W1HRX - A Ham's Paradise|
By Arthur H. Lynch, W2DKJ (SK)
This paper originally appeared in
All Wave Radio magazine, February 1937. Pictures referenced in the article are shown
under the heading "W1HRX
Station in the late 30's" elsewhere on this website. Mr. Lynch's article
is a great description of the James Millen radio shack and surrounding grounds that
facilitated his most active period of amateur radio operations.
QSL Pictured Source K8CX QSL Directory from
In order that you may have a mental picture of
the owner and operator of the station we are about to describe, it may be desireable
to tell you something about the gentleman himself. His contributions to the radio
art are quite generally recognized in that field but his personal characteristics
are known to only a limited few with whom he comes in contact in the course of business
or with whom he converses on the air. Of course, for the past three years, the National
Company's rather intimate conversational page, written by Mr. Millen and published
in QST, has given most of us, in the amateur game, some inkling of his ability and
personality, to say nothing of some very valuable engineering facts.
"Jim," as he is generally known by the radio fraternity is a very modest,
unassuming sort of gentleman who hates hustle and bustle and noise in a profound
fashion. The "M.E." which follows his name, is a degree which he received
from the Steven's Institute of Technology, at Hoboken, New Jersey. He was most fortunate
in having , amoung his instructors at Steven's the now famous Professor Hazeltine,
of neutrodyne fame, as well as Professor Vreeland, whose valuable contributions
in connection with band-pass tuning have done so much for high-fidelity radio reception.
At the time, Jim lived with his mother at Elmhurst, Long Island. The trek from Elmhurst
to Hoboken was in those days, something which would not be envied by the present-day
college man. While it is generally considered that getting through Steven's is no
cinch, Millen found time to prepare magazine articles which started appearing in
Radio Broadcast . In addition, to his technical pursuits, he found sufficient
time weekends to build for himself, and with very little help, a bungalow at High
Hill Beach, which is now a part of the famous Jones' Beach State Park. All of the
wood for the bungalow had to be transported by boat from the mainland to the little
dock at High Hill Beach, and from there it was toted piece-meal to the bungalow's
location, a little over a mile away.
After the bingalow was completed, battery-operated radio equipment was installed
and some remarkable results were obtained with extremely long antennas stretched
along the beach.
However, that is an entirely different story and our principal point in mentioning
it is that the owner of the "Paradise" we are about to describe is a person
who has a certain amount of push, and who understands that only by having such seclusion
is it possible to secure the kind of radio results that all of us would like to
The Hilltop Haven
The hilltop on which Mr. Millen's present station is located just north of Middleton,
Massachusetts. It is considerable distance from either homes and one of the highest
spots in the Boston area.
The hilltop is reached by dirt roads which branch off the main thoroughfare passing
a half mile in either direction from the top of the hill. The dirt roads have the
character of mountain trails and would be ideal for Rocky Mountain goats. Among
other things, the property includes a large sized pond, a very pretty brook and
a pine grove, which puts one in mind of the redwood tree area in the far west.
The main house is a white colonial, located on a small plateau, near the top of
the hill. It was built 200 years ago and some of the boards in the floors and the
roof are thirty inches wide. It has been modernized by Mr. Millen and his mother
to the extent of incorporating a most up-to-date bathroom and kitchen. This modernization
has been done so skillfully that the New England colonial atmosphere of the dwelling
has been preserved.
On a clear day, the Customs House, at Boston, some twenty-eight miles away, may
be seen from the front porch. The Porch, too, provides a view of the excellent swimming
pool, some hundred feet down the slope.
The bungalow, shown in the general view of the hilltop, is the radio station itself,
and is approximately one-hundred yards away from the main house. The house itself
is located to the left of the bungalow and the swimming pool is located quite close
to the grape arbor which appears in the lower left-hand corner of the general picture.
There is an extension on the side of the bungalow, not in view in the picture, which
has recently been added and which serves as a bedroom, with twin beds, for the accommodation
of visiting radio amateurs who insist on staying up all hours to work the rig. The
provision of this bedroom in the bungalow makes it unnecessary for the visiting
brass-pounders and voice-throwers to wake up the remainder of the household when
they do decide to go to bed, and it has the distinct advantage of enabling them
to sleep late in the morning, without being aroused by those who would care to be
about in the main house.
The mast sticking up from the chimney supports a short antenna which is used for
local reception and particularly for operation on five meters. The large frame-work
tower in the center of the picture and the cumbersome contraption which it supports,
reminds one of the rotary aerial swings that one finds at seaside resorts and at
county fairs. Actually, it is a 20-meter, four element beam antenna. Signals from
this beam have been heard in all parts of the world.
