Preserving The Clough Brengle Model 87 Transmitter, Part 1--Acquiring a Rare CCC Veteranby, Ron Lawrence, KC4YOY
P.O. Box 3015
Matthews, NC 28106
This edition of "Fixing Up Nice Old Radios" differs in two ways from the usual. First, the subject is a transmitter, not a receiver; second, the objective was to restore original appearance, but not necessarily to make the unit operational.
The author has set for one of his radio goals the documentation of the history of, and the collection of the artifacts of, the little-known 1930s Clough-Brengle Company of Chicago. When it came to my attention that he had acquired a rare Clough-Brengle transmitter that had been damaged in shipping and was restoring it to display status, I asked him to document the process for this column.
Ron presented us with enough material for two columns. Part 1, which follows, concerns the company and product history. Part 2, to appear in the July issue, will detail the actual preservation process. Ron's perseverance and hard work makes for a very interesting story, and underlines his commitment as a radio historian. --wf
TThe subject of this article is a Clough-Brengle Model 87 transmitter, built in 1935. And to answer one of the first questions I get, no, they are not a German company. Founded in 1932 by Kendal Clough, formerly the Chief Engineer for Silver- Marshall and Ralph Brengle, the company was located in Chicago, IL.
The company's main product line was radio and laboratory test equipment, but they also built at least two models of radio transmitters and I have examples of both. However, in more then ten years of searching documentation, including Clough-Brengle's advertising and catalogs, I have not been able to locate any mention of the transmitters.
Unfortunately, no company records are known to exist. The best explanation seems to be that these two models were built under contract for the U.S. government to be used in Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) radio stations.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was an agency formed by the Federal government to hire unemployed young men for public conservation work during the Depression. It was set up as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program in 1933, and formally organized by Congress in 1937. Its goal was to provide training and employment while creating useful public works. Operating under quasi-military guidelines, the CCC conserved and developed natural resources by activities such as planting trees, building dams and pipelines, and fighting forest fires. More than two million men served in the CCC before it was disbanded in 1942. Coincidentally, both a brother-in-law of the editor and the father of the author served in the CCC during the late 1930s.--wf
Shortly after the Corps was formed, those in charge realized that they had no way to communicate with the far-flung camps scattered all over the country, mostly in remote areas. Someone suggested they try radio, so they used young hams who were already in the Corps as the first operators. Later they expanded the program to include radio operator and radio service training as part of the vocational classes offered to the young men.
The camps were set up in a network where one central camp with a radio would be linked to as many a ten smaller camps by field telephones. The camp with the radio would take reports from the other camps and then radio the information to headquarters. When they weren't handling official Corps traffic, the licensed operators were free to make ham radio contacts.
I became aware of the use of Clough-Brengle (C-B) transmitters by the CCC shortly after my first acquisition, a C-B Model 4581, was featured in John Dilks' "Old Radio" Column in QST for March, 2000. I subsequently received letters from two old timers who had been radio operators at CCC stations. Neither could remember model numbers, but fortunately they did have original photographs of those stations, WUEV, located in Wausau, WI, and WUCR, located in Fort Lincoln, ND. The transmitters differed from my Model 4581, but there was a definite family resemblance.
This just added pieces to the puzzle for here was another model of a C-B transmitter, different from mine, and I still had no company data. In response to the QST article, I also received a phone call from a ham in Texas telling me about his C-B transmitter. I expected it to be like the ones in the CCC photos, but it turned out to be a Model 4581, just like mine. It was also interesting that his transmitter serial number is 157, while mine is 156. What are the odds against two nearly 70-year old transmitters, a thousand miles apart, having sequential numbers?
About a year after the QST article an old friend, Brian Harrison, KN4R, mailed me an E-bay auction link. To my great surprise, here was a C-B transmitter just like the ones in the CCC station photographs. In addition the seller referred to a web page with about 30 close-up shots. Now that I had learned the model number, I contacted the seller and found out that he knew nothing about the item, other than that it had been found in his father's house. No one knew why it was there.
I had to have this transmitter! But as fate would have it, I had just recently been downsized by the company I had worked for for over 20 years. However, I promised the XYL that I would sell something out of the collection to replace the money.
Unfortunately, I was outbid by someone with a faster Internet connection and deeper pockets. I contacted the winner and told him if he ever wanted to sell it to please let me know. A couple of weeks later I received a sickening Email from him, telling me that UPS had dropped it and that it was severely damaged.
Several years passed and I hadn't thought about this transmitter for a long time, when one day I received an Email from a friend telling me that he had heard that someone had a C-B Model 87 for sale. Since I had been doing a lot of research on C-B test equipment, which included Models 88 and 89, the Model 87 mention just didn't ring a bell. However, I followed up, and when I received a photo I did a double-take and almost fell out of my chair. I checked it against my file photos from the original E-bay listing, and found it to be the same transmitter. The name of the seller confirmed it. When I contacted him, he said that because of the damage he had just never done anything with it, and had decided to let it go to someone else.
While he didn't remember me, he promised to send me photos. When they arrived it was clear to me that there were problems, but I didn't feel that it was anything that I couldn't take care of. There was no structural damage to the cabinet, either externally or internally, and the meter appeared intact.
The large ceramic tank coil was also intact, although the small ceramic standoffs on which it was mounted were broken. There had been no packing inside the unit to protect the tubes and coils, and when the heavy tank coil broke loose, it smashed the two type 802 finals, the type 83, and both antenna coils and their standoffs. Being afraid that someone else would come along to scoop me on it, I quickly accepted his asking price and sent him the money.
Now I had to get the transmitter to my home in North Carolina. I seriously considered renting a car and driving to Pittsburgh to pick it up, but the seller assured me that he knew how to pack something like this properly, so I decided to chance it. At 145 pounds, the shipping weight was well over the US Postal Service maximum. So we decided on Fed Ex Ground. When it finally arrived I found it had been packed so well that Fed Ex could literally have thrown it off the truck with no further damage.
A lot of folks in our hobby, including me in the past, complain about how shipping companies damage radios. But the responsibility is really with the shipper. If the item is important and fragile, it should be packed to withstand extreme stress.
While there is no way to prove it, I feel that this may well be the only surviving example of the Model 87. In more than ten years of searching for Clough-Brengle equipment it is the only one I have come across.
I don't know how many were made originally, but the photos indicate at least two others in CCC radio stations. They are slightly different from mine in that they both have an extra knob in the upper left section of the panel. On my other C-B transmitter, the Model 4581, this knob is a two-position switch that selects either "Amateur" or "Official" crystals.
I suspect that when the CCC was disbanded in 1942 the radio equipment was turned over to the US Army Signal Corps, which was responsible for the CCC radio stations. Since there might have been only a limited number, they were probably of little use in the war effort. Perhaps they went to a Signal Corps depot to be used for training and parts.
Part 2 of this column, "Restoration and Preservation," will appear in the July issue of the Journal.
The AWA Journal, On-line Edition, Copyright © 2006 Antique Wireless Association, Inc.