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Author Topic: What Makes a Rig Worth Restoring?  (Read 79175 times)

Posts: 62

« on: July 09, 2013, 07:03:55 PM »

I guess that I have been in a reflective mood the last couple of days because I have been wondering what makes a radio worth restoring versus parting it out or just tossing it out. I don't really expect any definitive answers, but I would be interested in hearing other people's thoughts,

I have restored a Heathkit AR-3, a National Radio SW-54 and a Hallicrafters S-38; all 5-tube receivers that are all pretty sorry performers by today's standards. Yet, how many of use got started in ham radio with just such a receiver, or a crystal controlled transmitter such as the Heathkit AT-1 or EICO 720? The amazing thing is that we didn't get totally discouraged by trying to actually use these rigs to make contacts and give up on ham radio all together.

Clearly, some gear is highly prized by collectors - Collins for example. Other gear seems to attract just the opposite feelings - Heathkit seems to frequently be the subject of derision. Yet, having worked on both the "S" line Collins and Heathkit SB series, it seems like they both have their faults (idiosyncrasies?) and both can be made to work fine with some TLC. With the Heathkits, I always try to imagine how the original builder must have felt when putting the rig together - how many evenings were spent at the kitchen table soldering all of the individual components together and ultimately the thrill of actually having something you built work (or not, as the case may be).

Sometimes you run across something with a bit of sentimental value (to you at least), like the rig you wanted when you were a teenager, but couldn't afford at the time (kinda like that 55 Chevy you wanted back in high school). Sometimes you run across a particular rig that might have some (small?) historical value. I am currently working on what I believe to be the original prototype of the National NCX-3 transceiver Now, this was not a particularly good rig (a three-band transceiver with sweep tube finals), nor wildly popular nor exceedingly rare, but somehow it seems like it is a piece of our amateur legacy and deserves more than being relegated to the junk heap.

Or, maybe all of this tube stuff is just relics from a bygone era, left behind by technology; kind of like the horse and buggy. It does make me wonder what is going to happen to all of these rigs when our generation that grew up with vacuum tubes is gone?


Posts: 11

« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2013, 08:01:58 PM »

I think what makes a radio worth restoring depends on what the restorer is trying to accomplish. Why are you repairing or restoring the radio? For me, it's to preserve a small piece of the past, and revive or stabilize a working, classic rig. I have repaired several tube radios from the 30's up the 50's including Philco and Hallicrafters radios. I like the sound, smell, and look of old tube radios, and showing them to others introduces them to a bygone era. Nearly everyone who sees them thinks they are cool.

As for what will happen when the generation that grew up with tube radios dies out: Some of the "youngsters" from my generation will keep them running. I'm only in my 30's, but I appreciate the old technology.

Posts: 262

« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2013, 08:41:38 PM »

I think what makes a radio worth restoring depends on what the restorer is trying to accomplish. Why are you repairing or restoring the radio? For me, it's to preserve a small piece of the past, and revive or stabilize a working, classic rig. I have repaired several tube radios from the 30's up the 50's including Philco and Hallicrafters radios. I like the sound, smell, and look of old tube radios, and showing them to others introduces them to a bygone era. Nearly everyone who sees them thinks they are cool.

As for what will happen when the generation that grew up with tube radios dies out: Some of the "youngsters" from my generation will keep them running. I'm only in my 30's, but I appreciate the old technology.

Amen to that.

I enjoy restoring and modifying older low power rigs like the Eico 720, Knight T-150, the Vikings, and the Halli HT-40.

AC0OB - A Place Where Thermionic Emitters Rule!
Besides, when you're a Ham, you experiment with and improve boat anchors - that's what you do!. Smiley

Posts: 2099

« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2013, 03:48:12 AM »

For me, trying to recapture a little bit of my youth as a novice.

Posts: 2541

« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2013, 06:52:51 AM »

I enjoy restoring tube type rigs because when I got into ham radio in the 1960's, I could not afford any of them.  I just drooled over the rigs in the catalogs. 

Now that I can afford those rigs, about the only way to have a mint one is to find a good one and restore it to as close to mint condition as possible.  So far I am up to 47 restored boat anchor rigs in my "collection" and still looking for more.

What is desirable varies with the person.  As far as boat anchor rigs go, one person's dream rig is another person's goat - with the possible exception of Collins rigs.

