Alfred Traeger, Giving the Outback a Voice
Alfred Traeger ... page one ... page two
Imagine not being able to talk to anyone outside your immediate family for as long as a year. That’s what it was like in the outback before Alfred Traeger applied pedal power to the problem.
Alfred Hermann Traeger was born on 2 August 1895 at Glenlee, Dimboola, Victoria, and grew up on a farm in Balaklava, South Australia.
As a curious and a very inventive 12 year old boy, Alfred made a telephone receiver using mostly odds and ends found around his farm. He used it to transmit messages between his family’s tool shed and their house 50 meters away. Alfred ingeniously made the diaphragm for the earpiece from a tobacco tin lid, the magnet from the prong of a pitchfork, and the carbon for the microphone came from the kitchen stove.
His interest in working with radios developed even more when at 16 years old he received a scholarship to study mechanical and electrical engineering at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries.
In 1923 Alfred worked for Hannan Bros Ltd in Adelaide where he repaired car generators and solved electrical problems. During this time he obtained an amateur operator's license and used the call sign VK5AX. Radio was still his passion.
Start of the Royal Flying Doctor Service
Hearing about Alfred’s love and knowledge of radio, a man named John Flynn approached him with a request. Flynn was trying to create an inland aerial medical service for remote communities in the outback. (This would become the Royal Flying Doctor Service.) What he needed was a cheap, efficient radio so outback homesteads could communicate with a central medical home base.
So in 1926 Flynn hired Alfred and the two went to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to conduct some experiments. The first experiment was to set up 3 locations: a base station in Alice Springs and two other locations approximately 100 kilometres apart.
They were able to prove that they could transmit messages over great distances using simple equipment. However, they also found that the large batteries they used were a problem – too heavy and too hard to transport. They were also worried about the acid fumes. But their main problem was that the batteries were simply too big and expensive.
After an working on the problem in the outback, Traeger returned to Adelaide to work on a way to eliminate the batteries. His goal was to create a low cost generator capable of producing about 20 watts of DC power that would be capable of running a high frequency transceiver.
Alfred’s first idea was to fit a generator to an emery wheel and turned it by hand to generate the electricity. Unfortunately this meant the operator would only have one hand free to operate the equipment. Alfred rejected this. Instead he decided to adapt a WW1 idea and use pedal power.