When I was getting started in ham radio, I learned a lot by participating in public service events. My first such experience was providing ham radio snowshoe race communications.
Back in the 1960’s, the St. John’s Cathedral Boys School in Selkirk, Manitoba, held annual snowshoe races. These were described in the SJBS 1964 Annual Report as follows:
“In Winter, Grade 6 and 7 boys take part in the Thomas Vincent snowshoe race – Lockport to Winnipeg, 18 miles. Intermediate boys take part in a 28 mile race from the school to Winnipeg by an indirect route. Senior boys take part in the Lagimodiere Race, 50 miles, Matlock to Winnipeg by the Red River Valley.”
If you know the region, you will recognize that these are challenging routes, especially in winter. Members of the Winnipeg Amateur Radio Club provided public safety communications for these races, which all ended in Kildonan Park.
We used 2 meter FM to provide communications over the fifty mile stretch from Matlock to Winnipeg. Before repeaters, we had to extend our communications from mobile radios by using pop-up masts.
Above right, you can see a simple driver-over base for a pop-up mast. We used a piece of wood with an attached flange to hold an aluminum pole to get an antenna up 15 feet. Other times, we just mounted a base inside a spare tire.
Ham Radio Snowshoe Race – Fire at the School
Typically, as we prepared for ham radio snowshoe race communications, some of us would go out the previous weekend to test equipment and ensure everything worked. One year I was paired with Dan Johnson VE4HK.
We arrived at the school to discover the barn on fire. After raising the alarm, we assisted with fire fighting bucket brigade but to little avail. Hundreds of chickens in the barn perished.
A few weeks after the race, everyone gathered at the school for a “thank you” dinner. They served roasted chicken. None of us could eat it!
Here’s a short video of a more recent race.