The Amateur Amateur: A Hamfest At Last!

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
February 2022

Winterfest Opening
Winterfest Opening

It's nice to have on-air friends. It's even nice to see them via the Internet or talk to them on the phone. But sooner or later we all crave actual person-to-person contact. That, as you know, has been difficult over the past year. Meetings have been canceled, hamfests as well. Field Day setups and other exercises were sparse or non-existent.

But recently we have had some on-again, off-again relaxation of the regulations on gatherings and meetings, at least locally. We've been able to hold a few actual meetings of our St. Louis Metro ARES group. The St. Louis Amateur Radio Club was able to hold its yearly Halloween Hamfest. And this year, I was healthy enough to physically attend the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club's yearly Winterfest near the end of January. (I don't have any disease, I'm just old and creaky.)

It was great, not only because I got to see friends again, but because I was out of my house! Wow. Open spaces. New vistas. Fresh air. Really cold fresh air, but nice all the same.

In the past, I've usually attended hamfests by helping to man the St. Louis Metro ARES table. Steve, the Emergency Coordinator (the boss), pays for two tables instead of one, meaning that at most hamfests, as a vendor he gets two free attendance tickets. He gives me the second one.

But for the last several months I have had serious back and leg pain. I wasn't able to do much more than stagger around my house. I was honest with Steve and told him I was afraid I wouldn't make it to Winterfest to help him. He should arrange for someone else to partner with and give them the ticket.

I also mentioned that if at all possible, I would try to make it to Winterfest. If I succeeded, I'd lend a hand at the ARES tables anyway.

I went ahead and ordered a ticket from the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club, to be picked up at Will Call.

Alright, as the date of Winterfest approached, I really wasn't getting any better. Except......

Except for the two days of the week that I took steroids for a completely different condition. And would you believe it, the steroids greatly diminished my pain, enough so that I could get around a lot better.

For two days each week.

Unfortunately, neither of those days would fall on the date of Winterfest.

I will tell you right now that I really wanted to attend Winterfest. I mean really, seriously, frantically.

I had fans of this column whom I wanted to meet (yes, I have one or two). In my position as Steve's second banana in ARES (his lieutenant) there were people I needed to talk to. And I wanted to see what kind of crazy stuff the other vendors would have on display.

I had to find some way to get there.

ARES table
ARES table

So... I fiddled with the dates that I took the steroids. Not a lot. I just, kind of, you know, slid the dates a little bit at a time, until, what do you of them coincided with the Winterfest date. How about that? What a weird coincidence!

The trip to the Gateway Convention Center to attend Winterfest was on. My car was gassed up and fully serviced. My carry-bag had my camera and some odds and ends that might be needed on the ARES table. I was medicated up and ready to go!

Hoo hah!

The trip from Florissant, Missouri to Collinsville, Illinois took about half an hour. The 2 meter ham bands were full of chatter. The morning was a tad bright for someone like me who had been housebound, but I was happy nonetheless.

I arrived at the Gateway Center just before opening time, and was able to get a reasonably good parking space. That was fortunate, as the meds had diminished my leg pain quite a bit, but walking was still a tad difficult.

I picked up my ticket from Don, KD0JBN at the Will Call table, got in the line waiting for the doors to open, and Ding! They opened right at that moment. The line moved amazingly fast, as they had several ticket checkers / hand stampers. Jeff, KF0CTR stamped mine.

Gee, I hadn't even gotten in the door and I'd already met two of my buddies!

I had to blink twice once I got into the main hall. Everything was familiar, but different somehow. It took me a minute to realize that it was because the aisles were much wider. There was a lot more space between tables facing each other.

Well, hooray for that. It had been almost impossible to traverse the aisles at previous Winterfests (and frankly, other hamfests as well) because people would stop and congregate there. It seems to be a human condition that if you want to chat with someone, you have to find a doorway, the nearest narrow passage or something similar, and block it up. It doesn't matter where, it happens all the time.

