W7LR, operator of

the first commercial DXpedition 1947-1948.

Bob Leo, W7LR was one of the two lucky chosen operators for taking part in the Eleventh Gatti-Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. This 1947-1948 DXpedition was like a Hollywood safari movie. Excitement for the Ham-world, in those early years of the DXCC award. And of course excitement for the two operators W6PBV and W0LHS.


 Back in 1982, I (Wino, PA0ABM) had an Eye-ball QSO with Bob Leo, W7LR  and his wife Cobi. A year later, when Bob and Cobi were visiting relatives in the Netherlands, the Leo's spent a night in my QTH, Middelburg. Totally, I had made 5 QSOs with Bob on 3 different bands. Bob did respond on a eMail sent to a news-group, with subject "Not in the log of ST0RY". This was the trigger to write another story about the famous Gatti-Hallicrafter's Expedition to "The Mountains of the Moon". This time however with Bob as the central person.  

The beginning.

Bob Leo, W6PBV, saw an article in May 1947 QST, a two page advertising from Hallicrafters about the plans for a Gatti-Hallicrafters Expediton, starting end of the year.  Earlier Gatti Expedition They announced a competition, nationwide to find a lucky ham to join the Expedition for being the radio-operator, keeping the Expedition in touch with the outside world. The competition-letter should have 250 words at the most. Gatti, the expedition- leader, was 10 times before on Expedition to Dark Africa, the last one was back in 1939 to Belgian Congo. Gatti then did use the call OQ5ZZ.   Hallicrafters never sponsored an expedition before. After world-war II, the company focus changed to civilian applications of which ham radio was one of the market components. And when Gatti met the chief of Hallicrafters, Bill Halligan, and talked about going to Africa again, Bill was in for sponsoring the Expedition. The result was a trailer filled with radio-equipment, designed and prepaired by engeneers of the Hallicrafters company. And to operate this trailer-shack, Gatti needed an experienced operator. Of course, Bob responded to the advertising. Some 9000 applications were received, and judged by Gatti, Halligan (W9WZE) and Handy (W1BDI), ARRLs Communications manager. Bob still has a copy of his application, which made him a winner. He included being a member of the Naval Reserve (which is how he was drafted for the Navy in early 1941); school efforts; working for the CAA (now FAA); etc. In his application, Bob mentioned being an experienced CW-operator, familiar with PHONE contacts, having had already more than five-thousand contacts with 66 countries and 30 zones. Bob thinks that Hallicrafters narrowed the number down to perhaps six. Then there were two hams invited to Gatti's home in Vermont for a personal interview, Bob Leo, and Bill Snyder  (W0LHS). Bob does not know how Bill and he were selected. He and Bill did have some CW QSOs before the selection was made. They met each on the way to Vermont, and hatched a plan get both selected by Gatti. Attilio Gatti was convinced that the radio-workload was too much for a single person, he agreed to take two operators with him to Africa. On October 14, 1947 Bob received a confirmation-letter from Gatti, being the SECOND winner of the QST Contest.   From the day Gatti and Halligan had that conversation, it took Gatti 25 months of preparation. It was not easy to collect the proper equipment, trucks, trailers, boats, 10-Kw, 110 Volt power-generators, speciat tents, etc.. But Gatti was good in convincing people, he got what he wanted.

Sailing out.

