Monthly Archives: November 2014

German Field Telephone, 1914


A hundred years ago today, the Philadelphia Evening Ledger, November 30, 1914, carried this photo of a German field telephone in use.  The caption notes that the Germans’ extensive telephone network has made much trouble for the Allies.

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Magna Charta in America, 1939


Seventy five years ago, one of the four copies of the Magna Charta was moved to America for safekeeping.  Here, the Milwaukee Journal for November 29, 1939, shows the British Ambassador entrusting the document to the Librarian of Congress.


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1944 One Tube VHF Transceiver

At, we’e always looking for one tube radios, and seventy years ago, QST carried these circuits for a one-tube AM transceiver for VHF. Since the war had Amateur Radio shut down for the duration, this circuit was designed for WERS on 112 MHz.

The design also took wartime parts shortages into account, since the radio has about the bare number of parts possible to make a functioning transceiver. The author notes that almost any receiving tube can be used, and includes two circuit diagrams, one showing a directly cathode, and one with a separate cathode and filament. A prototype of the unit is shown, built in a cigar box. The antenna, a quarter-wave zepp, plugs into the top of the radio.  (These days, a vertical zepp for VHF is better known as the J-pole.)

The circuit is basically a regenerative receiver, with a carbon microphone controlling current to the cathode. While the modulation percentage is low, the author calls it entirely adequate for short-haul work.

The author recommends a 6J5 tube for the circuit with a cathode, or a 1LE3 or 1G4 for the filament-only circuit, but almost any tube will work. The author does not offer any details as to performance (since he probably wasn’t able to test it on the air during the war). But he notes that “for a transceiver which costs only two dollars or less, as this one does, any attainable range should be satisfactory.”

It’s doubtful whether this simple circuit would meet the current FCC spectral purity requirements for use on the ham bands. After all, even while receiving, the regenerative receiver is radiating. However, if some attention is paid, it’s likely that this circuit would be legal on 49.82 – 49.90 MHz, under sections 15.235 and 15.23 of the FCC rules.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that the author of this article has been mentioned at this site. The QST article was written by Gurdon Abell, W2IXK. It appears that he later moved to Connecticut and was licensed as K1EHG after the war.  He passed away in 1999 at the age of 82.  He was mentioned here in an earlier post, and it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that he was the discoverer of meteor scatter communications on VHF.

You can find the original article and a few corrections on the ARRL website. To view these QST articles, you need to be logged in to your ARRL account.

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ASK YOUR PARENTS to explain this, if you do not understand it.

StampsAndCoinsI suspect many aspiring young philatelists and numismatists got their start as I did on the pages of Boys’ Life Magazine. This clip comes from the November 1974 issue. I earned my first merit badge, Coin Collecting, about this time, and I’m sure I carefully examined this page when it came out. I was a good customer of many of those advertisers, including the Littleton Coin Company, the Littleton Stamp Company, and the Mystic Stamp Company. It turns out that those companies are very much still in business, but Littleton acquired Mystic along the way. Today, coins are sold under the Littleton name, and stamps are sold under the Mystic name.  The Littleton Coin ad shown here notes that it is for serious coin collectors only, and I certainly fit that description.

I still have many of those treasures tucked away, such as the Hong Kong One Cent Note, and the Japanese Invasion Currency.  (Although it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that the money was never intended for Hawaii, as I think I was led to believe.  It turns out the notes denominated in dollars and cents were actually used in Malaya.)

As was customary, most of these companies sold “on approval.” An offer was advertised at a very reasonable price, and the buyer also received “approvals,” meaning additional coins or stamps that had to be either paid for or sent back. This was undoubtedly the source of great confusion by many young scouts, so each issue of Boys’ Life carried the explanation shown here. In case the explanation wasn’t understood, it concluded with the admonition: “ASK YOUR PARENTS to explain this, if you do not understand it.”

Interestingly, this issue’s cover story is a feature about a sports hero named O.J. Simpson. It details the inspiring story of how he managed (up to that point) to avoid a life in crime, and concludes, “when he still asks, ‘tell me what You want me to do,’ you feel that he already knows the answer and now is searching only for the means.”

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12 Volt Appliances on Sale at Amazon

On my “how to make coffee without electricity” page, I’m sometimes asked whether it’s possible to make coffee (or cook other things) with 12 volts. The answer is a qualified yes. There are cooking appliances that run on 12 volts, and for some applications, they can work extremely well. But there are definite limitations, and you can’t expect 12 volts to provide an exact duplicate of your normal cooking experience. Amazon currently has a number of 12 volt appliances on sale, so now is a good time to look at the possibilities and limitations.

