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Recollections of Robert Wilson, VA1AKK

Good luck with your new inland radio site. It is nice to have someone collecting information on the Great Lakes and Inland Waterways and their communications history.

As for me, I sailed as radio officer on the S.S. North American (WTBA) in 1951 and the S.S. South American (WGCW) in 1952 and 1961. It was very enjoyable, and I made some good friends on the ships.

Three radio operators in uniform in the Radio Room of the SS South American

L. to R. Robert Wilson, Alex Wowczuk (sp.?), Art Holub on the SS North American in 1951 >

Three radio operators in uniform just outside the Radio Room of the SS South American

As for the equipment, we used RCA low frequency transmitters with a pair of 211 tubes (if my memory is correct). The receiver was a RCA regenerative with about 5 tubes. Our antenna was strung between masts about 90 feet above the water line. We also had medium frequency AM phone RCA equipment and did most of the telephone calls on this. Later on we got VHF FM and even a free SSB transceiver from Collins "to test".

As far as I know I had the first SSB rig on the lakes in 1953. It was a home made / home designed crystal lattice filter rig, and I used it on the 75 meter band to make several contacts with shore hams, but there were so few SSB stations then it was a real trick. The SSB rig that Collins provided us was a converted military transceiver. They told us to make all the SSB phone calls we wanted to test out the new "thing". It worked great. However, I can't remember which shore stations they had given SSB equipment to to complete the circuit, somewhere on Lake Michigan I think. (See the WAY - Chicago page for a little more on this.) Frankly, the quality of the audio on the Collins rig was better than you get today on many ham rigs.

There was a station at Midland, Ontario, on Lake Huron, run by Marconi. They had a transmitter of about 500 watts on 500 KHz with a rotary "chopper" in the B+. Had a really rough sounding note. I only remember seeing one big tube in this transmitter, but it could have had another driver. I also think there was another Canadian station on Lake Superior that I used for calls to the states because the price was cheaper than U.S. However, it had to be a very good propagation day. There was also a Canadian station on Hudson's Bay that still used spark in 1951, What a sweet note, but also such a wide signal.

The reason I went back to the Lakes in 1961 is unique... an old friend from the SS South American had married in New York City and her husband was subsequently killed in a passenger airplane accident off the coast of Delaware. Somehow my name came up as being associated with her, and the people at Chicago, Duluth and Georgian Bay Ship Lines asked me to come back for the season.

In the time between the lakes trips I worked on various civilian and military ships in the Atlantic as navigator and radio officer among other things. Now, I am retired from a very exciting life in 20 countries, and I live on a small island off the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia with a lot of other retired "old salts" from the lakes. In fact I bought my house from a lake captain. I am always interested in hearing from the crew of the lake ships. Oh yes, I have "stacks" of JPG photos of the Lakes.


Robert Wilson (VA1AKK, AL7KK ex W9RNL)
September 2005

Reconstruct the E-Mail address: KL1HG-at-ns-dot-sympatico-dot-ca

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