Lobstercon 2013 and the Order of the Tuna Tin
Lobstercon, that premier annual New England gathering of QRP enthusiasts from far and wide, has its familiar elements year to year: great company, a flea market, some fine eating, on-air time operating QRP under the pines or under portable, bug-screened gazebos.
Somewhat less familiar are nitwits like me arriving at the campground, car windows down and stereo up (way up) delivering bag-pipe music to the troops as I hunt for the right spot to pitch my tent. Thank you, Pandora, for the pipes. And thank you Lt. Col. Bill “Surfer” Kilgore for the inspiration. You remember him — leading his air cavalry unit into battle, chopper blades thumpa-thumping to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in the film “Apocalypse Now.”
The event, which ran July 12-14, has even survived a lasting coup d’table by the Lobstercon Ladies Auxiliary Society and Drinking Club.
This year’s QRP conclave, however, was different. Yea and verily, it could be said to have initiated Lobstercon’s Order of the Tuna Tin.
And therein lies the rest of this tale.
First, for the uninitiated, Lobstercon is the brainchild of one Rex Harper, W1REX, who was inducted into the QRP Hall of Fame last year. Rex is the “mindermast” behind QRPme.com, his outlet for inexpensive QRP kits and accessories for the experimenter. The Tuna Tin 2, and its successor, the Two Tinned Tunas (EZ Build) are among these. He also is known for fielding one of the few ambucampers or cambulances, take your pick. It’s a retired ambulance he’s converted into a camper.
Rex has been organizing these annual conclaves since 1999. And he’s currently trying to encourage QRP enthusiasts living in other states or regions to do likewise. Salmoncon, one of these events, ran July 12-15, while we ran — officially — from July 12-14 at the Thomas Point Beach and Campground in Brunswick, ME. Earlier arrivals and later departures welcomed and encouraged, of course.
This year, Rex logged 72 people who had registered in advance; I suspect more arrived for the day on Saturday, with its all-you-can-eat lobster dinner. About midway through the day I took a stroll around Lobstercon’s section of the campground playing the license-plate game. We nearly had a clean sweep of New England states. The only state missing was Rhode Island. Folks traveled from New York and came down from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The event also drew attendees from Arizona, Wyoming, and Utah.
Now, to the Order of the Tuna Tin.
In the beginning — well, at least in the spring of 1976 — there was Doug DeMaw, a handful of parts from Radio Shack, and a 6-1/2-oz. tuna can.
DeMaw, long-time technical editor for the American Radio Relay League’s journal QST, etched a circular circuit board, tweaked an off-the-shelf choke or two, wielded his soldering iron, and behold the Tuna Tin 2, a two-transistor HF transmitter, was born. It was a simple affair: crystal controlled and 350 milliwatts output. Doug set the radio up for 40 meters, made several contacts, including a 20-minute rag chew with another ham in Florida. Behold, it was very good.
But, behold, a mist fell over the lab, and the original Tuna Tin 2 fell from the cover of the May 1976 QST and into a box from which parts for other projects could be rummaged.
Over the years, several clubs produced variations on the radio and sold them as kits. In 1999, for instance, the New Jersey QRP Club and the NorCal QRP Club kitted and sold versions
As ages passed, one QRP enthusiast/entrepreneur picked up the design — which aimed for simplicity and ease of construction — and ran with it. That would be Rex Harper.
Meanwhile, the authentic relic languished in the parts box at the ARRL’s lab in Newington, CT, only to vanish, explained Ed Hare, W1RFI, during a chat at Lobstercon. Ed heads the ARRL’s lab.
During one of the League’s biennial New England Regional Conventions in Boxboro, MA, Ed was strolling from table to table exploring the wares available at the convention’s flea market when a familiar object caught his eye. There, in a box of other goodies, lay a Tuna Tin 2 transmitter that looked a lot like the one DeMaw built. Hare snagged it for the princely sum of $1, took it back to the lab, and compared it with the May 1976 QST cover photo. The two matched, right down to odd bends in component leads.
The ancient sacred relic had come home.
