To The Mountains of the Moon

Part 04. Operating

Worldwide advertising was the reason that the two hams could not complain about interest all over the globe. But VQ5GHE was NOT the base camp, as their licence indicated.

The license

To get permission to operate from an area which was under British administration, was not easy for British subjects. And for Non British, it was (almost) impossible. No wonder that the license had to come from a very high level of hierarchy. The Gatti Hallicrafters Expedition was one of the agenda-points of the Conference of East African Governors. Gatti got his license, based on the same conditions as for British subjects. The license-keeper was allowed to use following calls: VQ5GHE Base Camp Uganda VQ3HGE Mobile Tanganyika VQ4EHG Mobile Kenya VQ5HEG Mobile Uganda Also the frequencies and the allowed power were equal to other British stations in East Africa. 1.8 - 2.0 mc (power up to 10 watts) 7.0 - 7.3 mc (power up to 150 watts) 14.0 - 14.4 mc (power up to 150 watts) 28.0 - 30.0 mc (power up to 150 watts) 58.5 - 60.0 mc (power up to 25 watts) Gatti had also asked for 80 and 15 meters, but this was denied, as the others VQ's didn't have this permission either. Also it was NOT allowed to use extra frequencies for press-releases. These messages had to be sent by the normal way through the 'Posts and telegraphs Department'. From the start of the expedition, it was very clear that base camp of the Gatti Hallicrafters Expeditie was not VQ5GHE. VQ3HGE (Tanganyika) was the first call activated, then came VQ4EHG (Kenya). VQ5GHE (Uganda) and VQ5HEG (mobile contacts) could be worked months later.


On November 20, 1947, Bob had a conversation with Bill Halligan in Chicago. They arranged operating times and frequencies. According to the contract, Gatti had with Hallicrafters, the expedition should be 6 hours a day on the air. Fortunately Bob and Bill were often more than 8 hours QRV, usely between 13.00-15.00 GMT and 16.00-21.00 GMT. The proposed frequencies were 14,160 and 28,030 for CW, and 28,375 and 14,380 for AM. In 1947 SSB was not invented. Hallicrafters made a pamphlet for the deserving after the expedition was on its way. The "Shack on Wheels" was equipped with a real VFO, the Hallicrafters HT-18, Bob cannot remember he used the VFO. Of course they had pile-ups all the time. The calling sations could be found all over the band, as almost everyone did use a x-tal controlled transmitter. The transmitter in the radio- truck was a HT-4E, almost impossible to transport because of the heavy weight. The Hallicrafters Models SX-42, SX-43 and S-38 receivers were also built in. The antenna was a 'pre-fabricatet' rhombic for 40-20-10 meter band. According to Hallicrafters engeneers, the construction time of the rhombic was one (1) hour. Hallicrafters engineers did make also propagation forecasts, calculated from the information from 'the Bureau of Standards Data'. The home-stations could find out what the best operating time was to get in the log of VQ5GHE. Also the beamheading from Chicago to the "The Mountains of the Moon", 2 degrees South and 30 degrees East (South West of Kigali Rwanda) was calculated. Many stations attempting to QSO the expedition didn't comphrend or understand long path vs short path propagation, and would have their antenna aimed the wrong way, resulting in weak or no signalsy. Bill Snyder, W0LHS did make most phone QSOs, being on 10 meters, while Bob Leo (W6PBV) was the CW artist using his mechanic instrument at high speed. They kept the log up to date by handwriting, the typing machines in the shack were used to type letters and stories. They got mail from home, and during the last month's of the expedition they got also lots of QSLs from HAMs and SWLs. Outgoing cards got a one-cent stamp on it properly stamped by a GHE stamp, a kind of first day stamp issue, good for stamp-collectors. The addrees of the worked ham had to be written on the back of the QSL also, according to a Gatti-rule. All log were sent to Hallicrafters QSL manager W9TDF. Tony G4UZN, supplied this QSL, which has the Gatti Hallicrafters stamp on it. The postmark was July 15, 1948, the station worked was G8QZ on april 4, 1948 in CW on 28,016 Mc.

Magic Zepp

Bob did build also a double extended Zepp antenna for Asia. The amount of Asian QSOs improved when using this antenna. To tune the Zepp, it was necessary to terminate the open wire line at the correct distance, and also to tap onto that line at the correct spot. Bob used a detector of a light bulb and some wire and clips to run along the line to find a voltage peak (if I remember right) for the above adjustments. The natives were fascinated by the magic of seeing the bulb light up from no apparent source.


There is no FCC in East Africa but in the spirit of amateur radio it did bother Bill and Bob that Gatti was rather commercial. First of all, the two hams didn't expect that. They expected to operate from VQ3,4,5 for the benefit of hams all over the world. Next, when Gatti started doing business over the radio it was hard at first to tell the Commander that this was not acceptable. There was an FCC in the USA but the qsos apparently didn't bother the guys at the Chicago Hallicrafters station. What were their options? They could have quit but they weren't quitters; they could tell Gatti that they wouldn't operate that way - which is what they did, sending Gatti a nastygram which helped get Bill fired. But if somehow propagation would fail, Gatti could not make business qsos with the Hallicrafters station. Bob soon figured out a way to do this. In those days receivers had a bandset dial and a bandspread dial. To make the bandspread dial indicate correct frequencies the bandset dial had to be set to a certain spot. Bob reasoned that if somehow the bandset dial didn't do its job by being offset from the correct spot, then when they looked for Chicago on the bandspread dial they might experience bad propagation or not be heard. Bob would turn the bandspread dial to the correct Chicago frequency but they were not heard. Gatti couldn't figure out how they could hear the world or all over the United States and not be able to hear Hallicrafters in Chicago. Just bad propagation Mr. Gatti. ©W7LR and PA0ABM