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Wireless Room

This page is about the making of the wireless room at Fort Perch Rock.

When the Marine Radio equipment saved at the Liverpool warehouse had to be got rid of because of the recent changes to the societies acts, it came as a great blow to the people who had given their time, efforts, money etc, especially those who had spent time collecting the Radio gear, John and Mike went to London from Liverpool three times and also to Belfast to load up vans provided at their own expense together with the petrol and ferry fares. Every effort had to be made to find a solution, which would enable those in favour to preserve the equipment.

wr man bench


The owner of the Lightship PLANET was asked if he would take possession of the equipment remaining there and sent a letter handing over that equipment. The remaining equipment held in a warehouse had to be found a new home. Stan McNally had always had the idea of having a Marine Radio Museum and after lengthy talks with various people a home was found with the owner of Fort Perch Rock, Dougie Darroch senior. Dougie said he said he would be delighted to house our equipment and museum in the circular Searchlight Tower on the right hand side of the Fort. The room was really in a bit of a state and needed a good sorting out all over.

Initially there were a number of guys who helped out even a few from LMRES. We all did some painting and scraping, cleaning etc, but for one reason or another the numbers soon dwindled and the majority was left to just a few very regular volunteers, Stan, John, Mike and Bob. They were very interested and really wanted the project to work and eventually come to fruition to leave this museum as a working replica. This would show what a typical MN ships radio station, that we, ex R/O’s had at sea, before the implementation of the GMDSS and the start of satellite communications taking over.

We did have some major problems along the way to sort out, like a leaking roof in many places, leaking windows. All these had to be repaired at one time or another with black bitumen, new wood, roofing felt etc. The ceiling and wall painting that had initially been done had to be redone using gloss paint instead of the original matt finish emulsion, which showed up the rust from the leaks - again a big job for just a few people.

The ROA donated £100 towards the first bench built, which would house the 1st radio station (Marconi) with radio equipment donated  which once belonged to the Lady Of Man, an ex Isle of Man Ferry. The radio station was laid out exactly the same as it was when it was installed on the vessel some years ago, with help from a photograph of the radio room from Bill Harrison who at one time was the ship’s Radio Officer. A lot of work went into doing the original installation of GVEQ and thanks go to Willie Williamson who kindly installed the Oceanspan Tx for us.

With no source of 24 volts sufficiently stabilised for connecting the emergency equipment, and with no funds from anywhere, we had to sell some equipment on ebay to raise funds for this necessary 24v 41.5 amp stabilised PSU. After obtaining these funds we managed to get two of these 24volt PSU that would also work on the next two stations that would be installed in the future, these PSU’s were flown in from Hong Kong.

Some of the funds raised also helped to pay for:-

• Three Navtex receivers. 
• A Compass in a lovely wooden box. 
• A very old fire extinguisher. 
• Radio room clock and two typical ship's clocks and a barometer.
• Four 1960’s type telephones with rotary diallers to help the authenticity of the place. 
• A couple of Sat Nav display units and an old type Decca Navigator with the clocks which look like part of an aircrafts cockpit, with RED, GREEN, PURPLE and MASTER clocks.
• A portable typewriter  
• Two Red Ensigns were also purchased.
 
We were able to do this with the funds from the sale of two JRC receivers and an RA1792 receiver. We also managed to get some much needed new drill bits, a lump hammer, a chisel, a couple of saws, etc. Then the 2nd radio station was to be installed; a Kelvin Hughes Console main and emergency station with a floor plinth holding the 1250-watt fully synthesised TX.

people with drinks


This equipment being donated by Dougie Taylor an ex KH engineer and his colleagues from the Liverpool Depot. They had saved this equipment from the skip and scrapheap, when KH’s office was closing down and moving to Birkenhead.To obtain the wood and kitchen type worktops we had to beg, borrow and purloin the gear, as we had no funding available. This was rather difficult for the faithful few of us. However, in time we did it and all enjoyed and believed in what we were doing.

Andy Forbes very kindly gave us his time and cabinet making skills and made us a great bench on which to fit the Kelvin Hughes gear, he also started the bench on which we fitted our 3rd station, which was a complete Marconi Console, which originated from the ship Forth Bank. Andy also did a great job of making the plinths for the third floor standing Commandant HS main transmitter. Mike managed to finish off the third bench and also to make a great job of making the fourth bench.

