Sunday, April 27, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #156, Home #4, The Birth of My Ham Radio Hobby, Clifton, New Jersey, September 2013

This Photo-of-the-Week Marks the 156th such post in this series of photos and I don't believe I've missed a week since I launched it. However, this will be the last post of this series after three years. The Photo-of-the-Week series moves to my Travel blog that you'll be able to access by clicking on the "Traveling" tab above. So, "the beat rolls on" just in a slightly modified manner.

This photo is of the fourth home my parents owned, three of them were in my hometown of Clifton, New Jersey. There were two other places we lived prior to the homes they owned, but they were rental properties. The homes my parents owned represented the post-WWII emergence of a growing Middle Class in the U.S. The American Dream was to own a home, have a nice car (eventually, two cars and, in our family, we eventually had three). This was the house we moved from, on the mountain in Bloomingdale that was my favorite, when we returned to Clifton .

Every home we lived in brings back vivid memories. For those people who grew up in only one or two homes, memories may blur into a continuum. But, since we moved fairly frequently, each home is like an era unto itself. This split-level house actually had four levels. There is a basement below the living room, dining room and kitchen on the right side of the house. That basement has special significance to me.

So, what are the memories I have for the three years we lived here at 40 Manor Drive? First, we returned to Clifton just in time for me to start junior high school at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High (7th through 9th grades). I also acquired my newspaper route and began my "entrepreneurial" career in this house. I delivered the evening newspaper for The Herald News six days a week to 108 customers and collected payment for the papers every Saturday morning. I became quite active in the jr. high Baptist Youth Fellowship that I eventually became vice-president and then president of. This began my leadership opportunities.

The space to the right of the garage was unfinished when we moved into the house, so my father built in a recreation room (as they called them back then), a half bathroom and a laundry room in that space. When he built the laundry room, he set it up so that I could also use it as a darkroom for my fledgling photography hobby. In the back yard, to the right of the house, behind the large shrubs, my father set up our first, of two, large, above ground swimming pools that provided for a lot of summer fun.

My bedroom was above the family room, (the double windows on the second floor over the double windows of the family room). It was in this bedroom that my interest was peaked and my amateur radio hobby was born. We had, from somewhere, acquired an old console radio, dating back to the later 30's or 40's. I believe it was a Philco. I managed to cram that big old radio into my closet, straightened out a coat hanger and turned it into an antenna. I would sit and swelter (from the heat created by all the vacuum tubes and transformers) in that closet for hours listening to shortwave radio stations and ham radio operators around the world. I also began reading the Tommy Tomkins stories SOS at Midnight and CQ Ghost Ship. Tommy was a fictional high school senior and ham radio operator who used his hobby to solve mysteries. These books probably launched more young teens into ham radio during the '60s than almost anything else.

There was a ham radio operator, Jack Nixon, W2IMG, who lived about 15 minutes from our house by bike. Jack was a science teacher in a neighboring town. He was also the person who helped me get started and administered my first two amateur radio exams. I was 13 in 1958, just shy of my 14th birthday, when I took my Novice exam. The license arrived from the FCC right after I turned 14 and I was issued the call sign WV2FMT (changed within a year to WA2FMT when I upgraded my license). I still carry that call sign, WA2FMT, to this date, 55 years later. 

There was really no room in my bedroom for even a small ham radio station, so my father took about half of the basement under the living room and built in another room that he designed as my "Ham Shack." The rest of the basement was workshop. I even had my own extension telephone in my ham shack. Back in the 50's kids didn't have their own extensions, so I was an anomaly. My father ran antenna cables and a control cable to the roof and to the back yard. On the roof he installed my 2-meter (144 MHz) beam antenna and my 15-meter (21 MHz) beam antenna along with the rotator to turn the antennas toward whomever I was in contact with. In the back yard, I had a 40-meter (7 MHz) long-wire, dipole antenna. This gave me the capability of communicating locally, throughout the U.S. and around the world. This was pretty heady stuff for a 13 or 14-year-old kid back in those days.

Thus, while house #3 was my favorite house, House #4 really was the launching pad for, pretty much, my entire future. The ham radio antennas are long gone. The truck farm that bordered our backyard when we moved into the house was sold while we lived there and developed into more homes. The swimming pool is also long gone (at least as far as I could see from the street). But, I know the recreation room, half bathroom and the laundry room, where I developed film and enlarged black and white prints from my early photography days, are still there. I know the bedroom over the family room where my interest in shortwave and ham radio was conceived is still there. And, I'm reasonably sure the "ham shack" in the basement, although repurposed, is very likely still there, too.

The house is a different color now. I've been wracking my memory trying to remember what the original color was. I think it was brown. Otherwise the house and the neighborhood appear to look pretty much unchanged. However, while I'm sure most or all of the people who owned the homes along Manor Drive have since left the Earth, my memories are still very much alive and legion 54 years later. 


Fireman428 said...

As usual, enjoyed the post. Are you still hamming?
Hope to see you on the road someday.
Dan. KD4PWP :-)

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Thanks, Dan,

I'm still a ham, WA2FMT, after 55 years. Haven't been active in a number of years, but getting ready to reactivate in My McVansion - one reason, the hobby, another reason, extra communication in case of emergency and a third reason is to be able to help out (volunteer) in event of a national or natural disaster to provide emergency communication.

We will cross paths one of these days, of that I have no doubt.