This is a copy of The Numbers Racket CD-ROM, which I prepared back in 1998. I am presenting it here, unedited, for historical purposes. Obviously most if not all of the information is 'out of date' today, but think of it as a snapshot of what the Spy Numbers scene was like in the late 1990s.
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I have an old Waltham pocket watch . . .
It once belonged to my grandfather, and when my own father gave it to me - many years ago - he told me a story about Grandpa's watch and a radio that I have never forgotten.
He loved that watch. He was a stickler for time. Never late. Ever. The worn pewter timepiece was a faithful companion, and only grudgingly did Grandpa John admit to himself that it might one day begin to fail. And when that day came, just as he knew it would, Grandpa and the watch made a trip to the White River. Out to the Cowboy's old, tumble-down barn, where high in the doorway, turning slowly at the end of a rusty chain, hung a huge, old pocket watch.
High atop the ramshackle building, strung between two rickety poles, was a sagging stretch of corroded wire which wound its way through a broken window to the back of an ancient radio.
Inside, in the dust and the shadows, lined up row after row, were old wooden benches covered with clocks and watches and radios.
A rough and ready man who walked with a limp, he never answered to any name but "Cowboy". He'd been a desperado in his youth, my father told me - surely a man with a past. His size and reputation belied the delicate skill with which he handled the tired old watches and clocks that passed through that doorway for repair.
He was an odd man. Silent, intense. He waited each day at the railroad station for the Missouri Pacific to arrive. He never met anybody. Just waited. As though he were waiting for time itself.
As watched matters go, it took a long, long, time. Days stretched to weeks, weeks to a month and still the old Waltham lay on the bench out in the barn at the White River. But Grandpa John wasn't known for his patience. He called or visited the Cowboy once - at least once - each day. It wasn't that it hadn't been repaired; the Cowboy was a craftsman who took great pride in his work. No, you see, the Cowboy was listening for WWV. Conditions were poor and the trustworthy, reliable old time signal couldn't be heard in the hot southern summer. But the Cowboy, knowing Grandpa's regard for accuracy, insisted on waiting for the signal from WWV.
No compromise. That watch had to be set right. Just right.
I was just a kid when my father told me this story for the first time, and I really didn't understand the answers he patiently gave to my never ending questions about just what Grandpa's pocket watch had to do with a radio. That is, I didn't understand until the day that I became the proud owner of a Hallicrafters Sky Buddy, chosen with great care from among the dozens of others that made up the Cowboy's vast collection.
And then I did begin to understand. Comic books took a back seat to copper wire. I risked my life more than once climbing to the top of a pecan tree to hang that longwire just a little bit higher. Antenna design became an all consuming past time for me and my buddy Don. Neither of us would be outdone. Steal hubcaps? Never. But copper wire? That was another story.
There were arguments each Saturday afternoon after the weekly Western at the Laura Movie Theater. Arguments that turned to fist fights on more than one occasion over whose letters had been read on HCJB or TGNA, whose antenna was longer - and if not longer, whose was higher - and most importantly, who could really hear WWV the best.
I could. I'm sure of it. Because my Hallicrafters was bigger and better than his BC348 - even though it, too, had been chosen with just as much care from the Cowboy's vast collection.
Grandpa's watch stopped one day at 6:51. But it didn't matter to him, because, y'see, Grandpa and the Cowboy had both gone some time before to a place where there is no time.
The watch now rests in a glass case on a shelf over my radio. That's where it's been for years. Oh, the radio has changed from time to time - Hallicrafters, Nationals, Hammurlands and Yaesus have come and gone. Today it's an NRD. But always, the shiny silver watch on the shelf over the radio. Except for one long period of my life when it was packed away in the dark - the radios that surrounded me then weren't the kind that lend themselves to the display of memories. Those years were spent in innocuous, lost and dangerous places. It was a time I've left behind me - and yet it's with me still.
I still tune to WWV. Its steady, quiet ticking is soothing, hypnotic. I especially like to listen when I'm alone in the dark and my eyes always turn to Grandpa's watch. It somehow catches the glow from the dial and reflects it back to me. In spite of its inefficiency and in spite of its age, it's still perfectly accurate. I know I can count on it. Two times, every day.
© 1990, 1996 Christine Klauberg Paustian
As published in Radio Scan Magazine, 1990
As aired on Signals, 1992
As published in Monitoring Times, 1996