Hamming it up in DC

By Jeff Baker, KG4ENR

I knew my trip to Washington, DC was going to be fun but little did I know what was in store for me. My XYL Lynn, KG4KVS, was taking a week-long pediatric board review class in Bethesda, Maryland so my 10 month old son Alex and I had a whole week to explore the US Capitol. I knew I would be on the go and be lucky just to get a glimpse of all of the museums and monuments much less have time for ham radio.

Senator Thompson’s office arranged a tour of the White House, the Capitol building and FBI Headquarters for us. If you want to tour the White House I recommend calling your state Senator or Representative well in advance to get tickets or a reservation.

My first day consisted of figuring out how to get 10 month old Alex and all his necessities --stroller, juice, crackers and the dreaded diaper--onto the subway. This was challenging because elevators were a rarity and the down escalators looked to be about 2 stories deep. Commuters, with briefcases in hand, were everywhere, jockeying for positions on the subway when it arrived. As intimidating as the subway was, it really didn’t take me long to get the hang of things. Pretty soon I was right up front with everyone else when a train arrived.

The first place I visited was the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. I enjoyed viewing the planes up close and really enjoyed the WWII exhibits. Alex and I also attended a show at the Einstein planetarium. The show, navigating by means of the stars, was interesting.

Our second stop was the museum of Natural History. This is the one with dinosaur and animal skeletons and fossils. There was also a wonderful gem display featuring the Hope Diamond. We went to an Imax movie on cave exploring. Alex was so tired he slept through the whole movie. I couldn’t believe it because the movie was pretty loud at times. This is a great museum and probably the busiest one I attended. I think Alex enjoyed it the most, too. He really seemed to enjoy the bug display. I let him get out of his stroller and crawl around on some of the displays created for kids.

The Capitol tour was my favorite. Alex and I were the only guests on the tour so it was a lot of fun. Meredith, my tour guide, was great. She even carried Alex around some, at least until he broke her necklace. Fortunately she didn’t mind. The Capitol was full of history and really just beautiful inside. I was able to go the floor of the Senate and actually see Strom Thurmond’s desk.

The White House tour was also great and Lynn was able to join us. It was a crowded and fairly short tour but great never the less. The FBI tour was interesting but the best part about it was the indoor firing range where an agent demonstrated some of the firearms issued to FBI agents. One of the weapons was a fully automatic sub-machine gun (Cool!). We also made it to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean War memorials and the Holocaust Museum.

The Museum of American History was probably my favorite and turned out to be quite a surprise. I viewed the First Ladies Exhibit and the American President Exhibit and exhibits with real antique cars, trains and tractors. I knew David Bower K4PZT would be jealous when I told him about the trains. Well, I finally made it downstairs and entered the information age exhibit. The first thing I saw was a photo of Samuel Morse and the first Morse code sending device as well as a receiving device. I just smiled and thought how cool can this get? Little did I know that just around the corner was more antique ham radio gear as well as a complete operational ham station--NN3SI.

As I was looking at the station and the QSL cards on display, I noticed a phone number to call if you wanted to be a guest operator. Wow, I had this intense desire to drop everything and run out to a pay phone. It was a feeling similar to that of hearing a rare DX station just starting to call CQ and a pile-up not having formed yet. I thought about Jack Goforth, K4IBP, SK. He was my Elmer and this was one of those times I would have liked to call him. I knew he would have been as excited I was.

Well, I was able to hold my composure and make it back to my hotel and call the number to find out if I could operate the Smithsonian station. The guy was real nice and said he would send the volunteer operator an email and tell him I would be coming by tomorrow. He also made sure I had a copy of my Amateur Radio license with me. I had one in my wallet (what a relief) so I was set.

The next day I arrived at the Museum at about 10 AM and went directly to the radio station. Carl, W3CL, the volunteer operating the station that day, was already there and he knew who I was when I walked up. He had checked my call on the Internet and made sure my license was valid. He even downloaded a picture of me to make sure no one was impersonating me. Carl showed me around the station and told me to fire it up whenever I was ready.

To be honest, I was a little nervous. I decided to start on 20 meter phone and called “CQ-Nancy Nancy Three Sierra India, NN3SI, Nancy Nancy Three Sierra India,” but no luck. I tried a few more times but still no replies. I decided to go to 17 meters and give it a shot there. This time I got a reply and had four great QSOs. One of the hams had operated the Smithsonian station and another asked me if I knew George Dominick W4UWC. What a small world-George is in my DX club and operates frequently on 17 meters.

I only operated for about an hour. Alex was with me and he was getting tired. I said my good-byes to Carl and he gave me a certificate for being a guest operator. I was very happy with the experience and recommend that anyone going to Washington DC find the time to operate NN3SI. Adding a little HAM to your itinerary makes for a great trip.

Jeff Baker, KG4ENR, is a hospital pharmacist at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He lives in Powell, Tennessee. An ARRL member, Baker is an avid DXer and enjoys PSK-31. He is also Webmaster for the East Tennessee DX Association and a member of the Radio Amateur Club of Knoxville and the East Tennessee DX Association. He can be reached at JJBaker@ntown.com