Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Handiham World for 24 June 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat, WA0TDA, (L) and Newt Owens, owner of the farm, gas up the generator in this old Field Day photo from the 1970's.
Image: Pat, WA0TDA, (L) and Newt Owens, owner of the farm, gas up the generator in this old Field Day photo from the 1970's.

Summer is officially here, and summer heat and humidity have arrived here in the United States Upper Midwest. I call this particular season "the ham radio doldrums" because it seems as if activity on the HF bands gives way to thunderstorm static and the repeaters fall silent as people head outdoors or go on vacation. Sure enough, several recent nets that I often check into have gone without net control stations, and I only found out after the fact because I didn't show up for those nets, either. My bad!

Fortunately, Amateur Radio Field Day arrives at just the right time to revive ham radio for the summer! It's more than just a "day", too - most clubs and individuals plan for months ahead of actual Field Day weekend, and Field Day itself spans the weekend of June 27-28 this year. It is always held on the fourth full weekend in June. Since Field Day is an exercise in emergency operation, it is often held in, well, a real field! Outdoors. Without access to the power grid. Or permanent shelter. It may rain or be sunny & hot. There might be bugs. Or bears. You just never know, and that's part of the adventure.

The idea, of course, is to practice setting up and operating "off the grid", which is potentially valuable experience for doing the very same thing in an emergency. The thing about Field Day is that it typically combines this serious purpose with lots of ham radio fun, including on the air competition for points, camaraderie, family picnics, camping out, and just plain enjoying the summer. It's really my favorite ham radio event each year, and I plan to spend some time with the Stillwater Amateur Radio Association (SARA) Field Day crew this coming weekend.

When I think about all the years I have enjoyed Field Days past, I can recall times I have operated as part of a club event and times I have operated solo. There were other times that I operated with a small group of my ham radio friends. One of my favorite early memories is of operating with the Mankato, Minnesota Amateur Radio Club on the lawn of the local vo-tech school. We had tents set up, and it was fun to operate and learn new skills by getting on the air with my friends. Once I operated Field Day from a barn, sharing the microphone and code key with my friend Don Newcomb, W0DN, who is now a silent key. Don and I would later hatch the plans for a new antenna company, Butternut Electronics. You never know what might come out of your Field Day experience!

Some groups like to operate competitively, with the goal of earning that coveted high score. Points are given for each contact, and there are extra points for certain types of operation. For example, phone contacts count one point each, while CW or digital contacts count two points each. Multipliers for low power operation or operating "off the grid" help build up that score.

But fierce competition has never been my Field Day cup of tea, and I tend to gravitate toward groups that place a higher priority on just having fun. One time I decided to join a Field Day group operating nearby, and was disappointed when it turned out to be a CW-only operation with only the most experienced ops allowed to take a place at the operating position. I didn't stay long there, because it wasn't my idea of fun to watch someone else log points. The lesson I took away from that year's Field Day was that I needed to do a bit of homework ahead of time to be sure I was with a group that didn't take earning points so seriously. Not, mind you, that there is anything wrong with being competitive. It's fine for those who enjoy that sort of thing, so I guess my point is that Field Day comes in many flavors, and it's up to you to shop around for one that you like.

You can start on the ARRL website, since ARRL, among its many other great activities, sponsors Field Day. There is a graphic "Field Day Locator" map that allows you to put in your own address and then marks out nearby Field Day sites:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Handiham World for 17 June 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Handiham History: Early history notes from N0SBU

N0SBU reaches 1,000 hour volunteer milestone

George LaValle, N0SBU, found this early history of the Handiham System and re-typed it for us. He is continuing to examine and sort through hundreds of documents and photos as we work on what we are now calling "The Handiham History Project". You will notice as you read this decades-old text that terms and language innocently used in that era are ones that are now considered passé or even politically incorrect. Rather than change the original text, we are leaving it intact so that you can see how society has changed and so that you can get a flavor of what things were like 40 years ago. You will also notice references to hams whose callsigns have long ago changed, and to those who are now silent keys. Some of the grammar isn't the best, but you will get the idea. Back in those days, money was a problem. Well, I guess some things never change! Now, please enjoy this early history, thanks to N0SBU.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

The Handi-Ham-System of Minnesota

Supported by PICONET a 13 county southeastern Minnesota Civil Defense Net.
Expanded By MISCCA the Minnesota Society for Crippled Children and Adults.

