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Official Journal of The Collins Collectors Association

Issues Number Fourteen and Fifteen
Published in Second and Third Quarters of 1999
By Collins Collectors Association

A Brief History of Collins-Canada
by Peter Lower, VE3URO

In 1953 with the post-war boom in full swing and the prospect of military and government contracts in Canada, the Collins Radio Company opened a sales office in Ottawa, the nation's capital. It was the height of the Cold War and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar defence system was under construction in the Canadian arctic as a joint Canadian/U.S. undertaking. It was a multi­million dollar project and the demand for high quality communications systems was high. The Collins Radio Company was successful in winning a number of lucrative contracts and it made good sense to set up a plant dedicated to filling the Canadian orders. In July of 1956 a manufacturing plant was opened in Toronto employing 550 production, engineering and office staff. Toronto offered skilled technical personnel, direct and efficient transportation links to the U.S. and a manufacturing infrastructure that could accommodate the needs of the Collins Radio Company. The Bermondsey Rd. plant became the first major manufacturing operation outside of the U.S. for the Collins Radio Company.

Production began with military contracts for UHF radios (UHF Duplex transceiver, 205G1) and Dew Line installations, the 240E­1, a "lateral communications system" for communications between the various DEW Line stations strung out across Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. Because conventional HF communications could not be relied upon in the high arctic due to the effects of magnetic storms and aurora borealis, Collins developed and installed high-power transmitters and receivers incorporating trans-horizon or "tropo-scatter" technology. Collins-Canada quickly became expert in the design, manufacture, installation and operation of communications systems in a multitude of harsh environments. Other products included the 32MS-1 and 32RS-1 HF single sideband transceivers; the 51 M-8G VHF receiver; the AN/ARC-552 airborne UHF receiver/ transmitter; the 618Tand 618W series of HF and UHF airborne communications system; the An/URC-32 marine HF transceiver; the HF-80 communications system; the PRC-66, a 3500 channel UHF transceiver incorporating "thin film" circuitry; the 437P-1 mobile antenna and Broadband Log Periodic antennas.

Arnold Ferguson (VE3AZF), a former Field Service Technician, recalls the spirit in the Collins plant in Toronto: "I can't emphasize too strongly the good rapport between the upper echelons and the working men and women. Being a small plant the executives would often walk through and took a great interest in our work. The working conditions were ideal, the plant was very clean and well organized and neat, so everybody was very happy. I sure enjoyed it while I was there." Licensed as a commercial radio operator in 1946, Arnold was working in avionics for Air Canada when the opportunity came along to work for Collins. Arnold started in the ''final test" area in April of1956. After five years in production Arnold was invited to move into the Field Service department and was sent on course to Cedar Rapids. Upon his return to the Toronto plant Arnold serviced everything from avionics and VHF gear on board executive jets, to KWS-1's used to provide radio­telephone links in northern Quebec, to radar site base stations in the Arctic. He was also made responsible the servicing of the amateur product line. Former engineer and sales manager Doug Joyce (VE3MV): "If ham equipment showed up at the plant (for repair) it usually ended up with Arnold".

Amateur radio equipment was never the economic engine that drove Collins Radio but it had always been the heart and soul of the company founded by Art Collins in 1932. But hams being hams-knowledgeable, picky, persistent and demanding-they weren't always welcomed with open arms as they carried or wheeled their ailing rigs up to the plant gates. "The amateur line was a thorn in many peoples' sides", recalls Doug. "The publicity wasn't worth the hassle. People expected personalized service and we weren't set up to give it". Nevertheless there was a strong amateur contingent in the plant including Arnold who recalls going easy on some of the hams who brought their rigs in for servicing. "The commercial gear was all boards which made them fairly easy to service. Amateur equipment was all point to point wiring of course, and occasionally it could take awhile troubleshooting some of the gear and we charged by the hour. I'd shave a bit off here and there when the bill started to add up." The production of amateur gear at the Toronto plants was limited to two periods and took place at two different locations-the first in the late 50's when the 74A-4 and related accessories was produced at the Bermondsey Rd. site, and the second in the 70's when the KWM-2,2A and S-Line were manufactured at the larger 111,000 square foot plant at 150 Bartley drive where the company moved in 1963.

