“Made it! 80 Years a ham.” That’s how ARRL member Paul Elliott, W5DM, of Hobbs, New Mexico, recently posted his milestone on the Top Band reflector. Growing up during the Great Depression in Kingsville, Texas, Elliott got his ham ticket at age 14 as W5GGV. Now 94, Elliott eventually worked his way to the top rung — Amateur Extra — back in the day when that license offered no additional privileges, just prestige. It did later allow him to apply for a two-letter suffix call sign, and he became W5DM.
His first rig was homebrewed from Atwater Kent radio parts, with a wire to a tree for an antenna, but he remembers making his own galena crystal for a crystal set and experimenting with a Model T spark coil. He continued building his own transmitters and receivers for a couple of decades, operating CW until SSB came along. Elliott succeeded in working all states on 160 meters from a 120 × 120 foot electrically noisy city lot with “a long but low semi-inverted L,” as he described it. He now has 189 DXCC entities confirmed on Top Band.
A Texas native and World War II veteran, Elliott is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and served in the Pacific. After the war, he was a Navy aviator. In the late 1940s, he began farming cotton and maize, which he continued until 1980 on 200 South Texas acres, then taking on a second job as a chemical plant engineer, before going back to school to earn a doctorate in physics from Texas A&M.
“I’m basically a peasant with a lot of education,” is how he describes himself. He spent more than 20 years in academia as a professor of physics at his alma mater. In addition to Amateur Radio, Elliott enjoyed flying and was a licensed commercial pilot.
“Basically, all I’m doing today is chasing the occasional DX,” Elliott told ARRL. He said he has a transceiver and a couple of wire antennas that he makes work on all bands. Elliott has 325 DXCC entities confirmed on all bands — plus a lot of memories from an earlier era of Amateur Radio. He recalled a fellow ham in Texas who had directly coupled the final tube of his transmitter, with 1,500 V dc on the plate, to his antenna. When he received a “pink slip” (advisory notice) from an FCC monitoring station in Hawaii for harmonics, his friend saw the bright side and bragged about the distance his signal had traveled.
“Age, not surprisingly, has taken its toll,” Elliott said on the Top Band reflector, noting that his CW speed was now down to 20-25 WPM because of waning dexterity. “Thanks to all who have had the knowledge and the kindness to help me over the years,” he said.
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