Category Archives: Scouting

1948 Scout Morse Signaling

1947FebBLSeventy years ago this month, the February 1948 issue of Boys’ Life carried this feature by William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt teaching scouts the finer points of signalling by Morse code. He notes that there were two possibilities–semaphore and Morse–but that it was important for those on both ends of the message to “speak the same language.” He concludes that Morse was the superior option since “it can be sent day or night, in as many ways as you have the imagination to figure out.”

1947FebBL1He includes the plans for this signal light, with a range of three miles. It consists of a 6-volt sealed beam headlamp, mounted in a number 10 tin can. The headlamp is held in place with corrugated cardboard and then glued, as shown at left. He includes plans for the tripod base shown above.

While less common these days, round sealed beam headlights are still readily available, such as this one which can be ordered on Amazon. It’s probably possible to pull one from a junkyard at even lower cost.  Of course, it’s likely the modern equivalent will be 12 volts, rather than the 6 volt model shown in the magazine.    Power could be provided with 8 alkaline D-cells in series, which can be mounted in holders such as this one.  Another alternative would be a small rechargeable battery, or even an old car battery.

The magazine shows the plans for a simple code key, or an inexpensive one can be purchased.  But the article also proposed another method, similar to an idea shown here previously.  “Since one of the hardest things about signaling is learning to receive, we’ve included an ‘automatic’ sender that enables a Tenderfoot to send a Morse message for others to receive–as long as he has learned to spell with ordinary letters,” and that device is shown below.  The Tenderfoot merely traces along the path of the letters, resulting in flawless Morse.


For more information about the Signs, Signals, and Codes Merit Badge, see my earlier posts here and here.  And for more information about visual signaling, see this post.

1958 Boys’ Life Shortwave Receiver: Part 2

WB3HLHradioWe recently wrote about this three-transistor regenerative receiver from the January 1958 issue of Boys’ Life magazine.

I just received this picture of the completed receiver, constructed by Tom, WB3HLH, of Rockville, Maryland.

As a Cub Scout, he saw the receiver in the magazine and was very interested. This is understandable, since the magazine also carried a feature extoling the virtues of SWL’ing, as well as a listing of the prizes in the annual radio contest.

About 50 years later, he located the magazine and took it upon himself to make one. The article noted that the set was not for beginners, and his experience agrees with this assessment. He notes that the audio stage was simple, but it was very tricky to get the detector oscillating.  As you can see, he very carefully duplicated the layout of the original project.

In addition to the coils described in the article (wound on plug-in coil forms), he wound a coil for the broadcast band. He reports that the set performs well on shortwave, both for broadcast and SSB signals. On the broadcast band, it pulls in all of the major East Coast stations, and signals as far west as KMOX in St. Louis.

The article calls for the use of four penlight batteries, but he reports using a 9 volt battery. The only other circuit modification is the addition of a 3.3 k resistor in parallel with a .01 uF capacitor on the emitter of the detector transistor.

1958 Boys’ Life 3-Transistor Regen


1958JanBL1958JanBL1The January 1958 issue of Boys’ Life magazine carried the third part in a series about shortwave listening, and included the plans for the three-transistor shortwave receiver shown here. The construction article was authored by Howard McEntee, W2SI, who was also the designer of the magazine’s 1956 CONELRAD receiver.

The shortwave set covered 1.25 to 18.5 MHz with four plug-in coils, meaning that it could tune the top of the broadcast band, several shortwave broadcast bands, and the 160, 80, 40, and 20 meter ham bands.  It employed a 2N1114 as the regenerative detector, followed by two CK722‘s for audio amplification to drive a pair of headphones.  It was powered by four penlite cells, which were said to provide several hundred hours of use.

Tuning was accomplished with two variable capacitors, one for broad tuning, with another for bandspread for carefully tuning a crowded band.  A third variable capacitor was used to adjust regeneration.

The article cautioned that this set wasn’t necessarily for beginners.  It advised that those who had never built a radio before should start with a more simple set and then graduate to this one.  “Real care is needed in wiring, for a wrong connection in some parts could mean immediate ruin of over $10 worth of transistors, the finished job shoujld be checked and rechecked, before the power is turned on.”




