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November 1958 Popular Electronics[Table 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.
Assuming that a couple creative teenage boys could get away today with electrifying weapons to dramatize a mock sword fight during a high school production of a Roman battle, you can be sure the suit of armor required by safety monitors would consist not of coats of mail, but coats of rubber and fire retardant material, fully sealing OSHA-approved goggles for eye protection, ear plugs, and electrical lineman's gloves. Offstage would be certified fire fighting professionals (formerly called firemen) and an emergency response crew specialty training in high voltage electrical contact with a hospital-style emergency room crash cart nearby. The audience would need to sign safety release forms before being admitted to the auditorium, and a properly vetted statement of warning and admonition would be read prior to the performance, with a video monitor providing a message crawl advising what to do if at any point during the sword fight someone was offended, psychologically affected, or personally offended. You think I'm joking, and of course I am - there is no way any metal object even slightly resembling a sword would be allowed into a school building.
By John T. Frye
Carl and Jerry were walking home from school in the slanting rays of the autumn sun. It was later than usual because they had stayed to practice for the play the Latin Club was giving. As they scuffed along through the thick carpet of crisp fallen leaves, the boys talked about the play.
"Man and boy," Carl said in his deepest voice, "I've seen some pretty corny plays, but that thing tomorrow night will top them all."
"You're not kidding there," Jerry agreed morosely. "I'd rather bend the needle on my volt-ohmmeter than prance around out there on the stage in that breezy Roman warrior outfit playing pattycake with you with those tin swords."
"Yeah, and our last scene, the fight of the gladiators, is the best part of the show; so that clues you as to how bad the rest of it is. I simply wouldn't go through with it, but it means so much to Miss Jellicoe; and she's so doggone nice - for a Latin teacher, anyway."
"Hm-m-m-m," Jerry said thoughtfully, "I'm wondering if we couldn't pep up that last scene a bit some way."
"Don't see how. We can't really fight.
She's afraid we'll hurt one another."
"Say, you know something? Since you can't wear your glasses, I'm with her. Realizing how poorly you see without them, I'd as soon be on that stage with a rotary mower with the guard off as with you really trying to sword-fight. Last night you chopped half the leaves off the rubber plant before you found out I was standing behind you."
"You and that rubber plant look a lot alike when the stage is darkened for our fight," Carl muttered. "With it in that big pot, the two of you have the same kind of figures."
Jerry ignored this nasty remark. "Don't you think it would be real George if every time our swords touched fire would fly?"
"Sure, but how could we manage that?" "With electricity, natch! My idea is to have the swords complete an electrical circuit when they contact. If we had our Tesla coil, we probably could cool it down so it would work; but I shipped it out to my cousin in New York. Maybe we can use that neon transformer. The secondary puts out five thousand volts at a fraction of a milliampere of current. We could use some of that indoor antenna wire to go from each side of the secondary to a sword. That wire is small and very flexible, and wouldn't be seen from the audience. We can tape the handles of the swords with high voltage tape to keep from being shocked."
"Let's use plenty of tape. I've been bitten by that transformer a few times, and it really jolts you."
"Yes, it carries about the same wallop as the spark plug of a car. While the very limited current greatly reduces the danger of that high voltage, any shock, even one of only a few volts, can be fatal under the right circumstances; so we'll take every precaution to keep from being shocked."
"You going to tell Miss Jellicoe about this?"
"N-o-o-o-o, I don't think so. Let's surprise her. If we told her, she'd start worrying and probably not let us do it. You meet me backstage at lunch tomorrow, and we'll hook things up."
"Fine. See you at noon," Carl agreed.
It didn't take the boys long to hook up their little gadget the next day. They taped the sword handles heavily, and fastened the small insulated wires to the blades. The transformer was placed near one end of the curtain, and a wire went from one side of the secondary to a sword placed nearby. A wire from the other side of the secondary ran beneath the stage and came up near the other end of the curtain. The other sword fastened to this wire would be placed at that point. They made both wires long enough so that the swords could reach any part of the stage.
"Just before our fight scene starts," Jerry said, "I'll plug in the transformer and enter from this side, like so. You pick up your sword and come in from side. Let's touch swords and see what happens."
As metal touched metal, there was a great hissing red spark that changed to blue as the blades parted. Even on the well-lighted stage it could be seen easily. The boys grinned in happy anticipation.
"That's really going to show up when the lights are dimmed," Carl said; "but we better scram to class before the bell rings."
When the boys peeped through the curtain that night, they saw that the large high school auditorium was literally jammed. Even the balcony was full to overflowing. A combination of circumstances brought about the large attendance: admission was free; there was no competing attraction in town that night; the weather was ideal; and the cast was large. That meant that the family of each player, down to grandparents, aunts, and uncles, had turned out in force.
... They taped the sword handles heavily, and fastened the small insulated wires to the blades ...
And in spite of the foreboding of the boys, the audience enjoyed the play. They did not expect a polished professional performance, and the flubbed lines only aroused sympathetic amusement. Time after time the auditorium roared with laughter and applause. The loudest laugh of all came when Mr. Stagg, the portly high school principal, strode onto the stage dressed as Nero. His hairy, bare legs beneath his short tunic and his bald head garlanded with ivy gave him an appearance that was grotesque but still imposing.
