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All Things to All Men
by Clinton B. DeSoto
THE LIFE of a laboring man is hard in the mines of northern Michigan. The work is heavy, and it takes a strong body to do it. Not a mature body--youngsters of fifteen and sixteen go to work in the mines--but a strong one.
Henry Luoma left the mines at the age of eighteen. He had to leave; he could no longer do the work. His spine had been injured in a mine accident, and although he walked out of the hospital on his own legs three months later all was not well. He tried to go back to his job as a miner, but it was no good. He had to quit; the work was too heavy. He founder a lighter job and then another but he lost them both. He was too slow, too clumsy; his back hurt too much.
It pained him more and more as the months went by. He couldn't join in the pleasures of his old friends, and one by one they dropped him. A few of the more faithful continued to call, but his hopelessness and disillusionment made him depressing company. Finally even they abandoned him, and that made him even more bitter. "The world was a poor place--nothing in it was worth a smile," he said. "So I left off smiling."
Three years passed, and a bit more. Henry's body regained some of its strength, although he still lived companionless and apart. He was able to move about more freely, even to take long solitary walks in the woods. That November, in fact, he went deer hunting, alone, in the woods behind his home.
It was a simple enough pleasure, just to go hunting once again. His mother had asked him not to, thought it too dangerous for him. It was wet and slippery in the slushy snow. . . . But he'd be all right, he assured her. He could handle himself all right now.
He thought of that the instant he slipped as he crawled over the wet log. It was a brief instant, for his feet shot out from under him, and his back came down across the heavy log with a sharp racking pain that blackened his senses and drove all thought from his mind.
He lay there for a while, barely conscious at first, while the pain gave way to numbness. He became vaguely aware that his back had been broken again. He tried to move his legs and could not. He realized that he could not lie there long, that to do so would mean sure death.
So Henry crawled home through the slush and snow for two miles, his legs useless, dragging himself hand over hand past knolls and around trees, until finally the fingers of his outstretched hand just touched the doorstep of his home.
Then he fainted and he did not regain consciousness until days later. He was in his own bed, but his body was so drained of strength that he could not even raise his hand to feed himself. His voice was gone; all that would come when he tried to speak to his mother or to the doctor was a husky croak.
It was two months before he was able to speak clearly enough to describe the nature of his fall, for pneumonia and bronchitis exacted their full penalty for his arduous journey home. By that time the farm was snowed in, and it was April before he could be moved to a hospital.
At first the doctors gave him six months to live. Spondylitis and infection set into his spine. But he did live. His condition grew worse, but he lived. When four years had passed every joint in his back was locked solid. A cane a foot a foot long balanced him when he tried, now and then, to walk a few steps--so grotesquely was his spinal column deformed.
That deformation extended to his spirit. The doctors had saved his life but they could not cure him. There was no money to pay for that; medical attention is expensive, and the few dollars wrenched from the stubborn Michigan soil came hard and dear. And he could do nothing to help pay his way.
The living of an idle, useless life with his mother and stepfather seemed unendurable. When they moved to a farm some distance from their former home he had them put him in a cabin where he could be alone and out of sight. There he could avoid visitors whose pitying glances he abhorred. "I was young; I could not endure pity," he said.
In that cabin Henry Luoma found seclusion. No one came there except his mother when she brought his meals and his stepfather when he carried over the firewood. Summer and winter he was alone. "I was down to one hundred and eight pounds. I wanted to die."
Yet he lived on, eating, sleeping, reading. His back pained a great deal. Often he could neither read nor sleep because of the pain. On one such day the realization came to him that he had been living this way for five years, five lost, useless years. Was he to go on like this, accomplishing nothing, waiting for the end that never came? The thought aroused in him an overpowering horror, and he resolved that somehow he would find something worth while to do.
A friend had given his mother a collection of magazines for him to read. One was a copy of QST, the amateur radio magazine. He had glanced through it once and then put it aside as too technical. Now it caught his eye again, and as it did his resolve took form. "I would become an amateur radio operator," he said.
He had never asked his mother for money but now he asked her for a dollar. It was for a copy of the amateurs' Handbook, as advertised in the magazine. The handbook was supposed to give him a thorough start in radio fundamentals. "It did," he said.
