"Sparks" and the "Spark" Transmitter

tedc
26th May 2009, 12:23
How many Sparks are still around who actually operated a Spark Transmitter?

The only time I ever got to grips with one was in late 1955, on the "Franconia" which still had a Spark Transmitter in the bigger lifeboat.

On Some Boat Drill Days (BOT Sports) this LifeBoat would occasionally be lowered to the sea (in our case onto the St Lawrence waterway) and the Junior Sparks (Me!) would get to test the transmitter!

Great fun really as the kit would blast the eardrums across a very wide frequency - so one was encouraged to keep it very short!) (Jester)

The climb back up the rope ladder was, perhaps, a little less fun!!! (EEK)

bert thompson
26th May 2009, 15:40
On my first ship the collier Chelwood in 1949 there was a spark transmitter in what looked like a bird cage. Did not work but when the coal dust was removed and the discs rubbed together all was ok. Unly used in once in very bad weather when I could not raise any coast station but did get a MSG through.Have no idea what the type was but never saw one again. Think it should have been in a museum then
Happy days
Bert.

NoMoss
26th May 2009, 17:47
I sailed on the Nelson Star in the mid 50s with a spark emergency transmitter. I used to religiously test it every day and delighted in the chaos it caused on 500.
I did have problems once with the main and thought I would have to use the spark all the time but was able to get the Oceanspan up and working again.

holland25
27th May 2009, 00:29
I did a trip on the Saxon Star in 1957. It was my 10 th month at sea and second ship on my own. I joined in the afternoon and we sailed for Wellington via Panama early the following morning. No handover and no one from Marconi to explain things. The main station was an Oceanspan and a probably a CR300 receiver. The DF was the one before the Lodestone and this wooden thing painted grey with I think a meter. Alongside the operating position was a motor starter. I had done one of those for my ticket but had never seen one. I think you had to advance the handle until it all got going when a magnet was energised and held the handle in its final position. I assumed the wooden box thing was a left over from the war and not been removed. After I had settled in, one afternoon, I tried the motor starter and to my surprise it worked as described and the wooden box sprang into life and I realised I had a spark transmitter. I knew that these had been banned and after a few practice dits shut it all down. I did fire it up again whilst crossing the Pacific. When I got back to London I reported the installation to the Eastham Office, who told me that they were still approved for emergency installations. There was no doubt that if I had had to use it in anger it would have attracted attention.

Tai Pan
27th May 2009, 11:01
On "Asturias" we had a spark transmitter in two liofeboats. Also had emergency spark transmitter on a Tanker, Esso Bedford, seems a bit odd when you think about it. Good time to test it was about 12.30z just off the Bishop Rock, (without identification) guess who blew his top?.

Coastie
27th May 2009, 11:23
Ok, so forgive the ignoramus here, but how did they work and what made them any different to "conventional" tx's?

Tai Pan
27th May 2009, 11:30
Having got the brain working, I remember that all GTZM ships I sailed on had a spark emergency, the one in the wooden box with an ammeter on the front. when I went to GTZB they were fitted with Redifon Emergency TX, progress.
However the spark emergency was sure to get your attention you could not miss hearing it.

Coastie
27th May 2009, 12:18
It's ok, I've just found this: http://home.clara.net/rod.beavon/spark.htm

tedc
27th May 2009, 15:34
It's ok, I've just found this: http://home.clara.net/rod.beavon/spark.htm

Thanks for that, Coastie!

These Spark transmitters had a distinctive sound - a bit like bashing a sack of bottle tops with a hammer.

The tuning capability described in the article was a joke - when one tuned to 500 you blew out eardrums pretty much right across all the m/w.

Very useful for SOS, though, as they could not really be ignored - or missed!

charles henry
27th May 2009, 16:13
In the fifties although the Reliance was the new GTZM emergency rig most of the vessels I sailed on still carried a quenched gap spark TX (In a wooden case.
On the Cape Hawke we were rammed one bright clear morning by the William Luchenback who almost took our bow off. When the eight am watch period arrived it became obvious which fools did not have the auto alarms on and there was a spate of the usual idiocy, Blah Blah, QRT distress, where distress, QRT, idio and such like. You have all heard it.
I turned on the spark tx, put a book on the key, went into the chart room and got a cup of coffe and when I came back ALL WAS SILENT. I then resent the Distress info and used that spark tx till we reached San Francisco dry dock (Where our bow fell off).
Ah, the sound of it and the smell of the ozone gives a feeling of power that you will never forget. It also commands attention, the nearest thing to its sound was PCH in the channel, remember??
de chas (Pint)

Coastie
27th May 2009, 18:47
I wonder if it was one of those transmitters which was the cause of the "Woodpecker" which used to be heard on Shortwave before the break up of the USSR??

Coastie
27th May 2009, 18:48
Thanks for that, Coastie!
These Spark transmitters had a distinctive sound - a bit like bashing a sack of bottle tops with a hammer.

The tuning capability described in the article was a joke - when one tuned to 500 you blew out eardrums pretty much right across all the m/w.

