ARTICLES FROM PREVIOUS ISSUES OF “MM”
A few examples of articles taken at random from previous issues to illustrate the kind of material that was in the magazine. Why not save them now, and enjoy reading them off-line later!
The Key WT 8 AMP – Worldwide Survey by Tony Smith, G4FAI
From 1989 to 2001, a number of articles on the Key WT 8 Amp appeared in Morsum Magnificat (knownas “MM” to its readers). Three of the articles are reproduced here as originally published, and the worldwide survey reports from MM28, MM37, and MM50, updated and with additional material, are now brought together into one document.
The articles published were:
The Ubiquitous Key WT 8 Amp, by Jim Lycett, MM22, Spring 1992.
Key WT 8 Amp, Worldwide Survey Results, by Tony Smith, MM28, June 1993.
Key WT 8 Amp, Further Information, by Tony Smith, MM37, Christmas 1994.
Key WT 8 Amp, Final Instalment, by Tony Smith, MM50, February 1997.
Keys for the Wireless Set No.19 (Canada & USA), by Chris Bisaillion, MM45, April 1996.
Key WT 8 Amp No2 – Specification, by Tony Smith, MM77, September/October 2001.
Well over 100 variations of the Key WT 8 Amp, made in six countries, were reported in the survey and it
is hoped that the information from all these articles, now presented as a single package, will help
collectors and users identify their keys and provide useful and interesting information about them.
Sadly, MM is no longer available. Originally published in Dutch, the first English language issue was
dated Autumn 1986 and the final issue, No. 89, was dated March 2004. It is still missed by many Morse
enthusiasts around the world who were contributors to, as well as readers of, this unique magazine.
Tony Smith, G4FAI
The full set of articles can be downloaded here. It is in PDF format and you will require Adobe Reader to view them. If you do not already have this software installed click here to obtain it. It is available free of charge.
Click here to download the full set of articles – 16 Mbytes
The MORSEMAN of Godzone
By Dr Gary Bold ZL1AN
(From Morsum Magnificat Nr.41, August 1995)
Meet The Morseman
The IARU’s recent document “The Morse Code and Amateur Radio – A Summary from the work of the IARU CW Ad Hoc Committee”(summarised in MM38) commented that some national societies have a regular column in their monthly journals devoted toMorse operating and that “These are known to be very popular and are widely read.”
One of these is Gary Bold’s superb “The Morseman” column in ‘Break-In’, journal of New Zealand’s national radio society NZART, and MM often prints extracts (features in their own right) from that column. On this occasion we are printing a selection of shorter items which have appeared in recent years to give MM readers a taste of what it is like to read an entire “Morseman” column.
If you are a radio amateur, why not help raise the profile of amateur Morse round the world by suggesting to your own national society that its monthly journal should have a regular Morse column like “The Morseman” – as recommended by the IARU CW Ad Hoc Committee!
Many times, over the years, I’ve finished writing a lecture late at night. The house is asleep, but my mind is wide awake. I know that if I go to bed now, I’ll just lie awake and the ideas I have to propound in the morning will rush madly about, echoing and muttering in my brain. My solution has always been to fire up the TS-520, limber up the Brown Brothers paddle, put on the cans and exchange CW for a while with someone on 20 metres. After a while the Morse begins to decode itself automatically, and little ASCII strings march quietly and effortlessly through my head.
My pulse-rate slows, and the network theorems and Fourier transforms of my professional life go away. I have almost become one with the radio, a bionic post-processor tacked on the end of the audio chain.
CW is the purest form of communication I know, a ‘mind-to-mind’ linkage. The words appear right inside my head, words that were never spoken; uncorrupted by accents, verbal peculiarities, oddities of vocal intonation.
They leave no room for other thoughts. Almost like a form of meditation. Very therapeutic. After thirty minutes of that, my metabolism has been slowed right down and I’m relaxed. I can go to bed and sleep comes.
All of us who have been hams for a long time go through phases. That’s one of the nice things about our hobby, there are so many outlets for our nuttiness. I’ve been an antenna nut, a Dx hunter, a transmatch experimenter, a keyer builder, a phasing SSB enthusiast, a CW keyboard freak.
