Category Archives: Indiana History

1937 Ohio River Flood

1937Feb13WLS

Eighty years ago this week, the United States was in the midst of one of its greatest natural disasters, the Ohio River flood of 1937.

Damage was widespread, starting at Pittsburgh, which had experienced severe flooding the year before, to Cairo, Illinois. Damage was light in the Pittsburgh area, but there was extensive damage in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. The pictures at the top of the page are from Evansville, Indiana, and appear in the February 13, 1937, issue of Stand By, the program guide magazine of WLS Chicago, whose mobile unit is shown. The boats shown in the picture, docked at the back door of a hotel, are actually on the street, as shown by the mostly submerged street sign in the picture.

The WLS magazine reported that “radio became the principal means of communication, especially during the early days of the flood, and thousands of lives were saved because of the radio directions sent to rescue workers. Commercial, amateur and military stations all provided communication.”

Hazelton, Indiana, January 23, 1937. National Weather Service photo.

Hazelton, Indiana, January 23, 1937. National Weather Service photo.

In Evansville, the local station, WGBF, had an emergency radio set up at the relief headquarters. The station went to 24 hour service, and the programs were interrupted frequently to broadcast relief messages.

Downtown Huntington, WV, during the flood. Wikipedia photo.

The flood caused 385 deaths, with a million left homeless. Property damage reached $500 million, and relief and recovery was strained, with the disaster coming in the depth of the depression and only a few years after the Dust Bowl.  The head of the Red Cross called the disaster the greatest since the war.  For many impacted areas, it was the most severe flood yet experienced.

The water levels began to rise on January 5, and rains throughout the

Ohio basin continued.  By January 23, it was clear that the flood would be severe.  Martial law was declared in Evansville on January 23.  On today’s date, the water crested in Cincinnati at 80 feet, the highest level in the city’s history.  By the next day, 70% of Louisville was under water.  It wasn’t until February 5 when the water levels dropped below flood stage in most areas.

As might be expected, amateur radio operators played a key role in communications, and many of these stories were recorded in the April, 1937, issue of QST.  Since many of the active hams were also involved in the Army Amateur Radio Service or the Naval Reserve, Army and Navy call signs were often used in addition to amateur calls.

In an action unprecedented since the war, on January 26, the FCC entirely closed the 160 and 80 meter bands nationwide to all but those hams directly involved in flood relief. The FCC order stated:

To all amateur licensees: The Federal Communications Commission has been advised that the only contact with many flooded areas is by amateur radio, and since it is of vital importance that communications with flooded areas be handled expeditionsly, IT IS ORDERED that no transmissions except those relating to relief work or other emergencies be made within any of the authorized amateur bands below 4000 kilocycles until the Commission determines that the present emergency no longer exists.

This order was rescinded on February 5.  The FCC did allow the ARRL to select 60 “vigilantes” to monitor the bands and inform any offenders of the order.  According to QST, this order had a very positive impact in reducing interference.  160 and 80 meters were still packed with signals relaying emergency traffic, but the nets were able to work very effectively when they had the bands to themselves.

Hundreds of call signs in all of the affected states are included in the QST report, but it also acknowledges that it would be impossible to list all of the hams who participated.

The 30,000 residents of Parkersburg, West Virginia, were cut off from the outside world, and about a fourth of them were homeless. Herbert Romine, W8GDF, of nearby West Milford hurried to the town. Lacking sufficient equipment, he hurredly assembled several transmitters from the serviceman’s parts stock, and established stations on fire boats in the city. These hastily constructed transmitters consisted of type 45 tube oscillators, along with another 45 serving as modulator. QST noted that this work undoubtedly saved a number of lives.

Romine then put station WPAR in Parkersburg back on the air, having to dismantle and move it a number of times as the waters rose. Another ham, W8BRE, helped put together a 160 meter radio to link the station with the Naval Reserve station.

At Leon, WV, inactive ham Clarence Casto, W8JJA, had been off the air for three years. But with the emergency, he hastily assembled an emergency version of his station to keep the town in contact.