The 75A-4, last in the illustrious line of receivers designed by Roy Olson at Collins, was the fifth generation of the A series beginning with the 75Aproperin 1946. The 75A-4 was the first piece of amateur radio equipment produced at the Collins-Canada plant. It was produced from 1957 through 1959 and was moved to Toronto to make room for S-Line production which was gearing up in Cedar Rapids.

The Bermondsey Rd. plant had a single production line dedicated to the production of the 75A-4 Receiver. This line was staffed by twelve or so "girls" who assembled an estimated three to five receivers per day. Jack Gutman did the final tests on the rigs as they came off the line and recorded the relevant data on the sheets. All 75A-4's produced in Toronto have "Collins Radio Company of Canada Ltd." stencilled on the rear of the cabinet. The serial numbers of the A-4's produced in Canada have proven a challenge to trace and confirm.

As the CCA Technical Data Sheet (A97­001) compiled on the A-4 indicates, the serial numbers of existing 75A-4's produced by Collins-Canada are above 4000 with some reports of Toronto-built radios bearing 5000series numbers. A survey undertaken for this article confirms the existence of a number of 75A-4's made at the Collins­Canada plant with serial numbers above 5000 including SIN 5234 and SIN 5309. Additionally, a number of radios also with serial numbers above 5000 have been confirmed as originating in Cedar Rapids. Serial numbers 5555 and 5749 have been reported. SoweretheA-4's of Toronto vintage built between 1957and 1959 truly the "last of the line"? An ad placed by the Harrison Radio Company of New York City appearing in the November, 1959 issue of QST, highlights the fact that the 75A-4 was in demand but becoming scarce and that the most recent units had been built by Collins­Canada: "Right now we have a limited supply of the more popular-than-ever 75A-4 receivers.

Collins made them in their Canadian factory to the very highest standards .... We bought all they had and, to pass the savings along to you, we have just been authorized to reduce the price. Everyone is brand new, with all the latest production improvements. In factory sealed cartons and fully guaranteed by Collins and by us." The new-in-the-box price? $785.00 including the 3.1 Kc filter. The stuff that dreams are made of!

We know that the A-4 production line in Toronto shut down in late 1959. What we don't know for certain is whether additional A-4's were built after that date in Cedar Rapids. Gene Robinson, N5LDX, who owns #5555, worked in the Cedar Rapids broadcast division from 1962 to 1967, and believes that an additional 500 units were built in Cedar Rapids following the closure of the Toronto production line. This would mean S-Line production and 75A-4 production overlapped at Cedar Rapids somewhere around late 1959 and early 1960 and would certainly explain the existence of high 5000 serial numbers on Cedar Rapids-built radios. Of course it's also possible that the serial numbers appearing on the Toronto and Cedar Rapids radios were not consecutively assigned. Further research is clearly in order to solve this minor mystery.

Collins-Canada did no production runs of the KWM-1 or the KWS-1 both of which were produced exclusively at the Cedar Rapids plant. Some A-4 accessories were manufactured in Toronto including the 312A­1 speaker console, 270G-3 matching speakers and the SC-1 01 station control system. The owner’s manuals were also published by Collins-Canada and shipped out with the finished units. A price list published by Collins­Canada in June of 1959 lists the 75A-4 for $702; the SC-1 01 for $702; the 270G-3 speaker for $40; the 312A-1 speaker console for $40 and a 6kc. filter for $63.85! All mechanical filters were manufactured in Newport Beach, Ca. and trucked to the Toronto plant. And while the majority of the parts that went into the 75A-4 were trucked in from Cedar Rapids, some key components were Canadian-made. The Hammond Transformer company of Guelph, Ontario manufactured the power transformers and cabinets. The actual number of 75A-4's built by Collins­Canada has proven difficult to confirm. Estimates range from 400 to 500 up to 1500.

