Straight keys for sale

Discussion in 'General Technical Questions and Answers' started by W5WPL, May 7, 2009.

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  1. W5WPL

    W5WPL Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Just wondering why so many older straight keys that are selling on Ebay don't have the shorting bars on them anymore.
  2. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Many of the older keys were sold without the shorting bars even way back when. I have an ancient Skillman Deluxe that I got new without the shorting bar, but it still has the negative side wiper contact for same. Of course, most of the early Skillmans did have the shorting bar.

    I think as more of the keys were sold for radio rather than landlines, the shorting bar was viewed as unnecessary. However, as a novice, I always used the shorting bar on my Speed-X for tuning up! It was a great convenience.

  3. KA9VQF

    KA9VQF Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yep, the simple answer is they are no longer needed, kinda like the crank on the front of cars. Obsolete.
  4. K9STH

    K9STH Ham Member QRZ Page

    "Radio" keys, i.e. the military J-37, did not have a shorting bar. On the other hand, a true landline telegraph key, i.e. the military J-38, did have the shorting bar. In landline telegraphy the "normal" condition is with the key shorted. This is because all of the "stations" on the circuit were in series and the "normal" position of the sounder was in the "activated" position (that is the sounder was in the down position). When someone wanted to send a message the circuit was broken and the sounder returned to the unactivated ("up") position and everyone on the circuit was alerted that a message was coming.

    There were so many J-38 keys made during World War II that they were as cheap as $1 each, brand new, still in the box, well into the 1950s that for many amateur radio operators the J-38 was their very first key as a Novice Class operator.

    The attached photos show a J-37 (without shorting bar) and J-38 (with shorting bar).

    Glen, K9STH

    Attached Files:

    • J-37.JPG
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  5. K3WRV

    K3WRV Guest


    While I can no longer prove it, I think you were wrong about the price of J-38's. I distinctly remember paying 50 cents for mine, from Walter Ashe, although there may have been a coupon involved. That would have been in 1961.

    As far as the shorting bars go, I think many hams probably took them off - they had a way of closing themselves when you weren't looking. Both my J-38 and Vibroplex still have theirs, but the one on the J-38 is locked out.
  6. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Another interesting note. The "cheater plug" which was standard item on Vibroplex and other automatic keys of the landline era...existed because such keys were considered CONTRABAND! Operators were paid by the word, and strongly unionized. The bug was considered unfair advantage, and was never sanctioned by the railroad companies. So most bug-artists had to sneak their evil machines in!

  7. K3WRV

    K3WRV Guest

    Eric- Interesting story. As In remember (1961) when I bought my bug from a telegrapher at the local RY station, it came in a nice smallish box that looked like a lunch box. I'm sure it's around someplace, and probably worth more than the key! But I don't think it was for sneaking it in back then - both telegraphers then used bugs, and it was a very small town!

    The story about the key: I'd decided to go portable to my grandmother's hosue and packed up everything BUT the key. Being resourceful, I asked the local telegraph op where I might find a spare key, and he said his backup might have one (he'd just upgraded to a Speedex). In that office, each op had his own key and operating position.

    But they couldn't copy my code, and I couldn't copy theirs. They sent American, and I sent international. A few years later they converted to teletype. But I suspect there were several expensive bugs in the Ry Ststion when they buldozed it. Mine came with the wedge, and I changed it over to a phone plug.
  8. K9STH

    K9STH Ham Member QRZ Page


    Maybe your J-38 didn't have a box! :rolleyes:

    Seriously, I have "heard" of J-38 keys for as little as 50 cents but never saw one for less than $1.

    I paid $1 for my first J-38 in 1957 (when I was 13). My sister (7 years younger than me) was a competition baton twerller and there was a competition in Holland, Michigan. My parents usually left me at home but took me along that time. There was a surplus store in downtown and I saw the J-38 on sale for $1. So, I bought it.

    Glen, K9STH
  9. AL7N

    AL7N Ham Member QRZ Page

    Use of Bugs in Telegraph offices

    All civilian landline telegraph offices, both Railroad and Western Union, where Morse was used had "straight" Morse keys installed as part of the permanent installation.
    These and the other office instruments and switchboards were owned by the telegraph company or the railroad company.

    The notion that the operator's personally owned Vibroplex (or other make) "bug" was considered "cheating" or was illegal to use is totally false.

    Any Morse operator who was any good learned how to use a Bug early on, and used his own wherever he was stationed to work.

    It was universally done and practically expected of them.

    The Westen Union DID insist on having cords and wedges in good repair
    for obvious circuit performance reasons, but did not prohibit or otherwise
    limit the use of semi-automatic keys.

    Bugs made for more rapid sending, and virtually eliminated the old "glass arm" (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)
    problems that many older operators developed through extended use of the straight keys.

    There were a few operators engaged in commercial or railroad work that never used a bug on the job, but they were in a small minority. They were also very good with a straight key. I personally knew a lady operator on the D&RGW railroad in Colorado who only used a bug when there was a LOT of sending work to be done...the rest of the time she used the straight key, and her sending was about as perfect as I ever heard...absoutely beautiful.
    Her kind will not be seen again.
  10. W8ZNX

    W8ZNX Ham Member QRZ Page

    no not at all

    read Vibroplex history
    Vibroplex bugs were never contraband

    after the Vibroplex patent fight

    non standard non Vibroplex bugs were then contraband
    unless you bought the patent license tag

    the plug was to make it easier
    to hook your bug to the circuit
    the straight key was hard wired
    the plug was the only way to hook to the circuit

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