The Amateur Amateur: One Man's Trash


Many years ago, long before I became an Amateur Radio operator, I was a member of a local police scanner enthusiasts' club. Our meetings were held in various members' homes. Often, someone had an old scanner or other obsolete item to sell and there would always, always be a buyer.

Now, you have to understand that these meetings rarely had more than a dozen attendees, and frequently as few as five. But no matter how small the gathering -- or what was being sold -- someone would inevitably buy it.

Telephone Rock

I remember one meeting in particular. After it was over, our host gave us a "tour" of his basement. He had all manner of curious items down there. He pulled out a World War II field telephone set and asked if anyone wanted to buy it. Several interested parties spoke up immediately and it took several minutes of bargaining to determine who was going to take home the coveted item. It was an interesting exchange, but what happened next really blew my mind.

Our host pulled a dusty booklet off of a shelf and held it up for us to see.

"It's the maintenance manual for a 1945 pay phone," he said. "Does anyone want to buy it?"

A few seconds passed, and then someone said, "I'll take it."

I was dumbstruck. What possible use could the buyer have for a 1945 pay phone maintenance manual? It was beyond imagining that he had a pile of broken 1945 pay phones sitting in his house waiting to be fixed. It was just as unlikely that he knew of some third world country that was still using circa 1945 American pay phones. Perhaps he believed that some secret society had encoded a map to ancient treasures in the description of the workings of the coin return lever. I don't know. I never did figured out what motivated him to purchase such an esoteric item.

That story may lead you to believe that the maxim is true; one man's trash is another man's treasure. But my personal experience indicates that it's not always the case.

She Blinded Me with Science

I had a very good friend and co-worker named Dave. He was a chemist by trade, but seemed to know something about nearly everything. And though he had never gotten a ham radio license, he knew quite a bit about radio and even had a homemade device in his office that detected VLF signals from submarines (that was quite a feat, considering that we were in Missouri, which is not particularly close to any ocean).

When I obtained my ham ticket, Dave apparently saw an opportunity to clean out his basement. Over a period of years he presented me with a number of ancient and very heavy radio-related gizmos. I always thanked him, but truthfully I had no idea what to do with any of the antiquated equipment. All of it required that the owner have some level of expertise in electronics, which, regrettably, I do not. I did try to explain this to Dave, but it didn't matter to him. He just enjoyed giving me the stuff.

Dave retired about a year ago. During his last week at work, he gave me a Kenwood R300 receiver that he'd stumbled across while cleaning out his office.

I was overwhelmed. It was the first thing that Dave had given me that I even vaguely understood. It was a real radio. And the multitude of knobs, buttons and dials made it look so hammy. I asked Dave if he was really sure that he wanted to part with it. It seemed to me that it must be valuable. Dave assured me that he had no use for it and that he was happy to turn it over to a bona fide Amateur Radio operator.

Electricity, Electricity

I hauled the Kenwood radio home, and let me tell you, it was not an easy thing to carry on a commuter train. Once home, my first inclination was to plug it in and see what it did. And that's when I discovered that it had no power cord.

Lesson number one in accepting another man's trash: It may not have all of its parts.

I thought I might have a power cord that would fit somewhere in my house. After looking around my basement, however, I found that nothing I had was quite what I needed.

Lesson number two: Whatever is missing will be hard to find.

You'd think that it would be easy to locate the necessary power cord on the Internet. It might have been had I known the proper terminology. But I didn't. And it wasn't. I spent a couple of days trying various different search parameters such as "power," "connector," "plug," "socket" and "electrical cord."

But persistence pays, and I eventually found that the mysterious power socket on the back of the Kenwood took an IEC C7 connector. And while the terminology meant nothing to me, it did make it easier to find and order the needed power cord.

I Love Trash

After all that effort, I was disappointed to find that the Kenwood made a lot of spitting noises and wasn't all that great at pulling in HF signals. Oh, I was reasonably sure that with some careful cleaning and tuning -- and perhaps a new component or two -- it could be a great receiver. But again, I did not possess the skills necessary to perform any of those tasks.

I was reluctant to get rid of the Kenwood. Despite the fact that I couldn't refurbish it and it was of no use to me, it had such a beautiful ham radio appearance to it. Nevertheless, I eventually took it to a hamfest where surely someone would see it and feel that it was an item they absolutely must have.

But the Kenwood did not sell right away. It took a couple of hamfests and several price reductions before I was able to dispose of it. I guess that proves that often one man's trash is simply another man's trash as well. But I hope that the Kenwood's new owner is pleased with it and has the talent to restore it and properly care for it.

As for me, I'm still trolling the hamfests looking for something of value. I missed my first opportunity, but if I'm lucky, I'll get a second chance to pick up a true treasure: A maintenance manual for a 1945 pay phone.

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name - "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail.

Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor