Where’d the Summer Go?

So not much activity here for various reasons:

  • took a cross-country driving trip with the family from California to Indiana and back again in July
  • also finished the distribution of my late grandfather’s estate in July
  • had several major deadlines for my master’s degree thesis in August
  • successfully defended my thesis and submitted it to the Thesis & Dissertation Office in September, not to mention the start of the academic year at work too
  • had to deal with a major event for work that took several weeks of planning and a couple days of working in our EOC in October
  • undertook a few home improvement projects including an unexpected termite fumigation also in October
Goodbye old truck...

Goodbye old truck…

Needless to say, it’s been a busy few months. But in the middle of it all, I did get my new truck in September, which was the prerequisite for setting up a mobile station. I had been driving a 2001 Ford F-150 with over 150K miles, a dead a/c compressor and a failing transmission, so I didn’t want to put the time & money into setting up radios in it for less than 6 months. Not that I’ve had time for radios, but it seems like a valid additional reason.

...hello new truck.

…hello new truck.

But now I’m the proud owner of a brand new 2013 Ram 1500 Laramie 4×4. Bit fancier than I’d planned to get (was looking for an Outdoorsman model at first) but I like it. And with a new truck comes the chance to finally install a radio (or two). I previously mentioned I inherited a 2-3 year old Icom IC-7000 from my grandfather and do plan to install it, in the truck, but since I’m more interested in APRS than HF right now I decided to get a Kenwood TM-D710A along with the AvMap G6 GPS unit and install those first. I may install the Icom for VHF use only (and hold off on the HF side for now) or at the very least get the bracket & power supply in place to make things easier down the road.

Have to take a road trip this weekend (last step in the thesis process) so probably won’t get anything done with the radios for at least another week, but have my plan in place and all the various pieces in hand or on order. I’ll be documenting the installation process here as I go.

My Inspiration – The Original W6YTB


My late grandfather Charlie Zern in 2012.

I chose W6YTB as my vanity call sign in honor of the first W6YTB: my grandfather Charlie Zern. He was an amateur radio operator for 74 years until his death in November 2012 at the age of 96 and held W6YTB as his call sign for 65 of those years. I had been considering getting my ticket for a while before he passed and had talked to him about it, but hadn’t made the time to study for and take the exam. When Grandpa Charlie died, I decided to finally take the step so that I could keep his call sign – and memory – alive.

Charles Henry Zern was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Charles and Ella Zern on November 3, 1916. He was of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, though not of the Amish or Mennonite faith. His parents were poor farmers, and he lived both with them and with his grandparents near Allentown before his family moved to New York in the early 1930s. He attended and graduated high school in Brooklyn and then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1935.


Charlie at Fort Clayton in the early 1930s.

As a new soldier, Charlie was sent to Fort Clayton in the Panama Canal Zone where he completed his basic training. He served in Panama in the Thirty Third Infantry before transferring to the Panama Signal Company. When he was returned to the States in 1938 at the end of his first enlistment, he reenlisted at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey – home of the Signal Corps School. He was assigned to the First Signal Company and because he was stationed there, he received a full year of radio theory, operating and maintenance training rather than the normal 3 months most soldiers sent to the School received.

During his time at Fort Monmouth, Charlie also first became a ham so that he could work the base’s amateur station (W2HWI). He had learned Morse Code while serving with the Panama Signal Company and with the radio training he was receiving from the Army, he was well prepared for the licensing process. He traveled up to the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) office in New York City to take the licensing exam in August 1938 and received his Class B license as W2LOI.


Charlie (top) and other soldiers from his unit in France in 1944.

As World War II began, Charlie was transferred to Camp Beauregard, Louisiana where he met and married his first wife (a marriage that would not last through the War). He was assigned to the 146th Armored Signal Company as part of the newly formed Sixth Armored Division, known as the “Super Sixth”. The division underwent training in Louisiana, Arkansas and California before deploying to England in February 1944 in preparation of the invasion of “Fortress Europe”. Charlie was fond of telling the story of waking up in England on the morning of June 6, 1944 and firing up his radio set to check for news from the States. When he realized he was hearing radio traffic from the ongoing D-Day invasion, he went and found his CO to tell him the news. A month later, the Super Sixth landed at Utah Beach itself and saw action in France and Belgium as part of the Normandy Campaign and during the Battle of the Bulge. The division passed into Germany in January 1945 and was involved in heavy fighting during the last months of the war in Europe. Charlie himself was wounded in combat near Osterfeld, Germany on April 7 and received the Purple Heart. It was around this same time that the Super Sixth liberated the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

Charlie was also fond of telling the story of how he met General George S. Patton. The Super Sixth was part of Patton’s Third Army, and one day Charlie was walking with two fellow NCOs when the General’s Jeep drove up. Patton offered a ride to the NCOs, but because only two of the three could fit in his Jeep, they flipped a coin and Charlie was the unlucky one. But he considered it a great honor to meet Patton all the same.


