This morning was the 2013 Lockport Amateur Radio Association's Winter Hamfest. I usually don't do much of anything in Niagara County for the simple fact of the people. I was never a fan of Lockport...I had plastic surgery on my face as a reminder to NEVER live there.
However, the hamfest this morning was interesting at the very least. There were your typical hamfest goods...in 3 categories:
The Utterly Useless/Junk/Garbage
In the good category were a few honest to God treasures...such as a Radio Shack HTX-10 for $40...a Japanese Hi-Mound bug for $40 OBO...a Vibroplex Iambic Standard (with the grey base) for $100 but he was negotiable...and so many more. HTs for $20 were another example. The Chinese radios such as Baofengs, Wouxons, TYTs, Jialings, and many others that are available in the US for under $40 SHIPPED have caused the bottom to fall out of the HT market. Unless it's a SPECIFIC type of HT, such as the APRS models from Kenwood or Yaesu, or the D-Star units from Icom, there is simply NO inherent value in used HTs anymore.
One seller was selling a 1939 Hallicrafters SX-28 WITH matching Art Deco inspired speaker, and he had the original packaging. I didn't ask what he was asking for this old boat anchor, but it attracted a crowd, to be sure. This same seller had an utterly FILTHY 1966 Heathkit HD-10 electronic keyer for $20. I WANTED THIS KEY!!!!
I talked with the seller for a bit, and he realized that I was the one responsible for the "eggbeater video" he saw at his radio club a few years ago. That was my window! I offered $15 for the Heathkit, and he accepted...and after I found an outlet and plugged it in, it worked like a charm. So far, so good.
As for the bad, there was a mix of stuff that COULD be fixed if you knew what you were doing,and stuff that was missing parts, meters, switches, and the like. One example was an MFJ-492 memory keyer. MAN...when these came out, they really intrigued me. These were for the "Gods of CW". It was an intimidating unit to say the least. The seller this morning wanted $15 for his...and I ALMOST bit...until I picked it up and could hear "loose change". Hamfest Warning #1: If it sounds like a maraca, LEAVE IT THERE.
Another few examples of "the bad" were old rigs like the Heathkit HW-30 "Benton Harbor Lunchbox". In 1993, I had one of these to chat with the Sunday night 144.40 MHz AM gang. 2m AM sounds so rich and so full-bodied (like black coffee)! We had a great time with this net, until one night, we heard the distinct "braaaaaap!" sound on an adjacent frequency. We knew it was related to Packet, but we had no idea it would have real staying power. Of course, I'm referring to APRS at 144.39 MHz.
Another case of "the bad" was found in SWR/Power meters...that had no meters!!! PASS.
Then, the useless/junk/trash was abundant.
There were COUNTLESS laptops for sale for $1 that were simply too old and slow to be of any good to anyone. When I say "LAPTOP", don't think MacBook Pro, or HP 6715b. Think IBM 486 Thinkpad, or Compaq 386SX, or...worse still...8088-based "amber screen machines".
Or computer parts in HUGE plastic totes for hardware that was obsolete 10 YEARS AGO, let alone NOW!
Or crap video game systems that went out of popularity in the late 1990's.
Or ham-related junk that was SO OLD, that no one would want it. Think wave meter, or Q Multiplier.
WHY BRING THIS STUFF WHEN YOU DAMN WELL KNOW YOU'RE BRINGING IT HOME AGAIN?!
These types of things are COMMON at hamfests. You have 15 pieces of crap for every one item that is really good.
When I arrived home (the Williamsville QTH)...the soon-to-be-ex XYL, in a rare moment of kindness towards me, "allowed" me to use my Hustler and power supply in what WAS my office. Along with my newly acquired HD-10, I also had/have the HTX-100 that WB2VUO sold to me. The HTX-100 was my first, HONEST-TO-GOD, true Amateur Radio transceiver that I owned when I was a Novice. Comparing the HTX-100 with the HTX-10 that I sold to WB2VUO is a difficult task, because while they each have their own pros and cons, the BEST asset of the HTX-100 was the inclusion of CW, whereas the HTX-10 did not have CW, but DID have AM and FM.
