Farley Mowat published “Never Cry Wolf” in 1963. It is a first-person account of the “Lupine Project” that the main character of the story —who happens to have the same name as the author— conducts in the Barren Lands in 1958. Farley Mowat (the author), himself a renowned Canadian writer and naturalist (1921-2014) did have his own share of time in the Artic, and “Never Cry Wolf” clearly benefited from his personal experiences in the Canadian North and the Canadian government. However, the book pertains to the kind of literary narrative that, in Farley’s own words, lays “somewhere in between what was then a grey void between fact and fiction“, and though the truth may not have been altered, the facts may have been artistically doctored as in the case of some of Tristan Jones’ cruising real adventures. In addition to the narrator two other main characters appear in “Never Cry Wolf”: the wolf, portrayed with kindness and respect partly following actual observations made by the author while in the Canadian North, and the “homo bureaucratis“, also clearly portrayed following first-hand observations and treated with the respect that it deserves.
In the book a “portable transceiver” is used to achieve a DX QSO. This may well be part of the fiction. Nevertheless, it may be of interest to speculate which radio rig the author may have had in mind when he wrote the book. Here is a summary of the paragraphs related to this radio:
At the end of chapter three, the main character finally arrives in the Barren Lands where he is left alone at a point that the pilot of his “chartered air transport” accurately pinpoints at “Say about three hundred miles northwest of Churchill“. His instructions were to establish “a permanent base and immediately proceed by means of canoe and utilizing waterways…“. However, noticing the ground frozen and covered in snow he decides to call his bosses in Ottawa for further instructions. For this he goes “to work uncovering the portable radio and setting it up on top of a pile of boxes.” Upon opening the manual, he was “a little taken aback” to find that the rig was “intended for the use of forest rangers and could not normally be expected to work over ranges of more than twenty miles.” He nevertheless “connected the batteries, rigged the aerial, turned knobs and pressed buttons according to instructions — and went on the air.” The battery “was good for only six hours“. According to the text, such “mobile transmitters” were “licensed” by the Department of Transport and his own “call sign” was “Daisy Mae” (improbable call sign, an inverted euphemism for Mayday?). After one hour he “caught the faint echo of a human voice” and was able to “make out a gabble of words” that he identified “as Spanish.” The story goes to tell that the contact had been made with an “amateur operator in Peru“, due to what an “expert” later explains as a “mysterious phenomenon known as ‘wave skip’” caused by a “combination of atmospheric conditions” (a likely reference to Tropospheric ducting?).
From all this it can be deduced/speculated that the radio mentioned in the book must have been:
- a portable/mobile transceiver available to the Canadian government/army in 1958,
- possibly mobile, since it had to be set “on top of a pile of boxes“,
- able to work in cold weather,
- licensed by the Depart of Transport (?),
- with batteries “operating as long as six hours” (and likely external as they had to be “connected“),
- with a “manual” with “instructions“, “knobs” and “buttons“,
- needing an “aerial“,
- with maximum normal range of 20 miles (VHF?),
- able to operate in phone mode (AM?),
- transmitting in frequencies able to occasionally undergo DX propagation (Tropospheric Ducting or E Sporadic propagation?).
A VHF QSO between the Barren Lands and Peru would have been extremely unlikely since it would have needed to cover 8,000 to 9,000 kilometers. VHF DX QSOs have been documented, however both Tropospheric Ducting and E Sporadic Propagation seldom surpass distances in the order of 2,000 – 3,000 Km. However, quite intriguingly, the early Spring of 1958 corresponded to the very maximum of the biggest solar cycle (the nineteenth) with the highest SSN ever recorded happening in March 1958 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cycle_19).
The “forest rangers” was a TV series (1963-65) but the “Canadian Rangers” are part of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve and the author was perhaps referring to a radio set in use by the Canadian Rangers in 1958.
Perhaps other radio amateurs better versed on vintage rigs might wish to speculate further as to which portable radio rig sporting the above specs would have been available to the Canadian government in 1958…
HVE FUN ES 73!