A Brief History of Fort Smith Area Amateur Radio Club

In the early 1940’s through the 1950’s several Ham Radio Operators in the Fort Smith area got together and decided to form a loosely knit Amateur Radio Club. These fine Hams were responsible for the early beginnings of our club; W5ANR Jack Deniston lived in Alma, Jack Gammil, W5HNU lived on Victory Circle in Fort Smith, W5HKL, Tom Morrell lived on N. Greenwood, Martin Robbins, W5ICS lived on N. 41st, Gene Gregory, W5HPL lived on Neis St.; W5OXL Bud Beal lived in Fort Smith. Dr. Ed Coffman (originally W5OOS) was later re-licensed as W5QZL when he returned from the service.

According to his son Ed Freeman, John Paul Freeman Sr. got his first ticket in early 1937 while serving in the Navy, that call was W6QIX. He came back to Arkansas and was issued W5HOT in 1938. In February 1942 he was called back to the Navy because he had trained on early radar, went to Guadalcanal and helped build communication stations there. He did not talk much about Guadalcanal, other than to say he was shelled and shot at the entire time. He then went to the Navy Department and helped design gear. He moved to Fort Smith in 1946 and resumed amateur radio . He Built all of his gear, I remember he built a home brew Kilowatt AM rig in a 6 foot rack that he also built . I would say he was a neat freak, every cable was laced, etc. He and two other hams built the first commercial radio station in Van Buren , KFDF, FDF stands for Freeman , Dennison, and Fischer. W5HOT was a past club president and served in other offices. He retired with the FAA in Ft. Smith. Paul Jr. got his ticket while in the Air Force on Guam, that call was KG6GJZ. He later changed to a 5, that call was WA5NOB, after my dad passed, he applied for and got W5HOT. He still holds that call. Paul Jr. was interested in VHF; 6, 2,and 432 CW and SSB and did a lot of VHF contesting. Bill Welch W5PZB lived on N. 39th St. and worked for SW Bell. Larry Sloan W5OQS lived on Hendricks St. in Fort Smith. Dr. Ed Coffman, said that the original meetings were usually held at someone’s home.

In the 1960’s a few brave Hams in the group began experimenting with VHF. Equipment was sparse but there were some commercial VHF radios built by Motorola that were sold to the Railroad for communication between the trains and the command center. As these radios came out of service they were surplused and became available to Ham Radio experimenters. The Motorola Sensicon “A” Strip noted for its tuned cavity front end was a favorite. The other favorite was the Motorola G Strip.

Original road up Cavanal

The first Ham Radio Repeater in the area was built from a Motorola 80D radio by Jerry Harwood WA5MWI and John Samuels W5ATW. The repeater was operated under the callsign WA5YUT for several years from Mount Vista in Van Buren just across the river. Another club that ran consecutively with FSAARC was the Border Amateur Radio Club.  BARC members were primarily Army MARS Operators. Border ARC had a MARS repeater up and running but there were so few licensed MARS operators that it didn’t get much use. Eventually the MARS repeater was donated to the new club in town. The group continued to grow and in the 1970’s was officially named Fort Smith Area Amateur Radio Club. By November of 1975 the club had acquired a repeater site on Cavanal Hill from Leflore County Land and Cattle Company for $100 a year. Dave Dehart was a disk jockey at KFSA radio and was very instrumental in securing the new site through his uncle. Getting the building constructed on Cavanal was one of the greatest projects undertaken by our club members. The road up Cavanal in that day was bad enough when it was dry and almost impassable when it was wet.

Jerry Tucker W5JWT, John Samuels W5ATW, and Wayne Johnson W5OFN were the leaders in the construction project, Joe Scully was not a Ham but helped in the project.  There were a few others who were the construction crew and the new site started to take shape beginning with the door.  Concrete blocks, concrete and wood was all hauled to the site on a trailer pulled by Jerry Tucker’s 1969 Ford Fairlane fifty blocks at a time.  Jerry said he made several trips up there to bring everything that was needed.  Jerry said that the concrete roof on the building took one whole day to form, brace and pour.  Wheelbarrows full of concrete were hoisted by rope and pulley stretched between the two antenna poles that were originally on the site.

