Modern Electrics, April, 1913, page 218:
The Wireless Amateur in Times of Disaster
MR. B. N. BURGLUND, whose description of the wireless station at the University of Michigan, appeared in our March number, writes us an interesting letter on the part played by wireless amateurs during the recent floods in the Middle West in March. He has much to say in praise of those who did good work and rendered efficient service; and he also condemns, in no uncertain terms, the meddler who, we are sorry to admit, appears to be always on the job and gets in his fine work at such times. One of these individuals, possessed of a powerful transmitter, and ignorant of the code except to the extent of being able to recognize a few well-known calls when he heard them, persisted in calling the station at the University of Michigan while the operator there was trying to handle messages from the flooded districts. He was told, repeatedly, to keep out, but being ignorant of what was said to him, and thinking his calls were simply being recognized, kept on calling. And he kept it up for over six hours. The wireless law provides a heavy penalty for offenses of this sort, but he did not sign an understandable call and will probably never be caught.
Another instance of wilful interference is reported by the operator at the Ohio State University, who says a so-called wireless school in Columbus allowed its students to practice sending press while the university station was trying to handle messages from the flooded district and refused to stop them when requested to do so. Mr. Burglund says he heard them at the University of Michigan and couldn't tell whether they were sending Morse, Continental, Greek or Chinese. Imagine anyone being permitted to send out a lot of stuff like that at such times.
But to get back to the bright side of the story. In speaking of the good work of the amateurs, Mr. Burglund says:
"During the night and morning of March 21st the city of Ann Arbor and the surrounding territory were visited by one of the worst wind storms this city has ever experienced. Houses were blown over, roofs taken off, and all telephone and telegraph wires crippled. But the wireless station stood, and the next evening we were able to handle "press" and messages to other wireless stations that were cut off from the world. However, the severest test did not come until the following Monday when an amateur wireless operator at Freemont, Ohio, called me and reported that their city was under water, and the captain of the Port Townsend Life Saving Station was drowned trying to rescue people. He also stated all telegraph and telephone wires were down and the only communication they had with the outside world was through the wireless station. This was the first report we had had that a flood was raging in central Ohio. That same afternoon I received a wireless call from operator D. A. Nichols, at Wapakoneta, Ohio, who has an excellent 1 kw. amateur station. Operator Nichols stated that their city was cut off from the world and that the flood was doing great damage to property, but so far no lives were lost.
Mr. Burglund's advice to the amateur who is building a station is "Put your aerial up so it will stay up, no matter what happens, and learn to handle messages at commercial speeds, for you may be called on to handle emergency messages when you least expect it." He tells of one young man in a flooded town who had sold his transmitting set when the wireless law went into effect because his aerial was so large that he couldn't cut his wavelength down below about 350 metres, and who, when he was called on to handle messages, went out and borrowed his set from the new owner, reinstalled it temporarily, and though it did not work as well as it did when properly set up, handled press, private and even Western Union messages in a satisfactory manner.
"The majority of amateurs within our radius have built their stations with fairly large aerials and power up to 1 kw. and most of these stations were complying with the new wireless law. At the University of Michigan station it was almost impossible to hear the amateur station on 200 metres wave-length, so I sent out a general call to all wireless operators, situated in the flood district, that had important messages relating to flood sufferers, to use the wave-length and power best suited to their sets. This message brought immediate response from Mr. Hyatt, at Mt. Vernon, Ohio; Mr. Umbarger, at Mansfield, Ohio; Mr. McGregor, at Springfield, Ohio, and the "University" wireless station at Columbus, Ohio. There were also a number of smaller stations situated south, east and west of Columbus, that I could not hear; but most of these little fellows were in communication with Columbus, OSU, Ohio State University, and the other large amateurs. All of the large and small stations within a radius of 500 miles of Michigan could hear us, though I could not hear all of them. Though my receiving set was sensitive enough to hear amateurs stations of ½ kw. for a distance of 200 miles overland in daylight, I could not possibly hear all of the little fellows. Important messages were handled between all of these points for individuals and the Western Union. The Ohio State Signal Corps had its station on the hill top just outside of Dayton and were in constant communication with Ohio State University (O. S. U.). We thereby had wireless communication directly into Dayton and a great many messages were handled over this route. Many an anxious mother and father or son were relieved of their anxiety via wireless. The Western Union offices were swamped with messages, at Columbus and other cities, which were turned over to the wireless stations for transmission; but we were very quickly forced to draw a line on what kind of messages we handled and accepted only urgent messages pertaining to flood sufferers and flood conditions.
"From Monday, March 24th, until Monday noon, March 31st, the wireless station at Michigan was not without an operator; and most of the time newspaper representatives camped with us in the operating room.
"I must not forget to give credit to my three able assistants, namely, Mr. George Norris, of Detroit, who is a Senior E. E. student; Mr. Watts, of Port Huron, who has had wide experience as a commercial operator, and now studying engineering at the University, and last, but not least, Mr. Worth Chatfield, who is a promising young operator, who kept the telephone wires hot and posted the bulletins. Mr. J. A. Mercer, the able operator at the Ohio State University, OSU, stuck to the job for 70 hours, when he collapsed and was temporarily relieved by some of the signal corps operators. As a class I wish to praise the amateurs. They have shown to the world that wireless can be of the greatest service when called upon.
"Wireless has shown itself up so beautifully during this great crisis, that a bill is pending in the State Legislature of Ohio providing for a large central station or stations and each city to have a permanent local station, so in case of need all cities so isolated are in communication with the different central stations. By all means let this bill pass. This is a step in the right direction and it is a good example for other States to follow."
Wireless, in the hands of the amateur, while it is used by some as a plaything, is capable of doing excellent service in time of need; and we hope the work done by these men who did all they could to maintain communication between the flood stricken cities and the rest of the world, will long be remembered.