These benches are no mean tasks to make as they all have to be boxed in with plywood and kickboards made, stained and varnished with a few coats. The kickboards were painted with two coats of black japlac paint. Stan, John, Mike and Bob have also spent many pounds of their own money to achieve these goals. Plywood sheets, paint, locks, keys, varnish/stain, turps, sandpaper, screws, nails, rawbolts, and rawl plugs extension leads 13 amp plugs, switched wall sockets and cable and perspex sheeting, printer ink and laminating machine and pouches do not come cheaply these days.

orangutan


It was either do this or abandon the complete project for lack of funds!! Anyway the “pocket money” was wisely spent to keep the project and our beliefs in the museum alive. The third radio station, a Marconi console equipment ex Forth Bank, was obtained by Stan and Dougie Taylor from  Phil Plimbolt in Leeds, who was very pleased to see it was going to be preserved. Some of the sub units were replaced by working equipment donated from Stan Rowlinson (Head of Belfast Radio College) and an Apollo and Nebula receiver and a Salvor 4 Em Tx were donated by John together with a Marlin tx/rx. plus a 27 foot vertical multiband marine aerial, all from his home equipment. Moving this equipment was the extremely hard bit, a Marconi console to be humped up two flights of stairs and into the radio room!

“Dead easy one said!!”

carlsberg


Well, we had David White, Willy Williamson, Steve Teare, Bill Harrison, John Wilkinson, Bob Bunker, Mike  and myself and it was indeed a huge effort to get this beast up the stairs, round the corner and onto the bench, PHEW!! There were a few sweaty brows and armpits that day, and that was with the console emptied of its equipment! No wonder Stan decided to go to New Zealand, he must have seen this coming and didn’t tell us how heavy it was!! LOL!!

Anyway well done to all the guys who gave a lift that day, a good achievement indeed. The consol, which was (EX FORTH BANK), was populated with gear and to our surprise---NO DRAWINGS-----   The internal wiring had been heavily modified as at one time it had a Crusader Tx fitted and then replaced by Skanti tx/rx.  How does one wire this up we asked ourselves, with great difficulty came the reply---head in hands---again, despair, but Stan keeps us chivvied up and gives us the will to keep on going.

Anyway those 24 volt PSU’s came in very handy for running the emergency gear in all the three stations and this got us out of a few problems, we completely ignored all the mods and “did it our way” and it works ok now.  Lots of aerials were run to different receivers around the place and a vertical aerial for the amateur station again a 27-foot multiband vertical (ex Planet lightship) which only had to be moved six  - yes six times due to siting problems. It was removed together with all the rawlbolts and brackets, buy new rawlbolts at £9.00 per set and new brackets to mount them on at £10 per set.

ship wireless room page


Bob did some great work with the hammer drill and rawlbolts, some were even managed to be salvaged eventually. But this was all completely soul destroying as we were repeating work we had already done not once but six times! Not much fun at our age dangling with big drops underneath you, putting up aerials and running wires in the windy conditions which are apparent with the Fort’s siting. Then the fibreglass pole supporting the rx aerials and Navtex aerials decided to snap in half in the high winds, (rated at 84MPH) winds. So a jointing section was purchased to strengthen the fibreglass mast and new bolts and plugs were obtained and fitted and repaired the mast and it’s been ok since then even in some very high winds.

man pulling ceiling


The winter months will give it a final test I am sure! We had wanted a RADAR for sometime but did not have the funds to purchase one.Stan heard on the grapevine a company was looking for somewhere to install a radar with a good radar view----now the Fort is ideal—it is right at the entrance to the river Mersey, and has a great- unobstructed view if you (discount the lighthouse). Stan was on to this like a flash and contacted the company concerned and arranged a meeting at the Fort together with its owner. The local company thought the Fort to be a great site for their company’s Radar and VTS and AIS system and agreed with the owner they would install it under a gentleman’s agreement, it benefits both parties.

It is always a good idea to install a Radar screen with the display unit looking forward, so you can glance at the screen and lift your head and glance out of the bridge window. Only thing was a KH main console station was sitting there----OH NO!! we thought, we had a little meeting between ourselves and said right, we will have to undo completely the KH station and move it to the other side of the room!

“Easier said than done.”

So it was stripped down and then the empty console was humped by four of us, Bob, Mike, Willy and myself to the other side of the room to the new bench which Mike had made, where it was repopulated and rewired internally to the state as before moving. We also did the same with the KH main tx including the floor plinth that too was repopulated with its necessary units and resited.