Charlie working at Bell Telephone in 1966.

Because of his pre-War service, Charlie was one of the first group of soldiers released from duty after V-E Day, receiving his Honorable Discharge in June 1945. He returned to the States and moved to California, where he started working for the Bell Telephone Company in 1946. He would work for “Ma Bell” – both in Hollywood and Pasadena – for 33 years until his retirement in 1979. He was an “inside man”, working in various operations and repair roles on telephone equipment and putting to use the electronics knowledge he had learned in the Army.

Charlie had let his amateur radio license lapse while in Europe, so after moving to California he re-licensed in January 1947 as W6YTB. His Class B license was converted to a General license during the 1951 restructuring, and he upgraded to an Advanced license in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

In the early 1950s, Charlie met the three kids of a single mother through his volunteer work with the Boy Scouts. These children were my father Hal Gaylord, his brother Frank and his sister Nan. They took a liking to him and thought he’d be a good match for their mother, so they brought him home. Charlie and my Grandma Anne were married in September 1953.

As an aside, Anne herself had an interesting amateur radio connection. She grew up in Newington, Connecticut and her father was an early ham. So early, in fact, that his Elmer was Hiram Percy Maxim himself and his call sign was 1VY.


Charlie working event communications at the 1987 Rose Parade.

Initially, Charlie was a member of Bell’s TELCO Radio Club (W6MPH) and the San Gabriel Valley Radio Club (W6QFK) before joining the Pasadena Radio Club (W6KA) in 1968. He was an active member of the Pasadena club throughout the rest of his life, attending meetings up the month of his death. He also served as a volunteer for the Tournament of Roses Radio Amateurs (TORRA) from 1984 to 1993 providing communications support to the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game. Charlie was active in several other groups as well. As mentioned above, he volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America (including mentoring Scouts working on their radio merit badges). He also wired and ran the sound systems at First Congregational Church of Pasadena, the Pasadena Masonic Lodge and the Pasadena Scottish Rite. He was a long-time Freemason and was Past Master of the Pasadena Lodge and a 33rd Degree Master Mason through Scottish Rite, where he also served as the live-in caretaker for several years. He was honored with the Hiram Award by his Lodge in 1992 for his Masonic service.


Charlie (sitting 2nd from left) and other vets at the National WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2010.

Charlie was active and vibrant until his last days. Even into his 90s, he would walk several miles a day, take the train to downtown Los Angeles and work CW and phone on several local nets. He told me many times “I don’t know what I’ll do when I get old and can’t do things anymore” – he truly did not consider 96 old. His death came suddenly, which was a blessing because he never did have to slow down.

Charlie was a wonderful grandfather and an inspiration to me in many ways. Even though he is a silent key now, I’m sure he will continue to be an inspiration to me as I explore the world of amateur  radio. Because of his meticulous record keeping, I have several mementos of his amateur radio work including QSL cards, notes, interviews – and his original W2LOI and W6YTB license cards from 1938 and 1947 respectively. His last license is framed and hanging on the wall next to mine and serves as a reminder of his legacy and his love.


An Introduction


Helping Steve (AC6P) raise his satellite rig antenna at UCSC’s 2011 Field Day site.

I’ve been interested in amateur radio for a few years now, mainly due to my job. I’m a professional emergency manager and firefighter, and have worked closely with our local ARES and RACES volunteers in that capacity. Plus, I’ve always been something of a tech geek and grew up with a long-time ham for a grandfather.

