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Black Gold - Hot Mics

Joseph Tarantino, AA3YE

Pennsylvania hams celebrate Black Gold’s 150th Birthday.

Energy is not what this article is all about, but it is important to set the foundation. During the Upper Devonian 360 million years ago, western Pennsylvania was located much closer to the equator with a tropical climate. The decaying remains of dead plants and tiny animals, which collected at the bottom of lakes, swamps and seas, were eventually covered by sediments eroding from nearby upland areas. After many millions of years under just the right temperature and pressure conditions the organic matter was converted into oil.

Although oil was known in the western Pennsylvania area during prehistoric times, it didn’t have much of an influence until August 27, 1859 when Colonel (an honorary title) Edwin Drake with his driller, Uncle Billy Smith, hit oil in their 69 and a half foot well that fateful Sunday morning.

Once the word got out, the area around Titusville (southeast of Erie) experienced a bonanza to rival anything that had happened before or since. Enterprising individuals flocked to western Pennsylvania shortly after the discovery. An industry, one of the world’s most lucrative, was born. Towns sprang up overnight. Some of the better-known ones disappeared in less than 2 years. Areas that once were a forest of oil derricks now are the forest where deer, turkeys and bear are more likely seen. The Oil Creek valley became known as the valley that changed the world. Although radio wasn’t invented in 1859, news of the discovery was communicated via telegraph using Morse code.

The Big 150

August 27, 2009 was the 150th anniversary of this historic world changing event. In order to celebrate that momentous occasion, the Fort Venango Mike and Key Club participated in a special event commemorating the sesquicentennial of oil production. The special event with the special 1 × 1 call sign of W3O or Whiskey Three Oil operated from the Drake well museum grounds only a few feet from the site of the actual well location.

The Drake museum staff was kind enough to let us set up and operate from the Office of the Grant Well, a historical building right next to the Drake well. Club members started to set up at noon on Wednesday, August 26. Actual on the air activities began at midnight. The club set up a CW station, two SSB phone stations and one 2 meter station in the tiny building. Operations were conducted on 75/80, 40, 30, 20 and 2 meters.

A spotless sun for the preceding 48 days didn’t help in making contacts. Even worse was a constant 20 dB over 9 noise level from RFI, the source of which was not found until around 6 PM Thursday. We made only six contacts in the 18 hour period from midnight till 6 PM.

With the use of handheld transceivers our club members pinpointed the source of the RFI to be in the “Oil Transportation” building, located less than 50 yards from our operating location. The overhead motion detectors (part of a security system), along with several animated displays were generating the RFI. Working with Drake Well Museum staff, we were able to confirm and eliminate the source of the RFI by turning off the breakers of the offending displays and security system. Wow! The noise level dropped to nearly nothing and the contacts started to flow in.

During the next 48 hours despite the very poor solar conditions, we made 173 contacts with 33 states and 5 countries. On Saturday from 11 AM till 1:30 PM, a secondary station was set up and operated in one of the famous oil ghost towns known as Pit Hole, now part of Oil Creek State Park. Contacts were made on 10 and 20 meters.

The real success story of our special event was that we were able to promote the usefulness of ham radio to the many visitors. We had educational posters explaining the “History of Communications,” the role of ham radio in emergency communications including an explanation of why it works when other modes of communications routinely fail. We also had a poster listing many famous hams. The poster posed the question “What do all these people have in common?” To encourage on-air contacts, a raffle ticket was placed in a drum for each individual call sign contact and a winner was drawn for a beautiful numbered print similar to the picture of Colonel Drake standing out by his well, which appears in so many history books. Well-known local artist Fred Carrow has produced only 150 of these. The winner of the print was Thomas D. Breymeyer, AB9RY, of Crown Point, Indiana.

Photos by Joe Tarantino, AA3YE.

Joe Tarantino, AA3YE, an ARRL member, became a ham in October of 2001 passing both his Technician and General class tests and then passing his Extra class test in December. Joe had first learned of ham radio in 1977 but the events of September 11, 2001 inspired him to become licensed.

Joe is a licensed professional geologist with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, District Mining Operations. When not working or on the radio, Joe can be found playing billiards and table tennis.

Joe’s shack includes an ICOM IC-775DSP, Yaesu FT-102 and Kenwood TS-2000 transceivers, a Dentron amplifier and MFJ-986 and LDG AT-11MP tuners together. When on the road he uses a Yaesu FT-857. His antenna farm consists of a 160 meter full wave loop and a 5-band, 4-element lightning-bolt quad. He is active on digital modes using FLDIGI.

Joe is a member of ARES, RACES and wpaNBEMS. He is the Secretary of the Fort Nenango Mike and Key Club, second vice-president of the Butler County Amateur Radio Club and lifetime member number 683 of the Old Buzzards.

Joe is married to Sandy, KB3LZF, and has a daughter, Megan, KB3IVH, and a stepson, Brian. He can be reached at 126 Upper Elk Acres Rd, Knox, PA 16232.


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