Narrative detour —> If you ever get a chance to hear this tale directly from Ed and it varies in any way from the above, blame my memory, not Ed’s story-telling. <— End detour.
Given Rex’s perpetuation of the Tuna Tin 2, Ed brought DeMaw’s original Tuna Tin 2, carefully wrapped in an ARRL T-shirt, to be viewed, venerated, and put back on the air, albeit briefly, at Lobstercon 2013.
To commemorate this event, Rex gave a Two Tinned Tunas (EZ Build) kit to each camping “group,” be it a single camper, as I was, or a family.
But he also had Lobstercon to run, so he tapped Eamon Egan, VE2EGN, to organize the kit-building party.
After gathering up our parts cafeteria-style following Saturday’s lunch and flea market, we, the Order of the Tuna Tin acolytes, clustered in small groups to install the parts on the circuit boards. There ensued great mirth as people tried to read the tiny markings on tiny components and place the right components in the right holes in the circuit boards.
In one group, a spirited discussion arose over whether it made a difference to the transmitter’s operation which way a board-mounted single-pole, double throw switch — the transmit-receive switch — was installed. Think about that for a minute.
Then it was off to the soldering tables to affix the parts to the board. One of two first-time builders, Peggy Griswold, sat in our group. She’s not a ham. But she allowed that she had done some stained-glass work in the past, which requires soldering skills, and, she reasoned, building Rex’s kit would be fun to try.
Later, as I sat at a soldering table, I heard a female voice behind me chuckle and say: I beat you! I turned to see t’was Peggy showing me her slickly soldered circuit board. A bit too slick, perhaps. Rex fired it up to give it the smoke-and-signal test. No smoke, but no signal either. A quick check of the board revealed a solder bridge.
Now, I can’t vouch for this, but I’ve been told by no one in particular that DeMaw’s relic from the ARRL’s lab has healing powers. Solder bridges suddenly vanish from the offending circuit board when it touches even the lip of DeMaw’s Tuna Tin 2 chassis. The leads of electrolytic capacitors, diodes, and transistors improperly installed on a supplicant’s circuit board suddenly switch to the correct polarity and lead arrangement.
Whatever the, er, truth may be to that story, the relic remained hidden, apparently deferring to Rex to solve Peggy’s conundrum. Rex removed the bridge, tried again, and it worked — with Peggy issuing a 60 over S9 shout of delight when she heard the transmitter’s dulcet tone through a nearby receiver.
The other newbie, also unlicensed but eager to try a kit, was David Aiello, whose dad, Mike, N2HTT, was one of several hams who helped Eamon keep the happy campers supplied with parts for the kits.
By one estimate, 21 people, including yours truly, took Harper up on his offer to build the kits. Fourteen would complete their kits during a build-a-thon that would begin mid afternoon on Saturday and finish up after dinner Saturday night under the spotlights of Rex’s cambulance.
For the record, I was one of the 14. I built mine for 30 meters, and it worked at first power-up. But the real joy came from watching the aforementioned non-hams, who had never built a kit before, tackle the Two Tinned Tunas and leave with working transmitters.
You can see Peggy and David relishing their successes in a video here. The motion portion of the video begins at about 2:13.
Thus did at least 14 acolytes find themselves inducted into the Order of the Tuna Tin by virtue of their willingness to melt solder in the field. Our motto? Heat it or go home!
It’s also worth noting that radio wasn’t the only wonder-geek activity on the weekend’s agenda. Bruce Beford, N1RX, put an astronomical imprint on the weekend when he set up a solar telescope for viewing the sun. By night, he deployed his 85-cm Televue refractor, which gave us delightful views of Saturn during breaks in the clouds.
If you’d like to see more images from Lobstercon 2013, check out these on-line photo albums from:
And a special thanks to Ed for adding sharing DeMaw’s relic with us!
*Call sign corrected
This entry was posted on 2013/07/25 at 20:25 and is filed under Gatherings, General Operating, Portable operations, Projects, QRP with tags amateur radio, Ham radio, ham radio outdoors, Lobstercon, portable operating, QRP. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.