Monthly Archives: July 2017

Eclipse Radio Experiments

NASA eclipse image

Solar Eclipses & Radio Propagation

If you’ve ever tuned the AM radio dial at night, you know that the sun has an effect on radio propagation. At night, you can hear stations from hundreds of miles away, even though those stations can’t be heard during the daylight hours. This is because the signals are either absorbed by or reflected by various layers of the ionosphere, and these layers behave differently in the presence of sunlight.

Radio propagation through the ionosphere. NOAA image.

Radio propagation through the ionosphere. NOAA image.

In general, lower frequencies (such as the AM broadcast band) work better for long distances at night, and higher frequencies work better during the daylight hours. Observations made during other eclipses show that the brief period of “night” during totality does have an effect on the ionosphere, and this has an observable effect on radio propagation.

This eclipse will allow for the collection of a huge amount of data, and it is likely that this will contribute to a greater understanding of the ionosphere.  This is because there are now automatic data collection tools such as the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

The Reverse Beacon Network is a collection of radio receivers operated by amateur radio operators all over the world.  They are constantly monitoring large portions of the radio spectrum and “skimming” the signals.  Other networks listen for different transmission modes, but the Reverse Beacon Network is constantly listening for CW (continuous wave, or Morse Code) transmissions.  Whenever it hears “CQ” (a general call) or “TEST” (a test transmission), it records the call sign of the sending station.  The network stores this data for later download, and also makes it immediately available for display on the internet.


The image above is a screenshot from the Reverse Beacon Network taken today.  I sent a transmission in Morse Code consisting merely of the words “TEST DE W0IS.”  That transmission was picked up by several of the skimmers in the network, and the information was almost immediately displayed on the internet.

As you can see, my signals were picked up by skimmers in Alberta, Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York, and Kansas.  The numbers on the chart (snr, signal to noise ratio) show my signal strength at each location.

Radio propagation is sometimes more of an art than a science, and it’s somewhat surprising that my signal was heard at these distances at the time of day I did the test, about noon local time.  The pattern shown here is more typical for later in the afternoon for the frequency I was using (7 MHz).  Typically, at midday, I would expect to see more hits within about 400 miles, and fewer at the distances shown here.

But on the day of the eclipse, comparing the reports throughout the day should show what effect the eclipse is having on radio propagation.  I expect that before totality, the propagation toward the west coast will be enhanced, as areas starting in Oregon experience “nighttime.”  After totality, I expect propagation to be enhanced toward the east as the path of totality moves toward South Carolina.

While I might change my plans, I think I’ll concentrate on 40 meters (7 MHz) during the eclipse.  Lower frequencies such as 160 meters (1.8 MHz) or 80 meters (3.5 MHz) will have more dramatic effects, but the necessary antennas are much longer.  Since I’ll probably be viewing the eclipse from a fixed location, I should be able to set up a full-sized dipole for 40 meters (66 feet of wire, fed in the middle) without too much difficulty.  If we need to move quickly and use a mobile antenna on the car, then I’ll probably switch to 30 meters (10 MHz), since the mobile antenna starts to be more efficient at higher frequencies, but 10 MHz is probably still low enough to see some eclipse effects.

You’ll be able to monitor my signals yourself in real time by following this link, which shows the most recent times my signal has been picked up.  On the day of the eclipse, I expect the map to show reception on the west coast in the morning, moving toward the east coast in the afternoon.  (Since RBN won’t have any way of knowing that I’m not at my home location, the graphic display will incorrectly show my signal as originating from Minnesota, even though I will be in Nebraska.   When the data is analyzed later, it will show my location correctly.)

The data I generate will be part of a larger project, the HamSCI 2017 Eclipse Experiment.  After the eclipse, data will be collected and analyzed by researchers such as those at Virginia Tech.

How Hams Can Participate in Eclipse Science

To increase the amount of radio signals to analyze, a contest named the Solar Eclipse QSO Party is scheduled to take place on August 21 from 1400-2200 UTC (9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Central Daylight Time). Participants in this contest will submit their logs, and data will also be skimmed automatically by networks such as RBN.  If you are an amateur radio operator, I encourage you to participate in this event.  Even if you are not near the path of totality, it is likely that radio propagation will be affected for thousands of miles.

