CANADIAN EPICS IN RADIOCOMMUNICATION
ALUMNI WHO LIVED THE ADVENTURE OF RADIO
WIRELESS TELEGRAPHISTS - SPARKS - RADIO PIONEERS
RADIO OPERATORS - RADIO TECHNICIANS
RADIO TECHNOLOGISTS - RADIO ENGINEERS
RADIO INSPECTORS - SPECTRUM MANAGERS
ÉPOPÉES CANADIENNES EN RADIOCOMMUNICATION
LES ANCIENS QUI ONT VÉCU L'AVENTURE DE LA RADIO
TÉLÉGRAPHISTES SANS FIL - PIONNIERS DE LA RADIO
OPÉRATEURS RADIO - TECHNICIENS RADIO
TECHNOLOGUES RADIO - INGÉNIEURS RADIO
INSPECTEURS RADIO - GESTIONNAIRES DU SPECTRE
Ranging across the west
Art Stark VE3ZS
(c) The Canadian Amateur magazine, Radio Amateurs of Canada Inc., CARF Publications, Reprinted with permission
In the spring of 1937 I was babysitting the remote transmitters for the Vancouver, B.C. (VAB) and Pt. Grey, B.C. (VAI) coast stations at Lulu Island. After only some seven years and still a very junior operator I considered myself very lucky to be on an "inside" station; but any promotion would mean a transfer to an "outside" isolated station again for many years. The chance of reaching Officer-in-Charge (OIC) status, even "outside", would not come for some 20 years.
The Canadian government, in its wisdom, decreed that Canada should have its own national coast-to-coast air line. This, of course, necessitated the provision of state-of-the-art navigational facilities. A series of fourcourse radio ranges would be built across Canada starting in the mountainous western portion of the proposed route over the Rocky Mountains.
The Radio Branch of the recently formed Department of Transport called for volunteer radio operators from the coast stations to operate and maintain these new navigational aids of the Air Service. Of course I couldn't pass up this opportunity, although many 'oldtimers' thought I, and a number of other 'youngsters', were completely out of our minds to have anything to do with such a hare-brained scheme as flying passenger airplanes over the mountains, much less across the continent. Such a scheme could not last, and then where would we be?
Thus it was that I found myself well up in the list of volunteers and in May received instructions to report to the Airways Engineer in Vancouver who was in charge of construction of airfields and to proceed to Oliver, B.C. in the Okanagan Valley to take over a one-man military weather station. OIC in just seven years! Unheard of!
I spent a month at Oliver. It was not a busy station - just three schedules a day to pass weather reports to Vancouver; so much of the time was spent in the nearby swimming hole or driving a caterpillar tractor dragging a roller up and down a new emergency landing strip.
Then in July I was instructed to move to Grand Forks, B.C. about 100 road miles east where a radio range was to be established. So in the last week of July I loaded up my car once more and drove east on the trans-Canada highway - a day's travel over a gravel road.
I found myself entirely on my own so set up headquarters in one of the local hotels and waited. A few days later the 'steel crew' arrived to erect the four 140-foot towers for the antennae.
The transmitter building was being built and the tower steel was on a flat car at the railroad station.
By July 28 I was able to report to Headquarters in Ottawa that the lower girders of the west tower were in place and that the south tower insulators were being installed. The next day stationery supplies for the station arrived from Ottawa - including 500 sheets of writing and typing paper (but no typewriter), a half gross of pen nibs (no ball points in those days) and one bottle of black ink and another of red!
On August 7 I was able to report that all four towers were completed and had been plumbed by our surveyor.
A week later, the transmitter building being completed, the commercial electric power was connected. Then on August 16 eighteen large packing cases containing the transmitters and associated equipment arrived by railway express - collect! And I had a $15.00 limit on my slush fund! This called for fast action and fast talking; I had the cases unloaded directly onto a truck and it was delivered and stored at the transmitter site before the express agent realized he had a bill to collect!
The transmitting equipment for the first six stations of the system were manufactured by the Radio Receptor Co. of New York; later units were all made by the Canadian Marconi Co. of Montreal.
By September 28 all tower, counterpoise and ground systems were in place and ready for connection to the transmitters. During this time I was kept busy keeping a general eye on the progress and assisting a small team of engineers and technicians engaged in the installation of equipment, control lines, etc. The control office was established in a back bedroom of house at the edge of the "airport" - a vacant field (except for the odd cow) at the edge of town.
On October 7 the first member of my staff arrived. The same day the transmitters were given a 4hour smoke test - all OK.
On October 14 the courses of the range were aligned and flight checked by the department's calibration aircraft and found satisfactory. (The aircraft is now on display at the National Aeronautical Museum in Ottawa.)
The following day the Grand Forks radio range - YF - commenced schedule operation, 0900-1700 Pacific Standard Time. The first controllable 4-course radio range in Canada was in operation!
A lot of clean-up work still remained to be done, permanent control lines to be strung, receivers and teletypes to be installed, receiving antennae to be erected, weather observing equipment installed, etc.
It was not until April 30, 1938, that a full staff consisting of myself as OIC and three operators, were assigned that full 24-hour operation of the station began.
The station remained in operation until September 25, 1940, when it was dismantled and moved to Penticton, B.C. I left Grand Forks on October 30, and after a month at Penticton and Carmi (a mountain-top range station) left for duty with the Royal Air Force, flying bombers across the Atlantic.