My Ameco AC-1 Story
In recent years it seems that the Ameco
AC-1 Novice transmitter has developed quite a cult following -- a following
that it never really had when it was still in production. Ameco's
$14.95 (in kit form) transmitter now sells for hundreds of dollars on EBay.
There are entire web sites devoted to the rig, a number of people
have built replicas, and there is a QRP club in Houston that is in the process
of once again offering a complete kit of parts to build a reproduction.
It seems that some people simply cannot get enough of the things. In
order to help fill that void, I offer my Ameco AC-1 story to the world.
Above is a snapshot of my AC-1. On
a scale of 1 to 10, I rate this unit to be about an 7.5. It has a
few very small rust spots, a tiny unoriginal hole in the middle of the left
and right sides and some scratches on the beautiful gray hammertone finish.
Although I have never put this unit on the air, it seems to work properly.
Keying can be a little bit chirpy, depending on the band and crystal.
The thing even makes enough RF to visibly light the filament of a 60-watt
light bulb dummy load. Mind you, it is hardly enough light to read
by, but I think that the allure of the AC-1 has always been more about what
one might be able to do with it, rather than what it actually delivers.
Yeah, I know I am probably about to hear from hundreds of people out
there who earned their WAS with an AC-1 and a beat up old Hallicrafters S-38
back in 1963, but I think the reality is a little bit different. Today,
the AC-1 is a very usable QRP transmitter. Back when you could actually
buy one brand new, they were made only for the most determined and poverty
stricken of budding hams. Just my humble opinion.
During my novice days of the late 1960's, I was never really interested
in the AC-1. Instead, the Ameco transmitter that I coveted was the TX-62,
a nicely built AM VHF transmitter that put out what was then a respectable
amount of power (about 15 watts of AM, I believe) with very good audio quality.
TX-62's and their matching VFO's were extremely popular in the days
just before FM changed 2 meters forever. At least they were popular
on the airwaves of Northern New Jersey. Unfortunately, they were priced
well beyond the range of my high school allowance. Ironically, these days they can barely give TX-62's
away on EBay. Who would have thought that it's ugly step-sister, the
AC-1 would become such a hot item?
By the way, my 2 meter novice transmitter was a Heathkit Twoer. Heath
promised that the transmitter final amplifier drew every bit of 5 watts. It
sort of did a respectable job lighting a #47 pilot light bulb. Not that
long ago I tried measuring the output of a Twoer on a Bird model 43 with
a 10 watt slug. I think it put out a bit more than hundred milliwatts.
It is a wonder that I ever worked anyone with the thing. In that
regard, I suppose it was the VHF equivelent to the AC-1. Little did
In my novice days I never knew anyone who owned a AC-1. A friend
of a friend of mine reportedly had one, but I never met the guy. I
don't recall ever working someone using one on the air. When I would
look through photos of novice stations in Popular Electronics I never saw
an AC-1. There were lots of DX-20's, 40's and 60's, Johnson Rangers
and Adventurers, Knight T-60's, just about everything else, but never do
I recall seeing the poor little Ameco AC-1. Which, could have something
to do with why they are so hard to find today.
My Ameco AC-1 found me in the flea market at the 2001 Dayton Hamvention.
The market had been open for several hours. Cash was in very
short supply for me that year. I had only allocated $100 for all my
flea marketing purchases. Somewhere in the middle of the fleamarket
I spotted a strange looking black bakelite box with a very broken old Shurite
moving vane meter mounted in the middle of it. I picked it up, and
realized that it was someone's mad idea of a souped up AC-1!
Someone built a box around the top of the AC-1 in order to make it look fancy.
They installed a crystal selector switch and a meter. Fortunately,
they figured out how to do all of these modifications by only drilling an
1/8" hole in the middle of the left and right sides to hold the case in
place. I don't know whether or not the rig worked, and I was not about
to plug it in to find out. Who ever made all of the "improvements"
wired the entire unit in #24 magnet wire. They also left all of the
component leads their orginal length. Still, underneath a couple of
decades of dust I could see a very restorable Ameco AC-1. I gave
the seller his asking price, which was no more than $25. I felt a
pang of guilt over getting such a good deal, but the guilt quickly subsided.
When I got my little treasure back home, I knew what I had to do. The
rig actually came with a ratty but original copy of the assembly instructions.
I rewired everything using proper hook up wire, cutting all of the
component leads to the proper length. It worked just the way it was
supposed to. Here is a photo of the new wiring:
I really enjoyed the time that I spent cleaning up and rewiring my
AC-1. As you can see, it turned out very well. It was almost
as much fun as building it from a fresh kit of parts. Earlier I mentioned
that I have not put this rig on the air. Although I love collecting
and restoring vintage ham gear, I spend very little time operating. I
just do not have much time for it. An AC-1 QSO is still on my "to
do" list. Who knows? Someday you may be the person I contact.