QST, February, 1917, page 40:
First Trans-continental Relay Fails
As a record for future generations to smile over, we herewith print the story of the first attempt to run a message from the Atlantic to the Pacific and get an answer back the same evening. As the message would have to run across one of Mr. Matthews' Trunk Lines, he was selected as the one to put in charge of the job. He finally settled upon the night of January 4th, 1917. If we failed, we were to repeat it the next night. Very perfect detailed arrangements were worked out, and military discipline required. The arrangements were as near perfect as anything could be, provision being made for every contingency, except the one which happened, and which human knowledge at this date cannot surmount.
A pilot message was to go at 12:20 a. m. At 12:30 the real message was to follow. The starting point was the station of our President, 1ZM, at Hartford, Conn., and the Pacific terminal was at Hoquiam, Wash., the station of Mr. Henry W. Blagen, 7DJ. The Hartford Courant was to ask a question of the Grays Harbor Washingtonian at Hoquiam, and the latter was to answer this question. The question and the answer were previously exchanged by the newspapers by mail, and kept secret so as to place the honesty of the transmission beyond question. Post cards asking amateurs to QRT between 12:30 and 4:00 a. m. on the nights of January 4th and 5th, were sent out and the fellows apparently observed them scrupulously, for which the managers express deep appreciation.
At 12:15, the night of the 4th, the representative of the Courant handed Mr. Maxim a sealed envelope containing the secret question. He did not open it but waited until 12:20, when he started the pilot message. 2AGJ was heard to immediately hand it on to 8NH and it seemed as though the machinery so long preparing was going to work perfectly. At 12:23, 2ACJ was heard sending a query to 8NH. At 12:25 he sent another. At 12:27 he sent still another. This indicated something was wrong between him and 8NH. At this moment, Mr. Maxim broke the seal of the envelope containing the message, because it was to go on time regardless of anything. At precisely 12:30:00, Western Union time, he started the message. Immediately he finished it, 2AGJ acknowledged its receipt and started it to 8NH. At 12:37 he had finished it. At 12:40 he queried 8NH. He continued querying for several minutes, and then reported back to 1ZM first he could not hear 8NH. Then began the struggle. Other stations were called, CQs were sent out, and every conceivable effort was made to raise 8NH or 9ZN at Chicago. Not a single Eighth District or Ninth District station could be raised. The QRN was terrific, and the QRM nil. It was evident that the first attempt was going to fail. It did, and just as the forms for this issue of QST close, we have the stories of most of the different stations. They are sad tales of the vicissitudes of radio communication in this year 1917.
Listen to the story of 2AGJ first. Most of us west of the Mississippi know him well by radio. He handled his part as perfectly as any one could:--
"Yours received and here goes: I copied message from you both nights O. K. without trouble. Sent it to 8NH immediately and heard her come back with a faint QTA the first time, so sent it again. Did not receive any QSL or hear her again after that. In fact, I did not hear another western station that night. Friday night, I could not raise 8NH or 9ZN or anybody else in fact, on a CQ. I did not hear any western station again at all. On Saturday night, I called 8NH and did not hear her at first, but finally got the message to her O. K. Just received letter from her and believe me, we must have had some freaky radio weather when she couldn't even read me.
I have been handling traffic direct with 9GY at Mattoon, Ills. and in his last letter he told me he could read me with the phones on the table using a single bulb. So you see, something was very, very wrong with the air. I surely am sorry, but you know I did my best. I will bet she goes through the next time PDQ. My spark must be pretty good because I have just received a letter from the operator on ss Mexico, KWX, running between New York and Havana, and he says he gets me regularly all the way down and all the way back with a single bulb. 73 2AGJ."
The next is the harrowing tale from Mrs. Candler at St. Mary's, Ohio, 8NH. She says:
"On Thursday night the static was so strong that I could not possibly read 2AGJ. In fact, I could hear only a very few of the very strongest stations, but could read none of them. The data I give below refers only to those stations which exceed one hundred and fifty miles distance from here, and covers the entire night. On Thursday night, I could not hear a single southern station and only very few of the very loudest of those to the west, east and north of me. This I suppose was due to the terrific static; but please notice the peculiarity of the two following evenings when static had subsided enough so that almost any station of average intensity could be read if heard.
On Friday night, stations east, west and north of me could not be heard at all. Stations to the south of me and southwest roared in. The dividing line between stations which could be heard and those which could NOT be heard, seemed to pass straight across the country about on the fortieth parallel.
On Saturday night, this was repeated even to a more marked degree, except for a short interval, just after our midnight, during which time I was able to read 2ABG and 2AGJ. 8JA at Oberlin, Ohio and 8IK at Columbus, Ohio, who were listening in, reported the same thing to me, so that I know it was not a freak of my audion, or my set. The southern and south western stations were even louder than they were on Friday night. 5DU at Dallas, Texas, was so loud he could easily have been read through any of the nearby stations including 8AEZ at Lima, Ohio, close by.
I could hear stations as far west as Denver, Colo., but not a single station to the north.
As Friday night had brought us no results in the great relay, and as the early part of Saturday night brought nothing better, I was beginning to fear a repetition of the failure, but kept asking for repeats thinking perhaps 2AGJ might come in by and by. Again, no station north of the fortieth parallel could be heard. Finally, just as I was about to give up all hopes, I heard 2ABG call 2AGJ. I decided immediately to break the rules sent us, and so called 2ABG and asked him if 2AGJ at Albany was really sending the message and if so, would he, 2ABG, at Yonkers, N. Y., give it to me since I could not hear a signal from 2AGJ. 2ABG immediately answered and gave me the message which I then immediately forwarded to 9ZN at Chicago, whom I could not hear but whom I hoped might hear me. I waited for his O. K., and getting none, sent it to him a second time. After finishing, 2ABG at Yonkers, called me again and said that he had heard 9ZN at Chicago O. K. the receipt of the message.