How Anyone Can Participate

AMRadioPicFromDotGovIf you are not licensed, but you own a normal AM radio, you can also participate and collect valuable ionospheric data.  As noted above, AM signals propagate much greater distances at night, and the eclipse will have an effect.  Some night before the eclipse, tune through the dial and note which distant stations you are able to pull in.  Write down the call letters, frequencies, and locations of the stations.

If you need help identifying the stations, the easiest way is often to wait to hear the call letters of the station and Google the call letters to find the location. Or if you missed the call letters but heard the name of the city, try Googling the frequency and city.  For example, a search for “780 AM Chicago” will confirm that you’re tuned in to WBBM.  You can also search the official FCC database, either by frequency or call letters, at this link.  Also, this listing at the FCC website shows the strongest AM stations at most spots on the dial.

During the daylight hours, but before the eclipse, tune to those spots on the dial again to ensure that you can’t pick them up.  Also, some frequencies might have stronger local stations on during the day, which might cover up the weaker more distant signals.  It will be best to concentrate on frequencies where you hear nothing during the day, although the distant signals could very well overpower a closer station.

On the day of the eclipse, tune to those same spots on the dial and see if you can hear the stations.  You will probably find that they come up out of the noise when the path of totality passes over the station, or when the total eclipse is on a straight line between you and the station.

For example, I would expect that when St. Louis sees totality, KMOX (1120) will be booming in for hundreds of miles.  Similarly, when the total eclipse makes it to Nashville, then WSM (650) will be heard in most of the eastern United States.

Also, listen for some stations on the other side of the path of totality.  For example, when the eclipse is over Missouri, I would expect that listeners in Oklahoma and Texas might be able to hear stations such as WCCO (830) in Minneapolis or WHO (1040) in Des Moines.

Before the eclipse, identify some stations, both close to the path of totality, and on the other side of that line.  Find stations that you can normally pick up at night, but not during the day, and then listen for those stations to come up out of the noise as the eclipse shadow moves into an optimum spot.

For most people, the best radio to use will be your car radio.  Most car radios have good AM tuners, and they usually have the advantage of having a digital display so that you can tune to exactly the right spot on the dial.

For more information on this experiment and how you can participate and submit your observations, see this article at Sky & Telescope magazine. A good starting point for learning about tuning in distant stations on the AM dial can be found at Wikipedia.

If you don’t want to be tethered to your car radio, another alternative is to buy a radio similar to the ones shown below.  These radios, even though inexpensive, will provide good AM reception with a digital read out that will allow you to quickly tune various stations.  Some of them also have shortwave, which will allow you to do more elaborate observations, as explained at the Sky & Telescope article.

(In addition to radio experiments, it’s important to have a portable radio if you want to receive weather and traffic information during the eclipse.  Due to the large number of people traveling to the path of totality, it’s quite possible that cellular and data networks will become overloaded in many areas.  Having a radio with you will allow you to learn where the breaks in the clouds are, even if your smart phone is without a signal.)

Radio propagation has been studied during most eclipses in the 20th century.  For example, during the 1945 Victory Eclipse, research was done by researchers in recently liberated Norway, and German installations were even quickly re-purposed to do this research.  Because of the huge amount of data that will be collected, thanks to technologies such as RBN, this eclipse promises to add to the understanding of the ionosphere, and it’s quite possible for citizen scientists such as you and me to contribute.

For more information on the eclipse, see my earlier posts.

Plan For the Eclipse Now!

NASA eclipse imageWe’ve been warning now for a few weeks that to make your eclipse experience more pleasant, you need to plan now! It’s still possible to get a hotel room or campsite relatively close to the path of totality.  However, in most areas, it’s now necessary to book your lodging in outlying areas and plan to drive to your viewing spot the morning of August 21.  We’ve already posted about the potential for gridlock that morning, so you’ll want to plan your route carefully.