New Repeater Site

The old 34/94 repeater built by Jerry Harwood was the first repeater in the new building on Cavanal.  Several “golden screwdrivers” had touched the old 34/94 repeater over the years at Mount Vista.  One of the Techs who is most notable was Bub Pendergrass, WA5AER.  Bub had a Two Way shop; LED Communications, that he and his wife Linda, W5LJP ran for 40 years in Cedarville. Bub was one of the early movers and shakers in the VHF Ham bands.. Bub later got a Vanity call W5BUB.  E.B. Pendergrass, WB5LNE his dad was a long time Ham in the area and lived on N. I St.  The 34/94 repeater has a long history with a long list of changes and modifications.  In the March 1977 issue of the FSAARC Bulletin there is a brief report on changes being made to the 34/94.  “Repeater news: The 34/94 machine should be back in business soon. The CW ID kit came in minus a couple of parts which were requested and now have arrived. Jimmie’s tower is getting closer to completion, and Jim Batten, WB5IAC has nearly completed assembly of the machine. This has been a tremendous job, and we owe Jim a big vote of thanks for his efforts.”  Eventually the old 34/94 was retired and Tom Ransom and Kelsey Mikels, KK5KU built a new one using a Motorola MSR-2000 and CAT 300 controller.  Tom says it was installed in the Alltel MTSO when Kelsey was there.  Reading the mail it appears that the 1970’s were very busy with repeater building.  This is from the March 1977 Club Bulletin…”In the meantime, let’s make good use of the Border Amateur Radio Club machine of Cavanal Mountain (04/64). The members of this club have been very generous with the use of it. The 37/97 machine at Sparks Hospital is sure doing an excellent job, and we have heard some fine phone patches on it. Our thanks to Marvin Altman, WA5MNW and Milt, WSLKR, for getting this one on the air. 25/85 is available but not too active lately. Here, too, the operators, Keith, WBSFMJ, and Stan, WBSFMK, are doing a fine job.”

New 34/94 Repeater

Jerry Tucker and Wayne Johnson built the cavities to separate the transmitter from the receiver which were on separate antennas, one on the 60 foot pole and one on the 40 foot pole at the Cavanal site.  Later these original cavities were used in addition to two more to make the first full Duplexer for the repeater and allowed a single antenna for both transmit and receive.  It was not without its problems though and proved to be very temperature sensitive.  Power outages on Cavanal were a serious problem back then and the club wanted a repeater that would run on batteries.  A new repeater was built from VHF Engineering kits.  These turned out to be troublesome to keep on frequency and were enclosed in a temperature controlled box.  The VHF Engineering receivers were notoriously unstable.  Eventually Steve Draper came up with a Motorola Motrac receiver to replace it.

There were two more major site improvements in the 1980’s. The original one room building was extended to two rooms and the building was roofed. The tower construction began in March of 1985 according to the concrete tower base. Sometime afterward a new metal roof was put on the building. The repeater systems were also upgraded when John Samuels located a surplus stock of General Electric Mastr II repeater Stations on both VHF and UHF. The old repeater system was removed and the new repeaters were installed with new commercially built duplexers and CAT 300 Controller. The CAT 300 was a terror to program and eventually we outgrew it. In the mid 2000’s the CAT 300 was replaced by a newer one that is much easier to program and update. Our repeater site now houses three repeaters and an APRS node.

Honorable mention should go to Jerry Tucker, W5JWT who was the driving force behind the Cavanal Site. John Samuels, W5ATW for all of your hard work and tenacity and desire for constant improvement. Rick Deaton, K5RRD for all of your hard work on the tower and building projects. Wayne Johnson, W5OFN for all of your hard work on the repeater and duplexer systems. Casey Johnson, K5CAJ for all of your hard work on the tower and hardline projects. And to all of our other Members for all you have done to make our club one of the best in the state.