Recollections passed along by others

Updated: 27 Feb 2008

From Jim Neiger, N6TJ

I had met Don Wallace in the mid-60's at the Visalia (then it was Fresno) DX Convention , but since I lived in Northern California and he in Southern California, our paths only crossed once per year. And then when I moved to Ascension Island in 1968, our friendship really took off. I forget which of the 18 rhombics (at the time) passed through ZD8, but his signal was simply outstanding - and we QSOed often.

I moved to Los Angeles in early 1973, and Don invited me to operate his station in a contest, certainly with some reluctance as only Don knew the workings of his station. I soon was able to convince him that the Johnson Viking 2000's (or whatever they were) had to go, and they were soon replaced with a couple of Collins S-Lines. The amplifiers, of course, remained the pairs of 833's and 450TL's, on each band. Later, Don got three Alpha 77's, especially designed by ETO to handle sudden high VSWR's in case the rhombic feedlines should short during high winds. And I believe it safe to say that this custom micro-processor controlled Alpha 77 became the predecessor to the fantastic Alpha 87 amplifiers.

So, pretty much from early 1973 to Don's passing in June 1985, I operated many contests from W6AM, and spent literally 100's of hours there - working on the station and listening to him and the history of ham radio. Don was truly one of the pioneers (I think he got his first "license" in 1912).

During the last couple decades of the W6AM rhombic ranch, it was 'only' 9 rhombics and 18 directions on 24 acres, 1234 ft above the Los Angeles Basin, right on the edge of the Pacific. During its heyday, Don's property was 120 acres with 13 rhombics and 26 directions. The site was originally a trans-Pacific radio site (Press Wireless, I think) and Don somehow "acquired" the property from the billionaire Howard Hughes. Height of the rhombics varied from 100 to 140 ft. In the late 60's or so, Don had to sell 95 of the acres (to pay the property taxes) and he collected the grand sum of $100K for the 95 acres. Today, the property is covered with hundreds of million dollar (plus) homes. Go figure.....

Don Wallace, W6AM, an amazing builder, DXer, contestor, and ham radio enthusiast right up to his passing 20 years ago.

Vy 73

Jim Neiger N6TJ

Phil Wilson K4LO (then WA6GKJ) shared this:
As a 13 year old I got to operate his station, believe it or not. I didn't realize at the time how privileged I was. I met Don at an IEEE convention near LA in 1960. I rode my bike there (about 8 miles from my home QTH). Don had an exhibit there. He was a distributor for several ham gear manufacturers. The rig at his exhibit, as I recall, was an RME 6900 and a Johnson 2000. I asked if I could operate the rig. I guess Don thought that it was great PR to show how a 13 year old kid could operate that equipment. Anyway, I showed up everyday and had a ball. Don's son would take me to lunch and tell me how much Don appreciated me being there. When the convention was over I helped to dismantle the gear and antennas. Don invited me to his station. I had my dad drive me up there and Don let me operate. I remember working a KG6 in Guam while there and could hardly hear him. Don said "turn the switch to antenna 8" or something to that effect. There was a big switch at the operating position. As I turned it, relays started clicking all around the room. Stopping at the correct antenna the station was well over S9. Anyway, what an experience for a 13 year old! - And as I realize now, truly a once in a lifetime event.

Marty N6VI recalls seeing Don drive in to Henry Radio with his mobile high-power HF CW rig in the car. Marty worked there in his college days. Imagine how wide-eyed he must have been seeing that rig in Don's car! I seem to recall seeing pictures and a write up about that mobile rig in one of the ham mags back then.

Kurt W6PH says, "One of my favorite W6AM stories is in a 1935 QST when he took a bunch of VHF equipment to the top of Mt Whitney for several days (4 or 5?) and made a handful of contacts. This was in the days when there was a pack station at Hunter Flat, now known as the Whitney Portal. Several mules were used to take the equipment up there. The article discussed the possibility of using a "relay" station on top of a mountain to relay VHF comm between the Bay area and SoCal. Repeaters came along many years later."

Albert WR6R remembers Don's Johnson 2000Invader "transceiver" (mentioned by N6TJ elsewhere on this site). Does anyone have a picture of that? The name alone must have been good for 5-6 dB in the pileups!

Jan N6AW: "I stayed at the ranch after Don passed away and dismantled the place in 1986. There were 4,000 feet of telephone poles to take down; not to mention 17 miles of copperweld wire in the air!

Don & I rewired his rhombic selection switch in 1982 so it followed the great circle chart sequentially when selecting antennas. That and a few other changes made the station easier to operate and I won a number of contests from up there."

From Steve N6TT: "I used to operate [W6AM] in the 60's as young as 12 yrs old. Don would come pick me up along with another local ham Steve WB6PKA at the time, I was WB6SSO and we would be permitted to operate the station for as long as we wanted or until he got tired of us hanging around ...He would also take us to the DX club meetings in his Cadillac while he would be clicking off EU on cw with the KW in the trunk...Steve and I were both CW ops and could copy 50+ wpm so we read everything going on. Yes those were the days and he was quite the ham. I'd call him on the telephone when I heard the DX station he was looking for and in return he would ask the DX station to stand by for me it would piss those east coast boys off but it was Don so they would listen for my little 2 element Gotham Quad and 800 watts. I'd go up and watch him work on his poles sometimes. Hec, he would climb them well into his 70's.

One time he caught Steve and I using our callsigns to further our DX records. I think we were working EU on 80 mtrs cw at sunset...He said I told you no using your callsigns. Well I could go on and on. I did write a short note to Jan Perkins when he wrote his book and he mentioned some of the stuff I just told you in his book under my old call N7AHN.But finally, years later when he died around 1986 I came back to LA and was working for the operating engineers local 12 running bull dozers, loaders, etc. I got dispatched to his job of all places and I remember taking down the telephone poles. Weird huh? The other ops would ask me what kind of freak lived here HI HI...I would hook on to some wire with the back teeth of my D9 dozer and take off across those acres pulling the wire from the ground...Miles and miles of wire as you know."