Don Grab – K5BIS
(Balloons in Space as he always said)
August 20, 1930 – January 6, 2019
In memorial of a dear friend to many HAMs
and a long time supporter of The Upper Rio FM Society
The Accidental Radio Operator
An Interview by Mark Goodroom, W5MHG
This story was presented at Donald J. Grab’s memorial service at
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
in Albuquerque New Mexico on January 13th 2019.
When I started writing this story, I envisioned a memorial service that would kick off like a wedding … except rather than being asked by the usher whether you with are with the bride or the groom, he would ask are you a ham or are you a normal person?
If you don’t find this particularly funny…. please let me explain
My name is Dave Grab or Grabber Junior and I am the 2nd harmonic of K5BIS
To translate this for our normal guests … I am the younger child of an amateur radio operator, also known as a Ham.
My Sister Nancy Kay is 1st harmonic, and I’m 2nd. Nancy and I normally refer to our cousins Terry and Lisa as our sisters, because they are double cousins or “half siblings” according to genealogy testing … But in light of today’s audience (ham radio enthusiasts), I will henceforth refer to them as … my heterodynes.
I want to thank everybody for attending on such short notice. I think Nancy figured that if we waited much longer, we would have had to rent out the pit to house his many many many many friends.
I want to thank my heterodynes for bringing Don’s sister Patricia all the way from Belleville IL where they were both born and where Aunt Pat lives.
I want to thank my wife and my sister’s family for all they have done.
I want to thank Don’s neighbors for all they have done.
And I want to thank my Dad’s personal angel. She is simply called Nan by Dad’s great grandchildren Owen and Otto
This is the story of an accidental radio operator
A ham is like a computer nerd .. except from the Jurassic period
K5BIS is a ham radio call sign. It’s kind of like a prehistoric email address, but one you don’t get to choose. If you live East of the Mississippi, you get a W. If you live West of, you get a K. Don has both
Don’s handle was W9MKB until 1955. Today this would be something akin to email@example.com
I never knew what MKB stood for, but BIS means Bathed In Sunshine (also Baked In sunshine, and Buried In Sand). And of course Don’s ham radio calling cards, like many of his friends, includes the beautiful Zia symbol
While in his last month of Air Force basic training, he had the opportunity to select and attend a technical school. He thought, “from the selection available, I will choose a school close my parents”. This mapped out to be the Radio Operator School at Scott Field in Belleville Illinois.
This is how he became an accidental radio operator
After eight months of training he spent three years at Keesler Field, Mississippi, teaching flight crews how to use radios.
Nowadays we use computers because radio communication is and always has been a vital part of aviation
His grandson David Dean used Microsoft Flight Simulator to help him study radio communications to become a commercial pilot
His grandson Paulo, who is only 13, uses Kerbal Space Program to simulate communications with astronauts (little green ones called Kerbals) and control spacecraft design and trajectories.
At Keesler field, Don received his first amateur radio license. He operated at the club radio station, sometimes all night, and the into the following morning. I did something like this last year, but it had more to do with binging Season 2 of Breaking Bad.
When he completed his Air Force duty, it occurred to him that he was ready for more education.
He could copy morse code at 30 words per minute. Is 30 words per minute actually fast? If Donald Trump’s 3AM tweets were in Morse code, Dad could easily retweet them verbatim in real time, even though they still wouldn’t make any sense.
He could twist any knob and throw any switch to make things buzz and whirr … but he yearned for an understanding of the magic that causes these things to happen. So he enrolled in a radio engineering school in Indiana.
While waiting to start classes, he was a ‘hot can catcher’ in a local canning factory. Apparently, at least back in ancient times, food was cooked right in the can, and can catchers filled shipping boxes with cans right out of the boiling water cookers.
I can imagine my Dad relieving the monotony of catching hot cans by dancing to “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar”.
I can imagine my kids relieving the monotony of catching hot cans while blasting “drop it while it’s hot, drop it while it’s hot”.
After graduation he was focusing on a career in broadcast engineering in St. Louis. He worked six months for Ozark Airlines in the radio department and then received an offer from Sandia National Labs way down South and way out West, somewhere in Mexico … or some new part of Mexico at least.
I like to tell my kids that he had the right set of skills at the right time to land a good job.
He accepted. He arrived in a place called Al boo Quer Quoo Quee in 1955, with everything he owned, in a 1950 Chevy convertible.
Imagine a handsome young man flying a sporty convertible down glorious route 66 with swing music blaring out the speakers.
Then imagine a Hallicrafters HT9 taking up the entire back seat, and the music suddenly stops with that famous record needle riiiiip. Apparently it wasn’t discovered that nerds were sex symbols until Dilbert proved it the 1990s.
So now he resided in the deep Southwest. W9MKB became K5BIS.
But then, in 1958, it all came crashing down. His radio hobby was “severely attenuated” by a condition known as “spousus interruptus”.
He had married my Mother and sold his full AM kilowatt station in order to buy furniture for a new house. To translate this for our younger guests, he was “suffering from first world problems”.
He resumed hamming again in 1964 had accumulated a variety of equipment through the years. He has had many hobbies, including bowling, golfing, tennis, boating, and fishing.
