In preparation for my interview with Commander Gatti, I carefully re-read his book, and studied the geography of the three British East African colonies. During this period I became the local public library’s best customer. Rose Korsgren, the sweet voice from Hallicrafters, called again with interview information. “It’s scheduled for September 2rd in Derby Line, Vermont,” she said. “Another person will also be interviewed the same day; his name is Bob Leo, his ham call is W6PBV, and he lives in San Mateo, California.” She then suggested Bob and I meet in the hotel in Derby Line and go out to Gatti’s home/office together. Somehow I got the impression from her that Bob and I were the only finalists; however, the ad in QST specified six finalists with only one to make the trip I hopped Northwest Airlines to Chicago and American into New York City. It was my second air trip into the Big Apple; I’d flown there once while in the army. In those postwar days, the aircraft used on most airlines was the 21 passenger Douglas DC-3, an airplane that had thousands of clones serving the army, navy and marines for military purposes. I arrived on an American Airline’s DC-3 at the Newark airport. From there I took the limousine service to the Manhattan Airline Terminal. When the limo arrived at the terminal building on 42nd Street, I picked up my suitcase at the baggage counter, walked out to the big city street, jumped in a taxi and said to the driver, “The Commodore Hotel.” I tried to act like a native because I’d stayed in that hotel once during my army career. The cabby looked at me with a funny smile and said, “Hey, buddy, if you look across the street you can see the Commodore Hotel. If I was youse, I’d walk. With a sheepish grin, I climbed out of the taxi and jaywalked across the street to the hotel. I stayed overnight in the New York in order to visit my college married friends, Mason and Frances Arvold. We partied like crazy along with Mason’s sister, Mary Arvold, and a few of their theatrical friends. A great evening. The following morning I walked across the street to the Airline Terminal and took American Airlines to Boston. As we flew along the coastal waters, memories of my days in the Army Engineer Amphibian Command at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts returned. I recalled my New York/Boston flight in 1942 to join the Amphibs. In those days the curtains on the DC-3’s windows were drawn whenever the plane took off or landed. Only in level flight at cruising altitude were they allowed open. It was a security measure to keep enemy spies from learning about the cities the airline served. From “Beantown” Boston I took the evening train to Derby Line, a quaint little Vermont village right on the border with Canada. In fact, some of the town is in Canada and some in the United States. Bob and I met in the Derby Line hotel and sat down to breakfast together. He seemed to know more about the expedition plans than I did, so we compared lives. Bob was 26 years old; I was about to turn 31. He held a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the prestigious California Institute of Technology (CalTech); I held a BS in Arts and Science from North Dakota Agricultural College (known by the University of North Dakota students as the “Cow and Pig Institute”). Bob had served as an officer in the Navy for five years; I was a veteran of nearly five years of active duty in the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer, plus four years in the Naval Reserve as a Radioman 3rd class. We both held Class “A” Amateur Radio licenses, and Second Telegraph and First Phone commercial tickets. F.E. Handy, an official of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the ham radio operators association was one of the so-called contest judges as to which finalist would go on the trip. I’m sure Handy was impressed by both of us having the 35 word-per-minute International Morse Code Proficiency certificate issued by the ARRL. Thirty-five was the highest speed endorsement issued by the League. Bob had been employed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration at their overseas receiving station at Pigeon Point, California, a site with about 400 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean. His ham call was W6PBV, and he had six V beams, a rhombic antenna mounted on 90 foot poles, a kilowatt transmitter, and separate ham shack. “It’s a nifty place, and I really didn’t want to leave the great DX location,” said Bob over eggs and bacon, “but I’ve been transferred to the transmitting station KSF, that’s not the Mackay Radio KFS, the CW station all you overseas Yanks used to copy for news from America during the war. The job there is really boring. It’s a fine place for retired Navy chiefs to spend their time dusting transmitters, making coffee and reading the daily papers. That’s why I applied for this job. Get a little adventure for a change.” Bob and I got along famously from the start. The published rules of the so-called contest called for six finalists to be interviewed and one selected. “Have you heard anything about the other finalists?” I asked Bob. “On the way here I toured the Hallicrafters’ plant in Chicago,” Bob said, “Someone there mentioned something about only three, but that’s all I know. Maybe it’s just between you and me.” “I’d hate to be the only ham radio operator on the expedition,” I