Dan Girand, W5ARB
(formerly WN5ARB, 1953)
Maybe it was the code requirement for First Class rank in Boy Scouts, I do not remember for sure, but a group of us decided to become hams. I do know it would not have happened without the help of John Sikes, W5NQG, Pete Anderson, W5BHP, Ivan Davis, W5CEE and other hams in Hobbs, New Mexico.
Whatever the impetus was, Winston Pickering, Scotty Blymn, Lee Cheney, Dick Thompson and myself decided to study for our Novice License. We were given some old ARRL Handbooks and bought Novice and General License Manuals. Next, we built code oscillators so we could learn the Morse code and build up our speed.
Local hams invited us over to sit in the ham shack while they were on the air. They would also spend time sending code to us. We had many QSOs across the table. The five of us would get together week nights and week ends to study the Manuals. I do not remember our grades in school suffering, but we were pretty intense during this time. John Sikes and Pete Anderson owned a radio and TV sales and repair store in Hobbs, They would allow us to come by the store to talk radio and to work on radios that were in for repair. ARRL's Hints and Kinks books were not out yet, so working on radios with the oversight of John and Pete is how we learned theory for the test and techniques to build our own equipment.
I cannot remember how long it took us to get ready for the test, but in early July 1953, we took our Novice test. Hobbs is and was the center of business and social activity in the southwest. It is 300 miles in any direction to any business or social activity and to any water for boating or fishing. So we took the test by mail. John Sikes and Pete Anderson administered the test and off it went to the FCC. We all passed the code section and then waited for the results from FCC. It seems like we were warned it might take one to three months to get the results back from the FCC.
While waiting, I obtained a Hallicrafters S-40B and a transmitter kit. I listened to the Halliscratchers, a term we used in those days, to keep up my code speed and I built the kit. The kit complete, off I went to John and Pete's radio shop to test it and redo cold solder joints. Finally on 8/13/53 the postman brought word from the FCC, I was WN5ARB.
Around this same time, the FCC started reissuing old calls. I never found out if mine was a re-issue or a new issue. I suspect it is a re-issue because Winston Pickering received WN5AWN. Scott received WN5BTB, Lee WN5DUB and Dick WN5FTP. I got a lot of flack from the others because I had the lowest call letters. They were just jealous. All of us upgraded within six to nine months to the General Class license.
The equipment was ready. Kit transmitter, S-40B, vertical antenna, operator. At 7:50pm on 8/13/53 I heard a good signal and called W5BHF. Yeeeoohhh he answered, now what do I do?? I nearly threw the key across the room, but I calmed my self and we had a good QSO for about an hour. Shortly after that I called CQ and John, W5Not Quite Grounded answered. That QSO was about an hour and that was my first day as a ham.
What followed was several days of CQs, calls and no contacts. Then on 8/23/53 I called CQ and WN5AWN answered. He had received his license and was on the air. I was his first contact. Winston went on to play basketball on a scholarship at the University of New Mexico and became an electrical engineer. He graduated in 1959 and went to work for Texas Instruments. He kept his ticket for many years and I understand from our Hobbs alumni association that he is SK now.
On 10/1/53 I had a QSO with Scotty, WN5BTB. He had received his license and was on the air. Scott went off to New Mexico State University and became a banker. He still has W5BTB and is active from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
I have lost track of Lee Cheney but saw Dick Thompson at our 50th High School reunion. He is a Phd in electrical engineering and a professor at a University in southern California. Dick has his Extra and gave up W5FTP for AI6Z.
Even being on the air nearly every day, there was that plateau we all hit learning code. You bang on the wall and bang on the wall, then suddenly it crumbles and you sail through to the next barrier. Just before five words per minute and at about ten words per minute it seemed an eternity before we broke over and went past the required code speed.
Between school, being on the air, working on cars and girls, I built a Johnson Viking II so I would be ready to go on the air as a General. Code proficiency was improving as a result of being on the air, but there was also the study for the General theory test. We still spent time at the radio shop working on radios and TVs. The Viking II build worked well, only one cold solder joint. I got a new National receiver and we all took the General test. So again we waited for the results.
Being a ham in Hobbs, in the middle of the desert, is a challenge. Water, thus a good ground, is nearly non-existent. Ground water is from none to 30, 50, over 100 feet deep. The Caprock underlies West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico, so laying out radials or hammering ground rods into the ground can be a challenge. In many places we had to use dynamite to plant a tree. In spite of the challenges, I worked 23 states on CW, running 10 watts, during my six months as a Novice. It helped that there were not many hams in New Mexico, so people really listened to snag a New Mexico ham.
Finally, on 2/23/54 the FCC notice arrived and I was W5ARB. School that afternoon was really difficult. Afternoon classes finally ended and I headed home to hook up the Viking II, Viking Match Box, and National receiver to the vertical. All that done and tuned, I made my first contact on phone as a General with W5NQG on 40. I have been W5ARB for 55 years and I have become used to the call, so I guess I will keep it.
My log books support most of the story here, but some is supported only by memory.