To The Mountains of the Moon

Part 09. Uganda, at last

After seeing again an old friend in Kampala, the last QSOs were made from camp Narwa. The contract ended on July 12, and ended an adventure which cannot be forgotten.

Uganda, at last

Bob had built all necessary equipment from the Shack on Wheels into the little truck. From his chair in the new shack, Bob could reach every piece of equipment, what a luxury! The permission to go on mini- expedition to Uganda came on June 12, 1948, more than two month's after they reached Loliondo. The only two expeditioners were Jim Powers and Bob Leo, W6PBV. The whole world was waiting for a signal from VQ5. On Monday Jun 12 at 6 AM the new "Shack in Truck", left Narwa and headed to Uganda. But first they had to go to Nairobi, Kenya. They met Weldon King, who was returning from Nairobi, but he got stuck in the mud at the Loita plain. Of course they stopped and helped Weldon. Then on the "road" again, but not for long. Now the Shack in Truck was stuck in the black fat Gumbo. It took an hour or so to dig the truck out of the mud, by putting chains on. At Narock they made a stop to drink something and to get more fuel for the truck. There was a truck on their trail with a flat tire, and the people on that truck didn't have a spanner (wrench) to take it off. The last few miles to Nairobi went on smoothly, as the road had tarmac (asphalt). Nairobi caused one day delay, a flat tire had to be repaired before their approch to Uganda. Jim was driving that first day, and he managed to wreck a tire by driving it into a rock. The tire couldn't be fixed, so Bob had to buy a new one. Bob told Jim - no more driving -, being a newspaper reporter in NYC wasn't a good training for driving over the African plains. Bob searched the whole town for some good maps of Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. As Bob's contract would end by July 12th, he visited the Cooks travel bureau, to find out how to get from Nairobi to Saudi Arabia. Bob researched first going down the Nile River through Sudan and Egypt to Cairo. That would have been a very interesting boat trip. However it was a time when Americans were not welcome there, and so a different route was needed. Also he talked with the American consul. Bob visited Robsons Chemists (drugstore), and had a very nice talk with the owner, Robbie, VQ4ERR, in 1948 the most welknown ham in Kenya. Bob made some nice pictures from Robbie's three transmitters, his SX42 and several rotary beams. And Robbie had a very nice rose garden, and a big swimming pool. Jim and Bob had quite a game with the native boys though. They always took their shoes outside the room in the morning when they brought the tea, to shine the shoes. At first Jim left two pairs out, one muddy and the other one clean, and they would always take the clean pair and give it a lick and a promise. So Jim left out only the muddy pair one morning, and the natives looked all over for the clean pair, but finally in disgust took the muddy pair. After picking up a repaired PE95 power unit trailer at IH, the mini-expedition was driving west, to Uganda. Because of tarmac road all the way to Nakuru, they made it fast with speed between 50 and 60 mph. It was quite scenic near Lake Naivasha, and they saw lots of strange birds. After passing coffee and tea plantations they reached Eldoret that evening at 5:30 pm. During the whole day they saw only a few cars on the road. They where very suprised to find a modern and cheerful hotel in Eldoret. The fourth day was the day of the funny places, like Kapsabet, Kakamega, Busia, Mumias, Iganga, etc. They spent the night at hotel Ibis in Jinja, overlooking Lake Victoria. On their road to Jinja, suddenly Jim and Bob heard a loud report, like a cannon going off. Not one but two tires had blown at once! One had a rip about a foot long. Bob could just change one tire, the one with the long rip. And the ride to Busia was just with one wheel instead of two. No problem of couse the truck had double wheels. The only tire available in Busia, was just the size needed. So back to normal again, but without a spare tire. Hotel Ibis was a very nice spot, and even with the rain , that night was enjoyable. Besides that, nothing could harm the two adventurers, as the Governor of Uganda stayed that night also at the hotel. Natives of the Kings African Rifles, standing guard outside. Next morning they arrived early in Kampala, Uganda, after crossing a bridge over the Ripon Falls. These falls are the beginning of the Victoria Nile. It is a narrow gorge and the river comes boiling down the rapids from the lake. In Kampala they got three drums of gas. They met Peter Dodd, VQ5PBD, and had a quick tour to his house. Peter warned Bob about the lack of power in Uganda, but that was not a problem as Bob had the repaired power unit PE95 brought along. Peter took Bob also to VQ5WCP, just to say hello. But VQ5GHE should be activated from the Ruwenzori Mountains, "The Mountains of the Moon". So their target