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On a Cold Winter Night

Tom Thompson (W0IVJ) on October 12, 2012
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Tom flipped on the light to the ham shack as he descended down the stairs into the basement. He turned on the Drake TR-3 transceiver and started listening on the 40 meter band. It had been a noisy summer and fall on 40 meters with all the thunderstorms in the area but tonight was different. The night was cold and the 40 meter band was quiet.

Tom admired the 813 linear amplifier that he had just completed. Electronics was not Tom’s profession, so the amplifier project had been difficult for him. He found the design in the 16th edition of the Radio Handbook written by Bill Orr. The amplifier seemed like a perfect companion for his new TR-3 transceiver as he was transitioning from AM to Single Side Band. After many trips to the electronic stores in Denver, Tom had finally completed his 813 amplifier. To his surprise and delight, it actually worked. With a pair of 813s the amplifier really increased his TR-3 signal.

Tom enjoyed phone operation but his true love was CW. There was a certain simplicity and purity about CW that ... well just appealed to him. Hoping to work some DX, Tom turned on the amplifier to let it warm up. The purple glow of the 866A rectifier tubes and the warm orange glow of the 813 filaments sent a sense of peace and relaxation over him.

Tom tuned the VFO on the TR-3 to the low end of 40 while carefully listening to the rhythmic beat of the various fists. He caught pieces of each QSO as he decoded the CW in his head. Clearly some fists were better than others but all were music to his ears. Suddenly Tom heard dit dit dit dit dit dit dah dit dit dit dah dah dit. The word HELP grabbed his attention and he paused his tuning to listen some more. Joe, in Utah was talking to a station in Idaho. Joe needed help!

Joe’s hand was shaking on the key as he carefully explained his situation to the station in Idaho. When he turned it over the station in Idaho had faded out. The band had changed before Joe could send his position information.

Joe and Sally had planned this backpacking trip for months. Both were experienced hikers having hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail near their home in Pennsylvania. But this was different. The portion of the Appalachian Trail that they had hiked, had many hikers on it. The backpacking trip to the canyon lands of Utah would not be like that. They could anticipate days without seeing any other hikers. Also, since the only time Joe and Sally had coincident vacations was in the winter, the hiking traffic would be even sparser. Joe was a little worried about this, but he had served in Korea so he was used to sleeping in a tent in the cold. Besides Utah was known to have some warm days in the winter. Nevertheless, Joe had assembled a small, low power 40 meter CW transceiver. It was not light with the A and B batteries even though he had kept the circuitry simple using the same miniature tube for the super regenerative receiver and the transmitter oscillator. But Joe did not want to cut any corners since Sally was not as keen on this trip as he was. He figured that 40 meter CW would give him the best opportunity for a contact since they would be hiking in the canyons and he would be running low power.

Now, Joe was about to find out if his planning would pay off. Sally had tripped over a rock in the middle of the night and possibly broken her ankle. In any case, she could not walk and help was needed. Joe had quickly strung a temporary antenna between two high rocks and had been calling for about an hour when an Idaho station answered. Now the Idaho station had faded before Joe could give his location.

As Tom began listening to the weak signal from Joe he realized that this was no ordinary QSO. Joe needed help and the Idaho station could no longer copy Joe. Tom could not copy the Idaho station either so he called Joe immediately. After contact had been established, Joe described where he was. Tom, being an avid backpacker himself, had recently hiked in that same area. He knew roughly where Joe and Sally were. Tom assured Joe that he would call the county sheriff who would organize a rescue party. Tom agreed to meet Joe the next evening on the same frequency to check on Sally’s condition. Tom signed off and called the county sheriff. He explained the situation and gave Joe’s location to the sheriff. The sheriff assured Tom that a search party would be on the way as soon as possible.

Tom tuned his VFO momentarily but soon realized that a relaxing session on CW was not to be had. The adrenalin rush had not only ruined his concentration but his hands were shaking so much that sending was out of the question. He pictured Joe and Sally alone in the dark under the starry Utah sky. He felt the awesome responsibility that Joe had bestowed upon him. Tom went back upstairs and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning in his bed.

The next day at work Tom kept looking at the clock. Time seemed to drag as Tom’s thoughts kept going back to Joe and Sally. Were they ok? Had the search party reached them? Were they able to get Sally to the hospital? Tom could hardly wait until the time for his sked with Joe arrived. He carefully tuned his TR-3 around the agreed upon frequency, but no Joe. Were band conditions not right? Had Joe and Sally been rescued? Had he given proper directions to the sheriff? This was driving Tom crazy. Maybe he shouldn’t have become involved. No! That was out of the question. Tom spent another night tossing and turning.

The next day as he was driving to work the incident was still running around in his mind. He turned on the car radio and heard on the news that two hikers had been rescued by a search party in the canyon lands of Utah. The female hiker had suffered a broken ankle. Tom immediately relaxed as a grin spread over his face. The cold winter night had not been what he expected but he was very satisfied with how he and his station had performed. A few days later, Tom received a phone call from Joe. Sally was doing well and Joe and Tom discussed the details of the rescue.

