previous | next 

Chapter Three -
by Clinton B. DeSoto

EACH YEAR the president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Mr William S. Paley, awards a trophy to "that individual who, through amateur radio, in the opinion of a distinguished board of judges, has contributed most usefully to the American people, either in research, technical development, or operating achievement."

The awards for the years 1936, 1937 and 1938 were each made on the basis of heroic accomplishment in emergency work. The feats performed by amateurs in winning this award are epics of courageous public service.

More than that, they are tales of high adventure.

The first amateur to receive the Paley Trophy was Wlater Stiles, Jr, of Coudersport, PA. A youthful employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time of the disastrous 1936 Eastern states' flood, operator of amateur station W8DPY, he was given the award because of conspicuous service in that emergency.

The story of Walter Stiles, radio amateur, is typical of the stories that might be told of many an amateur--even including the exceptional emergency performance. The principal difference is that Stiles performed under circumstances that ultimately brought him recognition in the form of the Paley Trophy. The others still await their recognition.

At the age of ten Walter Stiles got the money to buy his first radio equipment--a crystal receiver--by selling garden seeds. Four years later he passed his examination and was granted a federal license. Immediately he went on the air, his transmitter utilizing a receiving-type tube with a power output of almost four watts!

By 1933, when he was twenty, Stiles had talked with seventy-two foreign countries and a good many of his fellows in the U.S. His subsequent marriage cut down on his ham activity for a time, but by 1936 he was active again with a powerful station set up in a small room built onto the rear of his Coudersport home. There Walter carried on his radio pursuits, assisted at times by his young bride--who, by exposure, had contracted a slight case of radio fever herself.

There, too, he performed his duties as State Net Control Station for Pennsylvania in the Army Amateur Radio System. There he executed the experimental and writing chores associated with his post as technical editor of the Mason-Dixon Straddler, 3rd Corps Area Army Amateur publication issued by the Signal Corps. And there he occasionally stole a few moments from amateur radio for secondary hobbies: photography, a stamp collection, his miniature railroad complete with passenger and freight engines.

The model railroad was associated with his job. Walter Stiles was very proud of the fact that he was one of the youngest workmen on the P.R.R.--proud that in the year and a half that he had been in its employ he had already received two promotions. Starting as an electrician's helper, he had been promoted to car repairman's helper and shortly afterward he was made a full-fledged car repairman. The miniature engines and rolling stock in his model railroad were modeled exactly after the full-sized cars and locomotives on which he worked every day at the P.R.R. shops.

But radio--first, last and always--was his hobby. It was radio, therefore, that claimed his attention when the Allegheny River reached flood stage at Coudersport in 1936 and it became apparent that a general flood emergency was in the making. His first thought was of the opportunity for radio work that this might mean--bridging communications gaps when wire lines went down.

When Walter arrived home at 3 P.M. on the afternoon of Wednesday, March eighteenth, therefore, he went immediately to the radio room and put his station on the air, standing by ready to serve in any way he could.

He stood by throughout that afternoon and evening and at nine-thirty the next morning he was still on watch. Occasionally a little routine traffic would come through, but for the most part--despite the fact that hundreds of stations were on the air standing by--there was little actual emergency traffic in his immediate vicinity. Stiles puzzled over this silence, for he knew that communication lines were down in many sections. Throughout the rest of the state and up in New England relief traffic was clogging the few clear channels. Yet in northern Pennsylvania there was only silence . . .

Until about nine-thirty the following morning. Then Stiles tensed in his operating chair; the weariness of his nightlong vigil vanished. A faint signal was calling "QRR"--the SOS of the amateur air lanes. He answered the call, and contact was established. It was W8LYB calling, operated by Stuart Over at a CCC camp near Westport, Pa., seven miles from Renovo. Signals were weak and fading, but Stiles finally succeeded in copying the message:



The operator at W8LYB had time only to add that all public highways as well as the railroad tracks had been washed away before his signal faded out completely.

Stiles checked over the hurriedly penciled message and placed a long-distance call for Governor Earle at the state capitol in Harrisburg. A few minutes later the operator called back--all telephone lines between Coudersport and Harrisburg were down.

Stiles reached for the switch on his operating table and prepared to relay the message by radio. But after it had gone he sat in thought. They must be receiving dozens--hundreds, even--of such messages at the state capitol. Could they take care of all the needs? Could they get there in time? After all, Coudersport was nearer Renovo than was Harrisburg. . . .

Pushing back his chair, he took his jersey from the hook on the wall and shouted to his wife. "I'm going out for a minute, dear," he called, and down the street he ran, the long legs on his lean, tall frame eating up the ground.

Down to Red Cross headquarters he went, and there he described conditions in Renovo. The Coudersport Red Cross chapter acted immediately. A meeting was hurriedly called, and a course of action charted. By 1 P.M. a CCC truck was being loaded with medicine, food, clothing--and radio equipment.