As of just a week ago, many more hotel rooms were available.  For example, until just yesterday, it was possible to book a hotel room in Charleston, SC, for about $100.  (And a couple of weeks ago, you could have booked the same room for $50.)  But that changed today.  Here’s what you see now if you want to book a room in Charleston:


Eclipse glasses are also becoming more difficult to find.  During a 2015 partial eclipse in England, there was a shortage of the glasses, and as we predicted previously, it looks like there will be a shortage here as well.  There are two major U.S. manufacturers of the special glasses, which are necessary to safely view the eclipse before and after totality.  One of those manufacturers is Rainbow Symphony, and here’s what their website displayed today:


The glasses are still available, and it’s likely that Rainbow Symphony will soon be open to new orders.  In the meantime, you can order yours on Amazon, as I did.  They have the Rainbow Symphony glasses, as well as glasses from the other American manufacturer, American Paper Optics:

In addition to those quantities and styles, Amazon has many other buying choices, which you can view at this link.  When buying glasses, be sure to look for the ISO certification.  The normal retail price is currently about $2-3 (the links above are for larger quantities.)  There are cheaper uncertified glasses available, but I’m personally not willing to take the risk.  It’s still possible to get the glasses, and if you need larger quantities, I’m sure the Rainbow Symphony website will be back in business soon, as is American Paper Optics.  But if you wait until mid-August, then it will probably be too late!  Get your eclipse glasses now!

Another good source of ISO certified eclipse glasses is American Eclipse Glasses in Torrington, Wyoming, right in the path of totality.  This is a small business that realized there was an opportunity, so they had the glasses custom manufactured and certified.  They have great deals, especially if you need only a few pairs and can’t find them locally, because their shipping charges are extremely reasonable:  The glasses are $3 each, which is about the going retail price.  However, shipping is only $1.03 for the first pair, and then only 3 cents for each one after that!  If you can’t find them locally and need one or two, I recommend you visit their website.  

Or better yet, their prices are even lower if you order in bulk.  On August 21, your friends and neighbors are going to want glasses, but just like in England, there won’t be any available.  You can give them away to your unprepared friends and neighbors, or you can sell them for a fair profit.

Similarly, it’s now a lot harder to find a hotel room now than it was just a week ago.  And it will keep getting harder.  For links to available hotels, please see my constantly updated pages for the western U.S. and eastern U.S.  I also have links of available eclipse campsites.

1957 VHF Receiver

1967JulPEIt was a simpler time sixty years ago, and this electronics hobbyist and aviation enthusiast was able to walk out onto the tarmac with her suspicious electronic device, as shown on the cover of Popular Electronics, July 1957.

She is listening to aircraft traffic with a simple VHF receiver, and the plans are shown in the magazine. The set was a crystal set using a 1N82 diode, with one CK722 transistor for audio amplification and tuned 90-145 MHz. In addition to being useful for listening to aircraft, the magazine said that it could be used to zero in with bloodhound accuracy in a hidden transmitter hunt.

In testing the set at a local airport, the tower could be heard several hundred feet away and approaching planes could also be heard.


Wanted by Uncle Sam: 2000 Amateur Wireless Operators


A hundred years ago, Uncle Sam was looking for amateur wireless operators, and the ARRL was doing everything within its power to make sure the need was met. The July 1917 issue of QST came complete with the application blank necessary for young hams to sign up:


It was explained that applicants were to take the filled in enrollment form to their nearest Navy Recruiting Office. (If they didn’t know where it was, ARRL HQ could provide the address.) At the recruiting station, the officer there was to certify the applicant’s physical condition. Then, the applicant would return the form to ARRL HQ, which would send it to the proper headquarters. “They will notify you when and where to report.”

The accompanying article explained that 2000 wireless operators were needed by the Naval Reserve. “At the outset all will probably agree that this is a call of humanity and before it is over every one of us will have to play his part. To play your part and do your bit,–does not mean you must shoulder a gun. Your part if you are a radio operator is to serve in that capacity. Your duty is to enroll today. Uncle Sam must have wireless operators. You must not fail him in this hour of need.”

The article explained that enlistment was for the duration of the war, and that reservists would be able to ask for discharge during times of peace. It stressed that enlistment would give one of the finest educational courses in the country, comparable to a college education.

