Monster truck!

KC1DMA ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTKC1DMA’s monster-truck QSL is one of the most challenging QSLs I’ve drawn. Because I happen to like drawing cool vehicles, it’s also been one of the most rewarding.

Here’s the back story:

Ken, KC1DMA, was referred to me by John, W7SAB, whose hot-rod QSL I lovingly illustrated in the style of “Big Daddy” Ed Roth. It’s one of my favorite QSLs.

KC1DMA pencils 01Ken’s thing is monster trucks, those jacked up pickup trucks and SUVs with the oversized tires. Ken sent me a few pictures, so I got to work and came up with this, keeping it cartoony and loose.

“Not quite,” Ken said. Could I make it a little more dynamic? He wanted his truck literally crawling over his granite call sign, with the letters more dimensional. It was a cool angle, but it would also force me to draw the truck’s complicated undercarriage (or at least a reasonable cartoon facsimile of it).

KC1DMA pencils 02This was my second pass. With a few minor cosmetic changes, Ken signed off on it. The finished product is above, and it may be another one of my favorite QSLs thus far.

The invisible crown

Despite the cartoon, today’s post is a bit of bait-and-switch. It isn’t about ham radio. Instead, it’s about Thanksgiving.

Below is a column I wrote a few years back during my previous life as a small-town newspaper editor. It wasn’t written as a Thanksgiving column per se, but it certainly works as one. If this essay speaks to you, feel free to share it — and Happy Thanksgiving.

This column originally appeared in The News Observer, Blue Ridge, Georgia, on Aug. 24, 2016.

 

“Health is a crown on a well person’s head than only an ill person can see.” — a really old saying

This morning I woke up with the usual aches and pains. It feels odd to say that, because until relatively recently they weren’t all that usual.

When I was in my teens and 20s, I could move non-stop, and I did. In college, if a paper was due the next day, I could stay up overnight and write it; all I needed was sufficient caffeine and a typewriter. I worked third shift for a time, and I didn’t miss a beat. And while I’ve never been much of an athlete, physical activities were a breeze: I could mow any lawn, no matter how big the yard, no matter how hot the heat. I was a regular Master of the Universe.

People older and wiser would occasionally caution me to take better care of myself. One of my first bosses told me about how he was so much into his career at first that he thought he could live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That strategy didn’t last for long. He eventually made himself sick before he wised up and ate better.

But did I pay attention? Not really. I though people older than me who moved slower were, well, just slower.

When you’re young, you think you’re bulletproof. You take your health for granted.

The first obvious clue that maybe I wasn’t bulletproof came in my 40s with a storyboard deadline that required I work 36 hours straight to beat it. It’s not unusual in many businesses for the last workers in the food chain to make up for time lost by those above them, but in video production the challenge is especially acute.

I did hit the deadline, but I’m sure I looked like a zombie when I turned in the boards. Ten years earlier, I could have recovered from something like that in maybe a day. That time, it took me a week to feel normal again.

Age 50 seemed to be the magic number, the line of demarcation. Heavy objects were a lot harder to hoist without feeling it later in my back or knees. Hypertension — the medical term for high blood pressure — reared its head. And mowing the lawn in hot weather without a break? Those lawns seemed to get bigger, and the breaks became more frequent.

None of this is uncommon among people my age, of course, but because every malady these days has to have a name so insurance companies will cover them, I jokingly call mine OLD Syndrome. The real “syndrome,” though, may just be my human nature. I took for granted a blessing I had — the health of youth — and noticed it only when it started to slip away. That crown on my head was invisible to me until I started to lose it.

That made me wonder about other good fortune, blessings, whatever you want to call them, I have that I take for granted, things that I didn’t earn but, honestly, just lucked into.

I grew up in a middle-class family where Dad was never unemployed and I never went wanting for anything I needed. I received a solid education every step of the way, first in Catholic schools and then at the University of Georgia. I was born with skills that I never asked for, that I did nothing to earn. I may have worked hard to sharpen what I had, but the skills themselves were luck of the genetic draw. And would I have had the time or energy to sharpen those skills without the advantages that a stable home, a good education and enough money in the bank provided? Perhaps not.

The truth is, I’ve been really blessed. The less flattering truth is that I’ve often taken my blessings for granted and assumed that I earned every success I’ve had solely through the sweat of my brow. And the ugliest truth of all? Sometimes, in my worst moments, I assume that if someone hasn’t worked as hard as I have, they deserve to be stuck in the hole where they reside because they haven’t worked as hard as I have.

