One cold October night I copied a CW signal on the 40-meter band. It was N7JEU (I’ve forgotten his name) using the Heathkit HW-8 (aka Hotwater-8). I went back to him that night and many nights there after. Eventually, I learned that during the Korean War he was a marine forward artillery spotter. Using a CW mobile receiver-transmitter, head phones and a thigh-mounted telegraph key and a Jeep, he reported the position of the artillery strikes. That had occurred some 40 years in the past.
As we conducted our nightly chats, he located on the southern ridge of the Columbia Gorge, me in the southwest hills of Eugene, Oregon, I learned he was suffering with lung cancer. He’d lost his voice and his fist and the Hotwater-8 was his last means of reaching out. I’m not certain when, other when than it was spring, when his wife dialed me on the telephone. N7JEU had passed and he’d willed his station to me. Please come get it as soon as possible, she stated.
I made a few contacts with it, but time free time was critical. I was heavy into Oregon Army MARS where participating meant using my Swan 400 and SSB for military traffic handling nets in support of the ’91 Gulf War. The HW-8 spent a great deal of time on the shelf.
Time passed. Years. Eventually, my close friend and fellow MARS member, KB7LOC, had experienced a lightning strike that had totally ruined his station. He called me when I was in Arizona, asking if I had any spare radio station lying around. If so, could he borrow one?
I had just finished building a solar-powered ham radio station. The Swan 400 was a power hog. It drained my eight deep-cycle flooded batteries faster than I could recharge them, so I sold it and bought a MFJ-9420 with a CW add-on board so I do both CW and SSB and got operational just in time for the 9/11 event. The only other radio I had was the HW-8. With a heavy heart I packaged it up and mailed it to Leo and said nothing about my MFJ station.
Barb and I were renting trailer space in an unimproved park called Coyote Howls Campground. Communications with the outside world was via ham radio or a pay phone near the office. One day, a neighbor answered the pay phone and delivered a note from Leo with a callback number at Seal Rock, Oregon.
We need to have a CW QSO, he said.
Well, I’m giving guitar lessons and Wednesday evening between 7 and 8 is best for me, he stated.
He was taken aback when I informed him my radio was mono-band 20-meter rig, a daytime band.
Well, I’ll CQ for one minute on the quarter-hour and listen for the remaining fourteen minutes, he suggested frequency.
I was game for anything. Every Wednesday from 7 until 8 I gave the radio my full attention. During that winter, we made three contacts, Leo’s 1 watt and my 9-watts. Once his signal was no stronger than a puff of cigar smoke. We exchanged QSL cards for proof. I still have mine.
I don’t think Leo ever found another station. I don’t think he ever looked. Then late one night his wife called me. Leo had passed and what should she do with the radio?
I drove from Dallas to Seal Rock to get the radio.
And the rest of the story is published under the title: QRP the Hard Way. With the exception of the last chapter – mailing it to Bill.