It was an hour before dawn on a cold Saturday morning in late November. Charlie had been in the CQWW Contest working Pacific stations on 40 CW and was watching for the first signs of sunrise. The wind was howling outside and Charlie was hoping all of his tower anchors were secure. Charlie’s old dog, Rufus, was curled up on the shack sofa, all four feet twitching as he dreamed of chasing that big fat Angora from next door. As first light caught Charlie’s eye through the shack window, he thought, “Let’s see if I can hear that 9M6 that’s been running Europeans. His signal rose from the noise and grew in strength from nothing to S5 in minutes. A call between those Italian stations should do it. Don’t they ever stop calling? There..now! Call him…… OK, one call…..hmmm, not bad for an old timer.”
The grayline opening this morning was a good one. Charlie had logged almost a hundred stations by the time his patient and wonderful XYL, Mary came to the kitchen to find some coffee that she knew Charlie must have made. She brought him a fresh cup and sat for a moment to sip hers with him. “How’re you doing today?” she inquired. “Great” Charlie said. “I worked a hundred stations in 40 countries in only 3 hours.” With her sly grin, Mary asked, “What did you say to them.” Charlie knew she was teasing but he answered anyway, “59905”. “My, that’s not very interesting to say.” She remarked and gave his shoulder a friendly tap and returned to her den to finish her coffee.
Later in the morning, the club’s new ham, Brian knocked at their door. He always visited Charlie on Saturday mornings. Mary greeted him and took his coat to hang. “Have you eaten anything, dear?” she asked. “Well, yes thank you. I had some cereal at home.” he responded. Mary grinned and said, “I’ll bet you can find some room in that growing frame of yours for some blueberry muffins I just baked.” By that time, Charlie had been drawn out of the shack by the sound of the oven door and the wonderful aroma. “Hi Brian. You on the air this morning?” he greeted his young guest. He beamed at his mentor and said proudly, “I worked a YL in California just after midnight. It’s my first real DX.”
Mary set two places for them at their cozy kitchen table. Charlie thought about Brian’s reference to “real DX” and decided not to get too picky. “Well, that’s terrific. What band? What’s her name?” Charlie wanted to know. Brian was so proud. He had just passed his Tech Plus at Slatersville last month and hadn’t contacted more than a few locals on HF yet. He knew that a CW DX contact would make Charlie happy. This California contact was his first distant contact, which is one definition of DX. Charlie prefers to consider exotic countries as DX. It’s OK because both fit just fine.
“Her name is Jenny and she’s 14. She lives in Paso Robles and her father runs a big farm.” Brian said excitedly. You could see the electricity in him as he spoke. “You know, Charlie, afterward I went out into the yard with a flashlight just to look at my dipole. I wanted to see the antenna that sent my signal 3000 miles.” Charlie smiled and recalled doing the very same thing many years ago after his first contact over the pond to Europe. “It was nearly 1 in the morning and my Dad yelled at me to get in the house. I tried to explain but he was kind of upset. Would you talk to him?”
Brian’s dad had started the radio classes to get his ticket but dropped out because of work conflicts. The ham radio bug hadn’t bitten him yet so he couldn’t understand Brian’s excitement. “Brian, I’ll call your dad and explain but I’ll also bug him to get his ticket so he can have some fun with us on the air.” I told my guest who was halfway through his third muffin. Then I called into the den, “Mary, how many muffins did you make?” Mary assured us she had made plenty and had even put some in a bag for Brian to take home to his family.
He was still quite excited from his experience overnight and he asked, “Charlie, is it more fun to contact a foreign country or another state?” Charlie took a sip of his coffee and carefully answered, “Well, Brian, it doesn’t get much better than what you did last night. Your first DX QSO is one you’ll never forget. It’s the best one. But the thrill of adventure and exploring the unknown in having a QSO with a new location far away is still a kick even for an old timer like me.”
Brian started eating another blueberry muffin and asked, “Can you remember your first DX contact?” Charlie sat up straight and cleared his throat, “Sure I can. It was January 14, 1946 and I had just gotten my ticket the month before. The War was over and hams were permitted back on the air. At about 6PM, I worked a British operator at an RAF base in the south coast of England. We were on 20 CW and I was using a home-brew two-stage transmitter from the handbook running 25 watts and a regenerative receiver, also home-brew. I was 14, your age. I’ll never forget what he said to me.”
Charlie paused at that point and Brian looked at him carefully, “Are you OK?” he asked. Charlie apologized explaining that it still touched him to think of it. “His name was Colin and he said to me, ‘Cheers, Yank and pass our thanks along to your country for all you did for us.” Charlie remained quiet for a few seconds gathering himself.
“Did you ever talk to him again, Charlie?” He sparked right up and answered, “Yes, I did a few years later. He had gotten out of the military and had a new call and he somehow remembered my call. He lived near London and had gotten married. I was in high school and as soon as he said who he was, the thrill of our first contact and my first DX, came back. I’ll never forget the thrill, Brian, and you won’t either.
Brian asked, “Do you think I’ll ever talk to Jenny again?” Charlie said, “I’m sure you will and I’ll bet you’ll even meet her.” Brian wasn’t sure he was ready for that but he said, “Gee, I’d like that.” Charlie explained how hamfests like Dayton, the big DX meeting in Visalia and ARRL National conventions work. “You will certainly go to these events, Brian and meet many friends you’ve worked. Some will become lifelong friends and when you get to be my age, you will be happy that you’ve made so many friends around the world.”
“Watch for her call again tonight at the same time. I’ll bet you another muffin that she’ll be on the same frequency looking for you.” That made Brian blush and he said nervously, “What could we say? Why would she look for me?”
Clearly, at 14 he hadn’t yet understood what was obvious to Charlie. They talked a few more minutes about Brian’s dad and how he should get his ticket and his mom’s new interest since his contact with young Jenny. “It’s Saturday. I’ll call your dad and I’ll bet he’ll stay up with you tonight.” Brian put his coat on and thanked Mary for the muffins as he headed for the door. “Don’t forget the take-home muffins,” Mary called to him.
Brian’s home was about a half-mile away and an easy bike ride but on a cold windy day like this one, Charlie asked, “Want me to run you home in my truck?” “Naw, I’ll be fine but thanks, Charlie. Thanks for everything.” he said and with a broad smile and a wave, he was off down the hill from Charlie’s.
Sunday morning, Charlie received a call from Brian’s dad. They had successfully contacted Jenny the night before and talked for nearly an hour. Now dad wants to know what they said on CW. Charlie chuckled and said, “The bug has bitten, huh? Come on over later and I’ll talk to you about it. Bring Brian too.” After the call, he suggested to Mary that it might be wise to get some more blueberry muffins ready. We may be a while.