1917JulyQST3Two schools were in operation by the Navy. Harvard University had turned over to the Navy Pierce Hall, in which at present 150 radio electricians were being trained. A smaller school was in operation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And as enlisted man, the recruit would have the opportunity to enter the Naval Academy by examination. Pay ranged between $32.60 and $72.00 per month, plus uniform and subsistence.

An accompanying editorial, probably written by Hiram Percy Maxim, admonished “hurry up and enroll.” The Old Man notes that the “engineering course given is unquestionably one of the finest things offered in this country in the way of a practical training in electrical engineering.”

After mentioning the pay, the Old Man opines that “any amateur radio operator who does not take advantage of it ought to have his head examined.”

The editorial concludes by admonishing young men to think it over, “and make Mother and Father read this editorial.”

Archie Banks, 9AGD, Radio Amateur & Beekeeper

1917 Archie Banks 9AGD

A hundred years ago, American amateur radio operators were off the air for the duration of the war. All stations, both receiving and transmitting, had to be dismantled, and antennas lowered to the ground. But the July 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter detailed the activities of 24 year old Archie Banks of rural Delmar, Iowa. Banks lived on a farm about a mile out of town, and when he was sixteen, he developed an interest in electricity. He had the house wired with electric lights powered by batteries, and within two years, he was dabbling in wireless. He reported that his first set didn’t work well, and he could only communicate the one mile to Delmar.

But his second station was considerably more successful. He was licensed as 9AGD, and among other things was able to reliably copy the twice daily news and weather reports sent by the stations at the Illinois State Agricultural College in Springfield, and the Iowa State Agricultural College at Ames.

Rather than keep these important bulletins to himself, Banks took it upon himself to share the information with neighbors. Initially, he shared the information with anyone who desired to phone him, and the service was popular. Area farmers had access to immediate weather reports, rather than having to wait for the daily nespaper to be delivered by the R.F.D. carrier.

But Banks decided to carry it a step further, as shown by the sign here. In addition to his labor on the family farm, Banks had a side business consisting of about a hundred hives which he used to raise honey. The honey was advertised by a roadside sign. He added this sign, encouraging passers by to stop and read the news and weather reports. Initially, the sign was placed as a public service. But Banks soon noticed that those stopping to read the weather would be in a good position to buy some honey.

Banks had his beekeeping-wireless enterprise in operation as early as 1913. In that year, he had a paper read at the state bee convention, published in the Report of the State Bee Inspector, an essay entitled, “The Art of Selling Honey From a Producer’s and Retailer’s Point of View.” This paper reveals that the wireless was but one advertising mechanism he employed. He recommended advertising which included a few recipes. “This will make the housewife anxious to try them out just the same as one is to try a new car.” He recommended giving out samples, since they “create an appetite for more and the neighbor or friend will probably purchase a case or more the next time he sees you.”

His main sign (not shown in the Electrical Experimenter article” was eight feet by two feet and “hung across the road,” which was a main highway. It read, in large red letters, “Eat Honey,” with the phrase “for sale here by the section or wagon load” in large black letters. He states that he also had “a large signboard on which is printed the weather report which I receive daily by wireless. Passerby stopping to read this report get a view of the honey sign also–thus killing two birds with one stone.”

Banks is also described in an article in this 1917 issue of The Country Gentleman.

According to this link, Banks was born in 1892, the son of B.D. Banks and Hannah E. Banks. According to this 2016 obituary of his son Harlan Banks, he later married Edna Bowman and had multiple children. At some point, he moved to California, since the son’s obituary shows him graduating from high school in Santa Barbara.

Archie Banks Santa BarbaraAccording to this site, in 1925, Banks was one of five hams in Santa Barbara when an earthquake struck the town on June 29, 1925. The city was completely cut off from the outside world, prompting the hams to patch together a CW station to send out an SOS. Help was summoned when an operator aboard a Standard Oil Tanker heard the SoS and summoned help. This photo, appearing in a Russian language book, shows Banks operating from Santa Barbara after the earthquake.

According to the Social Security Death Index, Banks died in October 1984 in Santa Barbara. According to his gravestone, he served in the U.S. Navy both World War I and World War II.

