MRHS Newsletter No. 52

Dedicated to True Believers Worldwide
9 November 2015

  Newsletter back issues click HERE                                             MRHS Web site click HERE

> Mini Night of Nights Coming Up!

> 2015 Night of Nights Report

> Newly Discovered Vintage Photos

> Special Clock Returns

> Raid on KFS Transmitter Site

> Frank Geisel's Report No. 4 for August/September 1946

Support the MRHS

Before we get into the meat of Newsletter 52 we must remind all True Believers of some things they already know:

1. We're an all volunteer organization

2. Keeping two major radio facilities functioning is amazingly expensive

3. The holidays and the new year are on the way

None of what you see in this Newsletter and in past Newsletters would be possible without the vision, trust and faith of True Believers around the world.  If your can consider a holiday gift to the MRHS it would be tremendously appreciated.  And remember, we're a 501(c)3 non-profit organization so your year end donation is completely tax deductible.  And it's easy!  Just click on the yellow button.

> Mini Night of Nights 14 November!

Many True Believers will recall that last year around this time we conducted a mini-Night of Nights which was declared to be great fun.  So we're doing it again this year on 14 November.  That's coming right up so put that date in your calendar right now so you won't forget.

The mini-Night of Nights is an event centered around MF transmissions.  KSM will extend is normal operating hours well into the evening and will make a special effort to keep 500kc and our MF working frequency (426kc) active to give listeners the best chance of hearing us.  Our HF channels will be active as well.  And the MRHS amateur station, K6KPH, will be guarding its usual channels for signal reports and regular contacts.

KSM will continue operations past 0000Z on these frequencies (in kc):


K6KPH will guard:


Numerous medium frequency experimental stations will also be active for this event. Our ops will tune the MF band to see which of these we can monitor. Dr. Fritz Raab has taken the lead on this part of the event.

Why not join us a KSM to share the fun? You're invited to visit with us at the receive site, 17400 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in the Point Reyes National Seashore. See this:

The station telephone number is +1 415-669-9646 (answered only when the station is staffed).

Got a commercial radiotelegraph ticket? Sit the circuit at KSM and get your license endorsed as a coast station operator with our special endorsement stamp. Want to sit the circuit at K6KPH? No problem, no license required, just a working knowledge of Morse. If you have an amateur license bring that along and we'll endorse it for operation at K6KPH.

If you've read this far here's your reward: visit us and whisper the words "True Believer" to be granted access to our special equipment storage area. We call it the Treasure Room.


> Night of Nights 2015 Report

Each year on 12 July the MRHS holds our famous Night of Nights event.  The date was chosen to commemorate (and refute!) the day on which the supposed last commercial Morse message was sent.  But on that day in 1999 we resolved to not let the traditions of maritime Morse die.  That's when we formed the MRHS and began our KPH restoration project.  Since then the event has grown each year with many famous coast stations once again taking to the air to join us.  The MRHS originates station KPH, KFS and our own KSM (but see below for developments that may impact N of N 2016).

Here are some reports on the 1915 event.  This from Stephan King of the Operations Department:

This week I enjoyed watching the New Horizons team at the Applied Physics Lab awaiting the signal from the probe, demonstrating that it had survived the fly-by of Pluto.  It is perhaps a bit of what I felt as we stood by at RS on Saturday night waiting to see if our MF transmitter would "speak" again.  The MF signal coming from the Kenwood R-1000 receiver at RS has a very particular sound ... It was a real highlight of the weekend to hear the mighty voice speak again!  Before the transmitter came on we could hear very low, but discernible signals sweeping the band (evidently, according to Vern, coming from the network analyzer).  What a great sound!  And to later learn we were heard in Hawaii on MF -- it does not get any better than that!

MRHS volunteers made a tremendous effort to restore the MF Marconi T antenna in time for Night of Nights 

Having Jack Martini (last station manager of KPH), Ray Smith (senior KPH Morse operator who sent the last message) and Denice Stoops (first female telegrapher at KPH) with us again was such a gift.  They are living reminders of why we do what we do.  Plus, in such a short time I can learn more from them about the culture, history and technology we are striving to preserve -- from Frank Geisel's color-coding scheme for radiograms to the finer details of how MEDICO messages were handled.  Long time Night of Nights attendee Adam McLaughlin was also with us.

Seated: Ray Smith, Jack Martini.  Standing: Adam McLaughlin, Denice Stoops 
I spent most of the day giving tours and interacting with our guests.  It was incredibly heart-warming to see how most of them "get it" ... They seem to really understand why this is such a meaningful (can I say, spiritual?) labor of love for those associated in any way with this noble project.

One of the highlights of the day is always the last hour or so at BL.  One cannot help but be moved by walking down the transmitter gallery with everything running and filling the ether with "the music of Morse".   It is a powerful reminder of the many generations of engineers, technicians and riggers who dedicated themselves to providing communications and safety of life at sea services to mariners, as well as their many contributions to the development of the art and science of wireless radio.  Again, the transmitter gallery at BL on Night of Nights is a compelling witness to what they probably took for granted.  But what a privilege this is for all of us today -- whether we are there in person, or listening around the globe to maritime channels busy once again.

