Saturday, May 17, 2008

Memories of Hamventions past

The image to the left is an aerial photo of the Dayton Hamvention circa the mid 1990s. The building in the middle is, of course, the Hara Arena. The cars appearing above the arena are in the parking lot. All the activity below and to the right of the building (which looks like lines of parked cars) is in fact, all flea market! That is what Hamvention was like when I last attended.

I hear tales told "that it's not like it used to be". That's a shame, indeed! Some of the best memories I have as a Ham revolve around Field Day and Hamvention.

I have been to Ohio for the "World's Largest Gathering of Hams" six or seven times, all told. I first went in 1985 and 1986. I remember the 1986 Hamvention because I had brought along some electronics text books; and in the evenings in the hotel room, I would study for the Digital Electronics Degree that I was taking at DeVry. Back in those days, I would go out to Dayton with my friends Barry WB2KLF and Mark N2EBA (SK). We stayed at a Knight's Inn in Dayton proper. I remember in particular the tacky purple drapes at the Knight's Inn. They were supposed to look "regal", I guess! Thinking back on them, the only word that comes to mind is "Ugh!".

The best times at Hamvention were those during my tenure with the Piscataway Amateur Radio Club. My companions for those wonderful trips were Bob W3BBO who was living in Piscataway at the time, Rich AA2KS, Bill W2WK, Rich W2PQ, Charlie N2LHD (SK), Chuck WB2MSV (SK), Don KO2K, Jimmy N2LFI (SK), Marty KB2JSG and a bunch of others I can't recall right now.

When the Piscataway group first contemplated going to our first Hamvention together, we met for dinner at Rick AA2KS's house in order to plan our trip. He lived in Edison at the time; and, boy, can his wife Pat cook! I've never, ever had as good an Italian meal as Pat could put together! If I remember correctly, our first trip out there together was in 1994. We caravaned with N2LHD leading the way, and four of us followed in Rich's brand new Cadillac. Rich W2PQ brought along a cassette tape of "The Jerky Boys" and we howled at the low brow humor on the trip out. In all, it was a twelve hour ride; and we'd start out on Thursday at about 5:00 in the morning to arrive in Fairborn at about 5:00 PM. Our first night's dinner always seemed to be at the "Spaghetti Factory" in Dayton. About 20 or so of us Hams from the greater Central NJ region had a sit down of good food (although not as good as AA2KS's XYL's) good talk and best of all, laughs.

We stayed at the Homewood Suites in Fairborn where the AMSAT folks stayed. Bob W3BBO and I were big into satellite operating at the time; so that was an added treat. On our first trip in 1994 we got to the greater Dayton area; only to be greeted by tornado warnings! Back then, Hamvention was in April and the weather could be wild and woolly. You had to be ready for anything from snow to heat to rain to hail and thunderstorms! I think that Mark Twain must have been to Dayton once or twice. He must have, because he was the one who came up with the line, "If you dont' like the weather then wait five minutes!" That was Dayton in April to a "T"! If it was rainy, there was mud everywhere! Rich AA2KS would make up wipe our shoes off with a towel before we dared get into his brand new Caddy! And when it rained, it poured! I remember, in particular, being caught in the midst of the flea market during a downpour and was lucky to have brought along an umbrella. Not so lucky was some guy who was selling boat anchors (antique radios) that were sitting on the ground, only to have a mini torrent of a storm created river run through them! Hopefully the prices on those fellas got knocked down!

To me, the flea market WAS Hamvention. I spent more time outside than inside. I always looked for "oddball" items. I remember one year I bought two little pieces of nylon that were embroidered with the words "REMOVE BEFORE LAUNCH". It turned out that these tags were safety pins from fighter jet ejection seats. They would be put in place so an ejection seat couldn't accidentally be launched while the aircraft was parked. Where else could you buy something like that except for Hamvention? I never made the "major purchase" of a big ticket radio at Hamvention; but if I had wanted to, there was plenty of opportunity! All the biggest vendors were inside the arena; and you could do a lot of price comparing before you decided to plunk down the big bucks. Guys literally spent hours going from booth to booth doing careful shopping.

I first became a member of FISTS at the 1994 Hamvention; and I remember meeting Tom Dandrea N3EQF, the author of Log-EQF at that Hamvention. I had already been using Log-EQF since 1992; and it was nice to actually meet and talk with him there. I bought a Kent Twin Paddle at Hamvention one year as a kit. That was a great paddle and like an idiot, I sold it a few years back.

