Monday, September 14, 2009

One of the Good Guys...

i've only been back on the air a few months, but i've already had more than my fair-share of interaction with other hams off the air... here's a tribute to one of the truly good guys, Jerry Pittenger, K8RA.

here's the deal...

having started out as a novice, unable to get over the 10wpm hump, i was always envious of all those ops who had phone privileged in the HF bands... when we got the TenTec TX-100 rig, my dad went over to an Army/Navy surplus store (do those even exist any more?) and picked up a Navy surplus 'flameproof' signal key, complete with the admonition "do not hold down more than 2min" engraved around the edge of the thumb rest. i was an "OK" cw operator (i'm a reasonable musician with a good sense of rhythm, so my code, though slow, was always pretty tight)... but once the FCC approved the Tech+ license, with phone privileges on 10m, i picked up a used Radio Shack HTX-10, cut down a 1/4 wave mag mount CB antenna, and never looked back.

flash forward to the present, the code requirement is gone, my General ticket is in hand, i've got my K3 and Buddipole, and that, as they say, should be that... except that Kristen (K6RX) who's an old friend and unwitting Elmer keeps asking me when i'm gonna work CW... and with propagation crap and my QTH fairly noisy (electrically speaking) i realize that a little CW might get me some DX contacts faster than waiting for the phone pileups to clear...

now there's a long distance between there and here, and last time i checked VibroPlex keyers were all the rage... so i sniff around and decide that a simple iambic paddle is the best way to go and what should show up on but a used (never used) K8RA P-2 paddle... the reviews are all great and the price is right, so i make the deal and a few days later what arrives is a used (never used) K8RA P-2 paddle... except even though its clearly never been used (the contacts are unmarked), it doesn't work smoothly like the reviews say it should, and it doesn't look exactly like the paddle on the K8RA site. there's stiction in the movement and some kind of tarnish under the coating.

so i send a note to K8RA, acknowledging that i purchased the paddle, used and out of warranty, and asking for advice on cleaning the tarnish and adjusting the contacts, and this is the note i get back:

Robin... that key is a really really old model. I have come a long way since making that version of the P2. I would guess I made it 4 or 5 years ago. It is actually fun for me to look at. It uses the sleeve bearings as opposed to the miniature ball bearings and smaller contact posts without the knurled rods. To make a long story short, I think you need to send it back to me and I will update it to the new design along with taking it all apart and repolishing it. Also, on that model I sprayed it with a clear acrylic and have since switched to a lacquer coating that lasts a whole lot longer. Trust me, it will be worth your time to send it back. I will turn it around very quickly for you. Take care and send it back...please please

wow... i mean, really... and as a side note, the original seller happened to see a note i posted on eham about the response i received from Jerry and wrote to me to apologize for my having to incur the expense of sending the key back to Jerry in the first place... another good guy...

so i try to make one fractured CW QSO, just to whet my whistle (and in the process, shut down the rig in a panic when someone actually responds to me!), pack up the key and send it back to its maker, only to have a package arrive today (less than 1 week later) with the following note:

Robin -
I reserved serial #'s 1-10 and started (production) at 11. Since yours did not have a serial #, I gave it #00009. This was one of the fi
rst 25 or 30 paddles that I made. Jerry K8RA

and here's what i got back, at no charge, from a true 'mensch'

cleaned, polished, new bearings, new adjustment screws, new contacts, new feet... Jerry says its the same key, though you couldn't get me to swear to it in a court of law!

so now i have to practice my code, work on my speed, and become worthy of Jerry and his lovely polished piece of brass. seems like a worthy endeavour, indeed!

de Robin (W6RDG)

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