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Herman R. Sanborn (W1LC)
December 9, 1997
In the Spring of 1981, at 19, I first met Herman R. Sanborn, then 73. He had been retired for eight years. Herman gave me a tour of his famous Tatnuck radio room (Worcester, MA -- city's west side) where he had lived and operated since 1951. I was born in Worcester in 1962 and raised in the Tatnuck area as well for 28 years until marriage and relocation to northwest Spencer, 15 miles west. During WWII, Sanborn, a Technical Sergeant, had served as a field-radio-repair instructor to U.S. Army Air Corps pilots in North Dakota. Herman was also involved in classified radar development technology for the U.S. military. Sanborn was quite a legend in the Worcester ham community, so one of my first items on the new ham radio "to do" list was to meet him and check out his fb station! His high-power 160-10m setup kept the city connected to disaster relief and recovery efforts for weeks in the aftermath of the 1953 Worcester Tornado. The deadly F4 twister struck my home city on June 9th of that year and killed 94 people on a 46-mile path of death and destruction from rural Petersham to Southborough. Ironically, following his heroic communications service (intense emergency traffic with local Red Cross presence at his qth, and secondary phone patch assists for distant relatives of area residents who survived the tornado), Herman was forced into legal action with the city in the late '50s and throughout the 1960s! This was over alleged RFI from W1LC's homebrew, floor-model plate-modulated RF power amplifier (a single VT-129/304TL pulse radar tube used in mil. applications was the heart of this homebrew) to the nearby Worcester Municipal Airport's (WMA) radar system. WMA is located about a mile away in West Tatnuck, near the adjoining central MA. Towns of Leicester and Paxton. However, by the end of 1969, W1LC had won all three separate court cases, with the city required to pick up his legal fees! ;-)
Herman was a tough but friendly, tight-lipped yankee type of character. He wouldn't volunteer much in the way of talk, but he would always answer your questions honestly and offer suggestions or examples as appropriate. I was especially sad to see this ol' buzzard of the greatest generation go the way he did at 89 to the downward-spiraling effects of Alzheimer's Disease in December of 1997. Previously a widower, now alone and following years of progressively worse dementia, he wandered away from his hilltop home in Tatnuck in June, 1997. He ended up on the street in downtown Worcester unable to recite his name or address. Thus, he was procedurally institutionalized. He died of cardiopulmonary arrest just six months thereafter.
In this world, our time together is often short. The quality of that time can nonetheless make all the difference! There are some former Worcester officials who may still grimace at the mention of his name or call sign. They will recall the dogged yankee who spared no dime or time to fight and win for his ham radio cause. There are many more people who remember images of Worcester in June of 1953. There among those images will be that of an unassuming man seated in a dimly-lit cellar with a microphone, flanked by many anxious officials, fellow citizens and neighbors. The sounds of a communications receiver, and the unmistakable buzz of his plate transformer during transmit. Herman's determination was a welcomed and appreciated commodity indeed following those dark stormy days when one weary ham sat at a radio position for weeks helping to define "first response" by his actions and reconnecting Worcester -- a city that would never be the same again -- to the larger world around it.
Herman was a gifted craftsman and an elmer of substance remembered fondly by a friend, Tatnuck neighbor and curious question-a-second teenager! I spent far too little time in Herman's presence but am grateful for that time nonetheless. I'll never forget the W1LC station tour, or my joy upon learning of the FCC issuance to myself (ex: KD1CW, KA1JEQ) of the call sign in March, 2002 that Herman held for almost 70 years. May God Bless and Keep You my friend until we meet again (maybe AM is better appreciated upstairs! ;-)
Contributed by: Dana George Reed (W1LC)
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