To The Mountains of the Moon

Part 03. The first QSOs

After a hectic time, the Expedition became QRV on January 24, 1948. From that moment the world was listening day after day for signals "Out of Africa".

Unloading cargo in Mombasa

There were 9 white persons within the Expedition, 7 of them did make the trip with the African Pilgrim, Gatti and his wife Ellen (professional expeditioners), Bob Leo and Bill Snyder (the radio-crew), Weldon King and Errol Prince (the photographers), and James Powers (reporter). The other two white men, both British, joined the expedition in East Africa. The first, Norm Wakeford was Gatti's Camp manager, spoke fluently Swahili and joined the group in Mombasa. The other, Doug Edwards, joined the group in february, and was hired as Gatti's personal secretary. All other members of the expedition were natives, hired in Mombasa, to drive the trucks, to play cook, personal servant, security-officer, or as "boy", a pair of hands to do all kind of things. Totally there where 42 men involved. Bob remembers one name, Asmani, one of the local camp boys. After the African Pilgrim docked in Kilindini harbor in Mombasa on January 15, 1948, the unloading of the huge amount of material, the trucks, the trailers etc, started. Lots of pictures were taken that day, the workload in the harbor was very big. Attilio was the commander. According to the script Bill wrote for the movie shots, more than 700 boxes had to be custom-cleared. Bob was the driver of the KB3, number 5, the truck pulling Schult trail number 6, Attilio Gatti's private home. After the trucks were lined up, the caravan dorove through town and parked on the outskirts. There was a lot of work to do on the trucks, trailers, generators etc, which took 2 days. Bob had some arguments with Mr. Gatti, and wrote a letter about that, but they met afterwards and soothed things over.

The first QSOs

On January 20 th, preparations were finished, the long trailers went across the river on a ferry on high tide. The ferry ramp was a barge shoved across the channel by a tug. After leaving a steep hill on the other side of the river, the caravan was formed, and started overland to the first maincamp, Kwali, 30 miles inland. At last!. The dirt roads were not good, but the countryside looked like REAL Africa, Thatched huts, lots of kids, coconut palms, acacia trees, etc. The trucks were boiling off water. One boat on a camp trailer came loose, and Kombo, one of the "boys" fixed that. They reached camp at 3 pm, and Bill and Bob got one of the PE-95 power generators going. The camp layout included; three Camp trailers, chow-table, an outhouse, a photo-laboratory temt, the Commander's trailer, the trailer of Mrs. Gatti, the power-generators, the rhombic antenna, the trailer containing the Photo-lab and the Shack on Wheels, etc.. All trailers had to be connected to the power-system, Bob did draw the circuit to make sure all had to work properly. In 1948 there was not much activity from the British East African Territory. In Kenya, 28 VQ4 calls were issued, in Tanganyika (VQ3) 13, and Uganda (VQ5) only 8. Only a few where active. No wonder the ham-world was waiting for the expeditions-signals hitting the air. The first QSO of VQ4EHG (Kenya), on January 24, 1948 came from a CQ on 20 meters, using the whip-antenna. I1KN, Fortunato Grossi of Florence Italy, answered on the CQ in CW. Later the rhombic took over the antenna-job, that antenna did tune great on 10 and 20 meter. They worked very fine DX, such as ZC6JJ, YA3B, FQ3AT/FE (now F3AT), and filled the log with pen and ink. Bob also could work his father from HZ1AB. Bill and Bob were both active, Bob did take the first shift mostly operating CW with his bug, and Bill was working the rig from 8 to 12pm. mostly AM. Sometimes the power was only 10 watt, but all worked fine, the conditions were good. With help of fine gentlemen and women, like W6AM, W9NLP, W2UYG, W2AWB, W2YYL etc. Bob was able to talk with friends, relatives, and even him Mom. Then he worked W6PBV in San Mateo, with W6OFQ at the rig. 'I had a good signal', Bob remembers. Gatti and Halligan had their first talk on January 25, one day later than the first QSO with I1KN. The president of Hallicrafters himself was operating W9CGC, the Fifth Avenue Ham Club, located in Hallicrafters factory in Chicago. The QSO was commercial of course. Hallicrafters collected the logs, and W9TDF (employee of Hallicrafters) acted as QSL-manager. Set up of those many commercial QSOs from Gatti, was just one of the tasks of both radio-operators, W6PBV and W0LHS. Gatti was not licensed, and could not set up such connections. This kind of QSO had always top priority and Bill and Bob did not like this task at all. These Gatti- Commercials were a thorn in the flesh of the hams, they had many schedules to keep. Bob was more flexible, he concentrated on other things, but for Bill it was a pain in the neck. Regulary, the two B's (Bill and Bob) got angry notes from Gatti (Gatti-gramms), brough to them by Gatti's personal boy, when they made a QSO with the home front in San Mateo or Fargo. Kwali-camp was beautiful, up on a hill, and overlooking the surrounding country for miles. A local waterfall was used as shower by 5 members of the group. Norman Wakeford was going to Mombasa, almost every day to get supplies. Every evening they could hear tom tom down in the valley below, advertising the expedition. Bob hiked around a bit, when he was off duty. One morning he hiked to Kwale, and bough some coffee: Kahawa Mazuri, good coffee. The crew was learning a little Swahili. One day Bob had an accident. He was pulling on a wire with long nose pliers when the wire broke and the end of the pliers hit his left eye with a terrific blow. All was blurred and painfull. The cut was about 1/4" long, but thankfully in the white of the eye. Next day Bob went to Mombasa, to an Indian doctor, got some rust out, treated and got an eye patch - a real pirate. Happily the eye healed up very soon, leaving no damage at all. Doug Edwards joined the crew as camp secretary on February 16 th. Bill Snyder was on probation. "He got along with Gatti not as well as I did, which isn't saying much" wrote Bob on the last page of his short diary. One day someone did steal a small amount of money (3 pounds) from Mohammed, one of Gatti's boys. The Commander called in a witch doctor to investigate a small theft of money in the camp. Mwadana, the witch doctor, used a hot iron and greased palms as his detective method, called the "Trial of Fire". Finding the culprit was no problem. The culprit got a whopper of a blister in the palm of his hand, caused by the instrument of torture. It was not easy to find a good campground, the fleet had to reach that place. Every camp was built up into two part, one part for the Gatti's and the other part for the rest of the crew. Each part had their own native personel for cooking and driving. Setup of a camp was always a lot of work for the two radiomen, they were responsible for the elctrical system. All trailers had electrical systems, and had to be connected to the PE-95 power generators. And of course the rhombic had to go into action. Then Bob and Bill needed the power of the natives, not an easy task, because none of the operators did speak Swahili very well. In the process setting up the big heavy antenna-pole, the natives dropped it once and it whistled just next to Bob's ear - a few inches closer and there might not be a story like this. During the expedition, a Gatti article showed that 8 main camps were established. Bob was only QRV from four camps; Kwale in Kenya, Kilema, Bamboo Flats and Narwa in Tanganyika. In addition, Bob was also QRV from Fort Portal in Uganda. ©W7LR and PA0ABM
 Kilindini harbor Kenya on the air  Just like Out of Africa The local club members  Handy to have a Stanford engeneer around.