Then we had to re-run the mains and the 24 volts and aerials to the unit as well, all very time consuming. We were now left with an empty bench, the top of which had to be replaced as it was not long enough to accommodate all the radar gear, so it was off to B and Q for a new worktop, very expensive indeed, this was cut and fitted by Mike and myself and Mike made a lovely pair of cupboard doors with a lock on it so the radar gubbins could be installed underneath the bench and to keep visiting kiddies sticky fingers out of the equipment and prevent twiddling etc!!

man reading


Preparations were now underway for the new Radar to be installed, we had to supply mains to it, drill a number of holes through the sandstone thick walls for their cables from the scanner/tx unit to enter the cupboard under the bench. After a few weeks of liasing with the company we were ready for them and they delivered the gear and installed it very nicely with a good-looking steel tower for the Radar scanner and TX unit. The Company made a very nice job of the installation and after the few usual hiccups and adjustments all worked satisfactorily and gave a great picture.

The installation was followed by a Company trainer attending, giving us a quick demonstration and short course for a day, on the APX 8000 VTS unit from the operator’s point of view.  We were all very pleased with the performance and the friendly but professional approach from the guys from the Radar Company. This really helps with the education of the public as well. We have had a number of visitors of ex R/O and ETO’s some like Tony Selman who kindly donated a PC and Printer for our use in the Radio Room area and it is presently running slide shows on CD discs of ships and radio rooms etc to help with the nostalgia element.

Chas Duggan, Gordon Smeaton both ETO’s have both visited and also kindly donated a Uniform, Books and Manuals of Radio and Radar Gear, PSU and Oscilloscope and carrier bags full of small components, Decca Navigator charts as well. Clive Evans, a serving ETO has visited a number of times when on leave and has given his expertise on a number of technical matters, plus quite a few photographs he has taken of the Fort. The radio room has even a original 24 volt emergency light – but its a terrible job to get a 24 volt bulb these days!

There is a handbook for Radio Operators from the era and a Notice to ships Wireless Stations, mariner manuals and Morse keys to enable the kids to send their names in Morse code. We have lists of ship and coast station books and most things you would find in a ship’s radio room from the 60’s and 70’s era—we have tried to make it as realistic as possible. Over the past few months we have met up with a few ex colleagues who we knew from years ago at Radio College and at KH they are Hugh Burton and his wife Heather, and also Mike Ridehalgh who have joined our band of merry men and are helping us out where they can - both are ROA members as well.

A more recent volunteer has joined us, an ex MN Radio Officer and Technical College Senior Lecturer from Riversdale Technical College named as Albert Owings who is also an ROA member and WW2 Radio Officer veteran, Albert very much enjoys chatting to the visiting public. More recently Stan’s colleagues Ron Jones and Stan Thompson have joined us and help out with a variety of jobs and talk to the customers at the Fort. We also had a donation from Mike Tait from the Wirral of a Debeg Tx and Rx from his dive ship. Mike and I recently collected two ex GKA ITT teleprinter machines from a donation from Phil Pimblott an avid radio collector and they are now at the Fort, presently awaiting some plugs and sockets for wiring up (we hope) to link them together. Stan and Mike and myself have made numerous personal donations of memorabilia, books, equipment, test equipment, and the likes.

man on radio


Unfortunately our requests for volunteers to help out at the Fort has fallen on deaf ears, not one person came forward, a sad day indeed for Marine Radio as it was, with so much expertise and knowledge and numerous ex R/O’s----in the surrounding areas. Up to now we have been going to the Fort a few times a week sometimes even 3 times a week, this has been ongoing now for some two and half years or more since we first started,iIt has taken a lot of time and effort of a few stalwart members who not only tell the public about the gear and the MN in general but are the ones who obtained and installed the majority of the equipment, keep it going and try to keep the public educated and informed.  Unfortunately though we cannot be there all the time, as we too need to have a family life----that’s why we wanted the volunteers to help us out!--So it is left unmanned at times---which is a real shame.

The work is presently unfinished and is still ongoing but is something we can all feel proud of. The room with its single (Lady of Man radio Room) was officially opened in October 2006 by Capt Robin Woodall (ex QEII Master.) The other 2 stations equipment has since followed on slowly over a period of time.

preserving radio history article