Clyde Beal: A hobby for a lifetime, HAM radio
Fred Jones knew the International Morse Code Alphabet before he graduated from high school. Today, he’s 74 and still finds the system of dots and dashes quite entertaining for communication as a licensed HAM Radio operator in Louisa, Kentucky. As a teenager, he developed an interest in the hobby when he began hanging out at Compton’s Fix It Shop in Louisa.
“Mr. Compton always seemed busy fixing things in his shop,” said Jones. “He could weld anything back together; he repaired appliances, fixed lawnmowers and even built HAM Radios. More than that, he was a great individual who taught me how to build radio receivers and transmitters; he even showed me how to construct antennas. He had quite an elaborate HAM Radio setup in his house and my first visit to his well-equipped radio room had me committed to be a licensed HAM Radio operator with my own station.”
Jones was born in Riverview Hospital, Louisa, Kentucky, in 1944. He had two brothers and a sister. His sister Anna was 12 years older; his brother Charles was ten years older. There was only about one year’s difference in age between him and his brother Bill.
“Dad worked for the C&O Railway on a construction gang that traveled,” said Jones. “He was gone during the week, that left a lot of work for Bill and I.”
Some of the things these two brothers were expected to take care of were: mowing the lawn, taking care of the big garden out back, helping their mom make deliveries of clothes that were washed and ironed for other families, visits to the grocery store and above all - staying up with all homework assignments.
“Our garden was a lot bigger before the by-pass came through out back and nearly cut our garden in half,” said Jones. “Bill and I received a quarter for our weekly allowance. On Saturdays we’d go to the Louisa Movie house for the kid’s matinee. Fifteen cents admission, for a dime you got a box of candy and a coke. Because we were colored Bill and I sat in the balcony to watch the movie. The irony of it all was the visibility was better up there and most of our white friends would come sit with us. The projectionist was George Hardwick and you could sometimes hear
his frustration when he had to change the hot carbon lighting rods in the projectors.”
Making clothing deliveries to families that his mother washed and ironed for was no easy process for Fred and his brother Bill. They each pulled a wagon stacked with clothing where they’d place paper between orders. The slightest fragment of dirt or stain that occurred on the way to delivery met everything had to be done over.
“Colored kids were allowed visits to Camden Park one day a year,” said Jones. “If dad was working that day or for some reason we couldn’t make it, we’d wait until next year. Swimming pools weren’t a problem for me because I never cared for swimming. We did have different neighborhood baseball teams that played during the summer, there was never any color barriers with us kids. The only fuss about color was with the adults.
Between their mother doing house work for families and dad’s job at the railway, they managed well. Dad drove an old 1940 two door Chrysler Royal. Their mother got the most out of the boys clothing by patching jeans on the sewing machine.
“There was an African-American Church on Boone Street that we attended once a month,” said Jones. “The preacher would arrive on the train with his wife who played the organ. Each visit a different family would invite the preacher and his wife for dinner after service.”
Halloween met trick or treat in the rich neighborhood where chocolate bars were passed out. Thanksgiving was always across town to Grandmother Jones who was the absolute best cook in town.
“Granny Jones had two cook stoves in her kitchen,” said Jones. “Her meals were so terrific she even cooked for several families around town. She even raised and prepared chickens for dinner right in her back yard.”
Jones says his best Christmas present ever was an American Flyer passenger train set that he enjoyed for several years.
“Our mother home-schooled Bill and me for the first and second grade,” said Jones. “By the time we were ready for the third grade the city had fixed up a building that bill and I attended for two years. A colored lady came from Ashland to teach us. By the fifth grade we attended Louisa Elementary, on the first day all our white friends wondered why we didn’t attend sooner.
“The only problem was lunch on the first day. The lady in the serving line was afraid to serve us for fear of losing her job. Bill and I went back to our room and the principal brought us lunch with the assurance that by tomorrow things would be normal. After that there was never a problem.”
Before Jones graduated from Louisa High School in 1963 he had already passed the examination for his HAM Radio License. His father helped him get started but the majority of his expenses for this hobby were paid by working as an evening radio police dispatcher for the Louisa police department on Saturdays. He also delivered groceries for Louisa Cut Rate Supermarket using his bicycle. After he passed his driver’s exam, he drove the 1951 Chevrolet store delivery truck.
“Louisa, Kentucky is a beautiful friendly town,” said Jones. “I still live in the house I was raised in. I retired from Armco Steel after 31 years and I’m still active with my HAM Radio operation. I wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.”
Jones has radio call sign cards from fellow HAM Operators in every continent, most countries and every state. He maintains membership in radio clubs in Ironton, Paintsville and Louisa. He was director of Louisa’s Civil Defense for twelve years during the 1960s and 70s. Now day’s breakfast is followed by checking around the country to see how many of his friends are still signing on. Evenings he has a network of friends who communicate strictly by using the language of the International Morse Code. It’s a language that Jones says in falling by the wayside in lieu of cell phones. But within his circle of friends it’s still a great way to share time with those in faraway places.
Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email email@example.com.