Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Vibroplex Bug

Today. Port Townsend. I have so many memories of railroading in Prince Rupert as a young man, they blur together. How fortunate I was to be able to experience the events going on around me between 1957 and 1959.

One such memory was one of the Night Trick Operators, Don Vaale. He had a Vibroplex speed-key that worked on a horizontal plane as opposed to vertical. Not for the novice, this was a finely tuned instrument, designed to send "dot's" and "dashes" of consistent length and spacing.

Every night, when Don came on duty, he'd retrieve that key from it's green velvet lined travel case, and "fine tune" it for tonight's humidity, temperature and so-forth. The Vibroplex Bug has a series of screw adjustments and balance weights that need to be adjusted for sending dot's and dashes.

Setting the key up was as time honored a ritual as setting the clocks. Don used a folded Form 19y instead of a feeler gauge to set the dash gap. It was such an interesting ritual, all conversation in the room stopped. Whom ever was in the room watched in rapt silence, as Don fiddled with this and that.

I would lean on the Train Register Counter, and watch in awe and fascination, as he sent the "line up" card in Morse Code, up to Division.

Years later, I came to have a REAL understanding of what he was doing. When I joined the United States Air Force, my entrance scores where such that I could request a career path of my choice.

Seeing this as an opportunity to get my military obligation out of the way and further my life expectations, I requested the Armed Forces Radio & Television School (AFRTS,) at an Army base in Langley.

And ended up at Ground Radio Operator school in Biloxi.

So there I was in "Ditty-Bop School." Subjected to Morse Code class three hours a day, and voice communication transmissions, three hours a day.

The instructor took great pleasure in explaining how exciting it was going to be, climbing into a tree in the jungle with a back pack radio, calling in air strikes!

As I sat there reading weather forecasts to some imaginary pilot, or pounding out code on a common military key (not a Vibroplex,) I pondered slashing my wrists, drinking myself to death or running away to Canada.

Mercifully, I flunked out of Ground Radio Operator school, liberating me from the oppressive humidity and horrid creeping critters of Biloxi. Once again, due to my high entry scores and "gung ho" determination, I ended up as a Personnel Specialist at Hamilton AFB, just north of "Baghdad By the Bay!"

But every day, as I fiddled with that Morse Code Key, memories of Don Valle manipulating that magnificent Vibroplex Key came rushing back to me. I am ever so fortunate to have been able to watch a real, honest to god, railroad telegrapher exhibiting his skill!

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