And this from Roy Henrichs of the Operations Department:

I'd say that Night of Nights was extremely successful, thanks to the hard work and huge effort on the part of people throughout MRHS and USCG!

Much of the work done before the event was critical to its success, but is not readily visible to outsiders - and, I believe that there is a story there that should be told. Some of these efforts were nothing short of heroic. Public relations and outreach efforts are also recognized. There was significant coverage of this event in the media going in, thus helping champion The Cause. Great job!

As a result, we had a full complement of visitors at RS. Tours were given - ceremonies proceeded seamlessly - and both visitors and station staff pressed all available operating positions into service fir the full evening. For my part, I provided information and short tours of antenna systems at RS - both current mission critical systems, as well as historic portions. Answered questions concerning commercial Radiotelegraph Operator licensing (two visitors were interested in pursuing this, including development of CW ability from ground zero!). And, rounded out the evening by making as many contacts as I could on 14 mc.

When I brought up K6KPH on Position 2, people were already calling us! After a first QSO, the frequency quickly became consumed in a huge pileup that continued for more than an hour. Not sure how long that continued, but maintained the watch until the frequency went clear. Obviously, had to keep QSOs short, but ran into some very interesting people out there, including former shore station ops and RO's. More to be said, but perhaps these QSOs will continue on another day.

More important was to work as many people as reasonably possible in the available time. I believe we may have come up a little short on contacts last year - but strongly doubt that was the case this year!

Rob Harris uses his "work of art" Begali keys to provide K6KPH contacts  

As usual, our regular ops (the usual suspects!) were doing a good job - but my hat is off to our visiting ops, who did extremely well despite limited experience with our consoles. A little help getting started, but they were off and running at full speed! Hopefully, this provides some insight into the evening's activities. To sum up - an excellent event, with many thanks to all participants, both at the station and around the globe! 

We also received email messages about the event.  Thanks to all who wrote.  This message from Bill Turini is typical:

I'd like to express my appreciation to you and the crew for keeping the history alive.  It's unlikely that I will ever get to visit the site in person, but I can vicariously visit via the web site and all your publications.

I once again participated in the "Night of Nights".  It's a big thrill for me to see how many stations I can copy.  I remember listening to them "way back" when they were passing real traffic (I'm 70 years old).  Reception was really great here in MN, except for the higher frequencies, and the very lowest (I don't have 500). I'm looking forward to next year.

Bill Turini

Now we must report some news that may effect Night of Nights 2016. 

The licenses for KPH and KSM have once again been sold.  As yet we have been unable to make contact with the new owners to see if we can continue our past arrangement into the future.  We'll certainly keep trying and we'll keep you informed of developments.

NMC, the USCG communications station, our "next door" neighbor, has been decommissioned.  The station is still active but it is not staffed.  Instead it is remote controlled from the east coast.  This may make it difficult for the station to return to the air for Night of Nights 2016.

No matter what happens, Night of Nights 2016 will take place!  So mark your calendars (12 July as always) and make plans to join us in person or on the air.

> Newly Discovered Vintage Photos

It seems like it never ends.  And each discovery reveals new knowledge.  We're talking about historic photographs of the Bolinas transmitter site.  Recently some new photographs have come to light courtesy of Carola DeRooy, archivist and the Point Reyes National Seashore, and Richard Neilsen, who grew up in one of the Marconi cottages at the Bolinas site and has first hand knowledge of its history.

These photos speak for themselves so let's take a look...

The fabled ground system at Bolinas is as famous as the antenna itself - and more mysterious.  Here for the first time we see the plowed lines showing where the ground wires were buried and the ground ring (kept moist by its own water supply) around the transmitter building.  Note that to the west the ground wires go over the cliff.  These were connected to a massive plate in the Pacific ocean. 

Interior of the Marconi transmitter building showing the drive motor for the rotary spark gap to the left.  The switchboard is on the gallery above. 

View of Alexanderson alternators that replaced the Marconi rotary gap transmitter for trans-Pacific work.  Switchboards in the background. 

Front alternator control boards 

Oscillator and IPA of early short wave point to point transmitter KEL 

> Special Clock Returns

For a long time before we began our restoration project the flow of artifacts (then considered junk) was out of the station into personal collections or, worse, the dump.  But over years the flow has reversed and important items that may have been in storage for years are flowing back into our care where they can be restored and displayed.

A case in point is that of the self winding clock that once graced the wall of the point to point receive room at Point Reyes.

These self winding clocks are something special.  Those of a certain age will remember seeing them everywhere - train stations, broadcast stations - anywhere that precise time was required.  For synchronization they were connected to a special Western Union telegraph line.  Every hour at the top of the hour a pulse was sent down the line that caused the clock to synchronize itself.  The clock uses a pendulum movement that is wound using an internal step motor powered by a No. 6 dry cell.  All in all, a spectacular electromechanical device.

This particular clock was found surplus to the needs of the point to point operation.  An employee intercepted it on the way to the dump and placed it on a shelf in his garage near the receive site.  There it sat for many decades.  Then the son of that employee contacted us and asked if we would like the clock back.  Of course you know the immediate reply.

