Your RF Cafe
July 1963 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.
This Carl and Jerry episode is a bit far-fetched compared to the typical storyline, but it does illustrate how when you are desperate to get out a distress signal, a little technical knowledge and having a knack for improvisation can save the day.
By John T. Frye W9EGV
A warm, moonlit July evening, Carl and Jerry were enjoying a couple of cold root beers at a drive-in when a rakish white convertible with the top down pulled up alongside. The two young men sitting on the red upholstery of the front seat hailed them with boisterous friendliness.
"Look, Phil," said the driver to his companion; "it's the Wireless Boys. Hiya, Carl; hiya, Jerry. How are the prides of Old Parvoo ?"
"Humbly grateful to be recognized by the driver of a dreamboat like that," Carl retorted, recognizing Phil Briggs and Dave Hayden, friends home from an Eastern college for the summer. "You must have saved a lot of trading stamps for that set of wheels, Dave."
"Nope, my uncle gave it to me for making the dean's list," Dave answered. "Come on. Get in and live a little. All I need is a chance to show it off."
Carl and Jerry needed no second invitation. They pulled their car around behind the root beer stand and piled into the back seat of the convertible.
"Hey, Dave, what's that bright little white light I noticed in the middle of your grille?" Jerry wanted to know as they rolled out into the street.
"That's a 'running light,'" Dave explained. "Lots of drivers are putting them on as a safety feature since they were written up in the Indianapolis Star. It's just a twenty-one candle power white light like the truck marker lights. You mount it in the middle of the grille and as near on a line with the headlights as possible, and wire it into the ignition switch so that it comes on whenever you start the car. It really shows the other guy that you're moving or getting ready to."
The boys covered the town in the next hour. First they circled all the drive-in eating places. Next they followed a carload of girls in another convertible, exchanging flirtatious quips with them until a train at a crossing separated the cars. Finally Dave demonstrated how his car could screech the tires while rounding a corner at high speed and how the tires could make two long black marks on the pavement when the accelerator was suddenly floored.
Carl and Jerry, who had great respect and even affection for anything mechanical, winced at this abuse but said nothing. After all, it was Dave's car, and if he wanted to drive it like a member of the teenage Silly Set, that was his misfortune.
Then Dave drove out of town onto the highway and really stuck his foot into the fan.
"Ease off, Dave!" Jerry shouted when the speedometer was touching 95 miles per hour. "You've convinced us your car can really roll. Carl and I have to get home."
"Aw, Dave, let's take them out on that old abandoned river road and show them how this car can take the bumps," Phil suggested.
"Yeah, fellows, this won't take long," Dave said as he pulled off the highway onto a mile-long lane that ran to a stretch of road along the river. The road had been abandoned ever since the new highway had gone through a few years before, and, without maintenance, the pavement had cracked, had been heaved up by the frost, and had developed huge chuckholes. Fishermen parked their cars on it occasionally; otherwise it was not used.
"Fasten your seat belts, men," Dave said when they reached the broken pavement. "I won't need mine because I have the wheel to hang on to. Now watch how this sweet little buggy keeps an almost even keel while I make like the mad driver in the TV commercial."
Carl and Jerry barely had time to fasten their belts as the car leaped ahead along the rough roadway. It swayed crazily from side to side as Dave tried to miss the deepest of the holes.
Gaining speed, the heavy car shot over the crest of a sharp rise and for a sickening moment was actually airborne and spinning at the same time. It came down with a tremendous thud and started rolling over. Carl and Jerry just had time to duck down and wrap their arms around their knees when the car rolled off the road and down over a steep bank toward the river. End-over-end, side-over-side it went, and finally came to rest upside down amid a shower of glass from the broken windshield.
There was a deathly silence after the deafening noise. Carl found himself hanging upside down by his seat belt. Cautiously he loosened the buckle and eased himself down on a flinty-hard surface. "Jerry ... Jerry," he called into the darkness, "are you all right ?"
"I will be if you get your big feet out of my face," Jerry answered, slipping out of his belt and crouching on the ground beside Carl.
"How about you, Dave and Phil?"
Carl said. "You guys okay?"
"Does having a broken leg disqualify me?" Dave's voice, with a note of hysteria evident in it, came faintly from somewhere outside the car.
"Forget the wise-cracking and tell us what kind of shape you're in," Carl demanded.
"So who's wise-cracking? I was thrown out when the car rolled over, and my right leg's broken just below the knee. You better shut off the ignition and cut the light switches. We don't want a fire."
It was hard to orient one's self in pitch darkness beneath an upside-down car, but Carl finally managed to crawl forward underneath the bucket seat on the driver's side and turn off the switches. As he started to back out, his hand brushed a limp body hanging head down in a seat belt. A cold chill ran up his spine, but he forced himself to feel Phil's lifeless-looking wrist. The pulse was weak, but it was beating.
Working carefully in the cramped quarters, Carl loosened Phil's seat belt and eased him down onto the hard limestone that bordered the road along the river. As his hand touched the unconscious youth's head, he felt something warm and sticky that he was sure was blood.
"Phil's hurt and unconscious," he reported between grunts while he delivered lusty kicks against the closed doors of the inverted car. "Dave, why can't I get these doors open? How is the car resting?"
"It's wedged in the bottom of a kind of pocket in the limestone," Dave answered. "The slanting sides are holding the doors shut. The hood's torn off, and the whole front end is sticking out over the edge of a ledge. I'm lying under the front looking up at the motor. If the car had gone over the ledge, I'd have been squashed. Why aren't you and Jerry mashed ?"
