The history of the Horizontal Engineers Net is one of the most interesting things I (Mark, KB1RAY) have learned about since becoming a ham radio operator. My first ham experiences in 2008 were checking into this net with KA1RMV (SK) as the Net Control operator.

Unlike many Nets in the area, this Net has no formal purpose. This is advantageous to us because we can literally make up what we want to do or talk about. For example, in September 2015 to celebrate National Preparedness Month, we used topics from the Ready.gov website to spark comments and discussion — some of it radio related and some of it not.

However, the Net itself has a much more colorful history than just the few short years I have been involved with it. In fact, the Net itself has existed and then not existed a few times. It is always fun to hear some of the original operators check in and bring stories of past incarnations of the Net.

I recently contacted Joe (K1IKE) one of the original Net members for a more first-hand account of the Net’s history. Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:

The Net began around 1985, I’ll have to see if I have some notes on that.  I just saw the container in the attic the other day that contains all the H.E. information.  The net was started by Curtis “Chappy” Chapman K1GUV and I back then.  I had met Chappy on either the 67 or 97 repeater and we became friends. Chappy participated in a net on 75 meter SSB that was called the “Daytime Engineers”.  There were other hams in this daytime net from the area.  They are listed on the HE certificate as officers of the HE Net.  This was a group of hams that were both engineers and other professions that met daily to rag-chew, most were retired.  Their claim to fame was that you could bring them a technical problem and they could always provide a solution. (Not always a correct solution, but a solution!).

Chappy was blind in his old age, macular degeneration I believe. A really nice guy and fun the rag-chew with.  Somehow, we decided to start a local net that was just for rag-chewing.  No specific purpose (such as ARES, DX, etc), Just a place to come and meet people at talk about anything.  I could be as simple as what you had for breakfast or what birds you saw today at the bird feeder. It caught on very fast and it was not unusual to have check-ins numbering in the teens. Chappy came up with the name Horizontal Engineers, meaning that we were all in the horizontal mode at that time of day.  I decided to go with Chappy’s idea and the net was born.  If you look at the HE Certificate you will see that the ham is in a hammock, relaxing.  It was a silly name for the net, but it stuck.  I guess it was a fitting name for a net that was known as a net without a purpose.

Some of the old-school Net hams thought that the Horizontal Eng Net was  a silly and even idiotic Net with no intelligent purpose.  What they didn’t realize was that the hams participating in the HE Net were being very well trained in Directed Net operations.  The Net was very organized and followed directed net format.  This training was then extremely helpful during a disaster.  Many new hams got their directed net training participating in the HE Net and never realized it.  Chappy and I never intended for this to happen, but it was a surprise benefit to forming the He Net.  If you look at the HE Net Certificate you will see a reference to Hurricane Gloria, a subtle hint that we really had a purpose.

The HE Net was so popular that it met ever night at the beginning.  I think this can happen again if the focus is on having fun and fostering the welcome of new hams.  Maybe contacting the people that give VE tests in the area and informing them of the Net time and existence might bring more new hams with Chinese radios to the net.  The important thing to stress is that new hams are welcome and no experience is necessary, just the desire to make friends and rag-chew.

First, I’d like to thank Joe for taking the time to put together this bit of history for the Net’s website. Second, I believe that much of what was said about the original Net is still true today. Especially in our area, VHF (where most first-time Technician-licensed hams will be operating) is not exactly full of life. As mentioned before, many of the Nets that do operate are done so with specific purposes, such as ARES and NTS. To a new ham these Nets can be a little intimidating. When do I press the PTT button? What do I say? What if I mess up my callsign? How do I know if they can hear me?

I consider the HE Net’s “type” to be right in the middle of a round-table discussion (just a bunch of hams on the frequency at the same time chatting) and a formal ARRL-affiliated Net (a directed Net at a specific time with a specific purpose). This middle-ground gives the Net a time, date, and place for operators to meet, but with no specific job to do or report on. Many times, new hams will be listening to the Net for weeks before getting their license and being able to join us. We very much encourage this and are always happy to answer any questions you have, radio related or not!

More history and thoughts from my head in the coming weeks. 73 everyone!

Mark / KB1RAY