After two months of intensive study he was ready for his license examination. It was a terrifying ordeal, one that took almost more courage than he possessed. He had not been outside his cabin in over a year, and the examining point was fifty miles away. "I was loathe to meet my examiner," he said. "But I found him very friendly and helpful."
So helpful, in fact, that the inspector gave Henry a defunct radio set from which he could salvage parts for use in his station. That was his first experience with the friendliness of the radio fraternity. It warmed him, yet even when his license arrived a few weeks later he was still apathetic. It all seemed so hopeless. "But I built my station and went on the air," he said.
His first transmitter was a one-tube affair using ordinary broadcast parts cut down to fit. His two-tube receiver was a haywire affair but it worked. These he had contrived almost wholly from the inspector's broken-down set; his only purchases had been a secondhand pair of headphones that cost him fifty cents, a pair of dry cells and two "B" batteries. The single antenna, used for both receiving and transmitting, was made up of odd bits of copper wire his stepfather had found for him pieced together.
FInally this hodgepodge of gear was all connected together, and Henry made his first call. Then--mirable dictu!-- the station he called came back; nore than that, the operator commented warmly on his sending!
"I was so flustered I had to sign off with him," he said. "My yell carried to the house, and my mother hurried over to see what was wrong with me. I told her my set worked and tried to show her, but my hand shook so I couldn't send coherently on the key, nor could I for the rest of that day."
That short chat with a man four hundred miles away broke his apathy. After that he was at his transmitter ten hours a day. Gradually his range extended, and soon he had "worked" eighteen states. Daytime was best, he found; at night his "peanut whistle" was drowned by the higher-powered stations. He would set his alarm for three o'clock in the morning when the band was clear and he could roam the land of space at will.
"I talked with doctors and undertakers, schoolboys and professors, laboring men and men of science. Voa the ether waves I met all kinds of people and found it increasingly easy to exchange views on all sorts of topics with them. For one thing, they could not see me. That helped enormously in establishing my self-confidence."
Some of those he talked with struck a common chord, and before long he was holding daily chats with a number of them, on schedule. One was an insurance man of fifty, another a college lad who had installed a station in his dormitory room. There was a high-school teacher, too, and another lad who worked in the iron mines and two commercial operators, one at a broadcasting station and the other on shipboard. There was even a YL, a young lady operator, among those he met on the common ground of the air.
"As we came to know each other better these friends I had never seen began to confide in me, came to me with problems important to them. The college lad asked me if after taken a girl to three dances it was permissible for him to kiss her 'good night' on their fourth date. I told him I saw no reason for her to be offended if he should ask her. Next day he was all afluster. He had asked her, she had hesitated, and he had taken the hesitation for consent. And she hadn't been angry; that was the paen he sang! The insurance man asked me whether I thought his wife would prefer some frivolous thing to a new vacuum cleaner for a birthday present. I prescribed a dozen American Beauty roses to be delivered to her breakfast table and a blank check drawn in favor of a millinery shop. It went over big!"
But Henry encountered other problems over the air that were more serious, even tragic. "They woke me up to the fact that I wasn't the only unfortunate one in the world. I came to see, too, that these distant friends rated me as a man worthy of their confidences, a friend, a human being. It was then I began to see that life still held much for me, that I wasn't finished. I began casting around for a means of livelihood. My schooling had been cut short because of economic circumstances which forced me to go to work at the age of fifteen, but I would teach myself to become a writer! I was still ashamed to have people see me, but a writer could work in solitude. So I started the long grind.
"I began a boy's adventure story, a book-length affair; and worked on it day and night. It took me three months to write the thirty thousand words, and when it was finished I searched for some means of getting it typewritten. My young lady friend of the radio told me in one of our chats that she owned a typewriter. I confided to her my ambition and my present need. She offered to help me. Over the radio she kept me apprised as to how the work was progressing. Then at last I received the typewritten script in the mail and examined it. How professional it looked! Surely it would sell."
But success did not come that easily. Three editors in a row refused Henry's manuscript, and then he had no money for postage to mail it again. However, he earned a few odd dollars in the meantime by servicing the neighborhood radio sets, using the knowledge of radio he had gained while studying for his amateur license.