For Bob, the expedition started with his train-ride from San Francisco to New York on November 19, 1947. On that train , Bob met a nice girl, and had many talks with her. Cobi Kapteyn was her name, born in the Netherlands. Her father raised flower bulbs in his fields near Amsterdam (actually in the flower bulb district near Sassenheim), and exported to North America. Their family would travel to USA for the bulb business and she would attend school where she improved her English while her father contacted flower bulb businesses. Bob knows the date exactly, because he kept a little notebook of the beginning of the VQ trip. "We were paid a small amount to be on the expedition and our travel expenses were covered", remembers Bob. The expedition left New York on the S.S. African Pilgrim on November 23, 1947. The ship went from NY to Cape Town, then stopped at several SA ports, and eventually to Mombassa after Zanzibar. "We never got seasick - the ocean was like a lake", says Bob. They landed after 50 days in Kilindini (Mombasa), Kenya, on January 13, 1948, 7,700 miles from Chicago, Illinois. There were 9 white persons within the Expedition, 7 of them did make the trip with the African Pilgrim, Gatti and his wife Ellen (professional expeditioners), Bob Leo and Bill Snyder (the radio-crew), Weldon King and Errol Prince (the photographers), and James Powers (reporter). The other two joined the expedition in Mombasa, Norm Wakeford (Gatti's Camp manager) and the other was Gatti's secretary, Doug Edwards. All other members of the expedition were hired in Africa, to drive the trucks, to play cook, or just a pair of hands. Totally there where 49 men involved. Bob remembers one name, Asmani, one of his local camp boys. Errol Prince, one of the photographers, gave Bob many 8x10 black and white photos, when Cobi and Bob visited him in Southern CA back in 1987. Shortly after that visit Errol Prince died. Besides Bill and Bob, there is one more survivor from the expedition, Weldon King of Springfield, Missouri. He was also one of the photographers. His father was with International Harvester, and that company provided the trucks. A few years ago Bill and Bob visited Weldon in Springfield. Today, his mind has gone and Weldon doesn't recognize anyone even his girl friend.

Setting up camp.

 After a hectic time, the expedition did set up its main camp 1 near Kwale, some 30 miles west from Mombasa. Contacts between Gatti and Halligan were established through W9CGC, the Fifth Avenue Ham Club, quartered in Hallicrafters plant in Chicago. Hallicrafters did kept the logs, and the company did also the QSL-chores, being one of the first QSL-managers. the QSL-manager was W9TDF. Setup of such commercial traffic was always done by Bob or Bill. Gatti did never set up a connection himself. Bob did get "Kilima dysentary" on the trip, and also ran a pair of pliers in his eye, but he recoverd from both. Setting up a new camp was a lot of work. The two hams had to take care of the two power-generators. All trailers were equipped with electrical systems, so they had to be connected to the 10 Kw, 110 Volt power supply. Of course the Rhombic antenna had to be placed in action, with the help of the African personell of Gatti. Not an easy task, neither Bob or Bill spoke Swahili before they did go on this Expedition. In the process setting up the big heavy antenna-pole, the natives dropped it once and it whistled just next to Bob's ear - a few inches closer and there might not be a story like this. Bob made his first Expedition-QSO with I1KN, Fortunato Grossi in Florence, Italy. The QSO was on january 24, 1948 on 14 Mc CW, (note from Bobs diary) just one day before Gatti made his First Conversation with Bill Halligan. During the expedition, Bob and I1KN became close friends, as Bob and Fortunato had many QSOs. After Bob left Africa for Arabia, Bob started to exchange letters with Cobi, that girl he met on the train to New York. The result was an "Eye-ball-QSO" in Florence Italy, early 1949. Cobi came from Holland to Italy, and Bob travelled there from Arabia. They had already plans to get married there in Italy, so the couple had some paperwork ready. But it turned out they needed a lot more paperwork. I1KN helped them with that. And I1KN was also the best man at their wedding in Florence in october 1949. There was one other ham at their wedding, I5IT. Joyce Leo, Bobs daughter, after finishing high school, went on an European tour and visited the Grossi's. Bob however, never saw I1KN again.    

Bob cannot remember what the operating times were, they were probably those established by Gatti, 13.00-

15.00 GMT and 16.00-21.00 GMT. They used the callsign VQ3HGE, VQ4EHG, VQ5GHE and VQ5HEG (for

mobile operations).

The following frequencies of 14,160 and 28,030 for CW and 28,375 and 14,380 for AM were proposed in a

pamphlet, which was issued by Hallcrafters after the Expedition took off. They had a VFO available (HT-18) in

the "Shack on Wheels", but Bob does not remember using the VFO. Pile ups of course where all over the band,

because nearly all hams at that time had only Xtall controlled transmitters. The Expeditions transmitter type was

a HT-4E, barely transportable.

