Tom Perera - W1TP

The Dayton Hamfest is the largest hamfest in the world. It is always exciting and has gradually evolved into not only a wonderful place to hunt for keys, but also a social gathering place for key collectors. The following is a report of my experiences during the 1998 season.

I started out from New Jersey with my car and trailer loaded down with many thousands of pounds of telegraph keys. I had installed air lift bags inside my rear springs but about 200 miles from home they both suddenly exploded and my car assumed a very nose-high attitude which would have lead to a stall if I had been flying instead of driving...

I arrived Thursday morning at about 10AM. At that time, relatively few other people had arrived to set up. There were, of course the usual
AMAZING sights that grace most hamfests and show the true extent of ham ingenuity or should I say insanity...

I began setting up my tents, tables, and laying out the 500+ telegraph keys that I had brought to display and trade... As the day wore on, key collectors began to show up and some pretty impressive finds were made...

Here is a
photo of my setup before the crowds arrived on Friday morning. After experiencing the high winds and heavy rains which often accompany Dayton hamfests, I covered all of my keys and tied the tents and tarps down securely to my trailer and station wagon.

Friday morning at 8AM they opened the gates and the crowds surged across the market area. Here is a
picture taken inside my tent showing a few of the hams who stopped to look at "all the keys"... I had 5 display cases for: Rare and Unusual pre-Civil War, Post Triumph-Key, Early European, Spark and Wireless, and Semi-Automatic Keys, as well as the hundreds of keys in the horizontal bins.

Early on, a fellow showed up with a nice Lyman key which I was able to purchase and trade to Russ Kleinman for a nice early land-line key that he had spotted in another part of the market.

Shortly after that, a gentleman showed up with a lovely Martin Autoplex which I was able to buy... I have been making a serious effort to reduce the number of bugs in my collection but I just couldn't resist this beauty... Here is a
photo of the smile on my face as I hold up the Autoplex.
Here is a
photo of the front of the Autoplex.
Here is a
photo of the back of the Autoplex.
Here is a
photo of the paddle of the Autoplex.
Here is a
photo of the bottom of the Autoplex.

Just a few moments after I had shown the Autoplex to Jim Kreuzer who had set up his tents across from me, Russ Kleinman talked me out of it... It wasn't toooo hard to do since I was/am primarily interested in very early land-line and spark keys... Here is a
photo of Russ taking possession of the rather spectacular key.

Shortly after the excitement of the Autoplex, a very pretty Mecograph Model 3 came walking up to my tents and I managed to buy it from the owner. I was almost immediately talked out of it by.... Yes, you guessed it... Russ.
Here is a
photo of the front of the Mecograph.
Here is a
photo of the back of the Mecograph.
Here is a
photo of the bottom of the Mecograph.

I was feeling pretty down because I had hoped that someone would bring me an interesting early land-line key or two to trade for my assortment of keys. Happily, Doug Palmer pulled out a lovely British
Walters model 18K key and we were able to do a trade which made us both quite happy. I plan to add this impressive key to my permanent display case of European keys.

The next happy moment came when John Casale showed me a
nifty and tiny Western Electric key which he had brought along to trade toward some of my duplicate Phelps apparatus which he had been looking at for quite a while. Here is
closeup view of the tiny key shown with a quarter for size comparison.
John is very interested in Phelps and would really like to add a Phelps relay and key to the Phelps sounder which he has, and the Phelps plug-board which he traded from me. Perhaps someone has some duplicate Phelps relays or keys for him ??

While all this was going on, people were buying lots of McElroy bugs, KOB's, Military keys (especially J-51 scissors-keys, and German keys), and even 1914 WWI Service Buzzer sets and TG-5's...

The temperature was reaching for 90 degrees and things were getting pretty hot under the tent. Tony saved the day by somehow managing to bring in a huge cooler filled with ice, soda, and beer and everyone had a much happier time after that arrived.

Sales of my "Collector's Guide" were quite brisk and by the end of the weekend I had sold around 200 of them although some of those went to other dealers such as Jim Kreuzer who was also set up inside the main building.

Quite early in the hamfest people began showing up with homemade keys. Some of them were VERY ingenious and attractive.

Take a look at this
nifty and HEAVY paddle.
That Tony Rogozinsky found. It has excellent "feel" and I wish I knew who made it. He did a great job.

homemade key is very attractive and crisp. It has large and snug ball bearings and a great feeling action. It is supplied with two different styles of knobs to suit the preference of the user.
It was made by
Jeff Pipenur, WA8IKW.
He hand crafts them for $200 within a week or so of an order. He can be reached at: Tippecanoe Radio Company. Box 321. Tipp City, OH 45371 (937) 667- 9399. His email is
I personally think it is wonderful that people are still devising new keys and I wish him the very best of success.

On a more humorous side, we have the winner of the
"UGLIEST" key-of-the-show contest.
Nothing else was even close !!! Great find, Tony !!!
Tony's prize was an Electro-Bug Standard Model bug which was almost as "ugly" as the winning entry...

With keys like these showing up, I think I am going to sponsor a serious contest next year at Dayton. Significant cash prizes (not just pretzels) for the "OLDEST KEY", "BEST HOMEMADE KEY", and perhaps "UGLIEST KEY"...although, it will be hard to beat this years' winner. By the way... over 2100 pretzels were consumed by hungry hams...

Shortly after his "un"credible find, Tony blew our socks off with this
magnificent Franklyn Pearce Register and two very early telegraph annunciator bells perhaps made by Phelps or Tillotson. Unquestionably the best land-line finds of the show. I guess that sign he wears must do some voodoo magic...

Probably the funniest moment came when I was in the process of taking down my setup on Sunday. A Brazilian key collector showed up who was obviously in a hurry to buy some keys before he had to rush off to the airport.
He selected a few representative keys and bought them while complaining that he had spent the whole hamfest looking for the "professor Perera" who had the telegraph museum on the internet. I tried to explain to him that he had found "Perera" but he looked at my filthy, sweaty shirt, sleep-deprived, baggy eyes, mass confusion of disorganized keys and I don't think he believed a minute of it...

Well, that's about it for Dayton 1998. I made it back home by way of a bunch of antique shops where I found a magnificent Electro Specialty Co. Desk-mounted scissors candlestick telephone as used by wire chief's next to their Vertical Vibroplex keys. I guess that's as close to a Vertical as I can get this year...

I feel as though I've been run over by a herd of elephants but it was a lot of fun.....
and I "think" I am looking forward to next year.

See you at Dayton '99 ??

73 Tom Perera - W1TP

Professor Tom Perera
Montclair State University

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