This program is designed to help handicapped individuals obtain their amateur radio licenses by providing on loan study materials, antennas, novice receivers and transmitters and HELP as needed.


During the Fall of 1966, in a small town in southern Minnesota, a handicapped YL announced her intentions of becoming an amateur radio operator and asked a ham-type handicapped friend how to begin.

He told Ned, W0ZSW, whose job for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN took him past the YL's QTH every once in a while. Ned visited her, strung up an antenna and with his transmitter gave her a first glimpse of hamming.

Soon he found her a spare Civil Defense receiver to listen to and a tape recorder complete with code lessons and books. In Rochester two other YL’s started learning radio, via the Rochester Amateur Radio Club’s Novice class and using receivers borrowed for them.

By the Summer of 1967 there were three new Novice tickets in the area and the search was on for Novice transmitters to go with them.

Talking with members of the PICONET group not only produced the three needed transmitters, but also a few spare receivers and transmitters.


In time of emergency, PICONET did need active stations in more small towns. Why not put this unused equipment to work by placing it with interested handicapped persons in the area and so create the needed stations?

Read more at www.handiham.org.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Handiham World for 10 June 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Handiham History: The new guy

Younger-looking Pat in W0ZSW ham shack.

Image: Pat, WA0TDA, in the W0ZSW ham shack, circa 1991. Now that I look at it, I look pretty dorky with those big glasses, but they were the style back then. No excuses for that goofy smile, though! That ancient terminal in the background was probably for packet radio. Black & white image scanned by George, N0SBU.

Back in in the early 1990's, Bruce Humphrys, K0HR, the Handiham Manager, left Courage Center to run another non-profit. I was in the market for a part-time job, having spent a couple of years at home with our newborn son. My wife Susie spotted an ad in the newspaper (of all places) for this odd-sounding job as Handiham Manager at the Courage Center. Did I want to apply?

Well, I did apply and was interviewed by Bruce himself. I ended up taking the job, and went to full time a couple of years later. As the new guy at Handiham headquarters, I needed to learn pretty much everything. Thankfully, Sister Alverna O'Laughlin, WA0SGJ, and Maureen Pranghofer, KF0I, were good at their respective jobs as Education Coordinator and Student Coordinator, and they helped me figure things out.

When George started the Handiham History project, I got to thinking about how the headquarters offices have changed over the years. When that dorky photo was taken back in 1991, Jane Rova was our Handiham secretary, and her desk had our one and only piece of high-tech office equipment: an IBM Selectric typewriter. We communicated by postal mail and telephone, and that was pretty much it.

Today, the volume of postal mail has shrunk to a trickle, having been replaced with email. While we still use the telephone a lot, email has even replaced a lot of what used to be done by phone. The website has been online since the late 1990's, and it has grown into a colossus that serves up Handiham audio and news on demand, replacing thousands of tape cassettes that used to travel to our members by mail. The website has made it possible to publish a weekly edition of Handiham World instead of a four times per year paper edition, which is how it was in 1991. Even better, the new technology makes everything more accessible and immediate for our members!

People often ask me what those staff members from the early days are doing today. Jane is retired, as is Sister Alverna. Sister lives in her Franciscan community at Assisi Heights, in Rochester, MN. Interestingly enough, that is where she lived when Handihams first started and where she became one of the first volunteers back in 1967. She still holds her original call, WA0SJG. Of course her Novice call, WN0SGJ, was modified to change the "N" to an "A" when she earned General. She currently holds an Advanced ticket. Maureen, KF0I, now operates her own business, which does custom professional Brailling. She lives a few blocks from Courage Center, and holds her Extra ticket. As far as I know, Bruce is still working at a non-profit that provides water and simple technologies to people in Africa.

Big table in George's basement, filled with handiham history stuff.
Image: The N0SBU basement table, filled with Handiham history stuff.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Hugo, George LaValle, N0SBU, has spread out lots of Handiham photos, old newsletters, and memorabilia out on a big table in his basement. As George sorts through everything, he is writing some stories and re-writing some of the text in old Handiham documents for inclusion in our weekly e-letter. We will have much more later on.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Handiham World for 03 June 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Handiham History: Early membership certificate

Handiham History: Early membership certificate

Image: Early membership certificate for Handihams. Image scanned by N0SBU.