All these phases have passed, but my first love is still CW. Its the mode I go back to whenever I need to wind down and recharge the batteries. There’s something about the essential simplicity and purity of Morse that, for me, all the other modes lack.
Send Morse To Your Dog
A Northland farmer and engineer, Darcy Gilberd, who travelled away a lot and had other people moving his stock solved the problem of multiple dog control by training his dogs to obey Morse code signals blown on a referee’s whistle.
‘T’ was to call attention, ‘I’ to bark or ‘speak up’, ‘K’ for ‘steady’, or when repeated, to sit. ‘M’ meant ‘go away’, and ‘N’ ‘come in behind’.
(From New Zealand National Geographic, October-December 1991).
Send Your Call!
The other night I came across a nice juicy CQ on 20m and sat back waiting for the callsign. But ‘CQ CQ CQ’ went on and on, and after 15 seconds I lost patience and went away.
Its surprising how any stations do this. A venerable sage, years ago, counselled me: ‘Always send a 3 by 3 CQ. The other guy KNOWS you’re calling CQ – it’s YOUR CALL he wants to hear’. Does anyone else get exasperated by this?
Operating in the USA
(Written during a visit to the USA – 1)
I’m now operating on HF. As I found in Australia, hams everywhere are incredibly generous! Jesse, W8MCP, lent me his spare rig, a SWAN 100MXA, circa 1978, together with matching power supply and transmatch. I have a very small backyard filled with large trees, the airspace crisscrossed with power, phone, cable TV wires. A proper antenna system or beam is out of the question, so I’ve just run an end-fed random wire out of the upper storey bedroom window.
This gets me all over the USA on 40 and 80 metres CW. But the SWAN is really designed for SSB, and has no CW filter. With the level of CW activity common in the USA, that means that it’s unusual to find only one signal in the passband, and often there are 4 or more! I’ve been thinking about lashing up a passive audio filter, but haven’t got around to it.
For any lover of CW, operating 40 metres in the USA is pure delight! It’s 2145 local time, and I’m writing this column on the MITAC notebook computer alongside the SWAN, listening with one ear. I’ve just tuned over the 40 metre band, and in the bottom 25 kHz there are 15 CW conversations going on, at speeds ranging from 6 to 45 wpm. There is no commercial interference, and no QRN! This is armchair operating. If I just sit on one frequency, sooner or later a nice CQ comes along which I can answer. Everybody wants to come back to a callsign like ZL1AN/W8, although sometimes it takes a couple of tries to get it correctly. Working “local DX” is a novelty!
The CFO Lives!
(From the USA – 2)
About a decade ago, I became a member of the CFO, which started out as a loosely-knit bunch of US keyboard enthusiasts. The entry requirements were, roughly, a deep love of CW, and a habit of participating in extended ragchews at 40 wpm plus. You had to be nominated by a couple of members who deemed you worthy.
The sunspots came and went, and I got busier. I lost contact with the CFO. Unofficial word came that they were extinct. Great was my surprise when Jesse told me that not only did they yet live, but he was a member! Immediately, he drew me to the Ten-Tec, spun up the CFO frequency of 7033 kHz, and behold! There we were in QSO with two others!
Next day, with the SWAN, I joined the local CFO SSB net on 80, and met Kirby, WS9D, the net controller. After welcoming me, he asked “Gary, can you operate SSB as well?” After a short pause, somebody said “He’s talking to you on SSB!” “Ah” said Kirby, “So he is!”
Moral: Morse is so much second nature to some people that they have to think carefully about what mode they’re transmitting on.
What does CFO stand for? “Chicken Fat Operators”. CFO’s cluck in Morse at the end of a QSO. They meet for “Cluck-ins” at Hamfests and Conventions. They have mysterious, yet simple acoustical-mechanical devices for producing audible chicken clucks, invented by Kirby. They send lots and lots of beautiful CW to each other. Look for them around 7033 kHz during the hours of US darkness, and in the weekends.
Sinister Symbols from the Past.
(From the USA – 3)
About a year ago, somebody (my files are 8500 miles away) asked me about two legendary symbols of US Ham Radio, the Wouff Hong and the Rettysnitch.