That’s not always true.

Most days, I try to count my blessings. When I do, that invisible crown is a lot easier to see when I look in the mirror.

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Dayton, Ohio — the birthplace of aviation?

N3DF ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTWhen Neil, N3DF, asked me to create a QSL naming Dayton, Ohio, “the birthplace of aviation,” I was a little confused. After all, didn’t the Wright Brothers first fly a heavier-than-air aircraft near Kitty Hawk, making North Carolina the birthplace of aviation?

The answer is yes and no. In fact, the Wright Brothers hailed from Dayton — Orville was born there — and developed their flying machine in Ohio. In 2003, the U.S. Congress honored this fact by officially naming Ohio “the birthplace of aviation.” (North Carolina had to settle for “first in flight.”) The Dayton Daily News makes a compelling case here for why aviation while always call Ohio its home.

Neil wanted his QSL card to convey that fact, with “perhaps a Wright Flyer circling a shack with a Yagi.” I gave it my best shot, and here’s the result.

 

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Tower climbing

KC3GUY ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTSome QSL cards — like this one — are pretty straightforward.

Eric, KC3GUY, kept it simple: He wanted to be seen climbing his tower, with a hex beam atop it. Initially Eric wanted to be shown holding a handi-talkie, but when we realized that it was hard to see at that size, we substituted a wrench that symbolized his profession as a heavy diesel mechanic. This is the result.

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County hunter!

N8OYY ham radio cartoon QSL back by N2ESTIf you like chasing counties, you’ll like this QSL card.

Ed, N8OYY, told me he enjoys “county hunting all 3,077 U.S. counties and driving from county to county making contacts from my SUV.” He wanted something to illustrate that, showing his specific vehicle, a Kia Sorento. I suggested conveying the idea with a faux map of various counties and his SUV wandering through it. Ed liked the idea, so I went to work.

The map I drew isn’t an exact representation, but it tells you what you need to know. The SUV, however, is definitely a Kia Sorento. (I’ve liked drawing cars since I was a kid, so it was easy to do it right.) I then added the call sign in 3-D and a burst with the words “county hunter!” … and there you have it.

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The art of the rag chew

If you’re reading this, you probably know the boilerplate elements of a standard ham-radio QSO: signal report, QTH and name, generally followed by your station equipment and maybe a word about the weather.

A lot of hams never go past that, and that’s fine. But what if you want to have a real conversation — a “rag chew,” as we hams call it?

Amateur radio long-winded QSOThese illustrations, taken from the late Doug DeMaw’s “W1FB’s Help for New Hams,” first published by the American Radio Relay League back in the 1980s, accompanied some very good advice. (The book is out of print but easy to find via Amazon and other online booksellers.)

For one thing, keep it short and to the point. There’s nothing like dueling monologues to kill a QSO. DeMaw wrote:

Some hams are so enthusiastic about the prevailing conversation that they tend to “windbag” when it is their turn to talk. Excessively long transmissions may annoy the other people in the QSO, especially if they have never met you before.

Amateur radio boring ragchewAnother thing is not to belabor the obvious. Better yet, why not ask the other ham a question to engage him? DeMaw suggested asking your contact about, say, his signal strength to get the ball rolling, writing “(Don’t) bore him by repeating dull information about that may be of little interest to him.”

Are any topics off limits? As a matter of law, very little is forbidden. Still, common sense ought to guide you. DeMaw wrote:

I recognize and honor our 1st Amendment rights, but I feel that coarse language, profanity and bigotry have no place in Amateur Radio … An important part of our amateur credo is to promote good will rather than animosity. Even though the FCC allows the use of several unsavory four-letter words on the air, you will fare better and earn greater respect by “keeping it clean.”

He added:

Restraint, in general, is an excellent rule with regard to the tone of your conversation during a QSO. Although each of us has the right to discuss such topics as politics and religion, some points of view and statements may seriously offend others with whom we chat … Certain frequencies in our HF bands are regarded by some as cesspools, because of the language that’s used and the suggestive nature of the conversations. It’s best to avoid involvement with these groups in the interest of avoiding guilt by association.