"I then wrote short stories that didn't cost so much to mail, but these, too, came back," he said. "My plots were good, but the construction was weak, for I knew nothing of the mechanics of story writing--of theme, continuity, characterization. Here the young lady friend helped me again. She secured for me books on grammar, expressive English, short-story writing. I began to find out my mistakes. I wrote stories and rewrote them and, though the editors still frowned on them, I could see that they were a decided improvement on my initial attempts.
"I saw that someday I would be a writer; then why not be a well one--if possible? It was the young lady friend who persuaded me to this point of view. (I had told her, of course, that I was crippled.) I went to a doctor for the first time in four years. He suggested that I see the mining company concerning my injury.
"They were friendliness personified. Of course they would help me. Why hadn't I come to them sooner? They sent me to the best clinic of its kind in the country for a thorough examination. The verdict was one month's treatment at the clinic, six months at my local hospital, and I would again be straight and strong and able to walk freely. I would remain a bit stiff, but----
"No one was happier than my radio friends. More mail than I could possibly answer poured in on me at the hospital, and after my treatments were completed my young lady friend invited me to her home, a famous summer resort, to visit and rest. In the bracing sea air that month stretched to six, and in her company I worked and studied harder than ever before."
With purpose in his mind and plenty of exercise for his body Henry Luoma fast returned to normal. Soon he was able to run and walk again. Then came the day when he sold his first story--and then another, and still another.
Plots buzzed in his head, crowding his pencil for utterance. At last it seemed that his hour of trial and tribulation had reached its end.
And, as far as his spirit was concerned, it had. For never again did he sink into the old hopelessness. A year after he was discharged from the hospital, however, he underwent an appendectomy operation complicated by adhesions. A couple of accidental falls followed, and then he was back on crutches again.
But the new determination in Henry's spirit did not let hom down. He found a job in social-welfare work, a worth-while job at which he could do a full day's work. He sold a few more stories and a poem. "My days were full," he said. "I had my writing and my radio friends to visit me. And I resolved that soon I would make a slight change in a certain YL's name!"
The climax of Henry Luoma's story was reached on OCtober 5, 1940. That day he made the long-awaited change in the name of his young lady friend of the air waves, and Violet Johnson of Isle Royale became Mrs Henry Luoma of Iron River. "Ham radio was the best man, and the wedding bells sounded sweeter to me than a South African pounding through like a ton of bricks!"
Occupational therapy, perhaps, a social worker would call it. But to Henry the radio hobby hobby has a far greater meaning than that. "I haven't had a gripe with the world since I got into ham radio," he said. "It gave me confidence in myself, made me forget that I am bunged up and a little worse for wear and brought me the sweetest wife in the world.
"I haven't succeeded yet as some measure success--and yet I think in a way I have. For I have won health and friendship and I can see new hope in the future."
Health, friendship, new hope for the future--these are bounties that many a handicapped person has found through amateur radio. It is more satisfying to the handicapped than most hobbies because it affors human contacts otherwise denied. There are hundreds of invalid or crippled hams--so many, in fact, that at one time there was a separate Chair Warmers' Club with several hundred members in all parts of the world.
Each of these has his own story to tell, a story of struggle and accomplishment as interesting and impressive, perhaps, as that of Henry Luoma. Each of these stories is living, vibrant evidence that amateur radio is indeed "all things to all men." To Henry Luoma it was courage and the will to live. To a paralyzed Michigan amateur it meant having the use of his legs restored as the result of a friendship made over the air with an Indianapolis surgeon.
Until the time of his accident Howard Hatzenbuhler had been the successful and active owner of a thriving plumbing business in Mount Clemens, Mich. An ardent sportsman, he piloted his own plane on deer-hunting trips and enjoyed ice boating.
Then one day he fell thirty feet from a scaffold. He suffered a broken back which resulted in paralysis, and it seemed he might never walk again. But, with three children dependent on him, he could not give up and he continued to operate his plumbing business from his bed.
There were long, empty hours, however, and Howard took up radio as a hobby. Lying there in his bed, the invalid ham made contacts, and friends, all over the United States. Seldom did they realize that he was an invalid. In fact, he had talked for months with the Hoosier surgeon before his condition was ever discussed.
But once the doctor became interested in the case things began to happen. The Michigan amateur found himself shipped like an article of baggage on a cot in the baggage car to Indianapolis. His surgeon friend met him at the hospital, and the sequence of examinations and operations that was ultimately to restore to him the use of his legs began.
