Early History of MARC—Bob Schaeffer, KJØG

The Montrose Amateur Radio Club (MARC), located in Montrose, Colorado, recently celebrated its 50th birthday. Bob Schaeffer, KJØG, is one of the original members! He and his wife Connie, KØGAS, are avid contesters and have been very active in club affairs. Last night he read to us some reminiscences about the early days of the club. Since he was the only one there who is still around, this is priceless, irreplaceable history. He gave me permission to put his speech here.

Early PS/DR MARC Activities © 2011 Bob Schaeffer

Early activites in MARC were primarily theory lessons (NRI), followed closely by operator training development such as Field Day. The first crop of members were adults. Most everyone built most of their own gear. The equipment manufacturers of the day were National, Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, and Collins (top of the line). Since home-built gear did not lend itself to AM phone, or the new-fangled SSB, most interest was in CW.

Our most intense operating activity that was related to emergency preparation was Field Day. Field Day was set up as a contest to test operator development. No bonus points, no public-relations efforts, no pig-out-picnics! Just operating using the best gear possible on emergency power. All for high place in the ARRL listings. [Bob explained this was the only reward for all the work: to see the club listed high up in the QST reports of field day scores.]

Some folks were active on MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio Service), mostly to get old military surplus. In fact, military surplus gear found its place in the nation’s ham shacks as well as in Field Day.

Back then meetings were in members’ homes. The second crop of new hams contained high school science students, promoted by the Montrose High School science teacher, Mr. Phil Good, a ham himself. The idea was to provide an introduction to electronics and engineering. We met in the school lab. The history of the students would make a good program [for presentation to the club] by itself. You all know Ike Topliss. He was one of the outstanding ones. Three others still live in the area.

No particular effort existed to promote emergency preparedness or public relations, although many newspaper articles appeared due to the activities of one of our members who was a newspaper reporter.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Fast forward to the Cuban missile crisis. A whole new ball game. Our first fear was that all [amateur radio] operations would be disallowed. Since the mid 1930s, amateur radio operations in time of war would be prohibited to permit military operations on those frequencies. They never were our frequencies. Ham radio use was intended for experiments of a technology nature. QST was a technical journal. Anyway, nuclear missiles in Cuba were a threat of unimaginable magnitude. All sorts of organizations sprung up. RACES and ARES became predominant in ham radio.

Alerting Hams to Respond

The local fire district was still partially volunteer. A large siren was located on South 5th Street near Junction. Volunteers were called in to get fire details. City folks considered this as an alerting [mechanism], but were afraid it would be confusing. Someone had the idea of a large steam whistle on the local power plant. They proceeded to acquire one. Since I was the guy who managed the plant, the thing was handed to me. The only problem was that the pressure rating was 175 psi max. The plant boilers put out 700 psi. It took us a few days to determine if steam from one of the turbine extraction points could be used without upsetting the automatic feedwater heating controls. A few days more and we were ready to test! The newspaper announced the test.

The test was so loud it was heard from Olathe to Colona. The public reaction led the city fathers to fear panic above alerting, so stopped any further use. By this time the missiles were withdrawn and the nation was relieved. The MARC interest continued on, however.

Coordinating with Local Authorities

Coordination with law enforcement was rebuffed due to turf warfare, but ham radio and the medical folks held several mock disaster drills. The club acquired a bunch of mobile radios left from a system upgrade by a utility (WCP Co). These were all-tube AM GE units used on 48 MHz frequencies. Several members installed them in their cars. We were able to convert to 10 meters [28-29 MHz] with new crystals, etc. They were real power hogs guaranteed to run down a 6v car battery in the blink of an eye! [Six volt car batteries were still common then.] These were the first tries at mobile operations in the club.

Moving On

The initial high school science students graduated and left for college all over the nation. The club departed [devolved] to an occasional get-together of old heads for gab fests. Two-meter repeaters were popular and provided some help to motorists. Everyone had one in their car. NTS (National Traffic System) traffic continued on for a few of us.

One big change was to start Saturday morning breakfasts. They were huge! XYLs (wives) happily joined in. Breakfast was every Saturday. As many as 30 folks came. We had many followers who were not hams playing follow-the-leader to the breakfast [indecipherable]. Our presence really made [helped] several eateries [financially]. Our regular meetings dropped to one a month, and that is where we are today.

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