Tuning the HT-4E transmitter The Hallicrafters Models SX-42, SX-43 and S-38

receivers where also build in the radio-wagon. The antenna was a pre-fabricatet

rhombic for 40-20-10 meter. Most AM QSOs where made on 10 meters by Bill,

while Bob did most of the CW work on 20 meters. Therefore he used an iambic

paddle. Logs were filled by hand of course, using pen and ink, but there was a

typing machine available in the shack. They did get mail from home while in

Africa, but Bob cannot remember receiving any qsls from QSOs there. Yet the

"Shack on Wheels" was decorated by some QSL-cards.

 Hallicrafter engeneers did produce some basic data for the deserving, such as March Predictions, calculated from the Bureau of Standards Data, best times to work any of the VQ-calls. The Gatti position would be approximate 2 degrees and 30 minutes south (South west of Kigali-Rwanda). At the time the Expedition was on, there had been 28 VQ4, 13 VQ3 and 8 VQ5 calls issued by June 1947. But things go as they go, Hallicrafters lost all logs - a big disappointment for the two hams. So after almost 55 years, it is very hard for Bob to remember stations worked from East-Africa. In his files, Bob found a note from G3NOF with a list of some calls he heard being worked from VQ3HGE. One was PA0UN 13 May 1948 1922 utc on 14 MHz 58. Bob had a QSO with DL3AO(a SWL in 1948), who mentioned he had heard the Expedition, and received a QSL-card.     Perhaps there are somewhere old shoeboxes on dusty attics filled with old QSLcards from forgotten QSOs which can help Bob to upgrade his memory a little. QSL-Museums, when they get enough old-forgotten QSLcards, can help people, like Bob, to restore history a bit. PA1AT, Gerard did dig into old collections, and found some VQ-QSL cards. And special for Bob, Gerard found a QSLcard filled out by Bob while he was operating VQ4ERR. The QSL museum in Austria has a huge collection of old QSLs, but just one was filled out for a Gatti-Hallicrafters QSO. So the question is, where are those other thousands of VQ-QSLs? The camp had two facilities, one for the Gatti's and one for the crew. "We had camp trailers, and Bill and I were in one", says Bob. Each facility had a number of natives, as cooks, and helpers.  There were a number of natives as truck drivers. One of the targets, during the Expedition, was climbing the Kilimanjaro. Bob was probably selected over Bill for the mountain climb as being in better physical shape. It took 4 or 5 days for the climb. It was not a technical mountain climb, but more a trek. The only difficult part was the last steep ascent up scree - loose rock. According to one of the stories Gatti wrote for the Toronto Star 1950, was that Bob was the first who reached the summit of Mount Kibo. The only difficulty Bob had was a bad headache from being at such a high altitude. Not all of the climbers were able to complete the ascent to the top. Bob cannot remember which radio-experiments he made from the top of the Kibo (19,780 feet). But he had a flashlight QSO with Bill, who was at the 5.500 feet camp below. The idea of the communication by blinker came from Bill Snyder.      The expedition did set up 8 main-camps on this Expedition, Bob was only QRV in 5 of them. Of course it was not easy to find the right place to camp, and to get the trucks, trailers etc on the camping ground. Main camp 3 was set up near Arusha, at Bamboo Flats. The ground however was far from flat, and there was no sign of growing bamboo. It turned out that the campsite was choosen wrongly, as there was a dump of the local planters, who burned every day tons of coffee husks. The whole camp could "Enjoy" the malodorous smoke. Fresh meat was delivered by Gatti himself, by shooting game, which was available all the time. Bob nor Bill did carry a gun, they had enough other work to do.   It is hard to find out what exactly happened to the Expedition-members during the 6 months the Expedition could be worked from the outside world. The memory of Bob is not what it was 50 years ago, but Bob is sure that Keith Sisk, mentioned as member of the team in the Hallicrafters pamphlet, was no member of the crew. Digging into other sources (magazines, the Hallicrafters pamphlet etc) shows a very coloured report of what happened back in 1947 and 1948. Bobs notes showing 3,822 QSOs, while Gatti mentioned 10,000. One source tells about working all countries of the world, except one, Tibet, AC4, while Bob recalls working 122 countries, but missing zone 23, Tibet, and missing the state of Montana while being active from VQ3HGE. The states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Rhode Island and Wyoming were not worked from Kenya.   According to Gatti, all members of the Kilimanjaro-party did reach the top of the Mount Kibo, while Bob states not all climbers completed their climb. Bob has no any idea of the cost of the expedition. Gatti had organized several expeditions previously and was good at promoting those, and getting sponsors. And of course Gatti did get some expedition support in turn for providing stories or photos from those trips. He did write some books about all his African adventures.             

