The Old Man: Rotten Air
In the early years of the ARRL, co-founder and first President Hiram Percy Maxim occasionally penned editorials in QST magazine using the pseudonym "The Old Man." These "rants" became legendary. As part of the ARRL Centennial celebration, we'll be re-publishing a number of The Old Man's observations throughout the year.
In this missive, Maxim mentions his beloved “Old Betsy” transmitter, which can still be seen on display today at W1AW.
Lucky that I am of a tender and forgiving nature. I would be up for murder otherwise. Tolerance! Tolerate anything. That’s me all over, Mabel. Dear little boys, go on and bang-whack the ether with tour miserable squeak coils on any old evening, any old decrement, any old power, and any old business that will make a scratchy sound at any old time at night. We, with the relay traffic waiting, just love to listen to your sweet little childish prattle. When you knock the sense of hearing out of one ear, we always remember the Sunday school lesson and offer the other. We never allow ourselves to think of black jacks, rat poison, lead billies nor sand bags. No indeed, we shun all such thoughts like a duck shuns water.
Oh hum! I wonder where the cat is? Must be two hours I have sat here now waiting and waiting, swearing and swearing, and smoking and smoking. This old pipe tastes like a rubber boot. Here, kitty, kitty, kitty. Gosh, listen to them scrape! Wonder if Mrs 8ER acts like a perfect lady when she gets up against this sort of air. Eleven messages on that pin and no more chance of reading 9ZJ nor even 8DA than there is of this old critter getting to Heaven. I wonder if there is QRM up aloft? If not, why not? How do they stop it? Why can we not try the same medicine? Some of you spirits get busy and tell some of these Ouija boards what the hook-up is. Try drawing a neat diagram of a QRM filter such as is used by St Peter, for example. Pete must have a good one by now.
Oh hum! Hear them clatter! Say, I thought it was said in QST that after nine o’clock the relayers were to have an inning. Here it is eleven-thirty and the air so chock full of scratching and jittering about “How do I come in?” and How do you get me?” and “Please send slower!” that it is difficult to get a full breath. Oh dearie me! I wonder how much rat poison a man could buy for fifty cents? I wish I knew where I could get a coal hod full at a reduced price. I wonder how much you could choke down a man’s throat before he would gag and begin to refund and waste the material. There must be some make that gives a more lingering death than others.
But hold! “Tolerance” was the subject under discussion a moment ago. Cut out the rat poison and the blood and vengeance. “A kind word turneth away wrath,” some poor misguided person said somewhere, and they have been hollering about it ever since. Let them scratch.
My gawd what ails this pipe and where is that cat? Between the racket, the stink of old rubber boots and the tip of my tongue burning up, I’m getting panic stricken. Go for it, you slopgulion! Scrape your blooming head off. You set my bulb oscillating. Oh wouldn’t I like to oscillate something sharp and heavy over you for a while! You must be the head devil.
Listen to him. He’s asking somebody if his tone is smooth! Smooth as a rasp. I wonder how he goes to work to make it that ragged? Listen to that wet one sputter. Sounds like his mouth was full of spit. Heaven forbid! The poor thing is calling me. Nay, nay, son, not in this smother. I couldn’t ready with these clothes on unless I had an apron. I wonder what he could possibly have for me? What’s that he signed? What is dah—dah—dah—dit—dit—dit, dit—dah—dit—dah, dit—dit—dah—dit—dah! That first thing with the three tails was intended to be an 8, but gawdnose what the letters were intended to be. I wonder if it’s his code or his key or his vibrator or his brains that are sticky? Something’s gummed. And he stutters. Listen to him hang up altogether. Not rotten enough to clutter up the atmosphere with a lot of jittering with a sticky spark coil but here is a gazaybo who adds stuttering to his other crimes. He thinks I am reading him. Go chase yourself, brother.
Listen to the windy one. He hangs fire also. What’s that he is trying to get off his chest? “FIZZZ ZZAT----VVVVVV----PULL ON SIZZZ ZZIP VVVVVVVVV PULL ON BOTTLE FSSSST VVVV BOTTLE PABST ZIFFFSST POP ZAP SQUAAK (silence for a minute) V V V V V V V V YEAST PHFSSST ZAPZAPP YEAST RADIO INSPECTORS WHIFFSSISSK POP VVVVVV IMSPECTORS TUM TUM PUFF SQUITTSSICSK K”
What would you guess that to mean? Pity he did not spit before he started to say it. It is something about the radio inspector, a bottle of Pabst, some yeast and a puffed up tum-tum. Sound like some home brew. Got the yeast in his tum-tum or something. Bloats him probably and accounts for his tone being so windy. Lord! What stuff to put out on the air.
