CFS Alert: Photos 4 - Amateur Radio
|1972: This Collins desk console (which is out of view on the
main document) is integrated with a home made operator's console.
Note the Dymo tape message which says to leave the beam pointed south
when finished. In case the rotor became inoperative in between operating
sessions, south would be the best direction . (Photo by Jim Troyanek)
|This certificate was given to Eric Earl VE1ZS (and now KG4OZO) for
his contributions in passing phone patch traffic from Alert. Since the
original certificate is 15 inches long, it has been posted in two parts.
(Images courtesy Eric Earl)
|Spring of 1962. After 6 months of darkness it's time for the
sun to rise, a process that took about 10 days before it actually cleared
the horizon. At the left side is the amateur radio beam antenna . (Photo
by David Smith)
Earle Simth comments about some of the contacts he made in
the high Arctic using call sign VE8AT." There were a number of RCMP posts,
HBC posts, a few priests, etc., in the Arctic who were not ham radio
operators but did have transmitters operating just above 4.0 MHz.
They would listen to us on our 75metre frequency and reply on their 4.0
MHz frequency - it worked just great. I had two receivers to work
with so didn't have to rapidly spin the dial to listen to the guys above
4.0 MHz. My logbook also used to note one well know Arctic personality,
unlicenced I'm sure, who used to check in as "VE8 Herschel Island".
|Maurice Drew operating VE8TU in 1960. (Photo via Maurice Drew)
Maurice describes VE8TU in 1960. "The transmitter was an old
RCAF WWII era 100 watt relic that operated in the 20 meter band. It fed
a four element beam just outside the radio shack. Since the rotor used
to freeze up in winter, we had to crank the beam around with a pipe wrench.
The microphone we used at the time was an old RCA Victor carbon mike which
failed to modulate my voice so I always used CW instead. In 1964,
Ron Hutchinson installed an inverted 'L' antenna that was used to communicate
with stations in the vicinity such as Isaacsen, Griese Fiord and
|1958: Earle Smith in front of the AN/FRT-501. Above it is a
signal generator which was slightly modified to work as a VFO. (Photo
submitted by Earle Smith).
Earle also describes some of the unusual weather conditions
which can suddenly grip Alert. "I remember working up on a tower one time
doing some feedline repairs when a windstorm came up, blowing snow.
The blowing snow was from ground level up to approx. 25 agl. I couldn't
see the guys in the group, just a faint glow from their flashlights.
It was perfectly clear up on the tower where I was. Looking down was like
looking at waves of water flowing by me".
|1960: VE8TU antenna at night which means its in darkness
nearly six months of the year. (Photo by Maurice Drew)
|1960: This is the method of anchoring the ham antenna guy wires.
Because of the permafrost, the barrel could not be buried. Instead,
it was filled with either dirt or gravel. (Photo by Maurice Drew)
||1961 era: Before the advent of cheap long
distance telephone, Internet e-mail and Voice Over IP services, radiograms
were a very popular way to send messages at *no cost* using amateur radio
nets. This message, originating at VE8TU in Alert, was destined for Smiths
Falls, Ontario and was relayed by CW to VE3RCS in Kingston. Often the last
portion of the relay was by telephone. Sometimes there was only a few minutes
of good radio conditions at the point of origin so the operator had to
get the message out quickly. Even in 2007, radiograms are still in continuous
(but reduced) use in spite of advances in communications technology. Click
to enlarge. (Image courtesy Maurice Drew)
|1962: A daytime view of the amateur radio beam antenna. (Photo
by Jim Thoreson)
|Charlie Harris, VE6HM in Edmonton, was instrumental in setting up phone
patches for Alert personnel so they could talk to their families. Charlie
was known far and wide as the "Arctic Mailman". (Photo submitted by
Note the new National HRO-60 receiver in the photo. This
receiver was a special gift to Charlie, in recognition of all of his traffic
handling and phone patching over the years, by various hams across the
North and Arctic.