Jimmy Mohn is another Chair Warmer who, like Henry Luoma, owes his wife to amateur radio. Jimmy Mohn is blind but he sees the world every night when he spins the dial of his receiver from city to city, visiting his friends of the air.
"I found my wife over the ether," he will say, laughing with the great good humor for which he is noted among the fraternity. "We got acquainted over the short waves, and, do you know," he slyly adds, "it wasn't long until the wedding!"
Chair Warmers aren' the only hams who court by radio however. In fact, there are dozens of romances recorded in log books all over the country. Sometimes the girl is herself a licensed operator; at other times she may be the sister or a casual girl friend of a fellow amateur sending a lilting voice tripping along the air waves to some receptive ear. Correspondence--an exchange of photographs--perhaps a meeting at a hamfest or radio-club meeting--and the deed is done!
At times the chain of events becomes twisted, as is illustrated by the unfortunate experience of Edwin Williams. Edwin had his best girl stolen from him by his pal of the ether lanes, nearly four thousand miles away!
Edwin was the typical radio "bug," always a bit shy with girls--with all girls, that is, except one: Eleanor Wolf from nearby Ormsby Street in the little Michigan city where they lived. Their eventual engagement seemed tacitly agreed--at least, so the story goes.
But then Fate stepped in. Cecil White of Leicester, England, a radio pal of Edwin's, suggested that they exchange the names of girls they knew with whom the other might correspond. He gave Williams the name of Rose Wilkinson, a vivacious brunette, the belle of Leicester town.
Edwin wanted to please his friend but, try as he might, he could think of only one girl he might suggest. Hesitantly, he gave White the name of Eleanor Wolf.
Well, to make a long story short, Miss Wolf and White first exchanged correspondence, then photographs and finally mutual vows of undying affection. The following year the Englishman came to this country to make the little American girl his bride.
Edwin Williams? He went back to his only true and faithful love, amateur radio.
All in all, amateur radio has proved a worthy assistant to young Dan Cupid, and usually there is a private moonbeam over which the romances of radio can whisper their secrets.
Even after the need for moonbeams has passed and a new bottle for the baby comes ahead of a new "bottle" for the transmitter amateur radio serves to build a stronger and more understanding partnership. Probably the majority of the two thousand or more active feminine operators are XYLs (ex-YLs) or YFs (wives).
Someone once observed, "A ham's wife either refuses to have anything to do with her husband's hobby and thereby classifies herself as a 'radio widow' or she shares his hobby and becomes a part of it."
Probably more radio wives belong in the first classification than in the second. They have difficulty seeing any value in radio as a hobby. But sometimes they change their minds, as did Mrs Edmund R. Fraser of West Haven, Conn.
A baby girl was born to Mrs Fraser at Grace Hospital in New Haven not long ago. Simultaneously, the two older Fraser children, Edmund, aged six, and Edna, seven, came down with the chicken pox at home.
The family doctor felt that the chicken pox and the newborn baby would not get along well together and to make sure that they were kept apart he quarantined the Fraser home. In consequence Mr and Mrs Fraser were unable to talk over all the things that had happened or even to see each other after the baby was born. Mrs Fraser was very unhappy about it all.
But her unhappiness changed to delight the following day when Paul Munzner, a family friend and also a radio ham, appeared in Grace Hospital's fourth-floor maternity pavilion with a portable transceiver. With this outfit which combined both transmitter and receiver in one compact unit she could talk as long as she liked to her husband similarly equipped and seated in his parked car below her window.
Mrs Fraser had been a bit skeptical about this radio hobby of her husband's until then but when her husband's voice came winging up from the street below she was converted into an enthusiast.
Such courtesy and willingness to help as Paul Munzner displayed are characteristic of the amateur wherever he is found. One afternoon a Chicago amateur went on the air with an urgent call for Beverly Hills, Calif. His wife's parents were gravely ill, and she was anxious to secure more detailed information concerning their condition than could readily be obtained by telegraph or even telephone.
Two stations answered the call, W6QUT and W6LIP. Both participated in the subsequent contact in which for nearly an hour the worried daughter was in direct personal touch with her parents and the hospital staff.
The fact that W6QUT happened to be Freeman Gosden (the "Amos" of "Amos 'n' Andy") and that W6LIP was the well-known actor, George P. Huntley, Jr. was only incidentally important to all concerned. What was important was that a couple of good hams had done a fellow ham a good turn.