said, “I’ve been reading about malaria and sleeping sickness and all those juicy tropical African diseases.” “Me, too,” agreed Bob. “Two are one better than one.” We laughed. “Let’s get him to take us both,” I said. “I think we can do it.” “Fine with me,” said Bob and we shook hands. From the hotel we took a taxi to the Gatti home. I was intrigued by the address: it was listed on the expedition stationary as “Commander Gatti’s residence: Glenbrook House.” The cab driver didn’t have too much to say about Gatti, other than the fact that he knew where he lived. On the short taxi ride, Bob said to me, “Did you notice on Gatti’s Expedition stationary that his phone number is 353 in Rock Island, Quebec?” “No, can’t say I did,” I said. A lady met Bob and me at the door. “Are you Mrs. Gatti?” I asked. In North Dakota we ask questions like that. “No, I’m the maid,” the lady answered and escorted us to Gatti’s second floor office where he was waiting for us. Gatti was all smiles, and he offered a firm and pleasant handshake. When we were seated in comfortable chairs lined up in front of his big desk, Gatti opened the interview. “Gentlemen,” he said, “Welcome to Canada. You are now in the part of the house that is in Quebec. The rest of the house is in Vermont. The international line runs right through here.” The revelation fascinated me, and this thought occurred to me: “what a great place to dodge process servers.” I’m not sure if Gatti interpreted my smile or not. I expected to see a lot of African artwork in his windowed on three sides office; there was some, but not much. Gatti seemed well organized; a man’s desk will sometimes give his habits away. The interview began with a few questions taken from our application letters. I studied Gatti’s face and his smile. I recalled my grandfather’s advice on people with heavy-duty smile action. “Never trust a man with more than one smile per sentence,” Gramps had said, “Shakespeare put it this way: ‘One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.’” Gatti then turned to our resumes. “Snyder,” he said happily, “you certainly have a fine photo with your application. Is that your camera?” I smiled back at Gatti: “I’m glad you like my picture. As you can see from my resume, I make industrial motion pictures for various clients, and yes, the camera is mine.” My “heroic” picture strategy was working. Gatti then told us about the plans for the expedition: little things like departure and return dates, and big things like there were two corporations involved in the junket: the Gatti-Hallicrafters African Expedition (Vermont), Inc., and the Gatti-Hallicrafters African Expedition (Illinois), Inc. That fact seemed strange to me, but lawyers have a way of complicating things. Apparently it was liability that concerned everyone, so the principals put together two companies to act as an invisible shield from lawsuits. Gatti was a man of substantial build, strong physical features, and I guessed his age at about 50. He possessed a receding hairline, a square military jaw, deep-set piercing eyes, and a rather large but strangely crooked nose. He spoke with a moderately strong Italian accent that was melodious in tone. Gatti volunteered information about his military title of “Commander”; it came from his service in the Italian cavalry during World War I. After that war Gatti did some African exploring and then immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. It was in the USA that Gatti discovered the “business” of African “exploration.” I was quite impressed as he told us that the Gatti-Hallicrafters junket was to be his eleventh African exploration and his biggest and most “scientific” expedition. In glowing terms, Gatti told of taking “machine gun” cameras to photograph wildlife in action. I had no idea of what he meant by the term, but he had apparently latched onto some war surplus aircraft gun cameras that he planned to use for unknown shooting. The QST advertisement had stated he planned on a helicopter, so I asked him about it. “I’m sorry to say we’ve had to eliminate the helicopter,” Gatti said, “it won’t fly high enough to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.” I wasn’t sure the altitude fact was true, but I assumed it was. Gatti then changed the subject to the ham station. It was being installed by Hallicrafters in a house trailer donated by the Schult Trailer Company. Gatti then dropped other bits of information to whet our appetites for adventure. First, we were to scale the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanganyika. He broke into a a broad toothy smile as he said, “We’ll broadcast the first radio transmissions from the top of Africa”! Then, with a still broader smile, he added “with wonderful Hallicrafters equipment! Hams all over the world will cue up to talk to us from up there!” Bob and I nodded our agreement. Gatti was at his best using superlatives. “Then,” Gatti puffed a bit more, “We’ll conquer the ‘Mountains of the Moon’, the mysterious Ruwenzori range in Uganda. It’ll be a great place for what you hams call ‘working DX’. It will be the first ham radio transmissions from there, too!” Gatti had a way of getting us to fantasize about the fun we were going to have. It was great! “Commander Gatti,” I said cautiously because Gatti didn’t seem to be anyone to try first names with, “I think you should take both Bob and me. From what you’ve told