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Carl and Jerry: Off to a Bad Start
September 1961 Popular Electronics

September 1961 Popular Electronics

September 1961 Popular Electronics Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from Popular Electronics.

It was only the first day at engineering college and already their first familiar techno-caper was underway. Indiana's Parvoo University was about to get an initiation into the world of Carl and Jerry. As with all of John Frye's tales this one mixes serious electronics topics with a bit of fun and a life lesson. There were no 'bad guys' here as in many other episodes, but the boys did get an unexpected introduction to Parvoo U.'s president! Despite the story's title, the day ended well. 

Carl and Jerry: Off to a Bad Start

By John T. Frye W9EGV

Carl and Jerry: Off to a Bad Start, September 1961 Popular Electronics - RF Cafe

Darkness was falling over the campus of Parvoo University this early September evening as Carl and Jerry sat in their room on the third floor of Men's Housing Unit Number III. Actually they were only thirty-five miles from home, and this was just the end of their first day at school; but somehow everything connected with home seemed far away and long ago. As they watched the winking lights of a commercial airliner taking off from the university airfield, saw batteries of windows lighting up in building after building, and realized that some twelve thousand men and three thousand women students were sharing the campus of the big land-grant school with them, they felt very small and insignificant.

The boys had taken advantage of advance enrollment back in July and had gone through their placement tests and many other preliminaries at that time; so actually there had not been too much for them to do on this first day. Thanks to their high school records and their showing in the tests, both were "honor" students and were enrolled in a Freshman Engineering course that was plenty stiff - just how stiff they mercifully did not know at this point. Their brand-new green beanie caps - which they had already learned to call "freshman pots" - were resting on their beds.

Carl was sitting in a chair in front of the open window looking at the Coeducational Recreation Gymnasium across the way. From behind the "Co-Rec" building he could hear faintly the shouts of students enjoying the two outdoor swimming pools and the tennis courts that would be flooded in winter to form an ice-skating rink. Carl reflected idly that there was another heated pool inside the building, plus facilities for dancing, roller-skating, basketball, volley ball, squash, riflery, archery, gymnastics, etc.; but none of these appealed to him at the moment.

"Say, Jer," he said slowly, "do you feel kind of funny? I mean, are you a little shook by all this?"

Carl and Jerry: Off to a Bad Start - fellows peering through window - RF Cafe

"Yep," Jerry admitted from where he sat at his combination desk-and-bureau toying with his new Log-Log-Duplex-Decitrig slide rule. "I feel as green as that stupid-looking freshman pot. Wonder if we ever will learn our way around this place?"

"I dunno," Carl answered with a sigh.

"While you were at the bookstore this afternoon, I wandered into a building and came across a bunch of fellows who were peering through a little diamond-shaped window set into the wall. When I asked what was going on, the other freshmen said they weren't certain but they felt pretty sure that Parvoo's nuclear reactor was behind that window. They said you could see rods moving back and forth, probably in and out of an atomic pile in the basement. Then I looked, and sure enough, there were some slender rods going up and down.

"About that time," Carl continued, "a janitor came by and asked us what we were doing. When we explained that we were watching the nuclear reactor, he grinned widely and said he hated to disillusion us but that we were merely looking into the elevator shaft through an inspection porthole. The 'rods' we had been watching were actually elevator cables moving up and down!

"We slunk out of there very quietly and went our separate ways. None of us wanted to associate with those other stupid jerks!"

Jerry chuckled at his friend's story, then slid his rule back into its case that smelled pleasantly of new leather, and came over to stand behind Carl's chair.

"I'm not homesick," he announced firmly, "but I sure do miss things. Especially, I miss our car. I know that not being permitted to drive in this county while we're freshmen and sophomores is a good rule, but we could explore the campus a lot faster if we had our wheels."

"I know what you mean," Carl sympathized; "and I miss our electronic lab even more. When I realize we're way out here without even so much as a volt-ohmmeter, it sort of scares me. If we were back at the lab, I'll bet we wouldn't be just sitting around staring out a window."

"Maybe we shouldn't give up so easily," Jerry muttered as he looked down at students dropping cards and letters into a mailbox on the sidewalk just below their window. "I always figure that a really good technician is one who can get the most out of the equipment he has at hand. Carl, do you remember that Candid Camera show with the mailbox that talked?"

"Sure," Carl answered as he stood up to see what Jerry was staring at. "Are you thinking that we could give that mailbox down there a voice? I don't see how. We don't have an intercom set."

