... Alpha Comm - Authentic or Not?

Background - Alpha is our name for one of only two mechanized hero communicator props Wah Chang built for the original Star Trek series (the other hero we call Beta).  The survival of either was unknown until a collector stepped forward late last year (2006) asking us if his hero comm prop was legit.  After careful review, we agreed without reservation that it was in fact the actual item.  Our site documented the discovery, and we included an entire page fully delineating why we knew it to be so.  Most hobbyists and prop historians came to the identical conclusion, but not all.

The Challenge - One influential expert of Trek props* has widely expressed ongoing doubts.  And in May 2007, he finally publicly specified his reasons.  At the center of his argument against our Alpha ID, it seems, is a small piece of rubber.

(* Just as we do not reveal our names here at HeroComm, we have no need to post his.  Our focus as always is on the relevancy of verifiable facts and the accuracy of prominent ideas that serve to guide the actions of those within the field.)

The Alpha hero we show has as part of its wind-up mechanism a rubber hose (above right) that acts as a universal joint; changing the angle of rotation between the stopwatch and the brass rewind tube that sticks out of the bottom shell.  This change of angle is necessary due to the slope angle of the largest flat surface inside the control well that the moiré bezel ring sits atop and the stopwatch is mounted flush directly below.  This can be explained visually with this picture.  The yellow line is our approximate guide as to the control well profile:

As you see, this flat surface is actually parallel to the bottom edge of the top shell (and thus also parallel to the aluminum mid-plate), also clearly illustrated below in this view of Epsilon:

(Note:  a near-side view best negates the distortion from all the prop's other bends and curves.  Click on this pic to see the original version.)

In disagreement to what is shown on our site, this prominent expert wrote that he does not believe Wah Chang would have made his heroes such that a rubber hose was needed to change the angle of the rewind system; that he would have made the mechanism cleaner or more elegant by instead altering the slope of the shell's control well in just the two heroes to allow the rewind axis to be in line with the stopwatch.  He also released the following picture of a replica he's made showing how he envisions this modification was handled (the yellow line is his, indicating a not insignificant 4 degree angle change from parallel):

Because this person has said both in word in and pictures that he does not believe Wah built his heroes with a rubber hose, it follows he is directly implying our identification of Alpha is flawed; that the prop we show is in reality a forgery.  He has also just written on another board this comment on a thread regarding how to generically identify fake Trek props:

"Mr. English is indeed a real person. However, it was a group of about 3-4 individuals who actually fabricated, and sold those notorious fakes. Some of those people are still active in the prop community, and are apparently still producing forgeries...better than ever."

As we are unaware of any newly uncovered original phasers or tricorders that could possibly be the "better than ever" forgeries, it can only be assumed he is talking indirectly about the comm we've identified as Alpha.  We thus feel it fully appropriate to publicly respond in kind to these remarks.  Do they have any merit?  To find out, we at HeroComm chose to turn to the only source of information that is beyond debate as to what is truly authentic: screen caps.

The Evidence - Pure side views of communicators from episodes that show the clean detail we seek are rare, yet fortunately one of the very best is actually of a hero, Beta, from Dagger of the Mind.  We know it is a hero because Frame 1 has a bright reflected flash off the top moiré transparency (with the dark compass hole in the center) and Frame 2 picks up the little bump underneath that is the brass rewind tube.  It is Frame 3 that gives us the most useful view of the moiré bezel angle in relation to the midplate:

(Images #1-3 above and #1 below are straight off the DVD in their actual size.  Click on each to see the full cap.)

Clearly the top of the moiré bezel ring is not tilting down extra as a modified angle would otherwise have it do.  This indicates the flat surface it sits on and the stopwatch mounted beneath is parallel to the midplate.  So maybe it was only Alpha that in 1966 got this alleged shell angle modification by Wah.  The best screen cap to determine this possibility is from The Omega Glory, and while the viewing angle is higher than the one above, it is also closer in with better detail.  Again we see the same unambiguous results:

Conclusion - From the best evidence we have at our disposal, we must conclude this expert's opinion as stated is utterly without validity.  While the size, clarity, and viewing angle for both screen caps are admittedly not perfect (when are they ever?), they both clearly offer no support at all for the "modified shell angle" theory, even if granting the most generous interpretation of these images in his favor.  Quite the contrary.  They equally add further confirmation that Wah indeed needed to bend the rewind axis, just like what we show on our Alpha page.  And we cannot think of a more lightweight, effective and expeditious (in our book that equates to "ingenious") way than to use a short length of rubber hose.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but to date absolutely no viable reason has been put forth to suggest our identification of Alpha is in error.

The members of the Chang Gang have the every respect for this expert's abilities as a craftsman, and not long ago he even aided us by identifying a significant error in our prior identification of Eta.  We are returning the favor here.

Note - HC offers many thanks to members of the TrekPropZone board who did much of our legwork for us on this topic - by conducing research and creating initial versions of many of the above pictures we've since expanded upon and labeled.


6/7/07 Update

Unrelated to the specifics of the above discussion but still directly concerning our Alpha identification, we just received an amazing original 4x6 photograph of Alpha as it appeared during the show; this photo was owned by Wah:

Yes it came reversed, and yes, that is his actual autograph penned on the photo paper.  A personal note to the the receiver (and current photo owner) that was
written in the upper-left corner has been masked.  See a 600 dpi close-up of the good part here.

With this photo we see details that have never been visible before in photos from that era.  Germaine to this topic are two specific details:  a ledge on the moiré bezel ring and an errant sawblade cut in the midplate...

You may have noticed in our modern Alpha pictures a mis-cut in the midplate adjacent to the left hinge wheel (red arrow).  We had wondered if this was done by Wah's hand, occurred from a more recent accident, or is a sign of a forgery.  Now that this new vintage photo has come to light, we easily see it was there from the beginning.

Also an earlier comment from an assistant to the previously-mentioned expert - in arguing that our Alpha could possibly be a fake - pointed to an earlier less-clear version of this same vintage photo.  That smaller, grainier image did not well exhibit the ledge in the moiré bezel ring for the transparency to sit on - certainly an unexpected feature unique to the hero as we found it (all other bezel rings on the dummies had instead a lip to tuck the moiré pattern under).  Again, this new photo definitively shows that the ledge (green arrow) has always been there.

Note:  for clarification, none of these ID points by themselves "proves" that Alpha as we found it is authentic, but each should diminish ever further the already miniscule possibility of it being a fake.  Our knowledge of this prop's history provides to us that absolute certainty, but we do not have the luxury of sharing that yet - so instead we show you everything else we've got.  As always, we welcome documented evidence that supports other viewpoints.

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