November 1958 Popular Electronics
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 (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
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.
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Carl & Jerry: Command Performance
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
"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
"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
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
... 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
Every few steps they stopped and leaned against each other in helpless
laughter as they recalled the picture of Mr. Stagg sailing over the
"Just tell me one thing, Jer,' Carl finally gasped "Did you do it
"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
"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
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
|- Trapped in a Chimney - January
- Command Performance - November
- Extracurricular Education,
- Treachery of Judas,
- The Sucker, May 1963
Stereotaped New Year, January 1963
- The Snow
Extracurricular Education, July 1963
He Went That-a-Way,
Electronic Detective, February 1958
- Aiding an
Instinct, December 1962
- Succoring a
Soroban, March 1963
- Slow Motion
for Quick Action, April 1963
Sonar Sleuthing, August
- TV Antennas,
- The Hot Dog
Case, December 1954
A New Company is Launched,
the Mistletoe, December 1958
|- "All's Fair --", September 1963
- Operation Worm Warming, May
- The Crazy Clock Caper, October
- Two Detectors,
Tussle with a Tachometer, July 1960
- Therry and the
Pirates, April 1961
- The Sparkling
Research Rewarded, June 1962
Hot Idea, March 1960
Eraser, August 1962
- "BBI", May 1959
Ultrasonic Sound Waves, July 1955
- The River Sniffer,
- Ham Radio, April
- El Torero Electronico,
- Wired Wireless,
Shadow, September 1957
Posted June 13, 2014