Allow me to introduce myself: I’m William D. Snyder of Fargo, North Dakota, better known as Bill or Willy, and I’m acting as one of your narrators for a trip to British East Africa in the years of 1947-48, that’s long before the tourist boom hit the continent. I’ll be helped in telling our story by Robert Leo, better known as Bob, who now lives in Bozeman, Montana. Because I’m the lead narrator, all my stuff will be subjective, that is, told in the first person, while Bob’s reminiscences will be objective and therefor told in the third person. I’m telling you that now for no particular reason whatsoever; I just thought it might be a nice way to get going. At the start of our story period, I’d been a civilian and back in the United States for a year and a half after spending nearly three years in the South West Pacific, half with the Army Amphibian Engineers, and half with the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. I was living with my parents in Fargo, North Dakota and enjoying the luxuries of civilian life once again. My major hobby was amateur radio, and my station, call letters W0LHS, was back on the air after the FCC had rescinded the order that caused a complete shut-down of all ham radio activities on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day. Using my pre-war ham equipment, I was spending a good deal of time swapping war stories with other veterans around the world. As a sidebar, one of the my interesting ham radio experiences of that post-war period was contacting an amateur operator by the name of Norman in Japan. His call sign was J3AAE, and he was was a member of the very army signal unit I commanded during the last year of the big conflict. Norman was in Headquarters Company, 58th Signal Battalion; and, believe it or not, his last name was Snyder! On his QSL card, printed here, he told me no one in the 58th remembered me anymore. At the end of the war, I’d been a member of the 58th Signal Battalion for about two years. I had joined the battalion whose job was to give communications support to the I (Roman numeral one, but pronounced “eye”) Corp commanded by Lieutenant General Eichelberger. The 58th was an army unit billeted in a tent camp on the outskirts of a sleepy town named Rockhampton, Queensland when I reported for duty. I Corps functioned only as a tactical unit providing battle orders to various army divisions of the US Sixth Army then commanded by General Walter Kreuger. The Sixth Army, part of the General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations, was at that time leading an invasion of the Admiralty Islands and would soon be invading Dutch New Guinea. The 58th was short a radio officer and that means of communications was to be the main link between I Corps and Sixth Army as well as Corps and MacArthur’s theater headquarters. So, the brass had me released from my detail with the Engineer Amphibians and re- detailed to the Signal Corps. I had been commissioned as an infantry 2d Lieutenant in June, 1941 after four years of Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) instruction at the North Dakota Agricultural College. After graduating from NDAC in 1942, I was ordered to extended active duty with the 592d Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment on July 4th, 1942. At that time the unit was just being organized at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I served as communications officer for the boat battalion for a year and half in training operations in the USA and also with the Australian army forces in Rockhampton and Cairns, Queensland. We moved from the continent of Australia to New Guinea in October of 1943. The part of our unit that operated landing craft took part in the invasion of New Britain and the Admiralty Islands. I’m not exactly sure how I was selected by Sixth Army for the signal battalion, but it happened. I assume it was because of my radio experience and the 58th was short of officers with that qualification. When I arrived at Rockhampton, Queensland to join the 58th, I was assigned as radio operation platoon leader, and that led to my becoming the task force radio officer for the Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea invasion in April of 1944. Later, in January of 1945, my assignment was changed to battalion S-3 (operations officer) for the invasion of the Philippines island of Luzon. Shortly after the first phase of that operation I was assigned as company commander of Headquarters Company. I stayed with the 58th until after we had moved to Japan when the war was over. So, making contact with my old army company was a real thrill. The 58th remained a regular army unit after the war, and I was offered the assignment as Executive Officer of the battalion if I would take a 30 day leave to the USA and then return. I thought that offer over, but declined. I wanted to try my wings at industrial film making, so I left the 58th around the 1st of December and returned to the USA. That finished my extended active duty tour; I did, however, remain in the army reserve until I retired after 20 years of service. So, you can see, a ham contact with Japan and my own outfit was