Politics does not represent an issue within the hobby, since all recent administrations have been uniformly favorable toward amateur radio and hams generally avoid political discussions on the air.
There are exceptions however. One was a University of Washington student who was so energetic a supporter of President Roosevelt during a recent presidential campaign that he could not refrain from stumping for him over the air.
One of his contacts was with station W6ZH whose operator gave his location as Palo Alto, Calif. The New Deal supporter rushed through the customary greetings and began his argument. He did not get very far, however, before his listener broke in and suggested:
"You'd better look my call up in the amateurs' Call Book."
The student did. He found it listed under the name of Herbert Hoover, Jr.
The one thing that all amateurs have in common is a state of mind, a kindred curiosity in the field of physical science, a fraternity of spirit that leads them into a common aptitude for radio and a common liking for the contacts and activity that amateur radio affords.
Not that they all do the same things in the same way. Amateur radio is a highly diversified hobby--that is the reason why it is described as "all things to all men." The tinkerers, for example, experiment endlessly with their gadgets, building them up complete to the last screw and soldered joint and then tearing them down again, digging forever into the "why" of things. The rag chewers get together and talk everything under the sun; the ham bands are full of confirmed addicts of the conversational art.
The DXers, on the other hand, compete with each other in working distant stations. The topnotchers belong to the DX Century Club, a select group having verified contacts with a hundred or more countries. DXing is actually a glorified form of fishing; it takes endless patience and skill but to the true "fisherman" it has a zest nothing else in the world can equal. Every day of the week, every season of the year, there are ham Izaak Waltons fishing in the ether trying to get a nibble from a distant corner of the world.
Once each year they meet in the "Olympic Games" of radio, the annual International DX Competition, a hotly fought struggle in which for a week or eight days some thousands of amateurs in a hundred or more countries put everything they've got.
Once each year they met, that is, until the outbreak of war in 1939. Then most European stations in the theatre of war ceased operating, and United States amateurs voluntarily forsook contacts with belligerant countries in the interest of American neutrality.
But even in the 1938 contest the ominous note of impending war could be heard if one were listening. The competition, held in March, was just nearing its end when the thud of marching feet resounded throughout the world as the German army crossed the Austrian border to incorporate Austria into the Reich.
The amateur operators, concentrating on their annual marathon, were at first only vaguely aware of the world-rocking events going on outside their ears. World news was no more than a conversational murmur intruded in the background of whispering, whistling DX by their wives and mothers along with the coffee and sandwiches.
No more, that is, until the coincidental significance of the news of Austria's disintegration and the continued pouring out of crisp, clean-cut operating labeled with the call OE3AH became apparent.
For every DXer knew that OE3AH was the station of His Royal Highness, the Archduke Anton of Hapsburg, first cousin of of Archduke Otto, pretender to the Hapsburg throne, and husband of the Princess Ileana of Rumania.
While the nation crumbled about his ears and the Austrian Nazis, long enemies of the ancient house of Hapsburg and the monarchist movement, scrambled into power Anton sat at his station in Schloss Sonnberg calmly adding points to an already weighty contest score!
That was about all that was known at first--that OE3AH had worked right on through almost to the end of the contest, apparently oblivious to the historic events occurring around him. Then rumors and fragmentary reports began to seep through. A week after the contest ended a London Exchange Telegraph dispatch from Budapest reported that Anton had been imprisoned in an Austrian Nazi concentration camp.
"The arrest and imprisonment of Archduke Anton followed discovery of a secret radio station in his Sonnberg Castle near Hollabrun," according to the International News Service version of the dispatch. Another Budapest dispatch reported that it was rumored in Vienna that ANton had been "taken into protective custody in his own interest."
If true these reports meant that, other than the Archduke Josef Ferdinand, Anton was the only member of the Hapsburg house molested by the Nazi regime. Even his wife, the Princess Ileana, was reported to have been allowed to leave the country for an exiles' refuge at Merano, Italy.
The reports meant further that it was his amateur operation, his insistence on participation in the DX contest until the closing minute, sticking to his key until his very safety was threatened just to add a few more entries to his log, that had cost the archduke his liberty, if indeed he was in custody.