"Perfect casting if I ever saw it," Carl muttered to Jerry; "but that ivy really should be poison ivy."
"Now, now; let's not be bitter because he caught you goofing off," Jerry said with a grin. "Get ready. We're on next."
But the curtain did not go up. The boys saw the school janitor talking excitedly to Mr. Stagg.
"... and it seems to have started in the closet of the office," he was saying. "I called the fire department, and they should be here any minute. I'm sure they'll have no trouble putting it out, but I hate to think what will happen if that crowd out there panics."
"Maybe I should step out on the stage and talk to them," Mr. Stagg said.
The janitor shook his head. "I wouldn't.
Just let them hear the word 'fire' and they're gone."
The sounds of impatient clapping of hands and stamping of feet came through the curtain.
"Why don't you go and see how bad it is?" Jerry suggested. "We'll go on with the play and try to keep their attention. The scene coming up is pretty exciting."
"Okay," Mr. Stagg agreed. "Carl, you tell the members of the orchestra to play as loud as they can. That's one thing they can do: play loud. I'll be back as quickly as I can."
As soon as Carl came back from the orchestra pit, the curtain went up. Jerry had plugged in the transformer; and the two boys, dressed as Roman gladiators, strode toward each other across the dimly lit stage.
"Hold, Claudius," Carl said menacingly.
"Take a last look at the darkening sky. A few minutes hence your glazed eyes will see it no more."
" 'Tis not for naught they call you Tiberius the Talker," Jerry taunted. "Let's see if your Roman blade is as nimble as your Roman tongue."
Gingerly the boys drew their swords from the scabbards, being very careful that the blades did not touch their bodies. Then they warily approached each other an crossed swords. As they did so, the sparks crackled, and a gasp of astonishment came from the audience.
On this cue the orchestra roared to life. Each player was giving his instrument all it would take, paying scant attention to the other instruments or to the leader; and the effect was tremendous. But the cacophony of sound went well with the desperate action taking place on the stage.
Carl and Jerry were carried away with the occasion and put on a real sword fight. Blade clanged against blade with a sound heard even above the thunder of the orchestra. At each contact hissing sparks of blue and red lighted the dim stage - with a fitful lightning. The smell of ozone filled the air.
Carl's long arms gave him a reach advantage, but Jerry's deceptive quickness overcame this. As minute after minute passed, however, Carl's good athletic condition began to tell. He was scarcely breathing hard, while Jerry's round face was bathed with sweat, and his breathing was open-mouth panting.
... At each contact hissing sparks of blue and red lighted the dim stage with a fitful lightning ...
Still the fight went on. Ordinarily it would have been over quickly, but the boys were determined to keep it going until they had some sign that the danger was over. That sign arrived at last as Mr. Stagg and the fire chief came in the rear of the auditorium and walked up the aisle to the stage.
The boys stopped fighting, and all the lights in the house went on. Mr. Stagg strode on the stage and held up his hand.
"Folks, I can tell you now we had a little excitement across the hall that was not on the program. Some oily rags caught fire in a closet and we had a pretty good fire going until the chief here and his men put it out. Now that your minds are off the stirring action on the stage, you will probably notice that you can smell the smoke.
"We were afraid of panic. While I went to investigate the fire, these two young men you have been watching on the stage essayed to keep your attention away from the smell of smoke, the sound of sirens, or anything else that could easily have precipitated a dangerous panic; and they were aided and abetted by this sterling collection of frustrated soloists we call our orchestra. Even across the hall that music, if I can apply the term loosely, was excruciatingly loud."
Mr. Stagg beckoned with both hands for Carl and Jerry to draw near to him. He placed an affectionate arm across the shoulders of each embarrassed, squirming boy as he remarked: "I like to think that in this school we teach more than the three R's. We try to teach character. And from the evidence these two boys have given us tonight, I am encouraged to believe that we are succeeding. When I think about how calm, how level-headed, how resourceful these two were tonight, it puts a gladness in my heart, a proud gleam in my eye, a new spring in my step - yowwwww!" he screamed as he gave a sudden great leap that took him clear over the footlights to plunge both sandaled feet squarely through the kettle drum.
He had hugged the boys to him a little too strongly, and the bared swords they still carried in their hands had been forced into contact with his naked shins at precisely the same time.
This really brought down the house. The audience rose from their seats and surged to the orchestra pit to help the principal out of the drum. Carl and Jerry took advantage of the confusion to jerk the wires loose from the swords and to recover their transformer. Then they sneaked out the rear door and walked home through the bright, clear harvest moonlight.
Every few steps they stopped and leaned against each other in helpless laughter as they recalled the picture of Mr. Stagg sailing over the footlights.
"Just tell me one thing, Jer,' Carl finally gasped "Did you do it deliberately?"
"Honestly I don't know," Jerry said, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief. "I saw the blade getting closer and closer to his leg, and when he said, 'a new spring in my step,' well, it was as if no power on earth could stop it."
"I know, I know!" Carl broke in, "It seemed that someone else's hand had hold of my sword. But I'll bet the final act of this year's Latin Club play will be remembered in this town for a long, long time to come."
... "It puts a gladness in my heart, a proud gleam in my eye, a new spring in my step - yowwwww!" he screamed as he gave a sudden great leap...
Carl & 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
- 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 June 13, 2014