I queried David Sumner, K1ZZ, the ARRL Executive Vice President, about these objects. David kindly sent me some background material, from which I extracted the following. In 1917, stories by an anonymous writer with the pseudonym “The Old Man”, or “T.O.M.” began to appear in QST. Called the “Rotten Radio” series, they pitilessly assailed and exposed the poor operating practices of the day in satire and humour.
In one of these stories, “Rotten QRM”, T.O.M. castigated the gibberish he’d overheard in one particular QSO, citing as an example the words “Wouff Hong”, which, apparently, was a thing being used by somebody on somebody else.
Although T.O.M. admitted at the time that he didn’t know what a Wouff Hong was, he subsequently adopted it as a disciplinary object with which to both flail bad operating practices and scourge the perpetrators. It is said that in the following era he proposed its use as an instrument of torture and discipline, to maintain decency and order in Hamdom.
World War I came and went. In early 1919, T.O.M. contributed an article to QST called “Rotten Starting”, assailing the tardiness of the US Government in allowing Hams to operate again.
It finished with “I am sending you a specimen of a real live Wouff Hong which came to light when we started to get our junk out of cold storage. Keep it in the editorial sanctum where you can lay your hands on it quickly in an emergency. We will soon be allowed to transmit, and then you will need it.”
Accompanying this was a weird, mis-shapen, wooden, wire-bound two-pronged tuning fork-like object. The Wouff Hong. There’s one displayed in ARRL Headquarters to this day.
After his death, it was revealed that T.O.M. had been Hiram Percy Maxim, the first President of the ARRL. It is said that he took the secret of the origin of the first Wouff Hong to his grave. But I have also heard it rumoured darkly that some still alive know what it really was.
One day, I will make a pilgrimage to Connecticut and view it for myself.
A photograph of a prominent ZL Ham reverently handling a Wouff Hong actually appeared some time ago in Break-In. Again, my back copies are far away – I’ll tell you which one when I get back to Godzone country.
An even more sinister disciplinary device was the Rettysnitch. David passed me no information on it save a photo, bearing the un-nerving legend “A formidable substitute when the Wouff Hong was engaged elsewhere”. The Rettysnitch appears like a poker having a zig-zag, sharpened tip. The handle is curiously worked, perhaps brass-bound, and a strange round protuberance adorns the shaft.
Even resting quietly on a bench, it radiates an air of ruthless savagery. Unhappy, indeed, the Ham condemned to be disciplined by such an object.
Audio or IF Filters?
(From the USA – 4)
I was asked recently “why is it considered better to have a built-in, IF CW filter, rather than simply tacking an audio filter between the receiver and the ‘phones? Surely they just achieve the same result?”
Well, they may not do QUITE the same thing IN PRACTICE. The SWAN rig I’ve borrowed from Jesse, W8MCP, has no built-in filter, so I’ve also borrowed an excellent MFJ audio filter from him. The problem arises when there’s a very strong signal close by the weak one you’re trying to copy. Even though the beat-note from the strong signal can’t be heard in the filtered audio, it DID come through to the product detector, and may cause “blocking” – a decrease in sensitivity whenever it’s present.
It helps (as always when receiving CW) to turn the AGC OFF, and back off the RF gain control until the desired signal is just causing the S meter to rise slightly. Even this may not get rid of rather disconcerting staccato level variations on it.
An IF filter, on the other hand, blocks out the strong adjacent signal BEFORE it gets to the detector, and usually gets around this problem. I say “usually”, because many CW filters are not narrow enough for my taste when the bands are crowded.
I prefer filters which are 100 Hz or less wide when the going gets tough. These are more difficult to implement at IF frequencies, since, for the same absolute bandwidth, the Q has to be higher. Back in ZL, I’ve found that a supplementary audio filter on the TS520S is useful – even though I do have the built-in 500 Hz IF filter as well.
Another tip. When QRN is high – particularly when static occurs in loud bursts – narrowing the filter down doesn’t help as much as you might think. This is because the burst static causes the filter to ring more, giving a continuous “hollow” background tone in the passband.
Where Did They Come From?