What precipitated the reported arrest was not made clear. Perhaps constabulary forces had invaded the Schloss Sonnberg on a routine checkup, only to find this "secret radio station" in full operation. Their attitude toward an explanation of an international amateur DX contest can be imagined! Or perhaps, it was hinted, Austria's ruling Nazis seized upon Anton's long-pursued hobby of amateur experimentation as an excuse to strike at the house of Hapsburg.
In a month or two further reports began to trickle through, rumors that the provisional arrest had been terminated, that Anton was now allowed the freedom of his own estate. Finally there came the first word from the archduke himself, a carbon copy of his original contest log constituting his report. This was dated nearly a month after the contest ended, on April fifth; it was received in the United States two weeks later. Although the state of Austria had been dissolved as a separate entity the bold signature to the sworn statement still read: "Anton Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria"!
When these reports were published in the United States they brought a prompt response from the Nazi counterpropaganda agencies. In a letter mailed from Berlin following a conference between the archduke and officials of the German propaganda ministry Anton denied that he had ever been arrested.
"A few days before the 1938 contest," he wrote, "I had been at Merano in Italy with my wife, the Archduchess Ileana, princess of Rumania, pay a visit to my mother-in-law, the Queen Marie. I returned alone to begin the contest and started to QSO U.S.A. and Canada. Day after day I only pressed the key and added scores to my log. On the night of Friday, the eleventh, I was told by a telephone call of the great event and therefore I immediately listened at the wireless to get the last news. I interrupted the contest, having worked seventy-nine hours, and I spent that night listening on the long waves. On Saturday, the twelfth, I had to drive with my car to Vienna, about forty miles from here, to fetch my wife who was arriving by train from Merano where I had left her. The train arrived normally, and after we returned home and after a night's rest from the many sleepless nights of the contest I began to operate my station on Sunday morning, the thirteenth, on until the end of the contest, making still 101 QSOs and so completing the ninety hours. I ask you, would this have been possible if there had been any intention of arresting me?
"Soon afterwards," he continued, "foreign newspapers published untrue reports about my imprisionment, and I was not able entirely to stop those invented stories. To convince even my relations that I was a free man was sometimes difficult, and therefore I drove with my car again to Italy with my wife, passing the frontier in less than three minutes, without having been stopped a single time during the journey. It was funny to hear during my drive on the motorcar's receiver from a station about my arrest and so on. . . ."
Anton concluded by saying that the Austrian amateur organization was being re-established under German direction, with himself as leader. But this letter was the last word heard from the Archduke Anton or his organization by his American friends of the air.
Kings and presidents, champions of sport and stars of stage and screen, leaders of industry and men of affairs--all have felt the compelling lure of the radio hobby.
The president of a Central American republic found relaxation and pleasure in his anonymous contacts over the air. The late King Ghazi of Iraq had one of the most elaborate short-wave installations known. Prince Abd el Moneim, cousing of the king of Egypt, and Prince Vinh-San of Annam, exiled by the French on lonely Reunion Island, were constantly active prior to the outbreak of war.
A royal hobby, indeed, but one practiced just as readily by a drugstore soda jerker or a suburban housewife as by a prince.
Perhaps the most impressive indication of the appeal of the radio hobby is the fact that it is a "postman's holiday" to so many people commercially engaged in the radio business.
In the radio art even the professionals are amateurs. A survey made some years ago showed that of ten thousand amateurs classified no less than fifteen hundred were engaged in radio engineering work. Another survey indicated that perhaps 80 percent of the engineers and operators in radio broadcasting were amateurs--past and present. This applied to many of the executives as well.
Even in the early days of radio amateur and professional were considerably intermingled. There was no clear line of demarcation. Experimenters of all kinds, scientists, college professors, distinguished savants who played with radio as a hobby, electricians with the same idea--all were amateurs in the fundamental sense of the word. Later as some crossed over into professional ranks they retained their amateur spirit.
The late Gugliemo Marconi, generall regarded as the father of radio, was one who continued to refer to himslef as an amateur at heart. He said as much on various occasions, notably late one evening during the Chicago World's Fair in 1933.
It was the last day of the distinguished inventor's visit to the Fair, and the long round of dinners, broadcasts and receptions was at its end. The time was 11 P.M., and everyone in the party was tired. Everyone, too, was hoping that the next event would be the return to the hotel.