"Maybe we could make one," Jerry mused. "After all, an intercom is nothing but an audio amplifier and two speakers. One speaker acts as a microphone while the other functions normally on the output of the amplifier. A switch alternates the roles of the remote speaker and the unit speaker so that either can be used for talking or listening.

"We both have our transistor radios," he continued. "We could take a speaker out of one and drop it down inside the mailbox for use as the remote. The audio section of the other radio can serve as the amplifier. Then all we need is a switch to swap the set speaker and the remote speaker back and forth between input and output of the amplifier, and down at the radio store this afternoon I just happened to pick up this bat-handle d.p.d.t. toggle switch from the bargain counter."

"Hold it!" Carl interrupted as he bolted for the door. "We'll need a two-wire cable of fine wire to run to the slave speaker, and if we're in luck, I know where we can get it. I'll be back in a sec."

He was, too; and in his hand was a pair of very beat-up hair clippers. "I just remembered that the guy next door threw these into his wastebasket when he unpacked this afternoon and discovered they had been clobbered on the trip from home. They're the cheap vibrator type with a coil of fine wire inside. We can unroll all we want and twist a couple of lengths together to form a cable that will never be seen."

"Fine," Jerry applauded. "Now the only thing that bugs me is how we're going to unsolder connections inside the receivers and solder new leads to the switch, speaker, and so on."

"Leave that to me," Carl said as he slid back his closet door and took a small traveling case down from the top shelf. After he had spread his electric razor, toothbrush, hairbrush, and after-shave lotion out on his bed, he dived back into the bag once more and came up triumphantly with a small pencil-type electric soldering iron and a little roll of rosin-core solder.

"You may get old Carl away from home without his wallet, his toothbrush, or even his pants; but you're not going to get him away without some kind of soldering iron," he boasted. "We can split that clipper cord and make leads out of it to go to the switch. You go ahead and solder the switch into your radio while I take the speaker out of mine and bring out leads from the output transformer."

Both boys were thoroughly familiar with the circuit of their identical sets; so it didn't take long to carry out Carl's suggestions. Then they removed the coil of fine wire from the electric clippers and started winding it in a big loop around the backs of the two desk chairs placed at opposite sides of the room. Two such loops were made, and then the ends were fastened together and the loops unwound simultaneously while the wires were twisted together to form a two-wire cable of fine enameled wire easily long enough to reach down from the boys' window to the mailbox below. They connected one end of this cable to the speaker from Carl's radio, and the other end to the toggle switch and the ground connection of Jerry's receiver.

Carl and Jerry prepare their speaker for the "talking mailbox" - RF Cafe

With the switch in one position, the remote speaker voice coil was connected to the output winding of the transformer in Carl's receiver; the plate winding of this transformer was across the volume control of Jerry's set. With the switch in the other position, the voice coil output of Jerry's speaker went through Carl's output transformer back to the volume control, and the remote speaker was connected to the secondary of the radio's output transformer. Carl took the little remote speaker out into the hall to check on the operation of the haywire arrangement; and, as haywire arrangements frequently do, but shouldn't, it worked perfectly.

Dusk was falling rapidly by this time; so no one noticed as the boys removed the screen from their window and let the little speaker down the side of the building. Then Carl went outside and quickly fed the fine wire along a little groove cut in the sod beside the sidewalk running out from the building.

When Carl reached the main sidewalk, he ran the wire into a section notch that led to the foot of the mailbox. The speaker, with a short length of dark twine fastened to it for retrieving purposes, was dropped into the mailbox; and both the twine and the fine wire were Scotch-taped to the side of the box so that they would be as inconspicuous as possible. After this was done, Carl scampered back up to the room.

They did not have to wait long for a victim. Almost immediately a car swung to the curb, and a tall, gray-haired, pleasant-looking man stepped out and dropped a letter into the box.

"Thank you!" Jerry said into the speaker of his receiver. "We'll take care of this immediately. Not snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night - and all that rot, you know." He snapped the switch.

The man turned on his heel and stared down at the mailbox for a few seconds. Then the grinning boys heard his pleasant, well-modulated voice coming from the speaker: "Thank you! I knew our post-office department was accommodating, but I didn't realize it went quite this far."

"Don't you feel a little silly talking to a mailbox?" Jerry asked.

"No, not at all," the man said, calmly taking a penlight from his breast pocket and beginning to examine the box. "I'm afraid I frequently talk to much less receptive ears."