A few miles downstream in Point Pleasant, WV, William Stone, W8MAO, was able to use a portable 20 meter rig to notify authorities in Charleston that medical supplies were needed by air.  This station was set up in the court house on the judge’s bench.

w8yxgeneratorIn Ohio, much of the relief traffic passed through W8YX, the club station of the University of Cincinnati.  Since commercial power had become unavailable, the station operated with the generator setup shown here.  Two 15 kva alternators were run by the power takeoff of a McCormick-Deering tractor.

In Kentucky, since Frankfort was cut off and flooded, the Governor of the state relied upon an amateur for emergency communications. W9AZY, who was also affiliated with a broadcast station, was able to set up a shortwave link between the Governor and his staff and broadcast station WLAP.

w9mwcThe man identified as “one of the flood’s ham heroes” was W.O. Bryant, W9NKD. On January 22, WHAS in Louisville broadcast the information that Carrollton, KY, population 2500, had been cut off from the outside world. The broadcast included a plea for an amateur to go there with emergency equipment. Bryant answered the call and brought his equipment by boat, where he was the only source of communications for 10 days.  Another such amateur is shown to the left, W9MWC, taking emergency equipment by boat to Shawneetown, KY, in temperatures of 12 degrees and sleet.



WLS Chicago, 1946

1946novsponsorwls

In this ad from the November 1946 issue of Sponsor magazine, WLS Radio in Chicago reminds its potential advertisers that it is the radio home of tomorrow’s friendly audience.

In July of that year, 2000 boys and girls from every county in Indiana were in the studio audience of the WLS Dinner Bell Time broadcast, “a program familiar in their homes from babyhood.” They were attending the annual 4-H Round-Up being held on the campus of Purdue University.

WLS presented the plaques for outstanding 4-H achievement, all broadcast live over the station’s 50,000 watt Chicago blowtorch. People in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin considered the station “one of the family,” and its complete weather, market reports, news, and down-to-earth entertainment expemplified the quiet neighborly way that WLS served both today’s and the future’s friendly audience.



NPOTA: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

St. Croix River looking north from Interstate State Park, Minnesota. By Aaron Fulkerson –  CC BY 2.5.

Last week, I did two National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  I did both of them from William O’Brien State Park in Minnesota.  My station consisted of my  Yaesu FT-817, powered by a 12 volt sealed lead acid fish finder battery,  The antenna consisted of a Hamstick mounted on the back of my car.  The QRP (low power, 5 watts) radio and very modest antenna have proven quite effective, especially on 20 meters.

During the ARRL NPOTA event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 11,000 activations from 449 different different units of the NPS (with only 40 not yet activated), with over 600,000 individual two-way contacts.

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William O’Brien State Park, Minnesota. By Greg Seitz (The.dharma.bum at English Wikipedia) – Photo by Greg Seitz (The.dharma.bum), CC BY-SA 2.5.

I made the quick jaunt to William O’Brien on Friday in order to work Patrick, N9OQT, who was set up at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana.  Patrick was there doing an Amateur Radio demonstration for a conference of state park superintendents from around the country, and he put out a call for activators to work him from different state parks around the country.  My five watts can be extremely effective using CW (Morse Code), but I thought it would be a challenging contact using voice.  However, since one of the purposes of the event was to demonstrate Amateur Radio to the gathered park officials, Patrick wanted to use voice only.  I started out by setting up in the parking lot of the park’s visitor center.  Even though this location is quite a distance from the river, it’s at a much higher elevation, and I thought it would make the difficult contact easier.

I needn’t have worried, since he copied my 5 watt signal quite well.  I immediately drove down to the river, and he copied me quite well from there as well.  He made a total of 124 contacts, including a total of eight state parks around the country.

lincoln1

Patrick Twigg, N9OQT photo.

Patrick’s operating location was an interesting juxtaposition of history and modern technology.  He was set up in the recreation of Thomas Lincoln’s (Abe’s father) 1820’s carpentry shop.  In addition, he reported local interference from roosters crowing in the background.  His radio and logging computer are shown on the old workbench, with the power source being the battery shown on the floor.

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Carpentry Shop at Lincoln Boyhood Home, Patrick Twigg N9OQT photo.

