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 (if any) are hereby
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.
See all articles from
Carl & Jerry: Extracurricular Education
a Carl and Jerry Adventure
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"That last bump was a doozy!" he observed.
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 May 18, 2014