Dick  AD4U

Posts: 349

« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2013, 05:25:48 PM »

To me the answer is the same as my view of women - Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
The value will always be set by what you are willing to give to attain.
Dick (First call KN6CLF 1953)

Posts: 70

« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2013, 05:50:59 PM »

I have been collecting ham gear since the mid -70's and it was a great time to pick up deals, sometime I would get something rare because no one else wanted it. People have a different perception of things, I like the nostalgia of the equipment, the idea that someone in 1944 who was flying a B17 was using one of my ARC5 transmitters or someone in 1955 was using my SP-600 in the CIA or some other government agency.

To me there is a difference between restoring and repairing. Restoring to me is restoring the functionality and the appearance to factory fresh, repairing is to fix it so it is functional.

I have in front of me HK SB-401/301 that I would like to restore but they operate without problems and on the other side of me I have a HW-104 that I want to repair because someone attempted to use it on 11 meters without success but it won't be restored. Above that I have an Hallicrafters SR-46a which doesn't need either a restore or a repair, I spotted the original box at a garage sale and it had a $2 price tag on it. I bought it because it was something that would be neat to have or so I thought at the time and the lady stopped me as I was putting it in my truck and asked why I was leaving without the radio - it was too heavy for her to take out of the basement.

Posts: 1739

« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2013, 02:15:39 PM »


Posts: 218

« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2013, 03:52:08 AM »

I know this is an old post, however ...

I think two things matter depending on the person.

  • 1. The condition of item to be restored
  • 2. Whether you want to make it like new or just functional

I think for restoration you want find something that is in the best cosmetic condition as possible. Quite frankly electronics is easy to restore, where mechanicals like chassis parts and even sometimes paint can be much more challenging. In the many and numerous restorations I have performed the things that always take the most time and effort are chassis parts and mechanicals, followed by paint especially traditional wrinkle techniques (not out of a can wrinkle).

Like today I just started working on very very nice National RBL-5 "lowfer" receiver. It never saw the light of day apparently. It was issued in 1944 but never put into service (according to the Naval tags on it). It was bought surplus after WWII and has sat in Physics Lab at Dowling College in New York unused ever since. The professor who just retired recently in his 70's bought it to show how electronics used to be built, or so I was told. (I am still going through the Naval records to see what the provenance is, in its military history. Yeah ... I have those files)

It is nearly pristine with only a few chips in the wrinkle paint. It also has an ever so slight build up of tobacco goo, but not bad at all in that respect. (I guess they did smoke years ago inside the college) The darn thing even has the shock mount base and the rubber is still soft and pliable. Amazing! One of the captive thumb screws for the base is missing but I happen to have one fortunately. So this will get new resistors and a few new caps, but needs little else. There is certainly something to said for temperature and humidity controlled college laboratories for keeping equipment in good working order. When restored it will look and perform as new with very little work.

Nice lowfer radio, one of the best of the period. Even has the original manual in perfect condition and the original alignment tools. Now if the paint was a mess or if the cabinet had rust this would be a nightmare to restore to new-like condition. The cabinet is steel with copper plating then wrinkle finished. IN the images below what looks like rust on the cabinet is the copper underneath where some of the wrinkle paint was chipped off. To redo the old wrinkle finish using the traditional method is very difficult over copper. The copper must be new with no oxides in order for the wrinkle effect to work when heated and cooled. Also many of the internal parts are difficult to make look nice if it had any surface rust, which many old Naval radios have. This is one is perfect in that regard, inside and out.

Here are some images once I got it home before I did any work on it.

The spots on the chassis inside are little dust balls. There isn't even any surface oxidation on the chassis inside top and bottom. The ceramic rotary switches don't even seem to have been used (no groove from the wiper) and there isn't even any black silver-oxides to be found on them. All the caps in this radio are oil and mica. What look like big crystals near the tubes are actually big oil bypass caps. No electrolytic caps. The three cans that look electrolytic caps on the left are also oil caps. And how about those great big cans with the four vent holes on top!? I don't know for sure, but I believe those are covered coils. Remember, this VLF TRF radio operates from 15Hz-600Hz (yes, that's Hertz) so any coils are going to be huge. Three more underneath as well. This one weighs in at 75lbs so this is a real boatanchor. (BTW ... when did TS-450's become boatanchors? It's only a boat anchor if it glow in the dark from filaments IMO  Smiley )

So for me, this is what I consider a perfect candidate for a full restoration.