Every doctor and merchant and just about every citizen in Coudersport contributed to the store. Hundreds of dollars' worth of medicines were provided, as well as large supplies of bedding, clothing and food.

Stiles recognized that even this would only be a stopgap for the community as large as Renovo however. He realized, too, that communication would be a vital necessity in organizing and directing further relief and rescue work. He was not needed in Coudersport--another local amteur, Bernard Hauber, would stand watch. . . .

And so he resolved to take his portable station to Renovo. A member of the A.R.R.L. Emergency Corps, he had assembled the station with just such an emergency in mind. A rugged twenty-five watt transmitter and a three-tube receiver of proved depenability were the basic units; together with spare parts, accessories and a large gasoline-engine-driven generator, they were loaded onto the truck along with the medical supplies and food.

A tent was loaded, too, as well as food rations for the relief party, changes of clothing, medication, whisky--all the crew's necessities, accessible without disturbing the relief supplies. The six-man crew was a picked lot--including two husky CCC drivers, a physician, Dr P. W. Shaw, Stiles, Fish Warden Wright Rumsey who acted as guide and an expert wire-and-rope man.

At 5:15 P.M. they started out. It was still raining but the roads were good. They traveled twenty-two miles to Galeton on the direct route to Renovo. There still more food and clothing were taken aboard. There the hard road ended.

For the next twenty miles they followed a dirt road that led from Galeton to Cross Fork. This road had been officially closed by the State Highway Department. Local farmers said they had failed to get through even with horses.

Undaunted, they pushed on. It was not long before they understood what the highway patrolmen and the farmers had been talking about. Washouts threatened them from below, landslides from overhead. Slides from the rain-soaked hillsides covered stretches of forty or fifty feet in places. Currents of raging water crossing the road and digging huge valleys seemed to recur every quarter of a mile.

But still the party pushed on. Somehow the huge truck, growling and snarling in defiance of the elements, plunged through the ruts and valleys and slides.

At midnight a faint gleam of light could be seen in the distance ahead, and half-hour later the party drew up at Cross Fork. The few inhabitants of this small community were completely isolated. Neither man nor beast of burden had conquered the water barrier since the first day of high water, they told the relief crew.

Food was unloaded for them from the supplies, and after a twenty-minute pause the party again started for Renovo.

The road from Cross Fork to Renovo follows the river's edge all the way. It is normally a hard-surfaced road, but so little of it remained intact that night that it was hardly recognizable as a road at all. There were washouts of fifteen to twenty feet in width, some of them as much as twenty feet deep. There were landslides blocking the road for hundreds of feet, through which paths were cut with pickax and shovel. Temporary roads had to be dug out of the mountainsides. Where bridges were out temporary planking was thrown in place. For miles the road was covered with floodwaters.

Yet foot by foot and mile by mile Stiles and the rescue party slogged along. The mechanical behemoth they rode strained and bucked and battered its way through the rain and the night. Finally they reached a point only five miles from the isolated town.

There a mountain landslide had washed the roadbed into the river, taking a large bridge with it. Further progress was impossible. Stiles and Dr Shaw got out of the truck, removed their clothing and plunged into the swift, cold current to seek a possible footing for transporting supplies and radio equipment on the backs of the crew.

Precious time was spent trying to locate a passage for the truck's load of supplies, but it was a hopeless attempt. Finding no bottom, they clambered out and returned to blaze a trail around the landslide over the steep mountain slopes.

Following this trail, armed with supplies of food and water, they started on into the city on foot through dangerous rushing currents. The city was finally reached. Conditions were fully as bad as they had been pictured.

The aid of some twenty-five additional CCC lads was enlisted. With this augmented crew they made their way back to the truck and shortly after daybreak they carried the radio equipment into the town on stretchers. The food and supplies followed.

The only semblance of order to be found in that valley of distress was in the vicinity of the Pennsylvania Railroad shops. There light, heat and shelter were to be had, and there Stiles and his radio equipment were taken. Gallons of water were poured out of the cabinets, the parts hurriedly dried with a sponge, connections made--and at nine-thirty that morning portable W8DPY was on the air.

Radio operation in Renovo presented problem because of the disorder of the city. Wires were lying across roads and buildings in a tangled mess mess, some of them still alive and producing crashing bursts of electrical interference that made reception difficult. With the aid of P.R.R. electricians the worst of these were cleared, and the situation improved.

The actual operating procedure of the station presented the next problem. Anxious refugees seeking to send messages crowded in. Bedlam and confusion reigned. Finally two National Guardsmen were placed at the door to take messages and keep the room clear.