The original plan for this antenna called for a motor, located at the top of the
tower, to be used for rotating the beam. This refinement was never completed, however,
as the particular stations with which W1HRX maintains regular schedules can all
be worked from the same orientation of the array. Details concerning the manner
in which the beam antenna has been made are discernable in the large, close-up picture
of the beam itself. (This close up doesn't appear
on this website, but the array is visable in the bungalow picture - JMS) Two of the elements are feed in phase from a 600-ohm line and there are
two parasitic reflectors behind the radiators.
As is true with every amateur station, each of the important components here is
surrounded by an interesting story. Take, for instance, the five meter, eight-element
beam array shown supported by the frame-work at the left of the picture. Before
this workmanlike unit appeared, all sorts of makeshift arrangements, of the same
general dimensions, were tried and found to be practically useless. The headquarters
staff of QST wanted to carry on some experimental work, in connection with long-distance
transmission on five meters. Millen's hilltop is about 128 miles from Hartford and
it was thought that this distance would be ideal for the experiments. Accordingly,
after the preliminary aerial had been abandoned, the unit shown in the picture was
built. The results obtained with this antenna are now well known to nearly every
amateur, and consistent day and night transmissions between this beam and a similar
unit installed at Hartford were carried on for over a year.
While W1HRX now appears to be close to ideal it must not be thought that this station
has come into being without any of the aggravating circumstances which the rest
of us encounter. A very severe headache was caused during the construction of the
lattice work mast which appears prominently in the general view of the station.
The four corner supports are made of 4 by 4 pine joists in a single length. It was
found that units of this size, 34 feet long, could be obtained at a local lumber
yard. Operating on the basis of this length, complete drawings for the entire tower
were made. Later, a piece of lumber, 38 feet long, and measuring 8 by 8, was located.
At no small cost, it was cut up into four pieces, 4 by 4 and 38 feet long. Millen
was perfectly willing to pay the premium for the additional four feet of height.
On his arrival to the "farm" that evening you can imagine his distress
when he found four pieces of 4 by 4, four feet long, lying on the barn floor.
He was advised that the carpenter had cut them off the long length so that the tower
would coincide with the drawings which had been made.
Even after this catastrophe, troubles continued to hover about. It was difficult
to secure a supporting member for the vertical radiator which would have the dual
characteristics of strength and lightness. Ultimately, after a two weeks wait, four
30 foot bamboo poles were secured in New York, and it must be said that 30-foot
bamboo poles are not especially easy to find. Nor is it easy to ship then without
having them broken, after they have been found.
Two thoughts guided the securing of the "Hilltop" which is now so well
known to most amateurs as Radio Station W1HRX. One was Millen's desire to secure
a summer retreat, where his friends could be suitably entertained and where a reasonable
degree of privacy could be had. The second and perhaps the more important reason
was that he is a firm believer in the policy of giving everything a very thorough
trial under severely practical conditions, and he wanted a place where new ideas
and new equipment could be put through their paces unhurriedly.
Nearly all of the equipment carried in the right-hand relay rack, shown in the corner
of the operating room, is useful for receiving only. Certain tricks in this layout,
however, are not immediately apparent. The power supply for the exciters is located
at the base of the relay rack, in such a position that the operator can throw the
toggle switch on and off with his foot without reaching down. Provision of a wooden
shelf, directly beneath the receiver, eliminates the necessity for an extra table
or a desk for operating purposes. It will be observed that the log, key and microphone
are right at the operator's elbow. The space between this shelf and the top of the
power supply was formerly occupied by nothing but blank panels. By the simple expedient
of employing a few metal shelves which are attached directly to the relay rack,
which was formerly dead space, makes all of the necessary equipment immediately
available and at the same time provides a place for ash trays, tall glasses, etc.,
where they'll not be easily upset.
The power lines do not reach this station. In order to energize the rather powerful
equipment which is used here, it is therefore necessary to generate power on the
hilltop. Several power plants are available. A "Windcharger" was mounted
on the peak of the barn roof about two years ago and it has been doing active duty
ever since. It takes care of some of the emergency lighting in the main house by
keeping a bank of storage batteries, located in the barn, fully charged at all times.
These storage batteries are also used for starting the gasoline engine which drives
the intermediate power supply and which is located a considerable distance away
from the house. This gas engine drives an alternator which is used for light and
for operation of one of the lower powered transmitters. It is also employed in connection
with a pump, used to draw water from a spring and pump in into a huge tank located
directly behind the barn.
In addition to the transmitter shown in one of the accompanying pictures, another
and very much more powerful unit is located in another corner of the room and is
link-coupled to the transmitter shown here. With this higher powered final amplifier
it is possible for the station to be run to the full legal limit.
The installation of the gasoline-driven generator, which is located just outside
the windows in the operating room, was a task of no mean proportions, in spite of
the fact that Millen had the very valuable assistance of Fred Davis, who is the
General manager of the Rumford Press, among whose tasks are the printing and distriburtion
of the Reader's Digest. The very important work of assisting in attaching
the fireproof covering for the gas engine into the operating room, were delegated
to Davis and your present reporter.