Field Day Frenzy

By: Larry Coyle, K1QW


A Young Ham was taken in tow by "Chuck", an older ham in the neighborhood who acted, sometimes, as his Elmer. Young Ham's parents knew Chuck. Well, sorta -- anyway they trusted him with their son. When ARRL Field Day came around, Young Ham got the OK from his parents to go. Chuck would take him, since Young Ham wasn't old enough to drive, and bring him back after a fun weekend with the guys from the local ham club.


The club had permission every year from the local water company to set up on the grounds of a reservoir on the condition that they leave the place just as they found it. No trash left behind, etc. When Chuck and Young Ham arrived early on Saturday morning, a bunch of cars, vans and pickup trucks were already there with people setting up tents and unloading ham gear and other necessities for the weekend.


Young Ham was amazed at the level of activity. He had never seen a bunch of guys with such energy and dedication to a project. What was driving them, he soon found out, was the determination to out-score the larger and better-organized bunch from a neighboring town, which consistently beat them, year after year. Young Ham eagerly joined in setting up tents and unloading equipment: a couple of transmitters brought by one participant, a generator and gasoline from somebody else, receivers, antenna wire, tools, a box of spare parts, etc., etc. It all went together without too much confusion, the final task being to string some glass insulators on to a long wire antenna and get it up in a couple of trees. One of the attendees had a ladder on his pickup truck, and he used this to get up into a suitable tree, climb even higher on some branches and loop the antenna support rope over a good high sturdy limb.


A bit of crude language and name-calling ensued when it was found that somebody had forgotten to bring the power supply for one of the transmitters and wasn't interested in a long drive back to his shack to get it. Things simmered down when Chuck stepped in and said, "OK, OK, knock it off, you guys. We’ve got enough stuff in the spares box to build a supply. I'll do it. Just get outta my way."


Young Ham was astonished. Chuck was actually going to build a power supply on the spot! He had never met people like this. They didn't let anything stand in their way!


Official starting time rolled around, they fired up the generator and the Chuck-built supply and Field Day exercises began. QSOs rolled in, and a few of the more experienced operators were going great guns, filling the log with contacts. Young Ham had a chance to exercise his newly acquired CW skills under the encouragement of Chuck and the others. He was having a blast!


Darkness moved in and everybody was feeling optimistic. Comments filled the air, like: "We'll finally beat those guys, this year." "Yeah, it's about time." "We'll show 'em what Field Day is all about." They broke out the sandwiches and beer and kept going. (They wouldn't let Young Ham have any beer.) They intended to operate all through the night.


Then, about 1:00 A.M. lights began to dim, smoke filled the operating tent and the generator sounded like it was about to die.


The junk-box power supply that Chuck built had developed a massive short. It also turned out that he hadn't included an ON-OFF switch (or a fuse, for that matter), so there was no way to turn the thing off. One of the guys snarled at Chuck. "What do you mean, you didn't put a switch on it? You ****** idiot!!" Chuck came back with, "Do you want a switch or do you want to get on the air? And don't call me a ****** idiot, you moron!!"


While this exchange was going on, in the friendly, bantering way that men do, somebody else found a pair of wire cutters and cut the smoking supply loose from the generator.


Needless to say, this put quite a crimp in their plans to wipe the floor with the rival ham club. They limped along with whatever equipment was left, but the enthusiasm was gone. After sunup, tired and discouraged, they decided to call it quits and began the task of breaking down the setup and loading everything back onto the vehicles. A few had already left in disgust, including the owner of the truck with the ladder. Nobody wanted to try climbing the tree holding the long wire antenna, but they had to get it out of there, or the water company wouldn't let them back next year.


One of them said, "Wait a minute. I'll get it down," and went back to his truck. He came back with a rifle, and with a few (well, several) well-placed shots, demolished the glass insulator, bringing the antenna down.


That wrapped up Young Ham's first Field Day. Chuck drove him home and when he walked into his house, his mother asked "Well, did you have a nice time, dear? Did you get some sleep?"


"Sure, mom, it was fun and, um ... educational."


"That's nice," said his mother, always glad to hear about things that furthered her son's education.


"Yeah, it was," said Young Ham. "Well, I think I'll go to bed, now."