ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

A Silent Key —

While getting together addresses and information to send out free copies of the documentary to interviewees, I have discovered the sad news that one of them, John Sheetz of New Jersey (K2AGI), passed away in January of this year.

Mr. Sheetz was a complete shot in the dark for me, interview-wise; in trying to make an episode about using BBSes for artwork, I wanted to show that this urge and approach was around long before people were using modems to connect to each other. I looked out on the internet and found out there had been Teletype art contests going back some time, which were run by Don Royer and others, and which were massive in scale. Mr. Royer had died some time ago, but Mr. Sheetz was around and when I called, he was obviously a little confused as to why I contacted him and the subject matter of this documentary, but he agreed to be interviewed for it.

I drove from Boston to his home in New Jersey, which also confused him (“You came all this way just to talk to me?”), but I saw that he had made the massive effort of bringing out stacks and stacks of Teletype art for me to see and take pictures of. I took a bunch of shots and then sat with him for an hour interview.

We talked about how all this art had come about, about the process of creating it using the technology of the time, and the unique ways people could use ham radio to send these pictures around. He talked about his own attempts to create these artworks, how a local business got in trouble using Peanuts Characters in teletype form for christmas calendars, and a bunch of other great stories.

We also checked out his garage and his old teletype machines which he still had. I took photos of these as well.

His interview made the perfect introduction to the ARTSCENE episode, and in fact a good 5 minutes of Mr. Sheetz discussing teletype art is in the documentary. He is one of the longest appearances of the 200+ interviews.

Here are photographs from the interview.

After interviewing Mr. Sheetz, I went into further interviews and editing, and we never talked again. I don’t know what he thought of the strange guy with long hair and the camera equipment who came to his house for a few hours one morning, but I thought he was a great person and worth every mile of the hundreds I drove to see him.

When a Ham passes away, he or she becomes known as a “Silent Key”, because you will not hear their call sign over the air again. I am truly sorry that he never got to see himself on film.

On the other hand, this is precisely why I started this documentary project in the first place. In 2005, there is no John Sheetz to talk about teletype and telegraph art. There won’t be in 2006, either, or beyond. The only regret I have is we talked for a mere hour, because my documentary was about a specific subject. I didn’t talk to him about his decades of being a ham, or his years working at Bell Telephone, or any of a bunch of other subjects that I wonder are now lost to time.

I try not to think about what’s happened to all those reams of teletype art he spent decades collecting.

We stand on crumbling sand.

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  1. I came from the same era as John Sheetz, and in
    fact, while employed at Western Electric during
    the same time, I was in contact with him and exchanged many of the ASCII art documents shown in your photos.

    I am very pleased that you have documented this phase of ham radio/teletype development since it was my fascination with thess pre-digital explorations that led to my career of Electrical Engineering. I, too, have a large library of these ASCII documents and even authored an article in RTTY magazine on creating them on paper tape character-by-character with a home made manual entry device.

    I have the BBS documentary also, it is a wonderful production. My Fidonet BBS, “The Digital Cottage” is STILL up and running and although now outpaced by the Internet has been maintained for nostalgic reasons.

    Thanks for your perceptive work and wonderful website!!


  2. Chuck Langlois says:

    Just stumbled on your web site by chance. I was a Teletype technician with the U.S. Air force from 1966 to 1970. While stationed at Dover AFB, in Delaware, I remember a tech from a base in England sent a tty picture of the Sistine Chapel on Christmas eve that took almost 12 hours to come through at 60 wpm. Remember this was Baudot code coming in live. I wish we had saved the tape but it was lost after the Com Center commander told us to trash them.

  3. Jason Scott says:

    Chuck, I appreciate you taking the time to write in! Consider writing about your experiences and posting them!

  4. Dianna Self says:

    This silent key goes out in memory of:
    Donnelly G. Self
    22July1922 to 14March 2010

    Donn most recently renewed his license in 2008.
    He was, Extremely proud of his Ham association & was very committed
    to his role as an emergency operator.
    He was an avid camper, hiker and fisherman.
    He knew the names and oral history of all of the mountains of Colorado.
    Donn had 4 sons 2 daughters.
    In addition, he was also a “custodial parent” for his grandson Justin for several years.
    His best friend, greatest asset, stability, caregiver & supporter in life was,
    his Baby Sister Judy.
    Donn left us in March of this year after a bad fall and is greatly missed by many.
    I thought it fitting that on this day, we honor him by officially signing him off for a final time. Please honor the memory of: Donnelly G. Self
    with a moment of silence today.
    Thank you.
    Dianna Self