an exciting experience. When the QSL card confirming my radio contact with the 58th arrived, I laughed at this statement by Sergeant Snyder: “Nobody remembers you here in HQ company.” During our ham contact I had told him that I had been the company commander, so he apparently had asked the old timers about me, but they were all gone home to civilian life. The Beginning In 1947 I had two fledgling businesses started and operating (shakily) in Fargo when I discovered a startling two-page advertisement in the May, 1947 issue of QST magazine. QST is the ham radio bible published by the American Radio Relay League in Newington, Connecticut. Hundreds of other interested ham radio operators in the USA were also reading the ad because in a big, black headline screamed “WANTED: One highly qualified amateur operator to accompany the Gatti-Hallicrafters Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.” The headline was accompanied by an artist’s drawing of a convoy of trucks and station wagons traveling heroically through palm trees and African grassland. Leading the convoy was a motorcycle driven by a black native African. The two-wheeler sported a side car in which was riding a white person wearing a pith helmet and dressed like the explorers in African movies I had seen.It was a dramatic layout, and it appealed especially to a person with a little adventure in his soul. I studied the picture and read the two blocks of copy on the left page of the double-truck layout. The first block said this: “In the fall of 1947 the Hallicrafters Company of Chicago will launch a spectacular six month’s radio- equipped expedition to the romantic Mountains of the Moon in the heart of Africa’s Belgian Congo. The commander of the expedition is Attilio Gatti, famed author and explorer, veteran of ten previous African expeditions. Heart of the expedition will be mobile radio units similar to the famous SCR-299’s and 399’s developed by Hallicrafters during the war. The expedition will establish a base camp, 6500 feet up on the slopes of the Ruwenzori Range, so 30 miles W.S.W. from Fort Portal. The camp will be centered around a stationary radio shack from which regular schedules will be kept with all parts of the world describing the progress of the expedition, the nature of its findings and all the other glamorous details surrounding this scientific safari.” I had lots of experience with SCR-299’s and 399’s in my New Guinea and Philippines service; this expedition could be for me, so I read on. “From the base camp the mobile radio units will travel in all directions as the explorers extend their investigations into all phases of the flora and fauna of the Mountains of the Moon. The expedition’s helicopter will carry a Hallicrafters Skyfone. Marine transmitters will be installed in the expedition’s floating craft, completing a land, sea and air radio network that will wring new secrets from the jungle and relay them to the world. “Amateurs all over the globe, will be in regular contact with the expedition as it operates through the last three months of ‘47, the first three months of ‘48. Prefixes like OQ5 for the Belgian Congo, VQ5 for the Uganda Protectorate, VQ4 for Kenya Colony, VQ3 for Tanganyika territory and VQ1 for the Zanzibar Protectorate will become more familiar than ever to the hams who know the thrills that come with successful long distance communications. As I read the ad again and studied the picture, the “adventure” juices in my body began to accumulate. The motorcycle with sidecar attached didn’t make much sense, but the drawings of the trucks looked exactly like an army 2 ½ ton truck with a SCR-399 radio housing installed in the cargo space. The trucks were exactly like I had in my army command. Virus Nostalgia set in, too; and that can be fatal. I wondered about what “scientific” work the expedition was to undertake, and I also wondered about the ham radio aspects of the expedition. Some copywriter in an advertising agency had been dreaming, but so was I. The next block of copy answered some of my questions in bold face type: “Since the central scientific core of the expedition is radio and radio experimentation and the main intent is to stimulate further international recognition of all amateur radio, the key figure, next to Commander Gatti, will be the amateur radio operator chosen to keep the expedition in touch with the outside world during its six months of operation. The Hallicrafters Co. is therefore inviting applications for this fascinating assignment from amateur radio operators in accordance with the terms of application and selection as set forth on the opposite page. This invitation is made exclusively in the pages of QST.” At that time every ham radio operator was familiar with Hallicrafters, for they were one of the leading manufacturers of amateur radio gear and military equipment for the Signal Corps. They were a big, responsible company, one I wouldn’t mind being connected with. I was hooked; I simply had to apply! I had just started my industrial motion picture company, Bill Snyder Films; however, I called it “Prairie Picture Productions” at that time. Frankly, it was not doing too well. I