Oh hum! Let’s get up onto 450 meters where the real rotten ones are. Maybe it will keep us awake. Gosh, listen to that one’s dots! He spouts them around regardless of expense. Puts three of them in his 8s, wastes an extra one on the front of his Fs and throws five into an H. how does he get them so fast? Has he got the palsy or what? By heck, he has a bug key! Oh pickle! Listen to him play with the dot business. Well, now isn’t he just having a fine time all by himself! Never suspects there is another soul on earth who may have a wireless station. Never crossed his massive intellect that there may be someone who wants to get a message somewhere. Fluttering away with a bug key with his antenna switch in, just for the fun of tickling the key. Probably holding up twenty-five stations from hearing something worthwhile. Just a common, ordinary, garden variety of lily livered—stop! Tolerance—Tolerance—TOLERANCE—if it chokes you!
Kitty, kitty, kitty. Oh kitty, where art thou? Come kitty, kitty, I need thee. Listen to the bug key spit. I will wager that kid is trying to make and break a full thousand watts in his power circuit with that bug and that his little shack is enjoying a nice display of fireworks and the spectacle of a perfectly good bug key being electrocuted. S’ficiency, as Sam would say. Next!
There’s my call again. Smith over in Smithville. Says msgs 3. Heavens! Have I got to jump into that hornet’s nest? I would rather take a licking. Smith is a good sort, his sigs seem to be getting through the mess pretty well, so maybe I better try. Let’s give him GA and see what happens.
NR 1 FM BOSTON MASS TO JOHN SMITH APARDO 6 DENVER COLO CAT HAS FIVE GARGLES SWISSTT MASH SMELLS LIKHELZIT SWILL RAISINS LOVE SIG TICKLE HW? ARK
Guess better give him AS while I give this a little study. Something not exactly right. She is OK up to the time the cat started gargling her throat the fifth time, but from there on it is not clear whether the reference is to moonshine or kittens. Guess I better tell him GA FIVE, STOP END. I do not want to make a mistake and have the cat have to gargle with a mixture that smells as this one appears to smell. I probably copied parts of two or three messages.
FIVE KIT TENS SAYS STINK AWFUL DO I COME INZISST POP SQUISHT ZAP 7X3? HV7IHSIVVLE—. Oh hum! I wish I were dead. Daggone that hooligan with the bug key. QRMed me at the same spot. It always does. Hey, somebody bring in the cat, or—did or did not the cat have five kittens, or is it something objectionable that happens at the end of days? There is part of one of those how-do-I-come-in messages with the “how” lost off the front and there is something about home brew, judging by the stink. Nothing to it but to go back and ND, QRM, QTA, GA FIVE, STOP END. This is the life, all right. Some fine little relay game.
FIVE KITTENS SMALL OK MEANS COMING ALONG WRITE SOON LOVE FISHSSSS SQUARKSHK BANG. Something’s busted! Did you hear that business explode? Lord Harry, what are we coming to! Listen to the snarl and sizzle, will you. Static coming on worse and worse every minute. Oh, for a hod of rat poison, a lead pipe billy and a couple of wouff hongs and about a hogshed of boiling transformer oil! Tolerance, TOLERANCE, my boy! Smile, by gravy, even if it cracks your face. Back again with kindly benevolence radiating from the antenna, but a sandbag within easy reach.
QRM FIERCE OM SORRY GA KITTENS STOP WRTIE GA LOVE STOP END. KITTENS TELL MARY AND SSSCCCHWISSSS ZAP SISSS PLENTY OF KICK SIG TEDDY HW NW? 3 MORE K.
I’ve got you Smith. The assurances about there being plenty of kick is from the home brew bunch with the smelly swill. The real message we have been struggling over for the past half hour is “CAT HAS FIVE KITTENS TELL MAY AND WRITE SOON LOVE SIGNED TEDDY.”
Phew! I’m as limp as a dish rag. Wait a minute till I see what the children have done with that blamed cat, and I think I will try a cool pipe. Smith says he has three more. I shall need stimulants. It will take until just 4:30 daylight saving time to get those three at the rate things are going. I’m darned if I know where kitty went. Guess she has a hunch what’s doing. I must go it alone.
Well, by heck, my dander is getting up, and if it is to be a game to see who can show up the worst case of jitters, I guess I will take a hand. I can fix Old Betsy so she will swizzle and gizzle and ffwhisssk and zap and squaak as good as any of them, and, by golly, maybe they will have a taste of their own medicine. Here it is midnight, and I sitting here like a bump on a log with my pin full of messages and gawdnose how many more trying to get to me, and keeping quiet while these hooligans and slopgulions and squawk artists have the air to themselves, swizzling and zapping, and bug-keying till the air screams for relief.
It is time I got nasty. I am going to call Smith and send my whole darned pin-full one after another with Betsy on too low power to speak every time, and if I feel so inclined when the stuff is off will QTA the whole business. Smith will think I am full of home brew, but never mind. Here goes, and tolerance be dashed. Me for blood, gurry, crime, and confusion to the police, and brass knucks, rat poison and any old thing else that will clear up this rotten air and give a decent man a chance.
Later (much later, in fact) it worked.