Capitalizing on your Capital Project
At "Four Days in May," the QRP International event leading up to the Dayton Hamvention, the "QLF" (Sending Morse code with the left foot.) competition sparked the interest of some members of FLARC, the Four Lakes Amateur Radio Club. They came to the idea that sending code with your left foot was an entertaining endeavor and could really add some fun to FLARC's annual December party. As so many inspired hams have done before, Frederick Baguhn, W9GOC, took to daydreaming. Could he build a key large enough to operate by foot? Could he finish this project by December? The then FLARC president realized that there was sincere interest in having such an activity at the party, so he set out to build his masterpiece.
He designed his key by scaling up a key of reasonable size to accommodate using a wooden stool's seat for the foot. As he sat in his shack working out the problems and moving toward perfection, time kept passing in the outside world. An hour missed here, a sleepless night there and the occasional "Is it Monday already?" marked the encroachment of December. He tooled each piece with care. No matter how late it got, no corners would be cut. Each adjustable knob was built just for the key, knurling and all, an office chair (possibly as old as the ham himself) was sacrificed to find the giant springs inside and careful drilling allowed all the wiring to be hidden inside the thin base. Out of the workshop on time (by what miracle I can't say), the key was a shining star at the Christmas party. A panel of avid CW operators judged as club members tried to send their randomly selected messages. The night wore on, winners were declared in the various event categories and the once again sleep deprived Grumpy Old Coot (W9GOC) packed his giant key carefully back into the car. Put carefully in storage space (giant keys don't fit functionally in just every shack), the key began to collect dust. Everyone loved the key for a few hours, but did that really justify the invested time? Sure, it was the talk of the club for a while, but eventually the Wisconsin snow started to disappear and all FLARC minds turned to Field Day preparations.
Keying Up Ham Radio
So much planning: politicians, food, media, towers, power supplies, park reservation, equipment, visitors' station staffing and then someone made the suggestion to bring the key. What place does a giant key have at Field Day? You can't make speedy competition contacts with it (or at least no ham I've personally met can). It certainly looks neat, though, so the key came out for a visit. A few small children had great fun pushing the big button. Most visitors looked at it and asked if anyone actually used Morse code anymore. The key got a few more hours of value, as it served as a conversation starter.
In Madison, the University of Wisconsin students have a club of their own, the Badger Amateur Radio Society. A few student radio operators enjoy the support of the many faculty, former students and alumni club members. As they prepared for the UW's Engineering Expo, Frederick was asked again if his key could come out for the event. Again he shared the key and other equipment. This time his key joined with a computer decoder to give visitors feedback on how intelligible their code attempts were. And again, kids and adults were drawn in by the key, asking questions about Amateur Radio and having fun pushing the big button!
Most recently the key appeared in the FLARC's booth at the "US Bank Eve," a local New Year's Eve event for kids and their families. This time, the key made local TV, when organizers and local media members decided it would make the most interesting backdrop for their reports. Adults got interested and many left with fliers for the February Technician class. Kids were inspired by the key and even the smallest kids found it fun to make the larger-than-life key beep. What was originally a party game has grown into one of our best icebreakers and even attained a bit of local stardom.
So how about you and your capital project? Maybe it's your kit projects, meticulously built in tiny tins. Maybe you've memorized your transceiver's owner's manual and have every setting programmed to your exact and well-reasoned preferences. Or you may have built your creative engineering project with hours of love, frustration and breakthroughs. Whether it's your Altoids collection or just your prize radio and your expertise about it, take it out of your shack! Share it with those in your club (we all like show and tell), take it to public events to spark interest in Amateur Radio or volunteer as an Elmer and show off your treasures to new hams. Whether large or small, make the most out of your projects by sharing them. If it's worth it to you, it will be worthwhile for someone else and if you keep sharing it you might just find that it grows.
Sarahelizabeth Baguhn got into ham radio almost in self defense. Her brother, KC9ASI, father, W9GOC, and sister-in-law, KC9BFD, all got interested in ham radio and they convinced her to jump on board. In 2002 she passed her Technician exam. She took the vanity call WA9SE combining her brother's initials, William A., since he was the first ham in the family, and her's. After getting licensed the family worked on her mom who eventually took the Technician test only to "prove she couldn't pass." She did, however, and is now the proud holder of WN9GOC. Sarahelizabeth returned to college the following year and decided to upgrade to General to have more frequency options for calling home. It took another 2 years but she finally leapt the Extra hurdle.
She is an alumni member of the University of Wisconsin ARC and serves on the board of the Four Lakes ARC. She is a Volunteer Examiner and has participated in over 35 exam sessions. When not helping out at public service events or spotting storms for the National Weather Service she is a middle school special education teacher.
Sarahelizabeth Baguhn, WA9SE