All Things Electrical, “Shocking”

Tales of Vashon

Bob Greg was my best friend in grade school.  We hunted flounder off their beach on Ridge Road, with a trident spear on a 10 foot pole and swung out over the bay on a 60 foot rope tied high in an old Madrona tree and dropped into the cold sound.  I think his father sold insurance when it was really Bob who needed it.  He slipped while climbing around in their 10 foot high smoke house and hung himself on a meat hook that left a 10 inch scar up Bob’s arm.

One day Bob’s father invited us kids to his basement where he taught us the properties of “electricity.”  He had a magneto from an old crank up phone and had my brother Mike and Bob’s younger brother, Johnny, and Bob and I hold hands while he cranked up the magneto.  When he had the magneto whining, he yelled for me to grab a hold of the water pipe and my knees gave out as I crumpled to the floor.  I was the only one that felt the “shock.”

Brother Mike caused our lights to go out at Cove when he stuck a pair of tweezers in an electrical outlet and him being in a wet diaper that helped ground him and sent him screaming to Mom who was his favorite and Mom blamed Molly and I for not having stopped him.

Seventy years later, John Sweetman and Bob Smueles,AE7MW pricked my interest in Nicolas Tesla and the “Tesla coil,” which with their help I built one the size of a cigarette package.  Now with a renewed interest in the properties of electricity, we are building a much larger Tesla coil, using the cardboard tube which bottles of Laphroig scotch come in; for the secondary coil and an empty fruit juice bottle which will deliver the right amount of capacitance, a “Leyden jar,” that Benjamin Franklin used in his famous kite experiment with lightning.

I skidded across the floor on my rear end and whacked myself good, coming to rest, up against the center post of the cabin.  I was running an ancient Barker & Williams amplifier that had a brass post right in the middle, meant to dissipate stray RF or radio frequency,  In an effort to adjust the ancient amp, my screw  driver had hit that post and I was on the other end of it.

I was working for the Navy at the time as a volunteer in MARS/military affiliate radio system and ran 20,000 ship-to-shore calls for sailors’ shipboard from all over the world over a period of 7 years; never understanding the power of radio frequency, RF, to reach across the ocean to “patch” sailors to their loved ones at home via the commercial phone lines.

One sunny day, the windows were open and the wind was blowing through the cabin.  I thought I could smell the salt air and I was 300 miles from the coast working from the town of Republic, north of Spokane.   I was running traffic for the USS America, so far up the Amazon that they had lost regular navy contact because of the mountainous terrain.  I learned this from the captain only later having worked his ship several times.  Later that day I made more calls for the USS Ticonderoga from the Barent’s Sea off the Northern coast of the USSR.

Fred Chapman, PPE/papa papa echo, the commander of the Afloat and Overseas Operations Net had appointed a mentor, to guide me through the intracies of the navy.  Commander David Mann once commented on my ability to cover frequency:  “I don’t know how you keep that ‘haywire outfit’ of yours on the air,” he said when he was testing my ability to respond to frequency up and down the spectrum.

I bought the $700 Eagle log-periodic antenna that PPE/papa papa echo, had recommended and it lasted until recently when a neighbor’s tree fell on it in a windstorm and took out half of the antenna.