Banks is listed as 9AGD in the 1916 callbook with an address of R.F.D. 2, Delmar, Iowa. He doesn’t appear to have a listing, either in California or Iowa, in the 1922 call book.

DelmarIowaStreetViewInterestingly, I think I found the location of Banks’ 1917 honey sign, which would be this Google street view.  According to the Electrical Experimenter article, Banks’ station was about one mile from Delmar and eight miles from Maquoketa.  This farm house is about that distance from the two towns, and seems to match the house shown in the article, assuming the magazine photo below was taken from the rear of the house.  The location is on Iowa Highway 136, just west of US Highway 61.


Lafayette, Nous Sommes Ici!

File:Pershing at Lafayette Tomb.jpg

Gen. Pershing at Lafayette’s Tomb. Wikipedia image.

On this Fourth of July a hundred years ago, 1917, American troops had just arrived in France, and they used the occasion of the anniversary of American independence to march through Paris.

Col. Charles E. Stanton made a speech at the grave of Marquis de La Fayette at which he famously announced:

America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here.

General John Pershing was present, and the quote is often mis-attributed to him. But it was Stanton who spoke these words.

Planning for Eclipse Gridlock

C3 Hotel & Convention Center eclipse headquarters.

The official eclipse headquarters for is the C3 Hotel & Convention Center in Hastings, Nebraska. If you happen to be in Hastings for the eclipse, please stop by and say hello. We’ll be viewing the eclipse, and participating in some citizen science regarding radio propagation. We’ll be posting more details in coming weeks.

Quick Links

We’ll be staying in what looks like a very nice hotel with an indoor pool. While we haven’t decided on our exact viewing location, the hotel parking lot appears to be perfectly adequate. The cost of the hotel room was very reasonable, and we’re paying the normal nightly rate. Since Hastings, Nebraska, isn’t normally a major tourist Mecca, the normal nightly rate is quite low.

However, if you decide that Hastings, Nebraska, is where you want to be, there’s a zero probability that you’ll be able to find a hotel room within a hundred miles (although there are still a handful of hotel rooms available in some cities in and near the zone of totality.) We made our reservations last August, but now it’s too late.

How Many Last-Minute Eclipse Chasers Will There Be?

return to top of page
1911 Eclipse Crowds. Library of Congress.

1911 Eclipse Crowds. Library of Congress.

There has been very little media coverage so far of the eclipse, and most Americans probably haven’t heard about it yet, or have only vaguely heard about it. It seems likely that there will be a lot of media coverage in the week or two immediately prior to the eclipse. And many Americans will realize that they live within driving distance of the eclipse, and that the eclipse is a big deal. I predict that millions of them will decide, perhaps on the spur of the moment, to go see it.

According to Michael Zeiler of, 174 million Americans, 53% of the population, live within 400 miles of the total eclipse. I happen to be in that category, since I’m just under 400 miles. At his website, Zeiler makes some estimates as to how many of those people will decide to get in their cars and go visit. To come up with an estimate, he makes some assumptions, and those assumptions sound reasonable to me. Zeiler estimates that persons living within 200 miles of totality will have between a 0.5% and 2% probability of deciding to go visit.

This certainly seems reasonable. Think of a group of between 50 and 200 people that you might know. Think about the people where you work or where you go to school. If there was an eclipse 200 miles away (normally, about a four hour drive), do you think that there is one person in that group who would take the day off and go see the eclipse? Obviously, I’m in that category myself. I’m even an early adopter, since I made my hotel reservation last year. Most people will be late adopters. They’ll see posts on social media a week before. They’ll start hearing about it in the news. And some of them, like me, will decide to go see it. And I think one person in 200, or even one person in 50, is a very reasonable estimate of how many such people there are.

Zeiler adjusts his estimates as people are further away from the total eclipse. For people in my category (200-400 miles away), he cuts the estimates in half. He estimates that the probability of their deciding to go is between 0.25% and 1%. Again, think about a group of people you know, such as people at work or school. Do you think that if you took a group of between 100 and 400 people, that there is one person who would drive 400 miles (normally, about an 8 hour drive) to go view the eclipse? That seems like a reasonable estimate to me.

