Ben was my Elmer as much as anyone. He opened my eyes and ears to a larger world. I do not think he really sat down and taught me theory or how to operate but I knew I could ask him. I think he saw that it was probably better to see what I could do on my own then he would guide me if I started to stray.

Back in those days you were hard pressed finding someone to give a Novice test. The local club was more interested in two meters than helping a kid along but someone did give me Ben's address and phone number. I called him and setup a meeting to take the test. I was pretty nervous arriving at his house. His house was easy to find with the 50 foot tower and yagi in the backyard next to a little shed that was his shack. He showed me all his radios, I was mesmerized as it was the first real ham radio shack I had ever seen.

W4RKW in his shack.
He also showed me some AM radios he was restoring as he liked to talk on an AM net. Ben made a QSO and had me talk to the person on the other end and I was hooked. What a thrill. After a while Ben gave me the 5 WPM morse code test and sent off for my test material.

After the test material came in, via mail, I went over and took the test, Ben mailed the test material back to the FCC and I waited for the results. Now the process so far has taken around a month. That includes finding Ben, taking the code test and sending off for the written test. It was a long wait.  In the mean time I had enough money to buy a radio. My Dad agreed to drive me to the Hamfest in Charlotte NC, a ways away, so I could find a radio.

Now, my Dad was not licensed at the time. As far as I knew he had no interest in Ham Radio. I was pretty much doing this stuff on my own but he did encourage me.

I scored a HW-16 and a HG-10b VFO and home we went. I made an antenna out of the only wire I could find which was galvanized steel wire used for electric fences. I "found" a lot of it so I made a 40 meter inverted vee dipole for 40 and 15 meters (two of the three bands on the HW-16). What I did not know was I needed to spread the legs of the dipole out more than I had. I tried tuning but was never able to get it resonate beyond 3 to 1. I decided to use it that way. Radios back in those days could handle a mismatch.

Finally a note from the FCC arrived but it was not what I was looking for.

I had failed and not by much. I was devastated. I took the test around Christmas time and had been waiting for the day that I would have my own call sign and finally be a ham. Well, I was upset but I sure did get a lot of encouragement from Ben, Dad and the rest of my family so I hit the books again. There were no FCC question pools back in those days. I just read and tried to understand the theory, memorize the math equations and remember the rules and regulations hoping I studied the right thing. I took the test again and FINALLY on June 12th of 1979 I was licensed as KA4JQZ.

I became KA4JQZ
Ben of course was my first QSO. You never forget that first CW QSO. I think that it is sad that there are generations of Hams that will never experience that thrill. To say I was nervous would be an understatement but I made it through and realized how poor my antenna system was working. I talked to Ben about it but he was not able to come over and help me till the weekend. I was able to figure it out by myself within he next few days and I was on the air everyday. A few days later I received my first QSL card.

Along with the card Ben included a note:

Ben was right, I did have lots of fun and still am. Before I left for basic training in early 1981 I made it a point to upgrade to General. In order to upgrade Dad had to take me to the FCC field office, the nearest one was in VA but that is another story.

I never saw Ben again. He passed away in 1983. I do not think I had much of an impact on him but he sure had a big impact on me.

RIP Whiskey Four Rotten Keg of Whiskey (W4RKW) and 73.

If your Elmer is still around give him or her a call and tell them how much you appreciated their help. I have wanted to do that with Ben many times over.


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