The 32MS-1
Jim Riach, VE3DSR, who joined Collins in 1959 as an engineering technologist, recalls that his first assignment was the 32MS-1, a four channel, HF SSB transceiver designed for commercial applications. Based on the 32RS­1, a successful, one-piece fixed station design, the MS-1 was a two-piece mobile station with a separate control unit consisting of a telephone-style handset, push-button channel selector and switchable mode selector capable of operating single sideband or "AME" (AM equivalent). If this design concept sounds familiar it is. A number of current generation mobile rigs offer detachable control heads with the bulk of the radio in the trunk or under the seat. The MS-1 offered a choice of four power sources --12VDC, 28VDC, 115VAC and 230VA. It also incorporated a crystal oven providing frequency stability and eliminating the need for a user-adjustable "clarifier". Jim recalls Art Collins arriving to tour the plant and look at the MS-1 prototypes.

"He was a distinguished looking, grey haired man who took a great interest in the work in the plant. He was very hands-on when it came to the products made by his company and not too much got by without his stamp". This was certainly true of the 32MS-1 which was based on a proven design but whose reconfigured look wasn't to Art's taste. Jack MacQuarrie, VE3AWY, commercial product line manager at the time, recalls that the boxy cabinets of the prototypes didn't impress the man whose company had recently dazzled the world with the release of the S-Line. "We argued that orders for the radio had already been received from a number of clients, including the U.S. Navy", says Jack, "but Art was adamant". "Cancel them", he said. "You're not putting my name on this radio." With that he flew back to Cedar Rapids taking a set of drawings with him. A few weeks later the project engineer got a phone call. It was Art. "Pack a few shirts and get down here." He did just that and the two of them went to work until the design met with Art's approval. The 32MS-1 subsequently went into production and did very well over the next few years.

The 51J-1
The 51J series of general coverage receivers came on line in 1949 sold extremely well in the commercial, military and ham markets. The 51 J-4 (1957) with three plug-in mechanical filters was a great radio by anyone's standards. What it didn't have, however, and what its ham-band cousin the 75A-4 did have, was full SSB capability. It's a little-known piece of Collins history that before the introduction of the 51S-1, there was another radio designed and built by Collins-Canada that was intended to be the general coverage equivalent of the 75A-4.

Walter Bratsberg was a young Norwegian engineer who studied at the University of Illinois and the State University of Iowa in the early 1950's. He got a job at the Turner Microphone company which at the time had a contract from the nearby Collins Radio Company to build their fast-selling 51J-3's. So Walter got to know the J series radios pretty well before family obligations pulled him back to Norway in 1954. About a year later he got a call from "Jock" Giacoletto, the new director of engineering at Collins­Canada. Giacoletto offered him a job in Toronto. Bratsberg arrived at the newly­opened Bermondsey Rd. plant in January of 1956 and set to work on military UHF radios like the ARC-552 and later the 618Y-1 (ARC504). Meanwhile, in another part of the plant the 75A-4 production line was turning out the last of these illustrious radios. There was no design work required on the A-4's of course but one day Giacoletto called the young engineer into his office to say they'd received authorization from Cedar Rapids to design a general coverage version of the 75A-4. The new radio was to be called the 51J-5.

Bratsberg worked hard on creating a design for this "best of both worlds" radio and was gratified when the go-ahead was received to build engineering prototypes. But as the J-5 was poised to make its debut, fate intervened to cut short the life of the new radio. The S-Line had been introduced in 1958 and was a runaway success. Then, in 1959, the 51 S-l appeared incorporating everything slated for the J-5 into a stylish and compact S-Line style cabinet. Superseded by time, technology and the marketplace, the 51J-5 project was quietly shelved but happily, not before three complete and fully operational engineering models of the radio had been built. According to Bratsberg one of them went to the Canadian military, another to the U.S. Navy and the third he took with him when he left Collins­Canada in 1973. He has the radio to this day and has refused all offers to buy it.

The S-Line and KWM-2/2A
When the 75A-4 production line was shut down in the fall of 1959 there was no further production of Amateur gear at Collins-Canada until 1977 when the KWM-2 and 2A and the S-Line went into production. S­Line production in Cedar Rapids had been shut down in early 1976 and arrived in Toronto after a year of production in Dallas.

