Inland Marine History Archive - Logo

John Clark

My river communications experience started when I worked for River Service & Supply for a couple of summers while I was in high school. It was based at the Jeffboat shipyard and run by Neil Whitehead. Since the FCC required their transmitter to be floating, Roy Harmon installed a transceiver on a barge with a phone line connection to the office ashore.  That way the boats could call in their grocery orders directly and not have to go through WFN.

After  I started listening to WFN on my Hallicrafters S-40B around 1956 while an EE student at University of Louisville's Speed School of Engineering. In 1957 I needed a part time job, so I looked up WFN in the phone book and gave Roy Harmon a call, and he hired me as a Relief Operator, a position I held from 1957 until I graduated in 1960. I ran the thrice daily ACBL schedules as well as routine traffic on weekends and holidays, and was on-call to fill-in for Roy when he had to meet a boat to service the radio or radar. 

 You had to know how to type and have a 3rd Class Radiotelephone License (which I got in February 1957) or higher license to work at WFN. Accurate spelling wasn't required to type messages while running the ACL/ACBL schedules.  We charged 10-cents/word.  Occasionally we'd patch-in calls to the phone company marine operator who could dial-up to a land line.  All WFN radio communications were simplex in those days.  WFN didn't have QSL cards when I was there.

When I first started work at WFN the station was located in a space rented in an electrical contractors building on Poplar Level Road. Then in 1959 or 1960 Warner & Tambel, the station's owners, leased space at the upper end of the Jeffboat yard and built a concrete block building for the station.  Roy Harmon and Murry Dickson (out of Paducah) did most of the radio and radar repair work on the boats as my weekday availability was rather limited because of my studies. 

Along about 1959 or 1960 due to academic demands at Speed School I had to back-off on the work schedule so Roy hired Duncan Cull who worked there for a while after I left.  If I remember correctly, Cull was at Speed School (EE) one year ahead of me.  Also he was into Ham Radio (call sign W4LVL) big time so he was able to meet the boats at lock 41 and handle some of the electronics servicing.  I see where he died recently. 

On the WFN page there's mention of a boat crew strike in 1958-9 interrupting ACBL operations, but I don't remember anything about an interruption of WFN operations while I was there.

John Clark     8/2021