Updated 11-15-2008

December 2008 Column



A Wireless North Pole Christmas

The Bowdoin, frozen in the ice at Refuge Harbor for the 1923-1924 winter.

Don Mix at start of expedition.

Imagine for a minute you are a young 21-year-old ham living in Connecticut with your parents. You have recently completed your schooling and are thinking about a career in radio. Self-taught, you are able to build or troubleshoot any radio circuit. You have honed your Morse skills, and are one of the top radio operators around. You are well known by your peers. So what are you going to do? It is early winter 1923.

You receive an invitation from Hiram Percy Maxim to apply for the position of radio operator on an expedition to the North Pole. It sounds exciting doesn’t it? The only hitch is, you will be leaving in the spring and the trip will last over an entire year. You will be spending most of your time on an 88-foot schooner and anywhere you can walk from there. You will be a working crew member, but your primary duty is being responsible for keeping contact with the outside world on a ham radio set. All crew members have primary responsibility duties, but will share in the work associated with the trip. That being while under way you will be standing watch, cleaning the ship, and helping in the galley. Once the final location has been selected; you will help hunt, fish, find fresh water and bring it on board. You will help clean and prepare any fish or wild game for storage or for dinner. And when the Eskimo dogs arrive, you will help feed and take care of them.

That sure sounds like fun. How many of us would be willing to take this trip? Keep in mind that very little was known about the Arctic and the risk of being lost there was great. Historically, many explorers never came back and were never found.

For Don Mix, the answer was simple, yes! Don’s father and brother Mit, were both hams so you can imagine what advice they gave. He applied for the job.

Mix found out it was a 15-month expedition to the Arctic with an Explorer named Donald MacMillan. He had wanted to take a ham radio operator with him, and asked ARRL to help him find a good one. Donald MacMillan was very experienced in the Arctic, having first gone with Peary in 1909 when he discovered the North Pole. He insisted on a personal interview with Don Mix to insure he would fit in with the crew and the expedition. Mix did, and was accepted immediately.

Don's Diary from December 25, 1923


John Dilks, K2TQN    125 Warf Road, Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234-8501   e-mail: K2TQN@arrl.net