had spent most of my wartime savings on a professional 16mm camera and equipment, but I didn’t know how to charge; and, more importantly, how to collect, so I was still living with my parents to help keep the wolf away from the door. After nearly three years of military service overseas in Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan, I thought it would be fun to go to Africa for six months. My fledgling movie company could wait; I wanted to go to Africa. The same month I saw an advertisement in a men’s magazine named “True.” Gatti-Hallicrafters were looking for a photographer to accompany the same expedition. When I read the True ad, my psyche received another shot of adrenalin, and I really developed the desire to explore Africa on somebody else’s money. No question about it, I simply had to apply for the ham radio position; after all, I was a single man with no family ties to keep me in the United States, and a very bad case of “adventure lust.” I hurried to the library and brought home an arm load of books on Africa, including one authored by Attilio Gatti. I also spent a full day in the library studying atlas maps of the “dark continent.” I searched out all the lore I could find about the Ruwenzori Mountains --- the “romantic Mountains of the Moon” mentioned in the ad. The more I read, the more excited I became. My years in the Pacific tropics had prepared me for the climate, and my developing interest in Africa made me want to go on the trip more than ever. My interest in Africa probably started from watching Martin and Osa Johnson movies when I was a child in junior high school. The popular man-and-wife adventure team started producing African motion pictures for the illustrated lecture circuit back in the 1920s. Their lectures became so popular that they put their African films into theatrical release. I recall one thriller in which Masai Morani warriors killed a male lion by surrounding him with a large ring of warriors carrying spears. The circle of Morani then slowly closed in on the beast. The lion became nervous and picked an escape route by charging one of the Morani holding spears. When the lion charged, the warrior would thrust his spear into the beast and attempt to kill him. It was a pretty exciting event; however, many times, so the sound track said, the nearly naked Morani would miss his mark, and he himself would be killed or injured by the “fury of claw and fang.” Coincident with watching the Johnson films and Frank Buck’s “Bring ‘em back alive” movies, I read every book Martin and Osa had written, and I had watched all their movies more than once. And in 1937, while I was working at Technicolor in Hollywood, a Western Airline plane in which the Johnsons were riding crashed into a mountain during an instrument approach during rainy weather to the Burbank airport. When I heard that news, a friend of mine and I drove out to the mountain and climbed up to see the wreckage of the Boeing 247-D airplane. Martin died in the crash, but Osa was rescued and lived to carry on. With all that African lore in my mind, I set out to apply for the trip. The advertised requirements for the radio job were rather complex: the applicant had to hold a 2nd class radiotelegraph license from the FCC, an “Advanced” FCC amateur ticket, a Morse Code proficiency certificate from the ARRL, a letter of 250 words or less stating the applicant’s radio qualifications, and a “snapshot or suitable photograph.” The qualification part of the ad was worded like it was a contest: “Neatness and legibility will help your case, but ‘fancy’ or elaborate presentations will be discounted.” I didn’t have either the ARR L certificate or the 2nd Class Radiotelegraph license, and the deadline for applications was listed as July 1st, so I had to get moving. I held the Advanced Amateur license, so that requisite was taken care of. I had no trouble getting the ARRL code certificate. I got that on the first try by copying the monthly broadcast from ARRL station W1AW on my father’s old Model 5 Underwood typewriter. Those many hours of practice copying the Morse code news from the USA while in the Pacific war helped me get that certificate. I copied the code run, mailed in my copy, and back came a 35 word per minute certificate, the top endorsement. One item done. I bought a book for FCC commercial license exams and started to study. The second telegraph exam was composed of elements 1,2,5,and 6; the first class radiotelephone required 1,2,3, and 4. So, I studied quite strenuously and went to St.Paul for the first test. I had no trouble with the code requirement of 16 words per minute on coded groups and 20 for plain text. I breezed through that part and started the written test. It was thorough, but fairly easy. I had put extra study on the part about shipboard battery maintenance and radio direction finding which made up a big part of element six. It was a week or so before I received the 2nd class certificate from the St. Paul office of the FCC. I now had the basic requirements asked for in the ad, but I thought I would add a bit to my resume by getting a first phone license, too. I crammed elements 3 and 4, made another