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Updated 11-20-2012

Before my days as an amateur radio operator, Van Buren area had one major club called the Van Buren County Amateur Radio Club later to become incorporated. Many Amateurs were part of this club from Van Buren and surrounding counties. In the middle 60's I joined the club.  The club met monthly, only communicated on low bands and 6 meter.  Some venturous soles purchased two-meter equipment, which were AM.  Most used a Heathkit called a 'Tower', which had a super regenerative receiver and only a couple vacuum tubes.  CW nets for practice and this two and six meter were the only activity going on besides events.  Most low band stuff was done by individual efforts and meetings were used to show off things they built and explain experiences they had in past days on the airwaves.  The yearly Field Day emergency test was the big chance prove how good they were as operators and was a very big event for the club.

In the seventies, Bob Garvison W8RWK, used some obsolete police six meter FM equipment to build a repeater at current repeater site and his home.  It was linked by the phone line.  The receiver 52.640 MHz was at the tower and the transmitter 52.525 MHz was at his home, note the 52.525 MHz was the simplex frequency for 6 meters, so you could either use the simplex or the duplex to get some one.    Less then a dozen people took advantage of this.  I had a similar unit but was unable to make it work on both simplex and duplex so I chose to use it on simplex not using the repeater.  I had about three monitoring people to talk to most of the time with in 20 mile from my QTH.  My wife and me used 6 meters up to the time I purchased my first Heath 2 meters.  Heathkit was very popular brand among amateurs and still is missed.

About mid seventies the Radio Shack Store owned by an enterprising businessman named Dick Kingdom also a ham started the BRARC.  Quest you could say he was the founder of the BRARC.  He found a local interest in several young hams in the South Haven area.  They wanted to join the Van Buren Club and Dick did attend it for several months with the interested young lads.  They however, wanted to eliminate the travel to Bangor and started holding meeting at the Radio Shack in South Haven thus forming the club and giving it is name.  By late 70's the Van Buren club became in active and many of the active members migrated into the BRARC because of interest in the VBARC.  The club meeting of the VBARC was held in different hams home each month.  

Also another group was separate but part of the Van Buren Club put on a VHF picnic or Ham Fest every year at Glenn County Park.  This also declined in participation and a couple dozen hams only attended the last picnic.  The Van Buren County Amateur Radio Club, Inc. took it over in its last years until it finally fizzled out due to lack of attendance.  

In the very late seventies a tragedy came about when a young ham and Heathkit engineer named Allen Fiddleman was killed in an automobile accident.  He was not as interested in the either club but wanted a 2 meter repeater so he could talk to Benton Harbor to his QTH in South Haven.  He used old Heathkit HW202 which was one of the first two-meter xtal FM radios.  The BRARC newly formed members were interested and started to help him with his project although at this time was a personal venture.  Bob Garvison not having much usage on the six meter gave the site to Allen for the two meter project after finding it not very good from QTH on a small tower 3 miles east South Haven on CR388.  The unit very crude work very good when put in place of the six-meter repeater.  

Allen also, stirred the mines of several in both club members to build a communications trailer.  As I remember it was purchased for less then 100 dollars and was an old house trailer really bad shape.   It was snowing and the group spent weekends gutting the unit and putting in benches, carpet and painting.  In spring of 1980 the Al was gone but the trailer was finished and looking great.  The people reconstructing the trailer wanted to dedicate it in Al's memory and approached his family.   They were so receptive of the idea that put on a dinner for the group and donated a complete station of Al's for use in the trailer.

About a couple weeks later, the efforts were found to be good.  A multiple tornadoes went through the area starting at Van Auken Lake area, near McDonald, MI and cutting a path to the city of Kalamazoo causing much damage.  The Amateur Radio RACES EC was Ed Alderman KI8Z.    The club members and the trailer providing communication home for Red Cross workers coming from southern states during the two to three weeks.  The club supported local, State and Federal Red Cross personnel.  The club helped feed over 300 victims and residents from its location in Glendale Michigan. The club members also provide transportation to check on missing persons and as well as the delivering the food.  The county did not really support us, so the club was on it's own and excepted with open arms by the Red Cross and rescue personal.  

Eventually the BRARC was now the only club in Van Buren County. The BRARC club started to look into improving two-meter capabilities with antenna up grades and equipment changes.  The original setup was very crude. A battery with a hole in it with a charger were at Bob Garvison's QTH running the transmitter of 15 watts then amplified to 40 Heathkit HA-202 as it is now.  It was driven by a Heathkit HW-202 into a tower at Bobs QTH.   The unit was mounted on the wall in a used and well-vented old JIC electrical box.   The receiver was linked by phone wires to the Bangor tower at the city water reservoir.  The receiver was half of the HW-202 transceiver and finally added a 20-dB preamp. It was hung by two screws in a very nice looking radio cabinet on a stand.  Like the transmitter wires hung every where inside the cabinet and not shielded to the standards we encourage now! This repeater however really covered the area well. .    We were having interference problems at the Garrisons QTH of messing up the TV.  This fix Bob recommend we swap receive and transmit which curing the problem.

The owner made us pull in the antenna from a full wavelength to a 1/4 wavelength with loss of coverage.  The leased lines were removed because of city budget cut backs making us resort to cavities.  This caused us to rebuild the station into a single larger cabinet.    A Ham and FCC employee Dick Bold built the cavities. The cavities were purchase for 100 dollars but were not good enough to operate just one antenna so two were required.  This caused loss in coverage.   Later the tower to the east was added making a null to Kalamazoo.   Many opinions were presented to cure the problem.  This was the start of many tries to help.  At the first we used the dipole which was there and inverted a Ringo at the bottom of it for the transmitter.   We lost much coverage but still served us well.  Later we change the Ringo to a G7 antenna.  The next change was with the help of Cushcraft engineers recommend the dual dipoles we are using today.  Over the years we had a few interference problems which we got into the public transit radio phone link because lighting shorted the wires together at the telephone company, once when a xtal went bad and transmitted on two frequencies at once.   The repeater which we have been using also incorporates a Pre-selector because of interference between two did dig-a-repeaters [Kalamazoo and South Haven interfering with us.  The were exactly 600 kHz apart and when both transmitted at same time caused our repeater to lock on when keyed up.  The FCC recommended this up grade.

We are now upgrading into the next century.  We have purchased a new trailer to add to our capabilities.  This is much larger then our older one, still in service too.  It provides much more room and improved capabilities and allows room for supported government agencies.  The repeater also is now in process of having a face-lift too, which will added to the new controller we purchased in the past few years.  Phone patch may be just around the corner!   Many new comers may never know the growing pains the area hams have had but together we have combine efforts made a difference.  Although I have met many hams, worked with and been helped by many in this area I would not have room enough to write their names and calls down.  For that I regret that I did not mention them but will always remember them.   It is my hopes that each and every ham enjoys the hobby as I have and makes their own memories.

As I remember it, hope I did not forget much!

John Helm WA8PRJ   

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