The DX Hounds Are Back, 1948

1948JanBLSeventy years ago this month, the January 1948 issue of Boys’ Life magazine let its readers know that after a wartime absence, amateur radio was back, and that the DX Hounds were back. The article began with the story of how an Ohio ham, former Navy radio operator Paul L. Hughes, saved 300 in New Mexico. One night, Hughes heard a call on 10 meters from a motorist stranded in a snowstorm with 300 other motorists in New Mexico. Hughes found a ham in Albuquerque who phoned the New Mexico State Police, who had a rescue party on the way 26 minutes after the call for help.

For scouts interested in getting started, the article recommended three books, How to Become a Radio Amateur and the License Manual from the ARRL, as well as, of course, the Radio Merit Badge pamphlet. Each was available for 25 cents from the respective publisher.

1958 Boys’ Life Radio Contest

1957DecBLSixty years ago this month, the December 1957 issue of Boys’ Life announced the 1958 running of the magazine’s radio contest for hams and SWL’s.

According to the magazine, over 300 Scouts and Explorers at the 1957 Jamboree had been licensed hams, and most of them got their start with one of the BL radio contests.

The 1958 running had two classes for SWL’s. Class A entries used manufactured receivers or converted surplus sets. Class B was for scouts using homemade receivers they made themselves.

There was also a class for licensed hams, but the magazine noted that licensed hams were never eligible for prizes for winning contests. Hams were to call CQ BSA, and exchanged message number, RST, rank in scouting, and BSA region or country.  For the SWL categories, prizes ranged from ARRL memberships to receivers.

This year, the SWL contest was based entirely on the number of US and Canadian regions logged, number of states, and number of countries. Once a station in a particular region, state, or country was logged, there was no reason to log another. There were bonus points for logging all regions and all states, and any station qualified, whether it was broadcast, TV, FM, code, armed forces, police, amateur, or other.

The log had to include a 25 word written statement of either “I like short-wave radio because…” or “I’d like to get an amateur radio operator’s license because….”

Logs were to be signed by an adult certifying that the scout logged the stations by himself, alone.

Peace Light 2017


This cartoon marking the 1st anniversary of Pearl Harbor appeared 75 years ago today in the Pittsburgh _____, Dec. 7, 1942.

This cartoon marking the 1st anniversary of Pearl Harbor appeared 75 years ago today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 7, 1942.

Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, marking the entry of the United States into World War II.


The Peace Light

As a symbol of peace, we show the flame above, which has been burning for hundreds of years.  This flame was burning throughout the Second World War, the First World War, the U.S. Civil War, and every other war in modern history.  It’s shown here in my living room, but it originates from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where it has been continuously tended for hundreds of years.  The exact date that some monk struck a flint to ignite it is not known, but it is believed to be about a thousand years ago.

Each year during the Advent season, it is transported from Bethlehem to Europe and North America, courtesy of Austrian Airlines.  This year, it was brought to Kennedy Airport on November 25.  From there, volunteers fan out across the country to distribute the flame.  Most of these are connected with Scouting in some way, and Scouts and Guides in Europe participate in similar activities.

As I did last year, I played a small part in the distribution.  Prior to my getting it, the flame traveled to Indianapolis, and then to Chicago.  From there, it went to Des Moines, and I met an Iowa Scouter in Albert Lea, Minnesota, to transfer it to St. Paul.  From me, it was picked up by others who took it to Wisconsin and North Dakota.  From there, it will travel to Winnipeg, and probably to other points.  Meanwhile, others are taking it to other parts of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

You can read more about the Peace Light at the U.S. Peace Light website or the Peace Light North America Facebook group.  If you’re close to St. Paul, Minnesota, and would like to receive the Peacelight, feel free to contact me and we can make arrangements.  In other areas, you can find a local source on the Facebook page.



One common question is how the Peace Light travels on two international flights from Israel to Austria, and then to North America.  The flame is transported safely in an antique blastproof miner’s lamp.  On the ground, it is walked through customs by airline employees to the airport chapel.



On the ground, the most common way to transport the light is with a lantern such as the one at the top of the page.  These are rarely used these days, since mantle type lanterns provide considerably more light.  But in the 19th century, the cold-draft kerosene lantern was something of a revolution in lighting, since it provides a fairly bright flame and is also relatively safe, since it will self-extinguish if tipped over.


A good history of the lantern can be found at this site.  Prior to such lanterns, the best available option for camp lighting was the candle lantern.  As the name implies, it was just a ventilated enclosure in which a candle was inserted.


