It is our Waldon Pond. In addition, there are discrete creatures we seldom see, but who leave who often leave their mark. Why do we suspect racoons? Because they often pry off the trash can lids and dumpster dive. And they don’t tidy up when they are finished.

Last week we brought home deep-fried chicken from the supermarket. Naturally, the bones went into trash. The next morning several bones lay on the trash can lids, cracked open, the morrow recycled, going to a high cause than the land fill.
While putting things back in order and elderly lady arrived with her trash.
“Racoons do well in the thicket. A few years back someone decided to trap them. They caught 23 before abandoning their mission,” she informed me.
We are pleased the powers that be lost interest in trapping because we enjoy the thicket and the activity it supports.

The Way It Was Before Facebook

Bertha Doolittle owned the telephone company where I lived my early youth. The switchboard was about the size of a school desk and probably was wired to two lines which serviced twenty phones.

The phone in my grandfather’s house must have had a number. Thought I didn’t know it, the livestock broker rang the house each time he sold a herd of cattle or hogs. But numbers weren’t necessary where I lived. Though I was not allowed to use the phone I could have if I’d had a chair to stand on.

The telephone was housed in a wooden box that was fastened to the east wall. Whenever my grandmother decided to call her brother, Floyd, she lifted the receiver, held the hook down, and spun the crank which rang a bell in the beauty shop. Then she released the hook and waited while Bertha rinsed the chemicals from her hands before answering.

“Hello, Willia.”

“Hello Bertha. Please ring my brother.”

Grandma’s ring was three short rings. Other folks on the party line – twelve in all – had their own unique ring because all twelve phones rang.

Grandpa subscribed to “The Drover’s Telegram”, a Topeka, Kansas weekly newspaper that published current livestock and grain prices. And a little of what Truman or FDR were up to.

But I thought the weekly was a waste of money. Grandma had listened in and already knew everything worth knowing before the publisher could get to his press.

The Redhead

Fence building is never fun work, especially during the late summer of 1953. That is the year I’ve turned sixteen and own my first car, a 1935 Ford sedan. As cars go it’s shortcomings are many, but it’s certainly an improvement over my previous methods of getting around – thumbing, bicycling, horseback, walking. Arriving at any given time fifteen miles away without a car is a tall order.

All day I’ve waited for an opportunity to announce my Saturday night plans, but no such opportunity came. Time is short. Though my timing is wrong, I give it my best shot.

“I’ve got a date tonight, Grandpa. I need to get out of here no later than six,” I state, while leaning on the heavy steel rod used for tamping dirt around the newly set fence posts.

 Grandpa stops digging, leaving his digger in the hole. I’m familiar with his body language. What he’s about to say isn’t going to be what I wish to hear. Turning slowly, Grandpa purses his lips and sends a charge of tobacco juice into the dirt. A small cloud of dust rises, confirming the fact it had been a dry summer. Then he wipes his mouth on the back of a cloth glove. Only then do his clear, blue eyes meet mine. He is angry.

“When I was your age I stayed on the farm and did the work,” he growls.

“Didn’t you have a girlfriend?” I blurt, immediately wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. 

“Of course I had a girlfriend,” he fairly shouts.

What did she say when you stood her up?”

“My girlfriend became your grandmother,” he replies, his eyebrows knitting. Turning once again to his task, he grabs the post hole digger and digs with renewed vigor. Over his shoulder he adds: “She understood the work came first.”

The dirt is hard and the sun is hot, and the clock is ticking. Setting fence posts from dawn to dusk is thankless. Without a doubt Grandpa dislikes it too, but he sets a vigorous pace and we continue working for another hour, stopping to rest in silence. 

Grandpa is a stickler for straight things. Far different from his son, my father, who is an alcoholic. With him, pretty good was always good enough. Grandpa must fear those “good enough” traits have rubbed off on me.

Digging is slower than tamping, so I’m waiting more than I’m working. Somehow, I’ve failed to notice that in spite of the damage from hitting stones, both ends of the tamping rod are originally threaded and have holes for cotter keys.

“This tamper used to be something else, didn’t it?” I finally asked.

Grandpa stops digging. As he turns, he again sends a charge of tobacco juice into the dirt. This time, however, I see no anger in his face.

“That was a rear axle to a surrey your grandmother and I used back when we were courting,” he said. Then he fell silent, obviously recalling those faded memories . “It was fitted with a leather dashboard and the top was fringed. I paid $750 for it in Kansas City,” he finally added.

“When was that?” I asked, studying the tamping rod with new eyes.

“It was 1898.”

“Wow. What happened to the rest of the surrey?”

He didn’t answer right off. At first I thought he didn’t hear my question.
“We wore it out, I guess That’s all there is left,” he finally said. After blinking a time or two, his eyes met mine. “I had little time for courting in the summer months. There was the farm work – crops, livestock. I can’t imagine how we ever had time to wear it out…,” his voice trailing off.

“You courted her during the winter in an open surrey? What did you do?

“Sometimes we played games with friends. Other times we skated on frozen ponds. If we were traveling very far she heated several bags of shelled corn to put around our feet and then put a buffalo robe over our laps.”

The sun was sinking fast, approaching the tree tops and I’d given up hope. One of those studs I’d seen hanging around the drug store was going to horn in while I built fence. I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. Laying his digger aside, he sent another stream of tobacco juice into the dirt. Then he pulled a red handkerchief from his pocket, removed his straw hat and wiped his forehead. I braced myself for setting another dozen posts, but he surprised me.

“It’s time you got on your way,” he said after squinting at the sun. 

Leaving the tools where they lay, I sprinted across the northwest pasture and took a swim in Grandpa’s Old Mississippi Pond, a substitute for a bath. Twenty minutes later I was on my way to see that red head.

Life was good.

Self-driving Vehicles

When my paternal grandfather was courting the girl who became my grandmother they did so in a surrey fitted with a leather dashboard costing $750 in 1897. He drove the horse, Ned, the twenty miles to her house. That was all he ever shared with me. When the time to leave arrived Grandpa tied the reins to keep them from dragging on the road and curled up in the seat and slept the way home, because Ned knew the way. No driving license was required.

In a sense, it was a self driving vehicle.

Will a driving license be required to ride in a present day self-driving vehicle? If so, how about the folks we now consider passengers, will they need to be licensed?

How about a DUI? Who takes the fall?
Youngsters absorb information and skills quite readily. Watching Dad at the wheel is often enough. 

That’s a good thing until one fine morning as breakfast time approaches someone discovers the four-year-old is missing. 

And so is the car.

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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