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Earl W2JT

Earl Lucas, W2JT (SK)

Earl, W2JT, was a charter member of the NJDXA and its guiding technical light. He was lovingly called "Uncle Earl" by all the NJDXA members. For many years Earl was chief engineer for WPAT in New Jersey.

The Kermadec Islands Fiasco

Mike Leonard, ZL1ABZ, was the first person to operate from the Kermadec Islands in 1958. There was one small problem, Mike was the New Zealand equivalent of a novice, and his operations were restricted to 80 meters. In addition he was running low power to a dipole. Prospects were rather dim to work Mike from the east coast of the US.

Enter Jock, ZL2GX, one of the world’s great DXers. Jock set up schedules to work ZK1ABZ cross band, ZL1ABZ on 80 meters and others on 20 meters. Jock would say listening for my friend W2AA on this frequency and stand by. W2AA would then call ZL1ABZ, give Mike a report and stand by. ZL2GX would come back on and you could hear the phone transmission of ZL1ABZ coming from a speaking in the ZL2GX shack. Virtually no one could actually hear ZL1ABZ on 80 meters but his QSL cards, via ZL2GX, began to proliferate.

Earl, W2JT, was one of the few people who could hear ZL1ABZ on 80 meters. He had a full half wave vertical on 80 meters, in addition, he also had commercial grade copper screening covering his entire 2 acre lot.

At some point the ARRL DXCC desk said "enough of this nonsense" and deleted credit for all cross-band ZL1ABZ contacts including the legitimate QSO made by W2JT.

About a year later, ZL1ABZ upgraded to a regular class license and became relatively easy to work on 20 meter phone.

W2JT operating 80 meters CW - 1954 Field Day

earl-w2jt-field-day-1954.jpg Earl participated in Field Day in 1954 at Lake Arcadia, Butler, NJ.

Memories of W2JT by Ed Benkis, W2HTI


“It’s not what the man say, but how he say it!” Words often uttered and forever remembered by me. They came from my dear friend Uncle Earl.

So, with that thought in mind, can I possibly link a paper chain of words together that would not only recall a smattering of facts, but also dress those facts with the spirit and emotions that exist in my memories of Earl F. Lucas - W2JT?

All I can do is to try.

By the time that we entered one another’s lives in the mid 1950's I had somewhat mastered some of the basics of my hobby, Amateur Radio.

Construction techniques of radio equipment - including the revelation that soldering irons get very hot - were absorbed during my High School days. On the air operating techniques were learned during my Novice days.

Later, beam antenna design and construction would be acquired under the able tutelage of Ed Brinkerhoff - W2JAO.

Assembly of a more efficient station, including home construction of a Heathkit DX-100 transmitter had been completed. I was now ready to move on!

By the time an introduction and follow-up visit at W2JT occurred I had already learned that Earl was indeed, “A ham with mustard!” (one of his oft-used quips)

Earl became a radio amateur at the age of 12 back in 1919.

Before WW2 he had already gained a position of high regard with respect to his ham station in Atlantic Highlands. When a blackout of radio facsimile signals from Europe occurred during the election of Pope Pius XII a request from one of the New York news services to use his station proved successful. Pictures were received and then developed in his bathroom. Earl mentioned that a sepia stain remained in the bathtub for years to come.

Also before the war, having exchanged radio signals with a station located deep within the Himalayas, Earl became a member of the very exclusive TWA (Tibet Workers of America) group.

He was one of only two amateurs to have earned DXCC awards for both phone and c.w. before the war.

Following our entry into WW2 and the shut down of amateur radio, by special order issued by the FCC to Earl and a select few others, W2JT remained on the air with permission to contact Central and South American amateurs with the expressed purpose to foster friendship between the Americas.

On the technical side, Earl was involved in designing nearly a dozen commercial radio transmitters and stations including that of WPAT then in Paterson, NJ in May of 1941. In addition Earl was a contributor to the W6SAI Radio Handbook and was currently Chief Engineer at radio station WPAT now located in Clifton, New Jersey. Imposing credentials indeed!

Was I fearful of being rejected? Not really. I had learned that within the Ham Radio community fellowship prevails and transcends station in life. Insular walls that separate classes and societies melt away. This concept is not always understood by people outside our hobby. The informality of addressing each other by first name at first meeting is uncomfortable to most. In time this would lead my family to address Earl as “Uncle Earl” instead of “Mister Lucas”.

I pulled to a stop on the white gravel drive at the side of the long low ranch house a few hundred yards from Route 202 in Wayne, NJ. Earl was policing an area of grass nearby and came over to greet me.

