The Wonderful, Absolutely Fabulous Norcal 40A

N6KR – Wayne Burdicks QRP Masterpiece – the Norcal 40A

The weirdest thing was unplugging my ICOM IC-7610 and plugging in the Norcal 40A. Talk about going from one end of the spectrum to the other! Three QSO’s later, and all I can do is sing the praises of this little QRP rig! Its sound is amazing, and the built in KC1 Keyer is great and the accuracy of the CW based frequency readout is dead nuts on. I will add a 10 turn knob and maybe add decals for the three KC1 controls – just so it looks “finished”.

Reg Olson did a beautiful job building this rig . . .

I built an SST – another one of Wayne’s little masterpieces, and so I am somewhat familiar with this design – its like an SST on Steroids. In fact – you can hear this same sound in the KX2, KX3 and K3. But the filtering is even just different enough – that the signals just pop out of the noise – which is kept at bay so you don’t get fatigued listening to CW.

I’m going to pick up the Collins 75A-4 receiver in a few hours, and also have several other reports that I will share this coming week as my shack reorg and Ham Radio reorg become into clear view.

So far, I think I am on to something here – and yeah, I really am finally done with DXCC. Now – QRP County Hunting using only QRP CW – and a Fratelli J-36 Bug – hmmmmmmmmmmm.


Radio “Living History”

 Collins 75A-4 Receiver

I found one of these locally – with a speaker and fully restored by Howard Mills – THE Collins Expert. This is a receiver I have had at the back of my mind for years. I also have the fondest or early memories of when I first started sending with my Vibroplex Bug in 1973 or so.

Frattini J-36 Bug

I also ordered an Alberto Frattini hand made Italian J-36 bug. Soon after getting my Novice ticket in 1973 (WN2QHN in Newton, NJ) I switched from a straight key to a Vibroplex Bug. Before I got into DXCC in 2001 – I did build and goof around with QRP – and it was fun – but at that time didn’t catch me like DXing did.


I will mostly transmit on 40M in the CW band and replace the knob with a 10 turn “TOPVR” style vernier knob.

Begali CW Machine

At the beginning of this year – when I had only a couple more to go on 160M (getting me to 9BDXCC), and only 2 more to work them all for Top of Honor Roll – I had to decide whether to continue on with a QRO DXCC station or do “something” else. I chose the QRO option – I think because I just didn’t have the heart to admit that my DXCC days were over. I did think “Well, hell, I can just go over to my neighbors house to work the last 2” – but I guess I wasn’t quite ready.

Six months later – and while I’ve checked into the Mission Trail Net on 75M most nights, and worked one DXpedition this year for one Top Band QSO (KH1/KH7Z), I realized that I had a bunch of expensive gear doing basically nothing. Resale value is important, and so I finally decided to dive into the past.

The main reason is part nostalgia – in this highly digital world and with me working in IT for 37 years, I sit coding or doing other IT related tasks, so I find it especially comforting to do some “analog” things to balance the digital.

The other part of this is that I have become very much addicted to “Living History” – and have been reading books on the history of technology and innovation for a few years now. I realized that just by me knowing and practicing Morse Code (CW), I am an important “ambassador” for a part of history that will soon be dwindling as Baby Boomers go SK. In fact, the Geochron clock and some other gear that I am getting are from older hams who want to find a good home – and they seem to like my take on living history, so I am finding that this all just fits like a glove.



A “Tuning” of the Seasons

HRO (National) SW-3 – Circa 1930’s

I was lucky to meet Reg – regarding QRP and 1930’s shortwave receivers. This is the SW-3, and here is a video of someone tuning it:

If you’ve followed my blog – then you know I started out at age 11 in 1970 as a shortwave listener. I built a Heathkit SW-717 receiver and had a blast – even though that radio wasn’t the best. As a teenager I also completely rebuilt a tube power supply for a BC-348J. The SW-3 only has 3 tubes, so I would be able to refurbish if needed, and I’m guessing I could find tubes – even if I had to purchase other rigs that has these tubes.

I’m also going to try an FB-7 from the same era. This plus the QRP rigs will make for simple Ham Radio fun. I also am still drooling over that Frattini Bug and possibly the Begali CW Machine and maybe even an Elecraft KX2.

I’ve sold a bunch of stuff – so all of this is subsidized by my “horse trading”. I will keep the ALM-31 and SteppIR UrbanBeam and also the 40M phased array. If I only had 40M CW from here on out – I’d be more than happy.

There is something just perfect about going back to my old “minimal” self – which was rudely interrupted by DXCC for the last 17 years!


A Turning of the Seasons

Mt. Shasta, October 7, 2018 – R. Holoch

Besides being blown away by Mt. Shasta, California – about 4 hours north of my house, I took this first shot with the tiny Sony RX100VI, and was very pleased with its performance. It is a GREAT full light camera (buy an earlier model if you prefer low light and night time street photography). The V or IV versions would be better for low light. I believe this is a “lenticular” cloud.

Lenticular Cloud over Mt. Shasta, CA – October 7, 2018 – R. Holoch

This is the Sony a6000 with kit zoom lens – exposure darker (on purpose)

Lenticular Halloween Ghost over Mt. Shasta – October 7, 2018 – R. Holoch

Sony a6000 with higher light exposure – and look at how the cloud looks like  halloween ghost flying over the mountain!

