What is W2AGZ?


This page, and the website name, is to honor the memory of my father, Paul Archibald Grant, W2AGZ, one of the pioneer amateur radio operators ("hams") in the Mid-Hudson valley in the 1920s.  As I get time, this page will contain my memories of being brought up in Dad's "shack," and the influence he and ham radio had on my life.  W2AGZ was his station "call sign," similar in style to that of commercial radio stations, but with a number added.  "W" was the first designation assigned to the United States, and "2" was for New York State.  The remaining letters were issued in order of license application, so you see Dad's "handle" was one of the early ones.

My father was born on August 18th, 1905 in Waterbury, Connecticut, the only son of Minnie Mecabe Grant and Abraham Lincoln Grant.  I don't know much about my grandfather "Linc," because he died three months before my father was born.  I was told he was born in Concord, California, the youngest of ten children and ran away from home to San Jose when he was twelve.  He learned the trades of carpenter and mechanic, and owned a small circus and one of the first Edisonphones in California, which he used to give "concerts" at Sierra Nevada mountain mining camps during the winter season.  At one point, he visited some relatives back in New York where he met my grandmother.  I've been told Minnie Mecabe was a very talented pianist.

After Minnie and Linc married, they settled in Waterbury, for reasons I'm not sure of, but suspect it was because Waterbury at that period was a major center of US tool machine manufacturing.  After the birth of my father, the family moved to Wappingers Falls, New York, (50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River) where many of my grandmother's relatives lived.  Lincoln Grant's occupation as listed on my father's birth certificate is "machinist."  It seems Dad may have inherited his manual skills and intuition with respect to matters mechanical from both sides.  His friends would tell me, "Your father could make ball bearings on a belt sander."

I remember Dad telling me he became aware of "radio" when he was perhaps 13 or 14 years old (1918 - 19) because of the news of its role in World War I.  Incidentally, my father did not stay in school beyond the 8th grade, not uncommon in the working class of those days.  His first job was as an operator of a steam press, manufacturing laminated wooden steering wheels for the "luxury" automobiles of the time.  At age 16, he was "adopted" by the Mid-Hudson Valley ham radio club, and became acquainted with both the "spark-gap" rf equipment of that day, along with the "new-fangled" vacuum tube technology, building his own station and acquiring from the FCC the station call sign this website honors.

Throughout the 20s and early 30s, my father worked at a variety of mechanical trades at various Mid-Hudson manufacturing companies and as an independent contractor installing domestic radios and the then attendant long-wire antennas, while still improving and expanding the technology in his "shack."  In 1935, the year I was born, he became a victim of the Great Depression and was not "permanently" employed again until 1938.   My mother, a career woman decades before her time, kept the family financially afloat, stably employed by the local electric utility company.

One of my earliest memories is the sight of the glowing white-hot graphite anode of the Eitel-McCullough 35T triode in my father’s ham radio transmitter.  At about three or four years old, it was certainly the brightest light I had yet seen.  His whole rig was “breadboarded”…the components simply laid out on plywood with all wiring exposed, including that of a several thousand volt power supply.  I was sternly warned never to go near it.  On an adjacent table sat an equally fascinating object – a Hallicrafters SX-28 multiband receiver with two monstrous white dials on each side of a softly lit Triplett null meter.  I hugely enjoyed sneaking up and twirling the dials, an activity which always garnered me more paternal attention than I had anticipated or desired.  I knew all this equipment bore some relationship to the arcane diagrams in his ham magazine, QST, which Dad was always pouring over.  I would fantasize I understood them too, trying to guess which hieroglyphic was which component, much to his amusement.

 All this bliss disappeared shortly after Pearl Harbor.  My father was drafted and all his beautiful gear requisitioned by the military.  But there was an upside.  Although my father was one of the pioneer amateur radio operators in the Hudson Valley, his formal education was limited to no more than one year of high school.  The story about how he was able to "volunteer" for the Navy, instead of winding up in the Army, is fascinating...in short, a Navy physician present at his induction physical decided he was "too old" for battlefield service, and, with a wink of his eye, assigned him to the Navy.  His first tour was as a Fireman First Class on a destroyer escort protecting a convoy to Iceland.  However, thereafter, the Navy trained him as a shipboard radar technician, and he returned home in late 1945 with a fair knowledge of algebra and trigonometry which allowed him to resume his hobby with much increased understanding.  It also began my education in electricity in earnest, right out of the introductory chapter to the Radio Amateur’s Handbook that same year.  It appeared there was two kinds—direct and alternating—dc and ac.  Fathoming direct current was, in today’s parlance, a “slam dunk.”  The first algebraic equation I learned was Ohm’s Law and that was it for dc.  ac, on the other hand, was a different matter, involving what Dad called “vectors” and “phasors” and “this jay-omega stuff.”  At age ten, this was more than I could handle, although I did get as far as appreciating the meaning of the nemonic “Eli, the ice man.”  One thing was for sure…ac was a lot more complicated than dc.

 We all know about the triumph of ac over dc – Tesla vs. Edison – deriving from the simpler operation of polyphase rotating machinery and the transformer which allowed efficient long-distance transmission of electric power.  Both devices were invented by Tesla, the patents to which he later sold to George Westinghouse for ten million dollars, an enormous sum in those days.  Westinghouse, being somewhat a showman, became associated with alternating current in the public mind.  Edison would continue to claim ac was “more dangerous” than dc, and when New York State authorized the use of high voltage ac for “humane” executions, the Edison camp morbidly referred to the procedure as being “westinghoused.”


Ran out of time (7/25/09), but not out of story.  As content is added, it will be announced on the What's New page.

12 June 2010...still working on this story...I hope to post online my Dad's WWII scrapbook, and photos from his IBM career starting with the 701 in 1948.  In the meantime, anyone who "Google-stumbles" across this page is welcome to contact me at w2agz@w2agz.com.





Front Page