The end-of-message signal, AR comes from the American Morse letters FN, meaning ‘finish’. SK, from the American Morse 30, meaning half-past the hour, the end of an operator’s shift. ES, for ‘and’ from the American Morse symbol for ‘&’, used extensively in written English in earlier times. And when old-timers send a long dash for ‘zero, they are actually sending the correct American Morse symbol. History casts a long shadow.
Another Learning Method
What if you don’t have a computer or tape recorder? Wayne Green, Editor of ’73’, a while back, gave his method of learning Morse, which, somewhat simplified, goes like this. Listen to Morse, any Morse, at any speed, on any Ham band. Choose any character, and get the sound of it, as a WHOLE, fixed in your mind.
Each time you hear this character, write it down. Pretty soon, you’ll pick it out every time it’s sent. Then add another character. Write them BOTH down whenever you hear them. Continue until you can pick them both out. Keep adding characters. After a while you’ll know Morse.
Well, that makes sense to me, although you have to have a receiver, and you’d have to wait for a long time to hear some of the less common characters. But many old-time telegraphers (like Ted McElroy) learnt just like this in days past. Any comments?
Taking Down Code
Don, ZL2ASK writes ‘I would like to warn others of a trap I fell into. By profession I am a draughtsman, and so tend to write in block capitals as I would on a drawing. This gives clear lettering which is easy to read.
Naturally, when learning Morse I also copied in this way and after a year managed to pass 12 wpm. From there the sky should have been the limit. But I did not seem able to increase my copying speed, until I realised what the problem was. The fastest I could copy in block capitals was 13 wpm. Since most people seem to send at 15 to 18 wpm – at least the ones I listen to, there was no way I could copy at that speed. I am now re-learning to scribble Morse copy in normal writing.
Please warn your readers of this problem! Up to 13 wpm block capitals are OK, but I recommend always copying in normal handwriting, right from the start.
Don’s point is an interesting one. I taught myself to take down code using only upper-case letters, forming them with the ‘approved military’ strokes given in the old ARRL booklet ‘Learning the Radio-telegraph Code’ and can still make hard copy that way up to about 18 wpm.
Service operators were trained this way to ensure uniformity of letter formation, and aid deciphering copy made by a variety of excited people under difficult conditions. Above this speed, I have to write longhand – but I had to learn that afterwards, and it was surprisingly difficult to make the transition.
Because I’ve never practised the skill, I can only hard-copy reliably up to about 25 wpm, though I can read and comprehend, without writing, much faster than this. But experienced old-timers like Bruce, ZL1ADF, and Bill, ZL2BO, have copied me verbatim at 35 – 40 wpm in longhand, although they say that the pencil nearly catches fire.
However, an equally important skill is to learn to read ‘in the head’, without writing everything down. Most experienced CW operators only note details for the log, and points they wish to remember or comment on later. Again, this ability has to be aquired.
Our test requires hard copy, and we get used to automatically making it, without bothering too much about the sense of what we have written. For head copy, we have to simultaneously read and comprehend, and many of us have forgotten how hard this initially seemed. What have other learners found?
(Extracted and adapted for MM from Gary Bold’s ‘The Morseman’ column in ‘Break-In’, journal of NZART – various issues, 1988-1995)
Listening for RAEM
By Ray Hunting G3OC
(From Morsum Magnificat Nr.8, Summer 1988)
Fifty years ago, in 1936, I saw an appeal from Moscow, published in an American magazine. The following year there would be an Arctic expedition led by Papanin, with the scientists Fedorov, Shirov, and Krenkel. The four men were to spend the winter on an ice-floe drifting south from the North Pole, and Krenkel would send daily reports to a Soviet base, using a 10 watt transmitter, powered by a hand-operated generator.
The call-sign was to be UPOL, and all transmissions would be on the 20m CW band. Moscow wanted full copies of all transmissions, and the best complete entry would be awarded “The Russian Grand Prize” for this useful contribution to science. The purpose of course was to have a radio back-up in the event of losing contact with Krenkel, or news about the party if the ice-floe disintegrated.
Fifty years ago my sole ambition in life was to get that Grand Prize! I picked up Krenkel on his first transmission and copied him day after day during the weeks that followed.
