Washington Island's Ham Radio Treasure
This week we had the rare opportunity to visit the ham shack of George Ulm, W9EVT, and were treated to an experience that may well be unique in all of amateur radio.
George has been active in ham radio since 1938. Originally licensed as K1ABU, like all other hams he put the hobby on hold during World War II. After the war, he was granted the callsign W9EVT, which he holds to this day. In the 70+ years that George has been a ham, he has achieved a number of firsts in the hobby that many of us can only dream of. Some of his more notable achievements include building the first repeater system in Chicago, being the first person to hold a reciprocal callsign in Mexico, and having worked nearly every country in the DXCC list, including several that no longer exist. George's call sign can be found in the 1947 callbook and in every issue since printed.
George lives on Washington Island, Wisconsin, a small community located in the middle of Lake Michigan. It takes about two hours to get there by car from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and that includes a 30 minute ferry ride across Death's Door Strait. While once considered treacherous, crossing the 5 mile passage these days is safe, pleasant, and scheduled on the hour during the summer months.
George's QTH sits on about 500 acres of the northern part of the island and it consists of a farm house, several barns, and a few guest cottages that were once were part of an apple and cherry farm. George's "shack" is situated in one of those cottages and is about the size of a four bedroom home. There are five or six large towers on the property and some wire and loop antennas that stretch out over a thousand feet. More than 30 pieces of coax gather these into the shack and terminate at the main operating desk that runs the length of the long, rectangular main room.
Stepping into the shack, the enormity of George's achievement becomes evident. Here is, quite simply, what could be the most extensive collection of working amateur radio gear ever known. George's first radio from 1938 is there, as is nearly every make and model by all of the popular brands spanning the past 70 years.
Eight foot high shelves line three of the four walls in the long, rectangular room and are stacked with rack after rack of Hammarlund, Hallicrafters, Collins, Drake, Ten-Tec, Kenwood, Icom, Yaesu, HRO, National, Henry, Heathkit, and well, everything.
As you gaze down this nearly forty foot corridor, your jaw drops and you begin to get a sense of the immensity of the collection. Just around the corner is a smaller, living-room sized space and in it you find an unbelievable collection of Collins radios stacked on several tables and racks. In the corner also sits a refrigerator sized Collins broadcast transmitter. Opposite that, you spot a Johnson Desk Kilowatt which is literally a large metal desk with a built-in kilowatt amplifier! I've certainly never seen one before and yet, here it was, 100% complete and looking as if time had stood still for the past 50 years.
Then, after seeing all of this, you're hit with an almost unimaginable fact: you've just seen only a third of the collection. There are at least another 500 pieces still in storage! Next, George treated me to a visit to his "workshop" where I saw a portion of the radios that weren't yet on display. Again, I saw row upon row of radios stacked floor-to-ceiling, in a garage space big enough to hold three or four cars. In addition to the stacks of radios there is a complete machine and electronics repair shop.
Due in part to its out-of-the-way location, George's shack doesn't get a great number of visitors. He estimates that about 400 or so guests come by each year and stay at the bed and breakfast cottages that he and his wife operate on the property. Few of these visitors are hams however, and so there is great excitement when someone from our community stops by for a visit.
All ham visitors are encouraged to sit down at the console and burn up some air waves. The only problem here is deciding which radio, amplifier and antenna combination you will use. Will it be the ICOM IC-7800, the Alpha 9500, and a 20 meter, 8-element beam? Perhaps you'd rather operate the Yaesu 2000, or maybe the FlexRadio 5000. In all there are dozens of radios, amps, and antennas to choose from. Want Vintage? No problem. Fire up a Collins S-Line or the KWM-380, or any of about a dozen other classic glow-in-the-dark radios. You can even sleep in the shack's fully furnished guest quarters, or stay up all night chasing DX that you've only dreamed of entering into your log. Whatever your dream station is made of, it's all there waiting for you to push the button and start talking. And don't be afraid because George will be right there with you, helping with antenna switching and offering guidance of all sorts.
If you're looking for a DX Vacation located on a beautiful island that is right here in the USA, then this is it. The property also has a private beach, fishing, a boat house, hiking trails, biking, nice restaurants, and some of the most beautiful lakefront property anywhere.
George is one of the most gracious hosts that I've ever met. His first concern is your comfort and he and his wife make sure that your time on the farm is as pleasant as it can possibly be. It isn't hard, however, since the accomodations are simply beautiful and include premium satellite TV, wireless internet, a full kitchen, books, games, everything. These cabins are first rate, spacious, and painstakingly clean.
