The Amateur Amateur: The Junkman Cometh, Part II

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
June 14, 2003

My brother, Chris, is my Elmer. As we learned last time, he's also an inveterate accumulator of stuff--also known as "junk."

Chris staring in window of store

Everything there was old, looked obsolete, and had been manufactured by some long-defunct company.

My brother Chris, K1KC, had come up to St Louis to visit us. He wanted to know where all the ham radio stores were. I had to confess that there weren't many. There was one tiny ham radio store across the Missouri River in St Charles, and there was a local "electronic surplus" store that sold some ham radio gear. We decided to go to the latter.

Now, I'm interested in electronics, but I will never be into it like Chris is. If, for example, I were stranded on a desert island, I would be hard pressed to build a radio to call for help, even if I had all of the necessary parts, tools, and how-to manuals. Chris, on the other hand, would build a High Definition Television transmitter with a satellite uplink, stereophonic sound, and closed captioning for the hearing impaired. If you doubt me, listen to what happened at the electronics surplus store.

We pulled into the parking lot, and Chris immediately became transfixed by the window display. Well, it wasn't really a display so much as a pile of used electronics gear shoved up against the window. Of the hundreds of items there, I don't think I could identify a single one. Everything there was old, looked obsolete, and had been manufactured by some long-defunct company.

Chris walked along slowly, pausing before each item.

"That's a splonic dental nostrilator," he'd say. (Well, that's what it sounded like to me.) Seeing the blank look on my face, he'd continue, "It's used to reflinct interphasic nostrilites in the splon band. All of the old neftricating dental phygromizers used to have one of those."

I did not understand a word, but that happens a lot when he tries to explain things to me. He tends to lapse into some alien language he learned on the planet Electro. I just kept nodding and saying, "No kidding?"

Astoundingly, he was able to identify every single object in the window. I'm not exaggerating. He'd actually operated many of them.

Chris identifying junk

"That's a splonic dental nostrilator."

Eventually we went inside the store. There were some new items, but most of the things in there were surplus or salvage. Chris looked around and nodded. The Junkman was on familiar turf. He went to the first aisle and began his inspection. Before we left he had looked at every item on every shelf, perused every parts bin, contemplated every spool of wire, and pondered every ancient relic that had knobs and dials. Not a nook nor a cranny was overlooked.

Chris examined many of the items in silence, but when he was moved to say something, it was usually a gem. He picked up one object and told me, "If you want to take out your whole shack with one lightning strike, use this."

The survey continued, with Chris occasionally describing the function of something. More often, though, he'd mutter something like, "I've got hundreds of those... got hundreds of those, too. Oh man, I just threw away a bunch of those."

Sometimes he wanted to buy an object, but could never find the female component. (During earlier visits I had noticed the same thing. There was never a female whatchamacallit.)

Following along after Chris was far from boring. He'd poke into a bin and say, "Sheesh, I know where I can get these for half-this price." But at the next bin he might say "Fifteen cents! I can't pass that up!" or "Oh man, I've been looking all over for these things!" Then he'd pick up the bin and literally dump everything in it into his basket. That happened several times.

Chris checking out the inside of the store

"Isn't this actually a converter?"

Most amusing of all, though, was his harassment of the clerks. He wasn't trying to harass them, but he'd say, "The sign says this is an inverter. Isn't it actually a converter?" or "What's the rating on this habufritzer?" They never knew the answer. It was the one and only time I'd seen any of the store's clerks flustered.

Chris's examination of the store finally came to an end. We hauled his basket (quite weighty by now) up to the cash register and dumped its contents onto the counter. There were hundreds of items, perhaps thousands. The clerk, panicking, sputtered, "I'm going to lunch!" and vanished.

Chris and I began to sort and count the various widgets he'd collected. It took us half an hour. When we finally snared another clerk, he simply accepted our word on the count.

"That was a good place!" Chris said as we drove off, the trunk of my car sagging from the weight of his purchases. The Junkman was satisfied.

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2003 American Radio Relay League

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