Pisan Tower Event
By Philip Lazar, K9PL
What do two towers a continent away and centuries apart have in common? Plenty, when they're located in the sister cities of Pisa, Italy and Niles, Illinois, and when two local Amateur Radio clubs celebrate their resident edifice with special event stations.
Located in the historic and picturesque Tuscany region of north central Italy, the city of Pisa is rightfully famed for many reasons. High on anyone's list, however, would have to be its cathedral bell tower. Erected on the unstable soil of the Field of Miracles (Campo del Miracoli) during the years 1174 to 1350 to a height of 179 feet, the Leaning Tower of Pisa now deviates approximately 16.5 feet from the perpendicular. Until recent engineering efforts stabilized it, the structure annually moved off kilter an average 0.043 inch. Legend has it that it was from this tower that scientist Galileo Galilei performed his early experiments with gravity.
Half a world away, on a heavily trafficked suburban road in Niles, Illinois, lined with the mundane structures of 21st century USA, there looms a column that instantly draws the first-time visitor's attention. Rising 94 feet above the pavement and leaning about 7 feet 4 inches off plumb is a one-half scale replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Originally built as part of an Italianate-style estate and completed in 1934, America's Leaning Tower now stands in the foreground of the fittingly named Leaning Tower YMCA.
Constructed of steel, concrete and pre-cast stone, the building served as a water storage tower. Now, surrounded by gardens, fountains and
reflecting basins that complement its Old World charm, it stands in an oasis of quiet beauty amidst the near-urban din.
On the Friday afternoon preceding the event, a group of Metro Amateur Radio Club (MAC) members arrived to prepare the site for the weekend's activities. From this assembly of pioneers, Amy, W9FO; Steve, N9WAT, and Philip, K9PL, ascended the tower's "fun house" stairs and spiral ramp to erect two vertical antennas at dizzying heights on the building's railing. One antenna was affixed approximately 84 feet above nearby Touhy Avenue, and the other antenna found its home about 15 feet below the first. At the tower's windblown apex, the installers were rewarded with views of Chicago-area landmarks including the city's skyline in the southern vista, and to the northeast, Wilmette's Bahai Temple.
In Pisa, Italy, our Italian counterparts, Paulo Barsotti, IK5ZTT, and Claudio Ferro, IZ5AXD, of the Pisa ARC set up their operation at the original tower for this continent-spanning event. Our
call sign was K9Y and the Pisa ARC operated as IZ5AXT/TWR. Anyone who worked either station would qualify for a special-event QSL. Those lucky
enough to contact both stations would be eligible for the "Pisan Tower Award."
For Saturday, June 1, the weatherman promised us a hot and sunny day, and delivered the goods--94 degrees, dazzling and windy. Alas, band conditions were uniformly poor; only 20 meters offered sporadic glimmers of hope with short QSO runs for both the SSB and CW stations.
Between, during and after their on-the-air exchanges our intrepid operators were kept busy reefing the shelters and retrieving airborne objects flung aloft by wind bursts. One particularly forceful gust collapsed the fly tarp over the CW station enveloping the operators in yards of polyethylene, but they didn't miss a dit while a hastily mustered rescue crew lifted and reguyed the offending plastic.
The Sunday, June 2 forecast assured clement temperatures in the upper 70s. This pleasant prognostication was deficient by 20-plus degrees. The MAC
crew experienced a 40-degree drop during the overcast, chilly and gusty 54-degree day that sent many scrambling for warmer clothing. Again, the
bands were nearly silent with the occasional SSB or CW signal optimistically bursting through the wall of radio silence.
But it wasn't all toil at the mike and key; the MAC group had time to socialize with the many guests dropping in on both days. They enjoyed the company of Chicago broadcast radio legend Clark Weber, W9FFB, and Mary Kay Morrissey, the Niles Village Manager. They also hosted a number of local aspiring and licensed hams and several inquisitive "civilian" visitors who stopped by the stations while sightseeing the suburban tourist destination.
Serving double-duty as a test run for the club's participation in Field Day, this very special event proved, once again, the abundant ingenuity, perseverance and problem-solving abilities of the ham radio community. When problems arose, and they were few, solutions were skillfully and successfully deployed.
In the end, the MAC station counted 192 contacts while the Pisan Amateur Radio Club snagged 155 contacts. Considering the poor propagation
conditions, that's an impressive result.
Our special thanks to those helpful individuals at the Leaning Tower YMCA and the Village of Niles for making this premier event possible.
Many MAC members, their families and friends, contributed to the success of this event with their generous contributions of time, expertise, gear, good humor and moral support. They include, but are not limited to: Amy, W9FO; Bill, N9TN; Bill, W9BB; Dave, AA9PK; Dave, W9LYA; Dick, W9CBT; Fay, N9FA; Gary, KA9OBZ; Glenn, KA9C1W; Jovan, KB9K; Mike, N9BOR; Paul, KB9ZIO; Pete, W9RMB; Rob, NV8V; Scott, W8UFO; Steve, KB9YPC; and Tom, W9TTY. From the number of smiles-per-minute we observed, we know all had a super time.
Philip Lazar, K9PL, was first licensed in 1976 as a General class licensee with the call WD9ADE. He attained Advanced class status in 1977 and earned his Extra class license in 1978 when he was granted AA9N. He is an avid Morse devotee, full-time ragchewer and part-time DXer. A senior publications editor, he is the author of magazine, book and newsletter articles on a wide range of subjects, including automotive fleet management, corporate travel, relocation, living costs and human resources. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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