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My Brother, Noel Reekie

 

All boys need a getaway private place, a workplace, a "Howff."  Especially a place where grown ups really aren't allowed in.  A place where you can pursue your visions, your ideas, your dreams.  A place where you can make experiments, do things, make an awful mess if you want to. A place to make moulds, heat up and cast metals, saw wood,  cut up bits of metal with a hack saw,  solder wires, shape and smooth things with a file.

 

Even though we didn't know it at the time, my two brothers, John and Noel and I did things there that became the starting place of all of our future lifetime occupations. 

We three were fortunate in that we were born and grew up to be teenagers before television was commercially available. Instead of passively watching others doing things, we  thought up, made and created things.

 

As three brothers we had complimentary skills. When it came to wood, John was a perfectionist, an artist in wood. I could do most anything that involved metals. Noel was an inventor when it came to creating electronic devices.   Ham radio, cameras, telescopes to study the heavens, and optics were second nature to Noel. Noel spent countless hours mounting specimens of things on to glass slides then studying them under a high power microscope. (Present from Monty Moncrieff.) Noel was particularly proficient in propagating and directing  radio waves.  In the realm of the ether Noel was in his element.

As the sea roared on dark winter nights we were indeed fortunate that we had such a cozy warm place to let our imaginations run wild as we worked on our projects.

Our howff, at the bottom of our garden, in due time, acquired a workbench, a wood stove, metal and woodworking tools and a great supply of every material imaginable.  These supplies and tools were all gleaned from the local coup (dump). Each day instead of coming straight home from school, I detoured to the local coup to find the treasures of the day.  It's incredible the amount of good stuff that people throw away.  At the coup I had stashed my basic disassembly tools to take the bigger things apart into smaller sized pieces.  Perambulator wheels, axles, gears, bicycle chains, old radios, spark plugs, old generators, optical lenses, old cameras, broken clocks, screws, nuts and bolts, bits of tin, iron bed rails, etc., etc., these all found their way in to our "makins pile."  I learned a very good lesson from all this.  Never look at anything and see it as it is.  Look at it and imagine all the many many other things that it might or could be.


Electricity for the Howff

To begin with our howff was illuminated by paraffin oil lamps.  After that I acquired a generator from a bus and built it into a wind mill. I experimented with several propellers and chain drives to gear up the speed. A four bladed propeller was too slow and the salt air rusted and wrecked the chain drive. What worked best was a two bladed propeller directly attached to the rotor of the generator.  But being low voltage DC (32 volts) and requiring  storage batteries and only being able to use it for lights the whole effort was more trouble than it was worth so I abandoned the project. However I learned a lot.

Electricity into the home was a fairly recent innovation.  We often talked about how great it would be to have electric light in our workshop howff.  The standard voltage to supply domestic power was 250 volts, alternating, single phase current and was supplied by an insulated three wire system; a power wire, a neutral or common wire and a ground wire.  One day while foraging for "makins" in the coup I came across a good length of single insulated wire.  Noel, John and I got our heads together and figured out that since we didn't have enough wire to make the three wire system, if we just drove a metal rod into the ground alongside of the shed, that would more or less suffice as a method of creating a connection for the ground wire.  We reasoned that electricity would flow without the second common or neutral wire or the ground wire that was eventually grounded at the power source generator.  No doubt our method of grounding was highly improper and extremely dangerous but power would flow. In no time we found where we could tap in to a power wire at the house and route our single wire through some bushes and to the howff.  To try out our system we hooked up, in series, a light bulb, a switch, then to our ground rod.  The switch was flipped.  We had light. What a moment that was! Later we acquired a table power saw and hooked that up.  It was observed that when we had a spell of dry weather the saw would slow down and the light would dim.  No problem. We had a rain barrel for watering garden plants nearby so it was easy to dip a pail of water and pour it over our ground rod to improve the conductivity to the earth. The result; bright light and full rpm for the saw.

(There's a lot more to this saw than my modestly saying, Later we acquired a table power saw. On a visit to Bandirran I decided that the wooden bee hives in the garden needed replacing and I decided that I would make new ones. Only problem was that to make hives from scratch one needed a precision circular powered table saw which I didn't have. In talking this problem over with my brother John, he stated that he would make wooden patterns of all the metal parts of a saw. I then had  six sets of iron castings made at a Lochgelly foundry. Then by the use of Fenco's metal working machinery, I machined and assembled six precision table saws. Five complete saws were sold and one was kept. I'm sure that to this day all of the six saws are still operating.)

Our mother Katie with our humble howff in the background.

Notice the single wire.

However one day our Dad, on seeing our questionable activity of wetting down the ground rod, went to the local certified electrician and had him come and rewire  our Howff for lights and electrical outlets and connect The Howff to the house with approved wiring so that the wiring was all done ship-shape and Bristol fashion. Now with unlimited electricity available, Noel's ham radio interests really went into high gear.

When Noel was about twelve years old he started to read everything he could get his hands on pertaining to electronics and amateur ham radio.  First Noel made a pair of make-and-break keys to send Morse code and with bell wire and a flashlight battery for power, we sent dot and dash messages to each other between our bedrooms when the rest of the house was asleep.  Next Noel constructed a crystal/cat's whisker radio receiver and after that he put together a one valve radio receiver. Noel learned a new language that neither I nor our brother John understood. Nor was there any one around who taught electronics to Noel. Noel was strictly self motivated and self taught. Resistors, variable condensers, copper wire, transformers, oscillators, sine waves, variacs, coils,  valves, anodes, cathodes, amplifiers, power output pentodes, aerials, impedance matching, numbers and letters like 6L6,  RCA 807's and 813s in the final became Noel's world. To go along with this Noel had a gleam and a faraway look in his eyes.  He did numerous calculations then made lots of sketches on paper with all sorts of strange  symbols.

