An Afternoon in the Telegraph Office

There’s a great deal to be learned from reading deeply into adventure novels of current and by-gone eras.

For one, it’s a way for young people – especially men – to get to know and think like other men. The good, the bad.

So, it was a huge loss this week when one of my favorite authors, Clive Cussler passed away at age 88.

Cussler fed a rich tribe of followers and co-authors, including one of my favorites, Jack du Brul, whose book  The Lightning Stones was most excellent.  Part of Du Brul’s Jack Mercer series.

This is the kind of writing that really inspires me to pick up the keyboard and “serious-up” long enough to bang out another novel.  It was Cussler’s (trademarked)  Dirk Pitt  figure that inspired some aspects of the main character, David Shannon, in my novel  DreamOver.

While another book lurks – down the road following the “time machine project” and some other odds and ends in the lab – it’s a hell of a shame that just one Cussler book is yet to be released.

I’ve read every one and pray that Cussler’s son picks up the family treasure – an amazing ability both as adventurer and writer – and presses on.

The world still needs saving.

I was not as taken with some of Cussler’s “non-Pitt” stories.  Don’t get me wrong, the whole Oregon Files and Juan Cabrillo – it’s fascinating and genius stuff.  But, there was just something about Dirk Pitt that lingered…after taste like a good port. Satisfying and more.

Whenever first-time guests come to the ranch out here in the woods, more often than not, watching Cussler’s movie Sahara is one of the first evening’s featured events.  That and a charred on the outside 2″ thick filet mignon.

Cussler’s next-best (to Dirk Pitt) character was Isaac Bell.  A turn-of the century (early 1900’s) agency detective, Isaac Bell could do it all, in much the same spirit as Pitt.  But set against a different historical background, it was savory for the period pieces involved.

The fine points of flying an early gum and baling wire biplane.  Or off on adventure in an early automobile at a time when there were just dirt roads, and often wagon trails only, down into the Oklahoma oilfields.

Cussler will be missed.  While he’s not likely to rise from the dead, Dirk Pitt is.  Such is the immortality of a great franchise. We should all leave such legacies.

Cleaning Up the Telegraph Office

Somewhere, in-between the present-day Dirk Pitt, who was married to a congresswoman and Isaac Bell who was married to an early Hollywood starlet in the days before talkies, there was a middle-ground that I’d sure have loved to see someone (Du Brul? or Cussler’s son Dirk Cussler (who has already collaborated on three novels with his late dad) venture into.

The time frame?  The golden age of America figuring itself out after the end of World War II and through Korea.

It was in this era that electronics was coming to life.  AM radio stations were big, bulky, and not easy to get around.  But World War had brought huge advances in smaller electronics.  Old-fashioned octal (e.g. eight pin) vacuum tubes were superseded by 7 and 9-pin minuature tubes.   Nuvistors and Compactrons hadn’t arrvied yet, but they would soon show up.

Early single sideband radio also made its appearance.  There was nothing at age 18-that could ever compare to talking with the late Senator Barry Goldwater (who was a ham operator) or, for that matter, contacting the American Base at McMurdo Sound in the Antartic.

Isaac Bell adventures are, don’t get me wrong, just dandy.  It’s a peek into a bygone age.  But if you ever watched the TV series, later a movie with Wil Smith, The Wild, Wild West with heroes Jame West and Artemis Gordon, you might sense what’s missing from a lot of A-list novels: the Dr. Lovelace or Moriarty kind of arch-enemy.

Ah, but I digress.  Busy day here at the Telegraph Office.

You see, a new (old) speed key arrived this week.  Being not-from-China, the box was quickly opened to see what a $30-buck low -ball bid on eBay would deliver.

Not an especially pretty device.  Likely made by E.F. Johnson after they’d taken over Speed-X keys in 1947.  That would make this hunk of metal from the early 1950’s.

As is our practice when restoring radio gear, the first step is to spray the hell out of it with Crud Kutter.  Then rinse and see if it’s worth putting much additional work into:

With this one?  There seemed to be hope.  Next step was to tear down the whole unit into (filthy) pieces:

Half an hour of metal cleaner, dish soap, brushes, tar remover, and elbow grease later, the parts began to look proper again.

