Biography of Harold E. Sparks

I was born in 1929 in Portsmouth Ohio.  Portsmouth is in Scioto County and is located at the confluence of the big Scioto River and the Ohio river.  Shortly after I was born, the big Wall Street Crash and the Great depression came along.  I sincerely hope that this was just a coincidence.

My Father was James Edgar Sparks, b:May 15, 1901 on White's creek, West Virginia, which is in Wayne County.  He died on March 7, 1984 in Scioto County, Ohio.  He was the son of Alie Sparks, b:Feb. 22, 1878, in Pike County, Kentucky, and Mary Elizabeth Hager, b:Nov. 12, 1881, in Lawrence County Kentucky.

Alie was the son of William Greenville Sparks (1858-1932) and Pricie Smith (1852-1935).  Alie and "Lizzie" as she was called, lived in Kenova, West Virginia for as long as I can remember.

My Mother was Lillian Ison, b: February 24, 1899 in Stephens, Elliot County, Kentucky.  She died Jan. 2, 1984 in Scioto county, Ohio.  She was the daughter of George Washington Ison, (1861-1939) and Annie Creech (1867-1938).  They both died within a year of each other and are buried on Smith Branch, Greenup County, Kentucky.  They had lived most of their married lifes, first on a farm near Stephens, Elliot County, Kentucky and later on a farm on Smith Branch, no more than 3 or 4 miles south of the Ohio river.  The latter is the only one that I knew.

My Earliest Memories

My parents lived on Jackson Street in Portsmouth, Ohio when I was born.  Shortly afterwards we moved to a rented house on Maybert Road.  Three things stick in my mind as memories of that time even though I was only three years old when they happened.

Dad and early radio.

Dad always liked to experiment with things, and since radio broadcasting was in it's infancy, it was natural that this caught his interest.  I can remember when he used to take me down along the N&W railroad tracks where we would look for "Galena" crystals among the rocks which were used as "fill" between the railroad ties.  Webster's Dictionary defines "Galena" as follows:

A bluish gray mineral, PbS (Lead Sulfide) with metallic luster consisting of lead sulfide showing highly perfect cubic cleavage, and constituting the principal ore of lead."
These were tiny bits of Galena showing in a rough  highly irregular surface on the crushed rock used for "fill".

Galena crystals had the ability, when "tickled" with a "cat whisker" ( not a real one, I'll explain that in a minute) to detect radio frequency signals and convert them to audio, so we would use these to make simple crystal radios.    Very few parts were needed.  They are:
1) a Galena crystal  (today a 50 cent germanium diode from Radio Shack can replace the cat whisker and galena crystal.)
2) Cat Whisker ( a small coil of very fine, "springy" wire, not much bigger than a "Cat's Whisker" )
3) A variable capacitor ( This could be made of a sandwich of three pieces of thin aluminum sheets, not touching, the center of which could be moved in and out between the other two.
4) a coil of small diameter copper wire, usually wound on a cylindrical card board form like the cardboard center of a roll of toilet tissue.
5) a flashlight battery
6) a pair of headphones (or you could make one from two thin pieces of wood, a screw, a thin metal diaphragm (copper, aluminum or brass, or even a tin can lid)  and some carbon granules.  We crushed the carbon center pole of an old  flashlight battery for this. A fixed Capacitor and a coil of small wire with a movable tap could also be substituted for the tuning parts of the circuit.

The coil and capacitor were connected in parallel with each other and this combo was connected in series with the cat whisker, galena crystal,  and battery.  A piece of wire of random length was thrown over a curtain rod or out the second story window to act as an antenna.  As I recall the antenna was connected to the junction of the crystal and the parallel coil capacitor combo.  Below is a Schematic diagram of the circuit as I remember it.  I am not positive of the placement of the headphone.

The circuit to the right is using a fixed Capacitor and tapped coil for tuning .

A variable capacitor and fixed coil would perform the same function.

I hope this schematic is reasonably correct.  It is drawn from memory from when I was experimenting with electronics myself, when I was an early teen ager.