When the time came to send the material, I recognised two evident drawbacks. First, radio communication from the ice-floe had been uninterrupted, so there was no need for foreign reports of the text. Secondly, all entries had to be posted to a most sinister address, “The Kommissar for Chemical and Air Defence, Moscow”. My large envelope, with its sheaf of coded messages, together with reports of radio and weather conditions, virtually screamed for investigation by the authorities before it was permitted to leave this country.
Months later, Moscow replied with a U
OL QSL card, a map of the Arctic and photographs of the heroic ice-floe team. There was no mention of the Grand Prize or its recipient. These unusual items from the Soviet Union roused much local interest and I was invited to display them at the Manchester Radio Exhibition in 1938.
I mounted them with newspaper cuttings in a large picture frame, and it went on show. To my bitter disappointment, my precious exhibit was stolen, probably for the picture frame. If you happen to see a Russian pre-war map of the Arctic with a UPOL QSL card attached, they belong to me. By the way, the organisers of the Exhibition came to see me in 1939 to inquire if I had any other interesting Ham Radio items to display. Among the various expressions and phrases in my reply was the word “NO”…
The First Morse Line
By Tony Smith
(From Morsum Magnificat Nr.19, Spring 1991, a special issue commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Samuel F.B. Morse)
On 3rd March, 1843, Congress finally approved a grant of $30,000 to test the electromagnetic telegraph. Prof. Morse was 52 years old. Behind him were years of disappointment, frustration and poverty. Ahead of him was the construction of a 40 mile wire along the railway running from Washington to Baltimore, a task new to those undertaking it, requiring techniques, equipment and materials which, in some cases, did not yet exist.
Morse was appointed Superintendent of Telegraphs at a salary of $2,000 a year. Professors Fisher and Gale were assistant superintendents, at $1,500, and Alfred Vail an assistant superintendent at $1,000.
Fisher, who had helped with earlier experiments, was to supervise the manufacture of the wire, and its insulation and insertion into lead pipes. Gale’s scientific knowledge was to be placed at the disposal of the project whenever required. Vail was to superintend the making of the instruments, batteries, etc, and F.O.J. Smith, Morse’s fourth partner, was to secure a favourable contract for the trenching required to run the wire underground.
For the first few months all went well. Several contracts were placed with costs considerably less than estimated and Morse grew hopeful of early completion well within the sum allocated by Congress. Problems then arose over the contract price for the trenching which, disturbingly, was exactly that estimated by Morse. It transpired that Smith had placed the contract with his brother-in-law, and the difference of opinion between Morse and Smith over this matter was the beginning of an ever-widening gulf between them.
Superintending the trenching for the contractor was Ezra Cornell, later founder and chief benefactor of Cornell University. He is reputed to have invented the plough, pulled by eight mules, which dug the trench, laid the cable and filled the trench again, all in one operation. When the work finally started he was able to lay the line so quickly the manufacturers could not keep up with him.
After nine miles had been laid, it was found that the pipe-encased wire had faulty insulation caused by heat in the manufacturing process. Professor Fisher, responsible for supervising manufacture, and for testing the finished product, was dismissed and at the same time Gale resigned due to ill-health. With just himself and Alfred Vail left to superintend the work, Morse was in despair. He had planned an underground line believing that Cooke and Wheatstone’s system in England had successfully used buried conductors.
Vail and Cornell urgently read all the literature they could find about the European telegraphs and discovered that the English underground wires had also been a failure and had been replaced by overhead wires on poles. Cornell was then appointed as a mechanical assistant to Morse at $1,000 a year, taking responsibility for constructing the line, and his enthusiasm, energy and ability became a major factor in its final completion.
By April 1844, poles 24ft high, 200ft apart were extending along the railroad. Good progress was again being made, with Morse telegraphing his assistants and receiving replies “within seconds”. The insulation of the overhead wires where they were attached to the poles caused problems, but Cornell devised an economical solution using readily available glass doorknobs.
With everyone working under great pressure, the wires reached Annapolis Junction, 22 miles from Washington, on May 1, in time to pick up news from the railway of the proceedings of the Whig national convention at Baltimore. News of the convention’s nominations for president and vice-president were flashed to Washington an hour before the train bearing the news reached there, enabling Morse to give that city a foretaste of what was to come.
