I moved to Osburn, Idaho around 1952 where my parents opened a small hardware and variety store called the City Variety. Osburn is between Kellogg and Wallace in Northern Idaho. At the back of the store was our small apartment. Our kitchen door opened into the back of the store. My room was upstairs at the back of the apartment and faced into our empty lot behind. My ham station was in my bedroom and I had a long wire from a pole at the back of the property to another pole on the roof at the front of the store. The single long wire came into the room through the wall and I had a knife switch to open it in case of lightning. I don’t remember if I had a ground wire to the equipment because of being on the second floor. I did build a 20 meter vertical out of aluminum tubing later. The hills around Osburn were at least 45 degrees in elevation so there was no real DX to hear. The fluorescent lights in the store took out 80 meters so I could not work on 80 until nighttime after the store closed.
I often have tried to find where and when I got interested in radio, communications and science. My dad had a large wooden console radio that got the shortwave bands and I remember listening to the naval code stations around 500 KHz, hams on 80 meter AM, and the California police above the AM broadcast band. In the 9th grade at Wallace Junior High School in Wallace, Idaho, there were a bunch of small booklets on various science topics and I enjoyed the astronomy and physical science versions of them. I played chess at the time and entered a few tournaments in the state and adjacent states.
I bought various neat items from a mail order house called Johnson Smith. It included tricks that you put in your parent’s cigarettes to help them quit like smoke pills, etc. There was also a small AM radio built into the shape of a pens and such, but needed a long wire and a ground to pick up stations. Since the only station in the county was KWAL in Osburn, that was the only station I ever heard using crystal sets or small radios. I remember buying a microphone that connected to a vacuum tube in a radio (you removed the tube, inserted this connector onto the socket, and reinstalled the tube). It allowed me to broadcast to my parents while remaining hidden, initially a surprise to them. Incidentally, I worked the Summer of 1965 at KWAL as a broadcast engineer and DJ.
My first amateur radio equipment was a National SW-54 receiver. It was in a metal enclosure which would shock you if the AC plug was not polarized correctly for the wall outlet. You had to ground that device to protect yourself. I added a SX-99 Hallicrafters receiver and a Knight Kit T-50 CW transmitter. I later added the Knight Kit VFO when I got my Conditional license in December, 1957. I built a grid modulator out of the ARRL Handbook which plugged into the key jack and provided AM voice capability. My first AM phone contact with this was with a station in Montana on 80 meters. Was that ever cool!!
Later, I bought a Central Electronics 20A SSB exciter from Norwest Electronics in Spokane. Having no VFO to use with the 20A, I wound a coil on a pencil and added it inside the T-50 VFO to give me 9 MHz output for the 20A. If I pounded on the desk, the coil would vibrate and my signal would vibrate also. Oops! I later stripped most of the parts out of the T-50 transmitter and made it into a 807 grounded grid amplifier.
Here are a couple of shots of me operating from my station. Hair was plentiful in those days!