Monthly Archives: August 2015

Aero Spacelines Super Guppy, 1965

The unusual aircraft shown here first flew 50 years ago today, August 31, 1965.

It is tail number N940NS (formerly N1038V), the first of seven Aero Spacelines Super Guppy aircraft. It was built from the fuselage of a C-97J Turbo Stratocruiser, the military version of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. The fuselage had a length of 141 feet, with a maximum load of 52,500 pounds.

Today, six of the seven planes are mothballed or in static displays. A single one is still in service, with tail number N941NA. It is used by NASA as a transport aircraft and is based in El Paso, Texas. It was acquired by NASA from the European Space Agency, where it bore tail number F-GEAI.

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MacArthur Arrives in Japan, August 30, 1945


Seventy years ago today, August 30, 1945, the Japanese naval base at Yokohama surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur, who arrived there in anticipation of the formal surrender ceremony a few days later.  The headline here is from that day’s Chicago Tribune.

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Boy Scout Civilian Defense Volunteers in WW2


Photo courtesy of W8KBF, Yahoo War Emergency Radio Service group.

During World War II, Boy Scouts in both America and Britain were called upon to serve as volunteers in civil defense. In the July 1942 issue of Boys’ Life, BSA Chief Scout Executive James E. West wrote an editorial encouraging Scouts to volunteer in the Messenger Service of the Citizens Defense Corps. The Office of Civilian Defense recommended that six messengers and two adult leaders be recruited for each 1000 persons in a community. Even though others were eligible to join, both the BSA and the Office of Civilian Defense believed that Scouts, due to their training and qualifications, would be ideal. The editorial stressed that during an emergency, other means of communications could be disrupted, and that written messages might be the only means of communication. West concludes:

This is one of the most important national service projects that has been requested of the Boy Scouts of America. It requires the utmost effort on the part of our organization to fulfill the responsibility which has been assumed. Let us face resolutely whatever the enemy has in store for us, and BE PREPARED to do what we are asked to do to the best of our ability.

Franklin County, Ohio, identification card for Boy Scout CD messenger. photo.

Franklin County, Ohio, identification card for Boy Scout CD messenger. photo.

British Scouts Tour America

Visiting British scouts with James E. West and BSA foreign relations chairman Thomas J. Watson.

Visiting British scouts with James E. West and BSA foreign relations chairman Thomas J. Watson.

A few months later, a group of British Scouts who had served in civilian defense roles during the Battle of Britain made a tour of Canada and the United States, including a meeting with West, and their heroic tales were written up in the magazine’s September 1942 issue.   These Scouts represented four towns that had been heavily hit by bombing. Scout Stanley Newton of London explained:

Our Troop went through six months of heavy bombing in London. I cannot say that we came off unharmed. Our two Troop headquarters were wiped out, one was burned down and the other was blown to pieces. Several of the boys lost their parents and their homes and two of the younger boys were killed in those raids. But we were glad that we could go through them and do something to use our training as Scouts in helping some way or another.

Another of the Scouts, John Bethell of Birkenhead, describes the work the messengers did during the Blitz:

When a bomb drops one of the first people on the spot is either the head warden or one of the senior wardens. He always has a messenger with him; one of us Scouts. What he does as soon as he gets there is to make out a report on what has happened, give it to that messenger and the messenger rides down to the post, which we call the pill box.

Inside the pill box there is a telephone. That is the only telephone we are allowed to use during an air raid. But sometimes the telephone lines get broken when a bomb hits the road. Then instead of just having to ride to the post and telephoning, we messengers have got to ride down to the control center. Sometimes it is a long way and sometimes it isn’t. In my case it is three miles; that’s three miles there and three miles back, maybe ten times in one night. Not only do we send one messenger but three minutes after the first messenger is gone we always send another one so if the first one gets bumped off the second one may get through.

Derrick Belfall (1926-1940):  I Have Delivered My Message

Derric Belfall.  Photo courtesy of Mrs. Rita McInnes.

Derrick Belfall. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Rita McInnes.

Indeed, one of those Scouts, Derrick Belfall, was “bumped off” in the course of his duties as a civilian defense messenger.  Fourteen year old Belfall lived at 109 Bishop Rd, Bishopston, Bristol.   He was the only son of Cecil Ernest and Mary (née Miller) Belfall, who died in 1983 and 1964, respectively.

The official minimum age for messenger service was sixteen, but due to his insistence, Derrick was allowed to join the service.  On the night of December 2, 1940, he was dispatched with a message.  He delivered it successfully, and upon returning to his post, he found a house beginning to burn and he stopped to put out the fire.  He then heard cries from another house where he rushed in to save an injured baby. Shortly after effecting these rescues, the air raid still underway, Derrick was injured by an exploding bomb and taken to the hospital with injuries that proved fatal. As one of the visiting Scouts confirmed, his last words at the hospital were: “Messenger Belfall reporting.  I have delivered my message.”