trip to St. Paul, and passed that test with flying colors. I figured that the extra license would be a bit of icing on the qualifications cake. Now for the “snapshot or suitable photo” requirement. Instead of sending in the usual “mug” shot of a smiling well-groomed male, I thought I would put some decorations on the icing by posing with my Cine-Special camera which, at the time, was the only professional 16mm motion picture camera manufactured. I felt that if they were looking for a photographer in another magazine, having a motion picture camera in my photo would give me a little edge. I went to Bob McCracken, a good photographer friend, for my “suitable photo.” Bob posed me, looking very heroic, along side my personal Cine-Special. I wrote the 250 word cover letter, retyped it half a dozen times to get it just right, and mailed the whole package to Hallicrafters with crossed fingers—really crossed. While I was working on the application, Mike Pienovich had called me and asked me to visit with him at Doyle Cab Company office. Mike was married to Mary Garberg, a gal who I had dated, and a sister to one of my old golfing partners during our days in college. Mike had just returned from active duty in the Air Corps where he was a bomber pilot during the big war. His father-in-law, Pete Garberg, owned a piece of the Doyle taxicab company and had sold it to Mike. When I met with Mike he explained that he wanted to put radios in the taxis. At that time all taxis were dispatched completely by telephone. The drivers would hang around one of a dozen telephone boxes situated around the city and pick up their orders for business when a signal light would flash. Radio dispatching would save many miles of driving and speed up the service. “Would you install and service taxi radios if I bought some?” asked Mike as we had a cup of coffee in his apartment over the old Doyle Livery Barn on the corner of 1st Avenue and 7th Street South in Fargo. “Sure,” I said, “I’m getting the necessary FCC operator’s license and what I don’t know about mobile radio, I can learn.” So Mike and I made a deal, and I had a second business. Unfortunately Hallicrafters did not manufacture suitable two-way radios, so we ordered radios from a company in California. We bought ten radios on the initial order and went to work installing them. The supplier helped us with the FCC license. Tom Cummings, an intermittent alcoholic and a first class auto and airplane mechanic, was Mike’s maintenance man. When he was sober he was the best there was. Tom had been an aircraft mechanic before booze got him fired. Tom was sober most of the time he worked for Mike, so he and I got along very well. He did the work on the cars and I did the repairs and installation of the radios. We put the base station antenna up on the Doyle building which had been a horse barn and livery stable in the early times of Fargo. We installed the 50 watt base FM transmitter in the 152-162 MegaHertz band and hooked up the microphones to the dispatch desk area. With ten units in the cars, we were ready to try the system out. It worked, but the range was not what I thought it should be. It covered the two towns of Moorhead and Fargo, but not much more. I was in the process of working on a car radio when I was paged for a phone call. I answered, expecting Dorothy Hanson, my girl friend at the time, but it was another lady with a sweet voice. “I’m the secretary for Bill Halligan,” she said quietly, “he’s the president of Hallicrafters.” My heart leaped, they wanted me! “You have been selected as a finalist in the search for a ham to go to Africa,” she said. My heart sank a bit, I was only a finalist. “Would you be available to go to Derby Line, Vermont and interview with Commander Gatti? He’s the final authority,” the sweet voice said. “Yes, I’ll be glad to go, anytime.” I was excited. She named a date in September and I agreed to do it. When I hung up the phone, I said to Cummings, “Hey, Tom, that phone call may send me to Africa for six months.” “Whose gonna fix the radios while you’re gone?” asked Tom. “I might go with a guy named Commander Attilio Gatti,” I said, “I don’t know where he got the title of Commander, but it sounds impressive.” “Whose gonna fix these damned radios?” asked Tom again. He didn’t care about who Commander Gatti was at all. “I’ll find someone to take over the radios, but I don’t have the African trip yet, so don’t start to worry.” “I don’t wanna learn to fix the damn things,” Tom replied, “it might send me back to the bar, and I don’t need that!” He laughed at his statement. I then told Tom about the application I had submitted to Hallicrafter’s months before. I had almost forgotten about making the application, so the phone call came as a surprise. I had a hard time keeping my excitement within myself. From then on I bubbled about the prospects of going to “darkest Africa” for six months. The laconic Tom didn’t seem to care, he just kept his head buried in the engine compartment of the taxi that needed his expert attention. Africa offered no adventure for him.

Chapter 1. The background and

the beginning

Copyright 2003,William D. Snyder
All Rights reserved