The Amateur Amateur: The Dead Repeater Disposal Squad
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Steve (behind the repeater) and Robert (back to the camera) disassembling the dead machine
It was a good repeater. By that,
I don't mean that it was the most used, the easiest to reach, or put
out the clearest signal. I just mean that it was used by a lot of
people over a very long period of time. But, now its days were coming
to an end.
I can't tell you much about the
old machine, certainly nothing about its technical specs. I'd guess
that it was a General Electric model of some sort, mainly because its
cabinet said "General Electric" at the top. But beyond
that, I know very little.
The history of the the repeater
is shrouded in the mists of time. What I know of it comes from
stories I heard, told by wizened old hams, who sit on obscure
frequencies and tell tall tales for the price of a QSL card. No other
documentation for the machine survives.
As near as I can tell, the
original owner of the repeater was the St. Louis County Police
Department. That much may be true, as the machine seems to have
circulated within the St. Louis County community for quite a while.
Once it has served its purpose for the police department, it was
passed on to the St. Louis County Roads Department. I don't know how
long either agency hung onto it, but eventually the county had no
more use for it, and it wound up in the hands of an Amateur Radio
operator named Mike.
Mike was a county employee and
had many connections there. He arranged for the repeater to be housed
in the basement of the St. Louis County Park Ranger station in Tilles
Park, and had it re-tuned for the Amateur 2 meter band. He took up a
collection, bought some coax and an antenna, and was able to put the
antenna at the top of the ranger's radio tower.
I can confirm the beginnings of
the repeater's Amateur Radio career, because I had contributed to the
antenna fund myself. What I can't verify, though, was when or exactly
how the machine died. The Old Hams Rumor Net says that it was struck
by lightning. Personally, though, I think that it just got tired,
went to sleep, and never woke up.
In any case, Mike was able to procure another cast-off repeater and had
it up and running almost before anyone noticed that the first one had
gone off the air. I didn't even know there had
been a swap until years later, when I pieced together two different
stories told by the Old Hams. Once the replacement repeater had been
installed, re-tuned, and gone on the air, the old GE model just
stayed there in the basement of the ranger station, gathering dust.
Now, we will jump forward several years.
Mike became a Silent Key in 2014.
The managers of his estate turned over both repeaters to St. Louis
Metro ARES, of which I am a member. As ARES had a good working
relationship with St. Louis County, we were allowed to continue to
house the machines in the basement of the ranger station.
Due to changes in the county
government, the park rangers will soon be replaced by regular police
officers, and the ranger station itself will be re-purposed.
Fortunately, we will still be permitted to keep the active repeater
there. But, we were told that the dead GE repeater had to go.
On a chilly March morning this
year, three people met in the parking lot of the Tilles Park Ranger
station. They were Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, Robert Burgert, K0BRM, and
me. We were The Dead Repeater Disposal Squad.
Some of the removed components
Steve, as the Emergency
Coordinator for St. Louis Metro ARES, was in charge. He and Robert
were the muscle. As I had no muscles myself, I was there to take
photos and chronicle the event. (How am I doing so far?)
I probably don't have to tell you
the obvious, but here it is anyway. The basement of the ranger
station was cramped, cold, and dimly lit. The repeaters were located
at the far end of the basement, nowhere near the stairs. The two
machines sat side-by-side on wooden pallets, because the concrete
floor occasionally got "damp". We were going to have to
wrestle the GE repeater off of its pallet and down narrow corridors
between overloaded shelving units.
And the blasted GE machine was heavy.
Steve and Robert quickly
discovered that Phase One, getting the GE repeater off of the pallet,
was not going to be easy. It could very easily tumble over and crash
into a shelving unit, starting an almost comic cascade of other
shelving units toppling over like dominoes, and eventually bringing
down the whole ranger station into a pile of rubble with three dead
ham radio operators underneath it all.
St. Louis County would not be pleased.
"May I make a suggestion?" I queried.
I asked if it would be possible
to disassemble the machine and take it out a piece at a time.
There was a moment of silence
while everyone gazed at the refrigerator-sized cabinet.
"I've got some tools in my car," said Steve.
While Steve went to get his
tools, I stared at the ancient beast and wondered if we should just
go ahead and phone the fire department. It might take the "jaws
of life" of some automobile-slicing power saw to take this
Wrestling the cabinet up the stairs
The next hour was quite laborious
(for Steve and Robert, anyway). Everything in the cabinet seemed to
be held together with simple nuts, bolts and screws. So, the stalwart
pair went at the machine with just screwdrivers, pliers, and cell
phones (used as flashlights).
But, as you undoubtedly know
already, no machine was ever built by ordinary people using ordinary
tools. Just about everything appears to have been assembled by
constructing the inner workings and the outer casing separately. Once
both parts are ready, the inner workings are somehow teleported
directly into the outer casing, and magically secured there. We all
know this, because there is absolutely no way that any of us can
reverse the process with out smashing something. Every machine built
today was put together using secret tools that you can't buy even on
Either that, or they were assembled by Dark Elves.
So, Steve and Robert spent a lot of
time trying to unfasten things hidden behind solid posts or inside
unreachable locations. I marveled at their persistence, their
steel-like fingers, and the fact that neither of them let loose with
any profanity. (If I had tried it, I would have persisted up until I
had accumulated enough cuts and bruises to pass out from blood loss.)
Very slowly, the major components
of the repeater were disconnected and removed.
We were now ready to try Phase One again.
Steve and Robert wrestled the
cabinet off of its pallet and onto the floor (which was not "damp"
that day). It did not tumble into a shelving unit. No shelving units
toppled like dominoes. The building remained standing. Phase One was
Phase Two was to get everything out of the building. And, while Steve and
Robert found a dolly and managed to get the cabinet to the stairway,
getting it up the stairs was not so easy.
It fits! Robert (left) and Steve (right) after loading the repeater parts into Steve's SUV
First, the cabinet was almost
twice as tall as the dolly. Once everything was tipped over to go up
the stairs, the "upper" guy would not longer be able to
reach the dolly's handle. They would have to struggle the cabinet up
the stairs without it.
Second, the cabinet had no
convenient "handles". There was nothing for the "upper"
guy to hang onto. He would be limited to guiding the cabinet as the
"lower" guy shoved it up the stairs.
Third, there was only a tiny
landing at the top of the stairs, meaning that the cabinet would have
to be almost upright by the time it got there.
Obviously, most of the work would have to be done by the "lower" guy.
Robert drew the short straw.
The process of getting the
cabinet up the stairs took a while, with lots of shouts of, "Hold
it!", but it finally succeeded without anyone losing any
fingers or toes.
Once the cabinet was outside,
everything went fairly quickly. The cabinet was now light enough so
that Steve could use his own mini fold-up dolly to get it to his SUV.
The individual components were small enough and light enough that it
only took one person to get them up the stairs and out to Steve's
I was amazed that everything fit,
but Steve is usually pretty thorough about such things. I'm sure he
had carefully measured everything well in advance.
"Where's it all going?" asked Robert.
"We can re-purpose the duplexers," replied Steve. "Everything else is
going to an electronics recycling center."
I wonder if he meant a hamfest?
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