When I moved to Seattle I joined a hiking club because I wanted to meet people and socialize. Apparently I inherited some gene for doing this sort of odd behavior. I had a lot of opportunities to have personal conversations with people I had just met.
At first I would joking tell them that my Dad was “Mr. ham radio of New Mexico”. After saying this many times, I learned that he was actually voted to be “Mr. ham radio of New Mexico”.
I’d tell them he is the world’s foremost authority on big bands music and that he can tell you not only the names of every band leader, but also the sidemen and the vocalists. He loved music and my parents loved to throw parties with lots of Creedence Clearwater Revival dancing to be had. He instilled in me passion for music, although sadly I could only get him to appreciate 2 Led Zeppelin songs.
He never really shared my Mother’s and my twisted sense of humor, but he once made a statement that just blew me away .. he said:
I think that Eric Clapton is the best blues guitarist I‘ve ever heard …I just wish he wouldn’t sing
Two years after starting at Sandia Labs an incident known as a Broken Arrow occurred very close to Albuquerque. A nuclear weapon was unintentionally dropped from an airplane landing at Kirtland AFB in rough air. Obviously is was a “successful failure”, but all it took was an accidental throwing of a lever during some turbulence.
At this time, weapons control systems were rapidly becoming more and more complex, involving more and more electronics and remote controls, making them more powerful and more accessible than ever.
Much of Don’s career was involved in the safety, reliability, and security of the components that many weapons systems used. At the Atomic Museum there is a component on display that he helped develop. When I was in aircraft maintenance school in Roswell, I would watch F-111’s performing practice landings knowing that there were components onboard that my Dad developed.
At a banquet for my 10th anniversary at the Boeing company, with dozens of fellow 10 year employees and their managers present, I mentioned that my father retired after 30 years at Sandia National Labs.
Somebody asked me what he did. I replied:
He couldn’t tell me because it was classified, but I do know this ….
If they ever push the red button… my daddy build that button.
He worked with many products and became friends with suppliers all over the country. He took me to a Boston plant once and he took the whole family to a factory in Chicago.
The weird part is he rented a Ford Pinto in St. Louis and drove us to Chicago. Really Dad? We own a Pinto, but you had to rent one for a 300 mile road trip for 4 people and luggage?
And you wonder why Mom calls you El Cheapo?
Over the years, he has been involved in almost every ham radio club, and many if not most ham events in Albuquerque and all across New Mexico. He was trustee of the radio station at the VA hospital, active in the Quarter Century Wireless Association, a net controller on the 75 meter NM traffic net. He was American Radio Relay League Assistant Section Manager, and was Secretary of the Upper Rio FM Society, one of the largest clubs in the US.
To translate this for our transistor-ally challenged guests …
he was Alpha Geek Squared
In 1992, he was nominated Rocky Mountain Division Field Appointee of The Year or in other words “Mr. Ham radio of New Mexico”
So to quote my Dad, PawPaw Don, Grabber Senior, Kilo 5 Bravo India Sierra
So that’s the story of an “accidental” ham radio operator. I hope our young folks will carry on the tradition, not by accident, but with great enthusiasm.
It’s been fun.
The last time I spoke to PawPaw, I had to inform him the bad news that his football team, The Dallas Cowboys, just kicked mine, The Seattle Seahawks, out of the playoffs.
This evening I will lower this silent key’s antennae and pass them on to friends.
To PawPaw I say 88,
and to you I say 73 and good day.
Here is the obituary that ran in the Albuquerque Journal
Donald J. Grab, age 88, born in Belleville, Il., August 20, 1930 to parents Joseph and Irma Grab, passed away with loving family at his side after a long battle with Pulmonary Fibrosis.
Don is survived by his children Nancy (Jon) Ocksrider
David (Giovanna) Grab of Seattle, WA. Sister Patricia
Knapp Grab of Belleville,
IL; grandsons David
Ocksrider of Scottsdale,
AZ, Jamie (Shiree)
Ocksrider of Albuquerque; Rafael and Paulo Grab of Seattle, great-grandsons
Owen and Otto Ocksrider of Albuquerque and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was proceeded
in death by his parents, brother-in-law David
Knapp and his late wife Joyce Knapp Grab.
Don grew up in St Louis, MO, and after graduation from high school he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he spent 4 years during the Korean Era. After discharge, he graduated from the Valparaiso Technical Institute in Applied Radio Engineering. He was then recruited
to Sandia Labs
where he worked for 30 great
He was a sports fan and enjoyed fishing, boating, golf, tennis, gardening and growing award winning dahlia flowers.
Don’s favorite hobby was amateur ham radio of which he became licensed in 1951. He was well known in Albuquerque and the state since 1955, with the call sign K5BIS. He was active in many ham radio clubs and activities.
Don was a 45 year member of Immanuel Presbyterian Church where he was an elder and head usher for many years.
A memorial service
will be held Saturday,
January 12, 2019, at 11:00 am at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 114 Carlisle Blvd SE, 87106. Interment will be at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe in the spring. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made in Don’s honor to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) or the charity of your choice.
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