September 1956 Popular ElectronicsTable 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.
You can go into Walmart or Radio Shack (though not for much longer) and pick up a pretty decent handheld metal detector for under $100 these days, but in the 1950s even a rudimentary metal detector was a rather large and heavy contraption. So unwieldy were they that most had a belt clip and shoulder straps to help support and manipulate them. That was the situation facing teen electronics aficionados Carl and Jerry as they pondered how to leverage their combined technical prowess to facilitate a thorough combing of the nearby Lake Michigan beach area for treasures of coins, watches, jewelry, cigarette lighters, and other metallic objects given up as lost by weekend seekers of relief from searing hot, humid late summer days. Read on to discover how their innocent plans turned into an adventure that helped local law enforcement officers nab a wanted man.
By John T. Frye
It was a blistering-hot last-of-August day, and Carl and Jerry were at the beach, but they were not swimming. Instead, they lolled in the scanty shade of spindly growth on the side of a sand dune and looked disconsolately across the absolutely empty beach at the close-spaced row of large signs sticking in the sand along the edge of the water. The signs read: "Danger! Water Polluted with Acid. Stay Out!"
A Great Lakes tanker loaded with acid had been in a collision just off shore and lost most of its cargo. This highly concentrated acid, blown in to shore by. the wind, had collected on the sand and rocks of the beach. While it was slowly diluting, there was still enough left to cause serious burns to the skin and even more damage to the eyes if it came in contact with them.
"A fine kettle of fish this is," Carl growled. "Here is as hot a day as we've had all summer; there is all of Lake Michigan ready to cool us off; and for all the good it's doing us, we might as well be out in the middle of the Sahara Desert."
"While you're wallowing in self-pity, don't forget that school is coming up like thunder," Jerry added. "In about a week the beach will be O.K. again, but we'll be sweating it out in the brain factory,"
The boys contemplated this gloomy prospect in silence for a little while, and then Carl said: "Jer, have you dreamed up any ideas yet about how we can raise some money to buy the transistors, special transformers, tiny capacitors, and other parts we'll need for our transistor experiments this winter?"
"Nope, I've not come up with a thing.
How about you?"
"Me, neither," Carl replied as he looked across the empty beach, "unless-" "Unless what?" Jerry demanded, raising himself on an elbow to follow Carl's glance.
"Unless We could do a little beachcombing. You know how packed this place normally is, especially on weekends. There's hardly room to set down a bottle of suntan lotion. Think of all the coins that must have slipped from upside-down pockets into the sand, of all the rings and watches that have been removed to take a plunge and lost, of all the cigarette lighters, bracelets-"
The dark man's beady black eyes glinted coldly out of his pasty white face as he held out a demanding hand for the rectangular metal plates.
"Okay, okay!" Jerry interrupted. "So what do we do? Sift the sand?"
"A good electronics man like you ought to be ashamed to think of anything so crude and mechanical as that," Carl chided. "We can use our handy-dandy metal locator that we built from the article in the June, 1955, Popular Electronics. You know how we found Farmer Sloan's gold watch out in the cornfield with it; well, most of the valuables here will only be covered with an inch or so of sand, and the metal locator should be able to sniff them out easily. Only one thing's wrong: that treasure-finder is a little heavy to use over a long period of time, and I just know who will be elected to carry it. Lugging that thing around out there in the hot sun does not appeal-"
"Hold it! I've got an idea," Jerry broke in. "Suppose we mount that little gasoline washing machine motor of yours on the back of my wagon with the big rubber tires. The motor can drive one of the rear wheels through a couple of jackshafts and combination of speed-reducing V-pulleys so it will make the wagon just creep along. You'll also remember that I've taken all the remote control equipment out of the model tugboat while I'm refinishing the hull; so we can put this into the wagon and remote-control it. A solenoid operating a belt-tightener can serve as a clutch, and we can use one of those fractional-horsepower, reversible electric motors with a speed-reducing, power-amplifying gear train to steer the wagon. We can sit right here in the shade and send that wagon wherever we want to ... up and down the whole beach."
