No. 14 December 23, 1996


(Low Impact, Vegetarian, Environmentally Safe DX)

I am absorbing knowledge like a Bounty towel. There are so many great things happening every day! Fer'instance, I have in my clammy paw the “Complete, Illustrated Instruction Book.” Having just discovered that boiled rice digests in one hour, ten minutes. A cubit is one foot, nine inches, and a stadium, or furlong is 243 yards, six inches. I have found this information in a small book published by the C. E. Jones & Bro. Company, “…manufacturers and dealers in Telegraph, Telephone and Electrical Instruments.” (…and also medicinal batteries for induction treatments, Crookes tubes, wisdom and advice.) Published circa 1880. According to C.E. & Bro., the population of Los Angeles at the time was less than 30,000.

This catalog predates radio. It contains complete kits for installation of wireline telegraphic communications systems, and “annunciators” for signaling in hotels and businesses.

This morning, I received an E-mail from a key collector who was effusing over his good fortune in acquiring a double-lever Horace Martin Vibroplex. I had never seen one, so I looked it up in Tom French's Vibroplex book. As the book lay open on my desk, I got a call from a friend who invited me to visit someone who “had a lot of radio junk around I might be interested in.”

What did I see immediately? Yes, a Martin double-lever! This 1906 instrument is right here as I write this, One of the rarest.

Horace Martin invented the semi-automatic key, or “bug”. He was trying to find a way to prevent “glass arm”, a version of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that affected telegraphers of the 19th century. The Bunnell Company had tried a “sideswiper”, simply a key with two sets of contacts that you would “wriggle” side-to-side. Although they advertised “Half the effort”, each dot or dash still required a press.

The semi-automatic key creates dots by means of a vibrating arm, saving multiple movements. The “double-lever” is essentially a “dot” vibrator with a standard telegraph key alongside it. Later, Horace simply hinged the “dash” lever on the dot lever and the Original Vibroplex was created. It is still for sale today.

But Horace kept the double-lever in his inventory until 1925. I guess there were some “brass pounders” on the “line” who still swore by the `ol double-lever. They are extremely rare today, number three on the Vibroplex rareness scale, after the Vertical and the Midget (only three are known to exist).

How does this all relate to DX? Use a “bug” and see. Your unique “Lake Erie Swing” of musical dashes will cause your tiny signal to stand out in the pile-ups like a newt with a necktie. The added bonus is that most CW “readers” can't make heads or tails of your sending.

The rarest DX country, one of the two I still need on CW showed up this week. Of course, my Vibroplex did me no good, they were only on SSB. I recognized Zorro, JH1AJT at the mike. He and Franz Langner, DJ9ZB had somehow convinced the Yemeni Mahouts that Amateur Radio would entice the world community to build strip malls and amusement parks, and that Yemen is not the terrorist spa it's cracked up to be.

Sometimes, you can call and call a loud signal through a seemingly sparse pile-up and you just can't get through. The opposite happened with Zorro. I was thrilled to pick up 7O1A on two new bands. It goes to show you that DX is like a box of chocolates: hard on the outside, but soft and gooey when you bite into it.

Zorro and Franz packed up their TS-50 and R-5 and blew out of Yemen on December 24. They were headed to Frankfort for a hamburger or Hamburg for a frankfurter. I can't remember which.

A DX-er's life is divided into many stages: At first, the Novice, mewling on the bands for the easy ones; then the General, with shining new antenna, creeping like toad toward the five-band, 100 country award (5BDXCC). The groaning Advanced, heaving for the honor roll, and finally, the ancient Extra, patiently searching every possible band, mode combination. (Shakespeare found seven stages, but he wasn't a DX-er.) Yes, DX-ing is a life-long quest (when it isn't a box of chocolates).

I keep careful records of band/mode/countries, and when I finally have them all, I'm going for Swiss Cantons, Russian Oblasts, Islands-on-the-air and Hungarian poker points. I don't intend to play canasta when I'm in the home, dad-gum it! Why, I don't even need a radio. I'll just spend my twilight years sorting through the 6,000 plus cards I already have.

There's a report that the new occupants of the elusive Macquarie Island are amateurs, but not DX-ers. It is a rule that when a licensed person is assigned to a rare locale, she or he will be totally uninterested in DX. The first time they fire up the wireless for a pleasant talk home, they're attacked by 100,000 screaming lunatics. Perhaps the Northern California DX Foundation could produce an instructional video: “What To Do When The World Wants You”. (“Listen for strange-sounding Morse code.”)

The Sable Island Dx-pedition made 25,000 “Q's”. That's okay, but think about that 100,000 number. It takes some operating skill and the tongue of an auctioneer.

A solar flux level of 84 brought Yemen to us. Eric, SM0AGD is in Burundi working for the United Nations. When Eric was here last, we went to Johnny Rocket's for a grilled cheese. Far as I know, Eric is still trying to get that cheese off his hands. I hope it doesn't gum up 9U5CW's paddle. The Radio Shack closed in Bujumbura when the manager's name badge was eaten by a Rhinoceros.

Don't be confused by LZ0A. It's a Bulgarian callsign, but it's not in Bulgaria. It's an outpost in Antarctica. Be very careful about your logging program. No matter what you do, it always wants to put LZ in Bulgaria.

It's a military secret, but Petra told me that they're down there freezing hat brims, belts and shoes for the Bulgarian military. They like their leather hard. “Mine first day on the job,” Petra laughed, “we bury belts, hats and shoes in morning in ice, plan to dig up at night. Then we go work radio.”

“Soon we get to feeling it been long time in ice. We forget day lasts six months here. Hats, shoes and belts very hard and brittle.”

LZ0A has made 224,659 “Q's” to date.

Chad, VP2ML's DX Bulletin has been absorbed by The 59(9) Report, edited by WB2YQH (716) 677-2599. It's a nicely laid out newsletter for the serious DX-er. 50 issues per year cost $38.00 mailed first class.

For now, I must be going. I have to put a cord and plug on my double-lever. I see in the newsletter that the weather station on Serrana Bank is being taken over by a Turkish ham. The word is that he's going to call home in about an hour. His wife is expecting a new baby any minute now.

…Harvey, N6HL

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