After working Patrick, I went to CW and worked about 30 more contacts over the course of the next hour.

On Saturday, my son and I made another trip to the St. Croix River, and I decided to do another activation.  We spent most of the day exploring the glacial potholes at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  The parking lot near the potholes is more than a hundred feet from the river, and the other unit of the park has somewhat difficult access due to road construction.  So we decided to stop at William O’Brien on the way home, where I set up in the same spot as the previous day near the boat landing.  This time, I didn’t get “spotted” on the DX cluster, so I spent about an hour answering other calls in order to make my required 10 contacts.  The most interesting contact was with Jim, K7MK, who was doing a SOTA activation in Idaho.

Shafer Butte, Idaho. National Forest Service photo.

Shafer Butte, Idaho. National Forest Service photo.

Summits On The Air (SOTA) is another Amateur Radio activity in which hams set up temporary stations on various mountain summits.  These can range from very modest summits that can be reached by car, to ones requiring serious mountaineering skills.  Jim’s location appears to be one that was somewhere between these two extremes, as he was atop the 2311 meter Shafer Butte in Idaho.  He reports that his activation involved a 6 mile hike, including a 1400 foot vertical ascent.

William O’Brien is a 1520 acre park founded in 1947, and located on the St. Croix River less than an hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul.  It’s location close to the metro area makes it an extremely popular park, but its being on the St. Croix can make it very much of a wilderness experience.

Minnesota’s Interstate State Park is located slightly further away from the Twin Cities, in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  It was founded in 1895.  The main visitor center is located immediately adjacent to the downtown area of Taylors Falls, and the campground and other facilities are located about a mile down the river.  It’s also a very popular park with Twin Cities residents to explore the glacial potholes, and is also a popular venue for rock climbing.  It is located across the river from the Wisconsin state park bearing the same name, from which I’ve done a previous NPOTA activation.



Hoosier Girls Build Radio, 1922

DorotheaAliceHanna

Shown here are Dorothea and Alice Hanna of Indianapolis, Indiana, ages 13 and 15, along with the radio they constructed according to plans published in the April 22, 1922 edition of Literary Digest. The set was designed by 21-year-old James Leo McLaughlin of New York, shown below along with his radio.SimpleXtalSet

In a letter to the magazine, the girls’ father reported that they arrived home from school with the copy of the magazine, and immediately pooled their allowances and set off to purchase the required parts at an electric store and stationery store. They had the set assembled by 6 PM. The next afternoon, “refuing all help from father or brother” they had the aerial and ground installed. They were soon receiving programs, “when many expensive sets reported only fragments or no sounds at all.”

The father reported that the girls had never studied physics and had never seen or heard wireless. Their sole assistance was driving the ground pipe into the ground and securing the switch to the side of the house.

The father reported that the girls’ total expenditure was $6.30, which he concluded was well invested.


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Regency TR-1: The First Transistor Radio, 1955

RegencyTR1Sixty years ago, a new phrase entered the American lexicon: transistor radio. Shown here is the first commercially manufactured transistor radio, the Regency TR-1. It was first produced in 1954, and featured here in Popular Mechanics, January 1955.

As shown in the schematic diagram below, the radio used four NPN transistors from Texas Instruments. It was a superheterodyne, with one transistor as the mixer-oscillator, two for IF amplification, and one as an audio amplifier. The detector was a germanium diode. To function at RF frequencies, the transistors required a fairly high voltage, which was supplied by a 22.5 volt battery. (The battery, incidentally, is still available, but it’s now a very specialized item and very expensive.) The radio drew about 4 milliamps, meaning that a battery would last about 20-30 hours. While somewhat expensive to operate, this was an improvement over tube portable radios, which would typically operate for a few hours on a change of batteries.

RegencyTR1Schematic

Texas Instruments produced a prototype transistor radio in 1954, and began shopping around for a radio manufacturer interested in producing it. The major names in radio weren’t interested, but an Indiana company named Industrial Development Engineering Associates (I.D.E.A.) jumped at the opportunity. It was put on the market in November 1954.

