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 and productive place to hunt for keys, but also a social gathering place for key collectors. The following is a report of my experiences during the 1999 season.

I started out from New Jersey with my car and trailer loaded down with many thousands of pounds of telegraph keys. After the explosion of the air lift bags in the rear springs in 1998, I had installed air lift shocks and they functioned perfectly...

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...

Zyg Nilski, the publisher of Morsum Magnificat had come all the way from England to share my tables with me and to sell subscriptions and back issues of his wonderful publication. He helped me set up my tents and tables and we arranged the 700+ telegraph keys that I had brought to display and trade...

Here is a
picture of Zyg (right) and me in front of the Morsum Magnificat display:(19KB)
We are both dressed the the Morsum Magnificat T-Shirts which he had made in England...

As the day wore on, collectors began to arrive from all over the country and some pretty impressive finds were made.
Russ Kleinman found an amazing early Tillotson straight lever key and Giant box sounder:(15KB)

Here is a photo of Randy Cole:(19KB) holding the lovely blue blue racer and the hard to find miniature Bunnell sounder which he found in the first few hours that he was there.

Jack Summers set up a short distance from me and put out a large number of keys for sale. He was kind enough to show me and allow me to photograph a few of the wonderful keys that he has in his personal collection. Here are a few samples:

An Incredible California Electric Camelback Key:12KB)

Another view of the California Electric Camelback Key:10KB)

Another perspective of the California Electric Camelback Key:11KB)

An Magnificent AMERICAN TEL KEY Sideswiper:(18KB)

An Interesting early electronic keyer:(18KB)

People kept coming by to show me keys all day long and I was able to take a picture of this
nice spark key:(15KB)

Friday morning at 8AM they opened the gates and the crowds surged across the market area. I had 6 display cases for: Rare and Unusual pre-Civil War, Post Triumph-Key, Early European, Spark and Wireless, and rare Vibroplex and non Vibroplex Semi-Automatic Keys, as well as the hundreds of keys in the horizontal bins.
I was also offering copies of the new revised second edition of my collector's guide.

I also had a sounder hooked up to an MFJ code tutor which sent tones and displayed the corresponding letters of random qso's on its LCD screen. I had disconnected the speaker and full-wave rectified the tone output and fed it into an opto-isolator driver to run the sounder. People could hear the sounder and see the corresponding letters on the screen.

It was a magnet for people who were amazed at their ability to copy the code from a sounder... Quite a few people told me that I was using the 'wrong code' so I know there are still a lot of 'ol-time morse ops out there...

During the day, I was able to buy a few interesting keys from people who stopped by to chat. Although I would have preferred being out there searching for keys, some of the keys that were brought to me were wonderful ! and made up for the frustration of seeing other 'finds'.

A gentleman stopped by to show me a photograph of a magnificent Vibroplex Midget and a Codetrol in his collection. This brought the number of known Midgets up to 5. Just seeing it was very exciting.
He has given me permission to post the
picture of his Vibroplex Midget:(18KB) and the serial number which is 70,235 on condition that I never reveal his name. He does not want to be innundated by people wanting to buy it...hi... He is also sending me a photo and information on his Codetrol which I will post as soon as I receive it...

Shortly after that, Jerry Scherkenbach, N9AW showed up with a lovely (but slightly legless)
Vibroplex Midget serial number 69,685:(16KB)which he was willing to sell to me..

You can see the BIG smile on my face in this picture of me (left) and Jerry - N9AW:(20KB) but you can't see how fast my heart is beating as I held this rare little key.
Here is a view of the
bottom of the Midget:(15KB)

The number of known Vibroplex Midgets is now up to 6.

Owner:        Serial Number
---------     -------------
WW7P          ?
WA5Y          63,486	
K5VT          ?
Anonymous     70,235 (Seen by Tom and Randy at Dayton 1999)
KN6W          69,685
W9???         69,681 (Spotted by K2PTS at Elgin meet: 1997)
---------     -------------

After the excitement of the Midget, I was trying to recover my composure when a magnificent
General Radio CAG-457 Spark RELAY KEY:(17KB) was offered to me. This unique key combines a horizontal-action spark key with a spark relay. It can be operated by pressing the key knob or by activating the relay coil which is enclosed in the black box. I had been trying to find one of these keys ever since John Williams showed me his about 15 years ago...

The key has
huge 5/8-inch silver contacts:(12KB) with cooling fins to dissipate the heat.
label reads:(23KB) '2 K. W. RADIO RELAY KEY. Made for NAVY DEPT. (Bu. S. E.) by General Radio Co. for NAVY YARD, Boston, Mass. Reg. No. 156 NSA. Cont. No. 233. Date 1918. Type C.A.G. 457 Serial Number __ 500 cycles, A. C. AMPS 30.'

Shortly after that, Steve, K2PTS showed up with a
Genuine McElroy J-38 straight key:(15KB) in his pocket. He had been sharp-eyed enough to spot a box of them and was selling them to us eager collectors for $ 150 each. It was wonderful to be able to buy one of these keys which we all knew existed but none of us had ever seen.
Although paying $ 150 for a J-38 sounds insane, it was a bargain for this rare key and we were very happy to get one.
Another view of the McElroy J-38:(16KB)

The Name McElroy is cast into the black oval base of the key and
just the 'M' can be seen peeking out from under the hot contact strip:(23KB)
clearance between the shorting lever screw and the gap adjusting screw:(35KB)is very close. I bought an extra one for Tom French who was not able to get to Dayton after contacting him with a pocket-portable email device which kept me in constant contact with other collectors who could not get to the hamfest...

Many friends stopped by to share their experiences and finds and it was wonderful to see them all but I was so busy that it was hard to find much time to chat...

So many people showed up that I ran out of peanuts and pretzels by Friday evening and I had brought MANY huge bags...hi

Zyg Nilski had a lot of fun talking to CW enthusiasts and selling subscriptions and back issues of Morsum. He really needs desperately to expand his subscriber base in order to meet the expenses of publishing his magazine. If you or other people you know haven't subscribed or renewed your subscription, please do it as soon as possible so we will continue to have this great resource... The Morsum Magnificat Web Page is at:
and his email is:

Sales of the *** SECOND *** Edition of my "Telegraph 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. A Japanese gentleman came along and bought a few military keys and then showed me the catalog from his store "HAMS OFFICE" in Japan... He showed me the section of his catalog devoted to my Telegraph Collectors Guide and mentioned that it was popular in his store... He also distributes Morsum Magnificat in Japan...

It is very apparent that eBay has made significant changes in the pricing structure of keys as well as all equipment at Dayton. As collector Doug Palmer pointed out, virtually every conversation about price starts out with the statement... "Well, I could get '$ X.00' for it on eBay but I will take '.8X.00' for it here". Nevertheless, the good side of this is that eBay prices have generated a great deal of interest in keys and people are offering and/or showing off keys that haven't been seen before... Imagine finding TWO Midgets at one hamfest... AMAZING !!!

Well, that's about it for Dayton 1999. I made it back home with the reamins of my pile of keys and am already looking forward to Dayton 2000 when I will be set up in the same spots around 2555. I can't wait to see what wonderful keys will show up next year !!

I hope to see you there... 73 Tom - W1TP