The Del Norte Amateur Radio Club
A Brief History
By Christie Lynn Rust - WA6ZDO
It was 1978 and I had just graduated from college in Los Angeles and took a job in Crescent City teaching music at Del Norte High School. I was excited to start this new part of my life, which included my favorite hobby…Amateur Radio!
After moving up here, the first thing I did was to put up a pole with a 40meter inverted vee, and a 2-meter Cushcraft Ringo Ranger stuffed into my rental home’s vent pipe! Those were the days….I was on the air with one band on my Kenwood TS-520 and on 2 meters with my Kenwood TR-7400A. I was now operating in Del Norte County!!
Here in Crescent City, there was only one repeater on 2 meters, the 146.88 which later I found out was an old tube relic from years gone by, and a set of homemade duplexers. Talk about crummy sensitivity!! But the fun thing was that it was tied via 6 meters to the Far West Repeater Association down in Humboldt County! It was the only activity on two meters!!!
I finally met a wonderful gentleman named Bill Driml, W6NAT who lived out in Ft Dick whom I quickly befriended. Bill was old school. In his shack on Moorehead Road was a collection of Swan transceivers and many homemade pieces of gear. The two that stick out in my mind was Big Bertha and Little Bertha, both which were linear amplifiers. Little Bertha had a limit of about 800 watts output, whereas Big Bertha had one huge tube that his Swan would easily drive to 6,000 watts. He would mostly use the smaller amplifier, but I often wondered how his coax didn’t melt when he kicked in Big Bertha!! I have many fond memories spending time with Bill and listening to his stories of amateur radio as the rain pounded on his small radio shack located behind his single-wide mobile home!
Soon after I met Bill, I asked him about a local club. He said that there was nothing officially organized, however, there was a yearly gathering of local hams at Christmas time at the Miller-Rellim Lodge just south of Crescent City. Since it was my first year as a new resident of Del Norte County, I decided to attend. Upon arrival, the lodge was beautiful inside, all decorated up for Christmas. I remember the huge rock fireplace crackling as more and more people arrived. There must have been thirty or more people in attendance, and I found myself wondering where all these people came from because I certainly had never met or even heard any on the air! People brought unmarked wrapped items for the gift exchange. I had never heard of a “White Elephant” gift exchange before, but it was so much fun as people opened very nice items and old radio junk items as we enjoyed the delicious potluck. Wonderful memories!! The following year I was thinking about how I enjoyed attending ham radio clubs in southern California while I was in school, and perhaps there might be interest in forming a group here in Del Norte County that would meet on a monthly basis. So at the yearly Christmas gathering of hams at the Rellim lodge the following year, I proposed that we create a formal club. I had already selected a date and time for the proposed meeting, so I shared it with everyone!
December 1979, there was a gathering of local hams at the home of Bob Peterson, NS6E. I brought information on creating a new ham club that I had received from the ARRL, which outlined how to create a new organization, formulate a constitution and by-laws, officers and ways to keep a club active and healthy! I was so excited that evening by all the buzz around the room, and for the interest in creating a dynamic and active group! That evening we settled on the name...The Del Norte Amateur Radio Club, and started the process of the club structure. In subsequent months, we created all the structure for our new group, I became its first president, and we became an affiliate of the ARRL.
One of the first projects we wanted to do was to put up a repeater making 2m communications effective on Hwy 199 from Crescent City to at least Cave Junction, Oregon. When I was in Los Angeles the following summer doing some of my master’s work, I met with several hams in southern California who helped me locate a used working 2m repeater. With club funds we purchased the radio setup, and with the help of club members, we got it working in some one’s garage! While this was happening, I contacted the State of California looking for permission to install the equipment at Camp 6, which is located in the mountains just above Gasquet. With the agreement complete with the state, and them waiving all fees to our little club, we installed our little 10 watt 147.18 repeater on the mountaintop.
Our club meetings were at first held at Bob’s home on pebble beach drive, but soon we had to move to a larger meeting area. We moved to the second floor of the Flynn Center owned by DN County, which was where our 146.88 repeater was located! This room is directly across the hall from our current ham room. There were many great meetings in this room for years, before we were offered the use of the small fire hall behind where is now Starbucks Coffee. We were there for years before we moved back up to the county building, but this time across the hall into a very spacious club room with room to handle large groups of people, a storage area for repeater parts, etc., and an area to teach ham classes. The club completely renovated the room by painting and carpeting the facility. When we moved into this room, we brought the 146.88 repeater with us, where it remains to this day! The club also created a working HF station in the room, which many people used over the years to improve their code speed and to meet with other club members to have a great time with radio!
After a few years, our radio club found that some of our members had problems getting up the two flights of stairs to attend the club meetings, so Chuck Hartwick, N6CEC offered us the use of the Red Cross’s meeting room which had a ramp and much easier access for all.
Over the years, the Del Norte Amateur Radio club has had many fun activities. There have been transmitter hunts, geocaching, providing communications for the local bike races, Field Day fun (once on top of Low Divide), antenna building parties, emergency preparedness exercises, as well as true live emergency activations! In the early 1980’s there was a tremendous storm that hit our area and knocked out the power for days. The backup generators for KPOD and KCRE were both down, and to make matters worse, the huge generator at the Sheriff’s office surged, blowing out every power supply for all their radio equipment. Members of the DNARC brought equipment into the Sheriff’s office and got them back on the air within just an hour or so. Other members of the ham club went to KCRE and rewired their generator system, getting them back up and running within just a couple of hours bringing live broadcasts to our local community! Another event, in particular, is the Biscuit Fire just a few years back, where the club manned radio stations 24 hours a day for the Red Cross for many days, then a few years later for a tsunami that devastated our harbor. There have been many times our club has stepped up to the plate and helped our community in time of great need!
In 2007 our entire repeater systems had a huge upgrade in the name of Steve Paynter, KA7PRR, our repeater coordinator! Steve has a tremendous knowledge set, which he has used to aggressively clean up our repeaters and to bring them to almost professional level. As soon as we can afford to purchase two new radios, Steve will truly bring our repeaters to state of the art level! But until then, Steve will keep our 1960’s technology running well.
The club in more recent years has expanded into FLDIGI, a mostly local simplex emergency communications mode, IRLP (internet radio linking project) for worldwide communications, and even fast scan television. All of which have provided club members with a diverse selection of opportunities to polish their radio skills!
I’m sure I have missed many memories and activities our club has done over the 34 years since our first meeting in 1979. We have had many wonderful people come into our group, as well as losing some very dear friends to being an SK (silent key). The common thread to our club is the enjoyment we all have with amateur radio. Throughout my 38 years as being a ham operator, I have never found a better group of people that are willing to help out in any situation, sharing their talents and time! If you are a local ham in the Curry/Del Norte County area, please consider becoming a member of our radio family!! If you are not an amateur radio operator and would like to become one, please feel free to contact us!!