Volunteers plant repeater on peak
Harold "Bud" Hopper
A radio repeater that will complete the final link of communication for the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay was dedicated to the memory of a longtime ham radio operator in Haines who also operated the town’s first bicycle shop.
The antenna honoring Harold ‘Bud’ Hopper also will increase the range of local ham operators and improve use of the system for emergencies. A crew of volunteers organized by the Yukon Amateur Radio Association mounted the solar-powered, phone-booth sized device on Chilly Ridge July 27.
The project cost $17,000, not including volunteer time.
“Harold was a longtime personality in ham radio circles. A lot of people in the Yukon club knew him,” said Jeff Stanhope, technical director of the radio association, which provides a radio link for the bike race, Klondike Road Relay and other events. In Hopper’s honor, the transmitter will operate at 146.940 MHz, the frequency he used for years.
For 21 years, YARA supported the bike relay with radio volunteers at each of the seven checkpoints and finish line. Messages include ones about missing riders, bears spotted in the road, lost and found items, injuries and administrative issues, Stanhope said. “You’re always passing traffic back and forth.”
Radio transmission allows all users of the system to listen in, an advantage over cellular phones, Stanhope said. “We all need to talk to each other at the same time, so it’s great for operational reasons.”
In recent years, the radio group made a series of improvements which allow better communications for the event, including bases in Skagway and Haines and repeaters in Canada at Three Guardsmen Peak and at the south end of Dezadeash Lake. The final gap was between the U.S. border at Dalton Cache and 7 Mile Haines Highway, where operators always had trouble with coverage.
“The strip of road was spotty for the first bit, and didn’t come in at all for the last bit, particularly at Checkpoint 7, which is exactly where we needed it most of the time,” Stanhope said. The repeater fills the gap, he said. “It works really good. It covers the whole valley now.”
The repeater is described as a “fish tote with a wood frame around it to hold the antennas and solar panel.” A small brass plaque mounted on it reads, “This 146.94 MHz repeater on Chilly Ridge is dedicated to the memory of Harold (Bud) Hopper, a ham radio operator (KL7CQF), a World War II veteran and a longtime community volunteer.”
Hopper’s daughter, Randa Szymanski of Haines, said Hopper also helped get public radio station off the ground, made “phone patches” using radio to help residents reach the Lower 48 inexpensively, and was honored for providing radio communication from Haines during the 1964 Alaska earthquake.
“Back in the day, people just did things that needed to be done. It was neat to hear from (Stanhope) and to realize somebody remembered my dad in that way,” Szymanski said.
Hopper was a ham operator here for 40 years. A survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he also was among the first U.S. troops into Hiroshima and Nagasaki, following the atomic bomb attacks on those cities. In Haines he taught math and science and adult basic education.
Hopper opened a Schwinn bicycle shop here in the mid-1970s. He sold it about 10 years later to Thom Ely, owner of Sockeye Cycle and one of the founders of the Kluane-Chilkat bike relay. “It’s all one, big circle,” Szymanski said.
Stanhope said the new repeater will allow ham operators in Haines to reach much farther than Hopper was able to. “(Radio signals) are cut off by the mountains. Regardless of the power (of the signal), it was a real struggle.”