The ad at the left, from the June 1916 issue of Boys’ Life, shows both types of lamps.  Interestingly,  in addition to providing more light, the kerosene lantern is actually less expensive.  Candle lanterns start at $1.50, but the cold-blast lantern is only 75 cents.


Both types of lanterns are readily available today.  The cold-blast kerosene lantern can be found at Amazon at any of the following links:


You can also obtain the lantern at WalMart with this link or this link.  The fuel is available at this link.  You can order the lanterns and fuel online with these links, and then pick them up the same day at the store.

And for those who want to be even more retro in their camp lighting, these candle lanterns are also available at Amazon:

The lantern shown below is very similar, or possibly identical, to the 1916 candle lantern shown in the ad:

How to Transport the Peace Light

If you need to transport the flame only a short distance, one good option is to use a votive candle at the bottom of a coffee can. For longer distances, I place the lanterns at the top of the page inside a 5 gallon bucket similar to the one shown at the left, wtih sand or cat litter at the bottom.

Carrying it in this manner is very stable, and I have never experienced it tipping.  If it does tip, the entire lantern is safely contained, and the lantern will self-extinguish.

It should be noted that because there is an open flame, you should not refuel the vehicle with the Peace Light in the car.  Fill up your gas tank before picking up the light.  If you need to buy gas before you reach your destination, it will be necessary to leave the lantern at a safe location before driving to the pumps.  And while the combustion of these lanterns is very complete, it is a good idea to keep a window of the car open slightly.

Plans for a more a elaborate carrier are also available at the site.



1957 Boys’ Life Telephone Circuit

1957NovBL1Sixty years ago, Maurice Peacock, Jr., of Radnor, PA, got $5 for sending these simple circuits to the “Hobby Hows” editor of Boys’ Life, where they were printed in the November 1957 issue.

The circuit shows how to rig up a telephone system to a friend’s house nearby, using an old radio headphone. One earpiece is used at each end, with batteries wired in series. Peacock explains that the wire needs to be insulated, and suggests that old thread spools can be used as insulators. The basic circuit is shown in figure 1. To save on the cost of wire, a good ground can be used as the return, as shown in figure 2.

I suspect the Boy Scouts of 1957 eventually figured it out, but the diagrams shown here wouldn’t work. A minor change needs to be made.

I suspect that, just like the Boy Scouts of 1957, our readers will quickly spot the problem. When you’ve found it, please comment on our Facebook page.

Billy Hallicrafters to the Rescue Again

1957NovBLA few months ago, we reported how young Billy Hallicrafters used his Hallicrafters shortwave receiver to save the lives of some men aboard a sinking ship.

Here, we see young Billy at it again, saving the life of a pilot in distress, as reported in the November 1957 issue of Boys’ Life.

Billy was apparently late for school that day, but I’m sure his tardiness was excused.  We enter the story as Billy’s mother reminds him that it’s time to get ready for school.  He prepares to shut down his receiver and get to school, but at the last minute, he hears something truly ominous.

He hears a pilot, apparently in communication with air traffic control, since the pilot is acknowledging a message. But the pilot interrupts the acknowledgment to declare a mayday, which apparently only Billy hears. The pilot had “flamed out 10 miles south of Westport” and was bailing out.

Billy interrupts his school preparations and frantically calls the Civil Air Patrol to report the emergency. Within minutes, a CAP helicopter is dispatched, and spots the parachute. One of the crew comments that it’s a good thing that boy was tuned in, since nobody else heard the Mayday.

The crew quickly gets the unconscious pilot out of the tree where he’s dangling and to the hospital. In the next scene, Billy is visiting the hospital where the downed pilot thanks Billy for saving his life.

1942 Primitive Canoe

1942NovBLThese scouts didn’t have to worry about the modern Guide to Safe Scouting, and the procurement of materials right run afoul of modern Leave No Trace principles.  But these scouts 75 years ago put together this primitive canoe according to plans appearing in the November 1942 issue of Boys’ Life.

The plans given don’t go into great detail, but with a little common sense, exact instructions are not necessary.  The frame of the craft is made out of several saplings, and the shell is a 12′ x 12′ tarp.  The author, William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, notes that “a river should be no obstacle for your Patrol if you have an axe, some string and a waterproof tarpaulin.  Then you can produce a primitive canoe, and paddle yourself across, using a couple of trench shovels, pieces of bark or your hands.”

