Building Kits

Anyone Remember Building Kits

As a small boy I discovered the delights of taking things apart to figure out how they work. I would take apart anything and my father would bring home every broken appliance. I remember the best things to dissect had motors and gears! You could understand a gear reduction or a belt clutch by looking at them. By the time I reached ten I could repair small appliances; toasters, mixers, drills and sanders but radios were still beyond my ability. The workings of radio sets remained a mystery but I could take the tubes down to the drug store and test them. Most consumer radios in those days had less than a dozen tubes and most tubes failed due to an open heater or shorted grid. As a teenager too young for cars I became good at repairing radios. I actually could get most radios working by the time I was twelve. With these remove and replace skills, I did not understand how it worked but I could fix them by replacing parts! Sounds familiar doesn’t it. In today's world I could be the lead technician at my local new car dealership, sad but true! Remember this was in the 1950's so the electronics were all tubes and 200-400 Volts. I guess today this would be called child abuse but I never got shocked or hurt.

When I was old enough to drive I worked in a hardware store and became the appliance repairman. As a logical progression in my repair guy life I worked my way through college as a TV repairman. At this point I understood how radios worked, read schematics, could trace circuits and had my own tube tester. I replaced what seemed like a million GE tubes but likely it was 1000 each year. The shop was very large with 30 technicians; I worked mostly TV but also radios and small appliances as the backlog required. The manger was helpful letting me work only in the shop and odd hours around my class schedule. Looking back I now understand why the manager helped me out, I could work anywhere he needed help and I was cheap compared to the other technicians. I was happy to get what I considered a high paying job with something no one heard of in 1960, “flex” hours. I did go on to an engineer career working 30 years for a large aerospace company advancing to chief systems engineer. Being good at solving complex problems did help my career and caused me to be sent to projects in trouble in many different technologies and company divisions. These new challenges were very rewarding for me and gave me the opportunity to work in most disciplines of telecommunications.

As you may have gathered, I was a WWII baby boomer and grew up in the era of electronic kits once dominated by Heathkit. I always enjoyed building kits and I started looking at old catalogs on the internet. The following are my favorites I most remember over the many years;

Dave Nurse, W8GCD

Heath Company President

Now, six decades later, the answers are easy to find on the Internet and I found many of the kits I made were actually Knight-Kits made by Allied Radio (now known as Allied Electronics). Knight-Kits, although not as extensive a line as Heathkit, had a full line of test equipment, SWL, audio and educational kits rounded out their product line. I guess I made more Knight-Kits because I was raised near Chicago and Allied Radio was a Chicago-based company I knew well many decades before they were purchased by Radio Shack. I did make a few EICO, PACO and other long-forgotten kits over years.

The following are the radios and kits, each marking a point in my life like your first BB gun, new bicycle or suit. I hope you enjoy looking back as much as I have enjoyed gathering these pictures.

My first venture in communications a

WWII Surplus Field Phone

As a small boy my neighbor

would let me listen to the world on his

Zenith Model AL600

TransOceanic Radio

My first attempt at Morse Code with a

Knight-Kit Code Oscillator

Now I was moving up in the world learning circuits and soldering….

I remember this kit, I was nine years old and

my Christmas wish came true with a

Knight-Kit Twelve-in-One Electronics Laboratory Kit

Knight-Kit Walkie-Talkies………

I remember saving up for almost a year! $20 for a pair of

walkie-talkies was my life savings!

I cannot remember why I wanted a

Knight-Kit Photoelectronic Relay Kit

but I can remember it was cutting edge technology, “space age’ stuff

Now we have infrared motion detectors on our driveway lights.

The Knight-Kit Star Roamer

was a big step up for me. It was simple point to point wiring but it was a real superheterodyne receiver. It worked but I now understand why it lacked sensitivity and selectivity.

Knight Kit 400A….

I finally had my very own tube tester!

Heathkit 10W-12 Oscilloscope….

It was only specified at 5 MHz and useful at 2 MHz!

Heathkit Electronic Switch ID-101….

Very high tech, I now had dual trace!

Fast Forward to 2011! My first Software Defined Radio,

Soft Rock 20M Lite II… a radio just 1" X 2"

Now working with surface mounted components, a long way from tubes!

The original KN9B and 70 Years later

after some minor “UPGRADES”

After retiring in 2007, I have time for those things that waited and that list was long. The priorities switched around until I put amateur radio at the top and got my license in 2009.

I particularly like working digital modes and QRP. I spend a lot of my time building IQ SDR rigs and portable antennas as a practical solution to life in a community with deed restrictions. In fact, it may be the challenge that drives it all!

My other hobbies started with golf. I never golfed until I had been retired for two years. My neighbors got me to try golf and I discovered it is a social activity more than a sport. Now I am playing golf three times a week and bowling in a league, I am not good at any sport but it is fun.