Very useful for SOS, though, as they could not really be ignored - or missed!


You're welcome Tedc. Are you going to build one now that you have a circuit diagram?? (Jester)

caseman
27th May 2009, 18:51
Never sailed with a Spark TX but seem to remember we had one at the Colwyn Bay Wireless College in 1954. Heard it working on rare occasions and was always reminded of it when sailing the Atlantic near GBSS or GBTT. No idea what power they were using but you could not fail to hear them and close by they certainly sounded very 'sparky'.
Agree with the comment about climbing the rope ladder after a boat drill, especially when 'light ship'. It was a long way up (MAD)
Cheers
David/G4CMQ

Duncan112
27th May 2009, 21:50
The Museum of Submarine Telegraphy at Porthcurno in Cornwall have one that they demonstrate (or did about 3 years ago, hopefully I'll be back there this summer) the museum is well worth a visit if you are in the area (nice beach too)

Duncan

NoMoss
27th May 2009, 21:56
Thanks for that, Coastie!

These Spark transmitters had a distinctive sound - a bit like bashing a sack of bottle tops with a hammer.

The tuning capability described in the article was a joke - when one tuned to 500 you blew out eardrums pretty much right across all the m/w.

Very useful for SOS, though, as they could not really be ignored - or missed!

It was once described as a donkey peeing on hot cinders.

Ivor Lloyd
27th May 2009, 22:33
It was once described as a donkey peeing on hot cinders.

I was R/O on a ship in 1946 called the Dunsley with a Spark Main Transmitter (no shortwave) and whenever I started transmitting I got instant attention, due I suppose to blocking everyone out. At night it seemed that there were great flashes of lightning coming from the Wireless Cabin as I keyed away.
Happy days

Ivor

CPSparkie
31st May 2009, 19:12
Here are a few random comments on things said before:-
The woodpecker was Russian over the horizon radar, and used magawatts. It was not a spark transmitter. It used some quite interesting and complex coding techniques to obtain a simulated narrow pulse and quite good resolution to see aircraft, missiles or ships hundreds - or maybe thousands of miles away.

A friend of mine (unfortuntely dead many years now) used to be one of the R/Os on the Tug Turmoil, of Flying Enterprise fame. He told me of how when young, he was sent to a very old ship to install a spark installation. All went well, it was I think around 2.5Kw set or maybe a bit bigger. The problem arose when they were at sea on a dark night. The antenna downlead lead was close by the bridge railing. The bridge was of wood, and so well insulated. The antenna and the bridge railing used to glow blue with a silent brush discharge when the key was down. This so scared the captain, together with the thunderous crashing coming from the radio shack due to the open spark (no silence cabinet !!) that he forbade the radio installation to be used !!!

tedc
26th June 2009, 18:22
quenched gap spark TX

Ah, the sound of it and the smell of the ozone gives a feeling of power that you will never forget.
de chas (Pint)

Chas!

I think the words "quenched spark gap" might be top secret - known only to a small band of trusted Sparkies!

And anyone who talks about the smell of the ozone, resulting from using these xmitters, is in clear danger of being added to the Sparkie hall of fame (SHOF) and/or the Sparkie Highest Institute of technology (SHIxT).

Great memories.

7woodlane
29th June 2009, 13:42
ss Mooltan. She had a spark transmitter in her starboard motor lifeboat. Vsl was scrapped in 1954. David W.

dwdb
30th June 2009, 09:16
GBSS had a 3Kw remote controlled STC LW/MW transmitter Modified in 1955 to xatl control.It was about 10' long 7' high and 4' deep and you could climb inside it to adjust the Ae loading. was run on 1kW after main (between the masts) Ae was reduced to a shorter run from the deck insulator to the top of the funnel

Coastie
1st July 2009, 02:22
Here are a few random comments on things said before:-
The woodpecker was Russian over the horizon radar, and used magawatts. It was not a spark transmitter. It used some quite interesting and complex coding techniques to obtain a simulated narrow pulse and quite good resolution to see aircraft, missiles or ships hundreds - or maybe thousands of miles away.
A friend of mine (unfortuntely dead many years now) used to be one of the R/Os on the Tug Turmoil, of Flying Enterprise fame. He told me of how when young, he was sent to a very old ship to install a spark installation. All went well, it was I think around 2.5Kw set or maybe a bit bigger. The problem arose when they were at sea on a dark night. The antenna downlead lead was close by the bridge railing. The bridge was of wood, and so well insulated. The antenna and the bridge railing used to glow blue with a silent brush discharge when the key was down. This so scared the captain, together with the thunderous crashing coming from the radio shack due to the open spark (no silence cabinet !!) that he forbade the radio installation to be used !!!


Thanks for that, CPSparkie, and welcome to Ships Nostalgia by the way!!(Thumb)

Ron Stringer
1st July 2009, 13:47
Here are a few random comments on things said before:-
The woodpecker was Russian over the horizon radar, and used magawatts. It was not a spark transmitter. It used some quite interesting and complex coding techniques to obtain a simulated narrow pulse and quite good resolution to see aircraft, missiles or ships hundreds - or maybe thousands of miles away.