The most important thing to remember about cooking with electricity is that producing heat requires a lot of electricity. Sometimes, people look at their toaster, coffee maker, electric heater, or other device and decide that because it is small, it must not use much electricity. This is not the case. As a general rule, any device that creates heat will use a lot of electricity. Therefore, your coffee maker uses more electricity than your television–a lot more. Your toaster uses more electricity than your computer–a lot more. Anything that produces heat will require a lot of electricity.

This means that, in general, you can’t use a battery to do any type of cooking. There is simply not enough energy in the battery. The battery will go dead.

However, if you have 12 volts available from your running vehicle, then you might have some options. But the vehicle will need to be running. Otherwise, you’re very likely to wind up with a dead battery.

For this reason, you’re usually better off using some sort of combustion to do your cooking, such as a gas stove. I have many options available on my coffee page.

But if you want to cook and you have a running vehicle, then 12 volts might be an option, and you should look into the possibilities on this page. For example, if you are a trucker, your truck is running anyway, and there are 12-volt appliances that you can use to cook while the engine is running. Or if you are on the road all day, you can have a cooker plugged in while you are driving.

On the other hand, if you are an RV’er and your rig has a 12-volt battery, that battery is more than adequate to run the lights for a long period of time. However, it is not nearly big enough to run any of the appliances on this page for other than a very short period of time.

Now that we have that out of the way, we need to talk about another limitation. It will take longer to cook food using 12 volts–a lot longer. The amount of heat produced is proportional to the voltage times the current. This means that if a home appliance produces a certain amount of heat in 1 minute, it will take a 12 volt appliance 10 minutes to produce the same amount of heat. The heat will come, eventually, but it will take longer–a lot longer. So if you want instant gratification, you shouldn’t try to cook with 12 volts. But if you’re willing to put in the food and let it cook while you drive around, then you might be interested in the 12 volt appliances shown on this page. Many of these are currently on sale at Amazon, so if you’re in the market, this is a good time to buy.

The first of these appliances is the RoadPro 12-Volt Portable Stove. In this case, the word “stove” is a misnomer. Strictly speaking, this is a stove, because it’s a device used to heat food. But as you can see, it doesn’t look like a stove. It looks more like a tackle box with a 12 volt plug. It doesn’t look like the stove at home, and it doesn’t have the same function as the stove at home. It will slowly cook food as you drive around. Functionally, it will work more like a crock pot or slow cooker. For what it is, it’s very useful, as long as you understand the limitations. It’s great for having a warm meal while you’re driving. You can put the food inside it in the morning, and you will have a hot lunch after driving around for a few hours. But if you expect to quicly cook a meal for your family while camping, it’s a very poor choice.

If you just want to heat liquids, then the Roadpro Hot Pot is a very economical option. Again, however, you need to understand the limitations. This will not heat nearly as fast as the stove at home. This hot pot will bring 20 ounces of water to a boil in about 35 minutes. Again, if you’re driving around and want to make a hot beverage, this will be great. But remember that once you’ve used the 20 ounces of water, it will take another 35 minutes to make more.

This 12V Frying Pan is small. It can be used to fy one, or maybe two eggs, or perhaps a hamburger. Even though it can be used to fry food, keep in mind that it will take much longer than the stove at home. Of all of the appliances on the page, this seems to be the least practical, since frying food means that someone needs to keep an eye on it, which you probably can’t do while driving. But perhaps for some uses, it might come in handy, and at the current sale price, it’s economical even for occasional use.

This 12 volt Sauce Pan and Popcorn Maker suffers from the same limitations. As noted above, it can really only be used while driving, and it would be difficult for the driver to attend to the popping corn.

and probably most useful, is the Roadpro 12-Volt Coffee Maker . It will make 16 ounces of coffee in about 15 minutes. So if you like brewed coffee, this is a good option. The carafe is made out of metal, so it will endure a certain amount of abuse in the car. For occasional use during power outages, this might be a good option for those who want brewed coffee. You will need to run your car for the 15 minutes that it takes to make the coffee. If you had to do that every day, it would be a huge waste of gas. But for occasional use, the convenience might outweigh the added expense.

Red Owl Makes a Cameo Appearance, 1964


MotorcycleRedOwlThis review for a Harley-Davidson 50 cc motorcycle appeared fifty years ago, in the November, 1964, issue of Popular Mechanics. The photo shows how easily the little bike can weave in and out of congested traffic.