Things went well today
On the day before the convention he wrote to Vail, “Get everything ready in the morning… When you learn the name of the candidate see if you cannot give it to me… before the (rail)cars leave you…”
Next day, he wrote, “Things went well today. Your last writing (ie, sending. Ed) was good. You did not correct your error of running your letters together until some time. Better be deliberate… I may have some of the Cabinet tomorrow… Get from the passengers in the cars from Baltimore, or elsewhere, all the news you can transmit…”
Finally, the line from Washington to Baltimore was completed and, on May 24, 1844, all was ready for the first official demonstration of the Morse telegraph. Annie Ellsworth handed Morse the first words to be sent – and the rest is history!
On May 26, the Democratic convention met in Baltimore and Morse was able to relay news direct from the convention to Washington, another opportunity to demonstrate the potential of his telegraph. Vail and Cornell had their instruments at the railway station in Baltimore, while Morse was located in a room below the Senate chamber in Washington.
There were nine ballots for the presidential nomination, all reported faithfully and instantly by Vail. Excitement rose to a crescendo in Washington as the news came into Morse’s office and a little-known outsider, James K. Polk, finally received the almost unanimous support of the convention for his candidature.
The same procedure followed the vice-presidential nomination, but this time the nominee, Senator Silas Wright was not at the convention, but in Washington. Vail telegraphed details to Morse who passed them to the senator. Wright declined the nomination and asked Morse to send his decision to an incredulous convention which received his reply only minutes after nomination.
First conference by wire
They telegraphed again, received the same reply and, unsure of the accuracy of the new telegraph, sent a delegation by train to Washington to make sure they had received the message correctly.
In Baltimore, having received confirmation of the accuracy of the telegraphic message, a committee of the conference sat with Vail at his instrument while Wright joined Morse in Washington in private session. Via the new telegraph, the committee told Wright the reasons why he should accept the vice-presidential nomination. In return he explained his reasons for declining and this first long-distance telegraphic conference continued until the committee was finally convinced that Wright would not accept.
Thus the Morse telegraph became a reality. Soon its wires and facilities would spread across North America and then around the world overtaking or replacing, in its day, all other systems. The age of telecommunications had begun.
Telegraphy in Action
By James S. Farrior, W4FOK
(From Morsum Magnificat Nr.54, October 1997)
For a number of years I took a small amateur radio rig with me into the jungles of Central America, where I participated in archaeological digs. My amateur radio call, W4FOK, was issued in 1938, and I operated as W4FOK/TG in Guatemala, and as W4FOK/V3 in Belize.
My little rig, a Ten-Tec Century 22, has an output of only 20 watts, and no voice capability. The transceiver, a.c. power supply, antenna tuner, a 20/40/80 meter antenna system, tools, manuals, and spare parts, all fit in a small case which is carried aboard the aircraft.
In each year of jungle operation, approximately 100 messages were handled by radio amateur volunteers in various parts of the country. Notably among those who nearly always met the regular evening schedule were W4EQE, NS5H, WD8PNL, N8GDO, and W9CN. Often there were others.
Most of the messages handled were personal messages for the staff, but a number dealt with emergencies, mostly medical. All were handled promptly and accurately, and this could not have been done using voice due to the low power, the primitive antenna, and the congested state of the amateur radio bands.
Urgent Traffic by CW
In Guatemala, our camp was in the extremely remote, uninhabited north eastern corner of the Peten near a large Maya archaeological site known as Rio Azul. In 1986, when digging at Rio Azul, we found a Maya tomb just as we were closing the season. Had it not been for the radio, we would have had to back fill the extensive excavation without clearing the tomb, with a strong possibility that it would have been looted before the next season.
However, in less than three hours after finding the tomb, by using our CW communications link, we had sent a message to the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and had received a reply authorizing funding for another week’s work to clear the tomb.
In 1987, we had a severe malaria epidemic at Rio Azul. Medical advice was obtained through an exchange of messages with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. A radio message was also sent to San Antonio, Texas, requesting that the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala be contacted and that arrangements be made for medical assistance. As a result, two days later, a doctor and a nurse arrived with medical supplies after a difficult trip through the jungle.
