Looking back – The Hastings Club Tour – by John Heys G3BDQ

J. D. Heys (G3BDQ)

At 06.00 hours on Saturday, April 12th 1958 in a biting east wind and with a sprinkling of snow on the roof tops, five members of the Hastings and District Amateur Radio Club pulled away from the sea front on the first lap of their 900-mile journey. On the following Saturday morning the tired but happy crews of the two vehicles used on the trip ran into their home town in blazing sunshine with the temperature up to 60 degrees — such are the vagaries of the English climate!

In eight days the writer, John Taplin (G3HRI), Bob Page (G3MIY), Bill Thompson our secretary and his son Nigel, had visited 26 English and Welsh counties. The Club call sign G6HH together with its GW prefix and /A or /P suffixes had attracted a good deal of attention on all bands from 160 to 10 metres. In all, 191 different stations were worked in 15 countries, 49 of them from the car with its 4ft. whip aerial (” The Sputnik Special,” as it came to be called). The rare Top Band counties of Rutland, Merioneth, Montgomery, Radnor and Brecknock were successfully put on the air, much to the delight of the keen WABC ‘chasers.

How it All Began
At one of our weekly meetings last autumn the writer happened to mention a vague plan for a Club tour. To his surprise the idea caught on and within days, routes, equipment, and leave dates were being planned. Discussion and argument centring round the project certainly kept members interested for many Club evenings, and everyone contributed something to the cause. Indeed, an overseas member of the Club, Horst Jens (DJ3OD) was good enough to send along a gift of £5 to swell the ” petrol fund.”

Selection of Gear
G3HCK loaned us his 250-watt PE generating set, but no one had a compact all-band transmitter. However, Messrs. K. W. Electronics, Ltd., generously lent us a K.W. ” Vanguard.” This transmitter performed so beautifully at the writer’s QTH (adding JT1YL to his score) and throughout the tour that one of the Club members decided to keep it for himself! Other firms were also kind enough to con­tribute equipment on loan. Stratton and Co., Ltd., came up trumps and sent along a mint Eddystone 888A, complete with S-meter and speaker, which was a godsend when the pile-ups started on Top Band. Cosmocord willingly supplied three Acos crystal microphones. One of the latter, a MIC 39-1 stick type, impressed everyone with its wonderfully flat response and was also bought in at the end. A local Rootes Group distributor, Messrs. Langney Motors, Ltd., provided us with a 15-cwt. Commer van free of charge. This vehicle was, of course, invaluable and carried most of the gear and all the luggage.

Mobile Operation
This was restricted to Top Band as the 40 and 80 metre /M aerials did not seem to like the deep narrow Welsh valleys, and anyway we were kept so busy on One-Sixty in the densely populated areas that there was hardly time for mobile
work on any other band, so we decided to leave well alone.
The mobile transmitter was specially built for the journey by the writer and was ” tailor made” to fit secretary Thompson’s car. For simplicity it was crystal controlled on the three LF bands. It had a 1625 PA with Pi-output; a pair of 6AQ5’s in AB1 for the modulator, and the usual 12AX7 pre-amp and triode driver stages.

As is so well known (or should be by now) the key to successful mobile operation is the aerial. On Top Band we used a fibreglass fishing rod tip wound with 8 feet of enamelled wire, base loaded with a coil wound on a cyclist’s polythene drinking bottle. A polythene sandwich bag weatherproofed the coil and the system was spot tuned on 1970 Kc/s with two one foot lengths of steel piano wire. These were connected to the top of the loading coil and provided some variable tuning capacity. The aerial was mounted on top of the car and all sway was overcome by using four nylon guys made from 28 lb. fishing line.

The receiver was an old SX24, and a dual power supply was also provided by the hon. sec. This power unit consisted of a vibrator pack for the receiver and a rotary generator for the 350 volts transmitter HT. Send/Receive was achieved with one switch on the receiver, and relays switched the HT voltages and the aerial. A thermo-ammeter was useful for keeping an eye on aerial current; we looked for those upward kicks which denote modulation.

Top Band mobile ranges of 30 miles were commonplace, and our best DX was G3LIL near Newbury, worked when we were passing through Sevenoaks, a distance of 80 miles. All of us were amazed at the high level of activity in the Midlands. The journey from Rutland to Sutton Park was a continuous series of QSO’s so far as the duty mobile operator in the back of the car was concerned. What a contrast with Central Wales, where amateurs are very few and far between! Ten other mobiles were worked; many of these contacts eventually led to personal QSO’s and mutual inspections of gear. One point worthy of mention is the still very common delusion that the ” hot” end of a whip aerial is the part that does the work. Nothing could be further from the truth and the most elaborate 12-foot copper whip is a waste of effort if the loading coil is wound with fine wire on a long narrow former. Maximum radiation is from the lower half of the loading coil—so make sure the coil has a high ” Q” with a diameter of about half its length and is wound with at least 18 SWG wire.