Here was a man of medium height and a stocky build that had an acceptable layer of middle-age comfort around the middle. He wore dark framed glasses that didn’t suggest a stern or scholarly image or anything like that. They were simply there so that he could see better. A high forehead with receding hairline gave testimony that grass doesn’t grow on a busy street! He had a firm handshake. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”

The backyard was home to his antenna farm. Off to one side stood a four legged aluminum tower approximately six feet across at the base and tapering to about three feet per side at what I guessed to be the 75 foot level. It was topped with a massive Christmas tree array of four element Yagi beam antennas covering the 20, 15 and 10 meter bands. The stuff that dreams are made of!

Less conspicuous was a 65 foot vertical shaft constructed of four inch diameter aluminum tubing which sat atop a ground mounted insulator. A small “dog house” which contained the tuning network stood at the ready nearby. What was less noticeable was an expanded copper ground screen buried in the grass and extending off into the distance. This was his “secret weapon” for 80 meters.

A door at the back end of the house gave access to the wonderland which was his ham shack.

Just inside the door, seven foot tall rack cabinets sat side by side filled with a pair of r.f . amplifiers, a large modulation amplifier and an accompanying modulation transformer which was large enough to provide ample ballast to anchor the entire array to the floor. Also mounted in the racks was a collection of test equipment including audio and r.f. signal generators, a noise and distortion analyzer, an oscilloscope, a frequency standard, and a collection of smaller instruments. In my younger days I had been exposed to the ‘makings’ of a small broadcast station, WLNA in Peekskill, NY. Now this. I was impressed!

That modulation transformer would one day be pressed into service as a temporary replacement for a failed unit at WPAT, a 5 kw. A.M. station. “Had to keep it cool using wet towels and fans”, Earl informed me.

Further along was the operating position. A desk topped with state-of-the-art transmitting, receiving, and accessory equipment. A lone QSL card, AC4YN from Tibet, was stuck haphazard into the corner of a picture frame on the wall to his left. Ample proof of his pre-war accomplishment!

The coup-de-gras was in the basement. A high voltage power supply consisting of oversized (to my eyes at least) mercury vapor rectifier tubes and huge oil filled capacitors. There was also a brute of a power transformer, an open frame job which appeared to have four primary and four secondary windings. This doomsday collection sat on a sturdy wooden platform in the corner. It more than adequately provided power for the equipment upstairs.

My “getting to know you” tour was conducted in an easy going unhurried manner. My questions were answered in a matter-of-fact manner. Sort of like “you already knew that, didn’t you”. Earl was a low key, quiet spoken kind of guy! His station was not!

But what really endeared me to Earl was his obvious ability to work with his hands. Much of the transmitting equipment was built by Earl. The tower was constructed from a truckload of scrapped aluminum angle with little more than a hacksaw and electric drill. My financial status dictated that ready-made was out. I would have to proceed in a like manner.

Building a phone station before the advent of single sideband - suppressed carrier transmissions and the accompanying simplified linear amplifiers required considerable power supply capacities. The high power r.f. amplifier would be modulated by a high power audio amplifier fed thru a large modulation transformer. Lots of heavy metal!

Earl’s wife Meta offered lunch. Over a table of sandwiches and coffee Earl went over my inventory of acquired collectibles. Odds and ends gathered from here and there over the past few years. Earl suggested we roam around VETSALCO, located in an old three story fire trap sagging under the weight of un-inventoried electrical, electronic and other scrap located in the shadows of Garrett Mountain in Paterson the following weekend. He knew where the heavy stuff was! I was ready to go to work!

During 1957 a possible solution with respect to problems being faced by the Second District QSL Bureau was being worked on. Duties of sorting and forwarding QSL cards was assumed by an appointed manager and an ad-hoc group of volunteer helpers. With growth now being experienced in the ham radio community together improved radio conditions and readily available war surplus equipment, a flood of cards was arriving at the managers doorstep. He was being swamped!

There was an idea about forming an organization, a club, to handle the work.
To add an air of legitimacy to this new idea which would be offered to the American Radio Relay League, a nucleus of highly respected and experienced DX’ers would be drawn into the membership. Earl was one that immediately supported the idea. He along with the rest of us were having problems receiving cards in a timely manner. The ARRL agreed with the proposal and the North Jersey DX Association came into being.

At about the same time a call-to-arms was issued by noted Dx’er and Club member Howard - W2AGW. It seems that the year before, Howie attended a small ham convention in Dayton, Ohio. He was pleasantly surprised that a contingent of noted Dx’ers from the mid-west had gathered there. He urged us to organize a small safari and attend the next convention. So with Howie and Earl leading the way we pilled into two cars and were on our way.

The fledgling Dayton Hamvention was being held within the confines of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Dayton. Our group would dedicate two connecting rooms to serve as a hospitality suite.

The alchemy that existed between Earl and Howie quickly surfaced here. The reputations of Howie being a big c.w. gun and Earl being a big phone gun came into play. Both were very quick on the uptake! The rooms echoed with sounds of humor, sarcasm, and numerous technical tidbits being exchanged with visitors. The hospitality suite quickly became THE place to visit and be seen! The reputation of ‘that’ new Club from back east began to spread. Traditions which began here would continue more than 50 years into the future!