In 1990, we dug at Kinal, another large Maya site 10 km from our Rio Azul camp. The dry season had not arrived, and we were spending an average of six hours of the work day travelling through the muddy jungle between our camp and the work site.
On March 12th, a little after 4 p.m., while he was cutting palm thatch for the camp buildings, a young Guatemalan native workman, Victor Medrani, was bitten on the lower right leg by a huge snake. A fellow workman killed the snake with his machete and ran at top speed to the camp bringing the snake with him.
Dr. Dick Adams, the project director from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and I were the only staff in camp at the time, and we saw immediately that the snake was the dreaded Fer de Lance. Bites from this snake are often fatal, even with the best medical treatment.
We grabbed the snake bite kit, climbed in the small four-wheel drive pickup and headed down the muddy jungle road. Victor, who had been left in the jungle beside the road was already very ill, in pain and bleeding from the mouth and eyes. Dick immediately injected the anti-venum we had brought, but back at camp, Victor’s condition quickly worsened, and we had soon used all of the remaining anti-venum.
Call for Help
While others tended to Victor, Dick and I met in the radio tent to decide what might be the best course of action. It was clear that Victor would die if we could not get him to a hospital quickly, and our best chance was to use the radio to try to get a helicopter to pick him up. However, this would have to be done working through a U.S. radio contact, despite the difficulties often experienced in getting a telephone call through to Guatemala from the USA.
It was time for the normal 5 p.m. radio schedule, and, as usual, Marty Morrison, NS5H, who lives in San Antonio, was on the job. She is a fine telegrapher, who sends fast beautiful code on a bug, and she normally handled all of our traffic for the San Antonio area.
Through her, we sent a message to Dick Gill, a friend of the project who lives in Austin and San Antonio, requesting that he call the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and try to make arrangements for a helicopter to pick up Victor from a cleared area near the camp.
By 5:30 Gill had been located with the help of Jane Adams, Dick’s wife, and he placed a call immediately. The telephone service between San Antonio and Guatemala City was working much better than usual, and the necessary contacts were quickly made.
It then took an hour and a half for the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City to determine that the Guatamalan military would not take their helicopter into the jungle at night, and no other alternatives were available, probably not even the next day.
Request for Medical Team
Upon receiving that information at 7:10 p.m., we asked Marty, by CW, to ask Gill, who speaks fluent Spanish, to call the Fire Chief in Santa Elena, a small town on the edge of the jungle, to arrange for medics to depart Santa Elena as soon as possible with the necessary anti-venum, antibiotics, etc., to treat the patient. We would leave the camp shortly, and hopefully would meet the medics about half way, where they could begin treating Victor.
Luck was again with us. It normally took a long time, hours and sometimes days, to get a call through from the U.S. to Santa Elena, but miraculously, the call went through immedately. At 7:25, Marty, back on the key, told us that the Fire Chief had agreed to help. However, he had no anti-venum, and no money to buy it.
Through the CW link with Marty, and the telephone link to the Chief, we asked him to get the money from the Project’s Guatemalan agent, Edmundo Solis, who lived in Santa Elena. We also suggested they take Edmundo and use his truck, as he was familiar with the jungle road and his vehicle was well suited to jungle travel.
Help On The Way
Marty was asked to pass along the information that our trucks would depart camp within the hour. Gill confirmed that he had made the necessary requests, but he could get no confirmation from Guatemala on the action taken until the following morning. The excellent telephone service we had experienced for a short while had returned to its normal condition.
In fact, the medical team had been quickly assembled, the pharmacist located, and the needed supplies obtained. Because of the rain, however, their chances, and ours, of getting through the dark jungle and making a rendezvous that night were poor.
At the camp, Victor was clearly very sick, and screaming with pain and fear. We had used all the drugs and other medications that could help, and the workmen were now insisting that one of their number, a medicine man, should be allowed to administer to him.