All messages going back to the headquarters depot at Coudersport were forwarded to Bernie Hauber, W8KKM, who had stayed behind to serve as base station. Messages of a personal nature were transmitted to W8YA at State College, Pennsylvania, from which station they were routed to their destinations. Official and semiofficial messages were sent to W8INE at St Marys, Pa., where they were placed on telephone wires.

Sleepless for two nights previously, Stiles nevertheless stayed at the key throughout that day and night and the next day. At length he was relieved by two operators from State College. When they arrived he was in a state of nervous collapse bordering on absolute breakdown.

But the job he had set out to do had been done. During the most critical period he had been the sole link for the stricken city of Renovo with the outer world. And the food and first-aid supplies brought by the expedition had averted acute suffering until further help could arrive.

There were many who echoed the President of the United States when he sent Walter Stiles this letter:

Dear Mr Stiles:
I have learned of the splendid services you performed as an amateur radio operator during the flood emergency . . . and desire to congratulate you upon the fine work which you have accomplished. What you were able to do in aid of the flood sufferers emphasizes how important the continued development of amateur radio activity is to the best interest of the nation. Very sincerely yours,
(Signed) Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Bob Anderson was born wise in the ways of the river. He was born at Wickliffe, Ky., five miles below Cairo, Ill., where the broad Ohio, itself swollen by the Wabash and the Tennessee, flows into the mighty Father of Waters.

From childhood he learned to know the river. The Anderson family lived on a high bluff, well above any possible flood danger; but past their doorstep flowed the river, calm and placid when autumn leaves were falling, surging in turbulent unrest when the spring torrents run.

Every major flood since 1913, when he was seven, was part of Bob Anderson's experience. He worked with the workers and listened to the river talk. He learned to know the spirit of the river by its sound and by the eternally changing expression on its face. He saw it in the spring when curling fingers of yellow water invaded the streets of the villages and filled the basements and the houses and the land. And then he saw the brown silt that the river left over the soil when it went away again, rich, brown food to make plants grow luxuriantly green and strong.

But most of all he learned to know the danger in the river and the inexorable way its imponderable might discards the puny works of man.

Bob Anderson learned to know radio too. At first it was his deep love for music that led to his interest in radio. For radio could bring a small-town boy the great music he could hear in no other way.

In 1923 or thereabouts he built his first radio receiver. He had never heard or even seen a radio set before but he found out how to build one and then he built it and made it work. After that he built another, and still others each time finding out more about what made them work and why. Soon he was able to fix the neighbor's receiver when it failed, and before long the whole community brought its radio sets to him to repair.

In 1926 Bob entered the University of Kentucky and majored in industrial chemistry. His father was a lawyer, and his mother had been a teacher, and they were determined to give him every opportunity within their means. Bob helped out by building and servicing radio receivers while he was at school. He sang in a choir and served as student assistant in the chemistry department. But at the end of two and one half years a throat ailment forced Bob to leave school.

After that the depression came, and he never returned. Radio-service work had been more a hobby than anything else before but now it became a profession. In the course of time Bob married. With his new bride he moved to Paducah, Ky. There Robert, Jr, was born and there he worked as a serviceman until 1934. In that year a wholesale radio and refrigerator firm in Harrisburg, Ill., offered him the job of service manager, and he accepted.

There in Harrisburg Bob Anderson made a home and played the piano and the organ and built and rebuilt the various pieces of equipment in his amateur station. There Elizabeth was born.

And there he was when the river began to rise in the month of January 1937.

Harrisburg, county seat of Saline County, is an inland town. It is well back from the Ohio River which is something like twenty-two miles away at the nearest point. But by January twenty-second the river, amplified by the inflow of the Wabash, had searched out low spots that led its muddy tentacles right up to the gates of the city. Large sections of southern Illinois were inundated. The region colloquially termed "Little Egypt" was rapidly becoming a vast lake--and inland sea, fifty miles wide, studded with islands as high spots occurred but shoreless farther by far than eye could see. Many of the smaller communities along the river were surrounded with water, isolated, cut off by road and by wire, accessible only by boat--and by radio.

At Harrisburg particular concern was felt for the inhabitants of Shawneetown, a small community with a population of about fifteen hundred, located on the Ohio River not far below the junction of the Wabash and the Ohio. Twenty-three miles east of Harrisburg, Shawneetown is one of the oldest cities in the state of Illinois, historically interesting because at one time it refused the then struggling city of Chicago a loan from its bank. The city fathers said Chicago was too far from Shawneetown ever to amount to anything!

Shawneetown was protected from flood by a levee system similar to those built by other river towns--a sixty foot flood wall surrounding the village on the river side. To the rear, however, it was unprotected, andit was this fact that made the plight of its people seem perilous. For its citizens, feeling secure behind their sturdy wall, would not be aware of the steady encroachment of the backwater. Soon they would be starnded in the midst of a turbulent sea. . . .