Defused German parachute mine.  Wikipedia photo.

Defused German parachute mine. Wikipedia photo.

A Narrow Escape

Bethell, one of the British Scouts touring America, also recounted his own tale of being thirty yards away from an exploding parachute mine which killed two other civil defense workers:

A warden and I were riding along the streets on our bikes and saw a couple of parachutes coming down. Well, first we thought they were German airmen bailing out and we were just going to run towards them and give them something like what we would like to give Mr. Hitler–a kick in the pants or something like that–and then we realized that they were what are known as parachute mines…. We started to ride towards them to see if we could help in the rescue work we knew would follow….

We saw a couple of chaps running up in front of us also going on the same job. Just then we heard something flapping. It was only very faint but we realized that it was another parachute with a mine coming down. We knew if we were able to hear that flapping we must be pretty close to it. We got down on the ground and shouted to the other two chaps. But unfortunately they didn’t hear us. The roar of anti-aircraft fire drowned out our shouts. They went on. The mine went off just thirty yards ahead of us. We were just blown across the street but otherwise all right. But those other two chaps standing up under the full blast–it got them right in the chest and blew their lungs out and killed them.

American Scouts In Action


The American Scouts shown here in the February 1943 issue of Boys’ Life are participating in a civil defense exercise.  The display shown at the top of the page is the uniform of a Scout as he would have appeared in 1943 as a civil defense messenger in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  It was put together by W8KBF of the Yahoo War Emergency Radio Service group.

While American Scouts and other civilians escaped the harrowing experiences of their British counterparts, it is clear that they lived up to the Scout Motto to Be Prepared.   And as the British Scouts proved, a scout is brave.

As Scout Executive West wrote, these Scouts “were not specialists but were equipped only with such knowledge as is normally given to Scouts through our Advancement Program. Yet how nobly these Scouts lived up to our Scout Motto ‘Be Prepared.’ We, too, have a job to do!”


DerrickI would like to thank Mrs. Rita McInnes, a neighbor of the Belfall family, for providing the photograph of Derrick Belfall.  This photograph hung for many years in the Belfall home as part of the illuminated photo shown here containing Derrick’s last words. (Click on the small image to view the full image.)

I would also like to thank Sam Hevener, W8KBF of the Yahoo War Emergency Radio Service group for allowing me to use the photo of the American Scout messenger’s uniform at the top of the page.

Additional References

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1915 Receiver

1915AugustBLOne hundred years ago, a Boy Scout interested in wireless could get this complete receiving station for only $2.85, as advertised in the August 1915 issue of Boys’ Life.  It’s unclear whether the headphone was included for that price. While a headphone is shown in the picture, it’s not mentioned in the description, which leads me to suspect that a few Scouts might have learned the disappointing phrase “sold separately” after placing the order.

In any event, the set was probably capable of picking up the time and weather signals of NAA, at least for those within a few hundred miles of Arlington, Virginia. The set is described as consisting of “bare wire wound double slide tuner, our new two cup triple action cat whisker detector, tubular fixed condenser, buzzer and switch to tell if your detector is working, a silk wire wound high 6-capacity loading coil that allows you to get Arlington, Va., and the long wave stations.”

In addition to the possibly missing headphones, the owner of the set would need to come up with some wire for an antenna and ground connection. But the set appears to be capable of picking up NAA and other stations. As the ad mentions, the test buzzer would be helpful in making sure the cat whisker was set to a “sweet spot” on the crystal. A battery would also be necessary to operate the test buzzer.

The set was offered by the Handel Electric Company of 138-140 Centre Street, New York.

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1915 Car Powered Ferry


The prototype car barge shown here was reportedly built for less than $100 and in use by a motorist in Aberdeen, Washington, to cross a bay 20 miles wide. It is shown on the cover of Popular Mechanics a hundred years ago this month, August 1915.

Each paddle wheel is connected to a hardwood wheel, which is strapped with leather straps to the spokes of the car’s wheels. The rear of the car is jacked up off the floor, and the craft is ready to cross the bay. It reportedly took about eight minutes to load the car aboard and make it seaworthy.

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TV Comes to Marathon, Ontario, 1953

GreenBayMarathonIn 1953, Marathon, Ontario, was a full 300 miles away from the nearest TV station, WBAY channel 2, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That distance didn’t stop Grant Ross from deciding that the town needed television, and he set out to deliver. He discovered that from a hill 300 feet above the shore of Lake Superior, the signal was perceptible, and he set out to get reliable reception. Half of the path between Green Bay and Marathon was over the waters of Lake Superior. However, Green Bay was on the shores of Lake Michigan, and the signal had to cross 152 miles of Wisconsin  and Upper Michigan countryside before reaching the unobstructed waters of Lake Superior. But it did so, and Ross was intent on providing a signal to the town. He wound up constructing a rhombic array on 45 poles mounted atop the hill. This signal was fed down to the town on an 1800 foot transmission line. A 1955 report showed that he received “excellent” signals at least 40% of the time. Reception was “poor or useless” only 20% of the time.

