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Boner Box
March 1956 Popular Electronics

March 1956 Popular Electronics

March 1956 Popular Electronics Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Popular Electronics, published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

Rumor (according to me) has it that Car Kohler and his better half, Sylvia, were a real-life couple who lived in the Syracuse, New York, area, and that his stories came from actual experiences. This one is very believable, even if the details were changed a bit to make it more interesting. 

Comical side note: Whenever I see or hear the first word in the title, it reminds me of a time in Annapolis Junior High School (early 1970s) when the teacher in a history class was running a film (pre-digital media days) and the announcer used the word (which has an alternate meaning) in a sentence when describing a mistake someone had made. A girl in the class burst out laughing so hard and uncontrollably that she actually peed herself. That, of course, caused riotous laughter from the entire class, which drew a lot of attention from neighboring classrooms. It's amazing how such experiences stick with you for a lifetime.

See Carl Kohler's "The Great Electron-Pedantic Project," "Dig That Reel Flat Response," "I Married a Superheterodyne," "Unpopular Electronics," "Operation Chaos," "Thin Air, My Foot," "High Tide in the Tweeter," "The R/C Cloud," "Hi-Fi Guest List," "Kool-Keeping Kwiz ," "Boner Box," and "McWatts."

Boner Box

By Carl Kohler

Boner Box, March 1956 Popular Electronics - RF Cafe

"By George!" I exclaimed feelingly, taking in the crisp suntans, the jaunty sun-cap and the gleaming half-boots - all newly purchased to accompany the just-completed Geiger counter dangling at my hip. "'By George, you're going to make a romantic-looking millionaire, old man! Yessiree! You're a real picture of adventure!"

I stared, admiringly, at my mirrored image - RF Cafe

I stared, admiringly, at my mirrored image.

Suddenly, the bedroom door behind me swept open.

"Hoo-hah!" gurgled Missus Wife, goggling my finery with eyes the size of white-walls.

Averting my ill-concealed smile of pride, I busied myself with removing a stray thread from my sleeve. "Rather dashing, don't you think, old girl?"

"Dashing-smashing," she muttered, "what goes?"

"Well, you just don't grub around, in the great outdoors, in tweeds and a dress-shirt," I said, a bit defensively. "And I imagine I'll spend a certain amount of time, patiently exploring this canyon. and that ... over rock and rill ... "

"You joined the Boy Scouts?" Her face registered incredulous amusement. "At your age?"

"I'm joining the great fraternity of Uranium Hunters," I said crisply. Boy Scouts, indeed! "For your further information, I fully expect to be successful, too. After all," I gazed up past lifted eyebrows, "having built my own deluxe Geiger counter ... "

"What's a Geiger counter?"

I allowed myself a short, sophisticated chuckle. Then I drew her gently into a chair and began, as simply as possible, to relate the Kohler Plan for Wealth Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. It took, perhaps, thirty minutes ... counting repeated details and a fine appraisal of my homemade Geiger counter. When I finished, she began sprouting questions.

"This another of your nutty schemes?"

I tossed her a dog-eared copy of Popular Electronics.

"Read the ads," I suggested. "Everybody is buying, building, borrowing or stealing this little bonanza-type box." I tapped the counter's neatly constructed 3" x 5" x 7" aluminum case. "It detects radioactive uranium. Uranium is precious. Ergo, once discovered ... a uranium mine means untold millions. With this devilishly clever little box, I mean to roll in dough forever ... so to speak."

She studied the counter with mingled greed and suspicion.

"So this's what's been keeping you up nights, huh? How does it work, anyway?"

I indicated the switch, the neon lamp indicator and meter.  

"Boner Box" The whole joint's full of uranium - RF Cafe"Here," I slipped the headphone over her hair. "Listen a minute. Those clicks! will mean uranium if they ... "

She leaped to her feet.

"Holy Toledo! The whole joint's full of uranium! Listen to it!" She turned near-mad eyes upon me. "Oh, you lovely, lovely little clicks! Clickety-clickety-click, click, click! She cackled insanely.

"That," I said, hastily removing the headphone, "is just the background count. Get your greed out of gear, my dear. It simply isn't quite that ... "

"I can see it all now!" she cried, dancing spiritedly in great, bounding circles around the room. "Yep, life's gonna be a gravy train from here on in! No more housework! No more scrimping! No more worrying about bills!

Wheeeeeeeee!"

"Look," I said, anxiously, "You only heard the background count, which doesn't mean there's any ... "

"Diamonds!" Her eyes glittered with desire.

"Diamonds and emeralds and rubies, and maybe even mink! Oh, definitely mink! Acres and acres of mink, And I'll need some ..."

I stared. admiringly, at my mirrored image ... taking in the crisp sun-tans, the jaunty sun-cap and the gleaming half-boots ...

"The background count," I whispered hoarsely, "merely denotes a ..."

" ... new clothes to go with all those Cadillacs! Can't run around Europe dressed in rags, you know! No more shoddy old dollar-ninety-eight cottons! Not for this millionaire's wife! No sir! Nothing but the best ... the most expensive creations ... Paris originals ... from now on!" She bussed me, wildly, on the nose. "And, of course, we'll have to join the better clubs ... mingle with the better set, and I'll ... "

"There Is No Uranium in This House, Do You Hear?"