First, I brought the HD-10 into MY kitchen and began to remove 47 years of grime, cigarette smoke film, and common dirt. It took an hour of rubbing with HDX Orange Degreaser to cut through the filth.
Once clean, I plugged the ungrounded cord into the wall and began to send some code through the built-in speaker. Some was sent at 5-7 WPM, some at my comfort zone of 16-20 WPM, and some at "CW Contest" speed of 30-40 WPM. And I noticed that some of my dits (or dots) were not being sent properly. When you turn the keyer upside down, there are 7 screws that mechanically adjust certain aspects of the keying, such as contact spacing on the dot and dash sides, the firmness of the paddle, and finally the paddle height. None of these adjustments made much good...I had no choice but to open up the 6.5 POUND keyer and see what was up.
Upon taking the top cover off the old monster keyer, I noticed the "L-shaped" brackets that the SPST momentary switched were bolted to. The "dot/dit" side had about 2mm too much bracket in the way, which prevented the switch from making a solid and CONSISTENT contact with the paddle arm EVERY TIME. So, I unscrewed the L-bracket, and walked out into my garage in the 22 degree Buffalo weather, and fired up my Dremel to grind off that 2mm of metal. Once complete, the switch contact was even with the bracket. Once reassembled, the dits/dots worked EVERY TIME as they are supposed to.
After reassembly, I had to recalibrate everything according to how I like a single-paddle keyer to feel. Now, this is a 47-year old keyer. It's NOT a Bencher BY-2...it's NOT a Vibroplex Iambic or Vibrokeyer. It's NOT a Begali Signature. It's an OLD, HEAVY, CRUDE, CLICKING, ELECTRO-MECHANICAL behemoth. And with that in mind, I set it up to feel as closely to my Ten-Tec KR5 or my Vibroplex Original as it could...within reason.
It took approximately 20 minutes to get the spacing how I like it...medium-wide. I don't like close action. I am a 25-year Speed-X straight user, and have used a bug in the past...so the delicate Iambic touch is just out of the question. I work with my hands all day in a profession that requires brute hand strength sometimes...so I need some wider spacing. And I like the paddle medium-firm. Not too gentle that it actuates if you blow on it, but also not so firm that it requires the key to be permanently attached to the desk. At 6.5 lbs. that would be funny to see this beast slide all over the place.
Once it felt just right, I made up a cable, and plugged it into the HTX-100, and fired up the CW portion of 10 meters. And typical of my luck, the Solar Flux was 99, the Boulder-A was 17, and the Boulder-K was 4. In English...not a great day for HF. Still, I called CQ a few times while the HTX-100 was in low power (5w) mode, and the Reverse Beacon Network spotted me about a dozen times on receivers in Utah and British Columbia.
As the paddle feels the way I prefer, sending CW is actually quite easy. It feels light to the touch, and much more modern than it's old "Benton Harbor Green" paint would suggest. The square paddle is as basic and free of creature-comfort as you'd probably want...but hey...this was 1966!!! If you want the luxurious CW experience, order a Begali...prices START for the luxury models at about 500 Euros. But even as crude and antique as it really does feel, the old girl surprised me as I was sending a 22 WPM test from the latest Time Magazine, and she didn't miss a beat.
It's going to be amusing to use this keyer with the CRK-10 or the 80m Rockmite, as the HD-10 DWARFS the tiny QRP rigs.
In the March 1966 issue of "73 Magazine", Mort Waters, W2JDL wrote the following of the HD-10:
"Heathkit has produced an electronic keyer kit
that will gladden the heart and tickle the ears
of every CW man. Yes, you too can send beautiful,
effortless, perfectly formed code. For the
benefit of those who still pound away at a
straight key or use a bug, you can send for
hours with this keyer without strain or fatigue."
And you know what...old Mort was correct. It IS a great keyer, even in 2013.