As a boy growing up on the farm in Ohio, my interest was also in electronics and I built many electrical and simple electronic gadgets.  I Found that the the simple home made headphone described above, could also serve as a microphone.

I regress:

My singing Career is Launched!

Also due to Dad's interest in radio, my singing career was launched ?? at an early age.   Dad had experimented with changing the circuitry on our old radio receiver to convert it into a very fundamental type of transmitter.  I can remember that in order to test it out, he had to go to the next door neighbor's house to receive the signal which was being transmitted.  We only had one radio, and remember he had already converted it into a transmitter.  He handed me the microphone and told me to sing into it and keep on singing while he went next door.  I guess I was a ham even at the tender age of three, so I sang and sang while he tuned me in next door.  I could see the happy look on his face through the window when he was able to hear me on the radio.

Dad purchases a Car

As another offshoot of Dad's interest in electronics, he was able to buy our first car.  One of the neighbors had two old cabinet model radios, neither of which would work.  He told Dad that if he would repair one of them for him, he would give him the other.  Dad repaired them both and gave one back to the neighbor.

We already had a radio which we listened to, and no one needs two, right?  So dad had an Idea.  He borrowed the neighbor boys "Radio Flyer" (Little red wagon) and loaded the extra cabinet radio in it and we [ (he), remember I was only three!] pulled it about 10 or 12 blocks away to a used car lot.  Well, actually it was a junk yard, but the owner had a few working autos he would sell once in a while.  The owner was an old Jewish fellow named Jack Fish.  His favorite saying was "I cheat you right"!  He was still in business when I left home twenty years later.  Anyway, the end of the story was that dad drove us home in a Model "T" Ford Coupe which he had obtained after some "haggling" with Jack.  The cost?,  one used cabinet model radio and $7.00.  Surprisingly it ran, and lasted us for several years.

There was one idiosyncrasy this car had though.  It was common for all these early cars for they didn't have a fuel pump.  In order to get fuel into the carburetor, it depended on a gravity feed of the fuel from the tank, located in the cowl in front of the windshield and over the engine.  Consequently, when it was necessary to go up a steep hill you had to turn around and back up the hill.  This not only allowed the gravity fed fuel to reach the carburetor, it also gave you a better gear ratio to climb the steep hill.  Otherwise, as a song of those times said, "The little Ford just rambled right along."

My Early Career as a Rodeo Rider

During my early years (Depression Years), it was necessary for my parents to "break up housekeeping" and go to live for a while with my Mother's parents on their farm in Kentucky.  .  They stored their household goods and we moved in with my grandparents on Smith Branch, in Greenup County, Kentucky.  I and my cousins, some of whom lived close by on Smith Branch, and others who like us, had moved in with our grandparents had a grand time playing together on the farm.  Among other things on the farm, Grandpa had a few milk cows he kept in a pasture nearby.  Remember, this was in the hills of Kentucky.  The pasture was on a very steep hillside.  In this pasture in addition to the milk cows were several young calves.

One bright day I got an equally bright Idea that I would hitch myself a ride on one of these calves, so I chased down a little bull calf, caught him, and proceeded to climb upon his back.  The little bull calf was having none of this!  It took only  a moment to buck me off, and I rolled to the bottom of the hill.  If I hadn't rolled into a fence post, I guess I'd be rolling still!

A year or two later we moved back to Ohio into a rented house in an adjacent city east of Portsmouth, named New Boston, where my sister Doris Jean was born.  The Wheeling Steel mill  was located here also, and Dad was employed there .

Our next move was a little farther east, to a small village named Sciotodale.  My first two or three years of school were attended while we lived there.  The depression years were still being endured, but Mom ran a small grocery store to add a little income to Dad's small two or three days income at the steel mill.  I remember the 1937 flood while we we still there.   Our neighborhood folks of course had no income and they begged Mom to let them have food on credit.  They promised to pay when they got back to work after the flood had gone down.  Of course Mom was too kind hearted and let them have the groceries.  The grocery shelves soon were soon bare, and no one ever paid her back and the doors were closed.