The expedition fell apart.

 After the climb of the Kibo-peak, Bill Snyder and Doug Edwards left the expedition. Attilio Gatti was not an easy person to deal with. Bob continued to keep the world in touch for another four month's. Then the expedition fell apart. Gatti, together with King, Prince and Wakeford went on a two month photograph-safari. They operated from the main-camps 6,7 and 8, however without a radio-operator. Bob stayed a month with VQ4ERR, in Nairobi, Kenya. At VQ4ERR, he was guest operator from July 15 until August 21, 1948, and made 307 QSOs. The Norwegian tanker M/T Dovrefjell brought Bob from Mombasa to Bahrein. The expedition did not turn Bob into a millionair, he had just 13 cents in his pocket when he left Africa,. Bob worked for ARAMCO, and was an operator of HZ1AB, and used MP4BAL from Bahrein, before he did go back to the States.  

W7LR in 2003.

 After five years in the Navy in WW-II, Bob had some other accomplishments. He was an engineer for GE to help develop the bank check sorting machine which reads check magnetic characters. At ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia he was a supervisor at their radio station HZA, and worked for the geology department in the great Arabian desert and in Persian Gulf survey work. He was an engineer at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in communication and computer research, and got EE degrees from Cal Tech and Stanford. He taught at Montana State University for 20 years as a full professor of EE. He and his family lived in Thailand in 1963 to 1965, where he was the director for the SRI communication research laboratory. He operated HS1L there and was one of the cofounders of RAST - the Radio Amateur Society of Thailand. A highlight of that time was a journey to see the wonders of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But that is another story.    In 2003, Bob and Cobi were in good health, Bob was 82 then. They do live in Montana, the state Bob could not work from VQ3HGE. Bob is still very active in ham radio and does sometimes consulting work on electrical fires and accidents. After working all countries, and even P5, his goal shifted to 160m. In april 2003, he had worked 201 countries on that band. Bob and Cobi like to see things, one of their last trips was to Alaska.   Bob has been active since 1937 (swl from 1933), and so has worked a lot of those old-callsigns. As Bob says in his own words "I wasnt much of a dxer in the early days so missed many now considered very rare". Bob got this year credit for 352 worked countries.   ©W7LR and PA0ABM  
LINKS Most pictures in the story can be expanded by clicking on the thumbnails. A popup window will show the picture (or document). Extensive information (links) can be reached by clicking underlined subjects. The links could point to other internet- sites, or to extra information available on the topic.   There are NO links between the story of W6PBV, Bob and the story of W0LHS, Bill. To learn all about this history of DX-ing, you have to read both stories.   Anyone who can fill in details to complete the story, is most welcome to respond. Please send your comments to me. Thanks in advance.
W6PBV, on top of the Kilimanjaro
The Gatti-Hallicrafters Expedition QSOs in 1948
Call Start End QSO# W6PBV W0LHS Ctry# Zones States
VQ4EHG Kenya Jan 21 Feb 16 942 620 322 51 24 42
VQ3HGE Tanganyika Feb 20  Jul 06 Jun 13  Jul 09 2629 2447 182 122 39 47
VQ5GHE Uganda Jun 20  Jun 26 Jun 21  Jun 27 233 233 0 19 1330
VQ5HEG Uganda Jun 27 Jun 27 18 18 0 3 47
Total Jan 21 Jul 0938223318 504 1233948