In the 1970s, the US military installed an OTHR system called Cobra Mist at Orford Ness on the Suffolk Coast. From all reports it failed to meet its operational requirements and was eventually dismantled and the site is now used for transmitting the BBC's World Service. However whilst it was in use, Cobra Mist caused lots of problems with communications of passing shipping. We had lots of reports that receivers went 'dead' and would not receive signals over quite a wide area. Not surprising since the thing was putting out many MWs of power, right on the coast and the signals would have completely saturated any normal receiver front end.

Because the presence of the system was supposed to be Top Secret (to the British public that is, I am sure that the Russians and Chinese were well aware of it), all questions to the Dept of Transport, MPT/Home Office and Dept of Trade and Industry's departments dealing with marine communications and marine safety, were stone-walled. 'Nothing was known' about any such problems. We raised it as a serious safety matter, since ships in the area were in effect removed from the safety network and could not have been made aware of any nearby incident. Everyone denied any such knowledge and our poor technicians in nearby ports were inundated with calls to fix 'faulty' receivers that had nothing wrong with them.

As I said, eventually the facility was closed down and everything returned to normal as far as passing shipping was concerned. Made the government's so-called committment to Safety of Shipping seem a bit of a sham.

david.hopcroft
1st July 2009, 20:29
As an RO at GKZ, I remember broadcasting a Nav Wng for months and months about the Orfordness station - I remember the expression 'Sparking in the Rigging' especially.

David
+

Mimcoman
2nd July 2009, 12:19
As an RO at GKZ, I remember broadcasting a Nav Wng for months and months about the Orfordness station - I remember the expression 'Sparking in the Rigging' especially.

David
+
Hi Dave

Reminds me of a certain song...

Is this the same place that had a large area around the aerial site fenced off for radiation safety and where there was the occasional fried rabbit inside the fence - or an I thinking of the radar site at Fylingdales?

Regards
Bill

david.hopcroft
3rd July 2009, 20:02
Hi Bill

Yes - it does - and yes, I did alter the words one night. When the unsuspecting came to that bit he couldn't remember the right word !!

David
+

david.hopcroft
12th July 2009, 18:49
This is the Main Tx at GKZ installed in 1927. It is described as 1.5 Kw made by Radio Communication Co. It soldiered on till the late 40's. An RO at that time remembered that you had to go inside the cage and give it a thump to change frequency !! Things were different in those days !!


David
+

ps. The cage had been removed for photo purposes !

sparks7
1st October 2009, 13:56
I went to sea in February 1947 with the Bibby Line; served on three of their ships and they all had a spark transmitter as the emergency set.
Served on the covette HMT "Empire Shelter" with some real old gear from ww2 including the spark tx. My final voyage was with the "Sugar Importer" in 1959. A very useful text book years ago was the Handbook of Technical Instruction for Wireless Telegraphists by Dowsett & Walker first published in 1913!! I have the eighth edition printed in 1946 and if you boys can find a copy of this book you will understand exactly how the spark transmitter worked...........a very simple affair!!
By the way, it was NEVER used except in an emergency but we used to test it now and again.......... switched it on and banged out the word TEST!!!
My God Gentlemen, those were the days!!
73's from Sparks7

Bernard McIver
2nd October 2009, 01:17
In 1994 at Colombo we were carrying out maintenance on the Spark transmitter.
The 3rd R/O had failed to operate the Condensor Discharge Button before opening the cage door, which was standard procedure. In the process of removing the Condensor I found a novel way of putting a spark into one's life.
Not to be recommended!
Bernard

Bob Murdoch
27th November 2009, 07:26
A bit late in the post, however, when I was doing my last minute swot for part one of my 2nd class in December, 1957, at the Watt Memorial in Greenock, the day before we sat, it was suddenly announced to us that as the Spark transmitter would be totally banned, even as emergency txs, on 31st December, and this was the last PMG theory exam before that date, we better know how they worked. A lot of head scratching and quick circuit diagrams on the blackboard. This all produced an extra bit of worry for the last sleepless night before the exam. Thankfully, there was nothing about a spark tx in the exam

Bernard McIver
27th November 2009, 22:55
In 1994 at Colombo we were carrying out maintenance on the Spark transmitter.
The 3rd R/O had failed to operate the Condensor Discharge Button before opening the cage door, which was standard procedure. In the process of removing the Condensor I found a novel way of putting a spark into one's life.
Not to be recommended!
Bernard

My apologies to all. This should have read "1944".
Bernard

david.hopcroft
19th December 2009, 19:37
[QUOTE=david.hopcroft;339894]This is the Main Tx at GKZ installed in 1927. It is described as 1.5 Kw made by Radio Communication Co.............

No-one has picked me up on this yet, but this Tx was in fact one of the then 'newfangled' things that used Valves !!!

The article attached, from the Times of Dec 6th 1927 refers

David
+
Sorry !