"N-No uranium?" She sank" stunned, into a chair. "Then what were those little clicks you said meant ... "

"Background count," I repeated wearily.

"Boner Box" She stood triumphantly - RF Cafe

... she stood triumphantly waving an ancient looking tibia ... or perhaps it was a femur ...

"But don't you fret, sweets," I assured her" tipping my cap to a rakish angle across my high, intelligent brow and winking a knowing wink at her, "I think I know where the uranium grows!"

"Y-You sure?"

"Sure, I'm sure ... I think," I fondled the counter ... the little counter built from parts I bought with my own little money and, skillfully, put together with my own little screwdriver in my own little .workshack. "You'll have all those luxuries," I promised, "if there's any loot left after Uncle Sugar gets his cut and if there's anything after I buy a few electronic supply houses, a radio station or two, a few TV stations ... and I'll have to own those experimental ... "

"Stop dreaming, already," she snapped. "Get the car out of the garage while I pack a lunch and some drinking water. We' gotta find that radioactive egg before we can hatch it, friend."

And I creaked away, in my new boots, toward the garage.

Two days later ... two exhausting, sun-scorched and totally footsore days later, Missus Wife limped into the pale shade of a huge boulder and collapsed. I followed suit. For perhaps an hour, we just slumped there ... thinking black, empty thoughts and letting the desert silence broil over us.

"You sure you built that thing right?"

Missus Wife licked sun-cracked lips and glinted a glance off me. "Two days and all we've found, so far, is an occasional radioactive bone: Maybe you goofed the project, huh?"

I turned the counter over and over in my blistered hands. "Not unless the guy who drew the schematics for this baby was hung over or half-asleep when he did them. I checked it, thoroughly, at least twice before I assembled it." I stared glumly across the merry, shimmering heat waves. A lizard dragged himself into the sun, panted with the effort, and painfully inched back into the simmering rocks. "Let's face it, girl. Maybe there just isn't any uranium in these forsaken boondocks." I tried to remember how cool felt.

"Hey, I been meaning to ask you," Missus Wife flicked a contemptuous thumb at the probe: "Why such a fancy cowhorn gimmick for this gismo when the rest of the little flop is built so plain?"

"Staghorn, not cowhorn," I murmured, wondering if those five miles to the parked car were humanly possible before sundown. "The instructions said encase the Geiger tube in bakelite tubing, but I didn't have any. So I found this roll of staghorn and it seemed ..."

"I knew it!" She groaned miserably. "I had a feeling, all along - call it feminine intuition - that you were doing something wrong. No wonder we've only been detecting bones!" Her glare would have fried me if I hadn't already been nicely done to a turn. As it stood, the very idea she expounded was half-baked.

"Feminine intuition," I drawled folksily, "is merely a male hunch that made good. And I never mix science with superstition. Those bones we found must have possessed some degree of radioactivity, because if I thought your absurd theory that a staghorn probe only detected ...

"Didn't those government charts say uranium deposits have been found in this area?"

"Sure, but that's no ... "

"Then, shouldn't we have been getting better than just background counts of thirty to forty clicks a minute - say, an occasional higher count, here and there?"

"Possibly." I had a feeling she had me, and I knew she had a feeling that I knew she had me. It was a confusing, defeatist thought and I would have gladly traded it for one small thought of cold, clear water. But she was proving something ...

"Gimme the gismo."

She boiled to her feet and, slinging the counter over her shoulder, struck out across the barren waste, jabbing the probe fiercely in all directions. Suddenly, she skidded to a sand-splattering halt ... the probe pointing straight down into the bleach grains of the creek bed.

"Here. Bring that shovel and dig here."

"I believe you, sweetheart!" I called winsomely.

But, like I say, she was proving something - fatigue-torn spouse or no fatigue-torn spouse. She loped back, snatched up the short spade and began making the dry-creek bottom fly in billowing, choking clouds of sand ... some of which, from the sizzle effect on contact with already scorched human hide, seemed slightly hotter than the cinders of Hell.

"See!" When the sandstorm settled, she stood triumphantly waving an ancient looking tibia ... or perhaps it was a femur. I wasn't certain then and I'm not certain now. Anyway, it was bone, alrighty.

On the long, sweltering hike back to the car, she darted here and there, digging up more bones to prove and reprove her theory. Because she obviously had me like Grant had Richmond. I graciously agreed that she must be right. With her and that "boner box" never missing a single sun-bleached steer skull or coyote skeleton all the way to the car, what else could I say.

Several harried weeks have passed since our uranium outing and I have sworn Missus Wife to a blackmail silence with sundry concessions like breakfast in bed and no dish-washing. For one thing, the gloating little blackmailer gave me a wonderful idea for my electronic folly. I was prepared to dismantle it - still in a fog as to how such a thing could be - and rebuild a more normal, functional counter when something she trilled sarcastically into my ear set the creative wheels of planning into motion.

"Maybe you can sell your bone detector to a dog lover's society or hire out to remove canine caches from neighborhood lawns!" And while she howled with hysterical delight, I put the old mind back to work.

If I can modify this crazy counter so it will signal impulses in the presence of old ... really old bones, I've got it made. Or don't you agree that the Smithsonian Institute would pay handsomely for a gadget no archeologist should be without?

 

 

Posted February 10, 2017

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