Arnold recalls the day when the first KWM­2 came off the line at the Bartley Drive plant in June of 1977. "I went up on the roof and strung a 20 meter dipole while Joyce set up the KWM-2A in the middle of the production floor. We made contact with Dave Jaksa, WOVX, the program manager at Cedar Rapids and had a good QSO." "We were celebrating the first KWM-2 coming off the line in Toronto and I remember the QSO well", recalls Dave, who retired from Rockwell­Collins in 1998 after 30 years with the company. When asked about the number of KWM-2's, 2A's and S-lines produced at the Collins-Canada facility, Dave re­confirmed what many have discovered while trying to dig up production numbers. "To the best of my knowledge, the company did not release specific numbers of units built nor were amateur product serial numbers consecutively assigned." In addition to the KWM-2 and 2A's, 312B-5's were also produced along with the complete S-line including the 75S-3, 32S-3, 312B-4 and B-3. The superb table-top linear, the 30l-1 was built as was the 180S-1 antenna tuner and the 516F-2 power supply. The Canadian-made KWM-2's, S-lines and accessories were tagged with the Round Emblem. Unlike the 75A-4s, however, these Toronto-made grey boxes were not identified with a "Collins Radio Company of Canada" stencil on the rear of the cabinet. There is some evidence that a letter "T" following the serial number on the silver stick-on tag was an indication that the unit had been built by Collins-Canada.

The Eighties
S-line production came to an end in Toronto in 1978 and in EI Paso a year later as the KWM-380 came on line in Cedar Rapids. The Collins-Canada operation was now a division of "Rockwell International's Collins Defense Communications Electronics Operations" reflecting, of course, the takeover of the Collins Radio Company by Rockwell International in 1971. The focus was now entirely on commercial avionics, air traffic communication control systems and military HF communications systems such as the HF­80. The HF-80 was a flexible, computer controlled HF single sideband communications system featuring remote controlled transmitters with power outputs of one, three and ten kilowatts. They also went mobile/ portable via the TCS-41 00 communications shelters. Developed in the mid-70's and first delivered to Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe ("SHAPE"), the HF­80 marked a successful final chapter in the history of Collins-Canada production. These systems were comprised of HF-80 receivers, exciters, controls and pre-selectors; HF 80 power amplifiers and power supplies; HF-80 system racks and assemblies and the HF­8040 antenna coupler. These systems went into production in 1979 and were being produced when the plant closed its doors in 1991. These sophisticated communications systems sold well both to commercial and military end users with over 100 million dollars in sales recorded during the 1980's. Using rotatable one hundred foot diameter log periodic antennas tied to a ten kilowatt transmitter these systems provided excellent ground to air/air to ground communications from North America to Europe and had no trouble overcoming whatever propagation variables or QRM that might be thrown their way. A number of the three kilowatt versions were sold to Argentina just prior to the Falkland's War to back up an unreliable provincial telephone system.

It was during this period that Collins­Canada produced the highly regarded solid state receiver: the HF-2050 which was build under contract to the Canadian armed forces. It is estimated that 800 to 1000 of these radios were built with many recently finding their way into the hands of hams and SWL's.

The Collins-Canada subsidiary employed some 625 persons during its peak production years during the 1970's and 80's. Its nearly forty years of operations as a development, engineering and production facility from the early fifties through 1991 provides an interesting and informative sub-plot to the main story of the Collins Radio Company. Its success in producing quality commercial, military and amateur products stands as proof of the remarkable engineering and manufacturing standards developed by Collins which could be transported to and re-created outside of the primary production facility. The fondness with which former Collins-Canada employees speak of the company is testament to the enlightened leadership of its founder, Arthur Collins, who understood that the achievement of his goal of "more perfect communication" required not only the electronic marvels designed and produced by his company, but also the spirited commitment of the individuals who created them.

Special thanks to: Deric Affleck (VY2DA), Walter Bratsberg, Gene Duprey (K1GD), Arnold Ferguson (VE3AZF), Dave Jaksa (WOVX), Doug Joyce (VE3MV), Jack Law, Jack MacQuarrie  (VE3AWY), Mike Fothergill, Jim Riach (VE3DSR), Gene Robinson (N5lDX).

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