Quick: tell me what happened in 1967.

If you said, "that's when the Handiham System was started", you would be right.

Okay, so that is 42 years ago. A lot has happened to the Handiham System in all that time. In other words, the program has a lot of history. There have been amazing stories of handiham members who accomplished extraordinary things in spite of many personal challenges. There have been outstanding volunteers who gave thousands, even tens of thousands of hours in support of the program. There have been dedicated and caring handiham staff members who devoted their lives to the program.

One thing there hasn't been is a compilation of handiham history, but we are going to start chipping away at the edges of that problem.

It all started one day last week when George LaValle, N0SBU, asked me a question about the Winter Hamfest that we used to have in Faribault, Minnesota each December. Even though I had several of those hamfests to my credit, I couldn't really remember all that much about it. One memory I do have is that of myself and several volunteers loading an old Courage Center bus with what seemed like tons and tons of donated electronic and amateur radio equipment and then having to drive the bus through the sleet and snow out of the Twin Cities and down Interstate 35 to Faribault, a small city in southern Minnesota that was the home of the Winter Hamfest. We would arrive late in the afternoon the day before the hamfest and stay at a hotel nearby. That evening, we would have a pre-hamfest banquet at the restaurant next to the hotel. The bus sat out in the parking lot in the sub-zero freezing weather all night long. You can bet that that bus was hard to start and stiff as a board early in the morning when we had to coax it back onto the road for the bumpy, creaky, slow drive to the hall where we still needed to set up all the tables and get things ready.

Fortunately, the hamfest was a popular one and many hams from around the area showed up early in the morning to make quick work of unloading the bus and distributing the gear onto the tables. The downside of all of this extra help was that the equipment went this way and that way and seemed to end up all over the place at random. Power supplies would not necessarily stay with their rigs, so there was always some sorting out to do. Still, we were glad to get the extra help and those who helped us set up the tables always liked to get some idea of what goodies would be for sale once the doors opened up for business. As with any hamfest, we also had a few outside vendors.

Believe me, a hamfest is difficult to put on. If it weren't for the dedication of Handiham volunteers, we could never have pulled this off for so many years.

Of course, like many other things that have happened over the years, the Winter Hamfest is now history. It's part of a history that we really haven't documented. Now, thanks to the volunteer efforts of George, N0SBU, we hope to start sorting some of our history out. George and I made a trip to the basement at Courage Center, where we ferreted out two big boxes of handiham memorabilia. These include photos and Kodak slide carousels full of handiham history. There is even a "logbook" made especially for a guest sign up at a convention in Des Moines, Iowa from the 1980s. The cover is made of wood, which makes it the most realistic "log" book that I have ever seen!

I hope you will keep watching the weekly e-letter and the handiham website for more news and photos from handiham history.

Here is a special note from N0SBU:

Hello from N0SBU, George the Second Base Umpire of Hugo, Minnesota.

Pat has asked me to go through all of the old documents in storage and see if I could put together a brief history of the Handiham hamfest auctions. I went over to the office to see Pat and picked up two large boxes of documents and pictures. I sorted it out on a table in my basement here at home.

Briefly, after the Handihams were associated with the Courage Center, they had what were called "White Elephant Auctions". In what I have looked at, I assume they were held at the Courage Center, as they refer as having them on the "patio". These were fund-raisers to get money to buy equipment for the members.

Later it is noted that surplus equipment was sold at "Mid-West Amateur Radio" until that place went out of business.

That is about all I have for now. In my spare time I will go through this stuff in more detail and report back to you.

I remember going to the auctions in Faribault. Later they were at the Courage Center for three years. After that, all equipment that couldn't go to members directly went to the Amateur Radio Consignment Center to raise money for the program.

Do any of our readers out there have any more detail about the years that all of this took place? This is what I am looking for to add to our history.

Thanks and 73 from N0SBU, the Second Base Umpire of Hugo.

You can write to George care of wa0tda@arrl.net if you want to add to the Handiham history. Please put Handiham History in the subject line.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager