Vintage  Stuff
K4MSG - Paul Bock of Hamilton, Virginia

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Reported and photographed by Paul Bock - K4MSG
October 2007

Stepping Back in Time

        OK, a lot of you - especially old timers - know the drill. You decide to travel back to an earlier time when ham radio was both more fun and more of a challenge, with fewer bells & whistles and more annoyances. So, you buy a "vintage" rig - meaning something made before 1980 or so, with lots of vacuum tubes in it. Maybe you go for the kind of equipment you started with, or perhaps you just settle for something from that general era, maybe a rig you never owned but always wondered about.

You buy it on eBay - perhaps paying too much for what you get - or from an advertisement on eHam Classifieds or ARRL Classifieds or classifieds, or whatever. Then the fun starts.

This is the fourth or fifth time I've been down this road and every time I swear it will be the last. Maybe this time it will be. At any rate, here's a photo of Version 1 of the latest K4MSG vintage station which has been on the air about a month and has accounted for 8 countries during casual operating.

The Drake R-4A was purchased from K6CVC and worked OK from the get-go. After re-capping, changing a couple of tubes and an alignment it works even better. This receiver is absolutely pristine, the nearest to new-looking I've ever seen.

TOP ROW, L to R: Johnson Viking 122 VFO, Drake MS-4 speaker, Johnson Viking Adventurer CW transmitter.

BOTTOM ROW, L to R: Drake R-4A receiver, WWII J-38 key, WWII Lionel J-36 bug. FOREGROUND: Telephonics TDH-39 headset. The metal box mounted on the right below the headphone jack is the manual T/R switch. The patch panel on the left is for my tape-cassette-phonogragh-to-CD setup for copying old tapes & records to CD.

The Viking Adventurer was purchased on eBay and is almost 100% original (it does have the internal fuseholder replaced with one on the rear apron, an improvement IMO) and very, very clean. It had already been re-capped, required no rehab and runs fine with a maximum output of about 38 watts. It has a nice front panel and the cabinet was professionally repainted.

The Viking 122 VFO is OK. On 80m it works great and is very stable (using the 160/80/40 setting) but on 40m (using the 40/20/15/10 setting) it is less stable and has a tendency to "pull" when the transmitter is keyed, requiring some "tweaking" of the transmitter oscillator tuning to vary the load on the VFO. Unfortunately, the 40m harmonic on the 160/80/40 setting doesn't provide sufficient grid drive to the Adventurer and the maximum output is only about 15 watts so the 40/20/15/10 setting must be used. More work is needed to resolve the stability problem which may be partially a mechanical issue.

Now a picture of the latest addition, a "spare" Adventurer. This rig also works fine as is and has good output but it has not been recapped and was sorta dirty, so the tubes, knobs, meter and front panel were removed while I cleaned it up. Here it is on the bench after cleaning but before re-capping. The cabinet (not shown) definitely requires a paint job. This rig was a bit over-priced but the description was very thorough & accurate *AND* it came with two low-end-of-the-CW-band FT-243 crystals, one for 80m and one for 40m. The seller apparently didn't know what they were and sold separately they'd bring about $15 each.

Finally, another 122 VFO is due to arrive and from the description & photos it may be in better shape than the one now in use and the price was about the same. Fortunately, these VFOs do not require recapping - only mica, film and disc ceramic caps are installed - just cleaning and perhaps a tube change. Stability problems are almost always either tube-related (a flakey 6AU6A oscillator tube, for example) or mechanical issues, although drift can be a problem if the VFO isn't warmed up for about a half-hour before use (relocating the power resistor under the chassis near the oscillator tube can help alleviate some heat-related drift). The plan is to use the best VFO with the Adventurer now in service and keep the other Adventurer and VFO as a spare set-up - after solving any problems, of course - with possible re-sale of the "spare rig" if another vintage transmitter strikes my fancy.

For the record, the Johnson Viking Adventurer was manufactured and sold as a kit only from about 1956 until 1964 (my first transmitter in 1957 was an Adventurer). The Viking 122 VFO was sold around the same time frame but was available as either a kit or factory wired. The Drake R-4A in the photo was manufactured in 1967.

Paul Bock, K4MSG