Over the years Tom and Joe kept in contact. Their kids were grown and had moved away. They both had modern radio equipment now, mostly purchased not home built, but they looked forward to their weekly CW sked. They had discussed a lot of different things during those many contacts, but occasionally the conversation would turn to the night of that fateful contact on a cold winter night.

Member Comments:
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On a Cold Winter Night  
by K8AXW on October 12, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Tom: Excellent story! It held my interest to the end. I faced a similar situation many years ago when I was stationed in Bavaria. I had been licensed for only a couple months. While on the air one evening trying to get a stateside phone patch for guys in the shack I received a "Mayday" call from a station in Israel.

A woman in Tel Aviv was dying and needed a special medicine from a pharmaceutical company in NY. Since the US was still "open" to me he thought I could get this traffic through.

Unfortunately, by the time I was able to copy all of the information, the skip to the US had faded out. After several futile calls, a station in Scotland called me and told me that the US was still open to him.

I passed the traffic on to him and he was successful in getting it to NY. Later, we heard the medicine had reached Tel Aviv and the woman survived.

As you said, the "adrenalin rush" was incredible. Good story, well written!

Al - K8AXW
On a Cold Winter Night  
by W0CBF on October 12, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great story, it held my interest until the end as well. To top things off you have remained friends after all of these years and enjoyed a CW schedule as well.

RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by W0IVJ on October 12, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
To all who read my story. This story is fiction and intended to take those who read it on a nostalgic trip into the past.
73, Tom W0IVJ
On a Cold Winter Night  
by N0TA on October 13, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Enjoyable story. Thanks!
RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by KB6QXM on October 13, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I would of thought that on a cold winter night the op would have been tuning around 160 meters. To really take you back, the ham should have completed a 4-1000 amplifier. Now there is old school. CW on 160 meters with a 4-1000 amp brightly glowing in a dimly lit ham shack. Let's not forget that the op was using either a bug or a straight key.
On a Cold Winter Night  
by N1LWK on October 13, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great story!! The Drake TR-3 brings back memories. During the mid 1970's, my first QSO was with the TR-3 when I joined my high school's ham radio club.

I'll be waiting for ur next story.

73....Ken, N1LWK
RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by W0IVJ on October 13, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
To KB0QXM: 160 meters is really good on a cold winter night, but 40 meters gets better, too. The portable guy in Utah was not likely to have strung up a 160 meter antenna. You are right about the 4-1000 amp. That was my next amp after the pair of 813s. Thanks for your comments.
73, Tom W0IVJ
RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by W0IVJ on October 13, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Sorry. I meant to reply to KB6QXM not KB0QXM.
RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by WN2C on October 13, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Was tuning 40 meter fone one night some years ago and heard a mayday in progress. There was a pleasure craft out about 25 to 30 miles off of Atlantic City NJ. There was a net going on and the guy broke into it and was talking to a ham in Washington or Oregon. Told him he was taking on water. The net control called the Coast Gaurd who patched him to NJ Coast Gaurd station. As far as I remember it all turned out well(except for the boat, I think it did sink)as all aboard survived.

On a Cold Winter Night  
by KE2EE on October 14, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great story. I read a rescue story awhile back (ARRL news 9/29/08) of a ham who was hiking and broke his leg. He called for help on 40m with his KX1 QRP rig. The hiker was finally rescued in heavy snow by horseback as conditions were too poor for a helicopter.


This story inspired me at the time, to work on my rusty CW and get active again on the bands, now CW is my favorite mode.

RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by W0IVJ on October 15, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for reminding me of that story. I have a friend in Corvallis, K7HZ, who knows W7AU. I had forgotten about the incident but it must have been residing in my subconscious when I wrote the story.
73, Tom W0IVJ
On a Cold Winter Night  
by K9MOV on October 15, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for the nice story. I enjoyed it very much.
RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by VA1DWG on October 19, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
very good story i enjoyed it.
RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by NP4IA on October 21, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
On a Cold Winter Night  
by VA3MLV on October 23, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
That was an amazing contact, experience in life
That matters. Good for u Tom great encounter and
Judge of character to Handel situation like a ecperienced
Operator .... 73
RE: On a Cold Winter Night  
by NG7A on October 25, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the wonderful story and the post tying it back to the present day. I too remember the hiker rescue on 40 CW around 2008 described in QST. It inspired me to improve my code. The XYL and I carry portable HF on our hikes and regularly practice on SOTA.

On a Cold Winter Night  
by K9PLK on November 20, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I thought that was a great story! More importantly is that it really tells you radio can always be a benefit to all ! In saving a persons life and established a life long friendship. I can remember when I was a kid and getting a pair of walkie talkies from Allied Radio on Western ave in Chicago and talking to a a neighbor 6 blocks away at night ! I thought wow is this great ! Yet very mysterious! I later was drafted and took up electronics in the Army and that was the start of it ! Wow can remember the old Collins stuff I worked on and PCM gear ! What fun! My fist contact was a gentleman on the lake front of Chicago from my house on 51st and Racine ! I was so proud! Great stuff!
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