us, there’s bound to be too much work for one ham radio person.” Bob agreed by nodding. “We can keep the station on the air more hours, do a better job,” I said. “Contractually, Mr. Snyder, we only have to keep the station on the air six hours a day, and that is all we are going to do. Petrol is very, very expensive in Africa and our generators use a lot of it,” Gatti said. “But maybe we can use your talents as a cameraman in addition to the ham radio business.” I was beginning to feel I had it made, so I asked him about the photographers that were being recruited through the magazine True. True was a man’s magazine, patterned something like “Esquire” with he-man adventure stories the main editorial thrust. “The contest for photographers in True magazine was a wonderful success,” said Gatti with another big grin. “We drew 20,000 applications for the two jobs!” The number of entries impressed me, but I wondered if there were that many photogrphers in the country who could go to Africa for six months. “The photographers will be busy,” said Gatti, “True magazine and the Toronto Sunday newspaper supplement want photo stories, and we have already a contract for a series of seven advertisements featuring Canadian Club Whiskey. And then there will be advertising pictures for Goodyear, Remington, Evinrude, Underwood, and a dozen other companies. They want black and white and color photographs of their products in action in Africa. We will be testing their equipment under the toughest conditions.” I was beginning to see that his African Expedition was basically to discover money, and the so-called “scientific” aspects of the trip were only for advertising purposes. The more Gatti explained the plans, the more I suspected his motives. But, for me, it was a good chance to get to Africa and see the world, so I put my suspicions on hold; I wanted to go with him. In the middle of the interview we were interrupted by a film maker from the Pathe Newsreel company. They were making a movie short subject called “The 5,000 Mile Handshake.” It dealt with the U.S.-Canadian border, the longest border without fences in the world. Because Gatti’s house is in both countries, the producer wanted to shoot film of him and his office. Gatti quickly agreed and the producer made an appointment to shoot the next day in the very office we were sitting in. Gatti made references to his wife, an author of some literary stature. “Mrs. Gatti has a contract for a number of fiction stories for the Toronto Star Sunday supplement, so she’ll be writing while we are on African soil,” he said. “I’m sorry, but she is under the weather, or otherwise I’d have you meet her.” The last thing he brought up was a contract for our services. The salary wasn’t much, but with all expenses paid, full insurance coverage, salary wasn’t the big deal. I wanted the experience and the adventure of the trip. After all I was single with no tax exemptions. He handed each of us a contract to look over. It was with the Vermont corporation, and it contained a good many paragraphs limiting us to what we could do after the expedition returned home. “Now, to save us some time,” Gatti said as he applied the pressure, “why don’t you both sign two copies of the agreement, and then we’ll only have to let you know that you have been selected before we go.” The contract spelled out all kinds of things, for example: we would not be permitted to write articles or books (or take any pictures for myself) about the expedition for a specified number of years. All literary and photographic rights were to belong to the Gatti-Hallicrafter’s Expedition corporation, which, for all practical purposes was Commander Gatti. I thought about it for just a few seconds and signed the papers. Bob did likewise. It looked like we were both going to make the trip, but Gatti seemed to be hedging in his talk. So, as I handed the papers back to him, I said with a smile, “This is predicated on both of us going with you, Commander. I don’t think I want to tackle it alone.” Gatti didn’t say anything, he handed each of us a large 16 page brochure (10.5 x 14 inches) outlining the forthcoming expedition in glowing terms. I skimmed through a few pages of it and then folded it in half so it would fit in my brief case. The sepia and white printing looked interesting. “Here’s another brochure,” Gatti said, “It tells of my tenth African expedition to the Belgian Congo.” He reached across the desk and handed us each a booklet printed in black and white with a brilliant yellow overprint. At first glance, it was quite impressive. “Jungle Yachts in the Belgian Congo,” screamed the printed title. It was lunch time, so Gatti called a cab to take us back to the hotel. After our goodbyes and handshakes we left for the hotel where we had lunch and discussed the fact that we were both going to hold out for both of us going on the expedition. I took an afternoon train to Montreal, Quebec and spent most of the trip reading the two brochures Gatti had given us. On the front page of one it said “... to the ‘Mountains of the Moon.’” Then in smaller type it said in bold capitals: “SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND COLLECTION -- FIELD EXPERIMENTS IN SHORT WAVE RADIO COMMUNICATIONS IN CENTRAL AND EAST AFRICA.” To me it sounded like fun with a capital F. On page two was a picture of Gatti with his “topi” pith helmet set at a jaunty angle. He was