In Bend yesterday, we were rained on during our 5th and last bike ride. Autumn is firmly set in Oregon. When we returned to California – we were greeted with warmer temperatures and what will prove to be the last warm snap of the year. Within 2 weeks Autumn will be here for real.



In a Mountain Clearing

This is the first year I can remember since my family moved to California in 1979 that I have seen fall colors that rival where I grew up – on the NY, NJ and PA border.

We have been through this part of Oregon many times and usually you just get some yellows and even then the yellow is not too vibrant.

We have really great landscaping tree fall colors in my area of the world, but it’s especially nice to see fall colors in the under story of a thick pine forest. The colors seem almost neon or day glow.

The Ghosts of Our Past

We visited the Deschutes Historical Museum in Bend, Oregon today after a wonderful week here

Very funny sign!

The museum is an an old Elementary school called The Reid School, so the building is as historic as its contents. When I was a kid – I found an old Edison bulb out in a field in a dump that was next to a burned down house.

Edison bulbs – as a kid my class trips were to Edison’s lab in Menlo Park, NJ

Kodak – bringing back my one year in Rochester (Fairport, NY to be exact)

My first job out of college was at Kodak in Rochester, NY. My job was “process control” or recording the manufacturing process making Instant Print Film – and using PDP-11’s and Octal Assembler. I asked my boss why in the world did they decide I was right for this job – and he said “Your Ham Radio License made you much more technical than most applicants”. Well, OK . . .

HRO SW-3 – 3 tube Super Regenerative Receiver built during the Depression

Call it Serendipity – or as Jung would say “Synchronicity” – but I have a new friend – Reg – from Huntsville, Alabama – and who lived in the same area as I do a few years back – is selling me some QRP rigs and maybe – if we can work things out – an old HRO SW-3. Reg had had contest stations with Al Crespo – who used to live in Orinda but now lives in France. Al was a supporter of VK0EK – and I did chat with Al via Email – he told me about his trials and tribulations with the City of Orinda and neighbors complaining about his tower and antennas. I also found out that Bob Fererro – who owned HRO – also used to live in Orinda. Small world. Bob ended up also in Danville / Diablo as Reg did.

Now – here is the cool thing – Reg was co-owner of the Danville Hotel for a while and also had Reg Tibbets – W6ITH as his idol as a ham in the Bay Area. Reg Tibbets lived in Moraga – and I first found his rhombic antenna at Rancho Laguna Park where I used to bring my kids when they were very young. I saw the telephone poles and the switching house he had set up – and did some research and found out what Reg did during WWII.

I was recently bequeathed Chuck Patterson’s old Geochron clock. I used to hear Chuck on Top Band every morning and attended an NCDXC meeting at Harry’s Hofbrau with Chuck once. The clock had been stored in a very historical grain building in Port Costa, a wonderful old little town in Contra Costa County next across the Carquinez from Benicia.

The Alberto Frattini Bug – something on my bucket list!

I learned Morse Code on a straight key but quickly moved to a Vibroplex Bug. Until I saw this Italian beauty, I hadn’t thought much about a Bug – but now I’m drooling for one.

In the Deschutes Historical Museum, they had a Bend newspaper that had an article where a local couple who were Pacifists knocked a politician to the ground because they opposed WWI and the US entry into it. A telegrapher was quoted as helping that politician up, and I was struck that they even mentioned his occupation.

One person’s path crosses another both now and from the past. The present and in history.

The ghosts of our past circle around like a stream or river that meanders and finds its way due to gravity. Maybe serendipity is a figurative expression of gravity?

Is There a QRP CW Dream Station?

Ten Tec Argonaut V

After making 160M DXCC and 9BDXCC, which was 5 years after making DXCC Honor Roll, I have been struggling to figure out what would keep me interested in Ham Radio. The answer could be the one thing I tried to get into when I was inactive from 1977 until 2001, and that is QRP. In the 1980’s I tried getting into QRP, and it was because low power and CW seemed to be the perfect challenge. That lasted a year or so. I built Heathkit HW-8, SST by Wayne of Elecraft fame, and several others. But it didn’t hold my interest.

Elecraft K3

Part of me wants to limit myself to QRP and CW and become a died in the wool QRPer. Here is why:

  1. Challenge. Making any QSO with 5 watts is a big deal
  2. CW. It’s a dying art, and I’m at the end of the Baby Boomer era, meaning after my generation, you simply won’t hear CW on the Ham bands anymore. I feel a duty to keep it alive just a decade or two more. Plus it’s my favorite mode, living history, and something I’m proud of
  3. It’s all about the antenna and the CW skill

I’m trying to figure out what the best CW QRP rig ever made was / is. I sort of think the K3. CW is the main reason for me to stay in Ham Radio – I absolutely love “living history”, and my CW skill lets me make believe I’m a telegrapher back in the 1800’s. Its especially fun since I work in a very historically significant city – San Francisco, and between the railroad and the gold rush – you can still find peaks into that era even as you walk around SF today.

What is funny is how my CW skill makes me feel like I’m a part of “living history”.