Having the clock was one thing - and an important step.  But getting it to sing again was another matter.  There are places that will restore these clocks but we could not bring ourselves to ship this precious artifact for fear of damage.  So it sat on our shelf for a couple of years.

Now comes Stan Jaffe, a member of our group who has been instrumental in may important MRHS projects.  As is often the case with talented people, it turns out that Stan has multiple talents.  Among those is... clock restoration!  Stan kindly stepped up and volunteered to take on the project of returning the self winding clock to service.

These self winding clocks have become quite collectible.  So, believe it our not, it is possible to purchase not only a reproduction No. 6 dry cell to power the winding motor but also a device built into another replica No. 6 dry cell that provides the timing pulse which, sadly, Western Union no longer offers.

With these items in hand and with the application of his ample skills and much time, Stan returned the clock to full working order.  It is now mounted on the wall in the KSM operating room.  You must come and see it!  Like us, you will probably want to stand beneath the clock to hear it wind itself and watch it synchronize itself at the top of the hour.  Truly amazing.  And of course it keeps perfect time.

Here's Stan looking justifiably happy and proud as the clock is placed on the wall of the operating room. 

We want to share an amusing side story.  When the clock returned to our hands it had with it a despicable door bell push button wrapped in gooey electrical tape, attached to the clock with a disreputable bit of zip cord.  We deduced the following about this arrangement: The guys in the point to point receive room did not have access to the needed Western Union time pulse circuit.  But they did of course have access to the time signals over the air (this is pre-WWV, mind).  So when the clock needed setting they'd tune in a time signal, stroll over to the clock, and push the door bell button at the top of the hour!   

The button 

Stan confirmed this theory when he traced the wiring in the clock.  We have kept the door bell button mounted next to the clock for historic authenticity, even though it is no longer connected.

For those who want to learn more about these magnificent clocks a very good source of information is Ken's Clock Clinic.  That's where we got the reproduction No. 6 dey cells. 

> Raid on KFS Transmitter Site

Well, maybe not an actual raid.  After all, we did have permission.  But as this issue of the Newsletter goes to press we have made two recovery visits to the former transmitter site of KFS, and another may be in the works.  Here's the story.

Transmitter site, 1937 

Many True Believers will recall that KFS and its allied point to point operation was the arch competitor to KPH and its operations.  Their transmitter site came on the air in 1921 (newcomers!) with a massive 600ft mast supporting an umbrella antenna fed with arc converters (nothing like those wimpy spark gap transmitters, my friends) with the arc operating in an alcohol vapor under a strong magnetic field.  Now that's a real transmitter!

Arc converters at KGH-KEK Hillsboro, OR 
As technology progressed the arc converters gave way to tube transmitters.  A dozen or more Press Wireless PW15 transmitters of 1940s vintage were installed.  Ten years ago, in an epic operation, we recovered two PW15s from the site and transported them to Bolinas.  One has been restored and is in operation on the KSM 12Mc channel, the other is nearing completion.

PW15s loaded and on the way to Bolinas ten years ago

In later years KFS used Henry HF5000D transmitters as did KPH.  So when the transmitter site was decommissioned and we were asked if we wanted to recover any more material we of course jumped at the chance.  This was our last opportunity to get parts, assemblies, manuals and spares that are available nowhere else for use in the long term maintenance and restoration of the transmitters we have in service at Bolinas.

It was really quite an event as a mass of hungry MRHS radio squirrels descended on the site.  What we found was heartbreaking.  The place had been looted and vandalized.  But no amount of short term destruction could overcome the decades long collection of radio artifacts. 

The once magnificent, now forlorn main transmitter gallery.

Even more outrages awaited our shocked eyes in the field surrounding the transmitter building.

We have no words...

On the first visit a 10 vehicle convoy recovered literally tons of valuable parts, plans and artifacts.  On the second visit we did it again!  As always new layers were uncovered, new surprises were found and new exclamations of "Hey guys!  Look at THIS!" were heard.

Two of several Henry transmitters from which we recovered all major components

Insulators, turnbuckles, galvanized hardware, all of which we will use in antenna restorations, all of which would cost thousands of dollars to buy - if it was available.

If there's anything worse than watching a bunch of geezers try to lift and load heavy radio gear and transformers it's being one of those geezers!  But obsession prevailed and late at night we arrived back at Bolinas to unload our radio-loot.

A very small portion of the recovered artifacts as unloaded at Bolinas

It will take us ages so sort through this stuff and get it inventoried.  But this was the chance of a lifetime - and we took it!

> Frank Geisel's Report No. 4, August/September 1946

Here's the latest installment of FG's post war KPH reports as he continues to battle cable outages, interference (from RCA station WCC!) "ancient, decrepit Marconi equipment loaned to us by RCAC and for which no spare parts are available".

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Thanks for reading this this latest update of what we're up to at the MRHS.  We very much look forward to hearing you on the air or seeing you in person during the mini-Night of Nights.  Until then we wish you the best of luck and fair winds & following seas.