looking very determined and stern. After seeing Gatti close up, I figured the photo was one from quite a few years prior. The headline on the page screamed; “COMMANDER of the expedition is ATTILIO GATTI.” I smiled at that one; it sounded like a military expedition to capture some far away objective, rather than a scientific expedition to test a benign hobby like ham radio. Here are some quotes from page 2: Gatti “organized and directed ten scientific expeditions and spent fourteen years on African soil... Member or Fellow of several American and European scientific societies... discovered a new race of Okapi... captured alive the first Congo Bongo.... discovered Africa’s most ancient iron foundry.... and great deposits of Stone Age implements...” I was impressed with his credentials; of course, I wondered what scientific societies had appointed him to the “Fellow” status. If I had such honor I think I would brag about it in a brochure to promote such an expedition. On page three there was a portrait photo of Ellen Gatti with her “topi” pith helmet square on her head and her eyes staring off into the distance. The caption on Mrs. Gatti’s photo read: “Ellen Gatti, who will share with her husband the responsibilities of the expedition.” The top 2/3rds of page three was devoted to a photo of three shelves of books captioned “Some of the books written by Attilio and Ellen Gatti.” My first thought: it was an impressive library; my second thought: many of the books had two or more copies scattered through the shelves. I recognized some of the books that I had read, but there were a lot more that I didn’t. Again, I was impressed. On the other pages of the brochure were pictures and stories about Bill Halligan, the president of Hallicrafters, and pictures of the Gattis posing with various natives: the pygmies, the giant Watusi, and other tribes. The center fold was devoted to a map of Africa and the projected area of “exploration.” Then, the most intriguing bit was the listing of all the equipment that Gatti was going to have available for “scientific” exploration. There were three things outlined in the brochure, other than the photo and radio gear, that got my attention: the “humming bird” 2 place Bell helicopter, the “floating island” for camera blind use, and the “diving eye” for underwater picture taking. Gatti actually had a picture of all three things in the folder. The “diving eye” had the Gatti-Hallicrafters logo painted on it, and it depicted a black person wearing the uniform of an African police boy cleaning the glass window through which the cameras could be aimed. The radio section of the brochure was full of actual pictures taken of people wearing “topi” helmets working on generators, transmitters, etc. An artists drawing of a bunch of grass shacks with four metal towers fitted with 3 element beams filled almost half a page. All in all the brochure was first class and I was more excited than ever to join the group in Africa. The train was approaching Montreal when I turned my attention to the Jungle Yacht brochure. It was two-color resume of the previous Gatti African expedition. It was published by the International Harvester Organization of Chicago, and on the inside cover, it told of a Harvester employee, Clyde N. King, and his big accomplishment in 1927. King was the first man to drive a four-wheel motor vehicle the 3,800 miles across the continent of Africa near the equator. And he did it in just 19 days. Next to the paragraphs about King’s trip, was an introduction to the main article written by Gatti. It contained a bit about Mrs. Gatti: “Ten years ago Commander Gatti made his first visit to New York, where he met Miss Ellen Waddill. He spoke Italian, French, Arabic, and a variety of African dialects, but no English. A natural-born linguist, he set out to explore the unknown territory of the English language—to him, another jungle. In a few years he had not only learned another strange tongue but had become a master of English prose writing.” The piece then went on to list all the articles Gatti had written in recent American periodicals. I didn’t get to read the rest of the 24 pages because we arrived in the Montreal. I had a number of hours to kill until my night train to New York left the depot, so I spent the time dining and bar-hopping. My high school French didn’t work too well in the big Canadian city, but it was fun trying. The train to New York had U.S. Customs agents aboard, so I was cleared before I climbed into my lower berth for a night’s sleep. The next morning, I arrived in the big city, took the limo to the airport, and hopped a plane for home. On the DC-3 from New York to Chicago I finished studying the Belgian Congo booklet. I was really impressed with the photos of pygmies, animals and the “Jungle Yachts.” The “yachts” were a truck-trailer combination that appeared to be a fifth-wheel combination; however, the camera angles were not clear about the towing arrangement. The trailers, nevertheless, were striking in style. Gatti had a flair for the unique; I was proud of him. From our homes, Bob and I met on the ham radio bands each day at noon my time. We were both competent Morse Code operators, so we made contact daily on 14.326 Mhz. CW. “Did you hear yet?” was the usual first sentence. The tension began to mount. It wasn’t long after arriving back in Fargo that I received a letter from Gatti. It was dated