By Larry Wolfgang, WR1B, ARRL Senior Assistant Technical Editor
Apprehension, excitement, anticipation, and yes, perhaps even a touch of fear! All these feelings and more were wrapped up inside me as I crawled onto my sleeping bag on Sunday, August I at Fort A. P. Hill in northern Virginia. The Staff-Appreciation Arena Show had helped pass the evening hours, but now reality was flooding back into my thoughts.
To be sure, I had done my best to Be Prepared for the onslaught of Boy Scouts that was about to take place. I had known for over a year that I would be part of this National Jamboree Staff. The 45 hams that would make up the K2BSA Amateur Radio Staff (along with nearly 5000 other Jamboree Staffers) had been planning the program and procuring materials for a year.
Still, this was my first National Jamboree, and I couldn’t quite comprehend the numbers and size of what I was seeing, and which the experienced hands kept trying to describe to me.
Many of us had just spent a hot, dusty, sweaty week setting up an Amateur Radio station that must rival any serious DXpedition station. The temperature went over 100 degrees F everyday, and the humidity must have been 90%. Early mornings and late afternoons/evenings were the best times for the most physical work, like climbing the four 60-foot telephone poles that were our towers.
Ed Crow, WB8DDE, did most of the climbing, installing steps in the poles so he could climb them easier later, when it came time to put up the antennas. This was a slow process, and lucky for Ed, someone managed to commandeer a bucket truck to finish the job late in the week. One turned into two, and the drivers even promised to come back and help take down the antennas at the end of the Jamboree! (Perhaps the most amazing thing about Ed is that he came to the Jamboree with a pickup truck and trailer filled with just about everything we could possibly need-but no one else would think of – including an oxy-acetylene torch and welding equipment.)
The huge yellow and white tent reminded me of a circus. (Our “shack” was about 15 feet wide and 30 feet long!) And if anyone had taken the time to stand back and watch, it probably looked like a circus! There were antennas to build, feed lines to cut and connectors to be installed. There were tables. cabinets and bulletin boards to collect from “Physical Arrangements” (these people must have been here for months just building rows and rows of Jamboree “furniture”). Some of the items had to be rebuilt to suit our needs. Much of the furniture had to be painted. In addition to setting up K2BSA, some of us (under the direction of Bill Burns, WA6QYR) also had to “build” the Radio Merit Badge area. We had red and white tents for this, each about 20 feet square. There were more tables to collect, more cabinets to haul and paint, posters to put up, shortwave listening posts to arrange and the test-equipment and kit-building areas to organize.
When it came time to set up equipment, we still had no chance to rest. There was a satellite station, a VHF/UHF packet-radio station complete with our own Jamboree BBS, and an HFpacket/RTTY/AMTOR station in addition to three other HF positions. There was even an FSTV and packet link to the Radio Merit Badge Tent. And the repeater still had to be moved out to its “permanent” home – well, for the next week at least – and the repeater antenna had to appear at the 80-foot level on the fort communications tower!
Yes, we did have a repeater. Even the best-prepared Scouts sometimes come up short. Like we almost did for a repeater this Jamboree. Somehow it wasn’t included on the equipment list. But never fear, we discovered this oversight nearly two weeks before the Jamboree was to begin! Now where do you get a repeater in two weeks? And even if you could find one, how do you get crystals for your coordinated frequency? Don’t ask! But Bill Dewhirst of Kendecom in Groveland, Massachusetts, deemed me Trustworthy enough to let me drive away with his “spare” repeater, after he helped identify a crystal manufacturer who would make a pair of crystals on a two-day rush and get them to Bill so he could tune the repeater for us! Thanks, Bill!
Most of the equipment used at K2BSA was donated or loaned by Loyal manufacturers. Curtis Brown, WB4KZL, manager of the Ham Radio Outlet in Woodbridge, Virginia, served as a contact and collection point for much of the gear. ICOM, Kenwood, Yaesu and Ten-Tec were all Helpful by loaning radios. AEA, Alinco, MFJ, PacComm, Advanced Receiver Research, Diamond Antennas, Cushcraft, Hygain/ Telex, Radio Works and TX/RX Systems provided antennas and various accessories that we couldn’t be without. The satellite station was very popular, in part because of Quick Trac, the program used to display the satellite locations on a computer screen. Speaking of computers, staff member Jerry Friedman, WA2FQA, of The Computer Center in Ithaca, New York, provided the computers to run the satellite position, the packet radio stations and the message entry system used to send radiograms for visiting Scouts. Cooper Industries, Belden Division donated all the coaxial cable (9913) and rotator-control cable we needed. (The coax and control cable are now being used at the permanent home of K2BSA in Dallas, Texas.) ARRL supplied many books, certificates for visiting Scouts and guest operators, QSL cards (printed by K2MK QSLs) and staff support.
Saturday brought the Friendly members of the Woodbridge (Virginia) Wireless club with their monoband beams for 10, 15 and 20 meters, along with a full assembly and installation crew. Just when we needed it most, more help!
A traffic jam right outside my tent? Engines roaring! The acrid smell of diesel fumes! What time is it? 4 AM Monday! They’re here. I knew we were expecting about 27,000 Scouts to roll in today, but did they have to come this early? Yes, I guess they did. Many of them have been on the road almost all week while we have been here setting up their Jamboree. No doubt they are as anxious and excited about all this as we are. By the time the last Scouts arrive on Tuesday they will be more than 30,000 strong. And every one of them is bursting with energy and here to have FUN.