All that remained was the final assembly and adjustment with a few drops of  Royal Purple gun oil and a spritz of DeOxit for the cleaning of the contacts.

At last!  Ready to be placed online with the rest of my Morse code key collection:

Not perfect, but on the agenda this spring is finishing up the Johnson Pacemaker SSB transmitter this will eventually be plugged into.  Which in turn will go into the Johnson  Thunderbolt linear amplifier.


Well, until a minute or so back, I might have been able to tell you.  But, I’ve been mulling Cussler’s passing….

There’s just something magical about Morse to those who master it.  Because – perhaps in a past Life? – some of us may have been telegraphers in the early days of wirelines and shipboard.

The elbow grease on an old Speed-X didn’t seem a waste, at all.  A quiet voice in my head would whisper every once in a while lines like:

I’ll have this speed key back together in a jiffy, Mr. Bell, and get your message on its way to Denver.  Sorry to hear of your friend’s passing up there.”

Once upon a time, messaging was about quality, not quantity.

Write when you get rich,  SKCC #19433

8 thoughts on “An Afternoon in the Telegraph Office”

  1. I have my first novice key mounted on a piece of Cherry wood. It was an antique when I got it in the ’60s as part of a package of used novice ham gear. “Legless Key” “W.U.Tel.Co.” Stamped on the back. Shorting bar indicates it was made by the J.M. Bunnell & Co. , New York USA. The shorting bar is well worn as it got a lot of use as a Western Union telegraph key from the 1920s… now over a century old.

    Still practicing to get my speed up before I become a century old, too!

  2. hmmmmmmm not often do feel sad about hearing anyone passing… because well, you know.

    I do have great empathy, and compassion for your fondness for Mr. Cussler, having read 8 of his novels including the one they made into the movie you motioned. Although I never met him in person. I did consider him my friend and brother as much as you.

    the only comfort in can offer you old man is this: An author remains eternal in the minds of those who have read and digested his thoughts… immoral he or she resides within both the heart and mind of the living. Legendary…

    in idioms and proverbs passed down generation to generation. Even my children know “Its Howdy Doody time.” and “Man there ain’t nothin’ better than cupcakes.” and that was passed down to me from my parents to me. The name of Howdy Doody may escape their knowledge.. but those two things remain and every now and then.. they echo in the halls of homes their children will life. long after Howdy Doody said them.

    as well as “I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day” Kiss, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for those stars” Casey Kasem, “In God we trust! Everyone else is suspect” Fish form the Barney Miller show and of course, “Everything is a Business Model.” George Ure.

    had a small quake after my sermon tonight with a few men… it is always such a Honor and privilege to speak for an audience with open hearts. a mix of wealthy and educated… as well as I spoke to the servers, and those who attended to their needs.

    There is something about Honest Sharing from the Heart that is more powerful than any lecture of sermon.

    my condolences to the loss of our mutual friend.

    I agree. The world needs saving… self centered fear rules this world….if they would only find a cure for that??? It would usher in another renaissance. Sadly, a renaissance erra only is followed by a dark ages…. but it doesn’t have to.

    P.S. Medium Rare.. leaning on the rare side.

    • Two of Clive Cussler’s books made it to Hollywood — “Raise the Titanic” and “Sahara”. I suspect the others will get there soon as Hollywood has run out of original stuff and needs good stories and another generation of action heroes to take our minds off our troubles.

  3. Another one of the Great Ones. R.I.P. Clive Cussler. I had just started reading “The Titanic Secret”, which has both Dirk Pitt and Isaac Bell in one novel. As an insatiable reader since my pre-teens, the words I read helped shape the man I became. Sometimes It was just entertainment, or transport to a world beyond my own, but writers like Cussler always kept me looking for their next book.
    Today, my vision restricts me to my Kindle and it’s large font, but it still gives me access to those Great Ones, and their work continues to inspire my own meager efforts at the craft of writing.
    A Damn Well Done to this column George, Thanks.

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