Ross signed up over 400 homes for his pioneer Community Antenna Television (CATV) systam, collecting a $50 installation fee from each. In addition, the monthly subscription for the service was $2.50.

A few years later, channel 2 came on the air in Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay), and he switched the service to that. The rhombic was rebuilt to receive the new signal from WLUC in Marquette, Michigan, which was a relatively easy catch, being 166 miles away, but with a path entirely over the waters of Lake Superior.


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1935 Two-Tube Shortwave Portable

1935AugPSSW1This little two-tube portable receiver appeared in Popular Science
80 years ago this month, August 1935. It featured two type 30 triodes, one serving as the regenerative detector, with the other one providing one stage of audio amplification. With four plug-in coils, the set would tune 17 to 270 meters.

One novel feature was the inclusion of the antenna trimmer condenser inside the plug-in coil. This would allow the antenna to be separately tuned to each band, without having to fiddle with that adjustment when plugging in a different coil. The coils were changed through an opening in the top of the cabinet, with a removable cover to keep dust out.


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1925 Four Tube Loudspeaker Set


Ninety years ago this month, Popular Mechanics, August 1925, carried the plans for this four-tube receiver. The set contained four type 201 tubes, and featured a tapped loop antenna. The set had very good selectivity by virtue of having the tapped loop. By changing the taps, the set tuned different portions of the broadcast band. On one tap, it tuned 370-550 meters (545 through 810 kHz). On another tap, it tuned
224-400 meters (750 through 1340 kHz). By breaking up the tuning in this fashion, a smaller range of frequencies was tuned by the single tuning condenser, resulting in greater separation between the stations.

The article noted that during testing in Chicago, even with the Chicago stations transmitting full blast, it was possible to receive more distant stations with the speaker.

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K2BSA in 1975

K2BSA1975Shown here is the flagship Amateur Radio station of the Boy Scouts of America, K2BSA, as it appeared 40 years ago this month, in the August 1975 issue of Boys’ Life.

As reported in the magazine, the station was then located at the Johnston Historical Museum, on the grounds of the BSA’s then national headquarters in North Brunswick, New Jersey. K2BSA is still active, although it no longer has a fixed location from which it operates. It is on the air on multiple bands and modes at BSA Jamborees. At the most recent one in 2013, I was on staff, and thousands of contacts were made around the world. In addition, the station call sign and even portable equipment are available for loan by licensed hams who are scouts and scouters for use at scouting events. In this way, the call sign is frequently heard during Camporees and other events at which scouts get a chance to experience amateur radio.

The article notes that in 1975, the station was put on the air on weekends on a monthly basis to allow visitors to speak to other Scouts around the country.

A larger reincarnation of the museum is open to the public at the National Scouting Museum near the organization’s present headquarters in Irving, Texas.

(Scouts who are working on the Scouting Heritage or Radio merit badges will find helpful information for both at my website.)

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Order to Liquidate Allied Prisoners: 22 Aug. 1945


Louis Zamperini in 1943. Wikipedia photo.

Louis Zamperini in 1943. Wikipedia photo.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of an event that thankfully never happened.

In 1944, the Japanese War Ministry issued orders to prison camp commandants for the “final disposition” of Allied prisoners of war. Under those orders, all POW’s were to be killed at such time as Allied forces landed in the territory in which they were being held. The rationale behind the order was to prevent the POW’s from being repatriated and becoming a part of the liberating force.

For example, on December 14, 1944, about 150 prisoners of war at Palawan in the Philipine Islands, were ordered to the air raid shelters, at first in apparent response to an actual air raid. But after the raid, because of a mistaken belief that an invasion of the island was underway, they were ordered to remain, at which time the wooden structure was doused with gasoline and set afire.

According to the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the date set for at least one camp on the home islands was 70 years ago today, August 22, 1945.

That book is the story of Louis Zamperini, a record-breaking track star of the 1930’s. Among his claims to fame was a personal meeting with Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. In 1943, his plane crashed in the Pacific and he drifted in a small raft for 47 days until his “rescue” by the Japanese. He remained a prisoner until the end of the war, enduring much torture. After the war, haunted by nighmares of his experience, he drifted into alcoholism until attending a Billy Graham crusade in California.

Because of the Japanese decision to surrender, motivated at least in part by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the orders to execute Zamperini and other prisoners in Japan were never carried out.


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