P From The Rare Counties.

Our first experience of operating on Top Band from a sought-after county was at Ketton in Rutland. When G3FUR of Stamford learned of our intentions in his neighbouring county he offered to find us a suitable spot for /A operation. Of course we jumped at the idea, and to our delight found a brick out-house with mains supply and operating table laid on waiting for us. G3FUR had even got an aerial up for us – a 66-foot doublet between a pair of 40ft. masts; it worked like a charm from the word ” go”.  An oil convector was also thought­fully provided and this item saved the lives of G3HRI and G3BDQ, who spent the whole night with the gear whilst the rest of the party slept in a nearby tavern. Owing to poor conditions and a seemingly dead band, only five 160-metre stations were raised that night, the first Rutland QSO being with our Club president, G6QB, whom we worked on Top Band from every temporary or portable QTH during the tour. (These skeds with G6QB were useful in letting the folks at home know that we were still alive and kicking!)

Putting Merioneth on the map was greatly helped through the kindness of GW3DHY and his XYL in Bala, where we literally took possession of the shack. A temporary aerial about 200 feet long was strung out down the garden and the team got down to operating in four-hour shifts. The between-times were spent in sleeping, eating, and rag-chewing with GW3DHY, who is the only active amateur in the county and finds life without ” locals ” a little boring.

Montgomeryshire saw us in our oddest QTH. Operation was from the car pulled into the roadside and the aerial was 200 feet of insulated wire slung over a telephone line and dropping to ground level at the far end. Even with this unpromising set-up we were soon in business and peeling off contacts.
A hilltop location 1,000 feet above sea level far from human habitation; what more could any operator wish? That wish came true near Presteign in Radnor, Here we worked 35 Top Banders before midnight, when we had to pack up and take down the 300-footer. The story was much the same on the following evening near Brecon, but near midnight found us struggling with both vehicles which had bogged down in soft ground. After the application of great physical effort and some low cunning we eventually got on the road again and reached a pub, appropriately named “The Gremlin”, in the nick of time. We would have liked to have done more phone working, but felt that our efforts should be directed more towards the CW man striving after WABC, so concentrated on the key rather than the mike. However, at Brecon G3MIY did work eleven phone stations in half an hour and was reduced to a croaky whisper for some time afterwards!

The Other Bands

The K.W.  “Vanguard” was used to very good effect on the DX bands, and a ten metre phone opening to North America on April 12 enabled us to work a string of W stations from the Rutland site. The lure of having worked “the smallest English County” resulted in pile-ups of the kind more usually associated with exotic prefixes! Our best DX was a 569 report on 7 mc from W6DOJ, but “faithful Forty” was used mainly to keep skeds with G3LMG and to rag-chew with U.K. stations. Twenty metres gave us many European QSO’s and Eighty was useful for G contacts before breakfast when the other bands seemed quiet.


Under this heading, we can only say ” Thank you ” to so many who were so kind to us. Throughout the tour we were warmly received by several clubs and by many individual amateurs. The Saturday night noggin with the Stamford gang; the luxurious and well-equipped premises of the Leicester boys, the “high altitude” den of the Coventry Club; the fleet of mobiles in Sutton Park, and the meeting at the “British Volunteer” in Cardiff, will all be long remembered by all the members of our party. The wonderfully efficient talk-in provided by G3HRH/ M, G3BMD/M, G3GLQ/M and GW3BAZ/M saved us many miles and enquiries in their districts. G3HRI and the writer will also be ever grateful to G3AIK of Ketton for the magnificent breakfast provided so unexpectedly when things seemed rather grey at 7.00 a.m. one frosty morning. At home, G3LMG undertook the burden of filling up over 200 QSL cards from the duplicate log sheets dispatched to him every day. This ensured that every contact we made would be promptly confirmed.

It is to be hoped that many other Clubs and Groups will follow up this venture with similar and perhaps more ambitious schemes. Should they wander Hastings way they can be assured of a grand reception from us all. As to next year? No doubt someone will come up with a bright idea!

Throughout the tour, the Club callsign G6HH was used, prefixed and suffixed GW, /P or /M as appropriate. Under /M conditions, the receiver was an SX-24, with the operator (G3HRI in this photograph next page) in the back of the car. The transmitter is above the receiver, with the power supply units on the floor. In the week of the trip, nearly 1,000 miles were run, and many interesting and pleasurable QSO’s and personal contacts were made by the Hastings group.


Here we see, left to right: ‘Doc Parkman G3MGQ’. Bob Page G3MIY. Frank Finch SWL (G4FEF). Bill Thompson G3MQT (hon. secretary, Hastings & District Amateur Radio Club) with Son. John Taplin G3HRI (a sightless member). John Heys G3BDQ (author of The party started out early on the morning (frosty) of April 12th, from the sea-front at Hastings.





By John Heys G3BDQ re-published from the Vital Spark newsletter Feb 2009.

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