But what caught my eye was the Red Owl truck in the background.  In the 1960’s, Red Owl was one of the big grocery chains in the Twin Cities,  At its peak, it had 441 stores in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas. The name was acquired by Supervalu in the 1980’s and eventually phased out.  The name and familiar logo lives on, however, at at least one store in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


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Remembering the Men of the HMCS Shawinigan, 1944


HMCS Shawinigan (Wikipedia photo).

Seventy years ago today, during the night of November 24, 1944, or the early morning hours of the 25th, the Canadian Corvette the HMCS Shawinigan was sunk in Newfoundland waters by the German U-Boat U-1228, resulting the death of all 91 men aboard. The ship was sunk off Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It represented the last casualties of the Battle of the St. Lawrence and the worst case of military deaths in Canadian or Newfoundland territory during the war.

The Canadian waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence were very much a theater of war and Canadian shipping was constantly at risk. The Germans had no organized battle plan for Canadian waters, but German u-Boats took advantage of targets of opportunity within the Gulf. German U-boats were documented to have come within 172 miles of Quebec City.

Blackout regulations were in place along the coast, and “dim outs” were ordered further up the river.   Coastal residents would witness battles taking place, but military censorship prevented these from being reported in the press.  Most Canadians realized the threat, but ironically, despite the censorship, the general perception was that the situation was more serious than it actually was.  Nevertheless, there was a real battle raging, and there was a risk to shipping far inland.

In early October, 1944, U-1223 entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On October 14, it inflicted serious damage to the frigate HMCS Magog, killing three crewmen and injuring three. On November 2, it sunk the freighter SS Fort Thompson.

On November 24, the Shawinigan and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sassafrass were assigned to escort the ferry Burgeo from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. The Sassafrass (which remains in service today, as the Nigerian Naval Ship Obula) was detached from the escort, and the Shawinigan departed on an independent anti-submarine patrol and informed the ferry that it would meet her in the morning.  After the sinking of the ferry Caribou on the same route in 1942, with 137 deaths, all passenger ferries had military escorts.

The Burgeo left Port aux Basques in the fog, but could not find the Shawinigan. Radio silence prevented the ferry from making any notification, and she made the crossing to Sydney unescorted. It wasn’t until the Burgeo arrived at Sydney that the navy knew that the Shawinigan was missing.

Despite a search, only flotsam and six bodies were found.  Some of the bodies had bullet wounds, indicating that some men made it to lifeboats.

free-vector-poppy-remembrance-day-clip-art_106032_Poppy_Remembrance_Day_clip_art_smallThe wreck of the Shawinigan has never been found. The blast that sunk her was loud, and was reported by many on shore. Even the master of the Burgeo later reported that he heard a strange noise that shook his house, but never made the connection with the missing escort ship. Despite sonar searches over the years, the final resting place of the Shawinigan and the grave of most of her crew has never been located.

The U-boat returned to its home port in Norway in December and set out for another cruise in April 1945.  It saw no action prior to the German surrender, and on May 17, 1945, it surrendered to the U.S. Navy at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Crew of the Shawinigan (Naval Museum of Manitoba Photo).

Crew of the Shawinigan (Naval Museum of Manitoba Photo).


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1954: Stock Market Recovers from 1929 Crash

1954ChicagoTribuneSixty years ago today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a high of $382.74. The Chicago Tribune notes that this is a “new high for 25 years,” and notes that the previous record was $381.17 on September 3, 1929.

That earlier record, of course, came shortly before the crash of 1929, as shown in the front page cartoon below from October 25, 1929.  It took a quarter century for the market to recover from the 1929 crash.


Happy Franksgiving!

Today is the 75th anniversary of the first Franksgiving, November 23, 1939.  The following week, November 30, was Thanksgiving. Since Lincoln, Presidents had declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving. Believing that the short span between Thanksgiving and Christmas would harm retail sales, President Franklin Roosevelt on October 31, 1939, declared that November 23 would be Thanksgiving. The battle lines were drawn. Democrats favored the switch, 52% to 48%. Republicans opposed it 79% to 21%. It was up to state governments to set the actual day during which state employees would be off work, and the actual holiday varied throughout the country. Franklin Roosevelt’s new holiday was quickly dubbed Franksgiving.

Fortunately for the nation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the nation’s turkey crop was “the largest crop in turkey history.” For those families, such as the one shown here, who wished to be non-partisan and celebrate both days, the bounty of the harvest would be able to provide. The caption of this photo notes that “to the children in the household, two Thanksgivings spell double delight, perhaps two turkeys, and tables loaded with cranberries, pies and fruits.”


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