The frame is constructed by lashing the various saplings together, and then the tarp is added.  It should be within the skill level of any scout who has mastered the basic lashings for First Class.

Note:  In my opinion, constructing and using this canoe is a perfectly appropriate activity for modern scouts.  However, proper safety precautions should be followed, and if it’s a BSA activity, then the Guide to Safe Scouting must be followed.  In particular, the 1942 Scouts shown in the picture would not pass muster, since they are not wearing approved life jackets.

They are, however, following the buddy system, and I assume that they have both passed the BSA swimmer test.  They’re obviously staying close to shore, and the craft appears to be seaworthy for that location.

Under current BSA rules, the “craft must be suitable for the activity, be seaworthy, and float if capsized. All craft and equipment must meet regulatory standards, be properly sized, and be in good repair.” Depending on the conditions, a boat like the one shown should qualify.

Since the boat “must meet regulatory standards,” this means that the boat must be legal under state law.  In Minnesota (and probably in other states) no registration is required, since the boat is less than 10 feet in length and non-motorized.

Since constructing this boat requires cutting living trees, great care should be taken in their selection.  Other materials (such as, perhaps, PVC pipe) should be considered.  But in my opinion, with a little planning, there’s no reason why scouts today shouldn’t be able to duplicate the craft built by their predecessors three quarters of a century ago.

Buzzer Converted to Telegraph Sounder

1917SeptPMThis illustration appeared in Popular Mechanics a hundred years ago this month, September 1917, and illustrates a clever solution to a problem that no longer exists.  It shows a simple way to convert a buzzer into a telegraph sounder.

At first blush, it seems rather obvious how to use a buzzer as a telegraph:  Simply hook it up, as shown, in series with the key and the battery.  If that’s how it were hooked up, that’s how I, or just about anyone who knows Morse Code these days, would be able to listen with ease.

It took me a few minutes to realize what was going on.  This was a simple way to create a sounder that would sound like a landline telegraph.  That kind of telegraph didn’t produce a continuous tone, as Morse Code does when sent by radio.  Instead, it produces clicks and clacks as the arm of the sounder hits the coil.  The landline telegrapher is listening for those clicks and clacks, the same way that I would be listening to the buzz of the buzzer.  But the buzzing would be just as incomprehensible to the landline telegrapher, just as the clicks and clacks would be incomprehensible to me.  The code being used is very similar (but not quite identical, since American telegraphers used American Morse, while radio operators use International Morse Code).  But the medium being used is very different.

The secret of the diagram above is the wire run from point C to point F.  Normally, a buzzer makes noise because the coil energizes and pulls the arm down.  But in the process, it breaks the electrical contact between the arm and point C.  This causes the coil to de-energize, and the arm swings back.  When it gets back in position, the coil is powered up again, and the cycle repeats.  This happens fast enough that a buzzing sound is produced.

In this diagram, the vibrator contact is shorted out.  So when the arm is pulled toward the coil, it stays there until the key is released, just as would happen in a landline telegraph sounder.  So instead of buzzing, the buzzer now clicks and clacks, and the aspiring landline telegrapher can use the modified buzzer to practice the trade.

According to the magazine, the idea was sent in by one Clarence F. Kramer of Lebanon, Indiana.  Interestingly, Mr. Kramer apparently knew both versions of the code, since he was also a radio amateur. He is listed in the 1921-23 call books as being licensed as 9AOB, with an address of 414 E. Pearl St., Lebanon, Indiana.  The April 1923 issue of Wireless Age shows that he pulled in, on a crystal set, 27 different broadcast stations, his best DX being 825 miles, WBAP in Ft. Worth, Texas.  Another one of the stations he pulled in was WLAG in Minneapolis, the forerunner of WCCO.  In the December 30, 1925 issue of the Indianapolis Star, he describes himself as an “ardent radio bug.”

He also appears to have been a Boy Scout, since one Clarence Kramer of Indiana, with various interests including wireless and telegraphy had a penpal request in the January 1915 issue of Boys’ Life magazine.  While it could be another person with the same name, one Clarence F. Kramer was an engineer with Ford, holding a number of patents.  If he went to work for Ford, then he is probably the Clarence Frank Kramer who died in Michigan in 1994 at the age of 92.