Anyway, the widened aisles helped the flow of traffic tremendously. I was told later that the change had been mandated by the fire department. Or maybe it was the police department. It might have even been common sense on the part of the Winterfest committee. Whoever it was, good for you!

HARN display
Hospital Amateur Radio Net display

Finding Steve was no problem at all, as the St. Louis Metro ARES tables were right next to the door I had entered. Everything was all set up. (Steve has become very adept at doing this himself. I feel very guilty about that.)

The tables looked great. The canvas signs proclaiming our affiliation with St. Louis County Police Department – Office of Emergency Management were up. Steve had placed tablecloths on the tables, which greatly enhanced the visibility of the items placed on them. ARRL, ARES, and Skywarn brochures were all spread out, as well as our popular “When All Else Fails.. Amateur Radio” buttons. (I don't know who originated the phrase, but please don't sue us. We give the buttons away for free.)

This year Steve had also set up a separate display for the local Hospital Amateur Radio Net. That is a regional ham radio emergency organization set up, obviously, to service hospitals and other medical facilities. It is separate from ARES/RACES and so forth because its parent organization is the local St. Louis Area Regional Response System (STARRS).

Nevertheless, Steve manages HARN as well, and a fair percentage of folks who were interested in emcomm and dropped by our tables, specifically wanted to know about serving at hospitals.

Our tables were a one-stop emergency communications information center, as it were.

I stepped behind the tables, greeted Steve, and asked him the price of the few donated items we were selling. These included some old mobile VHF transceivers. I doubted that there would be any buyers. Practically the only things that sell are items marked $5 or less, and the potential buyer always wants it for $1.

Steve handed me professionally made ARES and statewide emcomm badges. Wow, I felt so official, Batman! (Really, though, the badges were quite sexy.)

I dipped into my carry-bag and pulled out a handful of HARN flyers (not professionally made) and placed them in the display. Steve had informed me that he was short on them, so I had cranked out a few dozen on my color printer. (Folding them was the tedious part.)

I noted that two of our members had set up a table right across from us (Richard, W0EO and Debbie, W0QPR). Debbie was selling jewelry and Richard was selling stuff that was probably century-old ham radio gear. I wound up buying a leather wrist band from Debbie, but I couldn't identify anything Richard had on the table. I'm pretty sure it all involved technology I couldn't begin to understand. Sorry, Richard.

Various friends and acquaintances dropped by. We lamented the state of... well, you name it. There's a lot to lament. I did, however, make sure to pass on my most heartfelt thanks to the small handful of people who actually keep the ham radio infrastructure in St. Louis up and running (thanks again to Kyle, AA0Z; Joe, W0FY; Roger, K0GOB; George, WB0IIS; and Brian, KE0EYA, to name some of the key players).

Winterfest Closing
Winterfest Closing

I did not make a tour of the other vendor tables. First, my legs were not quite up to a lot more walking. And second, let's face it, most of us have way too much stuff in our basements as it is. Mine reached capacity several hamfests ago.

I was heartened by how many new hams dropped by and expressed interest in emergency communications. Unfortunately, most of them were from other counties, or even other states. We gave them what information we had, but I don't think we had anyone sign up with our group. I think the most asked question about local activities was, “How do I get a Skywarn spotter number?” Regrettably, that's not our department. That's the National Weather Service, and the local office no longer does it..

We had a pair of former St. Louis Metro ARES members/officers drop by. Peter, NM5PB and Janelle, NM5JB had held important posts in our organization and we sorely miss them. But they made the trip from their new home in Albuquerque, New Mexico to be at the hamfest and we were very happy to see them. The cumulative talent of that husband/wife pair it truly amazing.

I had not anticipated staying for the entire eight hours that Winterfest was scheduled to run, but I wound up doing so anyway. Maybe I just couldn't tear myself away from the action. But more likely, I didn't want to get out of the comfortable chair Steve had brought.

By the time the end of the hamfest rolled around, I had bought two items: The wrist band from Debbie, and a hat. I didn't really need the hat, I already have several just like it.

But, hey, it had my call sign on it.

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