MTC Member Operations - Morse Telegraph Club, Inc.

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MTC Member Operations & Displays
Ambassadors of the Wire
Slinging Lightning at Days of Yore, Didsbury, Alberta, Canada - 7/30 - 31/2022
Submitted by Kevin Jepson

During the last three years I have been collecting equipment and laying out a demonstration ground return telegraph setup.  Originally planned to be setup in 2021, I finally got to set it up for this year's Days of Yore festival in Didsbury Alberta on July 30 and 31, 2022.  Days of Yore is the largest historical reenactor gathering in Western Canada. This was the first one since being cancelled in 2020 due to the Pandemic.  The event had eight reenactor groups covering history from Viking times to WWII and was attended by almost 2000 people across the two days.  My display was setup as part of the Victorian Society of Alberta encampment.  I ran a single uninsulated wire line over to the Yankee Valley Yankees Civil War reenactor camp, a total line length of about 150'.  I used old Aspen poplar trees as the poles with real telegraph insulators and brackets screwed to them.  The poles were held up by rope lines so they could be taken down when the typical late day thunderstorms arrived.  The display consisted of my telegraph office, with key, sounder, relay, and batteries, in the Victorian Society camp and a portable US Military Telegraph display just outside the headquarters tent in the Yankee's camp.  Each end of the line had a ground stake composed of a 3' copper pipe driven into the ground beside the displays.  The batteries were old UPS 12v sealed lead acid batteries producing a total of 50V.  A switch inside the battery box could select a single 12V battery for use when the display was not on the line.  I planned to measure the current when the system was operating but was so busy I never got a chance!  The relays operated crisply so it was probably well inside specs for them.  The local sounder in the office was driven by two C cells.  The USMT display had an almost dead 6V lantern battery as its local sounder power source hidden in the box under the display.  I also had a table with a Signal Electric KOB driven by a 6V lantern battery.  

The KOB was a popular item with the kids who got to "send" messages.  I had printouts of American Morse Code that they were able to compose messages with and take as a souvenir.  I had intended to have a laptop connected through one of Chip Morgan's interfaces, to simulate traffic with MorseKOB, but I wasn't able to come up with an easy way to recharge the laptop from my battery box.  As it turned out the Civil War guys were happy to reply with random dots and dashes every time I sent using the display.

All the equipment is 1930-1950 vintage, but it looks pretty much the same as historically accurate pieces.  It also works, which was the primary concern for my display.  I operated the display continuously for 6 hours each day and the batteries were still going strong by Sunday night when I took it all apart.  I did keep the key open when not actually doing demos at the time which helped.

For the virtual Days of Yore last year in 2021, I did a video presentation about the Victorian Internet and the history of Morse Telegraphy, you can see the video on YouTube here:  At this year's event I gave a live version of that presentation twice, once on each day.  I also did a short presentation on the use of Morse code in the Civil War at the USMT display at the Yankee's Civil War camp amongst the cannons.

For next year I am planning to add an additional field station in the WWI reenactors camp so my telegraph will be a temporal one as well as a physical one, spanning from 1862 to 1914.

I am very happy with the way the display worked and the feedback from the attendees was very positive as well.

Looking forward to slinging lightning again soon!

Railroad Days, Snoqualmie, WA - 8/17 - 18/2019
Submitted by Les Kerr

Kevin Saville and I had a fun experience at the annual Railroad Days festival in Snoqualmie, WA.  The Northwest Railway Museum invited Kevin to set up a telegraph display in one of their stationary railroad cars for this two-day event.  He came well equipped with a very impressive exhibit featuring multiple sounders running simultaneously on different MorseKOB wires.  Kevin and I thought it would be fun to establish a telegraph link between the depots at Snoqualmie (SO) and North Bend (BN) and send OS reports to each other as the train arrived and departed at each location.  I set up a key and sounder on a table in a corner of the waiting room in the North Bend depot.

At first we chose an idle MorseKOB wire (wire 12) for chatting and exchanging OS reports. Then, for variety, we switched to wire 113 and interspersed our OS reports with the ones that are automatically generated on that wire. Sometimes we had to wait for a gap between the automatic OS reports to jump in with our own.  This works because the automatic OS report generator waits for the wire to be quiet before sending anything, allowing us to complete our traffic uninterrupted.  It gave us something to listen to when nothing else was happening.

The Northwest Railway Museum also operates the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad.  This is a historical railroad (ex-NP) that carries visitors 3.2 miles from Snoqualmie to North Bend and 1.5 miles in the other direction to Snoqualmie Falls over track no longer used by the Northern Pacific.  The train operates by timetable, with the single trainset running as Train 1 to Train 9 every Saturday and Sunday (odd numbered trains run east and even numbered west).
From Dave Sprau:
Don't blame the schedule numbers on the NP.    While it's true that their North Bend, Monte Cristo and Darrington  branches had trains listed in the timetable as east or west bound when  they were going in the exact opposite compass direction, that was only  because of NP stubbornness while in the control of a bunch of old  grandmas.   They were trying, somewhat, to imitate the SP system which  was that any train moving away from San Francisco was eastbound and  toward it was west.  Only on the NP, any train moving away from Tacoma  was westbound and moving toward it was east.  However, even so, the NP  always used the traditional system and  odd-numbered their westbound  trains, and even-numbered the eastbounds.  And BN came as a contraction  of the word "BeNd," which sometimes happens when you have a two-word  town.  I guess if you wanted an excuse to change it, you could use BE  which was the Milwaukee call for North Bend !
Washington State History Museum Annual Model Train Festival, Tacoma, WA - 12/16/2022 - 1/1/2023
Submitted by Kevin Saville

Kevin writes:
My appreciation is extended to Bud Thompson who initially coordinated our involvement in the Model Train Festival with Museum Director Mark Sylvester, as well as Mark and the museum staff.  Mark and I communicated by phone along the way as a result of other participants dropping out in the exhibit area due to concern over contract language; in spite of some recommendations for me to drop out as well, Mark assured me that everything would be okay and as a result, I proceeded with the exhibit (all from my personal collection) and added some railroad history items to take up empty space.

Other chapter members that staffed the exhibit were Evergreen Chapter Vice President Dr. Douglas Oakman and Historian Mark Borleske; I really appreciated their involvement as my schedule didn't accommodate my being at the museum very much during the three week exhibit period.

In summary, my thanks are extended to:
Mark Sylvester and staff at the Washington State History Museum, Washington State Historical Society;
Bud Thompson, event liaison for the MTC, Tacoma Chapter NRHS, and Operation Lifesaver, and curator emeritus for the Northern Pacific Railway heritage section at the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum;
Exhibit docents and chapter officers Douglas Oakman and Mark Borleske.
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