George remains very active in amateur radio and hosts and/or participates in a number of daily nets on the air. He will also keep you interested for hours on end with stories and accounts of the way radio was back in the early days, and everything in-between, right up to today.
During my visit, I couldn't help but feel that I was being treated to not only a mind boggling collection of vintage and modern amateur equipment, but also to the man himself. George is a veritable encyclopaedia of amateur radio and the evolution of the hobby over the past 70 years, and being able to spend time with him was in itself a treat.
By now you've probably guessed that George isn't exactly a spring chicken, and that he's getting up in years. This is very true and it is one of his great wishes that his collection find a permanent home after he's gone so that future generations can enjoy and appreciate the hobby for many years to come.
Finding a permanent home for this gear will be no small task. All total, there are nearly 1000 pieces of gear to be displayed. A huge portion of these are "boat anchor" sized and very heavy. George is not interested in selling the collection but would instead be very happy to donate it to an organization that could fulfill his dreams of putting it on permanent display. He would prefer a location that is within 30 minutes of a major airport, and is one that can devote enough space to put the entire collection on display.
We're all hoping that a dedicated museum or preservation organization will step forward to take on the task. Sure, it's a big collection but it's nothing compared to a battleship or a submarine museum, several of which are on display every day. All it will really take is a group with the right goals and determination to make it work.
Alas, I have run out of awe and inspiring words to describe the breadth and importance of George's collection, his personal friendliness, and his contribution to the hobby. I feel truly fortunate to have spent these past two days poring over the collection and having him as my personal tour guide with an encyclopaedic memory.
If you ever get the chance, Greengate Farm is a ham radio destination that simply cannot be missed. Check out the links below to contact the Farm and be sure and mention that you're a ham and would like to have George show you around. It will be an experience that you'll never forget.
W9EVT's QRZ Page
QRZ's Photo Album
Last edited by AA7BQ; 09-16-2011 at 01:58 AM.
Put me down for a $20.00 contribution to the museum fund.
George is a rare and wonderful individual, and I had the pleasure of working him on-the-air. He enjoyed a successful business career in Chicago prior to the Washington Island QTH. George's generation, and specifically folks in his image, are what made this Nation great following WWII.
It is my hope a museum can be formed or considerably enhanced through his generosity. Perhaps networking with the ARRL, the RCA and others will help him.
73, Steve, NL7W
Not in but around Palmer, Alaska
Alaskans: Folks with Latitude!
I visited Washington Island back in 1990 while on Naval Reserve training duty at Sturgeon Bay WI, about halfway between Green Bay and the Washington Island ferry terminal. Some of the people I was working with recommended it, so on the weekend I decided to go up and check it out. Very interesting place -- and especially so if you speak Icelandic. It's supposedly the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland itself.
I believe I saw George's antenna farm but didn't take the side trip - which I regret now.
A day without thermonuclear fusion
is like a day without sunshine.
Semper ubi sub ubi.
73 de Pat, K7KBN
CWO4 USNR Ret.
Very cool! I see he has a Central Electronics 100V under the SX-100. My most prized boat anchor as well.
Originally Posted by AA7BQ
Last edited by AA7BQ; 09-03-2011 at 08:16 PM.
Reason: shorten included content
"The more you know, the less you don't know."
I haven't worked George on the air but I have listened in on a few of his qso's. Just listening to his stories you get a feel for the passion he has for ham radio and life in general. I have exchanged e-mails with him about aspects of his collection. He is a true gentleman.73 George and God Bless. Richard KM5WX
In addition to the challenge of establishing either a museum or preservation society to preserve this vast array of radio history, one additional suggestion would be to commission a biography of George Ulm, W9EVT.
I had the pleasure of working George back on June 16th. Had just fired up the rig, bands weren't all that great around the noon hour CST, but heard a strong clear signal on 17 meters. I had just put up another homemade dipole for that band earlier that week, and was able to enjoy a real conversation with this gentleman. Even forgot I was supposed to eat some lunch!
The plan is for myself and my XYL to visit there next Spring. I came to Amateur Radio late, but have been an SWLer for almost 50 years. I have, and have had, quite a few of the old boat anchor receivers you see in the pictures of George's various operating positions.
And as a 'new' operator, but an old man, I found George to truly be representative of the Amateur Radio spirit. Very encouraging, upbuilding, enjoys radio, and definitely enjoys LIFE!! I only hope to be as active and lucid when I get to be as 'seasoned' as he is. Some have said before, "Who needs that many radios?" Would you rather they be sold for copper and scrap at some salvage yard? George is a radio preservationist, in the purest sense. I count myself fortunate to have QSO'd with him early on in my Amateur Radio adventures!