My career started in the health, safety and environmental (HSE) world, though always with an aspect of emergency preparedness. I graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Safety and Health in 1997 and started out working for one of my professors who ran a consulting firm – we worked primarily on risk management and process safety programs for clients using highly hazardous chemicals such as chlorine, ammonia, acids and other chemicals. After that, I went to work for the Los Angeles Times running the safety aspect of their HSE program. This included emergency planning and fire/life safety for the main offices, three printing plants and various other satellite facilities. I also had my first exposure to EMS during this job when I was tasked with setting up a medical emergency response team when the in-house medical department was closed. We trained about 40 security guards and other response team personnel as first responders to deal with workplace injuries.


ConocoPhillips fire school at UNR-Elko in 2003. I’m in the upper right corner in the darker blue shirt.

After the Times, I went to work for Tosco as a training specialist for health, safety and environmental compliance for the company’s West Coast pipeline and terminal operations. Tosco had purchased Unocal’s refining and marketing assets (including the 76 gasoline brand) in the late 1990s, so most of our operations were out here. Initially, I supported 11 refined petroleum product terminals in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii and several hundred miles of crude oil and refined product pipelines in California. On my third day with Tosco it was announced that Phillips Petroleum would be purchasing Tosco and shortly after that merger closed, Phillips merged with Conoco to form ConocoPhillips, which at that time was the 5th or 6th largest energy company in the world. My responsibilities expanded with the mergers from those original 5 states to cover 1,200 employees in 33 states. I was also selected as one of the five safety officers to serve on the corporate Americas Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) which served as the incident management team for major incidents throughout North and South America. While I loved working for ConocoPhillips, the travel requirements were pretty onerous and with our daughter on the way, I decided to take another consulting job working with an insurance broker who provided loss control services to public schools, community colleges and municipal governments. It was during this time that I started reassessing where I wanted my career to go and two events helped me decide that.


Driving SMFD Engine 41 in 2005.

In 2003, I joined the volunteer fire department in Sierra Madre, California where my wife and I were living. I grew up next door to a Pasadena firefighter and had always been fascinated by the fire service. I had briefly considered trying to make a career of it when I was a student at USC, but after watching a couple friends struggle to get hired I decided a private industry career was probably more realistic. However, when the opportunity to be a volunteer came up, I jumped at it. I had completed EMT training and a 40 hour petrochemical firefighting school while working for ConocoPhillips, so I had some basic skills when I began the process of joining SMFD. I was voted on as a Trainee in June 2003 and became a Firefighter in December (just a couple weeks after our daughter was born). At the time, Sierra Madre ran an all-volunteer department covering 11,000 residents with a call volume of about 750 per year. Because I worked from home during my time on the department, I was one of the few daytime responders and responded to about 50% of all calls each year. I spent a lot of time staffing the ambulance early on as well as working on both the engines and truck. In 2005, I started training as an Engineer and worked in an acting capacity some before I was promoted in 2006.


In the DMAT CA-1 command post during Hurricane Katrina response in 2005.

While I was with SMFD, I also decided to join Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) CA-1 in 2005. DMATs are federal response teams which provide medical support during disasters – they operate field hospitals, augment existing medical facility staff and assist with evacuations of ill, injured and special needs victims during major disasters. At the time, I was co-teaching Red Cross first responder classes with the Deputy Commander of CA-1, and he convinced me to join as a Safety Officer. Within a few months of joining the team, Hurricane Katrina hit and we deployed to Biloxi, Mississippi for two weeks. This was my first time dealing directly with a Presidentially-declared disaster, and I came home from the deployment knowing that I wanted to make public safety and emergency management my primary career.


Receiving my Certified Emergency Manager certificate from Col. Thomas Greenlee, USAF in 2011.

It took a couple years, but in April 2007 I was hired as the Campus Emergency Manager at the University of California Santa Cruz. I was the first full-time emergency manager hired by the campus, so I had the opportunity to build the program in many ways. Additionally, UCSC operates its own Fire Department and my position is a staff Captain on the department. In many ways, this made the job perfects for me as I was able to apply both my private industry emergency planning experience and my fire service experience to the job. My wife, daughter and I relocated from Southern California to the Santa Cruz Mountains and have been very happy there.

My interest in amateur radio largely stems from these experiences. I’m very interested in emergency communications and see that as one of the most important missions of amateur radio. Probably due to my experience with mobile and portable radio systems in the fire service, I’m also interested in mobile ham operations and plan to set up a mobile VHF and HF system once I buy a new vehicle this summer or fall. I’m also very interested in the tactical aspects of APRS including weather stations and want to explore that as well.