"Well good, good, goody for us!" Carl said sarcastically; "but what's all that got to do with our locating the loot?"
"I'm coming to that. We'll mount the treasure-locator on the wagon, with the search coil out in front, just clearing the surface of the sand. The audio beat-note signal that we hear in the earphones when something metallic appears near the search coil will be amplified, rectified, and the resulting current can be used to operate a sensitive relay which, in turn, will operate the clutch solenoid."
"You're getting through to me!" Carl said, with the enthusiasm boys invariably feel for a really complicated Rube Goldberg device. "When the search coil passes over something metallic like, say, a five-hundred-dollar-diamond-studded gold watch, the audio signal produced will trip the relay that will operate the solenoid that will stop the wagon. The gadget will just sit there like a faithful little old bird dog on 'point' until we leisurely stroll down to if, brush away the sand, pick up the watch, and toss it into the pillowcase full of other valuables we have already found."
"Well, let's go!" Jerry said, getting to his feet and brushing the loose sand from his knees and the seat of his trousers.
And go they did, just as fast as they could pedal their bicycles home. The heat that had seemed so oppressive when they had nothing to do was entirely forgotten now as they worked out details of mounting the powerful little gasoline motor on the fat-tired coaster wagon. They connected up the remote control receiver and its reed-type actuator so that it could operate the steering mechanism and the simple clutch. Then they arranged the metal locator so that its hoop-shaped search coil was carried well out in front of the Wagon two or three inches above the ground. With the motor and the jackshafts mounted behind the wagon and the probe coil sticking away out in front, the resulting ungainly appearance was something like that of an elongated king-sized insect ... but the contraption worked!
Proof of this was had when Jerry fished a nickel from his pocket and recklessly tossed it out onto the middle of the lawn. They started up the self-powered remote-controlled treasure finder and sent it into action quartering back and forth across the yard. After having first turned up three rusty nails and an old belt buckle, it finally stopped with the search coil directly over the nickel. That was all the "testing" the boys needed. They immediately began coaxing Jerry's mother to drive them and their invention down to the beach in the station wagon, and did not let up until she agreed. Just as they were starting out the drive, Carl suddenly exclaimed: "Wups! Wait a minute. We're forgetting something."
He vaulted over the low fence between the two houses and disappeared into his own house. Almost immediately he came dashing back out waving an empty pillowcase in which to dump their findings.
Once at the beach, the boys lost no time in putting their electronic beach buggy into action. The large tires kept the wheels of the wagon from cutting down into the sand, and the gasoline motor - thanks to the down-gearing - had an easy task propelling the vehicle along. At first the boys could not resist the temptation to send the treasure locator hither and thither along the beach to test out the operation of the remote control; but when it was found that this functioned perfectly, they settled down to directing the movement of the wagon in a regular pattern that eventually would cover the whole area of the beach in sight of what they dubbed their "command post."
The wagon had hardly gone a hundred yards when it came to a halt, and there was nothing leisurely about the way the boys dashed down to where it was sitting quietly put-put-putting away. As Carl eagerly brushed away the sand from beneath the search coil, he uncovered a little slip of tin foil from a stick of chewing gum, and instantly the wagon started chugging ahead, indicating that the bit of tin foil was what it had in mind.
A little disappointed, the boys started back to their command post, but before they reached it, the wagon stopped again. It had found another scrap of tin foil. To cut a long and painful story short, the metal locator found exactly twenty-three bits of tin foil in two hours - and it found nothing else! Actually, the boys were expending more energy running back and forth between their command post and the wagon than they would have used if they had simply carried the metal locator in the first place; but to them, of course, this fact was entirely irrelevant and beside the point.