Amateur radio profanity on the airRemember, unlike social media, where to some extent you can restrict your audience only to friends who agree with you (or at least tolerate you), amateur radio is essentially a party line. Anybody can listen to you, at any time. You have to assume anybody, licensed or not, may well be listening — and what you say may represent the entire hobby to others, even if it’s only your personal opinion.

Even though I discuss politics vigorously on my personal Facebook page (I’ve worked as a journalist and have drawn editorial cartoons in the past, so I’d like to think I know whereof I speak), I really value amateur radio as neutral turf. Some aspects of the DeMaw book are dated — does anyone actually tune up their transmitters these days? — but other aspects are timeless. How to conduct a rag chew, in my opinion, still rings true.

 

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New rig fever

Gordon West Tech new radio watermarkHere’s another illustration I drew for Gordon West’s study guide for the Technician license, about buying your first radio. It’s easy to be swept away by something with the most bells and whistles — it sure looks shiny — but it’s not always the wisest purchase.

What’s my rig? Currently it’s an Icom IC-718, which fits my present budget just fine. Even though it’s marketed as a beginner’s rig, the IC-718 has almost every feature I need. Back when I got my first license in 1973, I would have killed for a radio with that many features.

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Bigfoot sighting

K7QI ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTEver seen Bigfoot on a QSL card before? Me neither. Until now.

Jim, K7QI, lives in the Pacific Northwest and wanted something unique to his region. Bigfoot reputedly lives there, so why not put Bigfoot on Jim’s QSL card?

That’s exactly what I did. He’s sitting there sending CW on a cartoon approximation of Jim’s Elecraft rig. And because Bigfoot sightings are rare, I drew a squirrel in there to take a picture of him. Now you know what that Summits on the Air station from Washington looks like …

K7QI ham radio cartoon QSL back by N2ESTThe back of Jim’s card is as personalized as the front. I offer two report forms: a generic one that fills only half the card and allows mailing your QSL as a postcard, and a more complete one like this. Most clients go for the more complete report form. It includes a state map with your QTH marked, complete QTH information, your call sign set in a style that matches the art where possible, and whatever logos you care to include. Most clients go with the ARRL diamond and perhaps their home club’s logo, but Jim went for logos that highlighted his military experience and his involvement with the National Rifle Association. If it fits, I can give you any logo you want — and it’s included in the price of your card.

 

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Let it snow in Buffalo

K2QW ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTWith fall upon us and much of the U.S. still experiencing warm weather, it’s easy to forget that parts of the country will experience serious cold within a few months. One of the coldest places in the country: Buffalo, New York.

Phil, K2QWK, lives in a suburb of Buffalo and wanted a QSL that commemorated exactly that quality about his QTH. He also wanted his ill-tempered cat on the card as well. (If you were that cold for months on end, you’d probably be ill-tempered too.)

To do that, I made an ice sculpture out of Phil’s call sign. I added snow, lots of snow, with a few snowflake “dingbats” placed in the bottom line of type. And to top it off, I dressed the cat (scowling, of course) in a stocking cap and a scarf.

This brings up an interesting question: If you experience severe cold weather where you live, what do you plan to do to “winterize” your antennas, towers and feedlines?

 

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A KISS QSL

KK4DYX ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTThese his-and-hers QSL cards are oldies but goodies, created about three years ago, that I recently reprinted with new QTH information. They’re two of my favorites.

Mark, W4BOG, first contacted me to create a custom QSL for his better half, Sharon. She liked photography, hiking, and ham radio. Could I mash that up in one QSL? I did — and I included a few curious squirrels for comedy relief.

Soon thereafter Mark commissioned a QSL card of his own. It turned out Mark was a huge fan of the rock band KISS. He’d collected tons of KISS memorabilia over the years, including an original painting by guitarist Paul Stanley. Mark wanted a caricature of himself on his QSL, wearing Stanley’s “Starchild” makeup. Oh, and could I include Mark’s Yorkie, Tobey, on the card?

W4BOG KISS-themed ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTThis one was fun. In addition to making Mark a ham-radio Starchild, I rendered his call sign in the style of KISS’s logo. Finally, I added Tobey, decked out like Gene Simmons, tongue and all.

As I mentioned, these cards were reprinted when Mark and Sharon recently moved to Georgia. I offer free updated QTH info if needed on all Hamtoons reprints, free of charge. The only cost is the cost of printing new cards.