Louis Varney, G5RV

Last Stagecoach To Amberley

Readers of Westerns will be familiar with the stock opening. Take, as an example, “The Last Stagecoach into Abilene”.

StagecoachThe Stagecoach rolls into Abilene, late. It comes to a halt outside the Silken Garter saloon. The first of the arriving travelers to step down is a young attractive lady, wearing fancy eastern clothes and a haughty expression.

Next is a tall stranger. He tips the brim of his Stetson to the lady as she strides off across the street to the hotel while he makes his way into the saloon.

The man riding shotgun, a grizzled old-timer, clambers down from the top of the stage and tells the waiting crowd, who can hardly take their eyes off the rear of the departing fancy eastern clothes, that the coach is late ‘cos o’ them pesky injuns who’d come a whoopin’ outa the hills the other side of Rattlesnake Pass.

Some of the spirit of the Old West remains in place today in West Sussex.

The Stagecoach rolls into Amberley, late. It comes to a halt outside the station yard. The only arriving traveller to step down is me.

Nobody is riding shotgun on the Stagecoach Bus, the special Sunday’s only service between Burgess Hill and Pulborough by way of Amberley, running under contract to West Sussex County Council, to explain why it’s late.

I know why because I witnessed it all an hour ago when the driver of a Range Rover misjudged the pattern of the continuous line of parked vehicles in Bramber.

The resulting confusion, when he ended up facing the Amberley Stage head-on with cars piling up behind in both directions, took a time to sort out. The driver of the Amberley Stage lacked the eloquence of a grizzled old-timer when he voiced an opinion of the Range Rover driver.

Through the reverse image from the oversize mirror in the driver’s cab I was able to lip-read every syllable of his forthright, colourful delivery and no mention of pesky was made.

It’s the last day of September and there are two reasons why I’m at the Amberley Museum today. It’s Autumn Crafts and Skills Day, billed as ‘A chance for accompanied children to try their hand at a range of craft activities’.

Try your hand at morse code First job is to get the Radio Station set up with the sign ‘Try your hand at Morse, send your name in Morse Code and receive a certificate’ prominently displayed.

There are already a few visitors circulating.

At one end of the building housing the Wireless exhibits the sombre tones of Neville Chamberlain are issuing a sixty-eight year old declaration of war from a radio set of that period.

In lighter vein, from another part of the building, Flotsam and Jetsam, a popular vocal duo of that same period, are singing about little Miss Bouncer who loves an announcer down at the BBC.

I unlock a couple of cabinets, throw three or four switches and the Radio Station is ready for action. There are two HF rigs available for operation, a Trio 530 and a Kenwood 570.

Trio 530 transceiver

The 530 has a history. Formerly owned by G5RV, Louis had bequeathed it to the RAIBC. Johnny, G3MJK, the chairman of that club decided that because of its pedigree the rig ought to be preserved and accordingly donated it to the Museum, where it is fired up from time to time to keep it in trim. It’s still capable of delivering 100 watts but lacks the filtering on receive found on the 570 which is a big plus in view of the locally generated static.

 

With the 570 running I check 80 metres to find a signal strong enough to surmount the S9 plus of noise and get an entry in the log from a /P in South Wales who is at a kite flying rally and has an enormous length of wire up.

Now the serious business of the day begins. Usually the Morse key attracts a few inquisitive fingers but as this is billed as a hands-on event everyone seems to be up for it today.

With the aid of a chart of the Morse alphabet and brief instructions on the keying of a dot and a dash from me it is no time before eager hands are clutching prized certificates.

There are also questions to be answered. When, where and why did Morse originate? Is it still in use today? Have you ever heard an SOS message? All good stuff but it’s not all about Morse.

Stopping by for a chat are people who have just come across the very same Wireless Set/TV that their dad brought home years ago when they were still at school.

Old soldiers have just seen a 19 set and a 22 set and reminisce of times when they operated them at Catterick or was it Calcutta? The passage of time has distanced their minds from the exact location but wherever it was its good for a yarn. Then of course inevitably there are the Radio Amateurs

A fortnight earlier, then in company with Tony XQM, it seemed more than co-incidence that so many Isle of Wight Amateurs were present. It was the day of the Museums annual mid September Bus Show and it transpired that with a bus coming over on the ferry from the island for the Show, the members of the famous Brickfields ARS were making it an opportunity for a day out.

They deserved it, with the work they put in, running all those special events stations. The Needles Lighthouse and the Marconi sites come to mind, so it was great to meet up with a very interesting bunch.

There was the chap telling us of the bits of the original Marconi mast base that are still being turned up when the field at the site is ploughed. Another was the collector of old 405 line TVs, so many that they are housed in a 3,000 sq. ft. shed. Then there was the Intermediate License Holder who worked ZL with 50 watts and an inverted V on 80 mtrs. Makes you wonder.

Back to today and I’m still putting the children through their paces, or is it the other way around? Most of the names are short, Josh, Emma, Max, so the certificates are issuing thick and fast.

I complain of the need for a rest and then there steps forward a young lady who is going to help me out because she tells me she has a really long name. I’m occupied tidying up the shack whilst she sends.

“So you’re Madeleine?” I ask her. She smiles and nods her head. Her mother comments that it was clever because I wasn’t even watching but mum is wrong, what was really clever was that this little ten year old has laid her hand on a key for the first time and sent her name at a fair clip, faultlessly.

Just before closing for the day another high spot occurs. By a combination of arm-twisting and leg-pulling an entire family, three children, mum, dad and grandma are talked into taking their Morse tests and as they meander off, still chuckling, past the mock-up of the bomber wireless cabin, each is grasping a certificate.

Signing out and making my way along the path to the station yard I reflect on the last few enjoyable hours but what is to come and the second reason for my visit today is not so pleasant.

The contract for the Sunday bus service is expiring today, probably because of a tightening of the purse strings by West Sussex County Council. So cos o’ them mean ornery critters at Chichester I’m about to climb onto “The Last Stagecoach into Amberley”.

Written by Ron Glover G0WGP