Finally Noel made his great announcement.  "From this garden shed in this remote part of the world, we're going to communicate with people all around the world."  I knew that Noel wasn't crazy and I knew that he had "smarts" and determination enough that he just might make it happen. When Noel was on to something he never gave up.

Noel began by making more sketches on paper then daily he gave me instructions as to things he wanted me to make for him.  First it was a great metal chassis with all sorts of strange holes in it. Then came copper coils that he wanted of an exact diameter and wound and spaced just so. This need almost stumped me, but into the makins pile I went. I had an old treadle Singer sewing machine that I converted into quite a respectable lathe complete with chuck.  I now could wind his coils to his heart's content.  And so it went on for about six months.

Finally came the great day when Noel announced, "We're done," all that is, except for an  aerial.  For try out, Noel decided to just throw a long piece of wire over the roof of the howff and connect it to the output of his transmitter.  An identifying number was thought up.  Noel flipped a switch and his creation lit up like a Christmas tree.

By Morse Code he tapped out:  CQ,  CQ,  CQ,  CQ,  CQ,  CQ,  CQ,  CQ,  CQ,  (which in ham radio language means, anyone who hears this please reply.)  Next GM (Scotland symbol) 3GSN,  GM3GSN,  GM3GSN,  GM3GSN,  CQ,  CQ,  CQ  CQ  CQ  CQ  then AR, AR, AR. (which means end of message.)

After a wait of about half a minute in came the electrifying signal on Noel's receiver, GM3GSN, GM3GSN, GM3GSN this is Radio XXXXXX in Cairo, North Africa.   I am receiving you loud and clear, RST 599. Readability 5---Perfectly readable.    Signal strength 9---Extremely strong signal.      Tone 9---Perfect tone, no trace of ripple or modulation of any kind.)

WOW!!  Noel had done it!  After all these months of working and wondering, Noel had done it.  Not only had Noel done it, what Noel as an enthusiastic amateur had single handedly engineered and created could have been the  product of a team of experts. What a memorable moment.  We did indeed dance a jig. In terms of communicating by radio Noel was a child prodigy. While I could get results by turning the knobs and dials I really had only the vaguest idea as to what was happening. Noel understood how the invisible electrons that he was creating were being multiplied  and  magnified and were flowing and interacting within his circuitry then were radiating out from his antenna to the ionosphere where they were reflected back to the earth to the place of his choosing to be received by someone thousands of miles away as intelligent communication. ( Noel maintained that the angle of incidence and the angle of reflection of a radio wave or a beam of light are one and the same.) 

Talk about jumping over the roof.  All of a sudden we had the means to talk to people far and wide.  From this remote little village of Earlsferry on the East Coast of Scotland Noel was communicating with the outside world.  Can you imagine sitting in a garden shed in a remote village on the east coast of Scotland, approximately 700 miles from the Arctic Circle in the northern hemisphere and forming a friendship and a regular conversation schedule with another who is sitting in an outpost on one of the South Shetland islands in the South Atlantic in the Antarctic near the South Pole?   In no time Noel received QSL, confirmation-of-contact, cards from ham radio operators around the world that filled several shoe boxes.

 George Three George Sugar Nancy

Noel's ham radio card.

When Noel was first licensed in Scotland his number was GM3GSN.

After Noel and Marian married, Noel moved to Stafford, England

and his number became G3GSN.

 

At the end of World War II government surplus stores and junk yards opened up all over the country and from these places Noel acquired numerous  components that he used to construct ever more powerful radio transmitters. By coupling these up to his variable angle directional antenna he could virtually communicate with anywhere on the globe. One of his prize finds was an unopened box that contained a BC 221, VFO  variable frequency oscillator that had been made by the Boeing Company of Seattle.  Lacking information as to this item Noel contacted Boeing who very generously, at no charge, sent him all of the data and manuals as to  capability, hook-up and use.  Noel built this precision crystal controlled oscillator into his transmitter where it became both it's heart and it's brain. Another treasure that Noel found was a primitive cathode ray oscilloscope. With this device Noel could probe his circuitry to "see" what was going on inside his electronic components. Not only was Noel a talented and gifted electronics child prodigy he was a pioneer in that he advanced the state of the art of global communication. When he was yet a teenager Noel figured out how he could  link the world not only by sound but also by means of vision. Two way station to station world direct television. This was at the time that the state of the art of broadcasting a black and white television signal had not yet advanced beyond horizontally polarized line-of-sight transmission.

 

News article in The Fife East Neuk News

 

"Tom plans world link in vision and sound."

"Tom" is Thomas Noel Reekie

 

Later, Noel got to be so recognized that at one time the British government enlisted Noel's help to be their go-between to establish radio communications with one of their consulates in South America that, despite all their resources, they were unable to reach.

 

Noel's amateur radio station all built by him.

Notice his awesome rack of floor to ceiling amplifiers.

Outside he had a telescoping radio tower and a farm of

antennas all of his own design and construction.

 

The Thinker. This photo of Noel needs no words.

 

Sad and tragic news of Noel's passing