Bob Anderson knew the river. As early as January twenty-first he foresaw the approaching emergency. When the rain began freezing he called on Curtis Small, editor of the Daily Register, and discussed the situation with him. Then he went to the local broadcasting station, WEBQ, where his friend Kes Schonert was on duty.

"Hello, Bob!" Schonert greeted him. "Sit down and rest yourself."

"Thanks, Kes."

"How's the weather looking?"

"Not so good, Kes," Bob said. "That's why I came over. Ice is forming on suspended objects. You know what that will do to the wire lines."

"I'll say I do!"

"I just talked to Curt Small. He's going to call on us to handle press if the tickers go out tommorow. Can we get on the air if the sleet gets our antennas?" Bob asked.

"Sure we can," Kes replied decisively. "Did Curt have anything to say about the river?"

"Yes. He's worried about Shawneetown. He sent a reporter down there but he isn't too sure he can get through. The telephone is out now, but he's expecting a reporter named Hill to get in from Centralia this afternoon. This guy Hill has a complete portable station and shouldn't have much trouble establishing communication. That'll help that situation."

"Good enough. Say, Bob, how long will it take you to get on the air?"

"Several hours, Kes, I guess. I am going to lay off this afternoon and work on the rig."

"You haven't got a portable outfit, have you?"

"No, but my exciter will work by itself as a transmitter, and I can borrow one of those new six-volt all-wave farm receivers from the store. I suppose I could get a portable outfit together if I had to."

"That's the stuff, Bob. You know my rig isn't very portable--except maybe in a big truck!"

"Yeah, I suppose that's true. But it would make a mighty fine base station, and you know that's gosh-awful important too."

"Guess you're right. Well, Ive got to get my antenna back up. That sleetstorm the other day made an awful mess of it. What say we meet on 3920 as soon as I get off duty here?"

Anderson and Schonert worked on their gear until midnight. When Bob told his wife what he was doing she looked at him for a moment, saying nothing. But as she left the room a few minutes later she turned back to remark: "If you think you're going into that flood, Bob, you're crazy."

The next morning the Andersons' telephone rang. "Hello, Bob. Curt Small just called. He said the AP reporter was sent to Cairo instead of Shawneetown and wants to know if we can establish communication with Shawneetown."

"Sure thing, Kes. Tell him I'll take my portable down."

"How soon can you start?"

"Oh--by noon, tell him."

"Good. Curt is working for the Red Cross and he'll arrange transportation."

"Fine. I'll see you before I leave."

"O.K., Bob. So long."

Bob went home and told his wife he was going to Shawneetown. She did not speak for a moment and then she said quietly, "All right, Bob. When do you start? I'll have a good hot meal ready for you just before you get ready to go. It may be a long time before you get a chance to eat again."

She was right. It was eighteen months before Bob Anderson was able to eat a regular meal again.

Bob gathered his improvised transmitter, the battery receiver, spare batteries and other parts and loaded it all in the small truck provided through Curt Small's aid. He stopped to arrange schedules and a working program with Kes Schonert. They shook hands, and he set out. it was one o'clock on the afternoon of the twenty-second.

Following a roundabout route, Bob traveled northeast to Eldorado and thence to Equality. the temperature was twelve degrees above zero, and snow and sleet were falling heavily.

Outside Equality he was halted by water over the road--a swirling current of water so dangerous that the two local rivermen he found there refused to take him across. "Why, a fish couldn't live in that there river the way it is now," one of them ridiculed his request. They told of having refused to take an Associated Press reporter across before even though he had offered them all the money he had with him.

But when Bob explained that he had radio equipment for isolated Shawneetown the spokesman looked quickly at the other man and then said, "Why didn't you say so? Get in--let's go."

They loaded Bob and his gear aboard and at length, by dint of skillful, strenuous rowing, they succeeded in crossing the treacherous stretch of water without mishap.

The boatmen set him down on the edge of a lonely road. There was no one in sight. Anderson finally succeeded in locating a farmer who transported him three miles further. This put him at the water's edge near the Midcity coal mine.

From the coal mine to Shawneetown one telephone wire remained intact, and Bob was able to talk to the isolated city.

WPA officials were in charge at Shawneetown. It was learned that the city was out of bread, that conditions were bad and hourly growing worse. Anderson wanted to set up his radio gear to relay this information back to Harrisburg from the coal mine office, but the officials insisted that he continue. They promised to have a boat at the next gap, a mile and a half away, to meet him.

This mile and one half of water was even worse than the stretch he had just crossed. It seemed impossible to go further. Bob was beginning to despair, but then about this time a bread salesman from Eldorado came along. There were two hundred and fifty loaves of bread in his truck. Informed of the food shortage at Shawneetown, he offered to contribute his stock. Together they loaded up a small boat and started out. So heavy was the cargo, however, that the boat nearly capsized. The two men had a close escape.