As the population gets further away from the eclipse, Zeiler’s estimates go down. For example, he estimates that those 400-600 miles away have a probability between 0.125% and 0.5% of going to see the eclipse.

All of these estimates sound relatively conservative to me. Again, it’s not too hard to imagine that out of a group of 200 people, one or two will decide to take the day off from work to see a free event that’s being heavily hyped on social media.

But the effect of even this small percentage deciding to see the eclipse is quite staggering: If these conservative assumptions are correct, then between 1.85 and 7.4 million people will go visit the path of totality.

Where WIll the Visitors Go?

return to top of page

Where will these people go? They will probably drive to the closest point where the total eclipse will be visible. They’ll look at a map, determine the closest point, and then figure out the shortest route to get there.

In my case, the closest point where I can view the total eclipse is near Lathrop, Missouri, population 2086, just northeast of Kansas City. I go to Google Maps, where I am told that it’s a 403 mile drive from Minneapolis to Lathrop, and that it normally takes just under 6 hours. So in theory, I can get up early the morning of August 21, drive to Lathrop, Missouri, and view the eclipse. Then, I simply turn around, and get home by early evening.

But there’s a problem. A lot of other people will be descending on Lathrop, Missouri. It’s the closest spot for me, because it is where Interstate 35 intersects the path of totality. But it’s also the closest point for 12.5 million other people who live close to Interstate 35, including most of Minnesota and Iowa, as well as parts of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Here is Zeiler’s map showing the shortest travel route for these people to the eclipse, and every single one of those people has a preferred destination of Lathrop, Missouri:

Caption goes here.

Map courtesy of Michael Zeiler,

If one percent of those people decide to make a day trip to view the eclipse, then there’s a good chance that many of those 125,000 people will descend on Lathrop, population 2086.

That’s not quite as bad as it sounds, because those people don’t need to drive all the way to Lathrop. They’ll be perfectly happy being on a 70 mile stretch of highway north and south of Lathrop. That works out to 1785 people per mile. If we assume that there are two people in each car, that means 893 cars per mile. Since the freeway is two lanes, that’s 446 cars per mile in each lane. That’s about 12 feet per car. But according to Wikipedia, a full size car is about 16 feet long.

This means that if Zeiler’s predictions are correct, there could be a monumental traffic jam of greater than 70 miles, meaning that some Americans will miss the eclipse because they’re stuck in traffic just a few miles away from the path of totality.

And Lathrop, Missouri, is not the worst choke point. Zeiler has idenified many others that will be traffic nightmares the day of the eclipse, since they represent the point where major highways cross the path of totality. Lathrop is only the ninth worst. The largest choke point is where Interstate 95 meets the path of totality near Santee, South Carolina. This represents the closest point for most of the Eastern Seaboard. If anyone in New York or Philadelphia or Washington or Miami wants to visit the eclipse, then Google Maps will send them to Santee, South Carolina. For 74.6 million Americans, Santee, SC, population 740, is the best place to go.

For example, if you live in Jacksonville, Florida, and want to see the eclipse, then Google Maps will send you to Santee and tell you that it’s 240 miles and you’ll get there in 3-1/2 hours. But Google Maps will potentially also send 74.6 million other people there.  There will be a traffic jam.

Then How Can You See the Eclipse?

return to top of page

Does this mean that you should skip the eclipse? No, it does not. It doesn’t even mean that you shouldn’t make a day trip. After all, even in the worst case scenario, most (but not all) of the people stuck in the traffic jam on Interstate 35 near Lathrop will be stuck within the zone of totality. For those people, the traffic won’t be moving anyway, so it won’t really do any harm to get out of the car and look when the eclipse happens. And almost certainly, some of the people stuck on the freeway will take an exit as soon as they are within the path of totality and find a legal parking place on some other road.

But if you do decide to make a last-minute trip to view the eclipse, you’ll need to allow much more time than it ordinarily takes. If you don’t have a place to stay (and unless you act fast, you won’t have one), I think the best strategy is to leave Sunday and plan on driving through the night. Take turns driving, and sleep when you can.