As he finished speaking, he located the string and carefully lifted the little speaker from the box; then he pulled the cable taut, and it pointed an accusing finger straight at their window. The man snapped the wire loose from the speaker and started walking toward the building.

In a couple of minutes later the boys heard a knock at their door. Carl opened it to reveal the tall, gray-haired man standing there holding out their speaker.

"I believe this belongs to you," he said pleasantly. "May I come in?"

The stammering youths pushed the guest chair toward him and sat down at their respective desks.

"Now, I don't like to be a kill-joy," the man began, "but I wonder if you two have ever heard about the severe penalties exacted for tampering with the U. S. mails or post-office department properties."

Neither boy uttered a word.

"Well, they are rather serious," the man continued, as he casually looked over the rat's nest of wires on the window ledge, "If you had bothered to look, you would have seen that the mail is supposed to be picked up from that box about this time. In fact, there's the truck now. If the mailman had found your speaker and reported it, as he is supposed to do, you might have gotten into a bit more trouble than you anticipated. That's why I brought your speaker back to you."

He took hold of the doorknob as he finished speaking. "I like to see students who have imagination and ingenuity," he commented, "and I trust that before long you two will have enough demand on these qualities from your studies so that there won't be much left over for pranks."

"Thanks a lot, sir," Jerry recovered himself enough to say. "We never thought about tampering with the mails. Are you an instructor here at the university, or something?"

"'Or something possibly covers it," the man admitted with a smile. "Pardon me for not introducing myself. I am Mr. Hedde, the president of this university. And I see by the nameplate on the door that you are Jerry Bishop and Carl Anderson. Welcome to Parvoo University, men. I hope your stay here is a pleasant and richly rewarding one and that you will bring credit to our school. Good night."

He was gone, leaving behind two white-faced youths staring open-mouthed at each other.

"Good gravy," Jerry breathed; "fifteen thousand people on the campus and we have to pick out the president to get smart with! We're certainly off to a great start."

"Yeah," Carl said shakily. "Let's put those radios back together and turn in before we get expelled!"

Carl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures - RF Cafe Featured BookCarl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is now available. "From 1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published 119 adventures of Carl and Jerry, two teen boys with a passion for electronics and a knack for getting into and out of trouble with haywire lashups built in Jerry's basement. Better still, the boys explained how it all worked, and in doing so, launched countless young people into careers in science and technology. Now, for the first time ever, the full run of Carl and Jerry yarns by John T. Frye are available again, in five authorized anthologies that include the full text and all illustrations."

Carl & Jerry Episodes on RF Cafe

- Geniuses at Work, June 1956

- Eeeeelectricity!, November 1956

- Anchors Aweigh, July 1956

- Bosco Has His Day, August 1956

- The Hand of Selene, November 1960

- Feedback, May 1956

- Abetting or Not?, October 1956

- Electronic Beach Buggy, September 1956

- Extra Sensory Perception, December 1956

- Trapped in a Chimney, January 1956

- Command Performance, November 1958

- Extracurricular Education, July 1963

- Treachery of Judas, July 1961

- The Sucker, May 1963

- Stereotaped New Year, January 1963

- The Snow Machine, December 1960

- Extracurricular Education, July 1963

- Slow Motion for Quick Action, April 1963

- Sonar Sleuthing, August 1963

- TV Antennas, August 1955

- Succoring a Soroban, March 1963

- "All's Fair --", September 1963

- Operation Worm Warming, May 1961

- The Sparkling Light, May 1962

- Pure Research Rewarded, June 1962

- A Hot Idea, March 1960

- The Hot Dog Case, December 1954

- A New Company is Launched, October 1956

- Under the Mistletoe, December 1958

- Electronic Eraser, August 1962

- Blubber Banisher, July 1959

- "BBI", May 1959

- Ultrasonic Sound Waves, July 1955

- The River Sniffer, July 1962

- Ham Radio, April 1955

- El Torero Electronico, April 1960

- Wired Wireless, January 1962

- Electronic Shadow, September 1957

- Elementary Induction, June 1963

- He Went That-a-Way, March1959

- Electronic Detective, February 1958

- Aiding an Instinct, December 1962

- Two Detectors, February 1955

- Tussle with a Tachometer, July 1960

- Therry and the Pirates, April 1961

- The Crazy Clock Caper, October 1960



Posted December 25, 2014

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