Now if you want to take a radio and just have it functional the cosmetics isn't as much of an issue as long as the flaws have little or no effect on performance. I think in this case the most important thing is really whether or not the knobs move freely and any mechanical gears and bearing are in good working order. Like I said the electronics (caps, resistors, even pots) are easy to fix and get working properly.

Admittedly, to find a radio of this vintage in the condition of this National is very rare. It is completely original with no repairs or modifications. However this is what I travel around the country to find. In this case, the radio came as cheap as it could ... free. They were going to throw it out. I fortunately know one of the professors at the college and she gave me a call. I also scored tons of old parts, hundreds of A&B carbon comps (all sorted or boxed), A and J type Pots, big oil caps, and numerous dozens of Centralab rotary's both complete switch assemblies and inserts, to name just a few. And there is still more. They want me to come and get rid of all of it before the new Professor starts the next semester. Otherwise, out for the trash it goes. No no no, not gonna happen!

Here is the killer. The lab assistant says to me "Ever heard of some company called Heathkit or something like that?" My ears perked up. "You should have been here last week, we threw away a dumpster full of unopened boxes of that stuff". My instinct was grab him and choke the life out of him, but I restrained myself. I just walk over to the computer and went on eBay, did a search for "Unbuilt Heathkit" and showed him the completed listings. He stood mouth agape for about a minute. My only comment was "Hey, kid. ever heard of Google or eBay? Think about that dumpster when you make the next payment on your student loan." Yeah I'm a heartless bastard with stupid people.

My 2 cents ...

John, W2WDX

EDIT: I just found the Naval record on the serial number. It was requisitioned for installation on the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) to be installed at San Francisco, but repairs were rushed since CA-35 had to depart for Pearl then on to Tinian, to carry the uranium for "Little Boy". This radio was never installed and was (according to the records) "... on hold for later installation upon next arrival at San Fransisco". So it appears this radio had a fate to be at the bottom of Leyte Gulf but was instead saved by timing and a ship's rushed date with a nuke. Interesting!
« Last Edit: August 28, 2013, 04:55:52 AM by W2WDX » Logged


Posts: 218

« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2013, 06:39:41 AM »

Since the OP talked about nostalgia, I'll add another post on that issue.

I am a relatively new Ham, Having got my ticket (FINALLY) in 2001. However I have been toying with radios since the late 60's as a kid. I always had a problem with code. When I was younger I didn't have the discipline, when I got older I seriously didn't have the time. (I was touring audio engineer mixing concert sound). However, I was always getting ready to get my ticket, so I was always buying gear and restoring it. Then I'd sell it, get the bug a few months later and do that again. Odd right?

Yeah I did the CB thing for a few years in the 70's (hated it).

However, I always lusted over the Drake stuff. When I finally got my ticket I went out and bought some. Unfortunately, I hated it. So it wasn't what I thought it was. It was a pain to work on and operate. Funny how that happens.

I did however like Yaesu 101 stuff. I knew some CB guys back in th day who had it and always liked the way it sounded on the air. I ended up once I got my ticket with a nice complete 101 station I completely restored. I spent alot of time restoring it and setting up the station. Here's a picture of my first station.

Yaesu FL/FR101 twins, and all the accessories, including both transverters and the FL-2100b. Fully restored. It was fun. However, once I got the SSB DX fix out of my system, I heard a bunch of the Northeast guys on 80m AM, particularly Tom K1JJ. I heard those stations and I was hooked. Being an audio guy by profession I couldn't believe how good they sounded on the air. That's why there is the Heathkit DX-60b station there on the left. That was the beginning into my journey with boatanchors. I've had most boatanchors, including Globe Kings, B&W 5100b and many others. My current favorites are ... well ... here's the most recent picture of one of my stations.

Not pictured here are my Collins 390a, Hammarlund SP-600, Collins 32V-3, 75A-2, 75A-4 all restored to new condition. They are actually to the right out of frame. All great boatanchors. (Do not know why I have no image of that table?)