"There's more room under here than you'd think," Jerry said as he explored their prison with his hand. "We're resting right on top of a hollow in the limestone, and I'm sitting up without my head touching the floor, but the only opening I can find is a little space about two inches high and a foot long between the middle of the cowl and the ground."
"See if you can find a penlight in the glove compartment," Dave suggested.
When Carl opened the glove compartment, the light inside came on and illuminated the interior of the car. It showed Phil's pale face and closed eyes and a deep cut on his forehead from which blood was oozing. The penlight was passed out through the narrow slit to Dave down below.
"Suppose you could hobble to get help?" Carl asked Dave. "Phil needs a doctor pretty badly from the looks of him."
"I'll try," Dave's voice answered. They heard him moving around, and then there was the sound of a body falling heavily to the ground. Only after they called to him a number of times did he finally answer weakly: "Sorry, you guys, I passed out. It's no go with this leg. I just conk out when I try to move on it."
"Just lie still," Jerry told him. "We'll think of something. Maybe we can attract attention with the horn." But when he pushed the horn button there was no sound except the clicking of the relay.
"That's no good; the horn is smashed," Dave said, his voice quavering. "So are the headlights. No one would see or hear them anyway. I know they'd never see this little flashlight. You guys can't get out. I'm out, but I can't go anywhere. It may be days before we're found. - Phil is hurt ... "
"Let's not waste time punching the panic button," Jerry said crisply. "I've got an idea, but it'll take a few feet of wire. Do you see any we can get?"
"The running light has about ten feet," Dave replied. "You can cut it loose from the switch inside and I can cut it loose out here."
Jerry whipped out his pocket knife and cut the wire loose from the switch. Three feet was cut off and the insulation stripped from both ends. One end of this short piece was shoved out to Dave.
"Strip insulation from the low-voltage lead going from the ignition coil to the distributor and wrap the end of this wire around the bare spot," he directed. "Then pull the high-tension lead out of the coil and stick the bared end of the long piece of wire into the socket. Scrape the insulation off this wire at a place close to the coil and fasten this bared spot so that it's about an eighth of an inch from the motor block or the metal car frame. Fasten it so it'll hold and throw the loose end of the wire on top of some bushes so it doesn't touch the ground. Can you do everything?"
"I will do it!" Dave promised. "I got us into this mess, and I can certainly help get us out."
SOS ... trapped under wrecked car on river road
"Mind telling me what you've got in mind?" Carl asked Jerry as they heard Dave fumbling around the front of the car.
"I'm going to try to make a spark transmitter with the ignition coil," Jerry answered. "The battery current from the ignition switch goes through the primary of the coil back to ground through the points inside the distributor. When I rub the end of this short wire against the metal body of the car, the contact will be in parallel with the points and the voltage-boosting capacitor across them. The current surge through the primary will induce a high voltage in the secondary that will arc across the spark-gap Dave is fixing up. The rest of the wire will act as an antenna to radiate the r.f. energy in the arc."
"Why not use the high-tension lead to make your spark gap?"
"It's probably the resistance type designed to reduce ignition interference to radio and TV and would keep us from getting out."
"How are you going to key it?"
Jerry was busy cutting a series of close-spaced notches through the paint on the edge of the bottom of the dash. "When I drag the contact wire across these notches," he said, "the rapid make-and-break of the primary current will produce an almost continuous arc across the gap."
After Dave finished his job, Jerry turned on the switch and dragged his wire across the notches. But there was no sparking to indicate the presence of current. "The points must be closed," he said. "Gig the starter a bit and see if we can't get them to open."
Carl did, and at the second try the motor stopped with the points open. Dave reported that a fat blue spark leaped across the gap when Jerry's contact wire stroked the serrated rim of the dash.
Very deliberately, over and over, Jerry brushed the wire along the dash so as to spell out in slow International Morse: "SOS SOS TRAPPED UNDER WRECKED CAR ON OLD RIVER ROAD." When he grew tired, Carl spelled him. There was no talking. The only sounds came from the night insects, the rhythmic hissing of the spark, and an occasional low moan from Phil.
They had been at this for a good hour when Dave suddenly shouted, "Hey! I see headlights coming down the road. Help! Help!"
A few seconds later they heard a car stop and the sound of someone sliding down the bank. When he spoke, they recognized the voice of the deputy sheriff:
"So it wasn't a hoax! Who's under the car? What's wrong with the leg?"
Dave quickly explained the situation, and the officer climbed back up the bank to radio for an ambulance and a wrecker.
"Listen, you guys," Dave called. "I've been lying here thinking what a stupid jerk I am, dean's list or not. My driving got us into this, and then I panicked. You kept your heads and figured a way out. It's not the brains you're supposed to have that count, it's the ones you use when you really need them. I want you to know I'm sorry."
"Knock it off," Carl said gruffly. "No one twisted our arms to make us go on this ride. We're in it together. It took a lot of guts to wrestle around and do what you did with that broken leg. I guess we all got a lesson tonight."
The deputy came back and explained that the distress call had been picked up by a 13-year-old boy watching TV directly across the river. The boy had been studying the code to get a ham license, and he noticed that the flashing of his screen had a dot-dash rhythm to it. Laboriously he wrote out the message, getting a few more letters each time it was repeated. He called the sheriff's office, and the deputy was sent to investigate.
"That kid's going to have some grateful help in studying for his license," Jerry promised, "and I'll never gripe again about ignition interference."
The wrecker and ambulance soon arrived. The end of the car was carefully winched up until Carl and Jerry could slide Phil out and get out themselves.
Just as Phil was being loaded into the ambulance alongside Dave, he opened his eyes and grinned feebly.
"That last bump was a doozy!" he observed.
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 May 18, 2014