Eventually a boat originally constructed for use with an outboard motor--but with the motor missing--was located, and Anderson and the breadman set out. They had one paddle between them. Fortunately, the wind was with them, and they succeeded in crossing to the next high spot without great difficulty.

This high spot was a railroad crossing near Junction--the last community before Shawneetown. There they found a deserted house and eleven marooned people--including a just-married bride and groom--clinging together in the bitter cold on the B.& O. tracks. This was the point where the boat from Shawneetown was to meet Anderson, but there was no boat. Between the crossing and Shawneetown stretched six miles of open water--the main current of the Wabash, impassable in their unwieldy craft with only one paddle. Equally impassable was the crossing back to the mine, for the wind which had aided them coming out was too strong to be overcome returning.

There was but one thing to do. Laboring in the bitter cold, with the aid of a flashlight, Anderson began to set up his equipment. It was 7:30 P.M. Sleet blowing down froze on his clothing as he worked. By eight-thirty the transmitting setup was assembled, with a short piece of dangling wire for an antenna.

But the interference was strong, the power low, and the antenna ineffectual. Bob could not raise Schonert, patiently listening at W9HQD back in Harrisburg. Recognizing that the weakness of the system lay in the antenna, Anderson, with the aid of the other refugees, then strung up a longer and more efficient wire. By midnight they were on, the air.

QRR! QRR! The urgent distress call of the amateur air lanes went forth on the air.

But short waves are notable for their vagaries. "Skip" effect was so great that the tiny signal was inaudible at Harrisburg, twenty miles away. However, off in Louisville, itself disaster ridden, Bob LaVielle, W9ELL, was able to hear both stations. He offered to relay the traffic. At 1:30 A.M. the first clear message came through in steady code:

"Shawneetown needs food bad. All medical supplies."

"Go ahead, old timer, down there in the water," W9ELL answerd. Slowly, painfully, the information was pounded out. Harrisburg wanted details--wanted Anderson to send someone to find out just what was needed.

"Send somebody, hell--you send somebody for us," came his desperate reply, and then for the first time they learned of the critical situation at Junction. In typical ham spirit. Anderson's first concern had been for the stricken community of Shawneetown rather than his own immediate danger.

His next message told vividly of the plight of those on the crossing. It read: "We have bread and meat. They promised boat at crossing, but haven't seen it. Tell Lieutenant B. and XYL am O.K. and warm. Am using batteries. Thirteen people with me."

Anderson's wife--his XYL--was given the glad news that he was still safe. The next message said that "the man from Eldorado" was safe and sound and requested that his family be notified.

"What's his name?" Schonert wanted to know. "Just say the bread salesman from Eldorado." Anderson answered. That was all he knew. They had faced death together, but he had not thought to ask the man's name.

Throughout the next hour the 6.2 watts from the midget emergency station poured out its vital traffic. Messages were scribbled on an old newspaper and read by flashlight. Anderson's fingers were so numbed with the bitter cold he could scarcely pound his key. But still the dots and dashes marched steadily along. . . .

After a time W9ELL broke in to say he was forced to discontinue relaying. "I've got some Red Cross work to do myself," he said. The situation at Louisville was getting bad. . . .

Bill Lamb, W8CXR, in Wheeling, West Va., took over as intermediary in his place. Now the messages were traveling close to a thousand miles to cover seventeen--but still they went through.

The batteries attached to Anderson's transmitter grew steadily weaker however. The storage battery barely held out until the last of the messages was clear. At 3 A.M. it was dead.

At 3:25 A.M. W8CXR reported: "He seems to have dropped out of the picture. His carrier is no longer there. Looks bad for the boys there. . . .

But W9HQD had a solution. Besides being a skillful amateur he was chief engineer of the local broadcasting station at Harrisburg, WEBQ. Over this station--despite the hour--he broadcast a plea to the general public requesting that rescue boats and supplies be sent to Shawneetown and Junction. By dawn boats were on the way.

In one of those boats was Jack Hatfield, also from Harrisburg. He had been trying to reach Shawneetown but had been forced to stop along the way and so he had heard the WEBQ broadcast. When Hatfield learned that his friend Bob Anderson was stranded on the ridge he set out in his small motorboat, bent on rescue. Before daybreak he arrived at the cold and lonely railroad crossing.

The first job was to rescue the thirteen shivering refugees. Hatfield loaded the young bride and the radio equipment in his boat on the first trip back to the mine. In the darkness and confusion Anderson dropped his message file and some parts from his equipment; they were never found.

Following in Hatfield's wake, Anderson and seven of the remaining men decided to attempt the trip back in the powerless powerboat. Two of the men had rubber boots. When the rest had boarded the boat they waded alongside, pushing it through the shallow water. Finally the icy water reached their boot tops.