Just at this time, signals from 2AGJ began to come in, and for a while became quite strong. He could be read for something like an hour and then gradually disappeared, and we could hear him no more for the rest of the night. I stayed on until 3:30 a. m. Central Time in case of the return message, but none came that I could hear. Everything was freakish. Ordinarily I can read 2AGJ longer than any other eastern station but on these particular nights, 2ABG was very QSA when I could not hear 2AGJ at all. Hope for better luck next time, It cannot be any worse. 73 8NH."
9ZN, Mr. Matthews, Trunk Line Manager at Chicago, writes as follows:--
"Well, it seems that the weather was at fault. In ten years of amateur operating, I have never seen anything to equal it. 8NH evidently could not hear 2AGJ, and the latter could not hear the former. I could not hear either, or for that matter, any other 200 meter station. All Chicago stations agree with me in saying that it was just as if some one had pulled a nonconducting blanket around us, shutting us off from the rest of the world. None of us heard one single 200 meter distant station during the last four nights.
As soon as things become normal, I can take the message direct from 8NH or 2AGJ or for that matter from you in Hartford. On the night of the relay, I was on the job, as per orders, but I could not hear a single spark except WST, who was very weak. A heavy rain was falling accompanied by lightning, making reception an impossibility. Notwithstanding, I called 8NH, 2AGJ and 1ZM, attempting to find a hole, but unsuccessfully. The storm of Thursday seemed to leave the air through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio absolutely dead. We believe we will never meet similar weather if we run many relay tests. In proof of our confidence that we can get a message through to the coast and back in a few hours, we hereby invite our President, Mr. Maxim to start another relay using the same route. We will stake our reputations that it will go through successfully. 9ZN."
From Grand Forks, 9XN, we have heard nothing as yet.
From Lewiston, Mont., 7ZC, Mr. Arthur C. Campbell, we have the following:--
Very unfortunately the Transcontinental Relay has been a failure over the western end of the route. I therefore consider it my duty to make a full report.
On the night of Thursday, January 4th conditions were very bad indeed here.
On the night of Friday, January 5th, conditions were very good.
I did not receive the letter of instructions until the Wednesday before Thursday, the night of the relay. I immediately wired day letters to 9XN and 7ZH, arranging for practice on that night. We were able to communicate rather poorly with 9XN that night. We received him O. K., but apparently he received us rather poor. We heard nothing at all of 7ZH. On Thursday evening at 6:00 o'clock, we received a wire from 7ZH saying he had moved to another locally and his station was not working. It being too late then to inform headquarters, we decided to try to get the message, and make an attempt to get it to the coast if we received it. The night being a very poor one, we were unable to hear 9XN, and hardly any one else.
Friday, January 5th at noon, we received a wire from Mr. Mathews, saying the relay would be repeated and to be on the job. At 6:00 P. M., we received a wire from 7DJ, saying 7ZH was out of commission and to try working him or 7YS direct. A few minutes later another wire was received from Mr. Mathews instructing us to work 7YS direct. We then wired 7DJ that if the message was received here, we would make every effort to reach him enlisting the help if necessary of a limited commercial station.
We stayed tuned on 425 meters from 7:00 P. M. to midnight, and heard numerous stations over the country, including Denver, Salt Lake, and other distant amateurs, but not a sound from 9XN. I can hardly believe that he was on that night.
In November, our 100 ft. aerial masts blow down during a severe storm. As the weather was very severe, thirty six inches of snow having fallen, and temperatures ranging from ten above to thirty below we were unable to do anything toward putting up new masts until a few days ago when we raised some seventy ft. masts. Our location is very poor here, for long distance work, being completely surrounded by mountains.
As 9XN and 9YG on the east are six hundred miles distant and 7ZH on the west is four hundred and fifty miles distant, the coast being eight hundred miles distant, you can readily see what a handicap we have in relaying across the country. It is true, a year ago this winter, we were able to work over the route you had mapped out for the relay, with the exception that we worked thru 9YG instead of 9XN, but this winter so far we have never worked thru, and if I had known that you were going to attempt a relay across this route, I would have told you that it would be impossible to get across.
Early in September, when Mr. Mathews appointed stations across this route, I did my very best to get things working. I could not hear anything whatever of 7ZH, could not even get a letter from him. I ran tests with numerous other stations, including 7ZD, Bozeman, Mont., 100 miles distant from here, trying to get them working, without any results whatever. I tried hard to find stations between here and 9XN or 9YG, that could be worked, without any results whatever. I therefore had to throw up my hands in disgust. It is true, there is some long distance communication in the west, but my observation has been, that it is only possible on exceptionally good nights, you might say freak nights, and there is no regularity to it whatever. Just why there are so many licensed stations thru this country and so few of them able to work any distance is more than I can tell you.
The Power Company I am working for has ordered two one hundred and twenty ft. masts for my station, and we expect to erect them in a far better location than we have now, but that will be some time next summer and will do us no good this season.
7ZH informed us in his wire that he had a tower under construction at his new location, and it hoped that we will have a route working across here in the sweet by and bye,
Sincerely regretting the failure of the transcontinental relay.
Yours Very Truly, A. C. CAMPBELL.