Thursday, November 15, 2007

BOOK WEEK pt. 4 Tommy Rockford

Walker A. Tompkins may be better known in literary circles for his coverage of the California hills, western history and radio lore and a pretty respectable biography of Roy Rogers. He also wrote some for a few TV series including the Lone Ranger. He's also credited as a screenwriter for the TV series "Death Valley Days." Though I have not confirmed it's the same Tompkins.

He began writing early. At the age of 14 still living in in Turlock, CA, he became a reporter for the Daily Journal. At the age of 21, he sold his first western novel. He traveled broadly in his twenties and eventually settled down in Portland, OR with a day job at the Oregonian Newspaper. he was drafted in WWII where he served as a war correspondent. Upon his return he relocated to Santa Barbara. It was there that he settled in and began cranking out pulp westerns. More here.

In the 1950s he wrote dozens popular juvenile fiction books. But one series in particular was radio-centric. He was the author of the Tommy Rockford series. This series was more hardware savvy then the books of the 1920s. Tommy used a HWA-5400 and had a ham radio in his car. That's pretty flash compared to the spark gap set up the Radio boys had.

I'll quote you a passage of geek-speak to my point:
"From the box he took out his ICOM two-meter rig. Even with only a watt and a half of output power and a "rubber ducky" antenna, K6ATX) believed he might pick up a signal inside a twenty-mile radius of Lee's Ferry. There was nothing more enjoyable then a random ham contact to pass the time. And if he could break a repeater that had 10-meter output capability, it might even be possible to make an overseas DX phone contact."

These books are about a teen age high school student (Tommy Rockford - K6ATX) with a General Class ham license. The series was originally publuished by The Macrae Smith Company. Though some of them were re-released by Sagamore books in 1971. He rewrote the original three with more up to date hardware and re-published them in the mid-1980s through the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

1. SOS at Midnight - 1957
2. CQ Ghost Ship - 1960

3. DX Brings Danger - 1962

4. Death Valley QTH
5. Murder by QRM -?

6. Grand Canyon QSO -?

Interestingly enough the same character name was also used in the 1930s by Wild West Weekly. As far as I can tell these are utterly unrelated. Like most radio geeks, he couldn't resist the pull of the studio mic. On a station in Santa Barbara he produced a on going series on local history called "Santa Barbara Yesterdays. " (Anybody know which station?) Walker Tompkins died in Santa Barbara, California on November 24, 1988.