First Field Day

MARS – The First Field Day

Participation by MARS in “Field Day” began in the spring of 1950. The chosen location was not a mountain peak, or even the top of a high hill. As a replacement for such an ideal location we went to a remote cottage, situated beside a little lake, stocked with Bream, Bass, and Bull Frogs (more about this later). The cottage was in a wooded area just over the border into South Carolina, just a few miles south of VanWyck, which was known for producing common red brick. The cottage belonged to “Mutt” Nesbit W4EJE. “Mutt” was a club member and had issued an invitation to the club to use it for Field Day. Access was by a narrow dirt road leading some mile and a half off of highway 501 on the way to Lancaster, SC. With the exception of the lake, the several acres were almost completely covered by trees anywhere from eight to more than fifty feet tall. Because there was no open space, stringing up simple dipole antennas was a real problem.

The club had put together a portable generator. It consisted of a 5 KW World War II surplus field unit, equipped with a four cylinder engine of questionable manufacture. Our expert mechanical crew had mounted it on a home-made two wheel trailer, constructed from the remains of an old Model T Ford. Our transmitting equipment (all of which was home built) was supplied by three of our members: W4DLX, W4BX, and W4FUA. We had a transmitter for 80 meters, one for 40, and a third for 20 meters. By the way, all operation was on CW. Our receivers were commercial units, a National, a Hammerlund, and a Hallicrafters. All were borrowed from willing members.

The following attended this outing: Gordon W4BX, Art W4CAY, Buck W4CYB, Avery W4CLB, Roy W4CXS, Slim W4DLX, Sam W4FUA, Mutt W4EJE (our host), and Clark Prather, a photographer with the Charlotte Observer (who was a club member but unlicensed). The equipment set-up began after noon on Saturday. Getting up three dipoles was a feat in itself, some were touching tree limbs and leaves, but in those days we didn’t worry too much about SWR.

The 4 PM contest starting time arrived, the old generator was cranked up, and soon our first CQ was on the air. As I recall our first contact was on 20 meters, some W4?? not too far distant, and several stations were worked in the first hour. All progressed smoothly until the generator conked out. After much cranking and cussing it was determined that a filter in the bottom of the gas tank was full of rust, cutting off the flow of gasoline. Cleaning and refilling the tank took some time, but was successful and by then 40 and 80 meters had become active.

Every Ham knows a Field Day without food is an unheard of situation. For this event our committee of three had been designated to obtain the necessary groceries. All participants had agreed to share the cost equally (except “Mutt” could eat free). The committee’s selection was a feast of : frankfurters, pork and beans, canned fruits, several kinds of breads and rolls, hamburgers, even pies and cookies. One good fellow brought a cake made by his XYL. Another brought a 300 pound block of ice which we put in the cottage ice box. There was no commercial power at Mutt’s cottage so a Frigidaire was not available, but the old icebox did just fine.

Mutt had invited anyone to fish in the lake, or if he’d rather he could gig Bullfrogs. Some brought along fishing tackle. Several were anticipating fresh fish for supper. Late afternoon fishing produced few fish, personally, I brought along my 22 rifle and some hollow point bullets. I dislike gigging frogs (messes up too many legs). From past experience I had much success spotting their eyes with a flashlight attached to the barrel of my rifle. When shot between the eyes, frogs will almost always float to the surface. As night approached the bellowing sound of bull frogs became loud and walking along the edge of the lake I was able to shoot about fifteen or eighteen of them. “Slim” W4DLX, helped me skin the legs and we dumped the remains into the lake. Our food committee hadn’t included flour or corn meal for coating the frog legs, so we manufactured some by pulverizing corn flakes. After dipping and rolling in our corn flakes, we fried the frog legs in grease derived by heating some of our bacon. The supply of this delicacy didn’t last very long, the group consumed them in short time. One “wag” wanted us to go back to the lake and shoot some more, but we told him to eat hamburger!

No one had much sleep during the night as turns were taken at operating the three rigs. Attempting sleep on a single bed and one sofa, along with all the noise, made even a nap difficult. Making matters worse, near midnight the weather turned ugly. It rained and then it rained some more. Our generator lacked cover so we had to rig a temporary tent with a tarp so it wouldn’t drown out. Operating continued through the next morning and contacts were made on all bands. We scored a total 828 points with 138 contacts. The highest national score was something over 15000. We were poor by comparison but had some points for our efforts.

One thing stands out in my memory about that field day. While preparing our breakfast, the aroma of bacon, eggs, and coffee was one of the best I can remember. We discontinued operations about noon Sunday and came home. Even with the inconveniences it was a fun trip with fond memories. Recent field days have been delightful, but even with the excellent food, new equipment, nice tents, RV’s, goodies, and toys, I have to ask : “Have field days been more enjoyable recently than what we had forty years ago?” My answer is a qualified NO !

Editor’s note: Buck Wortman W4CYB (or as Buck would say, W4 Count Your Blessings) was one of our charter members, remembered and loved by all who knew him. We were very fortunate to find these two articles written by Buck in some of our old newsletters. Buck was a good example of what Ham radio is all about, those of us who knew him still hear him, he doesn’t need a radio now to hear all of us.