was still 200 miles more to the west. At half past one, they started the last part to Fort Portal. The road had so many curves in it that the assumed time of arrival 9:30 pm could not be made. About 10 pm, some 50 miles from For Portal, a funny noise from the back of the truck forced them to stop. The left rear wheels were in bad shape as 5 of the six bolts, holding the wheels, had sheered off. Two of them were only five feet behind the truck on the road. Bob proceeded to take the front wheels off to get some bolts from them, taking 2 from each. The weight of the gasoline drums in the back of the truck were so heavy that when using one jack it just pushed the jack into the dirt road instead of raising the axle. On the rear wheel you have to take out not only bearings, nuts etc., but the axe itself. Bob and Jim were lucky when an Indian came along with an African driver, and helped them a lot. With the aid of the Indian, with a second jack, they could raise the axle. The job was done by midnight or so. A couple of times they had to stop for refill the gas tank, and cleaning the carburator. Finally they reached For Portal by 4 am, and found a hotel up on the mountain side of the little town. A native was waiting for them at the hotel with a lantern. Next morning, after breakfast Bob and Jim went down to the boma, to see the District Commisioner (D.C.). He was suprised to see the strangers, as he had had no word of their coming. Then Jim and Bob went to the Immigration Officer and rangled with him for a while. In the hurry to leave camp Narwa, Bob did forget to bring his passport with him, and Jim's visa had expired. The local authority was very suspicious about the equipment in the truck. The Government followed the rules very strictly, and this situation was not covered by the rules. Therefore Bob did not get permission to put VQ5GHE in the air. This however was no problem, because the transmitter, the HT-4E (BC-610) did not work. Bob started that afternoon to repair the transmitter, after the antenne was put in the air, and the truck was unloaded. It took the rest of the Saturday and the Sundaymorning to repair the HT-4E, with the only test gear a VOM dropped on the sidewalks of New York, a schematic and Bob's wits or experience. Jim went again to the boma and talked with the Government people for a while. He got the needed permission and VQ5GHE hit the air. The first QSO was with a South African, followed by some Americans from W1 to W6. Bob stayed on the air until 3 am and worked many W stations on the east coast on both CW and AM. It was an absolute bedlam, Bob recalls; "I never have heard such a mess of stations calling us". Conditions were superb, every one kept calling, the weakest report for VQ5GHE was 589. The next afternoon the bedlam started over again, this time Bob worked a lot from San Fransisco and Oakland. Another guest at the hotel, Bob and Jim stayed in, was Mrs James Dunn from Oakland, 70 years young. She was full of power, and looked if she was only 50, talking all the time. She stopped by, to see the station and asked if VQ5GHE could get in touch with Oakland. Bob tried it with a CQ Oakland without much hope, but to his suprise, W6TT came back. Few minutes later there was a phone patch between Mrs Dunn and her sister in Oakland, and they had quite a chit chat back and forth. Bob and Jim were thrilled. That evening on Monday June 21, 1948, the D.C. said Bob had to stop as he didn't get the proper notification for us to operate. Radio-silence again. "Thank you very much Mr Gatti for not informing the local authorities about VQ5GHE", was the reaction of Bob. He was very, very disappointed. And the DX commmunity was wondering why they didn't hear a whisper from "The Mountains of the Moon". A new telex was sent to the D.C. in Entebbe, to get permission again. The only thing Bob and Jim could do was relaxing and taking a holiday. The Ruwenzori Range, the real name of "The Mountains of the Moon", 25 miles away, did not show up, as they were continually hidden in clouds. In Fort Portal they talked only about hunting elephant, buffalo etc. They were very close to the Pigmee and Watussi (the giants), but Bob did not see them. Saturday, June 26, Bob got again permission to activate VQ5GHE. Uganda was back on the air again, and Bob was QRV until the little hours. And again the QRM on the band was tremendous, every ham in the world wanted to work with Uganda, the British Protectorate. Bob stayed on as long as he could, but there was a deadline, they had to move out next day. Their contract would end on July 12th, and both Jim and Bob had reservations on the boat leaving Mombasa on July 12. On Sunday morning Bob was a short time QRV and used also the mobile call VQ5HEG. There were 18 log entries for VQ5HEG, and 233 for VQ5GHE. So only 251 of the 'deserving' did break the pile-up, when Bob and Jim left Fort Portal. ©W7LR and PA0ABM
One of the local visitors
The Journey of 1948 in East Africa  Mobile in Uganda  Uganda Protectorate