The second year that we went out there, I brought a laptop along that I borrowed from work. I was a member of AOL at the time; and during the evenings I would go online and would host a "chat" for the Amateur Radio Interest Group. I would fill them in on the latest and greatest and would answer any questions that they might have had.

Luckily, the Homewood Suites was pretty sophisticated at the time. The phones in the rooms had extra jacks on the side, which made plugging in a modem a rather easy thing to do. That was fun and rewarding experience. I've never had the opportunity since then to play "on the scene Reporter"!

The Hara arena was the place to be for the Forums. I only went to a few during my times at Hamvention; and the best was the "Electrical Safety" forum put on by Ohio Central Power and Light. They used great visual aids to impress upon us the dangers of getting near power lines. You all know those familiar words, "Never put your antenna near live power lines". There's ample good reasoning behind that as O C P & L showed us. They demonstrated what could happen to your hand if it came in contact with a power line by turning off a circuit breaker box and taking out a huge buss fuse and replacing it with a hot dog. Literally moments after turning the power back on, the hot dog exploded!

They also demonstrated how items that we thought were non-conductive, are not so in real life. Let's say for instance, one leg of your dipole falls across a power line. You get the genius idea to use a corn broom to whisk the wire away, right? After all, the broomstick is wood and the actual broom is just straw, right? Won't conduct electricity, right? WRONG! At power line voltages, there is enough water in that wood and straw so that if you actually tried to do that, it would be the last thing you did on earth Try to explain to St. Peter why you arrived at the Pearly Gates with all your hair and eyebrows singed off!

At the end of your first day , you were always the victim of sensory overload! Look how disheveled (but happy) I was at the end of Day One during one of my trips out there! By the way, you probably can't notice it from the size of the photo; but the callsign cap I was wearing had N2ELW on it. I had that callsign from 1983 until 2000. I was also wearing my official Piscataway Amateur Radio Club baseball jacket, which I still have! Those were the days! I was about 20 pounds lighter, had way less gray hair and way more energy (and disposable income) back then.

Days Two was always good as the routine was to make sure you soaked in everything you might have missed on Day One. But Day Three (Sunday) was always mixed with sadness and gladness. You were happy to be getting back home to your loved ones; but sad to be leaving the "Ham Radio Experience of a Lifetime" and if you were like me, you were undoubtedly disappointed that you didn't win any of the fabulous Hamvention Door Prizes.

I hope all of you out there have either gotten to or will get to experience Hamvention at least one time in your lives. I guarantee (1000%) that you will remember it forever! My goal remains to make it out there at least one more time so I can finally attend a "Four Days in May" QRP convention.

73 de Larry W2LJ

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:47 PM

    7/7/2008 11:29 PM


    So many of our QSO's started out that way!

    I happened to accidentally type my call sign into a google window, rather than the window I intended to type it into and among the results, was a brief excerpt from your blog. I recognized & assumed it was something you wrote, even before I knew the source.

    What great memories reading this brought back to me. We had some great times, that's for sure. I miss those good old days.

    I did not attend again this year. Finances are different now. And my wedding anniversary is May 20. I hope to go again at some point.

    The last one I attended was 2006. Even then, the crowds had begun to thin and there were quite a few empty spots throughout the flea market. I understand that trend is continuing. In 2006, I believe the tented area of the flea market was gone.

    Times change & life goes on.

    None of the times I attended ever matched the fun of the early days with you & Mark. But I certainly enjoyed every trip. I went for 25 years!!!

    My wife & I were at the Piscataway flea market a few weeks back & I had hoped to run into you, but no such luck. It is very close to home for me. I got there later in the morning & either most everyone had already gone home or it was lightly attended.

    I hope one day we can hook up on Greenbrook or Martinsville (or elsewhere). I don't find a lot of time for Ham radio, but would love to reminisce about old times with you. Ah yes, I can't close without mentioning the "Purple Bedspread Inn" (Knights Inn) out in Dayton. Well at least it was an economical place to stay for a few days. The last few times I went, they began price gouging the weekend of Hamvention. After 1 year of that, I booked a room elsewhere.

    Thanks for bringing back a few good memories this evening. I thoroughly enjoyed this posting on your blog. Keep in touch when you can. I can be reached via the email address.

    Good night.

    your friend,