The Hunt for Vintage Parts

Once I decided to build a 1929 station, I knew immediately I wanted to use only 1929 authentic parts wherever possible. I would only use more modern parts if the early ones could not be found or I could not afford them. There was one catch: I didn’t know enough about vintage parts to recognize them if I saw them!

Fortunately I was invited to join AWAGroup, a Yahoo group “celebrating the history, building, and restoration of radio gear from the era 1920-1941 in a supportive way that both encourages and nurtures newcomers”. There I received a warm welcome and tremendous support, education, and assistance in my quest. A few parts from my own junk box were quickly identified as being appropriate for 1929 construction. I was off and running.

Since getting out to swap meets isn’t really an option, I would be looking for parts online. I knew eBay would be a primary source, but an expensive one. I spent most of the next several weeks searching there for parts and digging through old issues of QST magazine in the ARRL Online Periodicals Archive. I was slowly gaining some insight into parts and techniques of the era. There was just one major glitch I had failed to see coming: the more I read and looked at transmitter designs of the late 20s era, the more I fell in love with all of them. I found I had to suppress a growing desire to build more than one!

Parts hunting on eBay was fun and exciting, but hard on a limited budget. I started selling off some of my 30 year parts collection in order to support my new addiction. I had seen some discussion about certain parts being rare or hard to find, so I naturally assumed I might have to make compromises… but I wasn’t going to do that without making a reasonable effort to get the parts I really wanted. As it turned out, many of the things I expected to be scarce showed up on eBay. I made some mistakes early on by not realizing what something would be worth to others, but I quickly learned. Whenever possible I bid as much as I could afford for an item, if I though it was somewhat rare and it might be some time before another example showed up. The last few seconds of some of those auctions had my heart pounding so hard I wondered if I was healthy enough for this activity. 🙂 My own three or four daily eBay search sessions were augmented by tips from AWAGroup members. I am most grateful for the pointers.

Sure enough, I started to see parts I didn’t need f0r the TNT or receiver, but which would be excellent in some of the other ’29 transmitters. I wanted them too! Now what? Sell more of my stuff and bid on them, of course! Soon I had most of the major components for the receiver and not one, but three transmitters. The TNT remained my main focus, however. By early April I was close enough on parts for the first project – the TNT – that I could see success on the horizon. I set about ordering the hardware for the project.

It has been a few weeks now since I found any needed vintage items. There seem to be far fewer vintage parts appearing on eBay. Whether this is a temporary lull or a seasonal trend remains to be seen. There are still a few “must have” parts that have not shown up anywhere. I have begun an exhaustive search through other venues, but still coming up empty. I have been on the hunt just three months, which is not long at all. It is quite likely just a matter of time, patience, and continued diligence.

While I want to use only vintage parts and techniques known at the time, I do not propose to create an exact replica of a design as it was originally published. The 1920s was an era of experimentation and innovation. It was also a time when builders used whatever was at hand, or even built their own parts from common items! In that spirit I have some ideas I want to try when I get to the building stage. I plan to construct a somewhat “ugly” experimental version of the TNT on which to test my ideas. Once I have decided on the final version, I will rebuild it in “pretty” form. I will note successes, failures, and valuable (?) lessons here.

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