As the two men climbed into the boat one remarked slyly: "I think a snake bit me." He pulled a bottle out of an inside pocket and took a long pull on it. The other man laughed and replied: "Shouldn't wonder. The river is full of snakes tonight," and reached for his quota of the snake-bite cure.

Such exchanges as these lightened the hazardous trip. They tried to follow the highway as closely as possible, since the water was not as deep there as elsewhere. This presented considerable difficulty, however, since the wind kept blowing the boat over into the deep water. Once they saw a lone road marker just showing above the swirling water: KEEP TO THE RIGHT ON HILLS AND CURVES.

Someone in the boat yelled out: "Hey, look out! You're driving on the wrong side of the road!"

Despite the relieving humor it was a ghastly trip. The men frantically bailed water from the leaky boat and rowed desperately against the powerful wind.

At length they arrived. Back at the mine Anderson again set up his station. Equipped with a fresh storage battery, he was on the air again at 6:30 A.M. He operated until noon when telephone service was restored across the intervening distance to Harrisburg.

By this time Jack Hatfield had beaten a three-mile lane through the heavy ice--an amazing performance in a boat with a 5/8-inch cypress hull--and he and Anderson dismantled the radio equipment then took it to Shawneetown. They reached the isolated city about 5 P.M., set up the gear and established communication immediately. No traffic was handled, however, because the telephone line to the Midcity mine was still open. Anderson went to bed on the operating table about midnight--his first rest in forty hours of strenuous activity and strain.

Next morning the telephone line was gone completely, and W9MWC again was on the air, handling all the relief traffic for the city.

The WPA officials in charge at Shawneetown provided Anderson with complete facilities. They supplied a table in a local bank building where he could work and a petite blond stenographer named Penelope Lewis to take incoming messages by shorthand.

Miss Lewis was as efficient as she was attractive. She helped Anderson in many ways--brought his food, helped locate radio supplies and became an invaluable assistant. She even secured a badly needed pair of trousers. Leaving the Midcity mine, Bob fell on the ice and tore his trousers at the knee. By the time he landed at Shawneetown this rent was enlarged until it reached from his boot top to his belt, exposing a considerable expanse of heavy woollen underwear. No one seemed to notice it, and he disregarded the lapse until the station was on the air and the pressure somewhat relieved. Then he asked where he could get some pants. Penelope replied: "I've been wondering how long you were going to run around like that," and disappeared. A few minutes later she returned with replacements from the relief stores.

The river continued to rise steadily, and it became obvious that Shawneetown could not be saved. Reports from up the river made it clear that the water would rise above the levee. Every citizen of the small community must be evacuated. But where? There was no place to which they could be taken in Illinois. Two thirds of Gallatin County was under water. The situation was growing desperate. Some five hundred refugees had been taken to the Shawneetown High School, situated on a high spot a mile and one half from the city. There each of the human beings, not counting dogs, had about nine square feet of floor space in which to exist for a period of four days--the last two days without food, water or medical supplies. Quite apart from the rest of the city, something must be done to relieve this intolerable situation. . . .

Finally, in response to radio pleas, a large steamer, the SS Patricia Barrett, arrived, on the twenty-fourth. Early Monday morning everyone in Shawneetown was ordered to the boat. The refugees were all safely evacuated to points in Indiana and Kentucky; not a single life was lost.

The emergency over in Shawneetown, Bob Anderson prepared to return home. It was about time. As the USS Vandenburg arrived at Harrisburg from Shawneetown on Tuesday morning after an all-night run with Anderson aboard he was completely exhausted. From Friday morning until Monday night he had slept less than ten hours--and that on a hard table with his clothing on.

But when he arrived at Harrisburg he found Kes Schonert badly overloaded at W9HQD, which was a key station for the entire southern Illinois area. Bob returned to stand his "trick" on watch there ten hours a day for over a week. Then one morning he climbed one of Schonert's ice-covered seventy-foot steel towers to make an adjustment on the antenna. He climbed down again, drove his family to the hospital for typhoid inoculations and there conveniently collapsed.

After being hospitalized for two days he was put to bed at home for another week. The terrific mental and physical strain had taken its toll. Anderson's sensitive, introverted nature--belying his husky physique--could withstand no more.

It was eighteen months before he recovered fully from the ravages of that amazing odyssey in which his indomitable will drove him from danger to danger until there was nothing left to drive.