I also encourage you to avoid the choke points, most of which are located along major north-south interstates. For example, from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, it seems that Nebraska is a much more convenient destination, even though it’s more miles. Nebraska’s main choke point is in the extreme southeast corner of the state, and actually lies mostly in Kansas, since most potential visitors from Texas and Oklahoma will be routed to this point. Notably, a full 252 miles of Interstate 80 are within the path of totality. So even if you get stuck in a 252 mile traffic jam, you still won’t miss the eclipse.  But you do need to plan your route, and do your best to avoid the inevitable choke points

How Else to Prepare

return to top of page

The other thing to remember is that the communities in the path of totality may have seriously underestimated the number of people coming. Lathrop’s Wikipedia page optimistically states that “plans are in the works for Lathrop to host observers that come to Lathrop to view the eclipse.” But I wonder whether Lathrop (population 2086) is really prepared for 125,000 people.

Apparently, a solar eclipse festival is being planned for Lathrop, but according to the festival’s website, they still need volunteers, food vendors, and local land leases for camping, viewing, and parking. They do have buses scheduled from Des Moines and Kansas City.

Those buses will certainly help, but the Des Moines bus leaves at 5:25 AM and is scheduled to arrive at 8:00 AM.  It will probably make it in time for the eclipse, but if Zieler’s predictions are correct, it might not.  I predict that it will not arrive as scheduled at 8:00 AM.   (Update 8/13):  Since I originally wrote this post, I see that the organizers have changed the Des Moines bus departure time to 4:00 AM, which I think was a good idea and means that it will get there in time for the eclipse.)

The massive number of potential visitors to a small town highlights another point: It is very likely that there will be shortages of gasoline, food, water, and toilet facilities. If you are making a last-minute trip (or even one like mine that’s been planned for months), it seems wise to bring enough food and water for yourself, without having to rely on potentially strained local resources. Also, fill your gas tank before you leave home, and keep it topped off. It seems very likely that gas stations will run out of gas at some points close to the line of totality. At the very least, there will be long lines as those 125,000 visitors decide to fill up their tanks.

Since you don’t know exactly where or when the gas will run out, it’s a good idea to keep your tank as full as possible.  I would fill it up when you’re a hundred miles away, and then again when you’re 50 miles away.

Make Travel Plans Now!

return to top of page

Vista Inn & Suites Airport EastIt is still possible to make hotel reservations in and near the zones of totality. This is especially true in the eastern United States, where you can still get hotel rooms. I have links to available hotel rooms at this link. The situation in the western U.S. is much more tight, but some hotels are still available at this link.

Camping is now the only option in some areas, and will be soon in most other areas. Temporary campgrounds are being set up in many areas. I don’t think the current number of campsites will meet the demand, but there are quite a few campsites where you can make a reservation, guaranteeing yourself a spot. Even if you don’t normally camp, knowing that you have a safe place to sleep will allow you to make a much more leisurely drive on Saturday or Sunday, before the huge crowds arrive. Even an inexpensive tent and sleeping bag and a reserved campsite will be preferable to the uncertainty of having to sleep in your car in an unknown parking lot or at the side of the road. Since camping reservations are still available, this seems like inexpensive insurance. I have links to available campgrounds within the eclipse area, many of which are taking reservations.

Eclipse Opportunity for Churches and Non-Profits

return to top of page

Black-church-clip-art-free-clipart-imagesFinally, the possibility of large numbers of unprepared travelers seems like an opportunity for churches, schools, organizations, and even businesses within the eclipse area. If you are within the area of the eclipse, it seems quite possible that your area will be besieged with persons in need of food and lodging. While licensing requirements might not allow you to go into the hotel or restaurant business for profit, you can potentially provide a valuable service to eclipse travelers. Thousands of people might be grateful if you gave them a place to park, a safe place to sleep, food and water, and a place to view the eclipse. And frankly, most of those grateful people will probably be inclined to make a donation to your organization.

It seems to me that if your place of worship in the eclipse area has a parking lot, a fellowhip hall, a kitchen, and a restroom, then you should be prepared to extend your hospitality by using them. It might not be necessary. But if you make some minimal preparations before the eclipse, then you would be prepared if the need arises. The main preparations would be to have some of your members be willing to volunteer, and perhaps purchase enough non-perishable food to feed a large group of people.

