George W. Eckart
Field Day is many things to many people. Since the early 1930’s, Field Day literally has been the one day of the year in which Amateur Radio Operators across North America would take equipment in hand and head into the field. For some it is a contest. For others Field Day serves to test one’s communications metal as hams hone their skills to respond to a disaster. For many, it is a yearly tradition. For others, it is a right-of-passage. Visitors may discover Amateur Radio for the first time. New operators have the opportunity to explore new vistas in ham radio; new equipment, new privileges, new challenges and new ways to serve. There is always the opportunity to get to know fellow hams better, many of whom will become good friends or even mentors in the Amateur Radio service. Ultimately, each operator has a story to tell and there were many good stories this year as the members of the Crescenta Valley Amateur Radio Club (CVRC) gathered at Verdugo Park for Field Day 2017.
The morning activities didn’t really seem to get into high gear until CVRC’s traditional morning Field Day salute. About 8am on Saturday the relative quiet of Crescenta Valley was shattered by what sounded like an intoxicated elephant trying to make a point. It was the sound of Tom (K6THH) and his infamous compressed air antenna launcher propelling 3/4oz fishing weights high into the air. Having placed fishing line above some of the largest sycamore trees in Verdugo Park, 2 G5RV antennas (one on steroids) were hoisted into position. Under a thin canopy of wire, the hams of CVRC continued setting power supplies, radios, computers, running coax and power cables. Of course, there was the inevitable technical problem to solve which is obligatory at events like these. By 11am, all was ready. When Mike (KF6KXG) said it was time to begin, a small cadre of hams, some with microphones in hand and other on computers, took to the airwaves. After an hour or so went by and a few contacts were made the cadre of operators began to dwindle. There were other things to do besides contesting. This is when many of the stories from Field Day 2017 emerged.
There was a father and younger son from Burbank who found a place on the 40 meter band. It was unclear how active the father typically has been in amateur radio. Today, however he looked like the operator in command pridefully mentoring his son in the traditions and skills of Amateur Radio. It was a joy to watch as the father and son immersed themselves in the moment communicating with each other and sharing the responsibilities both of making contacts and logging entries. It seemed as if one of a new generation of hams was taking a step forward today.
There was a lovely older lady who arrived with a portable radio in hand that was even older than she. It was a Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio that had belonged to a sailor on board a ship in the late 1940’s or early 1950s. She wanted to know what it was and if it could be fixed? “Trans-Oceanic,” she said quizzically. “What does it mean? Was it used for spying?” “I’m afraid not,” Mike (KF6KXD) said with a hint of compassion. “It is just a regular radio probably used to listen to sports or something.” The older lady looked quite disappointed. “But is says Trans-Oceanic,” she kept repeating to herself and to anyone else who was listening. “Are you sure this is legal?” Skeptical to the end, the very pleasant but clearly disappointed senior walked away from the small group of hams that had gathered, radio in hand, still convinced that anything labeled Trans-Oceanic couldn’t possibly be that innocent.
There was another very curious mature woman from Montrose who, while walking through the encampment, paused to watch Bob (KB6JBC) attempt to make contacts on his 1.5 watt QRP CW transceiver. She was a musician in her current life and admitted to having been a licensed ham in the distant past. She was invited to listen. The moment she placed Bob’s headphones over her ears, she seemed to be transformed. At first, her eyes stared into the distance as if looking for something. Then, slowly, she began to smile as if unexpectedly meeting an old friend. Amidst the jumble of CW signals that filled her ears were a few sounds she recognized. She was surprised to discover that, every once and a while, she would pick out a familiar letter of two. She smiled softly saying, “Code always seemed like a kind of music.” She sat there listening to her music for a while before slipping away.
There was Randy, a fairly new Ham and a first-time visitor to the club. He began working the 40 and 20 meter bands early in the evening on Saturday and continued all through the night. He, alone, was responsible for making more the 100 contacts on Field Day. That’s dedication!
There was the ARRL Section Manager who converted her Master bedroom to an antenna farm. A female CVRC club member whose husband now writes Steam-Punk novels after having switched from writing science fiction.
What might ham radio look like in the 19th century? There was another CVRC stalwart who disclosed that he loves to play the banjo, has a long-standing passion for trains and has always wanted to try his hand at being a hobo. Another discussed the joys of Amateur Radio operation on a motorcycle. There was the 11pm Chinese dinner and the three young children who repeatedly checked on their dad while enjoying their own Field Day camping out under the stars. And there was laughter; a lot of laughter especially late into the night. And, of course, more stories than there is time or place to recount here.
By 11am the next morning, it was over. Another year in the Call Book. We made many new friends, honed our skills to respond to disaster, introduced many visitors to the Amateur Radio Service for the first time and continued to foster the unique ties that bind ham radio operators together both as a local club and as a worldwide community. What are you going to do the last weekend of June, 2018? What kind of story will you be a part of?