He wanted to brush Victor’s body with branches from certain shrubs, to lay leaves from certain plants on his leg, and have him drink a concoction made from jungle plants. What they wanted to do seemed to be rather harmless, especially in view of the situation that would have existed if their request had been denied and Victor had died.
Remarkably, this treatment seemed to calm Victor down a bit, but he was still in agony, and everyone including him, I’m sure, felt he had little chance of surviving.
“Vaya con Dios”
A litter was made for him in a small four-wheel-drive van. Other trucks carried workmen with flashlights, machetes, a chain saw, shovels, cables, extra fuel, and other things they would need to force their way through the jungle. Everyone said “Vaya con Dios” to Victor, who groaned “gracias”, and at 8 p.m. the convoy left camp.
For half an hour, the sound of their engines could be heard as they struggled through the muddy jungle. Although Victor was wedged into his litter, we knew he was being bumped, jolted, and thrown about, and that this would continue for many hours.
Marty was still on the radio, so I thanked her, Jane and Gill for the tremendous job they had done. She said that they would continue trying to get through to Santa Elena to find out what had happened. In the meantime, there was nothing that we could do, so we arranged to contact them the next morning at 7 a.m. on 20 meters.
At 7 a.m. Marty’s signal was clear and strong, and she reported that Gill had finally received word that the team from Santa Elena had started out. At 8 a.m. and again at 9 a.m., she reported that they had had no further luck in getting through to Santa Elena. The phone service had now returned to its normal state.
Two days later, at our normal CW schedule, Marty said that she had received a confusing report from Santa Elena. Apparently the patient had had his leg amputated, but attempts to verify that report had failed so far.
The next day our team arrived back in camp with stories of their difficult trip but also some good news. Victor had survived the trip and had responded to the treatment. The report we had received related to another snake bite victim in the hospital.
The scheme to meet halfway almost failed because the two teams were traveling on separate, parallel detours, and would have passed each other if one man had not by chance spotted a headlight through the jungle. Edmundo told me later that without the wireless telegraph to set up the jungle rendezvous with the medics, there was little chance that Victor would have arrived at the hospital alive.
Because of the costs associated with Victor’s hospital treatment, Dr. Adams decided to terminate the dig at Easter; and when we left the jungle at that time, we spent the night in Santa Elena.
We fully expected that Victor would be well, or nearly so, and were shocked to find him very near death. He had had several operations to remove infections from his stomach, intestines, and elsewhere, and just prior to our arrival, his kidneys had failed. His leg was a mass of infection. The poorly equipped hospital had run out of antibiotics, and had not been able to handle the situation.
Dr. Adams immediately decided that we must try to transfer Victor by air ambulance to a modern hospital in Guatemala City. Over objections by his family, and also by the local hospital who demanded that Victor’s bill be paid immediately, he began making arrangements.
It was already after dark, the bank was closed, and the small airport had shut down for the night. However, Dick had friends locally, and at the hospital in Guatemala, who helped him make arrangements for an air ambulance and for the airport to re-open.
The Fire Chief who had come to our aid before, agreed to transport Victor from the hospital to the airport. Although the hospital was assured that they would be quickly paid, Victor’s leaving was more like an abduction than a dismissal.
When Victor arrived at the hospital in Guatemala City his heart and lungs stopped, and he had to be revived and placed on life support systems, including kidney dialysis. In spite of his general condition, the doctors decided that his leg had to be amputated immediately if he were to have any chance of surviving.
When I left Guatemala City a week later, he was out of danger, and would soon be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. When he recovered, he returned to Santa Elena on crutches, and Dick arranged for him to be paid his normal wage for the remainder of the year.
The next year, 1991, Victor was back at camp. He was in good spirits, looking healthy, and using crutches. His muscular appearance indicated that he had not been idle. When offered a job washing artifacts in camp, he asked for a “man’s job”. In 1992, still without a prosthesis, he showed an amazing ability to do hard work.
I learned that arrangements had been made for Victor to be fitted with an artificial leg. Our project moved the next year to the Rio Bravo area in Belize. I suppose I will never hear of him again but I will always wonder how he made out.
Although Victor lost a leg, his life was saved, and Morse telegraphy played an important part in making that possible. Let’s not ring down the curtain on telegraphy. It still lives!