Ham Radio

Taking the Scenic Route and Ham-ming it Up Along the Way

Springview Herald, Nebraska, June 27, 2018 - Page 5-6
Written by Amy Johnson and reproduced with permission.

Everyone has a hobby. But not every hobby will allow you to take the scenic route across the country. Barry Hansen’s hobby is giving him an opportunity to drive across the United States: Seattle, Washington to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to do exactly what he loves.

His beloved past time is communicating on a ham radio. “Ham radio is alive and well,” Barry shared, “there are more people with ham radio licenses now than ever before.”

While on her mail route last Monday morning, local mail carrier Stacey Painter came across Barry, who had his impressive radio set-up near Lila Heerten’s mailbox along rural dirt road 428th Avenue in western Keya Paha County.

This was no random spot that Barry, who is from Lake Forest Park, Washington, set up his radio. It was precisely where he wanted to be. As Barry began planning his scenic journey across the country, he purposely selected areas. “There is actually a technical answer as to how I got to this exact spot,” Barry explained. “The whole world is divided into grid squares (2 degrees or about 100 miles wide and 1 degree tall about 70 miles). This location in Nebraska - Keya Paha - Springview - here at these mailboxes is what they call a rare grid square. I set up in the very northwest comer of this grid square so I can communicate with other ham radio operators from California to Seattle.”

Backing up a bit, let’s explain what ham radio is. In a simple Google search, it explained that Amateur Radio (ham radio) is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics, and communication together. People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the internet or cell phones. It’s fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.

For Barry, it’s the excitement of experimenting that draws him to ham radio. He was licensed at the young age of 13 and he liked the engineering behind all of it. This passion blossomed into a career in computers where he worked for companies like IBM and a series of other software companies. It was the technical side of ham radio that drew him to his hobby, but it was his love of travel that allowed him to combine the two into a journey across the country. His favorite aspect of being a ham radio operator is the remote places it takes him. “Get off the interstate,” he said smiling, “it’s beautiful country.”

Now at age 63 and retired, Barry said that he’s been actively traveling and doing ham radio for the past ten years. “I’ve been to every location in Oregon and Washington states with my ham radio; going across the country intrigued me,” he shared. Prior to his cross country trip, he had plotted out where other ham radio operators were so connections could be made. While visiting, beeps of Morse Code sounded in the background. Barry was connecting with a ham radio operator with call sign W0JW out of Truru, Iowa.

Although Morse Code is one way to communicate over ham radio, it’s not the only way. “There are lots of choices for communication,” Barry added, “like digital that works off a laptop (essentially coding). There are computer programs now that decode for you, and an app on my phone can tell me where other ham radio operators are.” During the visit with Barry, he was using digital mode and bouncing signals off the ionized trails of meteorites entering the atmosphere. “These are just tiny grains of sand and the trails they leave only last for a second or two. During that second or two I can send signals back and forth to people. It’s pretty cool,” shared Barry smiling.

His set up, which is all in the back of his SUV and the large antennas dismantle and strap to the top, is an impressive $5-10,000 equipment set up, a big improvement from the simple ham radio he ran when he was 13. When Barry sets up to use his ham radio, it would be nearly impossible to miss him, well, unless he’s in one of those very remote locations he enjoys ham-ming from.

This visit was not his first, nor his last with someone randomly coming up and asking what the heck he was doing. Which it sounds like he’s heard before.

Barry, who’s call sign is K7BWH, took off on the rest of his journey across the US. “I’ve driven 2,500 miles so far, and I’m about half way,” Barry said. He guesstimated that it will take him three weeks to get to his destination, which happens to be where his daughter lives in North Carolina, but only four days to get back.

Barry’s hobby of ham radio is allowing him to take the scenic route, and communicating with a wide variety of like-minded ham radio operators along the way.

Above, Barry Hansen communicates with other people via his ham radio set up in rural Keya Paha County.
At right shows Barry’s equipment and set up that he uses to communicate over ham radio.

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