Finally, Carl knelt in front of the search-coil with the twenty-third scrap of tin foil in his hand and addressed it with an impassioned speech: "Now look, Tin-Foil Terry, you don't seem to get the idea. We're not looking for this kind of stuff. We can get all the tin foil we need. We want something like this!" He placed some coins in the palm of his hand and held them directly in front of the search coil. "Now will you please, please get off this tin-foil binge you're on and go out there and find some of these pretty little engraved silver discs? Will you please?"
Again the boys trudged back to their command post, and the wagon chugged on down the beach. It did not hesitate until it reached the turn-around point, nor did it stop on the way back until it was almost directly in front of the boys. Then the motor speeded up a little as the solenoid clutch operated to stop the wagon.
"More tin foil," Carl grunted, heaving himself to his feet and starting across the hot sand toward the wagon.
"You can't be sure," Jerry said, optimistically, as he followed along. "We can hope, anyway."
And when Carl started brushing away the sand, it began to look as though his pep talk to Tin-Foil Terry had done Some good, for no scrap of tin foil appeared, and the wagon stayed put, showing that whatever it was pointing to was still there.
"Dig deeper," Jerry suggested, as he knelt beside his pal.
Carl scooped away the sand to a depth of eight or ten inches, and suddenly his fingers touched a parcel wrapped in 'moldy, rotting, brown paper. He lifted it out of the hole and discovered that it was a heavy package some four inches wide by seven inches long by an inch thick. The wagon started up when the parcel was removed from beneath the coil, but Jerry stopped it by shorting out the spark plug of the motor.
"What the heck is it?" Jerry asked, with much curiosity.
"You got me, but I guess there's only one way to find out," Carl said, as he started unwrapping the decaying paper. Inside were two rectangular metal plates carefully wrapped separately in soft flannel. He handed one to Jerry to examine while he scrutinized the other.
"It's got a kind of design engraved on one of the flat surfaces," he said slowly, turning it so that the light made the design stand out. "There's a kind of cameo in the middle with a man's head on it, and there's some printing, too, but it's hard to make out because it's printed backwards."
"Mine's got a picture of some kind of big public building in the middle, and it has both letters and numbers printed on it. Let me see. Say, these must be printing plates for making mo--"
"Never mind what they are," a gruff voice commanded. "Just give them to me. They're mine."
The boys had been so intent on examining their find they had not heard the short dark man approaching in the soft sand. His beady black eyes glinted coldly out of his pasty white face as he held out a demanding hand for the plates.
"Hold it, Jake!" still another strange voice interrupted, and three men came running from behind one of the nearby dunes. At first the man they addressed as Jake looked as though he might run for it; but when he saw the guns in the hands of the approaching trio, he stood still.
"Couldn't wait any longer, huh, Jake?" one of the men inquired as he frisked the short dark man for a possible weapon.
"I'm clean," Jake grunted; "and I could have waited until you guys layin' out there in the dunes took root if these brats hadn't forced my hand."
"Hey, can anybody tell us what's going on?" Jerry piped up.
"This is Jake, The Penman," the leader of the trio explained. "He's a well-known counterfeiter just out of prison after doing a stretch. But when the counterfeiting ring was broken up, the plates were never found. We put a tail on Jake as soon as he left prison, hoping he would lead us to where the plates were hidden; and, thanks to you boys and your-your-gadget there, he did. I'm not sure, but I rather think there will be a reward of some sort coming to you for helping to find the plates. But just as a matter of curiosity, would you mind telling us what that thing is? We've been lying out there watching you all afternoon, and none of us can figure it out."
Carl and Jerry, both talking at once, began an explanation of how the electronic beach buggy worked. When they finished, the leader of the three Federal agents shook his head as though to clear it of a bad dream.
"I still don't get it," he confessed; "but right here in my hand is the evidence that it works. Don't be surprised if some of the Treasury people want to examine it after I make my report. We might be able to use it in, our business!"
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 March 30, 2015