|QSL card of VO1XA used at Alert. (Image source unknown)
Even after the establishment of VE8RCS as a permanent station
call sign, there is one confirmed instance of an operator using his personal
call at Alert after that point. Scott, VO1XA, served in Alert in 1994 and
provides some details. "When I was posted to Alert in 1994, I knew there
was going to be piles of QSL cards to deal with as evidenced by my 1987
and 1989 tours. I had boxes of them! A QSL manager, who I met while
serving in CFS Bermuda and operating the amateur radio station there, agreed
to handle my Alert QSLs which would keep everything separate from VE8RCS.
One unique thing that I did back in 1994 was to bring most of my own
equipment up to Alert because I had heard that the ham shack had been stripped
down from its former complement. I didn't know what to expect.
As part of my gear, I also included a packet modem. VE8RCS had used
some digital modes on and off for a few years but I put the station on
an automatic bulletin board service (BBS) for nearly 6 months. People
from all over the world logged in and left me short e-mails. It was
pretty cool way to communicate back then".
A story about VE8RCS was published in the July 1981 issue of QST. Excerpts
from that article are posted here.
"When the weather turns hot, it becomes easy to think about
hamming in cooler places, such as Canada's most northerly outpost, Alert,
NWT. Alert now has most of the services of a modem community. Five diesel-powered
generators supply up to 1000 kWh of electricity. Each day, 10,000 gallons
of water is pumped from Dumbell Lake, 2 km away, and heated and reheated
before being stored for use in two 50,000 gallon reservoirs. Forty-eight
vehicles of all types provide transportation in and around the base.
Station personnel have living quarters that would be the envy of many
servicemen in the south. The three newest barracks have kitchenettes, lounges,
and automatic washers and dryers! Residents of Alert have plenty of free
time. For more active types, there's a weightlifting room, a gym, a curling
club and a bowling club. A closed-circuit television system carries taped
television programs eight hours a day. An FM radio station, manned by volunteers,
plays music around the clock. And to keep in touch with the folks back
home, there is weekly mail delivery by Hercules aircraft from CFS Trenton.
VE8RCS is located across from the barber shop, in the same building
that houses the Junior Ranks Mess and the CHANEX store. In many ways,
it's a typical ham station with dimensions of approximately 12 x
15 feet. The main station is a Yaesu 901DM and an Alpha 274 linear amplifier
feeding a 5-element Wilson monobander at 65 feet. This station is used
exclusively on 20 meters. A second station, with a Kenwood TS-820 feeding
a Hy-Gain Thunderbird TH6 beam antenna at 50 feet, is used on other
bands and for backup. A sign over the nearby backup station instructs operators
to make sure the beam is pointed south at the end of the day. This is done
as a precaution in case the rotor freezes up. South is the direction that
will procure aid for the station in case some seriously goes wrong.
What is different about VE8RCS is its purpose. A typical tour of duty
at CFS Alert is six months. The cold, the isolation and particularly the
separation from family and friends can become very depressing. Thus, the
many licenced amateurs among CFS Alert personnel devote hundreds of hours
each month to phone-patch traffic, keeping the 200 residents of Alert in
touch with those in the outside world. You can imagine it's a service well
Credits and References:
1) Jim Troyanek <intarsia(at)shaw.ca>
2) Ron Hutchinson <hutch(at)isp.com>
3) Douglas Stewart <dougjoy(at)ns.sympatico.ca>
4) Eric Earl, KG4OZO <eearle(at)adelphia.net>
5) David Smith <drdee(at)sympatico.ca>
6) Maurice Drew <maurice0404(at)rogers.com>
7) Earle Smith - VE6NM <t16ru672(at)telusplanet.net>
8) Jim Thoreson <jimthoreson(at)shaw.ca>
9) Scott, VO1XA, VP9MM - now VA3XA
10) Spud Roscoe <spudroscoe(at)eastlink.ca>
11) American Radio Relay League http://www.arrl.org
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