I really love the Hallicrafters HT-37. Mine is slightly modified with a true balanced 600ohm line input, a modified audio stage, and a fully regulated bias. Modified yes, but you can't tell by looking at it. The Johnson Viking II was fun, but I replaced it with Desk Kilowatt/Ranger (which I hope to do and article some time soon on the restore).

For mic's I mostly use Neumann TLM-103. But I sometimes use a D-104 or a Shure 444, depending on the boatanchor. The Viking II just screamed for a D-104!!

Here's some audio of the Hallicrafters on the air after it was restored and modified. This is SSB on 80m at night recorded from about 200 miles away. This is radio power only with no amplifier. Just the HT-37, a Johnson Kilowatt Matchbox to a 160' dipole balanced fed at about 90' high. The mp3 file is unmodified and exactly as it was recorded by a FlexRadio. (Please forgive my strong New York accent).

I also have a weird boatanchor which I restored simply because it's one of rarest HF boatanchor transmitters around. A Gates Radio M-5078 which is a small desktop AM transmitter which I call a Johnson Ranger on steroids. It's a 6146 plate modulated by a pair of push-pull 6L6 through some nice iron.

Here's a link to the yet incomplete article on the restoration of the Gates.

Most of these radios I made sure I got in already mint condition before I fully restored them.
Now if I can just find a Hallicrafters HT-20, a Gates BC-1 Broadcast transmitter (that's a "shipanchor"), and a Collins KW-1 I'd be a happy camper.

John, W2WDX

« Last Edit: August 28, 2013, 06:51:58 AM by W2WDX » Logged


Posts: 1280

« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2013, 06:55:04 AM »


That's no mean shelf you have there with the HP141 and all the other stuff on it!

Posts: 218

« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2013, 07:46:33 AM »

Yeah ... That's an industrial work bench with steel shelving that can handle up to 700lbs (420Kg) each.


Posts: 7039

« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2013, 08:23:44 AM »

WDX:  Beautiful gear; beautiful shack!  The ability to share photos here on eHam, in my opinion, has been a fantastic enhancement to the site! 

Good move eHam!

A Pessimist is Never Disappointed!

Posts: 408

« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2013, 08:55:23 AM »

 Like some other operators , my mission is more to clean up , make functional and PRESERVE the older gear  . "Restore" is an oft abused , easily overdone , poorly defined term at best .  Parts that need replacement to restore function or maintain reasonable reliability of course do get replaced . There is only one original finish however . Rather than try to fake a pristine piece I far prefer to leave the original finish in tact . The sight of a nice old Ranger , repainted , re-silkscreened , all polished up and shining like a new penny is a real turn - off .  Another sorry sight , ranked very close to a re-finished radio is the addition of "Hamholes"  . Funny how much damage has been done to otherwise perfect radios all because someone placed an electric drill within reach of the wrong ham !  It is at the point now where I usually refuse to buy anything repainted or hamholed . An exception would possibly be a modification such as the factory instructed "Spot" switch on a DX-100 . 

    All of that aside , if there is any reasonable means to put a rig back together I do just that . It is for the most part a labor of love . Recently replaced the plate xfmr on an old Elmac PS-2V power supply . These supplies fetch about $150 - $175 from the hamfest/QTH mercenaries . The replacement transformer alone cost $180 . At first blush that may seem like a waste . The up-side is there is one more power supply on line . It was a very well preserved one , no hamholes , and had the original finish . The transformer as supplied by the first class Heyboer Transformer Co is identical in construction and material to the original in every way . We now have a very reliable power supply that should last for years to come . A bargain by my measure . Consider the fellow who buys that new Iccom or Ken'swood loses a couple hundred dollars as soon as he buys the thing .

  It is all about what you put in to and take out of the hobby . Ham radio has treated me well , I like to treat the radios well .

Posts: 379

« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2013, 05:47:13 PM »

Someof us have been around long enough to see old rigs go from being desireable, to being superceded by developments and largely ignored, to now, a rare nostalgic amazing item once again and worth alot of money online. I guess one aspect of big boatanchors is, they can be valuable but are the least likely thing to be stolen!  Too heavy/large to tote away unseen, and looking like old junk to the unwashed masses. Which will the burglar choose-your big screen but fairly light and fenceable TV, or a clunky looking 75A4 receiver?  But most of us have been spoiled by newer developments, nostalgia can lead to some disappointments when the old gear is actually run again.
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