by Scott B. Laughlin
Taylor Sullivan was in the fourth grade when he found a damaged issue of Boy’s Life Magazine. It was lying on the curb of a Portland street and the wind had flipped it open, exposing an illustration of a boy speaking into a tomato can. Pausing, he stooped and studied the picture. The article described how to build a crude telephone using things commonly found around the house—a length of string and two vegetable cans.
His mother had scolded him about handling things he found on the ground. He considered her words, but this seemed important enough to put her warning aside. Rolling up the tattered publication and shoved it into his hip pocket and then he headed home.
Taylor built a tin can telephone and he and Carl, his little brother, used it on the staircase. That’s where he learned that the string had to be taut and in a straight line. If the cord touched anything it stopped transferring audio. It seemed like a perfect solution for communicating between their bedrooms, so he built second system and cut a hole through the wall solely for that purpose.
“Hold the can still, Carl.”
“No, you’re not. You’re letting the cord touch the edge of the hole.”
Carl didn’t have a steady hand. After several failures, Taylor enlarged the hole. When that didn’t solve the problem he expanded it even more. Then their father discovered the damaged wall.
The telephone didn’t work well outside and Taylor quickly lost interest in it, but he was hooked on communications. Commercial radio had taken the nation by storm and he couldn’t get enough of it.
In 1937 Taylor’s father purchased a large, floor model radio. The adults gathered around it for the evening news, and he watched them await Gabriel Heeter’s opening statement: “Good evening folks—there’s good news tonight“. While he was curious about the AM broadcasts, he found more adventure in listening to the three shortwave bands. That was where Taylor became acquainted with Morse code and heard his first ham, a man called Marvin.
A neighborhood hardware store sold radio parts and the owner knew Marvin well. He even gave Taylor directions to his house. On his third visit he began learning Morse. In a short time Taylor experienced the thrill of making his first two-way contact, operating under Marvin’s call. After that he began preparing for the test that would fetch him a radio license of his own. Then he set out to earn his WAC (Worked All Continents).
Taylor was 19 when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and the United States entered World War II. For national security reasons ham radio privileges were revoked. He enlisted in the Navy and soon thereafter, he was a radioman aboard a submarine. After a week at sea he found two others who, as civilians, had plied the night skies with electromagnetic waves.
Because receivers transmitted a weak signal that the enemy could follow to its source, radio silence was invoked, keeping strict transmission schedules. When not in use, the antennas were disconnected.
However, operating a receiver without an external antenna while the boat was submerged didn’t breach radio silence, so Taylor created a spare time radio activity of his own.
With the Captain’s permission, he used a receiver and began transmitting verses from the New Testament.
When time allowed, a receiver was moved from one strategic location to another. The noisy environment of the boat while underway coupled with a very weak signal made copy a sincere challenge. At a given point in time Taylor declared the quest finished.
Both hams scored high and were issued a WAC, a certificate stating that the bearer had successfully Worked All Compartments.