To Bob the saddest part of all his illness was that he was still too sick to do full justice to the epicurean presentation luncheon at the Waldorf in New York City when he received the Paley Trophy. But this was partly compensated by the presentation citation in which William S. Paley summarized his performance when making the award:

On behalf of the Board of Awards I present this to you ... for meritorious performance during the 1937 Ohio River flood from January 22 to January 25 ... for proceeding with your amateur shortwave equipment from Harrisburg to the relief of the isolated inhabitants of Shawneetown, twenty-three miles away ... for transporting this equipment in the height of a blizzard, in a small open boat, over great areas of water running at flood force ... for setting up your transmitter in a raging storm at twelve degrees above zero and establishing the first communication direct with relief agencies ... for the exercise of extraordinary perseverance and ingenuity at the risk of your own life in bringing relief to eleven marooned people near Junction, sending food and supplies to the fifteen hundred isolated inhabitants of Shawneetown and bringing about their eventual evacuation ... for cooperating unceasingly with the military and civil authorities through more than forty hours of intense activity without sleep and then again manning your station and again serving the entire southern Illinois area with the transmission of official communications throughout the duration of the emergency ... and, finally, because throughout these activities you exemplified the highest standards of amateur radio operation.

In 1938 it was a hurricane and tidal wave that put amateur radio to the test--a tropical hurricane, the first in 150 years, that came screaming over New England, bringing death and destruction. Over Long Island and into Connecticut and Rhode Island swept the shrieking, churning vortex of high-speed air. Across Long Island and inland along an unfamiliar route the storm center sped, its cross-country velocity the swiftest ever recorded--forty-five miles per hour. In the storm gusts of ninety--one hundred--even more miles per hour demolished flimsy structures, lifted roofs and steeples, snapped and uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees.

In the little town of Westerly, R.I., the rain and wind swept houses, churches, people into the engulfing tidal wave. Trees crashed. Debris came flying through the air. Power, telephone, and telegraph wires went down.

"And in all that maelstrom of terror," one press report stated, "there was only one voice--one feeble radio spark--to call for help and spread the news of disaster."

That voice was amateur radio station W1BDS. Its owner--William E. Burgess--was acclaimed by the five distinguished judges the Paley Award winner for 1938 because of exceptional performance during that time of crisis.

Will Burgess is like many another ham--a quiet, unassuming lad, successful in his job, happy and contented with his family and his radio. He was twenty-nine years old when the hurricane struck in 1938. For ten years he had been active in amateur radio, had progressed from a neophyte's makeshifts to a powerful, modern station that brought the world to his door.

Upon graduation from Chapman Technical High School in New London, Conn., his home town, he became a clerk in Montgomery Ward & Co.'s New London store. After a time the company made him manager of the appliances department in its Westerly store.

He was in the store when the front of the gale struck Westerly that Wednesday afternoon. The wind blew out the windows of the store. Panicky people went screaming up and down the aisles.

At first Will Burgess did not realize just what was happening. A high wind--yes, but there had been high winds before. The talk began to circulate. It was more than a high wind this time, they said. It was a hurricane. The shore community was rapidly becoming a mass of wreckage. Trees were blowing down by the hundreds outside.

Before an hour had passed Burgess realized that this was a disaster of incalculable proportions. From that it was but a step to the realization that this meant a communication emergency. And at such a time his services would be needed.

He collected a quantity of dry cells and "B" batteries and a large storage battery and started for home. The wind was so strong he could lean against it. His eyes were blinded by salt spray. Trees fell behind and in front of him as he struggled up the street.

When Burgess got as far as the police station he encountered another amateur, George Marshall, W1KRQ. He enlisted George's aid, and together they struggled to carry the equipment up the Granite Street hill against the storm to Burgess' home. It was a long way, and progress was slow. Eventually they succeeded in commandeering a South County truck and proceeded in it. But they had only gone a few yards before the way was blocked by fallen trees. Over lawns and up banks they forced the straining vehicle. They would go a block, and a tree would crash to earth in front of them, only to be followed by another falling in the rear. They made a long detour on a dirt road, trying to avoid the flying debris and trees, but time after time death almost struck them down.

Before they were much more than halfway home the way was completely blocked. The truck could go no farther. They carried the batteries the rest of the way.

When they reached his home Will found that the garage that supported one end of his antennas had been swept away by the hurricane. By then it was pitch dark, and the wind was still blowing at an estimated sixty-five miles per hour. Burgess set out with a coil of wire and a pair of pliers to put up a makeshift antenna. On his way in from the yard the pliers were whipped from his hand by the wind. They disappeared. He did not find them until two days later--embedded deep in the trunk of an elm tree near by.

So strong was the wind and so dangerous the flying debris that in order to keep the antenna up it was finally necessary to wrap the wire around the house.

The next problem was the transmitter. Obviously, there was no power available, and the regular station would not work from batteries. Working against time, they rebuilt the equipment to utilize the batteries so laboriously carried from the store. Marshall made his perilous way home to get needed parts. For two endless hours Burgess labored by the feeble light of a kerosene lamp, bulding up a simple one-tube transmitter for battery operation. The windows of his radio "shack"--a tiny room just off the kitchen of his modest frame house--had been blown out by the storm, and the rain poured in. His three-months-old baby, Jane Gail, screamed in fear as the house shook and rocked on its foundations.