Wikipedia photo. "Regency TR-1 opened front Deutsches Museum" by Theoprakt - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia photo. “Regency TR-1 opened front Deutsches Museum” by TheopraktOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The radio originally retailed for $49.95. To put that price in perspective, coinage of the day was still silver, meaning that the radio could be yours in exchange for 50 silver dollars. Today, that would represent about a thousand dollars. Still, the radio sold about 100,000 units in its first year on the market.

The radio was a generally poor performer. The original TI prototype had included 6 transistors, which was reduced to keep costs down. In particular, the single audio amplifier transistor provided meager volume to the small speaker. Also, it lacked sensitivity, making it suitable only for receiving strong local stations. A review of the radio in Consumer Reports recommended against purchase.

Allied1955PortableFor 1955 listeners who needed a portable radio, a tube set was still the best option.  While they were still bigger in size, the performance of a tube portable would be dramatically better, and the cost would be much lower.  The radio shown here, for example, is a 4-tube portable from the 1955 Allied Radio Catalog.  It sold for $14.95.

Over the years, the price of transistor portables came down dramatically.  The same basic circuit was used in many inexpensive transistor AM radios.  By the time I got one in about 1972, the price was down to $1.99, and that was after inflation.  I believe I owned the exact model shown below, and I remember buying it after seeing a very similar ad in a local newspaper.

Today, specimens of the original Regency in good condition seem to go for about $400 on eBay.

References

 

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Acting Bears Come to Indy, 1864.

ActingBears

150 years ago today, Hoosiers were undoubtedly excited by the soon to arrive circus. But this wasn’t just any circus. The acting bears depicted here (realistically, no doubt) were but one of the many attractions to be featured at what was billed as “positively the largest exhibition of the amusement world,” The Monster Equescurriculum! It was going to be an immense and unparalleled combination, heralded here in the September 19, 1864, edition of the Indianapolis Daily State Sentinel.

The bears shown here were “Old Grizzly Adams’ Troupe of Acting Bears, from California.”  Adams himself, it would appear, wasn’t traveling with the bears, since he died in 1860 from a succession if injuries caused by the bears (and in one case, a monkey).  The bear depicted on the California state flag is apparently one of Adams’ bears.  It is not known whether that bear was one of the bears to visit Indiana, although the bear wearing a top hat bears a strong resemblance to the one on the flag.

But according to the announcement, since the combination of acts is such as had never before been attempted by private enterprise, it gave notice that the management will be “pardoned for directing attention to the fact that this magnificent phalanx of exhibitions not only combines and infinitely greater degree of novelty, variety and effect within itself than can be found in any other place of amusement in the world, but also a nearer approach to perfection in every detail.” It also notes that the performance entailed such an enormous expenditure of money that only the most liberal patronage could render it remunerative.

Admission for one of the four performances was fifty cents, 25 cents for children under 12.

 


A Parental Kidnapping Solved, 1919

BLrewardposterIt appears that the pages of Boys Life magazine were used to solve a parental kidnapping case in 1919.

This ad looks somewhat out of place in the November, 1919, issue of Boys Life magazine.  It reports that Graydon Hubbard, age 12, was an active member of his Scout Organization at Brookville, Indiana, when he and his brother Harold, age 8, were “stolen from their home early last July.”

The ad goes on to say that Graydon “will undoubtedly make an effort to get in touch with the nearest Boy Scout Unit to the point where they are located,” adding ominously, “if they are in this country.”

“If any Boy Scout–or Scout Master–learn their location–and will advise the Cincinnati Office of the William J. Burns Int. Detective Agency, Inc., of their address–upon receipt and verification of same–the above reward will be paid.”

The advertisement appears to have been successful, and it seems that some Scout in Riverside, California, must have collected the reward money. The November 30, 1919, issue of the Indianapolis Star reports that the boys’ mother, Mrs. M.P. Hubbard, was indicted in Indiana on a charge of kidnapping after the father, M.P. Hubbard, had been granted custody.

The boys were returned to Indiana from Riverside,California, by the chief of police and his wife, along with a private detective from the agency named in the advertisement. The article reports that Mrs. Hubbard had assumed a different last name and “had taught the children to go by that name.”  The article goes on to say that she had recently been named defendant in a lawsuit brought by the former husband.