On a fall day about six years ago, my Father-in-law presented me a very unique gift for my birthday. I had recently become a ham just a few months earlier, and my activities were restricted to VHF, but I had made plans to purchase a new HF rig, and become active, using my General class license privileges, and discovering the fun of HF. As I opened the box, which was quite heavy, I discovered a strange looking apparatus, and I’d never seen anything like it before. I asked what it was, and my father in law replied, It’s something to use for sending Morse code. I found it at an auction. A strange gift indeed, certainly an old, second hand thing, but nonetheless, I thanked him for it, and put this strange looking heavy thing on my shelf. I had known about straight keys, and paddles, as my relatives are hams, and had those. But THIS thing, well, it took some investigation. It had a big word on it.Vibroplexhmmm. Upon asking my Dad, he told me it was a semi-automatic key, or a bug and that back in the old days, lots of folks used them; some did nowadays, but mostly hams collected them. Knowing my Father-in-law, a collector of unique things, that made perfect sense.
A few days passed by, and I decided to play with my new toy, after reading up on it a bit on the Internet. The dits were very fast, and I couldn’t really get that thing to make code near as easily as doing a straight key. However, it wasinteresting. Back on the shelf it went. Well, time went by, and I got a set of paddles, and my Vibroplex paperweight kept it’s place on the shelf, standing guard over my activities. My code speed came up to the low/mid 20s, and I was looking for a challenge. I decided to give my paperweight another try. After some adjustment and practice, I could make some code. I cleaned it up, and after doing so, I discovered that the dull, tarnished base was actually a shiny gold color. I did some research on my bug, and it was something called a Vibroplex Presentation, manufactured in 1955. After even more research, I found that Vibroplex still made bugs! I even could get some weights for it and slow it down, which I did. As a musician, I found the challenge of taming that bug to be fun, but rewarding. Fast forward a couple of years, and now that bug sits proudly on my desk, and is my primary code-sending tool. It checks into nets, has QSOs, chases DX, and all kinds of fun things.
It turns out that my Father-in-law had given me a very useful, and practical gift after all, and not just a conversation piece.
I asked him about it one day, and he said that it came from an auction. The auction was for the estate of the last land-line telegrapher in my town. When the railroad retired the code those many years ago, they retired the code operator with it. He was given the bug as a retirement present, and had it to his dying day. I look at that bug every now and then and wonder of all the messages that it sent. I like to think that somewhere out there, that old landline operator knows that his beloved bug is in good hands, and lives on in a new generation. The music that he sent, combined with the music I send, keeps the sweet music of Morse alive for perhaps another generation. Perhaps my bug will survive me one day and end up in the hands of yet someone else. One can only wonder. In the meantime, the bug sits in my shack and continues to send on.