The Early Days
One of the Local QRPers was by the other day, this one with a sheet of paper in his hand and a glare in his beady little eyes. We had just turned off the rig because 20-metres was beginning to drop out . . . somehow our energies had been a bit drained from DXing most of the morning. We were looking forward to just sitting back and enjoying the afternoon sun. Maybe we would spend our time pondering the Mysteries of the Ages and the Eternal Enigmas of DXing. This was not to be. The QRPer sat down beside us, took a deep breath and started right in.
"You know," he said, "DXing sure isn't fair! I just got my QSLs for that Asian DXpedition last year . . . and they say I'm not in the log for 15-metres. I know I worked them on all the bands . . . every single one from 160 to 10, including 30, 17 and 12 metres! And they have the gall to say my QSO for 15 isn't in the log. It's all computerized with stick on labels and the like . . . and they even sent me this form letter printed with their computer saying I'm not in the log! You'd think they would know how to work us guys properly instead of playing with their computers. I bet they typed my call in wrong! This never would have happened in the Early Days when DXpeditioners used hand written logs. I bet Don and Bob and Gus didn't use any computers, Buster!"
Son of a Gun! What could we say? Since it was such a nice day, and we really didn't want to argue with the QRPer, we did the usual two-step . . . we decided to off-load him on the Old Timer! So, we got the QRPer a glass of ice tea and headed off up the hill, assuring him that the Old Timer would have the answer to his tragic loss on 15-metres. For sure.
The Old Timer was sitting at the rig, just signing with a BV on the long path. We waited patiently as the Old Timer sent the final "dit dit" and turned his attention to us. The QRPer repeated his story, explaining that it was modern technology and computers that had robbed him of his 15-metre QSO. The Old Timer listened to all this, then took a deep breath and said. "So," he began, "you think it was better in the Early Days. Well, I was there. Not only here, but there!" The QRPer looked at the Old Timer quizzically. We had to admit our curiosity had been peaked too, for we had never considered the possibility that the Old Timer had ever went on a DXpedition . . . this was new and exciting news.
The Old Timer continued: "While you may have missed a band country because someone typed in a call wrong, or maybe you didn't even break the pileup at all, things were a lot different in the Early Days. A lot more different that whether we logged by had or computer! Let me tell you what it was like. First, we all used paper logs, no computers or adding machines or slide rules! The setting was different, the needs were different and the transport was very difficult. We were in the age of innocence and the pile up was the big thing. SSB was relatively new and communications were always touch and go due to propagation, antennas and equipment. A Hallicrafter SX101, my first DX receiver, was state of the art. Compared to today's tranceivers it would make a poor preamp. Understand?" The Old Timer had a nostalgic look in his eye and we were beginning to see that he was caught up in his story, not really concerned about the QRPer's computer woes.
"Pile ups were extremely important. Competition was strong to see who could break through first. Speaking of 'firsts', many 'all time' firsts were still available and sought after. QSL cards said things like 'First North American QSO!', 'First W6!', etc. The DXer's sights were set high. There still are cards that say 'First 7 Mc SSB QSO ever from CE0A!' and 'First 7 Mc SSB W' to 3W8, AC4, AC5, AP (S2), BY, YJ, XU and XZ. Those were glorious days when DXer's were filled with pride over their accomplishments. DXpeditioner's bathed in 'firsts'!"
He looked at the QRPer sternly. "You and your missing band country! The men who did the DXpeditions did their best, risked their lives and many times faced insurmountable odds. They did what was necessary to please a clamoring throng of DXers who expected larger than life heroes for their operations. No operations were really questioned prior to the mid sixties. If the league knew it was a bad operation they found a technicality and quietly advised the OP that it wasn't going to count. The OP then would issue whatever statement they wanted to cover the situation and an adoring public moaned over the poor luck or timing of their hero. Heroes they were and their public was very demanding. We all spent a lot of personal funds, but major funds for the operations came from that public and DXpeditioners either produced or gave up. Success or failure was in the eye of the public. Very different from today when DXers are constantly launching new efforts and the worst comments made are 'He was a lousy operator' . . . and now you are worried because computers are ruining DXing?"
The Old Timer took a deep breath and continued, "In the old days we were expected to be on the air 18-20 hours a day, EVERY DAY! If someone missed an opening on any band then the OP was presumed in transit to the next stop or dead! It was VERY demanding. Not like the current vacation expeditions. Today they send a crew of a dozen guys to operate from a new one or a very rare one. We went to do an ultra rare or a new one alone. Single handed, we had to satisfy the hordes and accomplish what a dozen OPs now do. 10,000 Q's and on to the next stop. The donations were in the order of 1, 2, 5 and $10. For those people you busted your tail end. In the 60/70's there were only six or seven of us who did true multiple operations. We sailed old boats, flew single engine Cessnas with bush pilots landing on dirt strips, faced hostile officials or natives, ran risks of imprisonment for "smuggling" radio gear, were caught in real wars, risked food poisoning on a daily basis and contracted some nasty illnesses like Malaria, Amebic dysentery, body ulcers, etc. Operating in what can only be described as hostile environments (lions, snakes, mosquitoes, deadly spiders, sharks, etc.) in the remote back woods of the world at that time."
"We all knew one another and in many cases did joint efforts. Local permission to operate in those days came verbally from a local official or PT&T office. At best you had a slip of paper from the post office marked "Paid for permit". More times than not you only had the verbal and you developed lines like "I understand that you might wish to monitor my transmissions and I would be happy to pay the wages of who ever monitors me". You didn't ask for permission to operate until it was established that it would be financially rewarding to someone. You would get the PT&T officials brother-in-law who came by and listened for twenty minutes, leaving with $50-$100! It was a different time and shouldn't be viewed in today's light. Understand?" The Old Timer was standing up, glaring down at the QRPer who was sitting there fidgeting in his chair.
"Yes, I guess so," the QRPer replied, "I guess I never really thought about it that way. Maybe things weren't so good back then. I suppose my 15 metre QSO isn't so important after all." And with that he got up and slowly made his way down the hill.
We looked at the Old Timer for a minute or two, then asked, "Did you really go on all those DXpeditions in the Early Days?" The Old Timer smiled and simply replied, "I have a sked on 20-metres." He turned back to the rig and began calling Bob who was now camped out in KP2 land. We walked away, deep in thought. When it came right down to it, it didn't matter if the Old Timer was there or not. He knew what it was like. Absolutely. Ask anyone who did it. They will all tell you the same thing.
This story is in the public domain and may be reproduced in any format. - VE1DX
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Last updated 14 December 2020