By noon most of the day’s arrivals had set up camp and they were checking out the many activities planned for them. This included the Merit Badge Midway, where more than 60 merit badges were offered. The Scouts could complete the Radio Merit Badge at the Jamboree, unlike some of the others.
This made our booth very popular. With classes starting every hour, we didn’t require prior registration like some of the merit badges, but by the end of the day we had over 200 Courteous Scouts signed up to take Radio Merit Badge! (We had expected up to 250 Scouts to sign up during the entire week!)
Each Scout began by taking a one-hour theory presentation followed by written work about the theory, to be discussed with one of the counselors. They had to complete several hours of shortwave listening at two different times of the day, including an evening session. (Nine shortwave broadcasters from around the world supplied posters and handouts about short-wave listening.) There was a hands-on demonstration of test equipment that included multimeters, an oscilloscope and signal generators. The Scouts also had to visit a radio station approved by the counselors. (While they could visit one of the Jamboree FM broadcast stations several miles away, we told them the station we most approved of was K2BSA, just across the road. This helped keep the K2BSA staff busy giving tours and demonstrating Amateur Radio!)
Finally the Scouts had to build a piece of radio equipment. We had 250 FM wireless microphone kits donated by the Kind folks at Heathkit and Electronic Kits International for the Scouts to build. We also had circuit boards and parts for code-practice oscillators donated by FAR Circuits and Van Gorden Engineering. The Obedient Scouts were only allowed to build a kit after all the other requirements were complete.
It was a busy week at the Radio Merit Badge booth! By the time the dust settled on Wednesday, 244 Cheerful Scouts had completed the Radio Merit Badge! That was nearly five times the number of Scouts who completed this merit badge at the 1989 Jamboree. More than 700 Scouts started the merit badge.
The K2BSA Amateur Radio demonstration station was just as busy. More than 150 hams (in addition to the K2BSA staff) registered with the station. The daily traffic and information net, run on the repeater, sometimes lasted over an hour. The station handled more than 2200 pieces of message traffic and made over 2100 HF QSOs. The operators worked in shifts around the clock.
The Radio Merit Badge staff, with help from the K2BSA staff, conducted a Technician license class. Finding a time to hold the class was no small challenge. We finally settled on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings from 7 to 9:30 PM for the class. We secured permission to use one of the double “mess” tents in our staff dining area. Most Scoutmasters wanted their Scouts in camp before the end of the class, so we expected perhaps 50 Scouts might attend. Imagine our surprise that first night when over 225 showed up! For the remaining classes we expanded to two “mess” sections, with two tents each. We split into teaching teams and ran two sessions simultaneously. It was still crowded, and students in the back of the tent had a difficult time seeing and hearing, but we all made the best of a difficult situation.
I brought two cases of the new Now You’re Talking!, with the intent of having students share books for some afterclass study time. That first night it became obvious that the demand would far exceed my supply. A phone call to Tracy Bedlack, NlQD0, in the ARRL Educational Activities Office resulted in an emergency overnight shipment of more books, supplies and student handouts. Ray Moyer, WD8JKV, of the BSA National Headquarters Staff, found a Thrifty way to make copies of class notes and other materials we needed for the students-a photocopier.
Radio Merit Badge staffer Bob Olson, WV7P, doubled as our Volunteer Examiner liaison. When I saw how many students showed up for the first class, I asked Bob if he had enough test materials. Bob said he thought he could cover whatever we needed. Several hams on the K2BSA staff and several other staff members were asking about exam opportunities during set-up week. So Bob decided to hold several exam sessions early in the week, so he could concentrate on the students from our class later. It’s a good thing, too! Bob saw he was running low on test materials, and asked me to help him contact ARRL Headquarters for some emergency help. Maria Somma in the ARRL/VEC office faxed some materials to Bob, and gave us contact information for another local VE team. Bob and I met the team liaison early that evening, picked up nearly all the test supplies his team had on hand, and rushed back to camp for evening class and a test session.
We weren’t sure Friday’s class and test session would happen. Early in the afternoon we got word that all Jamboree activities were being shut down and all Scouts were to return to their campsites. Yes, the weather was that bad. It was raining so hard we had a river running through the Radio Merit Badge Tent. We even heard there were severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings out for our area. The Staff Dining area used for class was closed for lunch and dinner because the tents were flooded. We made plans to announce the canceled class on the Jamboree net that evening, but wait! These Brave Scouts showed up a half-hour early for class. They wanted to meet. They didn’t want to miss the evening’s lessons. So the show went on in spite of the weather. (Actually the rain had stopped by then.)
Saturday dawned sunny again, so we had a chance to Clean up after the flood. Actually, it was much easier to be Clean now that the hot water heater began working! During setup week there was a very limited supply of hot water, so most showers were cold!
The exam session Saturday evening was even busier than Friday’s. Long lines winding through the halls and dining area of the building secured for the exams. Candidates taking exams in shifts, then moving out to make room for more. Somebody grab a camera and take some pictures of this!
Two-hundred twelve different people took 371 exam elements at the Jamboree. There was 1 new Novice, 49 new Technicians, 6 upgrades to Technician Plus, 2 upgrades to Advanced and 1 to Amateur Extra. From any point of view, this was a successful set of exam sessions!
Sunday. Slow down and be Reverent. The break was pleasant, and I didn’t even mind waiting 45 minutes for the shuttle bus after church. It was nice to have my HT along so I could call K2BSA on the repeater and let the rest of the staff know where I was, though. Amateur Radio saves the day!
– from the February 1994 issue of QST – reprinted by permission