September 3rd, the same day we had signed the contracts, and it contained more provisions to be added to the agreement. The first paragraph called for “two to four weeks working at the Engineering Department of The Hallicrafters Company in Chicago in order to familiarize yourself with the expeditions electronic equipment in any manner suggested by The Hallicrafters Company, which will pay your adequate salary and the costs of your trip from the place of residence indicated in the contract to Chicago, and then on to New York.” Two to four weeks time sounded dumb to me for I had plenty of hands-on experience with Hallicrafters’ BC-610 transmitters during the war, and the current HT-4 transmitter was a clone of the army model. The last paragraph of the letter read as follows: “Finally, were the expedition to have two Amateur Radio Operators instead of one as now planned, you undertake to do your very best to learn efficiently to type my correspondence from long hand and from recordings, to practice as much as necessary during the 35 days of the New York Mombasa trip, and to devote to this task part of your time in Africa.” That last paragraph tickled me; I was a lousy typist. “Gatti doesn’t know what he is getting with me,” I said to my mother when I showed her the letter. And I then recalled that Gatti had mentioned he was going to do some photos advertising Underwood portable typewriters. I learned touch-typing on a telegraph “mill” keyboard. A “mill” prints only capital letters and the numerals are in a different sequence than on the regular typewriter used in offices of the period. I somewhat reluctantly signed the additional agreement and mailed a copy to Gatti. I received another letter from Gatti dated September 19th. The salutation said “Dear Mr. Snyder:” and it was coded by a secretary with the initials of “df.” After that, all communications from Gatti were addressed as “Dear Snyder:”, a more military manner. In his letter Gatti said he was waiting for Bill Halligan to make up his mind about employing two hams on the trip. On the 23rd of September I received a Western Union telegram from Gatti: “SELECTED STOP SAILING SCHEDULE NOVEMBER 28TH STOP CONGRATULATIONS.” I was in, but there was no mention of Bob being included. A few days later I received the official September 23rd letter from the Vermont corporation that I had been selected as the “winner of the QST contest in conformity with the opinions of Mr. Handy of ARRL and of Mr. Halligan of Hallicrafters.” The rest of the letter dealt with sailing dates, etc. One paragraph tickled me, it read, “I will write you later on about other details such as passport, Colonial Clothes, etc. Meanwhile please remember to take with you your ‘colorful outfit.’” By that Gatti meant colorful clothes for the Canadian Club Whiskey ads he had pre-sold. We were to be models in them. A postscript to Gatti’s letter had this information: “There will be also another operator (name undecided, as yet).” The two operator staff was in place, and I was hoping it would be Bob. The official letter was signed by the corporation’s treasurer and you guessed his name: Attalio Gatti, who else! Meanwhile Bob and I were in almost daily contact on the 20 meter band. Bob was using a high-powered transmitter that had 250TH Eimac tubes in a push-pull final. The kilowatt rig was driven by a 100TH tube as a RF driver, and when used on phone it had a pair of 811 tubes as a push-pull Class B modulator. I was using my 150 watt home-built transmitter with a Millen VFO for frequency control, a Hammarlund HQ- 129 receiver, and a Zepp antenna 66 feet long and about fifty feet in the air. At that time the 20 meter band had two CW sub-bands, one starting at 14.000 Mhz and one at the higher end ending at 14.400. The phone band, limited to use by advanced licensees only, was in the middle between the two CW bands. Bob and I chose the high end as the QRM was the least in that area. It was a long wait until Bob heard he had been chosen to go with me. His letter of acceptance in the mail box was dated October 14th. On our ham radio schedule Bob pounded out the following Morse Code: “It says in the letter that he is going to write me later with details about a passport and Colonial Clothes. What does he mean by Colonial Clothes?” I answered Bob’s question with: “Colonial Clothes must be those short pants with knee-high socks and shoulder straps on a bush jacket. Look at the picture in the Jungle Yacht book he gave us at Derby Line.” “That’s what I thought,” said Bob, “I wonder if we have to wear his monogram? He had one on every picture.” With the two of us picked as the operator team, there was celebrating in San Mateo, California and Fargo, North Dakota. When I told my Fargo ham cronies, Jim Wayman, Ken Christensen and Bill Ogden about the word from Bob, we split a jug of Cabin Still Whiskey at Wayman’s apartment. Rose Korsgren, the nice voice at Hallicrafters called me with the same information about Bob, and also that we would be leaving on a ship from New York in late November. I hung up the telephone and shouted, “Africa, here I come.” My mother, hearing my yell, and always solicitous of my welfare said, “I’ll bet you’re going on a trip!” “Yup, Ma, I’m going to Africa!”

CHAPTER 2. The Interview and

the Plan

Copyright 2003,William D. Snyder
All Rights reserved
The Douglas DC3 Gatty's home  An African Safari  Gatti's bookshelf