Earl’s reputation was also a drawing card to visiting DX’ers. DX’peditioning Gullivers using the gateway of New York airports beat a path to Earl’s door. Notables like Dick McKercher - W0MLY and Gus Browning - W4BPD would come and stay. This gave some of us a little “quality time” to get to know them better.

This gave birth to one of the funnier events that I would witness. It also exposed Earl’s uncanny ability to put a one line finishing statement on any given event.

Phanh - XW8AL, Minister of Economy for the government of Laos would be coming to New York on U.N. business. An offer was made to pick him up at LaGuardia Airport. Earl offered to drive.

By now, Earl knew full well my reputation of being late. He instructed me to arrive at his house at 5:30 pm. He was allowing at least a half hour for my expected lateness. But, contrary to my reputation, perhaps because of excitement over the expected meeting, for whatever reason, I arrived at his home a little after 5:00 pm. As I walked in I caught Earl with a towel over his shoulder, toothbrush in hand, heading down the hall to take a shower. He took one look at me and remarked, “Damn it Benkis, you’re so unreliable that I can’t even rely on that!”

Urb - W2DEC arrived on time and together the welcoming committee headed to the airport. We were a few minutes late. Perhaps my reputation had tainted the group?

At the American Airlines counter we were informed that the flight had arrived and passengers had already disembarked. We asked the attendant to please page one of the passengers and handed him a card with Phanh’s full name on it.

“Houmphanh Saignasith”

“That’s a name? What kind of name is that? Here, you page him.” With that the attendant pushed the microphone in front of Earl.

Earl was no better prepared to pronounce that name than the attendant was.
He turned the card over and told the attendant, “Look, just repeat these letters and number - X W 8 A L - and ask that he come here to the ticket counter”.

The attendant, perhaps not willing to lose what might be a good compromise, slowly took the microphone and announced, “X-W-8-A-L, Please come to the American Airlines ticket counter.”

From out of the crowd of travelers behind us emerged a small man in a black overcoat. He was lugging two large suitcases. It was Phanh!

“Can you beat that?”, said Earl, “He raised him on the first call!”

Funny twists to perfect planning occasionally surprised Earl.

Our Club had by now arrived to a point where it was thought necessary that we as a group make a showing, no, a good showing, in one of the major world wide DX contests. We would organize our talents!

Earl offered use of his antenna farm and equipment as multi-operator, multi-transmitter station. It would be a c.w. contest and Earl indicated that a separate station could easily be set up in the basement. I gladly accepted the offer to be the second operator.

Late into the night while I was working the low bands and Earl was keeping the 20 meter band warmed up I became aware of unusual sounds filtering thru the floor from upstairs. There were running footsteps followed the slamming of a door, then repeating in reverse order. I went upstairs to investigate.

A glimpse out the window surprised me. It looked like the sun was coming up. How can that be at this hour? Just then Earl came running thru the door carrying a plastic bucket. “Grab that pail over there and help me”, he yelled.
I grabbed the pail and followed him into the bathroom and filled it with water from the bathtub.

What had happened was that Earl had strung a low dipole for 20 meters. He was hoping the higher angle of radiation would be more effective in working stations in the Carribean. The antenna had pulled free and fallen to the ground. Arcing between that antenna and the ground screen had set the fallen leaves in the backyard on fire!

A deteriorating cardiac condition began to show its effects on Earl during the mid 1960's. He had accepted an offer to work on the construction of a new television station in the mountains south of Pheonix, Arizona.

During his prolonged stay there he required hospitalization on a couple of occasions. Returning home to familiar grounds - and climate, seemed to relieve the situation a bit. There was a short stay in a hospital in NJ though.
Things were not getting any better.

One source of aggravation to Earl was the operating tactics of Don Miller - W9WNV.

For whatever reasons, Don was in effect throttling the upper echelon of the DXCC Honor Roll. He was refusing to make contacts with many of Earl’s friends who had reached the top. Earl himself was convinced that he had been purposely ignored on several occasions! These events brought with them a lot of disagreements and hard feelings between supporters and detractors of Don’s operations. It had split the ham radio DX community. This is what really seemed to bother Earl!

Earl’s stubborn resolve was witnessed by many on several occasions. We could hear him calling Don for hours at a time. Sadly, without response.

Don Miller was now on the much sought after Rodriguez Island in the Indian Ocean. One of the final entries in Earl’s log book tells the whole story:

Thursday 14 Sept. 1967
02:55 VQ8CBR 14.204 5/9 5/8 SSB 600w. 02:56 Don!!!!!!!!!!!!

In a matter of days Earl would leave us. He was much too young!
Many of us wondered, ”How could we possibly carry on without him?”