But at last they were ready. Instead of the ordinary six hundred watts of power of W1BDS they had less than five watts from the tiny battery transmitter and its receiving-type tube. Even the receiver was a makeshift battery-operated affair.

His heart in his mouth, Burgess sent out his first call--"QRR QRR de W1BDS." Anxiously he listened for a reply. There was none. He tried again.

Enthusiasm restored, they hastily made the needed changes. Another distress call--another QRR. . . .

And this time there was an answer. W2CQD in Roselle, N.J., answered the call. But the faltering signal was too weak in New Jersey to be intelligible, and W2CQD had conflicting schedules, so he turned over the contact to Clark Rodimon at W1SZ in West Hartford. This station provided W1BDS with an open channel continuously for the next five days.

There is no record in the message file at W1BDS of the first message that was sent. There was no time to write a message--the need as already confirmed by local Red Cross officials was too urgent. So Burgess pounded out a curt, general account of the disaster in his own words. Something to the effect that a hurricane had struck--hundreds of homes had been destroyed--help was needed immediately. . . .

Meanwhile, neighbors had got word to Red Cross officials downtown that radio contact was being established. The second message was addressed to the national headquarters of the Red Cross in Washington--a brief plea for aid, signed only "Westerly Red Cross." It was promptly relayed to Washington by radiotelephone through the West Hartford station.

But then a hitch developed. The Red Cross in Washington had no knowledge of the hurricane disaster up to this time; this was the first message to reach the outside world telling the extent of the catastrophe. The officials at Washington doubted the authenticity of the message because it lacked the required personal signature and refused to accept it. At W1BDS Burgess could hear Roy Corderman, the Washington amateur, talking with Red Cross headquarters on the telephone, heard them refuse to accept the message. Back from Washington it came--back to Westerly. There the name of the local chairman was added to the signature, and this time the message was accepted.

The Red Cross swung into action. A representitive left Washington immediately to take charge of relief work in the area. The vast, well-oiled machinery of organized disaster relief began revolving.

During the next fifty-six hours a continuous watch was maintained at W1BDS with the aid of Gerald W. Mason, W1KRF, and Edward A. Dolan, W1KCG. Burgess himself left his transmitter only once in that time--and then only for a brief snatch of two hours' sleep.

His home became a center for the relief activity. It was invaded by Red Cross officials, boy scouts, the police, reporters and tearful survivors seeking to send messages to their loved ones. Scores of people crowded in, occupying all the rooms--some dazed, unable to recall the names and addresses of their people, some half dressed, minus shoes or other articles of clothing. Message after message poured from the station--names of Westerly's dead, calls for boats to save those marooned in their homes, orders for bread, workers, power, serum, planes and caskets. For three days that simple frame house was Westerly's only contact with the outside world. Some eight hundred messages of life and death were handled during this period, all of an official or urgent nature, representing every word that went into or out of the city.

At the end of fifty-six hours power became available in downtown Westerly. The South County Power Company suggested that the station be transferred to the company's office. When this was done it was night again, and another antenna was erected in pitch blackness. For a time the station continued to operate at the South County office.

But friction over message priority developed, and so they moved again--this time to George Marshall's home near the center of the city where power was also available. In the meantime other local amateur stations resumed operation, a well-equipped portable outfit brought in from Providence with a full crew of operators was doing a splendid job, and the initial load was beginning to lighten. It was not until Sunday night, however, that the crew at W1BDS/W1KRQ were able to close the station and go to bed.

In the days following the storm there was a deluge of incoming inquiries concerning the safety of friends and relatives in the Westerly region. It was impossible at first to obtain the desired information because of the absence of local telephone service, but Burgess was determined that anxiety should be relieved wherever possible. He persuaded the authorities to provide him with a list of all the known dead or injured. As inquiries accumulated at the West Hartford station W1SZ, the outlet for W1BDS, the names were read off and then checked against this list. Over a thousand names were checked in this way. In one hundred thirty-six cases it was necessary to reply, "Dead."

Following the emergency praise was showered on W1BDS by a long list of local relief and municipal officials, by relatives and friends of Westerly residents, by such persons as former Attorney General Homer Cummings, Secretary of Commerce Hopkins, the director of Disaster Relief of the American Red Cross and others.

It was Sunday night when Burgess and his fellow workers got to bed for their first night's sleep in four days. But when Monday morning dawned Will Burgess was back at the store--on the dot. Other employees were enthusiastic in their praise; the whole of Westerly knew of the heroic performance, it seemed.

But Will was not impressed. "Aw, it wasn't anything," he said. "Any amateur would have done the same thing. Otherwise, he wouldn't be a ham."