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WARC Van – Miles for Millions

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Not many people remember the WARC Van. Well, I do, and here’s my story from the 1960’s in the Winnipeg Amateur Radio Club. 

For more than a century, ham radio operators have provided public safety communications. Usually, these services are provided by individuals using mobile units and walkie talkies. Typically, these services are organized by local or regional radio clubs.

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I belonged to the Winnipeg Amateur Radio Club. To support our public service activities, we acquired a used milk delivery truck for use as our emergency communications vehicle. Colloquially, we called this the WARC Van.

One of the main uses of our WARC Van was to provide communications headquarters for the annual Miles for Millions Walkathon. The pictures above show the WARC Van parked outside the Manitoba Legislature, as well as a crowd of young people taking part.

Starting in our Centennial Year, the Miles for Millions Walkathon was a uniquely Canadian event which ran between 1967-1980. It attracted about 500,000 participants in 22 Canadian cities. Originally, organizers patterned the walkathon after the Oxfam march in the United Kingdom. In Canada, our march went on to support many charitable humanitarian efforts at home and abroad.

Young people dominated participation. Each signed up donations from friends, relatives and businesses on a “per mile” basis. Walks ranged from 25 to 40 miles – I think the Winnipeg event was 35. Organizers signed off how many miles each participant achieved and that formed the basis for collecting donations.

Miles for Millions was held on a Saturday in late April or May each year, and the walk started at 9:30, with most participants completing their efforts by late afternoon.

WARC Van – Many Fond Memories

As VE4IA at the time, I ran the net control station in the WARC Van for a few years, including the 1969 event pictured above. Communications were provided by hams, CBers and the military. The Canadian Forces handled medical support communications on 50 MHz AM. The CB clubs handled radio communications between the dozens of checkpoints. And, the Winnipeg Amateur Radio Club did overall control and checkpoint communications on 144 MHz FM.

Our ham communications worked best for coverage and reliability, even before the 2 meter repeaters were installed. The Armed Forces radios were old and cranky. And, since these years were at the peak of a sunspot cycle, the skip would roll in by early afternoon making local CB coverage useless. In a typical year, we needed to take over all three levels of event communications.

Fortunately, 2 meter FM was just getting popular at the time and tons of local hams turned out to use their new gear.

Incidentally, I recall that in later years the WARC Van kept breaking down. We had a lot of controversy in the club as to whether it was worth the time, effort and cost. I remember a club meeting where some members said we should take it to the bank of the Red River and give it a shove.

Ah, those were great days. Thanks to Bruce VE4KQ for the picture.

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