But they had not reckoned with Mr Marconi. "I hear there is an amateur station at the Fair," he said. "I want to see it."
Someone suggested that all the buildings had closed an hour before, but the great inventor was insistent. His big Cadillac turned in the narrow street before the Federal building and started slowly down the avenue toward the Travel and Transport building.
The building was not closed. Of all those on the grounds, perhaps, it alone remained open, with a welcome waiting up on the second floor for any wandering ham who might chance by. Up the blue-green-red-yellow escalator the party rode. Turning here and there on the floor above, they finally arrived at the amateur-radio exhibit.
The two operators on duty did not seem to know their distinguished visitor, but with easy informality he introduced himself and proceeded to inspect the equipment carefully. He seemed especially interested in one of the transmitters. Turning to the builder, he said: "That is a very fine piece of workmanship."
The amateur, overcome with pride, could only reply: "But it was built by--by just an amateur."
"Ah," said the illustrious Senatore, smiling, "but I am just an amateur myself."
Most amateurs who enter professional radio, either in the industry or in government service, share Marconi's pride in their original status.
A skeptical naval officer learned this in 1919, shortly after the end of the first World War. His attitude, characteristic of the Navy at that time, was something less than friendly toward the amateurs. Many of the youngsters who dabbled in wireless before the war had better and more efficient equipment than that used by the Navy in those days and time after time they brazenly outperformed the naval radio stations. Occasionally they cause interference, too, because the nonselective government stations did not have tuners that would reject signals on other wave lengths.
This led some to view the hams as the freebooters of the airways, a worthless, irresponsible lot from whom no good could come. The navy captain in question tended to share this view. He was not openly antagonistic but he did believe amateurs should be severely regimented. His opinion counted for something, too, for he was in command of vital naval-communications work.
At the end of the war Representative Alexander of Missouri introduced into Congress a bill that would have given the Navy absolute control over radio, a government-communications monopoly forbidding private use of the air. Amateurs all over the country who were not in service rose in arms. Their strength was weakened by the fact that many of their numbers were still overseas however. In desperation the A.R.R.L. sent out appeals addressed: "To any member of the family of" every licensed amateur operator on the lists. Aided by the families of those still in service, an avalanche of protest was directed toward Washington, and the bill was defeated.
The naval captain, sitting there in his office in the nerve center of Navy wireless, was severely disappointed and at no pains to conceal the fact. A civilian visitor suggested that the amateurs had displayed commendable ingenuity in organizing the opposition that had killed the bill. But the predjudiced officer saw in this only additional evidence of low cunning and the general social and moral irresponsibility of the hams.
His visitor did not agree. "After all, Captain," he said, "you must admit that the amateurs helped a lot in winning the war."
"Ridiculous," the four-striper snapped. "What earthly reason have you got for saying that?"
"Why, the fact that most of the Navy's radio operators were amateurs," the civilian replied.
"What?" the captain barked. "I don't believe it. Have to look a long time before you'll find an amateur in the Navy."
"Don't you realize that many of your own staff are amateurs?" the visitor argued.
The officer snorted. "Stuff and nonsense!" he scoffed.
Then one of his own aides, a lieutenant who had been listening intently, spoke up, "Sir," said the lieutenant, "I was an amateur before I entered the service."
"Coincidence, that's all," the captain retorted. "Anyway, that's only one."
"I was also an amateur, sir," his other aide, an ensign, said.
"And a lot of the boys in the control room are former amateurs, too," the lieutenant added.
The captain was visibly annoyed. "Go out there and bring in any amateurs you can find!" he ordered scornfully. "If you can find just one amateur bring him up. I want to see him!"
One of the aides obediently left the office. There were thirty operators out in the control room, the finest in the service, each at a control position for one of the big coastal stations forming a part of a vast network linking the scattered ships at sea.
When the aide returned he was followed by twenty-nine--or perhaps it was only twenty-eight--of the thirty crack operators in the control room. The captain's office bulged with the horde of men who crowded in through the single door.
The captain looked at his men and then at his visitor. The old sea dog's face was too well trained to show surprise, but it was a long moment before he spoke.
"Well, boys," he said at last, "if that's the case I guess you've got another supporter. If it hadn't been for you and fellows like you this war might be a long ways from won right now, and if you're hams, why, then I'm for the hams!"