Originally published in the Spring 1999 Music City Vintage Radio & Phonograph Society Newsletter (Now The Music City Vintage Radio Club)

In 1946 I was 13 and my favorite place was the Jacksonville, Florida Army/Navy Surplus Store. It was there I found a real prize – a yellow box with a hand crank and bulbs that lit up when you cranked it – for only 50 cents. For another dollar I could get a yellow fabric box kite that went with the yellow box. When I got back home on Amelia Island with my treasures I discovered the instruction manual. What I had was a hand crankable radio transmitter SCR 578 with a box kite to pull up a 300 foot antenna. Instructions were on the side of the yellow box including the International Morse Code. So it didn’t take me long to hook up the box kite and the antenna wire, and with the help of the good wind, get up 300 feet of antenna. The yellow box had curved sides to fit between your legs with a strap to hold it.

Much later I learned aircrews referred to these boxes as Gibson Girls because of their curved contour. With everything in place, I started cranking and watching the lights blink. Soon that grew old, so back to the instruction manual. I learned this equipment was used in rubber life rafts and transmitted on 500KC, had a manual code button and according to Bendix would transmit to blanket an area of 100,000 square miles. I wanted to hear what it sounded like, but I didn’t have a short wave radio. Christmas was coming soon and when asked what I wanted, I told Dad, “…a Hallicrafter S-38 radio“. I soon discovered I had a very strong transmitter that sent automatic SOS or manual code. I had learned how it worked and what I could do with it.

My friend, Jerry, Lived on the other side of the island and had a short wave receiver. I could send code to him. I talked Jerry into buying another Gibson Girl and kite so every Saturday we could send code to each other. Now, one might think two 13 year olds would have enough sense to know they were clobbering the emergency channel, but it never crossed our minds over the next few of our regular Saturday transmissions. Mind you it did not miss the attention of the Federal Communications people 29 miles away in Jacksonville when each Monday morning they found a pile of complaints on their desk. The Feds knew the violators had to be kids, so they set out on a couple of weekends with their D.F. truck only to stop a few miles northeast of Jacksonville when we signed off. (They didn’t know how hard a Gibson Girl was to crank.) They finally decided we must be on Amelia Island. So one Friday evening they drove across the draw
bridge to spend the night. That Saturday morning was warm as I strung about 50 feet of antenna wire across the roof of the front porch then sat in the window of my second story bedroom with my Gibson Girl and S-38 ready for our weekly net. Jerry and I were improving with our code and stayed on the air a little longer than usual. I remember hearing tires squeal in the street below and a man shouting, “There he is, there he is”. Mother let them in and led them upstairs to my bedroom. I left my Gibson Girl on the porch roof outside my window and sat on my bed trying to look innocent. It didn’t take them long to get the truth out of me. After a stern lecture about illegal radio transmission and a call to my father at work, I watched my wonderful Gibson Girl disappear in the hands of the Feds.

During the years I have been involved in electronics in various ways and finally came to Nashville to sell video equipment. In 1981 while browsing in Friedman’s Army/Navy Surplus Store, I spotted a wonderful yellow box with a crank on it. The price had changed – from fifty cents to $59.95. I paid the price gladly. At last I had the prized Gibson Girl back in my possession. In hopes that some of those Jacksonville Communications Feds are still “listening in”, just every now and then I string out the antenna and crank hell out of that yellow box.

(Elbert Rayburn “Pony” Maples Jr., 1933-2013, was a family man, veteran, indefatigable patriot, champion of the American combat soldier. He never outgrew his contagious youthful enthusiasm for good dogs, vintage militaria and avionics, and the history behind, and collecting of, early wireless sets. The many friends, colleagues and fellow collectors he left behind are impoverished by his passing, but they hold onto the treasury of friendship and knowledge he shared with them.)


One comment

  1. Almost bought one of these back in 1999
    (Y2K paranoia,I guess) at the ‘Deerfield” ham fest for $75. Wish I’d done it then,even though I don’t know what I’d be doing with it today. N1WRG

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