If I were doing this, I would stock the church kitchen with pancake mix, syrup, spaghetti, canned spaghetti sauce, and powdered drink mix. It would not provide a gourmet meal, but it would give your unexpected visitors a filling breakfast and lunch if the local restaurants and grocery stores are overwhelmed by the crowds. And, of course, don’t forget the coffee.  Even if you don’t need to house anyone, a coffee pot set up outside the church will be a welcome sight to many visitors, and the accompanying basket for free-will offerings will probably fill up rapidly.

If I am right, then all you’ll need to do the night before or the day of the eclipse is to have your pre-arranged volunteers come to the church (where they can view the eclipse along with your visitors). If the town is gridlocked and unprepared, then all you need to do is put a sign out front reading, “Sleeping Space and Meals: Free Will Offering.”  And if I’m right and you tell the chief of police or mayor, “we can take a hundred people,” then I think you’ll have their gratitude as well.  If you are in the eclipse area but off major highways, then an announcement on local radio stations may allow you to take the pressure off overwhelmed neighboring communities.

If I am wrong, you have little invested, and you can donate the food items to the local food shelf.  But I think I’m right, and if I am, you want to be in a position where visitors to your town can tell you, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

See Also:  Omaha World Herald article.

1942 One Tube “Beginner’s Special” Receiver

1942JulyPMSeventy-five years ago this month, the July 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics carried the plans for this simple one-tube regenerative receiver. The set was designed with wartime parts shortages in mind, and most parts were non-critical, and could be found in most junk boxes.

Future issues of the magazine would carry improvements, and most parts would be reused. In addition, the suggested breadboard layout was such that there would be room for more advanced designs to be built on the same board.

The set used a single 1Q5GT tube. It used one flashlight battery to run the filament, with four in series to provide the 6 volts B+. A battery eliminator was promised for the next issue.

Coils were wound on the cardboard tubes salvaged from D cell flashlight batteries. The article called for an external antenna and ground. Tuning was accomplished by setting regeneration to maximum, and then tuning until a squeal was heard. At that point, you would turn down the regeneration control just enough to listen to the station.



1937 Weather Balloon


Shown here from 80 years ago this month is a weather balloon from the cover of the July 1937 issue of Shortwave and Television magazine.

1937JulSWTVschematicThe accompanying article explains the operation. The transmitter consisted of two type 30 tubes operating push-pull, as shown in this schematic. The system was developed under the direction of National Bureau of Standards physicist Dr. L.F. Curtiss, who chose the type 30 tube due to their low cost, since there was no guarantee that the set would be recovered, and also due to their low filament drain.

The 45 volt B battery was specially designed and built by Eveready, and represented the lightest weight B battery ever built.

When the hydrogen balloon was launched, it began transmitting pressure, temperature, and humidity. Keying was done by an electric motor. While the article didn’t provide details, it appears that the length of each signal encoded the data. On the ground, a superregenerative receiver hooked to a strip recorder was used, allowing the duration of each pulse to be measured accurately. A vertical dipole was used for reception of the signals, which were on exactly 55 MHz.

Not surprisingly, the airborne signals could be received over a long distance, despite the low power. The article noted that signals had been received over a hundred miles, and from altitudes as high as 127,000 feet (24 miles). When the balloon reached maximum altitude, it burst, with the transmitter descending on a small parachute. The article noted that the parachute was mostly to prevent damage to persons or objects on the ground, recovery of the transmitter apparently being a secondary concern. Dr. Curtiss noted that it was his hope that the transmitters would soon be made so cheaply that it would no longer be worthwhile to attempt recovery.

Dominion Day, 1867

220px-Canada_flag_halifax_9_-04Today marks the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Dominion of Canada. The British North America Act, which served as Canada’s constitution until the constitution was “patriated” with the Canada Act of 1982, was approved by the British Parliament in February 1867, and received the assent of Queen Victoria on March 29, 1867, with an effective date of July 1, 1867. The Act united the colonies of Canada (which was divided into Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.